Personality Testing in Organizations

Organizational behavior is a fascinating subject and the ‘personality’ aspect of people has always facinated me. How, from a few questions on a website, can companies use ‘personality testing’ for selecting the right job candidates?

I decided the best way to begin was by trying one myself. I visited the and read their statement “Take our Personality Test and get a freakishly accurate description of who you are and why you do things the way you do” and thought, “what a load of rubbish”…. but was it?

16 Personalities has its roots in the Nomothetic approach – which suggests that personality can be categorised through various characteristics and traits – with results produced from personality questionnaires. I answered the questions and was shocked at my result!

It appeared to be – as they said – a “freakishly accurate description” of how I tick. My personality type stated ESTJ / Executive and the result was compiled from five areas [mind, energy, nature, tactics, identity] that I could relate to.

Personality testing is widely used by many of the World’s largest companies – including ‘all’ the top one-hundred companies – as a tool in the selection and recruitment of staff… and for assessing candidates personalities who are being considered for career development, potential promotion and for finding future leaders.

But this nomothetic approach – which sees personality as measurable and categorised by characteristics and traits – has given me a totally relatable measure of my personality through a few simple questionnaire. So, where did all this Nomothetic stuff start?

The Nomothetic approach can trace its roots back to Ancient Greek times when Hippocrates analysed the ‘four humours’ of personality type and began pigeonholing personality types. In the 20th century, Carl Jung observed the difference between ‘introverts and extraverts’ [‘introversion and extroversion’].

Through the use of a questionnaire, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI] moved on to using a combination of Introversion/Extraversion [I/E], Sensing/Intuition [S/I], Thinking/Feeling [T/F] and Judging/Perception [J/P] to show where someone’s orientation is on four personality indices.

David Keirsey used the Hippocrates and MBTI approaches to come up with personality types that were relevant to an occupation or role. Hans Eysenck took Keirsey’s work further by adding emotional stability and instability. Robert McCrae and Paul Costa developed the ‘Big Five Personality Scale’ which has two-hundred and forty questions.

Cattell’s ‘16 Personality Factor’ [16PF] suggests that the whole personality has sixteen main factors covering things from ‘warmth’ and ’emotional stability’ through to ‘apprehension’ and ‘tension’. So is that it? Is the Nomothetic approach ‘the’ one?

Although I can ‘relate’ to my personality results from the test using a Nomothetic approach; there is a lot more to my personality than is shown. The theorists who support the Ideographic approach, suggest that an individual’s personality ‘cannot’ only be measured through questionnaires alone [i.e. the Nomothetic approach]; as this is too simplistic due to the characteristics and traits of a personality being far richer, more complex and constantly developing through our interactions within society.

In business, hiring the ‘right candidate’ is so important. Personally, if I was working in a large organization, I would use a tried and tested system that was advised to me by a mentor which is an ‘Assessment Centre Approach’ where both an Ideographic approach is combined with a ‘homemade’ twelve factor version of Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor that I now call the ‘Sir Denis 12’ [after the late Sir John Denis Forman OBE].

With a scale from 1 to 10 – where 1 is ‘Terrible’ and 10 is ‘Excellent’ – candidates are accessed on twelve areas of how I perceive their personality [in telephone and face-to-face interviews] and these include their (1) Warmth (2) Social Intelligence (3) Emotional Maturity (4) Competitiveness (5) Enthusiasm (6) Moral Compass (7) Industry Knowledge (8) Humility (9) Openness (10) Organizational Skills (11) Drive (12) Likability.

What one can not necessarily see with the Nomothetic approach – using questionnaire testing alone – is the potential high marks that I would hope to see through interviewing a candidate.

Having spent a little time in America’s ‘have a nice day’ culture; they are all about giving a friendly, happy service where the customer leaves happy. Good customer service isn’t just an American training priority; Aeroflot – the Russian airline – is now teaching flight attendants ‘how to smile’.

You can’t see a ‘smile’ through a questionnaire; and someone’s perception of themselves, can be different to how people see them. The success of Pret a Manger is probably down to a combination of good food, a good drink offering, and their unapologetic commitment to what their CEO calls ‘Pret Buzz’ delivering great customer service by his team of bright, cheery, happy, smiley workforce.

I have always bought into many of the same ideas of ‘Pret Buzz; but not everyone is naturally bright, cheery, happy, smiley people; but they may be still great at their job. Pret a Manger’s work manual encourages staff to “use personal phrases that you are comfortable with and treat customers as if they are guests in your own home”.

I too don’t want my colleagues to feel that they all have to answer the phone the same way; I want my colleagues to be themselves and comfortable at work.

To sum up… although I was shocked that I could relate to my ‘16 Personalities’ test; I don’t think it gives a complete picture of me. When recruiting in the future, I would advise managers to consider an ‘Assessment Centre Approach’ using a combination of the nomothetic approach – using things like the 16 Personalities test – combined with an Ideographic approach.

They should listen to verbal interactions (tone, humility, the way they speak), watch facial interactions (smile, eye contact, looking around the room, etc), watch body language interactions (not listening, feeling for their phone, posture) see how they conduct themselves around the company’s colleagues, and monitoring everything using the ‘Sir Denis 12 Approach’.

After they begin their employment, the managers then need to continue working on the social-radical approach, so their business culture has a positive effect on the new employees personality; so they want to remain in their new employment, and be happy and fulfilled in their work, and happy in their workplace.

Written October 2019

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