Personality questionnaires rank among the most useful and practical personal development tools on the market today. In 20-40 minutes, they can provide individuals with highly accurate and personalised recommendations for personal and professional development with minimal input from assessors. Few other development tools share the versatility and scalability of personality questionnaires, making them invaluable tools for learning and development (L&D) practitioners. They come in many different shapes and forms from the Enneagram test to the Big Five.
However, controversy exists regarding the use of personality questionnaires in the development space, largely based on misconceptions regarding their use. For example, critics will highlight the fact that personality itself isn’t mutable, and that certain personality traits cannot be “improved”. Although this is correct, “improving personality” isn’t the objective by any means, and represents a strawman argument against their use. In this article, I will outline how best to use personality questionnaires in personal and professional development and will explain why personality questionnaires are such efficacious tools.
Identifying Development Needs
First and foremost, personality questionnaires can identify a person’s behavioural development needs and areas for improvement. For example, if an employee is working in a sales role, and a personality questionnaire identifies that they are actually rather introverted, or if, say, they are an Enneagram type 5, this information can help guide the creation of a personal and professional development plan. L&D practitioners armed with this information can focus on developing the employee’s people skills, assertiveness, and interpersonal confidence, optimising sales performance.
However, the objective is not to change the person’s personality itself, which cannot be achieved with training courses and business coaching. Moreover, this would represent a rather draconian action for employers to take, as everyone’s individuality should be respected at work. Instead, the objective of the personality questionnaire is to identify these development needs, allowing L&D professionals to focus on specific areas of interest, maximising the effectiveness of any development intervention. Without access to personality questionnaire data, the L&D budget is likely to be spent inefficiently, sending the wrong people to training courses and providing development resources to the wrong individuals.
Once development needs have been identified, we focus on identifying an individual’s key strengths. For example, if an individual work in a caring role and a personality questionnaire identifies a high level of emotional intelligence or is typed as an Enneagram wing type 9w1 or 2w1, this would be inherently advantageous. As a result, this represents a behavioural strength in a caring role with significant emotional labour, potentially improving their performance in the role itself. Armed with this knowledge, a carer would recognise their inherent advantage, and “lean into” their emotional intelligence at work, maximising their performance.
Also, knowing that certain areas can be considered strengths informs L&D practitioners that these specific characteristics do not require development. This allows practitioners to focus on other behavioural characteristics, as their inherent strengths can simply be left alone. This can go a long way to optimising L&D budgets, helping to shift the resources towards those who truly require them, and away from those who are doing well without support. This is particularly true when managing large teams, as L&D practitioners are often over-stretched and underfunded.
Identifying Overplayed Strengths
Although less important than identifying strengths and development needs, identifying overplayed strengths can provide some unique insight into working styles. For example, in a customer success role, an employee is found to show extremely high levels of extraversion or an Enneagram type 7, making them especially gregarious and interpersonally warm. Although this is mostly an advantage in a customer success role, at extreme levels it may also present some difficulties. With such a strong interpersonal orientation, they may find themselves simply talking with customers about unrelated issues, causing them to inefficiently use their time. Relying too heavily on overplayed strengths can occasionally cause (relatively minor) problems.
Additionally, overplayed strengths may also overshadow certain development needs, causing employees to rely too heavily on certain approaches which feel comfortable to them. For example, the personality trait of conscientiousness is a valuable asset in administrative roles, which require staff to be organised, diligent, and carefully follow processes. However, certain highly conscientious staff members may become resistant to change, preferring to stick with their familiar structure and routines. As a result, their conscientiousness is used to compensate for a lack of cognitive flexibility, causing employees to get stuck in their ways.
Personality questionnaires can reveal a wealth of information about a person’s character, temperament, and behavioural styles, greatly aiding L&D initiatives. However, at no point are L&D professionals attempting to change the personalities of their staff members, which is neither possible nor ethical. Instead, the objective is to simply identify the key behavioural traits that people express, quantifying them so that L&D practitioners can utilise that information moving forward. By identifying a person’s strengths, development needs, and overplayed strengths, L&D practitioners can optimise personal and professional development plans, boosting performance, engagement, and satisfaction in the workplace.