The danger of using personality assessments in your team

personality assessments in the workplace
There is nothing wrong with being a labrador or an owl.

These days, it is common for team members to use personality assessments to understand their personal style and way of working.

While personality assessments can be useful, I’ve noticed a worrying trend in a number of companies that use them.

Personality assessments can apply negative labels to team members

One company that I’m familiar with 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. Introverted. 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 these 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. The lion will get it done.

One thing that I’ve noticed every time I’ve been involved in personality assessments in the workplace is that almost everyone wants 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 are owls. 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.

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Personality assessments don’t tell you who you are

One thing that seems to be missed by almost everyone when they are doing these personality assessments 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 senior 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 people may perceive you 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. 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.

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What you should use your personality assessment for

You should use your personality assessment results as a guide for introspection. Examine how people perceive you 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 reduce your bad behaviours.

Your personality test 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 limit you, if you let it.

Be careful tying your self-worth into a personality type in an assessment. Often personality assessments use a simple four axis model (such as DISC) and there is no way that four dimensions 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 somebody shooting a labrador with a hunting rifle?

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