How to Weigh the Pros & Cons of Using Psychometrics: 5 Critical Questions

A: Hey new guy, are you a “Fiery Red” too?

B: Sorry?

A: Ah, forget it – you’re proooobably a “Sunshine Yello”.

B: A “sunshine what”?

A: Oh, never mind!

Have you ever had an exchange like this? How did it make you feel?

When used for personal development or to understand differences in a team, I’m all for psychometrics or other development tools that help shine a light on blind spots or other areas that need illumination.

Psychometric = the measurement of mental traits, abilities, and processes (Dictionary.com).

I myself had a HUGE insight the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – the world’s most popular psychometric. 

By shining a light on my preference for “harmony”, I believe it helped me become better in my work as a coach and facilitator – conflict, the opposite of harmony, is a constant reality in this line of work. 

By becoming aware of this preference, I was able to recognize my desire to avoid conflict and take measures to face it, when necessary.

After getting certified as an MBTI Practitioner a few years later, I had a chance to witness
its value in a team experiencing some growing pains. 

As one of two facilitators on a 3-module development program for a multinational auto supplier, I was assigned “learning coach” for one of two project teams made from the 16 participants spread over three locations in North and South America.

I facilitated a half-day exploring the four “MBTI Dichotomies” followed by a session self-assessing their individual 4-letter personality type: ESTJ, INFP, etc. (N = Intuition).

Image result for mbti types

It should be noted that there was no pre-online questionnaire or individual “best-fit” talk with each team member – the recommended procedure for using the MBTI. 

We had first come together face-to-face for module 1 in January.  It was now April and module 2.  You could say that this team was moving from “forming” to “storming” – for those familiar with the language of “Tuckman’s 4 stages of group development”.😊

My team of eight had begun collaborating virtually on a project shortly after module 1.  Three months in to the virtual teamwork, I could sense all was not well among the diverse mix of Brazilians, Mexicans and Americans.  More than a fun dose of intercultural awareness input was needed.

After debriefing the ½ day MBTI experience and sharing their types with each other, the team had a big “a ha” moment when the individual differences began to emerge – “Ohhhh, so that’s why you’re so slow! And here I thought you just didn’t care!”. 

You could say that this intervention helped this team move toward “performing”.  Again, Tuckman’s language.

At first glance, the MBTI absolutely helped in the development of this team.  However, were all the team members comfortable using this psychometric? 

And what happened after the program when new team members joined this team – did they
feel excluded because they didn’t know the MBTI vocabulary, i.e. speak the language?

Like so many things in life, one has to weigh the pros and cons of something before coming to a decision about using it –

“This sunscreen has toxic chemicals in it!”

“Yeah, but if you don’t use it you’re going to get fried!”

As someone who is a certified practitioner in two psychometrics and familiar with half a dozen more, I believe I can weigh in on the pro’s & con’s of using them.

PSYCHOMETRIC OR PSYCHOBABBLE?

According to The New York Times‘ “Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office”, personality testing is a $ 500 million industry

And despite warnings not to use them for hiring or promotions, you and I both know they get used for those purposes and more!

Furthermore, in some companies they can become a kind of short-hand or secret handshake that you need to know.

According to the article, Dr. Adam Grant believes the MBTI “creates the illusion of expertise about psychology”.  As professor of organizational psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Grant has tested both as an INTJ and ESFP – something that should never happen.

As a licensed MBTI Practitioner, I could imagine one or two of the letters/preferences deviating, but not four. 

The good doctor obviously figured out how to “game” the questionnaire.  Nevertheless, the psychometric sells itself as “ungamable”.

Let’s look beyond this man’s opinion.

After earning her Ph.D. at Princeton, neuroscientist Dr. Darshana Narayanan went to work for a company that was using psychometrics to help recognize talent. Having since left the industry, she remains skeptical:

“Human behavior is multifaceted and complex and dependent on your environment and biological state, whether you’re depressive, manic, caffeinated.”

Granted, the personality assessments she was working with might not have been as well-established or psychologically-sound as the MBTI, DISC or Insights – three of the biggest. 

Coming from the world of academia, she points out that “a rigorous assessment of someone’s personality would have to involve multiple close observations of their behavior over a sustained period, the typical psychometric test comes as a one-and-done.”

LITMUS TEST

Speaking as a non-academic but as someone who works in the world of human development, scientific validity is not my main concern.

Generally speaking, if a psychometric or other development tool helps in the growth and development of an individual, team or organization, I’m in favor of it. 

As illustrated in my experience as both recipient and administrator of the MBTI, I and some of my teams have benefited from its resulting insights.

However, I am by no means attached to this particular instrument.  In fact, I opt for StrengthsFinder when given a choice.  I won’t go into details why except to say that I like how one’s Strengths is the starting point.

Frankly speaking, I don’t care what development tool is used as long as it provides a springboard to dialog – either a one-to-one dialog with the licensed practitioner or a group dialog in which everyone in the group can participate.

CONCLUSION

If you’re a leader thinking about using a psychometric with your group or team, here are five critical questions to ask yourself before pulling the trigger:

  1. Would it shine a light on your blind spots and help you grow and develop as a result?
  2. Would it be used to enhance and supplement team or group development?
  3. Would it facilitate healthy interaction and robust dialog among the team/group?
  4. Would it be a kind of shortcut to getting to know and understand others or used as a substitution for deeper dialog and interaction?
  5. Would it create anxiety or confusion in newcomers or outsiders who aren’t familiar with the jargon?

My best advice – if you could answer yes to numbers 1 – 3, GO FOR IT. 

If you answered yes to number 4 – 5, take a step back and ask yourself:

How can I get to know and understand my people without a psychometric? 

What kind of development activity can I do that includes, not excludes people? 

Bottom line – as a leader of a team or group, you know your people best. It’s your call. Use your best judgement.

BTW, as a newcomer to a team or company, how would you feel if one of these were hanging above your desk?

I don’t know about you but I’d feel lost. 

And how might you feel in the canteen if the colleagues began talking about “Fiery Reds” or “Sunshine Yellows”?

I’d feel even more lost. 

As a team or group leader, you most definitely DO NOT want a newcomer in your team or organization feeling lost on their first or ANY day.

What’s your experience with psychometrics? Which pro or con did I miss?

  • Thanks Tim for your insightful article. 👍🏼 Answering the 5 questions you composed can really be considered as necessary basic considerations. I am entirely d‘accord with your conclusion and want to underline the statement of Dr. Narayanan, you quoted. Additional points might be: What if the results are biased or deliberately modified? What are my veritable underlying motivators, performing such tests? Do we really want to disclose these mysteries? Should we establish such pharmacist’s cabinets? Last but maybe first: Why do we want to do this? 📊🎛 A couple of years ago, I‘ve written on something similarly (unfortunately in German) – and there is a retroperspective and conclusion on it already in my pipeline since some years…which might be published shortly. A pro for me remains the reflective, multi-symbiotic as well as resource and growth-oriented perspective that can be supplemented by adequately levering such tools and methodologies – keeping in mind its sketchy, fluid, elusive, intangible and ductile „character“. 🧰 Thanks again for your valuable content, Tim. ✌🏼✨

    https://psychosophy.management/2012/06/03/personlichkeitsanalyse-und-denkstilpraferenzen-wissenschaftliche-horoskope/

    • Tim Nash says:

      Hi Andreas,

      Thanks for your great input here. I especially like your question re “What are my veritable underlying motivators”. BTW, I’d like to read what you wrote when it gets translated into EN. Do keep me informed!