By Paul Barrett and Maretha Prinsloo on December 13, 2019
© Thiago Melo / adobe.stock.com
Of interest are the differences (if any) shown between younger and older employees, with respect to the magnitudes of Information Processing Competencies (IPCs) and preferred Cognitive Styles, within different employment areas.
In this investigation, we looked at how IPCs and Ranked Cognitive Styles vary over different employment areas and age. A sample of the most recently acquired 60,572 cases of CPP data were used, subdivided into two age groups: between 20-30 and between 40 and 60 years of age, excluding those who were identified as “Trainees”. We computed the median IPC and median ranked style for each of the IPCs and Cognitive Styles within each age-group, across 7 employment areas.
The 14 IPCs as indicated in the CPP report, are expressed as normed T-scores, mostly varying between 20 and 80. The 14 CPP Cognitive Styles are ranked, where 1 indicates the least preferred and 14 the most preferred style.
The younger group trends are all solid lines with solid median circles, the older-aged group are the same employment-area colour but, using dashed lines and open median circles.
What we see in Figure 1 is lower IPC medians across all IPCs for older aged employee groups compared to their younger counterparts, with the exception of Categorisation and the Use of Memory.
It is noticeable that the median scores of all the different groups selected here tend to consistently covary across IPCs. This is attributable to the fact that the underlying holonic model of cognition (on which the CPP is designed) assesses processes which are made up of overlapping components which are applied in different sequences / processes. These CPP processes build upon one another and are applied in an integrated way. Certain IPCs primarily reflect capability, or cognitive complexity, whereas other IPC scores largely reflect cognitive preferences related to intellectual habits and emotional needs. For example, the Complexity and Logical reasoning IPC scores, to a large extent reflect current capability whereas the IPCs such as Rule Orientation, Categorisation, Memory, Gradual Improvement Learning and Exploration largely reflect strategies to create cognitive certainty and to be factually correct. For these latter scores, detail and tangible facts are more important that understanding and abstraction. The Quick Insight Learning, Judgement and Integrative IPC scores reflect both capability as well as an emotional need, this time for cognitive challenge and meaning. This clustering of IPC scores is also clearly indicated by factor analyses of the CPP processing scores.
The IPC score distribution curves for the 60,000 sample from which the current groupings were selected are slightly skewed. This is due to the use of Standardised T-scores as opposed to Normalised-Standardised T-scores. Standardised T-scores to some extent reflect the skewness inherent in the distribution of raw scores. For example, the mean for Quick Insight Learning is 50, for Making Assumptions is 47.5 and that for Logical reasoning 54.6. Given this degree of skewness in distribution, medians are reflected in the graphs here, rather than means. Age and employee group effects are nevertheless graphically reflected and interpreted regardless of the impact of the norming and the distribution curves of the IPC scores.
Figure 2 shows the younger and older-aged group medians across all 14 Ranked Styles.
As in Figure 1, the younger group trends are all solid lines with solid median circles, the older-aged group are the same employment-area colour but, using dashed lines and open median circles. The same colours as those in Figure 1 are used for each employment group.
The medians for each age-group, across employment groups are far more similar overall for the median ranked preferred cognitive styles, except for the Trial-and-error (Random) and Reactive (Impulsive) styles, where many older-aged employment groups show a distinct preference for each in comparison to their younger counterparts. The exception here are the Technical/Engineering/Research and Accounting/Finance groups.
The three older-aged groups showing almost identical medians are: HR, Administration/Operations, and Marketing/Sales/Service. These are also the groups whose median preference for Trial-and-error (Random) and Reactive (Impulsive) styles seem to increase substantially with age.
What might we conclude?
Only the most obvious findings are summarised here. Readers should bear in mind that only group averages are reflected here and that within each group, individuals widely vary in terms of their scores.
- Most noticeable from the IPC graph is that the younger test candidates (20 – 30 years of age) almost consistently outperformed the older groups (40 – 60 years of age). Only the older Technical/Engineering/Research group achieved similar average scores as the younger candidates. The younger groups also generally applied more effective cognitive styles than the older groups. In fact, the older candidates – the Marketing/Sales/Services group in particular, largely seem to apply Trial-and-error (Random), Reactive (Impulsive), Explorative and Reflective cognitive styles, which are not particularly effective.
- The average processing scores of the younger candidates primarily span the SST Diagnostic Accumulation as well as the Tactical Strategy levels whereas the average scores of the older groups largely meet the requirements of the Diagnostic Accumulation level. This is to be expected as the majority of people in the corporate environment (roughly estimated at 80% of employees) show Pure Operational and Diagnostic Accumulation cognitive preferences and capabilities.
- A closer look reveals that the younger group obtained higher average scores on all the IPC constructs except that of Categorisation, Memory and Exploration. This may be due to the fact that older candidates capitalise on their previous knowledge and skill, or their well-established cognitive structures.
- Of the younger candidates, the Technical/Engineering/Research, Accounting/Finance and the Teaching/Training groups achieved higher average scores than that all the other employment areas. It should be pointed out that the Teaching/Training group here, mostly consists of people in the Accounting field. The younger candidates in the Administrative, HR, Sales, and Creative employment areas generally achieved somewhat lower information competency scores. Here it should be noted that the candidates in the Creative/Media employment area mostly hold administrative positions, but find themselves within organisational cultures where innovation, excitement, novelty, technology and materialistic values are emphasised (often referred to as adrenalin cultures).
- In general, the younger candidates obtained the highest scores on the more complex processes including that of Logical Reasoning and Complexity. Could it be, that when challenged, the younger candidates generally perform better compared to the overall norm group?
- This was not the case for the older groups who seemed to perform best on the Verbal Conceptualisation, Memory and Gradual Improvement competencies. Again, this finding points towards a reliance of the older group on existing knowledge and experience, probably combined with the confidence to express oneself creatively and coherently. The older group achieved significantly higher scores on Gradual Improvement Learning than on Quick Insight Learning – which may indicate lower levels of cognitive flexibility.
- Given the often vague and unfamiliar nature of fast changing business environments, the information processing competencies of Exploration and Judgement are of particular interest. Within dynamic contexts, facts are not always readily available, and the decision maker has to rely on their intuition. The Judgement IPC measures that intuitive tendency by tracking: (a) awareness of vague and fuzzy information; (b) exploring this appropriately but not excessively; (c) clarifying vagueness using intuition; and (d) contextualising the decision.
- The younger candidates as a whole – especially those from the Technical/Engineering/Research group also obtained the highest Exploration IPC scores (which indicates effectiveness) while they did not necessarily show an Explorative style (indicating preference). In other words, they may not have explored as much as other groups, but their Exploration processes were more effective. In addition, it seems that younger candidates generally also achieve higher scores on Judgement than the older groups. Even though the older groups relied more on their intuition than younger candidates, their reliance on knowledge and experience was not as effective in unfamiliar contexts as the Judgement of the more flexible younger candidates.
- The younger candidates from the Creative/Media group, obtained the highest Explorative style scores (indicative of preference, not capability), yet their effectiveness of Exploration (IPC scores) were relatively low when compared to that of their peers from different career groups. Of all those from the 20 – 30 year old age group, those in the Creative/Media category also obtained the lowest scores on the Rules and Categorisation IPC skills, plus they also did not capitalise much on their knowledge and skills by effectively applying their Memory skills. It seems a popular strategy for organisations to adopt a culture which emphasise creativity and exploration (or adrenalin cultures), to attract and accommodate Millennials.
Organisations which implement such a strategy, in the absence of carefully monitored initiatives to balance the excitement with an emphasis on structure and rigour, may do so at their peril. It may result in superficiality in the pursuit of new opportunities, without the necessary follow through to ensure sustainability. An excessively creative culture may thus stimulate explorative endeavours which may be ineffective and a waste of time and effort.
- The ineffective and superficial cognitive tendencies of the younger sample in the Creative/Media group, however, seems to improve over time in that individuals become slightly more Reflective with age. Their Complexity, Verbal Conceptualisation and Logical IPC scores also seem to improve over time and later even surpass that of other groups such as those from the Sales, HR and Administrative fields.
- The next question which comes to mind is how the various groups performed in terms of the Intuitive style. With age, people generally become more intuitive – given a reliance on their well-developed knowledge and experience bases. They may also become more integrative in that they increasingly make sense of their worlds. The results here indicate that the older group – the Marketing/Sales/Service group in particular, achieved the highest average score on the use of an Intuitive style. The older candidates also achieved the lowest average IPC scores on Rules, Categorisation and Judgement. This may show their increasing reliance on Intuition given their well-internalised experience- and knowledge-bases – a skill which may not necessarily generalise to dealing with unfamiliar information. (Note that the CPP measures Judgement capability in dealing with unfamiliar information.)
- Although the older group was relatively on a par with some of the younger career groups in terms of Memory use, the exercise of this skill may also not necessarily be effective in unfamiliar environments where previously acquired knowledge and skills do not apply. With the CPP assessment, the capacity to concentrate, retain and recall new and unfamiliar information, is measured. Although the older candidates may generally rely more on their memories, there may be factors which impact on their retention of new information, such as stress, overload, demotivation and possible cognitive rigidity and thus, a loss of concentration due to these aspects.
- The younger groups – the Technical/Engineering/Research group in particular, capitalised least on their Intuitive style. Instead, and as could be expected, they achieved the highest average scores on Logical, Analytical and Reflective stylistic tendencies. It is an important prerequisite for the technical and financial groups to be accurate – thereby reinforcing the application of a detailed, rigorous and reflective approach.
- It is interesting that the technical and financial groups, most of whom hold multiple degrees, tend to be marginally more logically than integratively inclined. The Integrative style is one which often characterises theorists who are faced with discrepant information or conflicting models and who enjoy interpreting these in a coherent and meaningful manner. The Logical style is more rule-based, factual and rigorous and aimed at identifying downstream effects and consequences. Systems thinking, a prerequisite for strategy formulation, however, largely requires an Integrative and Holistic cognitive approach.
It should be pointed out once again that a great diversity of cognitive approaches can be identified within each of these age and career groups. The measurement and contextualisation of individual differences thus remain crucial to optimise person-job matching, employee engagement and the strategic viability of the organisation.