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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Tell Me Who You Are

This week I've been delivering the first week-long module of a course for a bank, which takes technical experts (software engineers and others in similar roles) and helps them develop not only their technical knowledge and understanding of the bank's architecture and systems, but also a lot of useful 'soft' or 'enterprise' skills which can help make them more effective, productive and fulfilled. It's the second year I've delivered the programme, which has three modules running over 6 months and includes 121 coaching alongside the group sessions, as well as a team project and it's a fantastic piece of work to be involved in!

As part of this, the delegates make use of a few different common tools which fall broadly under the banner of psychometric assessments. They complete questionnaires, receive a report on the outputs and seek to learn more about themselves through the process. Social Styles, MBTI, Insights, Hogan, Belbin team roles and other such examples of these tools are are really common in business and they're a regular feature on development courses such as the one I've been delivering. Some of the tools have been around for decades and I frequently hear the outputs being discussed in businesses.

There are many benefits of these, but like any tools, they're not without their challenges. The first, and most obvious one is the fact that the answers which give rise to the outputs in the report are (in the case of most of these types of tools at least) entirely provided by the individual. Ultimately, what they say in their answers and therefore what the output of their report tells them, comes entirely from themself. It creates a very odd sort of loop: I view myself in a certain way, therefore I fill in the questions in the questionnaire in a way which supports the way I see myself, therefore the outputs in the report tell me that I'm, the kind of person that I thought I was when I approached the questionnaire in the first place. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's no external feedback or input to provide balance (here's how you view yourself and here's how others view you). It happens from time to time that someone gets their report and doesn't recognise the person who is described in it, but that's relatively rare in my experience. It's FAR more common for people to look at their report and comment that 'this is so me!'

Another similar challenge is that some people might (perhaps unconsciously) answer the questions in the way in which they think the organisation wants them to. If I know that a company really likes a certain type of leader or contributor, there's a danger that I answer the questions in a way which generates a report that makes me look like I'm that type of person, perhaps to be viewed more favourably by my business, or maybe just because that's who I'm trying to be, to fit in or get ahead. That's never helpful.

And a third issue that often arises is that rather than using the outputs to give insight, generate discussion and help people find better ways to work together or to approach situations, too many people use the outputs to pigeon hole others into specific groups and then treat the members of that group like a homogenous blob and lose all of the nuance that makes each of us unique. Take Insights as an example, which has four different coloured energies and each delegate's report shows their degree of preference towards each. The mix of these energies is the thing which creates the uniqueness however the majority of people have a colour preference. Too many times I've heard people say things like 'oh, Dave's very Blue [precise, deliberate, detail oriented], so give him that spreadsheet job to do'. In this example, Dave's skills and motivations have been defined by a single word - blue - and it's now being used as a proxy for (and very possibly a barrier to) managing him in an effective way.

So where does that leave us? Well if your organisation uses tools like these, as many do, they can still be really useful. I've always taken the approach that, like any data, the outputs are the START of the conversation, and not the END, so there's a loose process that I like to go through with delegates that can help get the most from this

  • Firstly, reflect on what the report tells you and understand what it's saying - don't assume, actually read the report and the instructional literature that come with it. Does it reflect how you see yourself?

  • Secondly, consider feedback you've had (and even proactively seek out more feedback) to understand whether this feedback is aligned with the outputs of the report. Do others see you in the way that you see yourself? If not, where does it differ and what does that tell you? Identify the gaps between where you think you are and where others think you are.

  • Thirdly, think about where you'd LIKE to get to. How would you like to behave in certain situations? What impact would you like to have on others? Ask yourself questions to help you identify gaps between where you are and where you want to be.

  • Fourthly, identify and plan some actions that you can take, in order to begin moving in the direction you've identified and closing the gaps.

  • And finally, take action!

It can be really valuable to do this with someone else, perhaps your line manager, a trusted peer or a coach, to give them the opportunity to challenge your thinking and deepen your reflection!

I'd love to hear about your own experiences with these tools and any other ideas you have for making the best use of them!

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