What is it about?

This rapid evidence assessment examined empirical research on the performance-related effects of personality-feedback interventions (PFIs). A PFI is a workplace-related program that provides feedback to people who take a standardized, nonclinical, self-report personality assessment. Proponents claim that PFIs can help participants identify tendencies and areas for improvement and motivate changes to their behavior. The key finding was that research has not yet substantiated beneficial effects from PFIs.

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Why is it important?

Every year, millions of people complete personality inventories as part of coaching, training, or other development programs. Proponents claim that such tools enhance self-awareness in beneficial ways. However, advocates of “type-based” instruments are often at odds with advocates of “trait-based” tools. Other critics pan the entire idea of using personality “tests.” Stories of negative PFI side-effects such as confining stereotypes (i.e., “pigeonholing”) have been shared, as have positive anecdotes from a given tool’s fervent followers. Psychometric critiques and defenses of instruments are common. The position taken in this article is that PFI research should focus directly on better understanding the (alleged) effects of this common practice. PFI research needs to move beyond anecdotes and psychometric reviews.

Perspectives

As a management professor with degrees in industrial and organizational psychology, I have regularly had questions and comments from students and others about personality inventories in the workplace. Participants often express concerns about particular instruments or how employers use them. However, as I came to recognize while working on this article, the main issue for developmental applications is less about the psychometric ignorance or snobbery that may be on display as the quality of a given inventory is debated. More important is considering the evidence of PFI effects. To what extent do PFIs work, for whom, in what contexts, or for which purposes? The popularity of the practice and interesting conceptual issues combine to give me hope that practitioners, assessment publishers, and researchers may work together to improve our collective understanding of PFIs. In the interim, I urge practitioners to be wary of effectiveness claims for PFI-related tools.

Blake Jelley
University of Prince Edward Island

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This page is a summary of: Using personality feedback for work-related development and performance improvement: A rapid evidence assessment., Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, April 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/cbs0000230.
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