Personality Assessments: How Can You Best Use Them?

Many companies use personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the DiSC personality test. However, trainers and Human Resource executives may want to rethink how the results of these tests are interpreted and used. In Fast Company, Jane Porter notes that the results of these tests can lead to harmful preconceived notions of others.

Referencing the work of Brian Little, Ph.D., author of the new book “Me, Myself, and Us,” Porter points out that we have “fixed” and “free” traits. The fixed traits, such as extraversion versus introversion, feel natural to us, while the “free” traits can run counter to our natural tendencies. For example, on the Myers-Briggs test, I’m an INFJ, meaning I’m a sensitive, intuitive, introvert, who likes a certain amount of order in her life. However, I’m also a competent, even strong, public speaker, and I can be assertive enough that some might even call me pushy. My natural tendency is to sit and stare out a window daydreaming (my fixed traits), but to meet a specific goal, such as completing an important project at work, I can successfully reach out to and correspond with others, and can press others to get work done (my “free” traits). The danger in the personality assessment would be presuming, based on my Myers-Briggs results, that I’m not suited to a position requiring assertiveness and a lot of work with others, or jumping to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to give an effective presentation to business partners.

The same would be true of jumping to the conclusion that a well-known extravert at your company—the social butterfly who’s a hit on the business cocktail party circuit—wouldn’t be able to tolerate whole days of working on his or her own. Just as I wouldn’t want to go day after day without time to work on my own, the extravert wouldn’t necessarily want to spend endless days working alone, but is highly capable of spending maybe a quarter of his or her time working independently without interacting with others—depending on the goal he or she is trying to reach.

Given what psychologists such as Little have discovered about the ability of all us to use both our fixed and free traits, how can personality assessments be used to help put the best individuals in each job role, rather than to place false limitations on employees? My suspicion is the employee’s performance in the job interview and his or her track record at the company and at other companies is much more important than a personality assessment. The challenge is what to do when a successful employee wants to move into another role at the company that runs counter to the results of the personality testing you’ve administered. Do you give the employee with the great track record a chance to prove him or herself, treating the new job as a “stretch assignment,” or do you automatically rule him or her out in favor of an equally successful internal candidate with personality assessment results that align better with the job role?

Complicating the challenge of not limiting employees based on personality type is the finding Porter reports on from Little that first impressions of others’ personalities can easily be inaccurate. Free traits could be at work when we meet someone, so that, for example, I’ve had people respond with surprise when I told them I’m a shy introvert. There are many times in my life when that wouldn’t be apparent—especially to an unintuitive person. On the other hand, what if only your fixed traits are in play when you meet someone, then you’d be equally wrong, presuming the person you’re meeting wouldn’t be capable of acting otherwise.

With personality testing, and even first impressions, offering so little reliability about our true potential and aptitude, maybe the best approach is to test out employees, giving more opportunity for employees to contribute to projects outside of their set job responsibilities. Until you give somebody that first, essential chance, you’ll never know what they’re capable of.

Do you use personality assessments at your company? If so, how do you use them effectively, to make the most of employees’ potential?

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