When personality assessments in the workplace are worthless

Whether you’re a labrador, an owl or a monkey, don’t let that stop you from reaching your potential.

Whether you’re a labrador, an owl or a monkey, don’t let that stop you from reaching your potential.

These days, it is very common for employees to engage in personality assessments to understand their personal style and way of working.

While personality assessments in the workplace can be useful, I’ve noticed a worrying trend in a number of organisations that utilise them.

Be careful what labels you associate with a given personality type

One organisation that I know of uses animals as a proxy for each of the four available personality types in their model of choice, the DISC model.

Basically, in the DISC model:

D = Dominance
I = Influence
S = Steadiness
C = Conscientious

Fine. Let’s see what happens when we associate an animal with each of these types, as is done in this organisation:

Dominance = Lion
Influence = Monkey
Steadiness = Labrador
Conscientious = Owl

Let’s take it one step further. We’ll add in some common perceptions of these animals:

Lion = King of the jungle. The boss. The leader. Tells people what to do.
Monkey = Jumps around a lot. Enthusiastic. Outgoing. Extroverted.
Labrador = People pleaser. Compliant. Nice to be around. Friendly.
Owl = Smart. Bookworm. Prepared. Likes to plan.

The problem with this approach is that while it is used to more easily illustrate a given personality type, there are various stigma involved with each of these animals.

What do stigmatising labels do to personality assessments in the workplace?

Now, if I want somebody to lead a project and get things done on time, I don’t want a people-pleasing labrador, do I? No way! I want a freakin’ lion! A lion is the animal I need to lead the project to victory!

I’ll get all the owls to read the books and prepare the statistics, but the lion will push it through.

One thing that I’ve noticed every time I’ve been involved in personality assessments in the workplace is that invariably, most people want to be a lion.

People who are labelled as a lion take extreme pride in that fact. “I’m direct, I push things through”, they’ll happily tell you.

Then on the other hand, there are those who have been labelled as an owl. An introvert. Cautious and likes to plan things. Or as a monkey, who jumps around making noise and is spontaneous, bubbly and extroverted. Or as a labrador, who complies with others and settles situations down with their calm, approachable manner.

But I have looked into people’s eyes as they tell me they are an owl and I have seen the disappointment there. They really wanted to be a lion, because that means they could be a leader. Now they can’t be a leader, they should just take a back seat and stick to creating spreadsheets.

How wrong they are.

Personality assessments in the workplace don’t tell you who you are

One thing that seems to be missed by almost everyone when they are doing these personality assessments in the workplace is that no personality type is better or more useful than any other. Nor do any of the personality types dictate what you can or cannot do with your career.

Even when the assessor tells everybody in the room this fact, there are always people who just don’t get it. They tie their self worth into their assigned animal.

You can definitely be a conscientious owl and be a leader. In fact, many of the partners at one of my previous workplaces were owls. Some were lions, but the majority were not. Sometimes being a lion doesn’t get you very far, because you may be perceived as a threat with your direct manner.

If you want to be a leader, go and lead. I don’t care whether you’re a monkey, an owl or a lion. Your personality type does not stop you being a leader. It is just a label which says something about your preferences and how you deal with situations, but it says nothing about how good a leader you are.

If you happen to be one of the people who find yourself in between two or more different personality types, then good for you. This means you are more likely to be able to adapt in many different situations.

What you should use your personality assessment for

You should use your personality assessment as a guide for introspection. Examine how you may be perceived based on your style of interacting with others. Think about how you should change your approach when dealing with different situations. Learn what you do when you’re stressed and see if you can counteract your bad behaviours.

Your personality assessment is a tool to tell you something about yourself. It does not control you, or what you do. It is information that can benefit your career, or it could stifle it, if you let it.

Be careful tying your self-worth into a personality type that is assigned to you. Often personality types use a simple four axis model (such as DISC) and there is no way that four axes could possibly represent your whole personality.

If you’re one of those that delight in learning that you’re a lion, be careful. Sure, lions have their place, but have you ever heard of a labrador being shot by a hunting rifle?

Originally published at comms101.net on May 30, 2016.

Author: Ben Brearley


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