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Personality Profiles – Measuring an Inner Essence that Doesn’t Exist?

Stephen Billing, September 25, 2009

It is commonly agreed that personality instruments can be implemented well, and they can be implemented poorly. My question is, is it actually possible to measure what personality instruments claim to measure?

The predominant way of thinking of humans is that thought comes before action, based on Descartes (I think therefore I am). So we see ourselves as being minds (or souls) inhabiting and having supremacy over our bodies.

Personality profiles and tarot cards alike offer the promise of articulating and measuring this inner essence that is your mind or your soul.

Psychological approaches such as profiles also offer the additional promise of the potential to measure this inner essence, and by implication, to manage it in the service of the organisation. After all, what can be measured, can be managed. For example, I have been told not once, but twice after completing Myers-Briggs questionnaires during recruitment processes for consulting companies (I got both jobs, by the way) that the test was just to "make sure I wasn’t an axe murderer". Two completely different people administering this instrument both came up with the same line – I guess this implies that there must be a specific Myers-Briggs profile that fits an axe murderer. (more…)


Personality Profiles – Tarot Cards – What’s the Difference?

Stephen Billing, September 23, 2009

Personality profiles and new age methods are like tarot cards, or astrology. Seems to me they are trying to do the same thing – explain the hidden structure of personality or the self. Personality profiles have allied themselves to rational approaches to "prove" their scientific validity, in a corporate world which values such science. New age methods have not and are correspondingly less valued. But when boiled down, I wonder, what is the difference?

Personality profiles seem to me to be attempts to reveal or make explicit the underlying hidden structures of your personality, or sense of self.

As humans, we each experience a sense of self which is relatively stable although it can change over time. And we experience others as also being similarly stable. Personality profiles, I think (and perhaps they cannot all be bundled into the same category) seem to me to be attempts to measure and articulate the underlying structure of the personality. (more…)


On Questioning the Effectiveness of Personality Profiles

Stephen Billing, September 21, 2009

Questioning the usefulness of personality profiles and instruments is likely to be provocative

The previous discussion on the blog about personality and other profiles has generated some interest from readers. Many of  my colleagues (i.e. other consultants) and clients, along with me, have used personality instruments. So we are certainly in the mainstream there.

I have recently been wondering about their use and questioning for myself how valid it is to use them, given the arguments in my blog about the importance of context when considering abstractions such as culture, leadership and values. (more…)


Getting Ready To Question the Value of Personality Profiles

Stephen Billing, September 17, 2009

I am in the process of preparing a series of posts that question whether or not personality profiles are valuable or useful. This feels like a biggie – to be raising doubts about "scientifically proven" psychological instruments. I don’t mean that I’m questioning whether or not they are implemented well or not. Obviously sometimes they are not implemented well, and sometimes they can be implemented according to the book. Either way, they are implemented according to the view of the world held by the person or people implementing them.

When I questioned in earlier posts the idea that establishing a set of corporate values was useful, there were a number of comments suggesting that they agreed with me that they weren’t valuable, because they were implemented poorly. In a similar way, I have had some feedback that personality profiles can be implemented poorly and in these cases they are less useful.

How ideas (or abstractions) such as values or personality profiles are implemented is one question, and there is no doubt in my mind that they can be implemented poorly (this often means "not in accordance with the way I think they should be implemented").

In the following posts I will be questioning whether or not it is actually valid to consider a personality profile at all. In a similar way I also have at least 16 posts questioning whether the concept of values is useful or not – you can find them here, and a number of posts questioning whether a shared vision is necessary (here). Many people thought I was just questioning whether or not values or vision were implemented well. 

Not so. I was wondering aloud whether it made sense to have shared vision and values.

In a similar way, I am wondering whether personality profiles make sense. Stay tuned!


Profiles – “Objective” Abstractions from Reality that Only Make Sense in “Subjective” Reality

Stephen Billing, September 11, 2009

It’s a convoluted path from objective questionnaire instruments that only make sense in the subjective reality of respondents. Why not just enquire directly into the subjective reality of managers and staff in organisations, and bypass the "objective" instruments?

I am delighted that Tom Gibbons has joined the discussion and debate on this blog about the place of instruments in organisations (here) as well as other topics such as self organisation. Tom is Managing Director at TMS Americas, which is the organisation that represents the well-known Margerison and McCann Team Management Profile and associated instruments, so Tom is an expert on profiling. TMS is also well represented in NZ by TMS Ltd and I certainly like the profile well enough to have become accredited in administering it.

In a comment on my previous post on reification (what’s that?) Tom explained how he uses the profile as a vehicle for starting conversations that would not otherwise be possible. I think this is an admirable use for a profile, because I think that it is important in organisational change to foster new conversations. After all, people gain insights from filling in a questionnaire and then receiving feedback from someone on how they stack up in terms of the criteria of the instrument.

My comments in this post are not related only to the Team Management Profile, but to all psychological profiles, and I have experience of many. It is commonly understood that the participants in the instrument do not know what the criteria are at the time they fill in the instrument, and this is seen as an enhancement to the objectivity of the instrument. Many instruments are designed to obscure the criteria through, amongst other things, the format of the questions and through asking the same question in a number of different ways, for example through forced choice between two criteria. So, participants are told that they can’t fool the computer programme. For some instruments, the delivery of the feedback via computer programme is also seen as making the feedback more objective. (more…)


Do You Need Personality Questionnaires, Culture Surveys or Team Instruments?

Stephen Billing, September 9, 2009

In which I ponder on why I haven’t used instruments and profiles in my consulting work in leadership development or helping organisations to bring about change (the post is after the light hearted questionnaire below).

A recent post on this blog was on how we often treat concepts or ideas as physical things and attribute the properties of physical things to them, such as thinking we can manipulate and manage culture as though it were a physical thing (here). In the comments on that post, a discussion has begun in a spontaneous way about the place of instruments (assessments or questionnaires) in dealing with complex processes of interaction in organisations.

Like many consultants, I am accredited to administer and facilitate workshops based on the Team Management Profile offered by TMS.

I have to confess though that I haven’t used the profile in my consulting work, even though I like it enough to have become accredited to run it. I have plenty of experience of other profiles as well (e.g. Myers-Briggs, Lominger competency profiles, Gallup Strengths Finder, Gallup Engagement Survey, 15FQ+, LSI, HBDI, AVI, Belbin, EQ, 360 degree and others) and I haven’t used them much either. And yet all of them have something to offer, certain compelling points of difference in the way they are presented, in what they claim to measure and in what insights they offer.

I’ve been pondering on why it is that I am not now drawn to profiles. In fact I seem not to be finding them helpful to my clients, even though I have been able to help clients to make sense of different profiles they have bought or undertaken. At times I have helped them to make decisions about how (or whether) to roll these instruments out across their organisation.

When I started out as a consultant in independent practice, I thought that it was important that if a client needed a profile, I should be accredited to provide one, otherwise I might miss out on work. I am aware of other consultants who have the same idea. Somehow, in the five years since I have been in operation, I myself have never found a client who needed a profile, and I’ve been busy with client work. During that period, other consultants have done dozens and hundreds of administrations of such instruments – in fact it’s a staple part of business for a number of consultants.

After a couple of years I realised that this was at least partly because I didn’t see my client’s issues as things that could be resolved by reference to profiles.

I am conscious that sometimes clients want someone to implement "xyz profile" and that there are consultants who do this. Often clients have a particular solution in mind when they talk to a consultant. If they don’t, they certainly have a business problem when they ask a consultant for help.

I have come to realise that how the consultant frames up the solution has a big influence on the solution they offer. If a consultant has a profile, then they will very quickly see in client situations, applications for that profile. I suppose this a variation of "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything will appear like it’s a nail." And you will have no option but to try banging it with your hammer. Shame if it’s not a nail but a rather painful blister.

But I think it’s more subtle than that, in spite of the joke questionnaire at the top of this post, courtesy of Perhaps it is partly a factor of "I have a solution, now let’s find someone I can flog it to." But I suspect that most consultants do not think this is what they are doing.

I think it’s more that becoming experienced in the profile does give you a certain way of looking at the world, a certain vocabulary, a certain theory about what is going on.  A certain habitus as Pierre Bordieu and my colleague Chris Mowles would say. If that’s your theory and vocabulary, then you will see organisational situations in terms of that theory and vocabulary. And no doubt you will also be able to convince clients to try out your solutions.

In my work with my clients I have become more interested in exploring "How are we looking at the world?" Our conversations are rooted in the present world of experience. When abstractions come up I bring the conversation back to what is currently happening. Perhaps that is why I am not feeling the need for instruments at the moment.