Lions, and Zebras, and Purple Bears...oh my!
I love a good Buzzfeed quiz as much as anyone else. What city are you meant to live in? What Doctor Who character are you? What kind of animal are you? Well, make that love/hate. I never thought that much about it until I started consulting. To offset the risk of alienating colleagues I respect, I'm not going to point fingers at specific business personality/work style assessments. I love a good metaphor, and if someone comes into your workplace and tells you that you are a Trout and that means things that help you improve your productivity, good. If you find out that your colleague is a Zebra and that means something that helps you, as a Trout, work more effective with that colleague, great. Right?
There are a lot of these tools out there in professional settings. They can be helpful in giving a team or organization a common language for communicating needs and differences. Hence the love.
They can also create problems. I just worked with an individual who refused to take a valid work style measure because she has already done "a ton of them" over the course of 15 years in the workforce. She knows she is a Lion and her color is Red, and half a dozen other things. (I will forever remember her as a member of House Lannister.) They told her she is a natural leader, which she already knew. Nothing else really stuck with her because it didn't give her any longstanding useful information. She has now decided that all of these tools are useless.
Think of it like overusing and misprespcribing antibiotics. Eventually the medicine loses its potency and is no longer helpful to the population. It may seem harmless in the short term, but we all suffer in the long run... even the Consultants.
How can you know whether one of these assessments is going to give you accurate and useful information?
The answer can be as simple as whether or not they have been Researched. Have they stood up to psychometric scrutiny? Examples of measures with psychometric support are the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), FIRO-B, and Strengths Finder. Here is what the researchers look for in good assessments:
1) In the world of psychometrics (psychological test development) we look at test Validity. In other words, does the test actually measure real characteristics? And does it measure the characteristics it claims to measure? Many commonly used tools claim psychometric validity by association with validated tests such as the MBTI and the Big 5 personality measures like the NEO. Many use questions based on questions used in the validated tests. However, you can't claim the same validity of the originals based on association. The only thing that is valid is the full original assessment tool. I can’t state this strongly enough: the validity of the original measure doesn’t extend to spin-offs.
2) We also look at Reliability. That means that if you take the same test on different days or at a different workplace your results are similar. It’s possible that one or two of your top 10 Strengths have changed. Maybe one of your MBTI letters have changed. And even the best assessments aren’t immune to a client having a very bad day. But if you get a completely different answer from one day to the next, it is highly likely that the test is measuring your temporary mood or attitude.
Thats all fine for a Buzzfeed or Cosmo quiz. However, you are paying to have a professional consultant help you understand your ongoing work patterns. You and/or your team want make actual improvements. So, you should make sure that the information you are basing your decisions and actions on is accurate in the longterm.
There are countless assessments out there, how do you know which ones have gotten good research results?
The best assessments are going to make information about validity, reliability and the studies done in the process of refining the tool available to the public. Your consultant should have that information. If that data isn't forthcoming, it's not a good sign.
Additional factors for good assessment is whether they are being used properly:
1) Failing to properly prepare employees to take an assessment can cause invalid results. A “here’s the link, the boss wants you to take it by the end of the week” email by harried HR staff can impact the results.
2) Sometimes good assessments can get bad reputations due use of bootleg versions. Many people search the internet for resources and get lured into websites that claim to offer assessments like the MBTI for free. It ends up being a dozen or so questions, not the actual assessment. But its close enough...right? You get four letters. And it's FREE! In the case of the MBTI, there are a lot of people with half a dozen different MBTI results due to taking bootleg versions. Not truly understanding psychometrics, they call the Validity of the test into question. If enough people have this experience, the larger population becomes resistant to using a valid test. Like my Lannister.
In conclusion, as someone who is a bit of a Psychometrics Geek, and definitely a Psychology Geek, use of bad assessments and misuse of good assessments are on my naughty list. I hope this post creates awareness of their consequences. Please join me in being a good consumer of professional assessments. Also, have fun with Buzzfeed, I do.
For the sake of transparency, I think my color is Purple, but I’m not sure which workplace color tool was used. I'm also pretty sure my animal is a Bear.
I don’t remember what any of that means.
(Then there is Google, in which case I’m a giant Squid. Happy Earth Day!)