It’s not unusual for a leadership or soft skills training to include some kind of psychometric or profiling tool. Things like MBTI, DISC, Belbin etc. And these tools tend to be very well received with lots of people enjoying learning them and finding them quite useful.
Some tools even claim to be very trustworthy because they are based on decades of scientific research. But in my very strong opinion, this kind of thinking is dangerous. Here is why.
Boxing Ourselves In
A lot of these tools give people tests to do that result in a report. Once the test is completed learners are then given a report that tells them what style they are. Learners then reflect on the implications of being that style and leave the training with a plan of action to help them take advantage of their strengths and figure out ways to compensate for challenges they face as a result of that style.
But in reality, people are REALLY complicated. A report cannot tell you who you are. It only gives you a snapshot of how this psychometric tool views your response to its assessment. That’s not a bad thing. A snapshot can give you ideas on how to solve problems. And that’s what these psychometric tools should be used for. But what psychometrics should not be used for is putting people into a box.
When people are told that this psychometric tool is based on decades of scientific research, and it’s been used by millions of people over the world, and hundreds of the top organisations around the world, it is far too easy for people to fall into the trap of believing it is true. And when they get a report in their hands, produced by such a credible and reliable psychometric tool, that report becomes “proof” that they are “XYZ Style”.
As facilitators using these tools, our responsibility is to remind learners that these tools are for reference only. But when the reports try to make out that they are so valid and reliable, this contradicts the message we try to get through. Because of this, these days I prefer not to use reports when using these tools. I want to have as little “proof” as possible that these tools are valid. Because ironically, they become far more useful when we don’t think of them as being valid.
My psychometric of choice is DISC. For those of you that don’t know, DISC categorises people into 4 different working styles, each with its own signature behaviours that are easy to identify. I prefer to use this tool because my training focuses on helping people connect with others, and DISC is useful for that. But another reason I use it is because it is simple; only 4 styles. 4 is not hard to remember, and the easier something is to remember the more useful it is.
My goal with introducing these tools is not to enable people to explain why people behave in certain ways. My goal is to enable them to find out by themselves HOW to connect better with other people. In other words, my goal is to share with my learners a tool that will spark ideas to help them solve their problems. And I believe a psychometric should be used for nothing more than that.
So, if the goal is to spark ideas to help solve problems, then it should fulfil several criteria.
Firstly, it should be simple. When there is a lot of information to take in, and it takes a long time (e.g. several hours) to understand the tool, then the tool becomes overwhelming and a distraction. The easier it is to understand, the faster people can start using it to spark ideas.
Secondly, it should be memorable. If people can remember the tool, then they can use it again in the future. But if, only days after the workshop, they have already forgotten all the parts of the tool and how to use it because it was so complicated, then that’s a waste. They’ve only been able to use this tool once, whereas we want to give them something they can take away and use again and again whenever they need to. The easier something is to repeat, the more valuable it becomes.
Thirdly, there should be more time spent reflecting on the ideas they get from the tool, rather than time spent actually trying to understand the tool. Remember, it’s not the tool that brings the value to our training, it’s the ideas the tool sparks. So, give learners space to reflect on and collect the ideas this tool has sparked, and then further time and space to turn those ideas into a plan of action. It’s only when learners take action on their ideas that our training becomes impactful.
Finally, learners should be encouraged to find the weaknesses in this tool. They should not leave the workshop thinking it is a credible tool that tells the truth. They should leave thinking it’s a useful but imperfect tool that can help spark ideas, and that’s it.
Don’t take psychometrics too seriously. They should not be a means unto themselves, they should be a means to an end. And that end is ideas that lead to actions that solve problems.