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4 questions all leaders should ask before using a personality assessment with their team

4 min read


Amy*, a senior vice president in charge of marketing, comes to me with a request: She wants to provide professional development to her staff of five regional directors. At first glance, the request seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Of course, leaders should be on the lookout for ways to help their direct reports grow professionally.

Here’s the part where it gets tricky: Amy had already decided on a course of action. “I think they should use the XYZ personality assessment from my executive education program,” she tells me. Amy thought the assessment tool provided her with useful insights; she is certain sending her team through the same process will help her staff grow as individuals.

Fair enough, I say. Let’s talk a bit further about the pros and cons of this approach. “What’s to talk about?” Amy asks. “My team’s always asking for development opportunities. This was a great tool. Let’s get started. My goal is to help my team become the best they can be.”

Amy has fallen into a pattern of thinking akin to the “Love Me, Love My Dog” syndrome: “I love this personality assessment, therefore you will too.” The problem is, not all people are as enamored with assessments as their leaders. Moreover, assessments aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. So before you line up everybody on your staff with a self-assessment or a 360-degree feedback process, step back and consider the answers to the following questions. Careful attention to these four questions will save you time and hassle in your staff development efforts. Most importantly, you’ll improve the chances of successfully using this potentially worthwhile self-development method.

What business challenge are you looking to solve? First and foremost, any assessment you choose should address solving a business challenge. Are you seeking to decrease communication breakdowns between departments to reduce re-work? The more specific you are, the better your chances for achieving results. Rather than a generic goal of “improving communication with your peers,” a better goal would be, “build skill in offering differing opinions in a non-threatening and supportive manner.”

Will your culture support it? Some company cultures are more supportive than others of the introspection required to maximize the feedback reports derived from assessments. If you’re part of a hard-charging corporate culture that views assessments as “navel-gazing” or “psychobabble,” you have a long road ahead of you in gaining acceptance. A better path might be doing a beta test with just a few willing individuals to build interest and momentum.

Are you willing to “go first”? In the example of Amy, she’d already experienced the assessment. But in other organizations, I’ve seen executives who were all too willing to send their team members off to a professional development course but would never personally complete the assessment for themselves. If you’re not willing to “go first” and give it a try, don’t expect your team members to wholeheartedly jump in.

How will you use the data that’s collected? Some assessments are used to predict respondents’ probability of future success; others are not. Get clear on what you intend to do with the assessment data so the person you hire to help administer the tool and interpret the results (an external vendor, business coach, or your internal HR staff) can direct you to the assessment that will best meet your objectives. A word to the wise: If the assessment will have implications for performance reviews, always loop in your HR department.

Although you may have the best intentions for your staff when you enthusiastically recommend a personality assessment you found useful, it’s wise to take a step back. It is indeed possible that they’ll love it as much as you did. Or not. So do your homework and develop a plan so that your time, dollars and effort are well spent.

*“Amy” is a representation of senior-level clients with whom I’ve worked.

Want to learn more about how to choose the right assessments for your team or your company? Check out a free webinar series called Personality Assessment Review available from fellow SmartBlog on Leadership contributor Dana Theus and InPower Consulting.

Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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