The Multi-Tasks Test as a Predictor of Management Performance

Managers are arguably the most important members of an organisation.  Managers act as the liaison point between the workers and the strategy makers.  They lead and direct staff, implement strategies and policies devised by organisational heads and provide both upward and downward feedback and advice.  They are relied upon by all levels of the organisation.

So it is very important for your business that you employ the right managers.

Interviews and traditional ability measures will provide guidance in your decision-making, but there is another tool that has been found to uniquely predict performance in managerial roles.

It is called the Multi-Tasks Test.

RightPeople’s Multi-Tasks test paradigm has a long history in psychological research but has recently re-emerged as technological advances have made it possible to develop superior forms of Multi-tasks and efficiently administer this test in the average workplace.

Read on for more information about the theoretical basis for this test, the empirical research supporting it and how RightPeople can help you make one of the most important decisions you will make: who you put in charge of your business.

What skills are required in a manager?
Firstly it needs to be determined which skills need to be measured.  Managerial ability is not a simple concept but involves a number of key attributes.  These include gathering, disseminating and transmitting complex information throughout the organisation, assisting with decision-making and negotiation.

The importance of attention
Neuropsychological and cognitive psychology research has identified the importance of attention in dealing with complex information.  This is particularly true of managers as they have to handle information from a number of sources simultaneously.

Attention is a multidimensional construct.  Based on Poser and Petersen (1990)’s work and a review of the literature, Robertson and colleagues (1996) outlined a theory of attention comprising three components.  These are: selective or focused attention, being ability to resist distractions and discriminate important information; sustained attention, or the ability to keep one’s mind on the job over a period of time; and attentional switching, ability to switch focus of attention smoothly.  Being able to focus, switch rapidly between the range of tasks under one’s responsibility and to handle competing stimuli without being distracted or losing judgement are key requirements for managerial success.

Particularly relevant to this discussion is the work on divided attention.  The ability to divide one’s attention in order to perform two or more tasks simultaneously has traditionally been viewed as a sign of superior ability, has obvious survival advantages and is required in the modern, complex workplace.  Divided attention tasks have long been used in studies involving complex roles including pilot training (e.g. North & Gopher, 1976).

Empirical research summary
Stankov and colleagues (1989) undertook research to investigate the potential of a measure of divided attention to predict managerial potential.  The measure, known in the research as ‘competing tasks’ (the modern incarnation of this being our ‘Multi-Tasks’ test) used the paradigm whereby two cognitive tasks were presented simultaneously.  This was a more complex presentation and more difficult for subjects than the tasks presented separately (Fogarty & Stankov, 1982; 1988).  This is because in addition to task requirements there was competition for processing resources as the two sets of information were received and a need to process the information quickly before it decayed from short-term memory (Stankov et al., 1989).

The tasks were administered to 27 volunteers who worked at the Head Office of an Australian consultancy firm.

Subjects were administered 6 single tests which measured ability to discriminate sounds, ability to discriminate figures, numerical skills, word reasoning ability and visual-spatial skills.  These measures fit within the prominent intellectual model the CHC Theory of Cognitive Abilities (Fogarty & Stankov, 1988; McGrew, 2009) and have been used extensively in aptitude testing (Stankov et al., 1989).  Three competing tasks measures were formed by combining pairs of the single tests and presenting them simultaneously in different modalities (i.e. one visually and one aurally).  Subjects were asked to concentrate on both tasks in the competing task paradigm.

A five point management rating scale was completed for each volunteer by upper management.  It comprised items from appraisal forms used by a group of management consultants.  Items included, among other things, problem solving, decision-making, mentoring, risk taking behaviour, originality, independence, assertiveness, emotional stability, and being knowledgeable.

Other variables included in the study were position in the company and reporting steps to the Chief Executive Officer.

Outcomes
Competing tasks measures significantly predicted performance ratings by one rater, position in the organisation and reporting steps to the CEO.  For each dependent variable, the competing task measure increased the amount of variance explained by performance on the cognitive tasks over and above the single tasks.  The single tasks did not significantly predict any of the dependent variables.

The main implication of this study is that divided attention tasks using the competing task paradigm (such as the Multi-Tasks Test) play an important role in the reliable and efficient measurement of management potential.  The underlying ability believed to be tapped by the competing tasks measure was the ability to deal with several complex problems simultaneously; a key skill for managers.

In addition to personnel selection, this finding also has important implications for job analysis and redesign and management training.

The study supported and extended the findings of previous research (e.g. Fogarty & Stankov, 1982; 1988) and was replicated by a number of researchers including Fogarty and Stankov (1995) and Ben-Shakhar & Sheffer (2001).

Now this task can be employed by your organisation to help with management selection, placement and training.  Contact us to learn more about the Multi-Tasks Test.

References

Ben-Shakhar, G., & Sheffer, L. (2001). The relationship between the ability to divide attention and standard measures of general cognitive abilities. Intelligence, 29, 293-306.
Fogarty, G., & Stankov, L. (1982). Competing tasks as an index of intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 3, 407-422.
Fogarty, G., & Stankov, L. (1988). Abilities involved in performance on competing tasks. Personality and Individual Differences, 9(1), 35-49.
Fogarty, G., & Stankov, L. (1995). Challenging the “Law of diminishing returns”. Intelligence, 21, 157-174.
McGrew, K.S. (2009). CHC theory and the human cognitive abilities project: Standing on the shoulders of the giants of psychometric intelligence research. Intelligence, 37, 1-10.
North, R., & Gopher, D. (1976). Measures of attention as predictors of flight performance. Human Factors, 18(1), 1-14.
Posner, M.I., & Petersen, S.E. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13, 25-42.
Robertson, I.H., Ward, A., Ridgeway, V., & Nimmo-Smith, I. (1996). The structure of normal human attention. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2, 523-534.
Stankov, L., Fogarty, G., & Watt, C. (1989). Competing tasks: Predictors of managerial potential. Personality and Individual Differences, 10(3), 295-302.