Everyone Makes Mistakes… Just Don’t Make These When Using Personality Assessments Like MBTI! – Part 5

In my last few posts, I have talked about how psychometric tools are often misused–in many cases to the detriment of individuals and companies alike. If you’ve had a chance to read the previous posts, you know that tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Big 5, or DISC can only be used to help identify a few key things: learning how people prefer to speak and be spoken to, where they gather energy, and how they come to a decision. 

Some tools have different values and can be used for other purposes, but generally speaking, these tools are only for self-awareness and coaching. Here are the key mistakes I see companies and business leaders make when employing personality assessments.

Mistake #1: Using Personality Assessments to Weed Out the “Liars from the Fliers”

My concern throughout this comprehensive blog series is that there is an entire industry building itself up, promising to either:

  • find your company the perfect employee, or
  • make you look like the perfect employee 

Ben Dattner

In the HBOMax documentary, Persona, an executive coach, Ben Dattner, is quoted as saying, “I’m helping my clients compete and win. The world is like a large poker game where we are trying to crunch the numbers and count the cards and trying to ascertain: Do they have a full hand or are they bluffing?” 

This comment is based on the reality that many people stretch the truth or even lie in job interviews. Companies have been building higher and more complicated obstacles, designed to weed out the liars from the fliers. Personality “tests” have formed a key piece of this process.

Here’s the rub: There is no such thing as a personality “test” that tells you how well an applicant will do their job or how hard they will work. Psychometric tools are assessments, not tests. They are designed to provide a common terminology so groups of people can communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. Their purpose is to improve the productivity and coachability of a team. 

Mistake #2: Misusing Assessment Scores to Make Hiring Decisions

Well-constructed psychometric tools have validity and reliability metrics built in. Typically, these are seen in questionnaires in the form of “psychological opposite” questions. This means that questions posed tend to have no right or wrong answer but must be based on a feeling or attitude of the person answering. These questions are then interspersed throughout an assessment and asked in multiple ways–and ultimately compiled for the assessor to evaluate. 

For example, in the MBTI this structure is called the “polarity index.” It shows the consistency of a respondent’s answers to the questions posed. The lower the consistency, the less accurate the score.

Warning! This score is not meant to dictate hiring practices. The first failure of executive coaches and business bosses who rely on these assessments as tests is to think, “The respondent is lying!” Unfortunately, it is not possible to deduce that from a low score on the index. 

The only revelation this result affords is that the assessment taker was unclear in their responses. They could be lying, or they could be confused. Or, frankly, they just might not be taking the assessment seriously.

This is the main problem of an ineffective leader. There is no “test” to act as a shortcut or replace you doing your job. You must take the time to evaluate an individual’s score and determine truth. Yes, your job is hard. But, you must do the legwork to motivate, train, and empower your employees. 

Mistake #3: Relying Too Heavily on Technology

Cathy O’Neil

In Persona, Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist and consultant, made this point well when she said, “Our world has become dominated by algorithms and data mining. Businesses are looking for answers. Who will buy their product? Who is qualified for this loan? Which person is a good credit risk?” 

We so badly want technology to provide us with a solution for understanding human emotion and desire, so we can put it to work making profits.

My friends, I am sorry to disappoint you. That is just not possible. Maybe when quantum computing comes into its own we will be able to evaluate all the possible combinations of thoughts, actions, and possibilities to predict human behavior. Even then, I highly doubt we’ll be able to predict human behavior using technology, let alone evaluate compatibility, honesty, reliability, or the like. 

Because the variables constantly change in unpredictable ways, you must build a consistent foundation for your team with your leadership ability.

Mistake #4: Discounting Humans’ Potential to Learn and Grow

It is true that Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers had hoped their new tool would be able to better define people and what roles they could perform. But, after years of research, we now know that is just not possible with the MBTI.

Persona notes that Briggs’ early clients like GE and similar companies wanted to figure out what made a good executive. The Washington Power and Gas Company wanted to know if introverts or extroverts were better at meter reading versus clerical work. Isabel herself wanted to figure out what was “the thing” that made everyone happy.

So, yes, they clearly did not understand what the tool was able to do then, and unfortunately there are many companies still chasing this myth. The film notes Unicru as one particularly problematic actor, and I agree. They promise that their tests will help you “clone” your best employees. This terrible idea is promoting the abuse of personality assessments. 

Humans are capable of learning and growing in anything they choose. Of course, some have more aptitude than others for a certain task, but that does not mean they cannot learn and become competent. There is no evidence that humans have an inability to learn or improve at specific skills. Suggesting otherwise is to terribly misunderstand the opportunities that coaching, education, and practice provide.

To be fair, it makes sense to try to weed out cheaters, crooks, or other dishonest persons. It makes sense to try to develop an assessment of competence. But, trying to automate analysis of this with digital technology and personality “tests” is missing the primary value technology offers us: the ability to think!

Mistake #5: Blaming Employees When Leadership Is at Fault

Humanity is exponentially more productive today than in the 1880s, precisely because we do not need to commit to memory all the things previously required of us. You no longer need to memorize the periodic table of elements, because you can ask Google to find it for you in two seconds. You can spend time thinking about what the elements might mean for a future invention, rather than struggle to remember which noble gas is below helium on the chart. 

We now have space in our brains to think critically and creatively so that we can innovate!

That means, if you want to clone your best employee, the only consistent way to do it is to be a good coach and teacher; to empower your team and express interest in their needs, while listening and communicating with them. If that approach sounds familiar, it is because it comes from research published in the Harvard Business Review about a project done by Google. They were attempting to find out what made a good manager, and the answer was clear: Pay attention to your employees’ needs and empower them.

Think about that. The problem with employee productivity and motivation is not the employees, it is the leaders. In the 30 years that my company has been working on leadership and conflict resolution, we have found that in almost every case our clients’ problems were not a matter of “bad” employees. It has been a need for leadership to improve communication, accountability, or process. 

Sure, there is always an instance of a “bad egg” who is stirring the pot of conflict or free riding while everyone else works. But, those instances are few and far between–and rarely destabilize the organization (unless leadership does nothing). 

Why Empowerment Is So Critical in Team Development

Most employees want a sense of community and to be valued at their jobs. Humans in general are searching for a reason to “be” or a place to belong. All you have to do as a leader is find out what that is and empower it for them.

Sometimes, you will find that the goals or desires of your employees are not suitable for your organization. But, just like the free riders and cheats, you can easily coach them to a better place–if you have a system in place to measure, evaluate, and communicate to your team.

This is what we do at EII Consulting and why we find so much value in the actions that make up those initials: Educate, Innovate, Inspire. Your job as a leader is to do these three things. Let us help you devise the tools to evaluate what your team needs, so you can empower and inspire them to levels of productivity you have never seen before. Contact us to get the ball rolling!

Get access to each of the blogs on this topic HERE.

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