Photographs As Items for Assessment – Free Example

Photographs of people in activity is a promising newer area for development of business-relevant assessments that has been in use for years in healthcare.  Originally developed in the Netherlands to help patients suffering from fear of pain when moving the body (kinesiophobia), the University of Maastricht’s website has details on citations and free compressed (zipped file) short version of the main test.

Clearly, this same approach could be used to develop more engaging employee and organizational assessments that may be difficult to fake, have better face validity, and more workplace fidelity than other types of items.  Further, with cheap and even free video sites, video items could also play a bigger role in future assessments.

Consider these possible fruitful examples.

a) Vocational Interest Assessment

Vocational interest tests help people identify career paths for which their interests, values, and aptitudes are particularly suited.  But most all are purely text-based.  What if each career alternative had photographs of the tasks in each job or job family, with video vignettes of major tasks?  Perhaps this could be a fun way to assess what activities and careers would ultimately help the person realize their goals.  Take another look at the picture at the top of this article.  It’s an actual picture from PHODA’s assessment, but couldn’t it represent the task of lifting articles out of a trunk for the job of a taxicab driver?

b) Employee Selection

Cognitive and knowledge-based tests are often used to select new employees, but not nearly as often or instead of the ubiquitous job interview.  What if good instruments could be developed, perhaps with a combination of item types, to include pictures?  People could rate pictures like this one on the degree to which it looks similar to their desk – would you expect highly conscientious people to endorse this picture?

I would guess that highly conscientious and prudent people would be unlikely to indicate that this picture reflects their own office.  Sales Convention pictures would be good for the high-end of extraversion; Police taking down violent offenders for low levels of agreeableness.  The potential for pre-hire selection, especially using to add to Computer-Adaptive Testing item banks is tremendous.

c) Culture & Climate

Static pictures may be difficult to identify that reflect various organizational cultural differences, but videos could certainly be used to assess these. 

As optimistic as I am about the potential for picture-based items to take a larger role in organizational assessment, I recognize there are also downsides.  First, while digital cameras are cheap, actors may not be.  If you can find existing workplaces where you can take these pictures, it may help you avoid hiring actors for static pictures, but perhaps not for videos that could really suffer with amateur actors.

Second, one New Zeland user of the PHODA complains that if the photographs are context-specific, they can loose value in other contexts.  I remember once when I worked for AT&T Microelectronics, we hired Wally Borman to redo his 1970’s era rater training videos because while the content was good, the actors wore sideburns, bell-bottoms and leisure suits.  This was never going to be very persuasive as “cutting edge” to managers in a bleeding-edge semiconductor factory (computer chips).

Do you see the same potential for photograph-based items as The Scientific Leader?

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Elephant Risk Management & Technology Innovations

With dwindling habitats and large appetites, Elephants are increasingly dangerous in countries like India. Elephants are increasingly entering cities, killing people and eating crops of coconuts, ginger and other valuables.  On December 29th, for example, they entered the Indian city of Bhubaneswar, attacking a honking car and injuring six people reports The Times of India.  This video of an Elephant rampage in Sri Lanka shows how hard they are to control.  This elephant plays with a minivan like it’s a toy.


If you’re a farmer, or just live in a city with a forest that contains wild Elephants, they represent a special kind of
Enterprise Risks to your business, not unlike the Monkey Marauders noted in a previous blog entry.

But in the case of Elephants, several noteworthy options are being tested for efficacy in thwarting the Elephant menace:

1) The man honking his horn was hoping to scare away the elephant, and that strategy backfired

2) Forest officials in Mochapallam brought two trained elephants to drive a wild herd of 13 elephants back to the forest.  They successfully persuaded 12 to follow, but one got away and chased officials and local citizens.

3) The officials in Mochapallam ultimately were successful in getting the remaining renegade Elephant to retreat to the forest by lighting firecrackers.

4) A Bengali inventor, Amunuddin Ahmed, invented an “Elephant Repellent“, that combines sirens, bulbs and wires connected to a battery, or solar power.

Each of these examples, is a real option – the investment, or partial investment, with an uncertain payoff.  In one case, there was not only no payoff – but the strategy backfired.

I’m continuously fascinated by the range of risks that need to be considered by different industries in different countries.  Clearly Elephant rampages are rare, but so are Enron scandals and both have terrible outcomes. Are you considering all the risks to your operations, even if they’re not as exotic as Elephants?  Do you understand your options, and what they’re worth to you?

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Steve Jobs Health Capital & Apple Stock

A simple rumor about Steve Job’s health sent Apple Stock lower today by 32 cents, December 30, 2008, reported many newspapers including the L.A. Times.  No objective facts, just conjecture about his health status suggested to enough investors that there was a human capital threat to shareholder value at Apple to sell shares.

It’s a high-profile example of the importance of one facet of Human Capital, that of “presenteeism” and poor health. Presenteeism is the presence of sick employees on the job, who are unable to perform at their normal peak because of health problems.  It’s a serious threat to the livelihood of a firm who, in Apple’s case, depend heavily on the leadership of their founder and current CEO, Jobs.  If Jobs is unable to perform fully – or horrifyingly – if he’s unable to work at all, it would have a material effect on Apple’s ability to continue to produce iPhones, iPods, iTunes and the plethora of profitable innovations released recently under his watch.

It’s also a special case example of why leadership due diligence is a necessary part of Enterprise Risk Management.  Jobs ability to work at full performance is a material risk to the longevity of the firm.

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Video Details on Cargo Cults

In a previous post, I noted the presence of cargo cults who actually worship an World War II American as their religion.  I’m very grateful to a friend, Gilbert Kporku, for sending me these two videos that go into greater detail on the cargo cult phenomenon, and especially the current John Frum example.

Video 1

Video 2

Australian CAT for Kids

The Australian State of Victoria’s standard educational assessments include computer-adaptive tests (CATs), reports their new, free manual on report interpretation.  I was pleased to discover that the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority uses the most modern form of human assessment to help children of all ages learn.

In particular, it is noteworthy that their easy-to-read manual includes an understanding of Rasch Measurement.  It notes the specific locations where there are items that are out of scope for a given assessment.  In these places, the child is mismatched with the test – the questions are either too hard or too easy to produce a trustworthy metric.

I’m hopeful that Australia’s educational leadership rubs off on more schools around the world.

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CAT for Senior Citizens

Professor Jette

Can Computer-Adaptive Testing Help Senior Citizens?  Research from Boston University suggests it can.  Professor Alan Jette, Director of the Boston University Health & Disability Research Institute published a recent paper examining disability assessments in traditional and computer forms.  With data from 671 older adults residing in care facilities, CAT compared favorably with fixed-form scales, even for a version of the CAT with only 10 questions.  In his study, each CAT was administered in less than three minutes, and were highly correlated with the original instrument.

His research strongly suggests that in situations where time is a scarce resource, and measurement fidelity is still important, that Computer-Adaptive Measurement approaches are often more useful than others.

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Great Satan or Savior – What Do Two Views of American Government Leadership Mean To You?

As someone born in the US, and well traveled, I’ve often wondered about the variation in sentiments about leaders from America.  I often felt treated as a prototypical American.  People assume I fully support every action the politicians from the US government make, frequently false.  The feelings of people in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Pakistan, and Iraq about US Government Leaders are well known to be fairly negative.  I recall as a 16 year old living in Norway, that Europeans would often deride me because of their dislike of US government policy – though I wasn’t old enough to vote.  With the US Government meddling in others domestic affiars, and breaking its’ own rules frequently, I don’t like but understand the term “Great Satan” used in parts of the middle east to describe the USA.

But I’ve also experienced a sort of American “halo bias“.  In my frequent trips to India, I’ve found Indians extremely happy to meet an American.  I have had random strangers want to shake my hand, have me hold their baby for a picture, or buy me a free soda.  Yes, I often am offered free Coca-Cola at shops in India.

What I didn’t know until this article, is that there is actually a religion that worships the US.  The BBC reports that every February, the people of Vanuatu celebrate John Frum day with US army uniforms, wooden weapons and the Star Spangled Banner.  They paint “USA” on their chests.  Village Chief Isaac Wa, says “John is our god”, and believes that an American from World War II will be returning to Vanuatu’s 30,000 Frum worshipers.  This group of people in the small micronesian country are part of a “cargo cult“.

A cargo cult appears sometimes in tribal groups upon their first interaction with technologically advanced alien groups of people.  These cults are focused on obtaining material wealth of the advanced culture through magical thinking, and religious rituals.  In Vanuatu’s case, they believe an American GI named John Frum helped them rebel against the aggressive teachings of British and French missionaries and colonial masters.  They believe the American helped them retain their culture by throwing off the oppression of a foreign state, not unlike the original patriots who founded the US.  Vanuatu people celebrate annually, hoping and praying for the return of the man they call their “Jesus”.

David Calderwood’s article about these Cargo Cults reminded me of Richard Feynman’s critique of 1960’s-era psychology.  But Calderwood makes a compelling case for the current lack of understanding of US natives optimistic about government intervention turning around the US economic crisis.  He notes that Americans have naive, and unsophisticated views of how wealth is created, and so they, like those from Vanuatu, have a sort of Cargo Cult worship of government-intervention in economics.

Business leaders would do well to consider how we’re perceived when we do business in other countries.  Most globe trotting leaders with whom I’ve worked with are already concerned with security.  But they often are relatively insulated from the root cause of the sentiment about the US – positive or negative.  Even though business leaders are not responsible for foreign policy decisions, they often take the brunt of it, with some being kidnapped or killed for their iconic status as an American.  As we are seen as prototypes of our entire homeland, we must be ambassadors for goodwill with other free people to do our best to change inaccurately positive or negative views of us and similar others.

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