Facilitator What Goes Around Limited
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Blog: Two reasons why psychometric tests suck...

15th Mar 2012
Facilitator What Goes Around Limited
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Here are two biiiig reasons why I think personality or psychometric tests suck…

You know the drill. Once in a while the boss decides you’ve all got to get together and find out about each other. What makes you tick, and all that jazz. So how’re ya gonna do that? Lucky you – it’s MBTI time (other tests are available). Forms are filled, scores are totted up, foreheads are wrinkled. And then you are ready for the illumination – the results (cue fanfare). Guess what…the test results tell you a bunch of stuff you already know about yourself, and importantly, it’s stuff you like. ‘Ooh, isn’t it uncannily accurate’ titters the excited recipient. Well derrr, you filled out the form, what did you expect? This is the first reason these tests suck. They tell you what you already know. And guess what else…the test results tell you a bunch of stuff you already know about yourself and don’t like. And being human, you choose to disregard it all. Yeah OK, you might buy it for a wee while, but as soon as the L&D expert’s back is turned – you’ve flipped back to the real you. This is the second reason these tests suck. You ignore the stuff you don’t like. From my experience I know many folks in the world of work agree with these observations, and I’m struggling to think of anyone who approaches these assessments with anything higher on the excitement scale than vague (and often forced) interest. What do you think? And please – don’t get me started on Belbin. If you want to know your ‘team role’ just take a look at your desk. It’s state of organisation or otherwise will tell you pretty much all you need to know. There you go – I’ve just saved you a bucket of cash for you to spend on something ‘useful‘. Oh, and I’ll be at the L&D Connect Unconference on April 24th, and the CIPD HRD event on the 25th and 26th. Why not come along too and we can carry on this conversation in real life.  Doug Shaw is head of employee and customer engagement consultancy, What Goes Around. 

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Replies (3)

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By andycolv
20th Mar 2012 12:10

As an occupational psychologist and Level B practitioner, you might be surprised to hear me say that I actually agree with much of what you're saying Doug, particularly around the issues of employee interest and attitude.

I think your observations are very astute, and capture the attitude of a large proportion of the UK workforce who have been subjected to such 'fads' quite well!

Personality assessment tools, such as the MBTI, (which are not 'tests' as such) can however be useful and beneficial if certain conditions are met. It is because these conditions are rarely met that the circumstances and attitudes you describe quite understandably come about.

Without going through all the conditions, I'll just mention a few that relate to the points you've raised.

All too often, taking such an assessment is imposed on employees by "the boss" who usually has little understanding of the implications of such a demand. For personality assessments to be of any value in the circumstances you describe, participation must be voluntary - based on a full understanding of what the tool can and can't provide. In many cases, the use of a psychometric tool is unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate. But many managers, and consultants, jump straight to them without due consideration.

It is true that many personality assessments tell you things about yourself that you already know (things you like and things you don't like as you say), but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the purpose of using the tool in the first place and what context the results are being used in. Sometimes, just having these 'things' in black and white in front of you can have an impact.

And I think it is partly true where you say "You ignore the stuff you don’t like", in that some people do ignore it while others don't. Again, it depends on who is participating, and the context of use is again important in this respect. For example, when used in a 1-to-1 voluntary coaching setting, some people come to the realisation that it is the 'stuff that they don't like' that is actually causing them problems (in whatever area is being addressed - promotion issues, team collaboration, job performance, etc) and do make a conscious, concerted effort to address it. The results can be useful in developing a deeper understanding of personal difference, and I've seen the MBTI for example used extremely well (and to great benefit) in marriage guidance counselling, career counselling, and workplace mediation.

I would advocate that these personality tools certainly have their limitations, but are useful for providing a common framework and language that can be used to form the basis of a discussion. And that's about it. I wouldn't use them for making selection decisions alone, although I see this creeping in more and more. I think this will eventually (and quite rightly) lead to a new category of 'personality discrimination' being introduced into employment law one day.

While many of these tools can be beneficial, all too often I see them being delivered and interpreted (at face value) by unqualified personnel with little understanding of the validity issues and personal impact issues. A combination of this together with inappropriate usage and mandatory participation is a recipe for disaster, often doing more damage than good, and certainly contributing to the attitudes and perceptions you have described.

My advice to anyone whose "boss decides you’ve all got to get together and find out about each other. What makes you tick, and all that jazz" by taking a personality assessment, is to diplomatically insist that the reasons and objectives for this are made clear and accepted by all, that the assessment results will owned by the individual who has control over their distribution, and that the administration, interpretation, and feedback is conducted by a qualified practitioner. Ideally, organisations should have a policy and procedure in place that governs such practices, and gives employees the right to decline participation without recrimination.

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By mikmal
20th Mar 2012 13:24

 They might tell you what you already know, whether you like or dislike what you read,
  but they don't tell you what happens when you interact with other 'types',
  or what you can do to improve the quality, process and outcome of interpersonal communication.
  Or how to call to mind the information that might help you as a person to give of your best.
  Also, some people will say, "I am such and such" as if they are fixed and formulated.

  Go well

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By Jeremy Thorn
20th Mar 2012 13:40

Doug Shaw's experience is not actually mine.

I guess it depends on how well they are executed and followed up?

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