The continual quest to cut costs while improving quality has led a Canadian researcher to study the value of using information from personality tests to better match an employee to a job task.
Concordia researcher Mohammed Othman discussed his concept in a paper recently published in the journal Computers & Industrial Engineering.
In the current workforce environment, two types of researchers study production workforces: industrial engineers, who try to organize machines and people to maximize efficiency; and industrial psychologists, who design personality tests.
Personality testing can do more than assess personality; providing insights into a worker’s motivation level and triggers, work capacity, and even his or her ability to learn.
Currently, test results are generally only used in a pass/fail capacity, to determine whether or not to hire an individual, Othman said.
“There are many things you could use this rich data for — training, motivating workers, determining salaries — but they don’t use it.”
Othman’s model takes this psychological data and, crossing disciplines, employs it to better engineer workforce planning – hiring, firing, scheduling and training.
“Workforce planning is usually done in the manager’s mind – what he or she knows about the workers and their abilities,” said Othman, adding that the manager seldom writes down or documents these estimated measures.
In fact, fearing charges of unfair discrimination leading to union grievances, many managers and foremen expressly avoid taking personality into account when assigning tasks, because they “don’t want to make it a personal thing.”
But, Othman said, such grading systems do not aim to harm or downgrade workers. “You’re trying to help them, by putting them in an appropriate position. At the same time, you’re trying to train them and improve their skills – at their level.”
In his study, Othman ran a complex mathematical model to determine the cost of running a manufacturing shop floor over an eight-week production period.
He first ran a control in which workers deemed hirable were slotted into positions without regard for their training, skills, capacity for work, personality or motivation.
Then, using his mathematical model, Othman took these factors into account before the production period began, placing workers in more appropriate positions with a view to minimizing hiring, firing, training and overtime costs.
After running the model, Othman’s ideas provided a cost savings of 7.1 percent, a significant figure given the competitive, globalized economy.
Beyond manufacturing, Othman says his model could also be applied to the service industry. What’s more, “there is also an opportunity for another researcher to incorporate cognitive ability,” he added, “clearly an important factor in human differences.”
And, clearly, the human factor is the element that most differentiates us from machines.
Source: Concordia University