For decades, companies have turned to personality assessments to help them make the best hiring decisions, especially for upper management roles. Once these assessments have fulfilled that purpose, they typically get stashed away in a new employee’s file and never see the light of day again.

But with the growing focus on team building and establishing a strong corporate culture in businesses, more leaders are discovering the potential of personality assessments as a tool for talent retention and engagement.

“About 20 percent of the value you get from assessment tools stems from hiring, but 80 percent comes from more effectively managing your team internally,” says Craig Jacobus, president of Jacobus & Associates, an executive coaching and business consulting firm that helps clients implement and evaluate assessment tools.

Managers tend to view personality assessments as “absolute key on the front end of the hire” that no one talks about after they start, but sharing them openly is actually “where the secret sauce is,” Jacobus says.

“Personality assessments shouldn’t be hidden,” he says. “They should be used holistically throughout an organization, so everyone understands with complete transparency what the individual differences between people are and why those are important.”

Every company has friction between different teams, whether it’s sales and accounting, marketing and operations, or human resources and finance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of an “us versus them” mentality, Jacobus says, but it takes all personality types for a business to succeed.

“People tend to look at the world through their own lens,” he explains. “If I’m an extrovert and I’m interacting with someone who is an introvert, my first thought might be, ‘That person is not very friendly.’ So I might start making assumptions about why he or she doesn’t want to talk to me or doesn’t seem to like me. But if I know how that person is wired, it takes that judgement away.”

Personality Assessments in the Workplace—and Why They Work

Most personality assessments in the workplace are based on innate principles known as the “Big Five”: extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Established by psychologists and behavioral scientists, these principles are measured on a sliding scale and identify the natural tendencies that drive and motivate people. The personality traits individuals score the highest on are called “high drives,” while those they show less of an affinity for are known as “low drives.”

Many companies make the mistake of shelving these assessments as soon as they hire employees, but keeping them at the forefront provides managers with insight into their hires that it would take months to learn otherwise.

“It empowers managers by giving them a road map of everybody who works for them and what each individual needs to be fully engaged,” Jacobus says.

Personality assessments only need to be taken once to produce valid results, but they can be used repeatedly as a management tool. Here’s how businesses can use assessments to improve how they manage and motivate employees:

Improving communication with direct reports: Most of us manage others how we would like to be managed. Personality assessments provide an objective view of others and reveal what makes each person tick. “Before you go into a one-on-one with a direct report, take a look at his or her profile so you can think about the best way to approach that individual because it’s going to be different from the next person,” Jacobus says. He also recommends sharing your own profile results with employees, so they understand why you operate and react the way you do.

Providing more relevant onboarding and training: Every personality type has a different style of learning and assimilating information. Some people train better with a partner or through hands-on experience, while others learn through reading or more methodical ways. “If you onboard only in a style that works for you, you’re going to miss the mark 75 percent of the time,” Jacobus says. Assessments can also help companies build workarounds for parts of a job that might be a struggle for different personality types. For example, if someone has a lower drive for detail, how can you build a safety net around that person?

Enhancing team building and camaraderie: Sharing the results of personality assessments throughout a company, from the CEO to frontline employees, helps “everyone understand and celebrate the differences between individuals,” Jacobus says. It can also help tear down silos between departments and improve relationships between those with disparate styles of communication. This can help reduce conflict, build trust, and boost performance and productivity. “When you understand the reason behind why people behave the way they do, you improve morale, because you’re not going to be assigning motives and blame all the time,” Jacobus says.

Building Self-Awareness With Personality Assessments

With greater self-awareness comes better self-management, Jacobus adds. Knowing you’re driven to be assertive, for example, increases your awareness of how others perceive you. And if you’re coming across as pushy or arrogant, you can dial that behavior back to avoid rubbing others the wrong way. “It creates a different language inside organizations,” Jacobus says. “In organizations where assessments are used from the top-down, people will actually have conversations like, ‘Wow, your A (assertiveness) is pretty intense today.’ It’s not about the person; it’s about how he or she is bringing that personality trait to bear.”

Assessments measure “predictable behavior,” which usually doesn’t change and is typically the most accurate the first time around, Jacobus says. But some also evaluate the “perception of required behavior.” This gives employers a glimpse into the last 90 days of work and how employees are adapting their personality to meet the current demands of their work environment.

Assessments like Ngenio’s MPO platform, which Jacobus uses with his clients, allow businesses to give employees this portion of the assessment every 90 days.

“If you’ve put people in a position where their low drives become their high drives and vice versa, they’re going to be exhausted every day, so that’s something you need to address,” he says.

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