It was 1978 in Columbia, South Carolina, and Gerhard Wenglorz was in the library grading papers. An MBA student in the University of South Carolina’s international business program, Wenglorz was teaching a course in international marketing to undergraduates. Even then, the university was renowned for its international business school, and a high percentage of students came from outside the United States. “Many of my students came from different countries like Thailand, India, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan,” he recalls. “At times, their day-to-day behavior seemed strange to me. When I would grade papers, I was sometimes surprised to see such fact-based, well-conceived arguments.”
“We all have biases”
This worried Wenglorz. He knew his international students came from different cultures, and anticipated that they might act and think differently. But why did he expect a poorer academic performance than that which they actually delivered? “It’s difficult to recognize a person’s potential, especially when you first meet someone. We all have biases, even if we would prefer that we didn’t,” he says.
That was when he recognized the need for a new kind of assessment test that could identify a person’s potential without bias. And right away he knew one area of the business that would benefit: the HR department. It was often the case in 1978 – and still is today – that candidates who “looked good on paper” proved to have the wrong personality type or lacked the soft skills for the job. Other candidates might have the potential to do the job well, but it didn’t come across in their application. At the earliest, employers could assess these essential qualities at the interview stage. Assuming, that is, that all the best candidates had been invited for an interview. And this is where humans’ innate biases failed the system.
As Wenglorz saw it, there were two essential problems. First, how could you identify a person’s potential without bias? And second, how could you assess a person’s soft skills before the interview phase?
Next page: A universal assessment test
There were a number of assessment tests available at the time that tried to address these problems, but they were all language-based. There was always a risk of misinterpretation, especially when the tests were used to assess people from different countries. “I wanted to make a test that would work universally,” he says. “Whether you ask people in Papua New Guinea or South Africa or New Zealand, one plus one will always equal two. Different languages and cultural mentalities don’t change that. I needed to use a similar logic.”
A universal assessment test
Soon after Wenglorz started working on his idea, however, he got a job offer at a large company in the IT industry. One thing led to another and he ended up working in the industry for more than 20 years, putting his own business plans on hold. It wasn’t until 2007 that he was able to pick up again where he had left off. Today, his idea has a name – INCOMEfit – and a number of successful trials under its belt. He also presented it at the SAP Startup Forum in Berlin this past September.
The key feature of INCOMEfit is its unbiased assessment test. Collaborating with Swiss psychologist and management trainer, Dr. Claudio Weiss, Wenglorz discovered and adapted a test that uses visual elements rather than words. Test-takers click their way across a checkerboard as fast as they can while obeying “traffic rules”. These dictate which squares can and cannot be clicked on, and which direction to head toward or avoid. An enormous number of variables can be measured as the test-taker moves across the checkerboard, and as these movements alter from checkerboard to checkerboard.
It is certainly relevant how well people perform in this test, but far more revealing is the way in which they approach the task. Do they wait first, planning a whole set of moves in advance, which they then execute swiftly? Or do they start immediately and then more slowly and carefully, step by step? How do they react when they realize that they’ve made a mistake? Do they discover their mistakes at all?
Next page: Match-making for the business
By analyzing these variables, the test is able to deliver a behavioral sample of people’s performing styles when fulfilling a task that contains both directions (rules, regulations) and autonomy (freedom, choices). Since this is the nature of most tasks in virtually all professions, it is important information for employers to know before making a hiring decision. How will the job candidate deal with obstacles, learn from mistakes, and solve problems? Are they more analytically-minded or intuitive, serious or playful, patient or impatient, controlled or spontaneous, overconfident of lacking self confidence? INCOMEfit gives employers unbiased answers to these questions.
Match-making for the business
The second feature of INCOMEfit is the “match-making” software that brings together candidates with employers. Job-seekers upload their profile to the INCOMEfit database, including hard facts, soft skills, and job-relevant likes and values.
– Hard facts: education, work experience, certifications, et cetera
– Soft skills: as determined by the nonverbal test mentioned above
– Job-relevant likes and values: as determined by a verbal test developed by Claudio Weiss, adapted from Edgar Schein’s career anchors and Weiss’s own motivators radar tool
Employers, conversely, upload a profile of their ideal candidate, taking into account the requirements of the open position – whether it’s in marketing or accounting, for example. With one click, the system provides employers with a list of candidates that are best-suited for the job, not just the ones with an impressive resume of hard facts that “look good on paper.”
In this way, Wenglorz says, INCOMEfit is able to provide more accurate and compatible matches than is possible in the traditional hiring process. That was certainly the case for a Germany-wide employment agency. It wanted to improve the accuracy of its placements to avoid costly re-trainings. At the time, the agency had around 45% placement accuracy. When it tested INCOMEfit, it experienced about 80% accuracy.
About Gerhard H. Wenglorz:
Gerhard H. Wenglorz is the owner and general manager of INCOME engineering Consulting GmbH. His product, INCOMEfit, is currently being tested by a selected group of individuals and in diverse organizations. It is expected to be generally available early next year.