Personality tests: pigeonholing or learning instrument?
In her dissertation 'Pigeonholing or Learning Instrument', Henriette Lundgren poses central questions about how personality tests are being used in developmental settings, and to what extent their application can be perceived as ethical.
Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) or Big Five assessments enjoy great popularity in business, human resource development (HRD), and adult education settings. Psychometrics and personality testing are fascinating fields of study, with numerous writings on its history, its development, and its role in the workplace.
Originally, personality tests were designed for personnel selection. Increasingly, they are also used in developmental areas of the human resources spectrum, such as coaching, educational leadership, organizational change, team building, and management development.
However, while personality tests are often promoted as enablers to enhance personal development and organizational functioning, they can also yield the opposite effect of departmentalization and stereotyping. Criticized in many ways, a number of frequently used personality tests display poor validities and show methodological issues around forced-choice answer formats.
Another contradiction evolves around the static nature of personality itself, which leaves scanty room for change and development. HRD at its core is about seeking opportunities for learning, growth, and development. The question thus arises how a test that determines ‘what is’ can be effectively used in an adult education setting that strives to find out ‘what can be’.
This dissertation explores the practice and perception of personality testing in HRD in order to build on ethical and effective practice in the field. The argument is organized around four studies. The first study explores instruments, stakeholders, and practice dynamics in three Western European countries. The second study sets the theoretical stage with an in-depth literature review on reflection as operationalized by Jack Mezirow. The third study examines HRD practitioners and how they select their instruments. Finally, the fourth study analyzes managers’ reactions to the use of these instruments as test takers.
Throughout the dissertation, the author reviews what can be learned by examining policy, professional identities, organizational sensemaking, and the larger societal marketplace dynamics that enable businesses to exploit such tensions around personality testing. The dissertation offers new grounds and strategies for the use of personality testing in developmental contexts.
Henriette Lundgren is an international scholar-practitioner in the field of human resource development (HRD) with an interest in adult education, organizational psychology and talent management. Educated in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, she holds a degree in International Business from Maastricht University, a master’s in Organizational Psychology from the Open University Hagen, and a Ph.D. in Human Resource Studies from Tilburg University. The results of her Ph.D. are described in this dissertation and were published in international peer-reviewed journals. Henriette lives with her husband in Upstate New York where she works as Talent Manager at Corning Incorporated.
Henriette Lundgren defended her dissertation, entitled On the Practice and Perception of Personality Testing in Human Resource Development, on May 10, at Tilburg University. Keywords: Personality testing, human resource development, reflection, management development. Supervisors: prof. dr. Rob Poell (Dept. HRS, Tilburg U) and prof. dr. Victoria Marsick (Columbia U, NY). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.