In Defense of the Personality Assessment

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If you’ve been in the business world long enough, you’ve likely had (or been) a manager with very little management experience.  Managers are often promoted because of functional expertise, not management skills. This happens especially frequently in manufacturing and technology industries, where functional expertise is foundational to success. But exceedingly few managers receive formal people management training – at many (maybe most) companies, your promotion is effectively a push into the deep end of the management skills pool. In fact, 98% of managers feel their organizations need more formal training, and 87% of managers wished they had received more training when they first became a manager.  So why don’t more organizations use widely available, low cost, and effective tools to develop their teams?

The truth is many business leaders have no idea how to develop the “soft skills” required for effective people management. They may have been thrown in the deep end once themselves, and learned over time – through trial and error – how to manage people effectively.  Business leaders may or may not believe that these skills are teachable, as many of these traits seems to originate from within the individual – generosity (wanting a person to succeed, giving credit, encouraging personal growth) or the ability to create a welcoming culture.  These traits come naturally to some, but much less so to others.  Other management best practices are easy to teach, such as how to run a meeting.

Most individuals can build the skill sets needed to be a great manager, but some need to work much harder and be more deliberate than others.  Regardless of where you fall, self-awareness is an important starting point. Knowing your tendencies, how you like to work, what you need, and how that might be different from others is incredibly important to successfully transitioning into a leadership role.  This is where the much-maligned personality test comes into play:

Personality test come in many flavors, and have a long history of being used in business to various ends (some more valid than others).  These tools encourage and structure the process of self-reflection that is so important to personal and professional growth. My favorite use case is for manager development, and I find the DiSC assessment to be particularly well suited to this application. As is true of many tests, DiSC sorts people on four quadrants that link to behavioral traits – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness – and provides a lexicon for understanding how different types of personalities interact with others. The focus on relationship dynamics and needs is not only useful for self-awareness, but for understanding how your behaviors might be perceived by the people you manage.  The programming focuses on factors that are highly relevant to the workplace, such as motivations, stressors, conflict response, and problem solving styles. DiSC also offers multiple programs geared toward specific functional areas, including management, sales, and leadership.  While personality assessments have their limits, this is a cheap and straightforward tool that should provide a foundation for new managers to identify their strengths and weaknesses and think through how they can get the most out of their team.  


Rachel Eschle

Rachel Eschle

Partner, Boston

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