What Makes a Good Personality Test?

There are many different sorts of personality tests, word list choices (which is most like me or least like me), statement list choices, rate this statement as to how much it reflects who you are, picture tests asking you to interpret what you are seeing, lickert scale response tests, ipsative tests and a host of others.  How do you know which one is the best to use for hiring or developmental purposes?

I think the first question to ask yourself is “what am I trying to accomplish?”  Is it an issue of finding out if the person might work well in a team made of other diverse individuals?  Is it an issue of finding out if the individual matches the criteria for success you have identified in your environment?  Is it an issue of understanding what you will need to do to develop the individual after you hire him/her and will you invest the funds?  Or is it an issue of getting the test to make your selection for you?

The first three questions are fine uses of personality tests.  The last one is not appropriate.  Any assessment you use should be for the purpose of gathering valid and reliable information to help you or the individual better understand the true capabilities, motivators, potentials or personal styles that the person possesses.  And to ensure that the results you get are valid and reliable, make sure that your assessment meets this criteria:

  1. Does it measure what it purports to measure?  Another way to ask this question is “Is the assessment valid?”  We can get into a long discussion around validity.  Face validity, content validity, context validity…all important.  Is it the right instrument to use in your particular situation?  Does it measure job-specific requirements, motivators and behavioral traits?
  2. Does it measure what it purports to measure consistently?  Another way to ask this question is “Is the assessment reliable?”  Does it consistently produce the same scores for a person through test-retest review in a population?
  3. Is it a tool that is more appropriate for use in team building?  Styles inventories (Myers Briggs, DISC, color grouping inventories) are excellent tools for team building, but assigning a particular quadrant of preferred style is not an ideal way to select staff.  Myers Briggs’ validation literature states that the tool is not appropriate for selection purposes.
  4. Is the tool fakable?  Is it easy for the person to skew the results through answering a particular way or by choosing answers likely for a particular type of person?  One of the problems encountered with lickert scale type tests (ones where the respondent is asked to rate a statement on a scale of 1 to 5) tend to have this issue.  This is the reason that additional items are often used to determine the levels of fakability.  Ipsative tests (forced rank type items, where the individual is presented with a number of statements and asked them to order them) overcome the issue of fakability.  Depending upon how the scoring routine works, the frequently made argument that ipsative tests cause scores to be high in one area, while automatically causing another area to be low, can be overcome.
  5. Does the instrument show good predictive capability?  Can to results predict, consistently and accurately, whether the individual will be a success greater than 75% of the time?  We offer an ipsative assessment that has shown to predict success at better than 97% of the time in some situations.

Personality tests are very useful tools, providing you integrate the use of the instrument within a process and let the tool offer objective information to support your selection process, assist you with developmental planning, or to increase team effectiveness by enabling people to understand how others might be the same or different from themselves.

How Culture Impacts Merger and Acquisition

ECI has helped companies make a smooth transition after merger and acquision.  Our studies have shown that the number one reason merger or acquisions fail is because the culture is never fully integrated.  Company leaders often think that because they have introduced the cultural expectations to the new company members, that is sufficient for a well integrated culture to emerge.

People change when the pain of change is less than continuing to do things as they always did.  So, in the case of cultural integration, some work needs to be done to disable old habits and preferences of the merging organizations, either to come to new consensus on what the culture will be, to impose one of the cultures on the whole organization, or to begin again to devise a new culture.  There are no in-between strategies here, folks.  This is one you have to make a decision around and then put the plan in place to make it happen.

The best way to do this is to go through the basic steps an organization does as it is devising a culture.  Build the mission and vision, decide how to communciate this vision and mission across the organization, execute the communication plan, communicate some more, communicate one last time, and then insist.

Rewarding demonstration of the cultural expectation is a positive way to make sure people follow the new expectations.  Enabling teams to determine how they will live the new cultural vision in their teams is another way.  And of course, taking action to prevent slipping back to the old ways of doing things is important as well.  Always recognize the successes that teams make in this area, as it proves not only to the organization but to all team members that living the culture is important.

We worked with an insurance agency many years ago that struggled with the integration process for some time before they finally developed a new organization.  It was painful, as it always is, because of the idea that two different organizations were coming together for very specific reasons.  The reasons, however, got mired in the details over who is in charge, what is the chain of command and what are the authority levels of each of the partners.  These are key questions that needed to be answered prior to throwing all the people together at one location, but then they didn’t invite us to help until six months after the combination occurred.  Lessons learned.

So if you are considering an integration, merger or acquision, think about the questions of which organizations/teams afford the most likely cultural model to follow, who will be in charge, and what is the new level of decision making in the combined organization.  And communciate the answers to these, and other key questions, up front before you put the structure and organizational charts on paper. It makes it so much easier when you have the strategy in place and know the answers to these questions.

Why WOULDN’T You Use a Personality Assessment?

Applicants are trained to make good impressions in an interview.  Go to any retail bookstore and you’ll find an entire section of resources dedicated to helping job seekers “sell themselves” to potential employers.  Go to any college and you’ll find courses on how to effectively “ace” an interview.

Good performance in an interview setting (including a well written resume) does not always translate to long-term success.  In fact, studies have shown that standard interview techniques are about as effective as flipping a coin.  Additionally, the American Psychological Association states “67% of all job applicants’ resumes contain misrepresentations.”

That is why so many world class organizations have turned to the use of personality assessments to gain an objective perspective of their applicants’ true potential for the job.  When used correctly, personality assessments can substantially increase the effectiveness of any interview process.

Just like anything else, however, there are good assessments and there are bad assessments.  The trick is to make sure that you find a valid tool that will meet your company’s needs.

Quick tips to finding and using the right personality assessment:

  • Have a clear purpose - Understand what you are trying to achieve through the use of a personality assessment.  For instance, are you looking to reduce tunrover?  Increase new hire productivity?  Find the right “fit” to your culture?  Know in advance.
  • Make sure the assessment is valid - Any reputable assessment provider will provide you with a copy of the assessment’s validation study (technical report).  Ask the provider how their tool complies with EEO and OFCCP fair hiring standards.
  • Understand your specific requirements - If you are looking to use an assessment to hire outside sales people you probably shouldn’t be looking for a 2-hour, “pen and paper” assessment.  You’d be better off using a 25-minute, online assessment that self-scores!
  • Make sure the assessment measures job-specific criteria - Good assessments can be customized to any position/role within your company through a study of existing staff members.  Remember, always target the system.
  • Beware of pass/fail tests - Personality assessments should be used as a tool in a multi-staged interview process.  A good rule of thumb is to use the information yielded by an assessment for no more than 20% of your hiring decision.
  • Assessment support - How do you need to be supported by the assessment provider?  Do you want telephone feedback support?  Are you looking to be trained?  The best assessments will actually provide you with interview questions to use based on the results.
  • Track results - Using an assessment tool shouldn’t be a “nice to have,” it should produce measurable results for your organization.  Identify key metrics upfront and track the efficacy of the system on an annual basis.

As one of our Fortune 500 client’s recently said, “its not why would you use a personality assessment in your selection process, its why wouldn’t you?”

Prudent Risk Taking and Other Such Terms

Consultants usually have their own jargon that they consistently use to describe various behaviors their clients demonstrate.  Over the years, ECI has devised or adopted several of these terms.  The interesting thing to me is that as we work with clients for the long term, many of them begin to speak in the same terminology.

Here are some of the terms that we have used and that clients have adopted for their internal use.

  • Prudent risk taking – this means that people are able to make decisions on the basis of limited information and that they will rely on their intuition or their gut reaction to choose a course of action
  • Act with urgency – this means that when opportunities arise, individuals with rise quickly to take advantage of the situation, particularly when their is an obvious gain at stake
  • Strong resiliency – this means that people are able to bounce back quickly when things go wrong.  They are able to move forward in the face of setbacks or challenges.
  • High energy – this means people have the gas in their personal tanks to drive action consistently throughout the day
  • Low urgency – this means that people have less drive than may be needed to achieve success in an organization

So where did these terms come from?  Most are adaptations from the scales within our assessment tool, the ECI Behavioral Insight.  Interestingly enough, as clients begin to utilize metrics, they begin to think in those terms.  Such tools provide an objective benchmark system against which to compare various individuals or groups of individuals within an organization. They become descriptors of the culture and enable team members to understand what good behavior looks like.

In a way, I suppose, this is a compliment to us and our work.  To me, it is a way to know that we have made a positive impact on an organization and perhaps helped people to understand what the cultural expectations are.

Identifying the Metrics Related to Success

We are working on several projects right now to help clients identify which metrics  relate directly to success, which factors can predict whether an individual might have problems on-boarding successfully, and whether the demonstration of the factors described within competency models in fact are statistically related to higher performance.  All of this work we find very interesting, since it offers the opportunity to prove that it is possible to measure the relationship between key performance outcomes and particular behaviors, while in other cases, we think there are relationships, but in fact there are not.

In one situation, we found that actual merit payouts are not curvilinearally reflective of performance.  Kind of disturbing, I would say, but understandable when you dig further to find that the  actual payouts are sometimes modified to take into account other factors, such as unique accomplishments, changes in job titles or other rewards perhaps not directly related to higher sales numbers, for example.   The problem I see with this finding is that if we don’t find the linkage to stated performance outcomes, don’t you think that actual performers who are paid under these systems could question the accuracy of their reward?

In the study mentioned above, we also found that there were direct relationships between particular behavioral traits and the tendency to demonstrate high performance.  This information is particularly useful in the selection process when you have a tool, such as the ECI Behavioral Insight, incorporated to help assess a candidate’s potential to demonstrate the trait.

In another study, we found a statistically significant correlation of .05 or better between higher ratings in competency performance dimensions and actual performance.  This means that a well-crafted competency performance system can be used to coach and evaluate performance and that enhancing ratings of competency do increase performance.  Many sales intensive companies have for years paid strictly on the dollars produced and have held their competency ratings on the side as “nice to know abouts”.  This study shows that by developing key competencies, you will increase productivity in sales numbers.

Using metrics to assess performance factors and to identify the factors that emerge in high performers is of critical importance today when all businesses have to do more with less.  The less people you have, the better they had better be able to perform.  And the better your performance metrics need to be in order to reinforce the real behaviors that deliver results.

It is important to note that I am not talking about reach and frequency models of sales management.  I am talking about the demonstration of critical behaviors and their relationship to producing more results.  This is the most important reason competency systems should be instituted…to enable companies to establish the behavioral expectations for performance and to ensure that these expectations will in fact deliver better results.

Is the Downturn Opportunity for Businesses?

Let’s add another positive point for the opportunities that arise when the economy is in a downturn.  For those of you company owners/managers who have job openings, and this will happen as a result of normal turnover, people moving around to position themselves more favorably in a new role, and for a variety of other reasons, the downturn in the economy can be a real opportunity to enhance the quality of your staff.

I recently read that the “real” number for unemployment is somewhere around 12.5% ,if you include all the people who have given up on finding a job, those who don’t enroll to collect unemployment, and those whose unemployment has run out, or those who work part-time and who cannot apply for unemployment.  As an employer, there really are some very good people out there looking for work.  This is a time when a good selection process can really help you find someone who will in fact do well for you for the long-term.  You have the time to look into the background of the candidate, you have the time to conduct several interviews, because you aren’t worried that someone else may snatch the candidate up, and you have time to have several people interview the candidate.  By taking your time, you can spread your net far enough to attract people who might not have looked at your open position a year ago because your company was too big, too small, too far away, or didn’t really fit their bill of expectations at that moment.  These days, people will often consider most any job if it means it is a viable position where the pay is steady and the expectation is that the job will last for awhile.

Follow the best practices of hiring when advertising your open position.  Use a job search engine, such as CareerBuilder, Monster or for hourly positions, Snag-A-Job.  Most services cost around $250 for 90 days, but given that a newspaper ad will cost you about the same, this is a better way to get a lot of interest in the job.

Second, be sure to describe the job and the background you will be requiring of each qualified candidate.   Do they need prior experience? A degree, knowledge or certifications?  Be sure to describe what the environment is like as well.  Add your logo and your website so that people can visit and find out more about your company.

Third, review every applicant you receive and call each person whose information meets your requirements.  Schedule your interviews and talk with each candidate.  It is a good idea to have more than one person interview your candidates.  Then, compare impressions to select the best person.

Today, you will find that there are many people who are over-qualified for the job applying for the position.  Be up front with your applicants and let them know what the going rate is for the work.  If the candidate believes they should be paid more, it is your decision to negotiate higher, but I advise against that.  In my mind, you should be able to find someone who will be willing to do the job at the fair rate.  While this perspective might sound a bit harsh to some folks, there are a lot of very able people out there who will be willing to take the job and be paid fairly to do the work required.  For employers, you just need to find them and offer them the chance!

The Power of the Positive Perspective

I have been reading too much negative press lately about everything. While I don’t believe in putting my head in the sand about the issues, I still think that hope is one of the most powerful behaviors we can demonstrate. Whether it is the stock market, the job outlook, the business environment or financial needs, by remaining positive you have a far better chance of weathering the storm and coming out on the other side with your personal well-being intact. I think people need to start looking at the bright side of matters and be a bit more positive about the world in general.

Look at it this way, Walmart is up in retail sales. Hyundai is holding its own in car sales, the stock market I believe is almost finished with its slump. My guess is 6500 is the bottom, but this is simply based on my own feelings about things and no insider knowledge. Selectively, there may be some really good buys out there for someone who has a bit of time to watch things recover.

I just returned from a trip to Egypt. It was a wonderful experience, both to be glad that I got to go there (I can cross seeing the pyramids off my bucket list now), and also having the opportunity to see another part of the world which is so very different from our own. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Whenever you travel, take along a kid.  When you see the world thru a child’s eyes, you see so much more than you would if you looked through your own eyes.  My granddaughter thought the pyramids were really neat!  She shared so many things she noticed that I never would have seen.  And what good questions she asks!
  2. Don’t forget to ride the camels.  We all had a lot of wonderment about how this would be and I can tell you, it was probably the best part of our trip.  You can ride camels in the Canary Islands, in Egypt and in Australia.  If you get the chance, go for it.
  3. Now I know why we need to get rid of plastic in the environment.  In Egypt, the waterways are literally clogged with non-biodegradable bottles and packaging.  It is such a problem there that it creates dams in the canals and water delivery systems.  I am not using plastic any more.  Now that’s a positive thing!
  4. In some areas, it is good to have security along.  Because we really don’t know much about other world cultures, you need to pay attention and be cautious without being fearful.  If you take planned excursions, rather than trying to save $10 by doing the trip yourself, you probably will be glad you did.  This was true for us at the pyramids in Egypt.
  5. Be a traveller, not a tourist. I learned this one from the excursion director on our NCL ship.  A traveller doesn’t judge, but rather observes and accepts the differences between what we have at home and what we find in other countries.  We have nothing as old as what we saw on our trip in Rome, Athens or Egypt.
  6. It is a really good time to travel, since most people are not.  The volume is down and so are the prices.  Take a look at Vacationstogo.com to see how inexpensively you can go places you have always wanted to visit.

Not a very business-like column today, but nonetheless, the main message is to stay positive and look for the bright side in your life.  If you do, you will be a lot happier, even though some things might not be going your way just now.

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