Episode 22 – Selecting the right team: Ansgar Bittermann
Selecting the right team members is not an easy situation – especially when you are a small or medium-sized organization that cannot hire as freely as they might want. In today’s podcast conversation we are talking about how to plan for staffing and select the right people for your architecture/transformation teams with our guest, Ansgar Bittermann.
Our topic this week touches on subjects that may be sensitive to our listeners, particularly around individual evaluation and potential. The research, research applications, and business applications of that research may be controversial, but we have decided to publish and share the discussion in the spirit of open discussion of difficult topics. We would like to invite you to contact us at email@example.com if you have any thoughts or positions on the content within, and we would be happy to publish an op-ed or compilation of community input on these subjects.
Ansgar is a pioneering business leader sitting at the intersection of commerce and technology with proven strategy and product innovation skills. He’s able to leverage technology to transform business cultures, build values, drive expansion, and create an environment of continuous improvement.
We are talking about the following topics:
- Ansgar’s background (he’s well traveled)
- The process for selecting team members – especially as a small organization (up to 1000 people):
- Evaluate current team
- Job descriptions
- Structured interview
- Testing – start with skill testing (such as presentations, coding, etc.)
- Psychological assessment
- Presentation to responsible people – discuss green/red flags
- Assessment Center vs. Testing, and other misconceptions
- Misuse of tests in the past and how to remove bias from tests
- Areas to look at for architecture and transformation teams: skills, cognitive (data/concepts, verbal, figural/think in 3D > deduct logic skills), attention span, personality (emotional stability, conscientiousness), sociability, openness to new things
- Fitting tests to role
- How Ansgar prepares his clients to read the tests (as non-psychologists) and does testing remotely
- How to lead people with the higher awareness of the different type of persons
- There is no additional information for this episode.
Music by Jeremy Voltz, www.jeremyvoltzmusic.com
- CP1 (Welcome)
- FC3 Groove Horns (Interlude 1)
- Wish You Knew Me (Interlude 2)
- South Wing (Outro)
(The transcript is auto-generated and was slightly edited for clarity)
Roland: Hey J-M, how are you doing today?
J-M: Not too bad, Roland.I’m doing pretty good. You know I’m feeling ‘up’ about things. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going on in the world that makes you seem sad but man I just have I got to have hope and. That hope is really getting me through these days. How are you doing? How are you feelin?
Roland: I’m doing fine and to be quite honest I’m super excited today because obviously I like to work in teams as you know, and the topic of today is actually how to select the right team for your architecture program.
J-M: Whoa that seems hard. I got to be honest, I’ve been involved in a few different hiring decisions and man it really churns my stomach to try and think is this person the right one will they have all these think well is that person the right one. It’s like I feel like I’m going to regret the decision. I always love people too much, so I’m like “I can’t choose. I like you both”. Well maybe you’ll make it a little bit easier for me. Help me out here, Roland, and I know we have a guest right?
Roland: Yes, we do, and I guess in about an hour you will be smarter. You know this will be a non-issue. Having said that, let me introduce you to Angsar Bittermann, our guest for today, and Ansgar, no pressure on you. You’ve got an hour to convince us about your approach.
Ansgar: Ah, thank you very much for having me today. Welcome from Berlin.
J-M: Well thank you so much for joining us. I mean, this topic has got to be something that everyone’s thinking about. You know this is the time of ‘the great resignation’. But those people aren’t just resigning to leave and to never have a job again. They’re going to come and get another job somewhere else. And so in a time of great change, we rely on people like you to help us understand what it takes to be worth investing in as a part of a team, and finding the right fit for the team that you’re looking to join . So first and foremost I want to get a little bit of background on you because I know what a lot of things you’re going to say today come from a position of a huge amount of research and a lot of work that’s gone into making these models make sense. So first and foremost, tell us about yourself. Who are you? What’s your background that brought you to this idea / this expertise that you focused on.
Ansgar: Well I originally have a masters in psychology from the second oldest institute of psychology in the world, Goettingen. I’m originally from Germany – you might hear that, and Germany and Austria they’re very famous for psychology. Over the years after that I also acquired the license to practice psychotherapy according to the [German Psychology Guidelines] in Germany. Psychology is a very broad field and for a lot of people, when they hear that you’re a psychologist, they think that you’re a therapist but that’s not really true. Normally you add another education of 5 years to become a full-fledged psychotherapist so already 5 to 6 years of psychology plus 5 years of therapy. So my focus in the field of psychology was mostly assessing people and my personal interest is in nonverbal communication because these are nonverbal cues you see and then you can infer some sort of intention. Quick reminder what psychology basically is. It developed out of philosophy – we’re trying to answer the great questions of life. Do you have free will? What can you hope for? What should you do? You know, the Kantian questions. We try to answer that. A lot of psychologists are idealists but we try to give ourselves some frame in which we work and this is very close to enterprise architecture because we try to solve these big questions with data and science. So that’s what we do and you know a lot of statistics get into our questions.
Roland: Yeah, and as you know Ansgar, here on our podcast we have a soft spot in our heart for Germans with a psychology degree because I have a minor in psychology as it happens.
Ansgar: I heard you have a minor in this. Okay, so I’m preaching through the choir here.
J-M: And I have nothing. I think I sat through one psychology class where the professor got up at the front and went “what IS time?” and I was like “it’s time for me to get the heck out of here. That’s what it is.”
Ansgar: Well to be very honest, I had my epiphany when I was maybe 16 or 17 and once a month I went to this philosophy seminar and it was the time of Sophie’s choice and I found I really liked philosophy. And then one time they invited a cognitive psychologist and he literally bashed all the philosophers in the room and said okay we did this experiment here you see it on the glass, here is the data: free will is a myth. And it really touched me and I thought, okay, I want to study that. Basically, for psychology, half of it is data science, and I think 11 semesters or five and a half years of statistics we study and then the rest we’re doing content. And one of the things there is test theory / test construction which we’ll go into later. For my master’s thesis, I wrote an algorithm to put a camera on people who are talking and then I tried to infer their intentions based on their body language. So not just facial expressions, because you can control a lot of facial expressions, but you can’t really control your leg movements or the way you move your hips. So and then I got my taste for you know, experimenting on that.
J-M: It’s funny when you’re describing some of the things you’re doing. I don’t know if you’ve seen Blade Runner but this feels a lot like the Voight-Kampff test where you’re analyzing people. You know, you see a turtle and it’s on its back. What do you do? Well, you’re a replicant.
Ansgar: In the end it’s super interesting. It’s something people do all their life. You know people have judged everybody since the beginning of time. The first thing done to man is to be judged by god. But the thing is that people mostly judge others on a very low level and they’re mostly wrong. And now comes the scientific terms. So what we do in psychology is we try to have what we observed (we call it the observed variable or the observed value) and we compare it to the real value. So basically, I look at you and or I give you a test and it’s a test about your personality. (This concludes my discussion about what is Psychology) And then in Psychology, what we do is we try to observe something or a variable and infer it to a real a real variable and over time we try to optimize that so that the delta between these two values is actually minimized. And this is basically what machine learning is also doing and that’s good.
Roland: Yeah, which brings me to another very interesting topic because I know that you also use your knowledge and your affinity to algorithms and AI and machine learning. Not only are you making a living out of it, which I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about in half a second, but you’re also running a podcast which J-M and I had the honor to be a guest on a couple of months ago which is the AI pocketbook. So can you talk a little bit about that? How is that going for you?
Ansgar: Yes, I started it when I did a course at MIT and I met a lot of very interesting people and I thought “how can I keep in touch with them?”. I thought “wow they’re coming from all over the world. Let’s do a weekly Zoom call.”. And out of this weekly Zoom call, this podcast developed because we thought we’re not recording what we are talking about. And so we focus on topics about AI and how to implement AI. It’s not like we are talking about specific algorithms. Because that is something you know a lot of people are not really interested in. We’re focusing on topics like how to implement AI, what is the right team to use AI, what are the right project management methods to implement AI in your company? So that’s what the podcast is all about. It’s a lot of fun and I learn new things everyday and it gives me the chance to have guests like you to come on the show and get to know you. Otherwise it will be called ‘stalking’.
Roland: We’re happy to support you in your efforts and we’re happy to have you on our podcast today. But before we go into the actual meat of the conversation that we have when we’re going to talk about how to select a team and all these things, let’s talk a little bit more about you as a person. So, what are your hobbies and interests? Any bucket list items that you want to do before you go to the Farm up North or what are your plans on your personal side?
Ansgar: I’m not planning to go to the farms that early now. So originally I was born in Germany, but I moved to the US when I was 15/16 or so and lived in Hawaii. For me it’s an amazing melting pot. It’s a melting pot between East and West and it gave me a nice introduction to the American school system and an introduction into an American standardized testing system. And after that, I went back to Europe. But then I moved a lot through Europe. So I lived in Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Poland, UK, and now we’re in Berlin. I’m living here with my family. My personal interests, next to AI, is I like history, because I think people need roots and they need to know where they come from. In my spare time, I write novels, so that’s my “gleichgewicht“.
Roland: Your “balance”.
Ansgar: Yeah, that’s my balance, to write history novels. And what’s on my bucket list? I really want to go to Machu Picchu and because I’m fascinated with walls. If you see ancient walls, it’s amazing to see how they built it and I always wanted to go to Machu Picchu to see the original walls which were under the temples there. So yeah, I’m fascinated with ancient antediluvian walls.
Roland: So maybe we will see each other at some point in time because one of my bucket list items is to drive down the Pan-American Highway and obviously that goes to Peru as well.
Ansgar: Well then let’s do that.
J-M: And yeah, it would be very fun – Roland and Ansgar at Machu Picchu. I have been there and it is incredible. Well, that’s wonderful, Ansgar. I’m really glad to hear a lot of your story and your background. I think that that also gives a lot of weight to what you’re going to say today because I think the messages you bring forward are about using science to help explain humanity. That’s a difficult conversation to have, so to know that where you’re coming from is the perspective of a lot of research and particularly from a very diverse set of research backgrounds is important. It’s not just a single threaded. It’s not just an ivory tower from where you’ve sat and judged all beneath you, but rather quite the opposite. It seems like you sort of integrated yourself with a bunch of different cultures, a bunch of different research backgrounds, a bunch of different situations and organizations and that’s going to lead us to our very first and I think the big question that we’re going to start the conversation off today with, which is selecting a team. Because as we’ve talked about, there’s a lot of movement happening particularly right now in the architecture space, and a lot of managers are really struggling to get the right people, keep the right people, build functional and top performing teams. We’ve had a podcast before where one of our guests said: “We don’t want to hire ‘B Players’. We only want to hire Superstars. We only want to hire the best people who are going to work together the best to make something.”. So tell me about your approach. What do you try to do with you know testing and in general using Psychology as a feeder for excellent human resources.
Ansgar: In psychology this question has been discussed for over 100 years. The theories I’m using are pretty well developed. They’ve roughened the edges a lot. So when we look at teams, the one question is ‘what is the basic function a person needs to be the superstar in these teams?’. And what we see is that it is a mixture of personality and cognitive abilities. If we can assess a person before they join the team in these two areas, combined a little bit with motivation, what drives a person. So if we look at these three areas and assess them in these areas then we have a very good idea of who will perform well and who won’t. That helps us a lot because when we do tests for cognitive abilities, we test them in two and a half hours and for personality, it’s 30 minutes. So basically, it’s 3 hours plus a few more tests when it comes to attention. So let’s say three and a half hours of testing, and then we have a very very good predictor if somebody will be a good team player or not.
Roland: But yeah, do have a question just to bring it back. So we’re not only talking about selecting new people. We’re also talking about small companies who don’t have the luxury of firing everybody under the sun. It’s also finding the right person in your current organization that you have that fits the team. Is that correct?
Ansgar: Exactly. Just imagine you’re a CEO, you join a new company with (I don’t know) thirty-forty people and you have your magical 100 days. The reality is you don’t have your 100 days.You join on Monday, and on Thursday you make the first decisions. So you have a very limited amount of time where you have to make very crucial decisions and we can screen existing teams / existing companies and make a landscape or make a map for the supervisors or the CEOs or or head of departments to see where we can place a person so that it fills that role the best. You talked about the great resignation. Why is that? Before the great resignation we had studies where it said that up to 80% of the people don’t feel well in the role they are having right now. 80%. That’s 4 out of 5 people who are not fit to the role they’re in. When we are testing for personality or cognitive abilities, it’s not about being good or being bad. It’s about whether that person fits in that specific role. And to add a little bit more complexity, when you have a small team, or if you have a bigger team, then you have to see that certain team members are actually complementing each other in their different personalities. And that is something very interesting where a lot of people are not looking for.
Roland: So when I think about what you just said, the 80% who are disengaged and don’t fit into the role, I would assume that the majority of the organizations do not have proper role profiles. So when I think about our audience you know I think about architects or think about your field, AI, how would such a profile look like? What do you actually look for when defining those roles? Because it’s obviously not just the tasks that somebody has to do, because otherwise everybody would want to work for Starbucks where everything is very very organized and by the playbook.
Ansgar: Exactly. So you know I started off with AI and now we actually extended our services to other companies because we realized everybody’s needing that. First we just offered the test. And then and then I always asked for the job description and many job descriptions came back half empty. And I realized they never really sat down and analyzed the role they wanted to fill. So what I do is I actually go to the companies and I sit down with them, and we go to make it like an input output model. I sit down with them to make a SIPOC model. So okay, the person gets a stimulus. Just imagine that the employee is sitting at their desk – when are they moving? What kind of stimulus is coming in, what does this stimulus actually do to that person, what kind of output should that person do ,and how do I control that output? You’re very very close to the Lean or 6-sigma operational approach to HR. And then once we have this SIPOC model, we deduct basically a job description out of it. So if somebody says “okay, he has to respond a lot or she has to respond a lot to emails or calls or has to be you know multitasking” then based on that we are looking for somebody who is able to multitask. Or in our personality profile, for example, they’re able to be emotionally stable because we know that multitasking is very stressful for a lot of people. So I sit down with them, we do tasks, we do personnel requirements, we do personality requirements, and we look at the existing team. So then we deduct the personality profile from the existing team so that they fit and then we have a very nice job description. And out of that job description, we deduct another so-called structured interview which the HR manager or secretary has with the candidates. Because what I see is most of the qualified people are not lost in the interview with the CEO, they are lost in the interview with the secretary or the intern. We’re focusing on small and medium companies. Medium in Germany means up to 1000 people. We see that in small companies, they don’t have HR at all, right? So what do they do? They have the intern preselecting profiles wherever they find them and then they get 50 out of them. First of all the question is what kind of keywords are they looking for? So the intern is then able to select the keywords for themselves. When you really look, these kinds of processes are very sad. So we go in there and we teach people what kind of keywords they look for. We define with them what kind of text messages they should write and whom not to throw out. Because what we see is that somebody who, for example, is shy, but on the other hand has high cognitive abilities, they’re not doing well in these initial interviews with initial interviewers. So that’s why it’s so important to do this proper testing so that you keep the high profile people who are maybe not good at selling themselves in the beginning and to give everyone a chance.
J-M: Yeah, that’s interesting. We had a conversation with Jason a couple episodes ago about that exact kind of topic. We asked the question: how does somebody who maybe isn’t a great communicator and verbal communication sell themselves for a position that they might be excellent for but explaining it is hard or they’re not naturally an extrovert if you think about it in that sort of MBTI context. And he was like: “the best way to do it is to be brilliant at the basics.”. Which I think was a really good answer from a recruiting perspective. But from the opposite side, from a selection perspective, it seems like you’re trying to account for that bias in the mechanisms of selection on the recruitment side / on the side of the employer or the prospective employer. I wanted to loop back on the cost of this, conceptually, like what happens when you don’t look at this? I know we’ve talked with the great resignation and the disconnection and Roland and I exchange a lot of text messages about this idea of disconnected experienced employees. I mean, what are the costs you see companies paying by not having this approach to recruiting and to team evaluation and construction?
Ansgar: Well, think about a normal interview. And when I say ‘normal interview process’, it’s where you write something yourself and you don’t have the assessment tools we are using. We’re looking at 5% to 25% success rate. So you know if you flip it around at 75 to 95% you know it’s not good. But that means this number is reflected by 80% feeling not well. So one thing you have is a lot of people leaving the company or they’re ‘quitting internally’ as we call it. You know, they’re not highly motivated. They are passive. Maybe they’re passive aggressive. At the end of the day, the whole company is suffering.
Roland: Yeah, so me being the professional deformate (is that a word, J-M?) person, you know I’m just thinking about the process in the back of my mind. So, if I understand you correctly I think we’ve established that homegrown approaches to team selection and hiring are, with a very high probability, hit or miss. But then I hear the first step is to look at the original team that’s already there and the people who are in there. Second, to create the profiles for those jobs that you have to staff. And then the third one is then to go into testing, or what is the next step in that process?
Ansgar: What I always like is to do skill testing first. At the end of the day, who cares if somebody’s brilliant if he can’t do the task. And that mostly weeds out a lot of people because you know they apply for a hundred jobs and then if you tell them “okay, now it’s skill testing time“ and then depending on the role what the skill testing is (maybe you make a presentation, maybe you code, maybe you do math). And then it’s a good thing to develop these kinds of skill tests with the teams I’m working with because they really have to sit down and say “okay what should that person actually be doing? What is a transformational team? What are they doing all day long?”. And then the skills, depending on the role, you do skill testing. Either we do it via Zoom or people come inside of the company and they’re doing it for half a day or day. Or we send them something and they just give the skill test back. Before that we had this structured interview for these key things. For example, I need somebody who has 5 years of experience and then that person only has two so we just weed them out. And then after the skill testing we go into the assessment and to the psychological assessment. And after that, the skill plus the psychological assessment is presented to the CEO (or whoever is responsible for that) and then we discuss all the green flags and the red flags with them.
Roland: I yeah I find that very interesting because I think there are two aspects that you haven’t mentioned, and one is motivation. So (in J-M’s words), how does the candidate sell him or herself, and I remember Jason in the previous podcast saying “well your first interview, it’s all about motivation. You want to show that you want this job.” The second thing is more like a personal pet of mine. I like the method of the ‘assessment center’. That might be because of my history. It was invented in Germany in the 20s and I did a class in university, part of my psychology minor, where we did assessment center and I was one of those observers and all these things. I like to see how people actually behave, which is different from doing tests. Is that also something that you include in your tests, and if so how?
Ansgar: Okay, so we have to differentiate the word assessment. Every psychological test is an assessment in the business world. Assessment centers were very popular at a certain point in time. Some people in some companies are still doing them but ‘assessment center’ means you invite somebody and they are there for two or three days and they do tasks and then they’re being observed. I’ve done my fair share of assessment centers. You know it’s always fun, but (and unfortunately it’s a big ‘but’), they’re not reliable.
Roland: Oh, interesting.
Ansgar: The problem is if you’re an observer, the so-called ‘inter rater reliability’ is very low. And if you observe the same people a week later the ‘intra rater reliability’ (meaning that you would give the same scores next week) is also low. That means what we talked about observed and real variables. So the reliability of assessment centers is low. So the highest reliability is cognitive testing plus personality testing. We are scoring here between 73% and 80%, while assessment centers on the other hand roughly between 40% and 50%.
Roland: Now you burst my bubble and I just go back in the corner and start crying.
Ansgar: No, but there are some misconceptions which never die. For example, brainstorming. Brainstorming is something which does not work. There are so many studies in psychology which proves that if you have a group of people and they sit in a room and they’re Brainstorming, it’s really bad.
Roland: It’s groupthink within given borders. Like ‘what is expected from me to say’? That could be what are the products that we offer to clients or do I need a little bit of spit licking to my boss and all these types of things.
Ansgar: Exactly and then you have always a bully there, or you know Steve doesn’t like Karen and then Karen doesn’t say anything and stuff like that. These are the sorts of misconceptions. The good thing is that if you’re using these tests, it’s much more economically valuable because it only takes a few hours and it’s more reliable so it’s cheaper and better. So that’s why I chose to do that.
J-M: I think that paid internships are maybe the best in my experience for getting an assessment of a candidate, but that’s very time consuming and costly. You’re going to spend 3-6 months giving somebody a chance to prove themselves, whereas in 3-6 hours you could get a relatively equivalent assessment of their future potential as an employee of the company. That’s wildly different, and when you talk about decision making that’s a shortcut that is incredibly valuable.
Ansgar: Exactly. And the thing is, I work with a lot of introverted people and personally I like them. You know I would even consider myself as an introvert. You know, Introvert does not mean that they’re shy, it just means that they also like to be by themselves. But if somebody likes to be by themselves that means that they like to think, so don’t you want to have somebody who likes to think? Yeah, of course! So these initial interviews, I don’t really care for them, and it doesn’t really matter. For me, I like to look at what kind of personality profile they have and then we build upon that. Then you interview them differently.
J-M: Sounds Good. So let’s talk specifically about the areas you’re looking to select from. So I know you’ve got models that you use. I think we talked before about how there are a few different areas you look at specifically. Let’s break these down. Let’s start to talk about how this test assesses somebody and what components are important at a high level. And then we’ll dig into them individually.
Ansgar: Yeah, so just because that got a lot of heat in the media over the last 30-40 years because a lot of people misused these tests. When I went to America it was ridiculous. I mean they gave me a school placement test. As a German, I had a few years of English, so they tested my English but they also tested my math abilities but they didn’t account for me not being an English speaker. When I did the math test, and Roland knows this, in Germany we write the ‘1’ differently than in America. So for them, it all looked like a ‘7’. And we also write division differently, so I had no idea what was the dividend and what was the divisor. So at the end of the day, when they placed me, they gave me a 17 % in math abilities. They put me in a class where I really didn’t belong. It took me the whole year to go from class to class to prove that I’m actually more knowledgeable in math, and then I ended up in analysis and then they gave me a medal for math achievements because I rushed through the classes. This is an example, you know, if you use the right test on the wrong person, it’s not an accurate result. So what we are trying to do is try to assess somebody as unbiased as possible. So if somebody’s mother tongue is I don’t know Syrian or Arabic then we give them a test in Arabic, although they might have been living here for 15 years So that’s what we’re doing.
Roland: Maybe we’re at a point where it’s time after half an hour to have a little break, but before we give some time back to our listeners to think about some things, some questions that I’m going to ask, let’s just recap where we are. So we said “think about the process”. Look at the team, come up with the profiles, do an initial screening and then invite people for the tests. And after the break, we’re going to talk about how that looks in more detail. But before we go there, I would love you, our dear listeners, to think about the structures of your team and how you have assembled teams in the past. Which different personalities and skills and attitudes do you find in your teams? And how do you today find the right people to staff your teams?. We’re going to leave you alone for a couple of seconds and we’ll be back after the break all right?
Musical Interlude: “FC3 Groove Horns”, Jeremy Voltz
J-M: All right, everyone. Thank you so much for giving that a little listen. I mean I really love that we have music interspersed with conversation and thought leadership. It really adds a little spice and thanks again to our friend Jeremy Voltz for these wonderful pieces of music. Now I wanted to loop back on the subject of bias because I do want to get into the testing conversation itself. What the contents of tests are. But just to throw that on the table, I know it’s this sensitive topic. I’ve got a story myself – I was once tested for math aptitude going into high school and I came from an alternative school where we didn’t really do much testing. So I remember getting drummed out of every school I tested into except for one and then the very first year of that school winning all the math awards and going to math olympics. I had simply never taken a standardized test before. So I know that accounting for bias has been a lot of what you do, and I know I know there are also a few different bias styles. So when we take a look at learning style, experience taking tests, cultural backgrounds, contextual knowledge and even just people gaming the test to try and get a different personality result and things like that. How do you accommodate that? How do you address that with the way in which you approach testing and let’s close the issue that you’ve seen mechanisms that really do reduce or eliminate a lot of the structural bias that has been a scar on standardized testing.
Ansgar: Nowadays, a lot of companies are using their own tests or the test they develop. I would highly recommend not to do that, because the tests we are using, we’re working with a publishing house and it’s a scientific publishing house. We have access to over 600 tests in 17 languages but we know that every test we’re using has been highly scientifically tested itself. There’s a whole field in science called test construction, which you know which just deals with the fact that it is a good test or not. We have a lot of reliabilities and other variables we can look at to see if a test is good or not.
Roland: I remember those, painfully, because that was a ‘you must pass this test test’ and never do tests about tests by people who make tests. So that really stank.
J-M: That’s a Russian nesting doll of tests, if I’ve ever heard one.
Roland: You know the ‘R value’ and all those wonderful things I remember that very vividly.
J-M: So you would give the same test in multiple different contexts to multiple different groups of people and try to make sure that the distributions align to show that this test is unbiased. Is that what you do?
Ansgar: Behind every test, there’s a mathematical model. And you know psychologists, they love regression. So basically what we have is we have the observed variable and then we have the real variable And then we have these regression factors which we try to count in for the result. And these tests we’re using- for example, the standardized personality test we are using, has been repeated and mirrored in I don’t know, many cultures in different settings with age groups and you know any kind of variable you can think of they tried to vary that to get what we call ‘stable factors’. Or in mathematical terms, where the factors are not interacting with each other. So that they’re basically a ninety degree angle, independent of each other. The test we are using has been developed and improved for 60 or 70 years, and a myriad of scientific studies have been done on that. When it comes to cognitive ability testing, this has been going on for over 100 years. But there are some which you know focus on one area where, for example, does cognitive ability have a fluid factor or crystallized factor. What we obviously want to have in cognitive abilities, we want to split between ‘what is your upbringing’, for example, if you went to an amazing school and you know both your parents were professors of history and they’ve just bombarded you with knowledge. We want to separate these two things and say okay, what did “god give you” as hardware and what did you make out of it. Because if we can’t separate that then social social factors always play a much bigger role in the result I’m seeing in you. And is a company I want to know: is this person trainable or not? By separating these two factors I can see that, and I’ve seen it in the past a lot of times, somebody who has not been given a lot of chances in life, but they have a very good ability to learn, if you teach them properly.
Roland: Yeah, that makes sense and you mentioned cognitive ability as is one of the areas. So if we could drill down a little bit more. What would be those areas that you want to look for when selecting your architecture team?
Ansgar: So when we look at cognitive abilities, we are obviously looking for numerical abilities. The ability to deal with numbers and with data, because transformation is a lot about concepts. And what we see is that somebody who is very good in numerical abilities has also the ability for concept. We’re also looking for verbal abilities or verbal cognitive abilities because it’s all about language. The third thing is something when it comes to figural knowledge. The ability to think in 3D. A lot of people who are scoring high on that have the ability to visualize 3D models of a certain process which is very very nice.
Roland: Yeah, some abstraction.
Ansgar: Exactly, so this is the cognitive ability, we are looking also (and this is very important nowadays) for attention span because you know the younger people who are a lot on social media. They score very low on that. The other area is personality where we go for emotional stability. Transformational teams need to be emotionally stable. They need to be able to be conscientious. Conscientiousness is actually, next to cognitive abilities, one of the most important factors we are looking for. Because if you’re not orderly, if you’re not industrious, if you don’t feel sold to a task, then an unconscientious person is not something which you want to have as an employee.
J-M: Yeah, we say something at one of the companies I work with / run about the three principles of a person that we want to work with: “diligence, humility and generosity”.
J-M: I think those are really important characteristics – that you’re good at what you do, but you’re interested in willing to learn and that you’re here to support a team. Without all three of those things you’ve got people dropping off in different aspects that make that team start to fall apart.
J-M: You know, no one wants to work with people who aren’t good at their job. No one wants to work with people who don’t want to listen and learn, and everybody hates those selfish people who just take everything for themselves. And we can ‘whisper network’ about people who I call ‘negative influencers’ all you want, but it starts to put a real crack in the foundations of an organization when you don’t do this right. When you talk about emotional stability, that’s another thing that’s really interesting. How do you test for emotional stability? It feels like you’d have to put them under pressure conditions. How do you test for emotional stability?
Ansgar: No, no. We test for these 5 areas and next to emotional stability, we also test for sociability, which you just talked about. And one aspect of sociability is being humble and the other one is being open to new things. So if somebody’s not open to new things then they’re not really good for a transformational team. When we test, what we have is a 206 question test and it’s a self-describing test and that’s where test construction comes in and where the power of that test comes in that we are not having a live ‘in veto’ where I pressure somebody. This personality test just asks people to describe situations from their past. And it’s funny, over the 206 questions, that the results are very very stable and very good towards reality. If you’re an existing team, we also give your colleagues these questionnaires describing you. And if you have this 360 degree thing, we put these things together and we get a pretty good picture of you.
Roland: Well I’m happy to hear that you don’t do the Kobayashi Maru test from Star Trek!
J-M: But the Kobayashi Maru has its function. Never forget that. You have to put people in unwinnable situations so that you see how they can best adapt to it. I dig it though.
Roland: Yeah, so let’s put it together. So we heard: cognitive abilities, attention span, emotional stability, skills were the things that you test for. Anything else that you would look for when doing an assessment?
Ansgar: Yes, the ability to be logical.
Roland: Meh, that’s overrated 🙂
J-M: Only to Roland :). But logic does matter, particularly in architecture and AI. That’s a big piece of the puzzle. And interesting, once again, how do you test for the ability to be logical? Is it those sorts of A:B as C:D sorts of things?
Ansgar: Yeah, exactly. So there are different types of questions. For example, you might have a question like “1, 3, 5, 7, what’s the next number?” And we try to deduce logic from all three areas. So from the verbal and numerical and 3D visualization area. So we deduce logic out of that. So logic by itself is not an independent factor but it’s been deduced out of these three areas.
J-M: Interesting. Actually I had a question for you, because I’ve gone through a couple of different tests as part of the job that I have or as fun for myself. I’m an ENFP to everyone out there who loves the MBTI scale for personalities. And one of the things we did I think was really interesting was a ‘fit test’ person to person. So how much do you gauge these tests and sort of work them into what an overall team would look like, or is it an individual candidate, one at a time and then sort of scoring that person for the kind of role. So is it a person to role vs. person to person?
Ansgar: We do them all together. Normally in a company, they have a really big problem to see how that role should be. So what we are actually taking, I mean there are some general rules out there, but I would not suggest using them because they’re very general profiles. So what we are doing is we’re going into a company and saying okay give me three people who really fit into that role and in your company. Not in any company, just in your company. Or even just one person. Like, this is the ideal bookkeeper, this is the ideal manager. And then we take that as the ideal profile and then we test against that. So basically, we invite that person, we test that person too, and then we see how these two are different. And then after, having all this information, then having the interview with a candidate. It’s much more interesting, you know?
J-M: So you’re fitting to role which includes all the other factors. The people, the responsibilities, the organization and its culture as a whole, the industry that you’re in. Oh that’s interesting. So it’s neither person-to-role flat out or person to person, it’s person to ecosystem. That’s super cool. I Love it. I Love it. So I wanted to go through the questions we ask when we talk about solutions – the ‘who what when’ questions. If you’re thinking about getting testing if you’re talking to an organization out there, when are the times in which you look to get testing? When does it make most sense to reach out to someone like you and your organization to have this conversation?
Ansgar: Most of the time, people are coming because they don’t fight the right person. You know, they have tried to do it on their own and they just hired the wrong people. If you think about your company of, I don’t know, 10 people or even 50 people, and you have just one person who is toxic, they can bring everybody down. So there’s never a wrong time to start this, because there’s always somebody leaving, always somebody coming and assessing the existing team on their roles. Mostly when the people are coming, there’s something wrong in their company. Maybe the dynamics are wrong. Maybe they’re getting high blood pressure when they’re having certain weekly meetings or something is not working. But since a company is a living organism, it’s always good to start and I’ve never gone to a company where I saw they didn’t need it.
Roland: So what type of organizations reach out to you? Because the interviews that I went through (and I’m just thinking about the conversation with Jason when we were talking about recruiting and the typical process that candidates go through) typically does not include testing. So what types of organizations? Convince me or convince all the organizations that listen to the podcast. What is different with the organizations that do a test-based approach and how do you see them succeed over organizations that would follow a traditional inner view or a role play or whatever approach.
Ansgar: So 80% of all the companies in a society are small to medium companies. So If you’re looking at very big companies, for example, doing an Assessment Center is a cultural thing, right? They don’t want to change. Or there’s a company which makes so much money that they can burn a lot of risk capital. Where it doesn’t really hurt to fail. But mostly companies who came to me to improve themselves were too small to fail, who have people in critical situations, and who just want to be better because they’re you know they’re living or they’re working a competitive landscape. And the companies who are coming to me, they really want to have a solution. There’s no ideology. They just want to have a good team. They want to have everybody having a good time. They want to sell their product and they want to be good.
J-M: So then the question is what kind of outputs do you give them? I mean obviously the output that they want at the end of the day is a functional organization, a high performing, high functioning organization. But what of to get them there do you provide specifically?
Ansgar: So, I describe the new roles. We test the new candidates. So we’re very very deeply ingrained in their recruitment process. The output they get from us is mostly no one is leaving the company so they don’t have these outliers. Or they’re getting satisfied. People are doing their job. They’re not resigning and they’re just working and the whole company is just functioning.
J-M: Sure, but specifically do you have reports that you provide – like you said a ‘job description’. I’m thinking specifically of hard documentation or like assessments and guides and like scoring systems. I know when we talked before you showed a little bit of a scoring system that you use.
Ansgar: So basically first of all, they get their job description, then they get their structured interview then afterwards they get a whole report of all the testing and they get an assessment from me or another Senior Assessment manager. When it comes to ‘how to read the graph properly’, because they are not psychologists (we are), so we sit down with them and go through the report and show them “here are the green flags and here are the red flags”. And then they also get a one-on-one with a candidate where we actually assess the candidate.
Roland: Well Ansgar, that sounds really really interesting. The question that I have in the back of my mind is obviously: how do you do this? We’re living in these special times even though the majority of the world (or at least the western world or the American world) has decided that COVID is over and everybody meets in person. Well see how that goes. But I think one thing / one takeaway that we got from the pandemic is that a lot of things happen now digitally. So how
Ansgar: So we developed a digital assessment center. So we can test anyone anywhere in the world. We are fully ingrained into remote first and because a lot of people or candidates we are interviewing also want to work remote with the companies. So for us being 100% digital was our goal and I think this is really working with a lot of companies. And this also differentiates us from traditional testing companies.
Roland: Yeah, which I also think, from my perspective, is the biggest shift. You know, people don’t want to go back to the office where they were treated badly and spent hours commuting and all these things. So organizations will have to change, which is obviously then also something that you would have to test for.
J-M: Yeah, and being able to do it digitally seems really advantageous. I mean you talked about the human factor. But if you can put the data behind the human factor through a digital assessment, that changes the game entirely. And I wanted to close out the section, because I think we’ve gone through some really interesting points on the assessment, and I wanted to turn it back to our audience to think about the teams in their organizations. So, think about what you’re doing, what’s working well and what challenges are you seeing that come up as a result of personality / aptitude / skills in the way you deliver. If you could work with someone like Ansgar and bring this sort of testing into place, when would you engage and ultimately what change would you like to see in the outcomes of your organization from introducing testing along the way? We’re going to leave you to think about that question with some music. We’ll come back in a couple moments with our thoughts, our conclusions, and a farewell to this episode.
Musical Interlude: “Wish You Knew Me”, Jeremy Voltz
Roland: Welcome back! Before we go into the closing out of this episode, Ansgar, I do have one more question for you. Because we were talking about the individual who gets tested. We have not spoken about the manager / the supervisor / the person who’s tasked to lead those people because I can imagine now they have the visibility into the different profiles of the people in those categories that we just described, and they should take advantage of those shouldn’t they?
Ansgar: Yeah, actually they should, because leadership development / being a leader / being somebody who’s managing people, it’s a big word, but a lot of people don’t really know what to do or how to do tha. Let’s be honest, and as a psychologist we have to be honest, leading people is not always the same. If you have a team of let’s say software developers you would lead them differently than a team of salesmen or saleswomen. So what we are doing when we look at these profiles, we teach people specifically – people are supervising or they’re managing people. We teach them specifically how to lead people with different personalities or people with different cognitive abilities. Because if somebody is, for example, let’s call them ‘smart’, they might seem lazy to a manager because they finish that task early and then they just don’t do anything. So leading creative people, leading smart people, leading introverted people, leading people who are interested in a lot of things is completely different than other profiles. So it gives us the ability to teach leaders in 1 ½ hour seminars with very specific topics to make them better managers.
J-M: Yeah, remember that a lot of leaders are just people who were good at their job before who have now been promoted to a very different job. One of my favorite examples is my half-brother, who is a fantastic coder. He’s really good at coding. And he was promoted to be the leader of all of the developers. But he’s a really good coder. And now he suddenly had to learn all these brand new skills because the only thing he wasn’t doing was coding. So as a leader you need to be enabled to know how to teach and work with people like you and different from you. And those are skills that don’t just automatically come about because you’re the best at your job. They come out through a concerted training, education, socialization and awareness program that it sounds like, Ansgar, you’ve really got as a part of your core offering for organizations.
Roland: Yeah, J-M, but I have seen organizations struggle. And literally in the last two organizations that I worked where they had a career path being defined, just like you described with your brother, you get promoted up to a point where you might not be able to fulfill your role. This is called ‘The Peter Principle’, and I’ve seen organizations struggling with building out a career path for people who are not interested in the managerial role. Organizations like Microsoft do that with the Microsoft fellow program, for example. But they’re really good at their thing and they have an opportunity to grow into career ranks and salaries and all that stuff by being good at what they’re good for. And that’s actually a big challenge.
J-M: Yeah that’s something we need to break up in this industry. Stop giving people leadership roles just because they’re good at their job. Have them deliver more of what they do rather than asking to learn a brand new skill. Have people who are good leaders lead rather than pulling good technical technical people off the workforce to give them a job where they don’t do their job that they’re good at. That seems crazy, right?
Ansgar: So in psychology we have two theories which are actually working pretty well. You know, when you see people can develop either hierarchically or in their knowledge, and we see in these personality profiles already and that’s why we also do testing when somebody wants to be promoted. We test them first and we see in the personality profile if they would be a good leader or not, because they trigger personality items which will indicate if somebody is going to massively fail or is going to be up for the challenge.
Roland: Which is, as you said before, organizations are living creatures, right? So move on and learn. But having said that, a very interesting conversation with you Ansgar. So first of all, thanks for being the guest on our show today. The one thing that I’ve been thinking about for the last 20 minutes or so is: what’s next for Ansgar? You’ve reached the pinnacle of your career by being a guest in our podcast here, so what is the next thing for you?
Ansgar: Yeah, it can only go downhill from here. Well, I just finished my book about AI – “Pocket Guide AI”, and it’s a painful process in the publishing world to bring it to life. The pace of the publishing world is a little different than what I was expecting. So, let’s see when this is going to be published. So that’s the next thing. But basically when it comes to the company, we’re working here on streamlining the experience for the user to make it more scalable and make us more accessible in the digital space. We’ve added a lot of new languages, which allows us also to have this remote testing much more. And also, as I said, about leadership – using that for leadership development. So that’s the next thing that’s coming, and I hope in the next few months there’s some development.
Roland: Well I can imagine then that you want a double dip in your career. So we’ll have you as a guest in a future episode. I can really see it once you have your AI book finished.
Ansgar: Well it is finished and it just needs to be published. But thank you very much guys for having me. It was very lovely. You are great hosts and you’re doing a good show.
Roland: Thank you. But now obviously the ultimate question, I’m pretty sure we’ve convinced a ton of people that they need your services. How can people reach out to you?
Ansgar: Yeah I Think the easiest thing is if you can just pass my email to them or they can go to um to our website pocketguide.ai or to our other website personio-partner.com because we’re also digitalizing HR processes and departments and we partnered up with Personio.
J-M: Well, that sounds really fun. I’ll certainly be going there after this interview, and hopefully all of you will too. And that’s me turning the spotlight back to you, friends. Thank you so much for listening to this show and for liking, subscribing, and most importantly, sharing. So if you’ve liked what you’ve heard today or if you’ve watched or listened to anything else we’ve created please make sure to share our podcast and our shorts with all of your friends across the industry / across industries and get more people loving and talking liking and subscribing to the What’s Your Baseline podcast. Now, of course, all this information for the show is going to be available on our website at whatsyourbaseline.com or if you’re thinking specifically about this episode the full transcript with all the links including the emails and things like that are going to be available at whatsyourbaseline.com/episode22. Well thank you so much to everyone. Thank you to Ansgar, thank you to Roland, and until next time friends I’ve been J-M Erlendson.
Ansgar: I’m Ansgar Bittermann
Roland: And I’m Roland Woldt
J-M: And we will see you in the next one.
Roland Woldt is a well-rounded executive with 25+ years of Business / Digital Transformation consulting and software development/system implementation experience, in addition to leadership positions within the German Armed Forces (11 years).
He has worked as a Team Lead, Engagement/Program Manager, and Enterprise/Solution Architect for many projects. Within these projects, he was responsible for the full project life cycle from shaping a solution and selling it, to setting up a methodological approach through design, implementation, and test, up to the rollout of solutions.
In addition to this Roland has managed consulting offerings during their lifecycle from the definition, delivery to update, and had revenue responsibility for them. This also included the stand-up and development of consulting teams, and their day-to-day management.