We’ve all taken Buzzfeed quizzes to find out the kind of ice cream flavor we are or what our spirit animal is. They’re fun, engaging ways to get to know yourself or those around you. My spirit animal is apparently the powerful aardvark!
But many people take personality tests a step further and use them in the workplace as well.
When I was in corporate America, personality tests were becoming increasingly popular tools to use for hiring and employee placement. Many companies jumped on the Myers-Briggs bandwagon to evaluate employees' perceived strengths. Potential hires would even be subsequently evaluated as good or bad fits based on their results.
If I’m honest, I too thought these could be great predictors of peoples’ future success in a company. It made perfect sense that if you placed people into company positions that “fit” their innate personality, they would be happier and more productive. That benefits everyone, right?
It wasn’t until I dug deeper into the world of behavioral psychology that I discovered how ineffective and downright detrimental personality tests can be to a managers’ success.
If you’re thinking about using one of these personality tests to review one of their employees, or you're using these things to manage your employees right now, I'm gonna tell you why I don't think that's the right thing for you to do (or certainly not the only thing that you should do).
I’ll also share the ways behavioral psychology can improve your connection with your employees, encourage your employees to level up, and gain a deeper understanding of who your employees are on a subconscious level.
Why Personality Tests Are a Good Manager’s Downfall
On their own, personality tests aren’t inherently evil. Many of them were created with the sole purpose of increasing our understanding of ourselves and those around us. But there are a few things you should know about them before placing full faith in their insights.
1. They’re Notoriously Inaccurate.
The first thing is that there is very little scientific evidence that tells you that a personality profile will actually dictate or predict future behavior.
Take the Myers-Briggs test, for instance. This test has been out there for decades and has been extensively studied. Yet there is no evidence, none at the academic base anyways, that suggests that it is predictive of who you are or the actions you will take in any given scenario.
“Logicians often lose themselves in thought – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People with this personality type hardly ever stop thinking. From the moment they wake up, their minds buzz with ideas, questions, and insights.”
At first glance, this can feel like a very personal statement written with a single person in mind. But when you look at it more closely, you’ll see that this could apply to everyone on the planet.
I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t thinking at any given moment in time. As humans, we tend to be curious by nature, and studies show that people spend up to 50% of the time lost in their thoughts. Regardless of whether they’re classified as INTPs.
Even tests that are highly specific in their findings are often inaccurate because they rely on the participant’s understanding of themselves. Most of us have a clear idea of who we think we are. But who you think you are isn’t exactly the same as who your partner or your boss or your neighbor thinks you are.
Watch the video below to see a real-life example of how personality tests can cause you to underestimate an employees’ true potential.
2. They’re Surprisingly Inconsistent.
Another limitation of personality tests is that they're not consistent 75% of the time. If you take a Myers Briggs, and if you wait a couple of weeks and take it again, you won't be in the same profile three-fourths of the time.
This tells you right off the bat that they’re measuring who you are in that moment, based on the emotions and thoughts you’re experiencing in one specific moment in time. Think of personality tests as a single snapshot in time. They evaluate who you believe you are right now, but they cannot predict who you will be tomorrow.
We all change over time. I'm not the same person I was when I was 25. I was different at 35 and different at 45. We evolve. People and experiences change our priorities, our outlooks, our mindsets, and even our personalities. That's another reason why personality profile should not dictate somebody's career
And there’s something else to keep in mind…
3. They Don’t Account for Context.
If we agree that personality tests just capture who we are in a specific moment of time, we have to acknowledge that moment is influenced by two things: 1) how we’re feeling, and 2) the context of the test.
Every moment of every day, we are influenced by contexts. If you’re stuck in rush hour traffic while you’re running late for an appointment, you’re going to behave differently than you will if you’re at home on a Saturday morning without any plans.
If a personality test tells you an employee is a people person, what’s the context of their responses? Are they taking the test on a day when they don’t have a heavy workload? They may be a people person when they’re in a good mood, but would they go above and beyond when they have a headache or a kid sick at home?
Think about the story I shared above, about how my manager gave me a role even though my personality test results didn’t fit the ideal candidate. I might not be an aggressive go-getter in a research setting, where the intention is just to watch and study. But in a new position, where people are depending on me to take action, I filled the role instantly.
If we don't take context into consideration, then we’re just going to pigeonhole people into a role that otherwise limits their potential.
How to Use Behavioral Psychology to Better Understand Your Employees
So if you can’t use personality tests to uncover who your employees really are, what can you do? After all, without a deep understanding of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, you can’t set them and your business up for success.
Follow these three steps to gain deeper insight into who your employees are and how they may act in various situations, so you can put them in a position where they (and your business) will thrive.
1. Learn the Mindstates That Fit Your Employees
Start off by gaining a deep understanding of the natural mindstate that drive all behavior. It doesn’t matter who your employees are or what the situation is. They make decisions based on one of these 18 mindstates when they are in the context or working at your firm.
Are they driven to be an achiever and success? Do they want to long for the respect of others? Maybe they want to be more in control of their environment or more knowledgeable in their field.
When you know which mindstate profile best fits each employee, you’ll have a decent psychological understanding of who they naturally are in their work setting. These mindstates are laid out in the Marketing to Mindstates book, and we go in-depth on how each of them influences behavior in the Mindstate Marketing Masterclass.
To identify what drives them, keep asking them why. Ask them why they sought out this job, why this career felt like a good fit for them, why they’re coming to work every day and spending their time and energy on these tasks.
Naturally, if the answer is “to get a paycheck,” they might not tell you directly. But you can glean some interesting insights from this alone.
Here are some examples of how they might answer those questions and what the answers tell us about their mindstate.
I chose this career...
- To become successful and make a name for myself - Achievement
- Because I find the work fun and enjoyable - Engagement
- To make a difference in my community - Belonging
- Because it seemed like a good place to learn and grow my knowledge - Competence
- To support my family - Nurturance
When you figure out what their mindstate is, you’ll know what their ultimate desire that they want to have fulfilled at work. You can now use this to ensure their role best fits their priorities and desires, which helps them stay engaged with your business and get more meaning out of their job.
2. Identify the Mindstates That Best Fit Your Business
The second thing you should do is consider which of the 18 mindstates best fit various roles in your business, from the salesperson to the receptionist to IT.
Not every mindstate is a good match for every business or every role. A nonprofit organization blends well with people who want to make a difference or be part of a team, like those in the nurturance or belonging mindstate. Someone in the achievement mindstate wouldn’t have the opportunities for advancement and success in this role, so it may not be a good fit.
You owe it to your employees to know what they’ll ultimately get out of working for you. If you know someone driven by a desire to learn wouldn’t have the opportunity to expand their knowledge in a role, don’t give it to them. You’re setting both your employee and your business up for failure.
3. Manage Your Team’s Roles, Not Their Personalities
Regardless of the type of business you own, you have different roles for different purposes. If you’re managing your people and not your roles, you're limiting the potential of your staff.
Let me give you an example. In high school, I had a group of friends, a click if you will. In that click, I was a little bit shy. This is going to date me, but you might say I was like Potsie from Happy Days in our group. I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is.
We had this guy who could have played division one baseball. He was the jock. And we had a guy who was the funny guy. And then we had this guy we called Diablo, which, obviously, was a guy who liked to stir up trouble.
But in our click, just like in a tribe, we were trying to find our role. We were all trying to find our niche, our area where we were unique and brought our own value to the clan. I was Potsie. Maybe you were too, in your own high school group. Or maybe you were the Fonz.
Then high school graduation came around, and things changed. I joined the military. There, I met a different group of people and joined a different tribe. As a result, I had to fill in a different role.In this tribe I stepped up and became a leader of the group, so they called me Perfect Private. Chances are, something similar has happened to you.
Just understanding who your employees are right where they are in your business isn’t enough, because if they’re put into a different role, they’ll adapt and change to fit it.
So once you identify the core motivations that would thrive in each role in your business, take a close look at each of your employees. Find out which employees have the right mindstates for that role. Then use this knowledge to place them where their natural strengths shine through, and they will be naturally more inclined to do better in that role.
The True Benefits of Being a Good Manager
Helping your employees thrive at their job is no easy feat. But with behavioral psychology, you can gain a deeper understanding of who they are, help them find the role that fits their mindstate best, and hire new team members who match your business’s values on a subconscious level.
I have personally used these three tips to encourage my own employees to learn, grow, and excel. During COVID-19, when stress was at an all-time high, this is more important than ever. Because even if they move on from my company, 30 years from now, I want them to look back and say, “That guy helped me get to the next level. He was a great manager.”
And that matters far more than increasing company productivity by 3%.
So before you have a meeting, especially if it's a weekly review, take a few minutes to remind yourself of who this person is and the mindstate they’re under at work. Think about the core motivations that make up who they are. Then ask yourself how you can ensure their role in the business fits that mindstate better.
I guarantee the satisfaction of knowing your employees love what they do will be well worth the time.
Want to find out how behavioral psychology could help you connect with customers, provide better service, and grow your business? Check out the Mindstate Marketing Masterclass now.
This on-demand video course teaches you how to apply mindstates to your business’s marketing step by step so you can use behavioral science to grow your company.