The pros and cons of personality assessments.

A colleague of mine emailed me after reading a New York Times article about a black woman who had shared that she was an introvert, troubled by the way her leadership team had taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as part of a team-building exercise.

She already felt isolated as the only black female on the team, and now she was in the minority a third time  as an introvert.

The author of the New York Times article, Quinisha Jackson-Wright, questioned the validity of MBTI or other personality assessments being used in team building exercise and as a selection tool.

Ms. Jackson-Wright raises excellent questions.

Personality assessments can be useful to screen job candidates if they have been statistically validated to show that they are effective in selecting job candidates that perform well on the job and are not biased.

First, the vendor of the personality assessment needs to conduct a statistically validated study. Then the company needs to “benchmark” the study against the performance of its workforce to determine if the assessment can identify the best performers among its current employees. Finally, companies need to decide where to set the scoring threshold to move job candidates to the next step in the hiring process.

However, personality assessments should never be the only tool used in hiring decisions. They are most successful when used with structured interviews and background checks. If the personality assessment or any other assessment such as a job skill assessment is not validated, companies can be liable for discriminatory hiring practices.

When using assessments for selection, companies also need to track the results of their hiring decisions and look for evidence of bias. Today’s machine learning software in applicant tracking and talent management systems makes this work much easier to achieve.

When deciding on a personality test to use in hiring, one size doesn’t fit all shoes. Personality assessments have been designed for different job families and the skills and attributes required on the job. For example, the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) has proven to be a valid predictor of job performance for various jobs, such as management, customer service, hospital administrators, and police officers. It is one of the most studied and validated leadership assessments ever. I have personally found HPI to be an excellent tool for coaching managers on leadership style.

When selecting sales workers, I have had great success using a different validated assessment, the Berke assessment. A modified version of the Berke assessment is excellent at selecting sales leaders. They are different assessments because the skills and personalities of sales leaders are different than sales workers.

However, neither Hogan nor Berke should be used as a team-building exercise.

Back to MBTI, it is a very effective and reliable tool to be used to help workers understand their preferred working style and environment. It is too personal to be used as a team-building tool. It is not validated as a selection tool.

Are there other assessments that can be used for team-building or to improve inclusion? The answer is yes.

For team building, I recommend the use of communication style assessments, such as the Skill Deployment Inventory (SDI), DISC or Business Chemistry. All of these assessments identify four basic communication styles and do a great job of conveying the differences between them. My own preference is SDI because it also shows how communication styles can change under stress.

These assessments are not personality tests and are not validated to be used as a selection tool. Instead, they identify the preferred communication styles of each individual on a team and provide guidance on how to mitigate misunderstanding and conflict between team members with “bridging strategies.”

These communication assessments inform employees about their communication styles, the strength and weaknesses of their styles of communication, and the importance of honoring the styles of others. They also describe how to bridge common communication gaps. For example, if an amiable team member wanted to persuade a hard-driving, task orientated team member that her plan would fail because it would overwork and exhaust the team, the amiable would need learn to identify the effect on delaying the timeline and missing goals, as well as the requirement for additional resources, rather than focus on the negative impact of exhausted team members.

I have also seen these assessments help with inclusion. In a class of 20, there is always one case where a male or female or person of color and a white person will have the same communication style, meaning they get each other easily despite their visual diversity. It drives home the point of focusing on the individual, not our visible differences and the importance of effective communications.

When thinking about using personality assessments, it is crucial to understand the purpose. Is the use for job selection, determining promotions, inclusion, or team building? Then to use the correct assessment that is reliable for that purpose.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting. Today’s blog includes excerpts from his new book: Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. You can buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing.

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