A critical task for leaders is to ensure that their followers are working efficiently toward the organization’s goals. In business, employees whose work is aligned with the organization’s objectives are more productive. So-called “performance management processes” are intended to create alignment between the employee’s work and the organization’s goals. A typical performance management process might include planning and setting goals, monitoring progress toward those goals, development and improvement, and periodic performance appraisals (or reviews). These performance management processes could be substantially improved by the use of personality assessments.
Personality is related to every meaningful individual difference. Scientifically validated personality assessments can predict substance use and abuse, longevity, relationship satisfaction, job performance, criminality, and occupational choice, just to list a few examples. Beyond these applications, well-validated personality assessments provide individuals with insights into their own motives, reputations and destructive behaviors, many of which they may not be aware. Employees can use such strategic self-awareness to modify their behaviors at work to be more in line with the expectations of management. Consider the following (real) example.
Maria is 36 years old and joined her company when she graduated from college. Since her first day on the job, she has been one of the top performers and has rapidly progressed to an upper-level management position. Senior managers have identified her as high potential, and she is in line for the next opening in the C-suite. Her stated goal is to reach the C-suite by age 40. While her superiors see her as a top performer, some of Maria’s co-workers and subordinates see her as pushy, overbearing and having unrealistic expectations for her staff. Some of her staff indicated that they did not like the “within-team” competitions Maria set up to motivate performance. A few suggested that they did not particularly like working for Maria and that they would consider leaving their positions with the company.
As part of her performance management plan, Maria completed a well-validated personality assessment. The assessment consisted of three parts: Maria’s drivers and motivators; her reputation or everyday behavior; and the “dark side” tendencies, or de-railers, that detract from her performance. Her scores on drivers and motivators indicated that Maria was motivated by competition, the thrill of winning and taking charge of situations. Her reputational scores indicated that other people perceive Maria as ambitious, leaderlike and competitive. Finally, her dark side scores indicated that Maria was prone toward risk-taking behavior and overconfidence.
Post-assessment, Maria met with a certified assessment user to discuss her results. During the session, she learned that she sees the world differently than others, particularly her subordinates. While Maria values competition, she learned that other people – particularly many of her subordinates – find competition off-putting and uncomfortable. This knowledge helped Maria better understand why her superiors viewed her differently from her subordinates. More importantly, it helped her develop a plan for behavioral change. Specifically, Maria now begins meetings with her staff by listening to them. This approach allows her staff to set their own expectations and Maria to use them as a starting point, rather than setting unrealistic expectations. While Maria was encouraged to retain her own competitive drive, she has removed the within-team competition and replaced it with both individual and team-based goals for performance.
Overall, Maria found the experience of taking personality assessments and receiving feedback on them to be beneficial. They helped her learn about her hidden biases and how they were affecting her workplace performance. The strategic self-awareness Maria gained by taking personality assessments was a critical part of her performance management, as it helped her perform better as a leader, thereby better aligning her behavior with the company’s goals.
As Maria’s case demonstrates, personality assessments can be a useful component of performance management. All employees have biases and detrimental behavioral tendencies, of which they may not even be aware. Well-validated personality assessments bring these tendencies into awareness, help us understand where they come from and help us create plans to reduce the deleterious effects they have on performance. Such behavioral changes not only improve the individual’s performance, but they also bring an employee’s work more in line with the company’s goals.