How personality tests can work for your business

It used to be the case that potential new recruits were judged according to
their CV and how well they came across at interview. These factors are still
important, but more and more businesses now employ more sophisticated methods to
determine who will be the best fit for their organisation.

Amid the assessment centres, role-play exercises and professional
examinations, psychometric questionnaires designed to paint a picture of the
personality, preferences and emotional intelligence of new recruits continue to
be used.

First impressions

These are typically used to inform a recruitment decision in the first
instance, but organisations that use them only in that sphere are missing out on
the questionnaires’ full potential. Psychometrics, such as the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator (MBTI) or the 16PF assessment, can and should be used throughout an
employee’s entire working life.

Many of them measure psychological factors that will remain broadly the same
throughout a person’s career, so an assessment carried out at recruitment or
early on can continue to play a vital part in the individual’s learning,
development and progression through the ranks.

Starting with career choices and recruitment, an early psychometric
assessment can help people to understand what working environment would suit
them best – whilst providing employers with an idea of which roles would play to
their natural strengths. Someone with a preference for a fast-paced workplace
with plenty of social interaction is unlikely to be motivated and thrive if
their job entails sitting alone in an office going over spreadsheets.

Once that new recruit has been placed, there is a temptation to put the
psychometrics to one side. But personality continues to play a huge role in
determining how well people will fit into a team or how today’s recruits can be
shaped into tomorrow’s business leaders.

For example, employers have to understand the ‘psychological contract’ they
have with their staff. A key worker may be unfazed by team changes following a
restructure, but will leave if the technical scope of their role is amended.
Understanding what involves and motivates different people is a major issue,
because only then can managers tailor job roles to engage and retain their top

Given the huge cost of recruiting new people, it is surprising that some
organisations don’t make more of an effort to hang on to the good ones they
have. Those that better comprehend the psychological contract are well placed to
win the global battle for talent.

Psychometric questionnaires also have value in determining why a given team
does or doesn’t work and why a leader’s ‘hands-off’ management style may be
great to some and awful to others. But merely taking the assessments is not
enough – the organisation has to use what emerges to change policies and
behaviours where necessary.

One area where this comes up repeatedly is where someone has been promoted to
their first management role, normally from a technical specialist position. The
demands facing team leaders and line managers are new and vastly different,
requiring self-awareness and the requisite willingness to change.

Perceptive differences

In the finance sector in particular, there can be issues with teams and
managers; people move away from the absolutes of numbers and charts to the
seemingly softer areas of motivation and empathy. There can also be notable
differences in perception that have to be addressed: a compliance unit might see
itself as the internal police force, whereas it would get more buy-in if it
viewed other business units as customers instead of potential lawbreakers.

Awareness of these issues is no longer purely the purview of the HR
department. Line managers have a critical role to play in understanding what
makes their people tick.

There is further value of psychometric questionnaires at a senior management
level, where the psychology of the organisation will inform and underline its
business strategy.

The board may, for example, decide it wants to follow a particular path –
perhaps more innovation or a more consistent approach. Both are valid
strategies, but for the first they might want to focus on developing creative
thinkers and for the second they will want to see more people who are willing to
toe the line. But if they don’t understand the psychology of their organisation,
how will they know what needs to change?

A better awareness of the company’s corporate culture and internal psychology
also helps when it comes to relationships with clients. If a particular customer
favours working one way, for example responding to innovative approaches and
rewarding creativity, the supplier that takes pains to work with that client in
the same way will be viewed in a far more positive light.

Psychometrics and an understanding of business psychology are invaluable
tools in the war for talent. They enable organisations to identify those
employees with the potential to become superstars, looking at factors such as
intellectual achievement, interpersonal skills and motivation and marrying them
with catalysts such as their ability to learn, willingness to change and

Employers can also use these assessments to develop learning and development
plans that will bring out the best in those people and turn them into the heavy
hitters and rainmakers of the future. Best of all, it doesn’t need a battery of
tests every year – just a consistent approach and a willingness to make use of
the valuable insights they provide.

Gareth English is a senior consultant at business psychology firm OPP

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