The Validity of Using Personality Profiles – Do They Really Work?
While personality profiles have been the go-to solution for organisations for various hiring and team-building processes (read our introductory article on personality profiling in the workplace: https://www.inpsychful.sg/personality-profiles-workplace/), could it be worthwhile to be more mindful? Personality profiles have their benefits – employees will be able to understand their own profiles and take note of their personal strengths and weaknesses. This can potentially support them in building new strengths and competencies. Personality profiles are also deemed to speed up the hiring process by identifying individuals whose personality profile and traits best fit the nature of the job and most suitable for the work demands. Furthermore, personality profiles are also somewhat useful in creating better foundations for team-building as it aids in enhancing communication and in minimising the risks of conflict and miscommunication in these teams.
However, organisations have to acknowledge that the supposed fiscal benefits of personality profiling may be hard to measure and may not offset the heavy costs to the organisation. Personality assessments are undoubtedly expensive to administer, especially when considering the high volume of applicants to the organisation. Organisations spend millions of pounds a year to such tests (Harper, 2008), and yet organisations are still susceptible to making ill-informed decisions in the workplace (Paul, 2005).
Another commonly overlooked aspect of the overreliance on personality profiling is that these assessments identify which personalities match with you best, and which personality types are ‘opposite’ from yours. These assessments also list down the strengths and weaknesses of the personality types. Another commonly overlooked aspect of personality profiling is that each personality tool profiles only a certain aspect of one’s traits; it is not a complete profiling of all the traits an individual possesses. In addition, one’s behaviours, actions and ‘characteristics’ maybe a result of a combination of traits, i.e. there are other considerations and traits at play instead of the traits identified by applied personality profile. These oversimplifications of personality traits and underplaying of individual difference undermines workplace politics and attributions to organisational problems. What was initially intended as a method for job-matching is now used to ‘treat’ organisational issues that in fact cannot be so easily resolved (Dattner, 2008).
Furthermore, knowing your personal profile alone may not be enough to help build efficient teams in the office. What comes after reading your personal profile is important as well. Many of these profiles focus on personal characteristics, and what one can do to match another’s personality profile to better communicate or work together more effectively (Perkins, 2019). The locus of control becomes more external than internal, when employees should be focusing on working on the self – building new strengths and enhancing current ones. Employees are rarely given instruction on how to move forward after receiving their personality profile.
While individuals may be able to harness the strength of profiling for enhancing communication and rapport to a certain degree, it can also hamper a growth mindset for some as it becomes a convenient excuse, easily saying that ‘my work performance is like this because my personality type always displays such patterns of behaviour’ (Perkins, 2019). Organisations may also fall into the same trap and end up using this explanation as a justification for poor performance, leading to lack of organisational growth and rigidity in the workplace.
How to Effectively Utilise Profiling Practices
The question now then is: ‘how can my organisation effectively utilise these profiling practices to enhance current organisational processes?’. The following tips can potentially help your organisation to use profiling to its intended effect and avoid the downsides of having an overreliance on personality profiling.
- Move Away from Personality Profiles Being The ‘Golden Method’
When organisations incorporate personality profiles in the hiring aspects, they must remember to not scrimp and save your time on other aspects of the hiring process. Take the time to understand applicants’ motivations and goals, interview them, and evaluate them on their interaction skills as well (International Labour Office, 1997).
The answers that applicants give in personality tests are one-dimensional and insufficient in describing a multi-faceted personality. Perception of questions differ from person to person, and one person’s reasoning for indicating a certain answer may differ from another’s. Furthermore, even among those of the same personality types, there are individual differences that may arise. A 2w3 (personality type on the Enneagram scale) may differ from another 2w3 while they may be somewhat similar (Riso & Hudson, 2003). Knowing someone’s personality type does not automatically allow us to understand why people behave in a certain manner. People are still their own unique individual and have other characteristic traits that set them apart from others.
- Treat All Personality Types as Being Equal
A very important point to keep in mind as well, is that there are no ‘better’ personalities (Prudhomme & Schneider, 2012). While organisations may look at personality types as a good way to see who are better fits for certain roles, it may become unfair and unjustified to view other equally-competent employees as ‘unfit’ for the role simply because they possess a ‘less-desired’ or unconventional personality type for the role in question. Even though certain roles may draw people of certain personality types, we must not be quick to overlook people with differing personality types who express similar interest (Secrist & Fitzpatrick, 2000).
When organisations are too quick to categorise employees by their profiles, they are at risk of workplace inequality as it is a form of labelling & stereotyping (Quelch & Knoop, 2019). While employers may envision an ideal candidate for a role in their minds and see certain personality types checking off these boxes more than others, organisations must be careful in allowing all employees an equal chance in attaining desired roles in the organisation based on their individual and unique abilities (International Labour Office, 1997).
- Remember That Personalities Are Not Static
When using personality profiles, organisations must also keep in mind that a person’s personality is not static (Dicken, 2017). While personalities stabilise at around the age of 30, the stability of personality traits does not equate to personality being fixed and unchanging. We may often forget that personality traits exist on a continuum and not as a binary or dichotomous descriptive system (Fabricant et al., 2013). We can see this in the personality scales that organisations commonly use: the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) provides an overview of a person’s personality and includes the percentage to which he/she lies on the spectrum of the 4 traits, with the 50% mark being the middle ground that determines which end of the spectrum he/she skews towards to (Fabricant et al., 2013). Hence, even people with the same personality types may not necessarily possess the same extent to which they display certain traits and these traits fluctuate as they go through different stages of life.
The different demands and social situations that we encounter can also influence these slight changes in personality (Dicken, 2017). For example, an employee who has recently had a child may see an increase in Conscientiousness on the Big Five scale, as he/she has been adapting to the increased needs of taking care of a new-born. Thus, it may be helpful for organisations to view personality profiles as a gauge of employee attitude at this current period of time that is also open to change.
- Emphasise Healthy Organisational Culture
A different approach that organisations can take would be to work on improving workplace culture. A healthy workplace culture is imperative in creating an effective and efficient workplace with high employee engagement and should still be the focus of most organisational interventions (read more about how to promote a people-centric organisational culture here: https://www.inpsychful.sg/empathy-organisation-poems/). Organisations can leverage on personality tests to complement this objective: rather than seeking employees that have personalities that ‘match’ the organisational culture, organisations can spend more time forming up a positive workplace culture that celebrates diversity and models good healthy habits. Employees will follow suit to align their personal values with the corporation (Wen, 2017).
An emotionally safe space for staff can also be created, where people of diverse personalities are accepted and their strengths can be utilised (Perkins, 2019), while weaknesses are worked on with other co-workers (read more about how to enhance team cohesion here: https://www.inpsychful.sg/workplace-team-cohesion/). What organisations may also want to do would be to use personality profiles as an initial gauge of strengths and weaknesses, workplace outlook and attitude. Organisations can also use personality tests as a form of motivational tool instead and a basis for employers to understand employees more, and for co-workers to understand each other.
Employees can start to think about what it means for staff to possess certain personality traits:
- How do I approach each personality type differently?
- How do employees of different personalities communicate differently?
- How can I be accepting of my employee’s needs?
- How can I create a comfortable space to make sure everyone is heard?
- How and what can I learn from someone with a different personality type from mine?
By demonstrating a strong organisational culture with positive values, employees are more likely to be engaged and committed in using their strengths for the betterment of the organisation.
Most importantly, organisations must be clear and sure about how they want to use personality assessments for the betterment of the organisation. Instead of following trends, organisations can benefit from tweaking the way that they view these assessments and how to use them to value-add to the organisation.
Jasmine Low, PhD., Camellia Wong, MA., Kam Wing Shan
Dattner, B. (2008, June 13). The use and misuse of personality tests for coaching and development. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/credit-and-blame-work/200806/the-use-and-misuse-personality-tests-coaching-and-development
Dicken, M. J. (2017). Concise Illustrations of Personality Change (Concise ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Fabricant, F., Miller, J., & Stark, D. (2013). Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work (New 1st Editions in College Success) (1st ed.). Cengage Learning.
Harper, A. (2008). Psychometric tests are now a multi-million-pound business: what lies behind a coach’s decision to use them? International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 2, 40. http://ijebcm.brookes.ac.uk/documents/special02-paper-04.pdf
International Labour Office. (1997). Workers’ privacy (Vol. 12). International Labour Office.
Paul, A. M. (2005). The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves (Reprint ed.). Free Press.
Perkins, K. (2019, March 13). Personality Tests Don’t Work, Here’s Why and The Alternatives. NOBL Academy. https://academy.nobl.io/personality-tests-dont-work-heres-why-and-alternatives/
Prudhomme, D. S., & Schneider, R. E. (2012). Live and Work in Harmony with All 16 Personality Types. Mederi Wellness Press.
Quelch, J. A., & Knoop, C. (2019). Compassionate Management of Mental Health in the Modern Workplace (Softcover reprint of the original 1st ed. 2018 ed.). Springer.
Riso, D. R., & Hudson, R. (2003). Discovering Your Personality Type: The Essential Introduction to the Enneagram, Revised and Expanded (Revised, Updated, Subsequent ed.). Mariner Books.
Secrist, J., & Fitzpatrick, J. (2000). What Else You Can Do With a PH.D.: A Career Guide for Scholars (1-off Series)(1st ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
Wen, T. (2017, August 21). The new way your personality could be holding you back. BBC Worklife. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170818-the-new-way-your-personality-could-be-holding-you-back