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Personality Assessments:Investing in People

by Nanette Kalis

April 1998

If you or your companies are looking for ways to find and keep the most effective employees, consider a common tool used in a new way.

As an incubator manager, you've probably had to purchase new copiers or computers for your facility. Have you ever hesitated to invest money in maintaining or upgrading this equipment?

Most likely the answer is no. You're not going to let an expensive piece of equipment sit idle. Why, therefore, are organizations slow to "maintain" and "upgrade" their most valuable investment--their staff?

That's the question Joe Dowd likes to put to his potential clients. Dowd is president of Ballantine & Associates, LTD, a Colorado-based franchise of PDP Inc. PDP is the corporation that developed the Professional Dynametric Program (PDP). Using surveys, interviews and computers, this program assesses the personalities of current and potential employees.

"As unemployment numbers remain low, it's hard to get and keep good people," Dowd says. "And for small companies in particular, turnovers spell high costs. The estimated cost of replacing an employee, from hiring through training the new person, is 75 percent of the former employee's annual salary.... The smaller the organization, the more resources it takes to address this. So if you bring people in, you want to make sure you keep them.

"The two biggest challenges facing any manager are that they don't usually communicate effectively, and they don't understand how to make their people click," Dowd says. "PDP very objectively, very quickly, very positively can address those kinds of things."

What are personality assessments?

Before launching into a discussion on how PDP and other assessments work, let's look at what this new breed of business tool has to offer.

Assessments are management tools that aid in developing interpersonal knowledge. They can be used during the hiring process to help match specific jobs to specific personality types. They can be used to further staff development by zeroing in on an employee's strengths, or by helping you understand the different things that motivate an employee to perform at top level. They can also be used to build teams that will "mesh" together for maximum results.

Jane Z. Woodrow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from Athens, Ohio, offers another example: "[Assessments may be done] when a talented person is having difficulty in a present role, usually due to interpersonal problems or time management and prioritization problems as the job becomes more complex." The assessment can help determine the person's potential for growth and what you, as the manager, need to offer.

PDP's most common tool is its individual personality assessment surveys. These characterize the employee's personality and offer insight into stress adjustment and morale. The assessment also helps the manager decide what type of support to offer the employee. In the case of the talented person Woodrow mentions, Dowd says it's often as simple as helping the person continue learning the skills he or she needs to do the job. "Say you spend a lot of time training a person," he says. "That person performs outstandingly, and so [he or she] is promoted to an executive position or to a position with more responsibility. Too often, the training stops there. A whole new set of skills is needed, and this has to be addressed or the employee may move on." Not only do you risk losing a truly valuable employee, you lose the investment you've made in that person. PDP offers a product to use in employee evaluations. For this both the manager and the employee fill out scans. The responses are compared to values and standards that all parties have agreed are appropriate for the job. The final result, coupled with an old-fashioned, one-on-one talk, can uncover anything that might cause stress or lower morale, either sooner or later. So personality assessments can help managers and small business owners decrease turnover rates, maximize employee strengths, minimize employee stress, build solid teams and hire the right person for the right job. To understand how they work, look at how personality assessments are used to help managers hire employees.

Hiring by PDP

At PDP, the process of helping a client hire a new employee involves assessing three different criteria: basic skills, behaviors and personality styles. The first step, then, is assessing the job to be done. Before the first applicant for the job is interviewed, management and PDP work out the criteria for the job. This includes basic skills, the types of behaviors best suited for the job and the best personal traits to meet the job s demands. The information gathered from the job assessment is also used to write "recruitment ads" targeted to the type of candidates that suit the job.

Once the company has a list of potential candidates, it's time to evaluate the applicants themselves. Basic skills are first. "Do they have the things we need?" Dowd says. "Can they type 60 words per minute? Can they complete a wiring diagram? What is their educational background? These things are verifiable and easily validated."

Next, you analyze personal characteristics. Some jobs demand a high level of creativity. Others require strong organizational skills. Dowd characterizes both of these as behaviors. "We design questions that require respondents to relate past work experience or personal activities to the behavior (required for the job)," he says. For instance, a job that requires supervisory skills might ask the applicant to describe a situation wherein he or she had to monitor other people's work.

Lastly, PDP analyzes personality type. To do this, PDP uses a survey that asks respondents to rank, on a scale of one to five, how strongly a certain descriptive word pertains to them. Are they trustworthy? Compassionate? Bold? They have 30 words to rank. The survey also asks respondents to rank another set of words that judge how others perceive them.

The results from the survey are entered into a computer and analyzed. According to Dowd, there are four main personality types:

  • dominant
  • extrovert
  • patient/careful
  • conformist.

A dominant personality might be best suited to a job requiring supervisory skills. An extrovert might be the perfect candidate for a sales position. But not always. Dowd stresses that you must consider all factors when hiring an employee. Sometimes, for instance, a patient, careful person with years of sales experience and a stellar record to back it up might be the best choice for a sales position. The assessment, he says, is a flexible tool that aids the manager in making the best choice. The final choice is the manager's, not the computer's.

Better Management

Earlier, Dowd mentioned two problems that managers consistently face: They aren't skilled at motivating employees, and they don't know how to make their people click. A scan such as PDP's feeds solutions into both these problems.

It starts with communication. If you know what type of personality you're dealing with, you can learn how to reach that person. A dominant personality, for instance, likes direct, concise speech. They don't want to hear, "this is the way it's always been done." They like challenge. They like risks. You can "tell it like it is" to a dominant personality.

A conformist, on the other hand, wants clear direction. When communicating with this type, spell out the tasks you expect him or her to complete. A careful/patient person might need time to think things over. When communicating with this employee, don't push for instant decisions. Lastly, an extrovert enjoys talking. Approach them with a warm, open attitude and you'll get results.

Dowd emphasizes that there are no good or bad personalities. People simply have different styles. To the detriment of their organizations, many managers don't recognize the value of this diversity.

"I always ask people, have you ever worked for someone you didn't like?" Dowd says. "The answer is always yes. Then I ask them, did it affect your performance? Again, the answer is yes. So you, as a manager, can positively or negatively impact the performance of your employees on a daily basis."

The first problem getting people motivated ties right into personality types. If you know what moves individual employees, you have the power to satisfy both their needs and yours.

"For instance, the prime motivators for a dominant-style personality are money, power and challenge not necessarily in that order," Dowd says. "If you can reward the employee with one of these and it doesn't necessarily have to cost you; it can be a tough assignment, for instance then that employee is likely to stay happy."

Dowd adds that motivators can change over time. Dominant people consistently like money, power, and challenge. But at different points in their lives, power might be a stronger motivator than money, and vice versa. "[Assessment] is an ongoing process," Dowd explains. Not only do people change, organizations do, too. For that reason, PDP client companies re-administer assessments on a yearly basis.

Helping people click as a team follows naturally from this. PDP trains the key manager in the client company or division to understand the assessments and use the information to improve group dynamics. To understand how, imagine this scenario: You need five people to work on a project. Do you want a team of all dominant personalities? Chances are, these strong-willed individuals will come up with some great ideas, but they won't agree on them. A smart manager will adopt a team-building approach that incorporates different personality styles for maximum results. For instance, the extrovert is the persuader, the patient/careful person is the peacemaker, the conformist is the accurate, thorough one the detail person. As Dowd said earlier, there are no good or bad personality styles. On an effective team, a conformist plays as crucial a role as an extrovert.

Do assessments work?

According to Dowd whose client roster includes Cincinnati Bell, Scripps-Howard, and StartTech, to name a few the vast majority of those he has surveyed agree with the results of their assessments. We at NBIA can't speak for his other clients, but we were amazed by the accuracy of an assessment he conducted for two of our employees. Using a survey that, on the surface at least, appeared simple, Dowd put together a profile of our staff members that was right on the mark. Cooperative, generous, likable, dependable, good listener -- sound familiar to anyone out there?

Dowd says it's not by chance that the survey produced solid results. "We are constantly re-evaluating the instrument," he says. "Though the survey is simple, there's a lot of scientific research and development behind it."

The survey developed by PDP can be statistically validated. "I tell managers, this is not hocus pocus," Dowd says. "If they're concerned about that, I give them validation studies."

Assessments Not New

According to Woodrow, personality assessments have been around for awhile. Many of those used by organizations to evaluate employees were developed by industrial/organizational psychologists or adapted from personality assessments, such as the well-known Myers-Briggs used for decades by psychologists.

While it's true that assessments are not new, the use of them in the workplace seems to be expanding in innovative ways. In magazines and on the Internet, a slew of companies offer assessment techniques, ranging from handwriting analyses to simple surveys. Dowd, who has been involved with PDP for more than 20 years, says he's certainly seen an upsurge in companies wanting to assess employees. He attributes this to competitive changes in the market for employees.

Dowd views his job partly as "sensitizing managers to the people side of the organization." Many managers mistakenly believe that if they can't offer their employees more money, they can't offer them anything. "Surprisingly, money always ranks about fifth on the list in research on why people move on to another job," Dowd says." The things that motivate them are harmony, cooperation, praise and security. The reason that people leave an organization is generally not money.

This last point underscores why personality assessments can be particularly relevant to incubators and their companies. An early-stage company needs top notch people to move to the next level. But often it has to be creative in its compensation. With this tool, a startup employer can sweeten the pot with intangibles such as making work a place employees look forward to spending their days.

"We have a difficult time leaving situations we're happy in. If you're limited in what you can pay people but you're sensitive to their needs, you'll keep them because that's stuff money can't buy."

Keywords: evaluation -- incubator performance, staffing -- incubator

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