The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Evaluating the Evaluator

There are times when we need to either evaluate a candidate before extending an offer or do a reference check on them in order to learn what others who have experience in working or interacting with them have determined about the person's character and personality. These are people whose observations have validity. Were this not the case, they would not hold the positions that they do or they would not have been offered as a reference. Some positions are so sensitive, have so much public interaction and focus that a psychological evaluation may even be appropriate. So we send the candidate to take a psychological assessment and rely on the clinical results.

Sometimes we get feedback from these experts that is unexpected. We're startled when we learn from a previous manager that the candidate seemed lazy and unreliable, had a propensity to speak in unbridled terms. Or an associate tells of incidents wherein the candidate seems to have an over-inflated sense of self. And the psychologist reports that the candidate has strange, repressed ideations.

Given the events of Virginia Tech, it's wise to take these evaluations seriously. But it is also wise to take the words with a grain of salt and question assessments that are 180 degrees in opposition to what was observed during the several in-person interview sessions. It is entirely possible that the evaluator is the one who is flawed, not the candidate.

In providing this counsel, it is given with quite a number of experiences and reliable references. But let us do this examination in a disciplined manner. Dr. Sam Vaknin is an expert on narcissism and in psychology. He discusses the lack of reliability of mental health evaluations that are offered by those who are essentially not qualified to dispense them but nevertheless do so. Says, Dr. Sam, "Mental health professionals are human. Many of them suffer from mental disorders. Many of them chose their profession simply in order to to be able to cope with their own deficiencies and problems."

Dr. Splash

Indeed, there was one psychiatrist (who we will call "Dr. Splash") suffered from various deficiencies and regularly inflicted them on patients, staff, and contractors. In order to live up to Doctor's expectations and gain his approval, the staff would adopt his flair for saying work was done in slipshod fashion and he should not be required to pay full price. Or that the work was not delivered on time, therefore, he should not be required to pay expedited processing fees.

As time passed, the truth of the matter became clear. Doctor sent out work done in a sloppy manner that required three to four times as much effort as usual. Doctor's evaluations were questionable but his position caused staff to second guess theirselves and fall back on bad decisions that resulted in costly mistakes, delays, or needless duplication of effort. Doctor would intentionally phrase things in such a fashion that would cast a negative pall on the person being evaluated.

The question of patient impropriety arose. Doctor's association with the truth began to be questioned. Professional colleagues would affirm that they knew him but would thereafter become silent.

Of this sort of mental health professional, Dr. Sam says, "Unfortunately, some of them are not sufficiently conscientious. They engage in the delicate art of therapy long before they overcome their own problems.

"They bring their problematic, even sick, selves into the therapeutic setting and, in doing so, they aggravate the patient's issues."

In fact in the example of Dr. Splash, exacerbating his own problems as well as those of his patients was routine. Since he operated his own practice, there was no one to actually supervise his work. His habits created profound insecurities in nearly everyone associated with him. Although I am unaware of the end of Dr. Splash's story, it seems his practices became so widespread that he eventually drove himself out of business. His record became very obvious and people learned to hold him to firm quality standards that had no room for equivocation.

Again, let me refer this examination to the explanations of Dr. Sam wherein he says, "Analysts are supposed to work to solve their own problems prior to practicing. Therapists are supposed to work under supervision and to refer and defer to these supervisors. An outside perspective is often very helpful to them. But not all therapists and psychiatrists adopt these professional standards and work methods." In the case of Dr. Splash, he had the professional backup of those associated with Medi-Cal and Medi-Care as well as other industry and professional associations. It was the state and federal agencies that began to see the flaws in his practice.

Dr. Splish

Dr. Splish is also a noted psychologist. His specialty is in personality assessments and he has published some very interesting pronouncements. It was interesting to review some of the tests and assessments he has prepared. A casual reading revealed nothing outrageous. In fact, everything seemed to fall into a very reasonable sequence. But that was the problem. Without doing any critical reading of the assessments, the fact that the questions were skewed and structured in such a way that they actually exhibited bias in many instances that tended to disqualify candidates of color.

The other interesting thing about Dr. Splish is his propensity to perform unsolicited psychological and psychiatric evaluations of people over the phone. It has been indicated that he shares these evaluations with others who have relied on the information to make business decisions about associations with the individuals who were unsuspectingly evaluated.

As with Dr. Splash, Dr. Splish suffers from a number of unresolved insecurities. They are revealed in small snippets of rueful statements splattered here and there during conversation. It sometimes seems as though he uses his negative evaluations as a tool to lash out at those who he perceives to be outdistancing him and thereby compensate for what Dr. Sam has called "insecurities." With this revelation, you have to wonder whether it is actually safe to come in contact with Dr. Splish at all, much less rely on his evaluations. It is safe, but only in small doses and for a limited amount of time. The heart of dealing with him effectively is to draw a standard that must be met and not equivocate on the bar. Remind him that there is a standard. Acknowledge expertise and valid insight when appropriate and thank him.

How to Handle the Evaluation

What we should learn from the examples of Dr. Splash and Dr. Splish is that not all psychologists or psychiatrists, even those with long lists of letters and professional associations after (or associated with) their names should be looked to as ones who dispense gospel. There is one example of a sound psychological / psychiatric professional I have found. Noted for his work as the foresic psychiatrist in the "Son of Sam" case, Dr. Jay Ziskin's words stand the test of critical evaluation. He is incisive and has no axe to grind. He deals with the facts and disciplined principles and uses them to provide an accurate assessment.

What this means for us as we look to mental health experts for information relating to hiring decisions is we need to listen carefully to what is being said. We need to ask questions when the evaluation does not match what we have already seen. We should not be enamored with the person's credentials. Rather we should also be evaluating the one who is speaking in order to determine whether they have some type of bias, whether they are capable of making an impartial determination based on proven standards. We should make an attempt to ascertain whether the person who has performed the evaluation had authorization to do so. Finally, it is very important that we determine whether the evaluator comes to us with a solid foundation and has used reliable industry resources to validate their work. We should not be afraid to seek a second opinion.

Human Resource Library: Administration & Policies

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