Something I hear all the time, whether I am talking to teachers, youth group leaders or anyone else involved in working with young people, and whatever country I am in, is this: “Oh yes, young people here go through several psychometric tests before they leave (school / college / poly), but it doesn’t seem to have much impact on them; if you ask them about it, they don’t seem to know what they learnt or even what tool it was they went through. Actually I’m not sure either. I think they might have done (DISC / MBTI / StrengthsFinder / etc)…”

Anyone who has read my other blog, Os4talent, will know that I am not a great fan of companies buying team-building by the cubic metre (“because everyone knows team-building is a good thing, like mom and apple pie…”). But that is nothing to how I feel about getting kids to do psychometric tests which tell them they are one of these or one of those (or even, and I am not kidding, “you should consider becoming a plasterer”).

Here is why.

Most psychometric tests are a) sorters (i.e. a tool that sorts individuals into one of a number of categories) based on b) a theory of personality. They have some value, but I have never liked them. Sorters tend to chop large portions of one’s personality off in order to fit one for the appropriate box; and theories of personality carry a lot of unstated baggage. But here is the real kicker: teenagers and young adults certainly have personalities (did I hear someone say “is that what it is…”?); but they are not fully socialised, meaning that their personalities are still in formation. The heuristic used to be “socialisation happens around 23 years old” but the number seems to be heading north as kids live at home longer. So when you use a sorter on young person, not only are you using a blunt instrument, but it is a blunt instrument reading debatable data; and there is more I could say on the subject of sorting tools, but I am trying not to rant!

So why am I investing most of my time these days in taking a psychometric tool to young people?

hoozyu is powered by the Birkman Method. Birkman is very different to the other tools out there. It isn’t a sorter; as far as I can tell there must be around 1 million possible permutations (could be much higher theoretically, but I think there are lots of null possibilities). It has some ways of clumping data, so that you can meaningfully group people together; but even then you can always see the distinctions between individuals who are broadly similar. Sorting into a box this isn’t.

Secondly, Birkman is empirical, rather than theory-driven. Roger Birkman worked from observation and analysis of behaviour when he first developed the tool; the development of the tool has also included a criterion based approach, i.e. seeing which scores accurately predict whether someone belongs in this professional group or outside it. Using a rigourously empirical tool means you aren’t wondering what debatable philosophical point may have just come in the door when you weren’t looking. More importantly, it means it actually relates to the real world.

Thirdly, and although the full Birkman can be used successfully with young people, we negotiated a package with Birkman where we got just the data that would be of greatest value to young people; principle amongst those data are the motivational scores called Areas of Interest. Instead of tying young people down to a single box, (or navigating by their exam grades), we focus on data that are reliable even in early teenage – namely, what matters to you, interests and engages you? – and use that as the basis for helping the young person build a menu of options.

Fourthly, and by no means finally (but this is meant to be a blog, not a book), Birkman provides a framework – based on empirical study – for examining questions such as “the nature of communication” (does one style work for everyone? No!), how people relate together, how teams function and how to frame and solve problems. And this is really where I am headed in my dislike of sorters. You put the kids through the questionnaire, give them a couple of hours of feedback, check they know which box they have been assigned and then we get on with the rest of the curriculum. Yes, that should accomplish … nothing. The whole point of hoozyu is that the kids learn something of value about themselves, knowing that some aspects of it may settle with time but also knowing what can be relied on already; and then they can put that learning about themselves and others into action in the context of their overall education or extra-curricular activity. And if you are the teacher or youth group leader, then you aren’t working with an unwieldy or narrow and constricting framework, but with one which you can apply to pretty much anything you want to tackle in the field of human relations.

How cool is that?