Our Love-Hate Relationship With Personality Profiles

Recently, an executive from a mid-sized organization decided that all personality profile-based classes would be eliminated from the schedule. The effect was that close to a thousand employees pitched a collective fit. As these things go, that leader moved on, the personality-profile classes were reinstated, and were filled to capacity every time they were offered.

So, what is all this yelling about?

In fairness to executive who banned the profile-based classes, I have to admit that poorly managed, these programs can go horribly wrong. Labeling. Name-calling. Using disclosed preferences to disqualify, diminish, or exclude. Interpreting motivation, performance, or capacity through the lens of “type.” And in a couple of truly terrifying examples, to screen candidates for employment.

As an executive coach and leadership development practitioner, I am certified to work with over a dozen models/profiles/assessments that inevitably seek to segment the recipients into tidy buckets of preference, behavior, motivation, and range of potential. At a surface level, I agree. It is not valid, practical or respectful to reduce humans to what amounts to a #tag.

But there is, undeniably, more to this argument. Folks have an instinctive sense that having a few reliable indicators about preference, style, approach, hot-buttons (their own and others) better equips them to navigate the increasingly complex corporate conversation.  With that in mind, a few lessons from experience.

It’s a data point                                                    

  • Many practitioners of personality/style-based instruments become zealots, extending the implication, and the application of these profiles almost to the point of religious fervor, and that’s a problem. I have yet to meet the human who stays in a box. We live in the white space.

  • The real power in this type of profile is to inform choices, influence approaches, and more effectively self-manage.

It’s a shared lexicon

  • Having a common framework of behavioral and motivational cues allows employees to mobilize their immediate environment around their strengths, and to move toward others for more effective collaboration.

  • It forms the baseline for organizational emotional intelligence, and the context for coaching to interpersonal mastery.

It must be managed

  • At the end of the day, this kind of tool—like every other tool—serves your intention. So, be explicit about the intention, the cultural and values alignment, and leadership point of view.