There are many different personality tests out there and you may have even taken some but...how useful are they really?
My first interaction with a personality test came in the form of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and also referred to the 16 Types. It was 2007, I was becoming a leader within a fast growing payments company and a coaching service that we hired used this particular tool as a way for leaders and teams to get to know each other. It was eye opening as I finally started to see where I derive energy from, how I make decisions, and how I approach tasks. I compared it to reading a horoscope on steroids that fully resonated with me. We also got a full understanding of the history of the test and it proved value within the organization and our teams.
Before I dive too much into this particular example and what our teams learned from the MBTI test, I thought it would be good to dive into the most popular test types as an overview.
- MBTI - Myers Briggs Type Indicator - This test looks at a person in 16 possible personality types with 4 areas that are evaluated. It evaluates how you get energized and how you get recharged (I or E), how well you follow processes (S or N), your decision making (F or T), and finally, how you are at staying on task or responding to interruptions (J or P).
- DISC - This is another popular test that looks at four key areas; Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, or Conscientiousness. Like Myers Briggs, it not only has a letter designation but a score from 1 to 100 for each letter. Your high “D” will be good at delivering tasks and your high “I” will be able to connect with others for example.
- Strengths - The Clifton Strengthsfinder is a personality test which is broken down into 34 different key areas that a person can identify as a “strength.” Examples are Achiever, Learner, Discipline, Input, Context, etc. The philosophy around this test is to find out what team members are naturally strong at so you can leverage investment in those areas for team performance. The key is if you invest in someone's strength vs try to “fix” a weakness, you will get an exponential return on your investment due to existing natural ability.
- Enneagram - This one is less common than the three previous mentioned but this test has nine different categories with connected types. While this test does receive some criticism for being subject to interpretation, it is an interesting insight into a person and how they relate to others.
One thing I would like everyone to keep in mind is your mindset and situation at the time of taking a test will affect the outcome. Each test is unique in how the results speak to a person. To see how you may vary, try taking a test during working hours mid week and on a Saturday afternoon to check for variance. Now that we have an overview of each test, I want to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of how they can be used.
Tests are a great way to get a general feel for how someone will make decisions, work on projects, interact, and how they process information. Take a test as a team, reviewing results is a great way to get to know each other at a deeper level and allow the team to bond and build trust. I have found it very effective to start with or go deeper with the test that a company usually backs, however, once every 6 months, a year, or as a new team member joins, it is really fun to use these tools and interactions as a way to get to know someone new and use some examples for how the results come into play.
As a leader, it is good practice to break the ice, show some vulnerability and share some personal stories to get the room talking. My hope is that your teams have the foundational element of trust and safety and the conversations will be interesting and educational for your teams.
Mistakes I see by companies that are also a personal red flag is when personality tests (also IQ tests) are used as part of the screening process either before interviews or before an offer is made to potential employees. It shows value and judgement based on a score of a test that is not always accurate and can blind what could be a solid employee, with the right skills, and culture fit for your organization. I think it is completely acceptable and even a positive sign where I see tests administered after the position has been accepted as it shows me from the company standpoint that they value learning more about me as a person and how the team can interact and relate to me and vice versa.
Taking the results of tests too far can be the ugly side of this whole ordeal. I have seen finance teams hire all ISTJs. What better way to have a disciplined team centered around numbers than to have Introverts who do not like to socialize, follow repeatable instructions, making decisions from data, and seeing all tasks to completion before starting something else? Of course, the obvious point here is that all teams should value diversity and how we can balance strengths and weaknesses to handle many types of situations.
There are some good tools that I have seen come onto the market recently that help organize and can provide both a personal and team view into all of these assessments. Cloverleaf is a tool that has been around since 2017 that offers a fantastic view into you individually but also has visualizations on how a team compares against one another. My favorite feature is being able to compare one team member to another side by side based on assessment to get a detailed view on work collaboration, conflict resolutions, and information processing. They are worth a look.
There are other tests out there such as Predictive Index (PI) as well as more specific value and culture based assessments. I did not speak to them as they are not as widely used however, they do build upon the four mentioned and offer different angles of insight into your team.
How Leaders Should Use Personality Tests
My overall view on personality tests is that they are a valuable tool for any organization and team. If you are starting a new business and looking to grow a team, if you work for an existing larger organization, or if you want to learn more about yourself, these tests are a great starting point.
I believe that strong teams and leaders are ones that understand themselves and how they operate. They have control of their emotions and can stay calm and focused in stressful situations. Leaders should also know where their gaps are so they can surround themselves with team members or make up for differences. This all starts with defining your culture, hiring strong people, and defining a vision that the team will get behind.
Take some of the lessons learned and use them to help bond and grow your leadership teams and organizations.