When it comes to recruiting, Dale Van Aken, a software developer in Langhorne, Pa., relies on standard methods. "If you interview well, it's not that hard to gauge how candidates would test anyway," he says. If he excluded a job applicant on the basis of test results, Van Aken says, he'd fear that he was throwing the baby out with the bath water. However, along with numerous other CEOs, he has found psychological tests to be most valuable after an employee is brought on board.
These days, increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are using personality surveys to help existing employees work together more effectively. Van Aken, CEO of Syncro Technology, uses a well-known psychological instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to promote communication and team creation at his company. The Myers-Briggs test characterizes a person using one of 16 types. Each type consists of a four-letter code designed to reveal key attributes of the respondent's behavioral style. For example, one of the four letters is always either an "E" or an "I" (reflecting either extroversion or introversion).
Van Aken says that Syncro Technology, which has about 40 employees, has been using the Myers-Briggs since the early 1990s, and everyone in the company has taken it. "No one's ever objected to taking it," he says. "And we certainly wouldn't insist if they did."
At Syncro, the results of the MBTI are freely shared and used to help people of different personality types understand each other's behavior. Van Aken feels grateful to have the additional information to help him understand employees. "It's not an assessment tool, it's a communication tool," he says. "It's almost what we used to call sensitivity training."
Mark Gordon, CEO of Synergy Networks, based in Vienna, Va., which had 1998 revenues of $10 million, also uses psychological tests to help him understand employee behavioral dynamics. Gordon is so sold on these tests that at all times he carries minigraphs of the test results from each of his staff members.
He says the testing came in handy, particularly when his network integration business merged with a network cabling company in 1996. The tests helped Gordon map out the company's restructuring and put people in the right positions. "It was important that we retain the [ cabling company's] management team and have it mesh with my team effectively," he says. "But we wanted the rest of the employees to feel comfortable, and while we had the opportunity, we wanted to craft a position around them."
For example, Gordon points to two employees who at merger time did pretty much the same job -- managing field personnel, which included recruiting, training, and scheduling staff, plus managing projects day to day. Those employees also handled presale requirements, which involved establishing customer needs and rendering the bids. When he decided to split the field manager position into two distinct roles, he used the personality profiles of the two individuals involved to help him figure out how best to divide the duties between them.
Still, the transition after the merge was hardly tension free. Gordon admits that when the companies first merged, the atmosphere was "them" versus "us." So the entire management team sat down with consultant Bill Wagner, who discussed, among other things, the groups' personality profiles. After the managers' group session, Gordon says, the situation was a lot better. And, for Gordon, understanding the emotional needs of each employee is a bottom-line business issue: When employees are content, they tend to be more productive.
It can also be tricky to introduce the use of personality assessment tools. When Gordon first began using the tests in the mid-1990s, he made their use voluntary. After a few people took them and got their results, many more employees volunteered. Gordon notes that although most employees accept the surveys, some people have been put off by them. He also urges employers to realize that there are a number of different testing tools that yield similar insights. In 1998, for example, Gordon switched his company from one brand of testing tool to another. The new brand yields a lengthier report that he thinks managers can use more easily.
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