JUL 6, 2021

Making the Most of Assessments While Guarding Against Their Pitfalls

Woman sitting in a chair with checkboxes floating nearby.

Most of us love a good personality assessment. They’re usually fun, can help us understand ourselves better and, at times, may even have implementable tips for us.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the suspicious ones that pop up in social media feeds and may or may not be gathering security question information.

I’m talking about the DiSC assessment, MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), CliftonStrengths (formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder), and others in the same vein.

It seems every organization I’ve ever worked at had me take one of these as part of the onboarding. I took the test, enjoyed reading the results, and that was as far as it went. The organization didn’t seem to care much about it.

A Revelatory Tool

Although I have no first-hand knowledge of how these assessments were created, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume that Isabel Myers, Katharine Briggs, Donald Clifton, and others did not invest so much time and effort into developing these purely for our entertainment.

The assessments, based on a series of questions we answer, all have a results component designed to surface trends. Sure, some have felt less enthusiastic citing no real revelation since they provided the answers, but even if those individuals may gain less from the exercise, it helps the rest of the team better understand some aspects of their personality.

As a result, these assessments can be powerful tools in helping organizations gain insight into the composition of a team.

It may seem that some traits are “obvious”. We may notice a more extroverted individual vs a more introverted individual. Or so we think. Is it that this person really is extroverted or is it that in certain situations their role makes them tap into their extroverted side?

For instance, in the Myers-Briggs test, I’m very much an introvert. When chatting about results with a friend, he was shocked: “Do you know what introvert means?” To be fair, at the time, I was an actor, in a play, in our third week, performing in front of 500 people per night, and loving every second of it. I didn’t need the test to tell me that after all the fun, I required some major alone time to recharge. But having that terminology did help me share that aspect of myself with others.

And then there are traits that are even less easily identifiable. For example, in the CliftonStrengths there is a “harmony” strength. To a certain extent, I’d say all team members at Corgibytes are “harmonious”. No one is explicitly and obviously disruptive. But to have that as a top strength means that this person can contribute a perspective that helps round out other strengths.

A Missed Opportunity

So why are so many organizations choosing to treat these as check-the-box exercises? That I can’t answer. What I do know is that at Corgibytes, we make a conscious effort to maximize our collective powers and use these results to help us improve even more significantly.

As we onboard new team members, we ask them to fill out the CliftonStrengths, share their top strengths with the team and then enter these in a spreadsheet where anyone can go and review them whenever they wish.

Even though we don’t always do it – sometimes we want to move too fast, sometimes it doesn’t make sense because of other work specific team members are involved in – as much as possible, when putting together a project team or when considering an issue, we try to include a variety of top strengths that could contribute to what we’re evaluating.

More than once, I’ve approached specific individuals for their point of view on an issue because I knew they would help me see things differently or bring up a point I hadn’t considered.

A Risk of Labeling

Although these assessments can be useful tools, it is essential to remember that they don’t encompass all that is that person. They do not reveal “the only thing” a person is good at or capable of. Just like they do not point to what they are “incapable of”.

These assessments should not be used punitively, as a reason to not allow someone to work on something or exclude them should they express interest in a specific project.

These are a snapshot in time.

Some individuals may have taken an assessment at the beginning of their career and now they have much more experience and have grown as individuals. This may have resulted in some bottom strengths rising and some top strengths sinking.

Also, just because someone is good at something, doesn’t mean they enjoy utilizing that strength to accomplish certain work or even want to do so.

And even within groups that may be considered “similar” the composition of strengths still varies. For example, at Corgibytes we hire primarily with an eye toward developers who enjoy maintaining existing code. Although they all enjoy squashing bugs, stabilizing infrastructures, and paying down tech debt, they don’t all share the exact same traits. In fact, we have a number of team members who love adding new features and working on the new product we’re developing.

A Worthwhile Investment

Instead of these assessments just being expenses, let’s make sure we turn them into investments in better understanding our team members and tapping into the individuals’ superpowers.

This doesn’t mean making all decisions by committee and trying to “please all traits”. It’s merely obtaining thoughts, ideas, concerns from those who view the world differently to ensure consideration of a fuller picture.

It’s using the common terminology these assessments give us to have meaningful conversations and benefit from contributions by the amazing individuals that make up our team.