There’s Something About Mary (or Charlie!)

There’s Something About Mary (or Charlie!)

As Sharon Allen commented on an earlier blog there are lots of people employed in social care and health settings who are intuitive and seem to have that something extra which sets them apart. Skills for Care runs a Care Ambassador programme to highlight the work of these individuals and encourage others to work in our sector. Several years ago I was talking to a parent, Dave Millner, about Mary (not Cameron Diaz), a front line care and support worker, who would have made a great ambassador.  I recall commenting how I wished I could bottle what it was that made her special. Rather surprisingly the parent said “Give her to me and some others who are just like her and I will tell you want it is that sets them apart”. Unknown to me the parent is a psychologist whose specialist area was personality profiling!

At first I was sceptical, in fact very sceptical as I had a pre-formed negative view of psychometric testing and, in any case, I couldn’t see what the various individuals had in common except for their good practice. We arranged for about 30 individuals, selected by recommendation by families, individuals and front line managers, to be put forward for testing. We worked with the internationally renowned HR specialists Kenexa and they began by conducting a job analysis of the support worker role, and then profiled the “high performing” support workers (as they termed it). They used a simple personality questionnaire, developed by Kenexa but already validated on tens of thousands of individuals, to identify the personality traits and the behaviours. Then the results were statistically analysed to discover what it was, if anything, about these individuals that made them stand out from the crowd. The test used is known as the Rapid Personality Questionnaire; it looks at five classic personality traits and scores each on a scale of 1 to 19 with 10 being the average. This test was chosen for its simplicity and also due to it being derived from one of the most validated standardised UK working population samples available. The dimensions are: Extraversion / Introversion; Confidence / Caution; Structural / Non-structural; Tough mindedness / Benevolence; and Conformity / Non-conformity.

When Dave rang me with the results it turned out I was very wrong- not an uncommon thing! The results were really surprising; on two of the five dimensions our small sample of staff were statistically different from the norm: they were significantly more “benevolent” and “introverted” than would be expected from testing thirty random people. On reflection perhaps the benevolence finding was not surprising as these individuals were chosen because of their considerate nature and concern for others. But introversion that was a big surprise? I knew most of the individuals and I considered them as strong advocates; people who would knock my door down to tell me we had, in their view, done something which adversely affected the people they supported. Wrong again! The discovery that an intuitive support worker was more likely to be introverted than the population as a whole was a surprise only because I had mistakenly thought of ‘introversion’ as being quiet and shy, the way most people would in everyday terms. However, in profiling terms this ‘introversion’ actually indicated a strength; a capacity to take notice, to not take over, to think of the other person first and to reflect – and of course these are exactly the key traits that we were looking for.

Shortly afterwards this profile was independently re-tested on a much larger survey of over one hundred well-thought-of support workers across MacIntyre and exactly the same variations were found. Kenexa was of the firm view that there is now robust evidence that a “natural” support worker has a demonstrably identifiable personality profile and that this is not random. Profiling job applicants against the competencies required in a role is an established practice in many sectors, yet in the health and social care sectors it is seen as something of a radical concept and perhaps frowned upon. A recent pilot by a partnership of Dept of Health, Skills for Care, the National Skills Academy and MacIntyre, using another form of psychometric test, found:

“Employers are recognising that the PPQ, used on its own, does not provide sufficient assessment about the suitability of an applicant to inform recruitment decisions and that a range of assessment techniques, used collectively, provide a more robust recruitment process.”


“Early signs of good practice are emerging, particularly where employers (68%) are reviewing their recruitment process to varying degrees and there is evidence that the PPQ is proving beneficial in a range of settings including induction, supervision, appraisal and staff development.”

Certainly at MacIntyre, we felt we couldn’t ignore our findings and totally agree that profiling needs to be used within a range of recruitment processes. To be clear I am not saying extroverts can’t be excellent care workers but, if you are, you could do worse than observe and learn from the approach of the quieter members of the team! In the next blog I shall discuss a very unpleasant surprise which emerged by accident when we suggested to our hard-working and overstretched first line managers that they might like to start using the profile in their recruitment…

In the meantime here is my dog Monty helping me find new cairn stones! Monty helping me to find new cairns!