Within the Saberr tool, we enable users to take personality and values tests. The aim of these tests is to get a quick, non-judgemental snapshot of an individual’s personality and values. This can be useful for a number of reasons, such as:
- Onboarding new joiners quickly and getting a sense of their style and priorities
- Enabling one-to-one coaching and development planning
- Understanding team dynamics
We decided to include separate reports for both personality and values because they are separate constructs. In fact, you can read more about the difference between personality and values here.
Ultimately, we wanted to build a robust test that could be taken quickly and that would be conceptually robust. This is why we based it on the Big 5 personality model and Schwartz values model.
We are not alone in thinking that these models are great foundations for team and cultural exploration. This article therefore explores some case studies on how others have used the same models for both discussions and workshops, while providing you with a clearer idea of how you can use these tests alongside the many exercises available in the Saberr library.
The focus of personality testing within Saberr is to build self-awareness. It's intended to be quick to take, and to provide a snapshot of the user's personality, as opposed to an in-depth profile.
It was also important to us that we guarded against some of the generalizations regarding "the right type" of personality.
Instead, we wanted a general use profile that was descriptive and made users curious to explore more. As a result, we translated the Big Five to more competency based language, further allowing us to provide a high level sketch of an employee's personality.
Traits vs types
To avoid making generalisations and essentially pigeon-holing an employee into a single "type" of personality, we use a model that instead highlights their traits.
The problem with many personality tests is that they put users into a defined box, claiming that they’re either an “X” type of person, or a “Y” type of person etc. Following this, they often proceed to provide them with lots of information about their identified personality type, including what they’re like to work with, what their typical strengths are, and so on.
The danger of this is that it relies on an individual identifying entirely with that particular type of personality. It leaves no wiggle room for individualization nor does it recognise how people flex their behaviour depending on the context in which they're operating in.
Which means that certain type-models, such as Myers Briggs, aren’t all that effective at measuring what they set out to, because people will often get different results on different days or in different contexts. Which then means the big bundle of information they have read about their “type” of personality might not necessarily be truly applicable to them.
Unlike "types", traits run on a spectrum. In fact, just think of some of the personality surveys you've seen that include a numerical scale.
For example, it may ask how extroverted you are out of five. Or how much of a preference you have towards organizing things vs being spontaneous.
It doesn't really matter if you turn out to be 68% one day and 72% the next. Your understanding of what your personality means should be the same.
As Brian Little points out, one of the problems of personality profiling is that when we are put into artificial boxes, we create stereotypes that can become a caricature of ourselves. Now while this can be somewhat affirming initially, over time it feels artificial.
Personality and development
It will be hard to encourage people to be open and honest about who they are if they will be immediately judged. The first stage of development has to be accepting people as they are or even how they aspire to be.
Given this broad understanding, you can begin to establish when people might thrive and when they might be challenged. It’s important to understand both the potential strengths and the potential dark side to all types of personality traits. These will play out at different times in different contexts. Being self aware as to when we are playing to our strengths and when we are not is a skill.
Another reason for using a personality assessment contextually is the presence of free traits. Free Trait Theory is a theory coined by Brian Little and highlights that we are all born with certain personality traits such as introversion, but that we can and do act out of character in the pursuit of what he calls “core personal projects.”
In other words, introverts can act like extroverts when they see a significant need to e.g. if they're focused on work they think is important. The less conscientious may be able to get organized for a critical project they care about etc.
So, whilst acting out of character like this may exert a lot of effort, it’s very possible. We should explore how we can stretch our natural preferences to behave in certain ways in pursuit of things that matter to us.
Of course, many of us are ambiverts anyway. We don’t sit on one end of the spectrum fully. This can be an advantage in the desire to balance different approaches. For example, one study found that ambiverts made great sales people as they were able to switch from listening to talking.
Avoiding lazy stereotypes
Some of the generalized assumptions made about a “good profile” are somewhat lazy anyway. Bias has been built up over time. In fact, if you look through much of the pop culture about the Big Five, there’s often a notable bias in the traits.
- Openness, a high score is generally good and associated with innovation
- Conscientiousness, a high score is positive and associated with getting things done
- Extraverts are good people who speak up, the go-getters
- Agreeableness, a high score is important as people are easy to get along with
- Neurotics are hard work and worth avoiding
But this can become an oversimplified picture.
There are, in general, some more “successful traits” associated with certain outcomes like presence in leadership roles or promotion. But the significance of this effect size (or differential in performance) is typically very small. While it may be true to say that there are more extraverted leaders, can anyone with any seriousness say that an introvert can not make a good leader? It’s contextual to how those traits show up and the context you work in.
It’s time to welcome the quiet ones, as Susain Cain highlights “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”. In her book, Quiet, she addresses a historic cultural bias for extraversion. In most meetings we’d do well to listen more to introverts rather than perpetuate meeting norms for the loudest to dominate air time.
Perhaps neurotics have powers of perception we can benefit from? A seminar by Meyler Campbell recently explored neuroticism & the link to insecure overachievers. They cited research by Laura Empsom on neurotic behaviors in papers Leading Professionals: Power, Politics and Prima Donnas and If you’re so successful, why are you still working 70 hours a week?. They also highlighted the power of doubt as explored in the BBC Sounds and in this OSBS CEO Report (2021).
We probably need a good mix of challengers that are both tough and direct, as well as more agreeable collaborators that may, at times, become people pleasers.
Openness is often seen as a good characteristic, but those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance and are often characterized as pragmatic and data-driven. That surely can be good in many situations?
Even conscientiousness isn’t desirable all the time. From time to time, spontaneity is good and also necessary. Apparently people think that if you are messy you are low in conscientiousness and that you are likely not to be productive. But Tim Harford points out that there are many messy people that may well be low in conscientiousness that are brilliant, innovative and productive.
Balancing strengths and blindspots
This paper explores the fact that personality traits come with positive and dark sides. It’s always healthy to understand the light and dark side of a personality trait.
“We conclude that personality traits have both bright and dark effects in both individual and team contexts, and that the ability to predict criteria in both contexts could improve, perhaps dramatically, if our theorizing, research and practice explicitly took these types of effects into account.”
Using archetypes for specific contexts
A more nuanced approach to reflecting on personality can become a challenge. In the long run, the nuances, subtleties and flexible interpretation is a good thing.
Too often, the approach is to take a personality test, receive a label or “type” that sounds compelling, and then forget about it over time. It may initially feels like an aha moment when you receive your profile, but over time it becomes less meaningful. You start to see the flaws in the oversimplification. It’s like a fast food kick or sugar high.
We have a different model in mind. There’s probably less aha! up front as we are not giving you a tidy archetype, it’s a more enduring summary of your personality and values. Like a slow release carbohydrate, with more sustained impact.
But we need accessible tactical ways to apply the insight to specific contexts and challenges. Accepting context is critical as to when our personality traits may be a strength or a challenge.
So, how might we apply over time and as the context changes? It’s here that we think the creation of archetypes can help.
We need to become more curious as to how different strengths (and weaknesses) may show up at different times in our career.
Matching people to the right, job, culture, or project is more important than any ideal generalized profile.
We need to become adept at navigating our career to play to our strengths.
If we are aligned to purposeful projects that are important to us, we are more likely to use our energy (free traits) to act in ways that aren’t our default operating style.
Matching people to the right, job, culture or project is more important than any ideal generalized profile.
Team workshop - the roles we play
Many practitioners use Big 5 in workshops to discuss the roles that individuals need to play in a team. This approach is specific to the situation.
It’s about achieving shared goals and how we might play a part in making this happen.
Team members use their personality, values, and skills assessment to influence and understand the current fit for the tasks at hand.
Here's how that approach might work :
- Select an archetype of the role you’d typically play in a team based on your personality and values.
- Establish the goals for the next x months.
- Establish the types or roles needed to succeed as a team.
- Explore the fit with those roles based on personality, values, and skills?
- Discuss options to fill the gaps? Stretching ourselves with free traits? New members?
Values and culture
Values are beliefs about how you should live your life. While there are values that you may think are important because, well, they add value to you and your life, there are also universal values that more or less everybody agrees have some importance, even if we disagree about just how important each value is compared to others.
To find truly universal values, you need to talk to a lot of people from many different backgrounds. In the early 1990s, Schwartz and collaborators wanted to know whether there were basic human values which were held or recognized by people in societies all over the world. By 1994, they’d collected big samples of people’s values from 44 countries. They found those universally held values (about 56 of them, it turned out) were recognized by people around the world.
Some of the values end up being quite similar to other ones, or at least lots of people who think this value is important also think that value is important. The values end up grouping together into 4 or 10 or 19 types (depending how much detail you want). A neat way of looking at this is to organize all the values into a continuum, and put them in a circle. Then you can just look at any sized segment of the circle and it’ll include a group of related values.
That is the Schwartz model.
Saberr's version of the values model
We picked 11 value groups from the Schwartz model, labeling them so that they’re easy to understand. Those 11 values also bundle up into four top-level ideas.
Those four ideas are useful for understanding how the values fit together. Saberr’s survey measures how important each of these values is to you.
Naming values is useful for comparing and constructing our priorities, but of course we are all unique.
We will have nuances in how we interpret our values. My definition of what loyalty means to me may be a little different from yours.
Our values are ultimately shaped by our background and we should therefore be respectful and curious of each other's values. This involves:
- Understanding what each other value
- Understanding where we are similar and different, and the implications
- Understanding how our personal values align (or not) with the organization's values
Given that the Schwartz framework is so robust, it has been used as a way to understand individual values and corporate culture as well. A couple of examples are included below.
Understanding culture: HBR study
In this HBR article, the authors explore the importance of both strategy and culture.
“Strategy offers a formal logic for the company’s goals and the people around them. Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms.”
The key premise is that culture is often harder to manage and understand than strategy. But we should try and identify and influence culture.
Although not explicitly mentioned, the Schwartz framework is clearly to be one of the underlying models in the eight types of company culture referenced. The authors highlight some of the ways understanding culture can be useful.
- “Understand their organization’s culture and assess its intended and unintended effects
- Evaluate the level of consistency in employees’ views of the culture
- Identify subcultures that may account for higher or lower group performance
- Pinpoint differences between legacy cultures during mergers and acquisitions
- Rapidly orient new executives to the culture they are joining and help them determine the most effective way to lead employees
- Measure the degree of alignment between individual leadership styles and organizational culture to determine what impact a leader might have
- Design an aspirational culture and communicate the changes necessary to achieve it”
The Saberr platform can help you identify and influence culture.
By providing a summary profile of common values across the organization. This can provide clues to the likely prevailing culture. It can be compared to the espoused organization values.
For example, in the example below, it's clear that loyalty represents a key part of the value system of this company’s employees. Individuals in the company rarely value power and authority.
What are the positive and negative implications of this? How does it support our company strategy? How does this culture affect how our leaders should lead? If we were going to add to the culture, what might that look like?
There are many ways that you could use the values profile with exercises in the Saberr Library. In respect of the organization's culture, a key enquiry could be:
- What are your main values?
- How does that compare with your team?
- How does it compare to organization?
- How do your values align with those of the organization? Where are disconnects?
Understanding culture: Adam Grant podcast
Here’s another example where Adam Grant highlights four potential “sins” to watch out for in a company culture. Again, the underlying Schwarz framework is clear to see. Here is a passage from the transcript.
“People often claim their cultures are unique. But when you study thousands of organizations, you can start to see underlying patterns.It all has to do with how we balance key priorities. Research reveals that there are two fundamental tensions in organizational culture: Results vs. relationships, and rules vs. risk [see Schwartz]. If you ignore one of these values altogether, you end up committing one of my four deadly sins of organizational culture: toxicity, mediocracy, bureaucracy, and anarchy.
The first sin of culture is Toxicity. It’s the deadliest sin of them all. New evidence on the Great Resignation shows that toxic culture is the biggest driver of turnover–more than burnout, more than low pay. Toxicity exists when a culture prioritizes results without relationships. Getting things done at the cost of treating people right. The organization tolerates disrespect, abuse, exclusion, unethical decisions, and selfish cutthroat actions. If people don’t get fired for those behaviors– or worse yet, still get promoted– Houston, we have a problem.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is a second sin: mediocracy. Valuing relationships above results. There’s no accountability. People are so worried about getting along that they end up forfeiting good work. In mediocracy, even if you do a terrible job, you can still get ahead as long as people like you. Before long you end up with the Peter Principle, where everyone is promoted to their level of incompetence, and they get stuck there.
The third sin is… Bureaucracy. That happens when a culture is all rules, no risks. New ideas are seen as threats to the status quo. People cling to process and resist creativity and change. They see questioning the way we’ve always done things as blasphemy! There’s red tape everywhere, and if you want to use the bathroom, you have to fill out paperwork.
And our fourth sin is Anarchy. You have risks but no rules. Anyone can do whatever they want, strategy and structure be damned. No one learns from the past or lands on the same page. It’s pure chaos. It’s bad enough when a culture commits one of these sins, but believe it or not, Maria’s jewelry company managed to be guilty of all four sins.”
Again, the Saberr tool can be used to understand how the culture appears not only as a whole, but also how this breaks down by division or by team.
Are there culture and values based differences that are causing tension between one region and another? What is it about the difference between the sales team and the risk management team that is causing such tension (OK we might be able to guess that one!) ?
Example of profiles in the Saberr platform
The personality assessment and values assessment in the Saberr platform represents a great overview for beginning to understand yourself and your team members. They are robust and enduring.
In this article, we have seen that they can also be used to improve our understanding of organizational culture as well.
How do you unpick and understand corporate culture?
We’d love to hear your thoughts and we’d be very happy to discuss with you further how our profiling might help you identify and influence culture at all levels of the organization.