Most personality assessments do little to help people achieve performance excellence

According to a recent article in Harvard Business review, more than 76% of organisations use assessments tests (mainly personality and ability tests) when hiring and this figure is expected to climb to 88% over the next few years (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2015). Using assessment for development purposes, including career and team development, is also growing rapidly as organisations looks for ways to help employees become more self-aware to improve their performance and engagement.

Excellence requires an understanding of unique strengths

Many popular personality tools focus on measuring personality traits and characteristics. They classify personality into broad personality characteristics, e.g. “extroverts versus introverts”, as a way to understand and predict behaviour. For example, according to MBTI, people can be classified in one of 16 character preferences and most human behaviour can be explained by their type. Insights Discovery does something similar by assigning people one of 4 main colours (e.g. “sunshine yellows” are warm, expressive types) which are supposed to explain most behaviour at work.
This view of human behaviour at work is seductively simple and although MBTI and Insights can be useful in helping people gain a basic understanding of how they and their co-workers typically approach tasks, make decisions and relate to others, their value is limited, especially when it comes to helping people understand how they can achieve peak performance.

They fail to take account of the myriad of differences that make us unique, including the strengths, skills, mindsets and different factors that underpin excellence at work. For example, when measuring strengths using our Strengthscope® system, we often find people who are energised by empathy but not by compassion. These are completely independent strengths that don’t necessarily show up together, as they would in an MBTI or Insights profile. In fact, a person’s Strengthscope® profile is so unique that the chances of them getting the same top 7 strengths is 1:346,000 and even when they do have the same strengths, these are applied in very different ways.

A much sharper focus on excellence, productivity gains (doing more with less), and engagement to ensure people are performing at their peak means that we need to move beyond measuring ‘normal’ ranges of behaviour and performance to measuring factors driving peak performance such as strengths, mindsets and motives. By continuing with our focus on measuring how a ‘typical person’ behaves at work and applying competencies to try to standardise behaviour across large groups of leaders or employees, we miss an opportunity to fully leverage peak performance using employees’ unique strengths and pathways to results.

Peak performance is situational

Oversimplified personality assessments don’t take account of the complex and fast-changing person-situation interaction effects evident in today’s organisations. Assessments can account for these by ensuring employees get 360-degree feedback on how their preferences and behaviours are being perceived by co-workers and measuring how behaviour changes under different work conditions. For example, Strengthscope® considers what happens when strengths are overdone (i.e., when they are used too much or in the wrong way in relation to a specific situation), resulting in performance risks and problems.

Recent research suggests that these overdone strengths are probably the most important source of performance problems and interfere with peak performance yet very few of the traditional personality assessments measure them! The result is that our estimates suggest around 95% of employees remain unaware of their overdrive risks, a shocking statistic and a poor reflection on how we’ve approached development in such a limited and binary way (focusing mainly on weaknesses with some attention to strengths) in the past.

Peak performance requires a good understanding of team dynamics

If we want to understand performance excellence, we need to move beyond focusing on individuals and how their personality impacts behaviour.  We need to measure not just the unique strengths of individuals and how these play out across different situations, but also how these are optimised or undermined by the team’s leadership and climate, co-workers’ strengths and risk areas and the dynamics in a team.

People achieve excellence in unique ways

The shift in many organisations towards building an inclusive workforce and a re-definition of ‘talent’ as being the entire workforce as opposed to an exclusive group of talent means that explaining broad preferences will become less valuable than understanding unique strengths, skills and other capabilities people bring to work.
A major force accelerating this trend is the changing demographics of our workforce. Millennials coming into the workplace want their strengths and unique talents to be valued, appreciated and developed from the get-go. An assessment approach that labels or pigeon-holes people too narrowly can quickly undermine their sense of identity, value and psychological engagement with the company.

Organizations are changing at lightning speed to deal with a host of technological, economic, political and other disruptive forces impacting their markets. However, many HR departments, psychologists and coaches are still using personality assessment tools and approaches designed for the last century when the nature of work was very different and totally unrelated to current realities. An increased need for diverse strengths and talents as well as emotional and psychological capital (including hope, self-confidence, optimism, agility and resilience) means that we need to refocus measurement of personality away from broad  personality characteristics to modern approaches that assess personal strengths, talents, mindsets and motives that are proven to drive excellence, learning and psychological capital.

Speak to us to learn how to achieve this, today.

Find out more about our strength-based assessments here.