Not all personality assessments are created equal. Does the one you’re using make the grade?

Whether you’re looking to hire and develop top performers, identify high-potential employees and future leaders, address performance issues, or build more collaborative and productive teams, personality assessments can be an invaluable tool. An effective assessment shines a light on people’s intrinsic strengths, behavioral tendencies, and developmental pitfalls, enabling you to make more informed decisions about your human capital.

The challenge is choosing the right assessment. A good one can help transform your organization; a bad one is, at the very least, a waste of time and money. With so many options on the market — from pricier assessments that have been around for decades to inexpensive phone apps that arrived on the scene last week — how do business leaders sift through the clutter and find out what works?

The truth is that anyone can invest a few dollars in software and claim to be an “assessment company.” If you’re serious about transforming your organization into one that is more productive, forward-thinking, and profitable, here are seven points to consider to ensure you’re using a viable assessment tool:

1. Work-Related Behaviors

Does your assessment specifically measure work-related behaviors, as opposed to general characteristics and styles?

There are so many fun assessments that reveal information about a person’s style. This is often entertaining and helpful to know; however, the context of this information varies greatly depending on the job. For example, while a strong degree of accommodation is important in a customer service representative, it’s a much less desirable trait for a collection agent who needs to be firm and persistent. An effective assessment measures traits that can predict someone’s performance in the workplace behaviors relevant to a specific job, which can provide you with the critical insights you need to make informed decisions.

2. Validity

PavementFor the job-matching aspect of an assessment to be valid, your vendor should be taking measures to ensure the predictability and reliability of the tool is sound today and over time. This means conducting continuous research, evaluations, and revisions regarding the science behind the tool. A good assessment meets scientific standards for validity (showing that it really measures what it claims to measure). All of this should be validated against specific job families and job-related behaviors while accounting for changes in behavioral normative data over time.

Best practices in validation work include maintaining a technical manual that supports the veracity of the assessment’s results. The technical manual should contain all of the data regarding the research behind the tool, including data about correlations for predictive reliability. Most experts would consider this to be the most important quality of a good preemployment and development assessment.

3. Versatility

Can the information gleaned from the report also offer insights that can be used for other phases of talent management, or is it only viable for single-use selection?

If your applicant is going to spend an hour or more completing a personality assessment, you should be gaining a multidimensional view of that person’s motivations and inclinations. A versatile instrument not only measures a person’s dynamics relative to a given position, but it can also be utilized to support coaching and development, team building, succession planning, and department or organizational engagements around performance improvement. The data can be used throughout the employee life cycle, without the employee having to spend valuable time completing further assessments.

4. Cognitive Measurement

Does your tool also measure how a person is inclined to approach problem solving?

Let’s face it: All of the personality in the world is great, but if an assessment doesn’t measure someone’s problem-solving style, you will miss a fundamental component of job performance. In evaluating concrete vs. abstract thinking, a good assessment makes a valuable distinction regarding which assessee would be better at straightforward decisions and which would be more adept at tackling complex business issues. This data is valuable on its own, but it can become even more beneficial when it is combined with other key attributes to predict performance in broader competencies, such as business acumen and strategic thinking.

5. Compliance

MeetingWhen you are using any assessment for hiring, you want to know with 100 percent certainty that the results do not discriminate against any protected class. Top assessment companies do their own research and testing, and that includes evaluating their products for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to ensure their products never discriminate based on gender, race, age, or physical disability. Assessments used for selection in particular must be compliant with labor laws and regulatory guidelines.

6. Format

One of the biggest sources of skepticism toward personality assessments is the potential for fakability (a design flaw that allows an assessee to manipulate the answers so that the results are unduly favorable). While validity testing can help an assessment company ensure its instrument is consistent, proper construction is required to limit the potential for distortion. A semi-ipsative (forced-choice) format yields far more accurate results than a simple Likert-type scale. Do not be fooled by assessments with overly rosy results: No human being can be the best of everything.

7. Duration

The length of an assessment is another factor that prevents a person from gaming the system. A brief assessment that only takes a few minutes to complete can be easily faked, which suggests it won’t be very accurate. It is harder for individuals to consistently manipulate answers over time. Duration enhances consistency and accuracy of trait distribution, leading to more reliable results. A good assessment is long enough to obtain a detailed picture of an applicant’s behavioral tendencies while still respecting the applicant’s time and the speed of your business.

With assessment instruments, the accuracy of the data is critical both to making good talent-management decisions and to gaining commitment from your employees in their coaching and development. By ensuring that the tool you ultimately choose meets these seven fundamental standards, you will achieve better business results and, in the end, a far higher return on your investment.

Jacque Casoni is director, account development, at Caliper.

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