As an employee, have you ever noticed how glad you are that you don't have the job of the guy across the hall, even though he seems perfectly happy doing his job?Or as an employer, have you ever noticed that among several employees possessing the same essential technical skills, some employees seem to perform better at certain jobs than others?

More and more companies are discovering the significance of using personality profile assessments as an aid to understanding how employees work. Accounting firms that use the assessments are finding that there are several ways in which the results can be used to ensure harmony and success for their employees.

Regional firm Clifton Gunderson uses the Predictive Index, one of several popular personality profiling tools.

"A lot of firms use it for the interview process," explained Lauren Malensek, chief human resource officer at Clifton Gunderson. "But the profiles are useful for more than hiring."

Personality profiles can be used to select job candidates who are going to be comfortable with the culture of an organization: They can be used to identify skills and personalities that will mesh with the needs of a company and its clients. The profiles can be used to match individuals with jobs, team members with teams, and workers with clients. In addition, information from the profiles can be used throughout an employee's career to help ensure that the person is on the right path for success and satisfaction.

"We evaluate the profiles as part of the application process to determine job fit," said Malensek. "We use it to acquaint new employees with the company - both providing profiles to their co-workers and vice versa. We use it to pull new teams together to maximize their effectiveness and to help the teams understand each other and how best to work together."

Clifton Gunderson also uses the PI when making promotions.

The PI isn't the only test out there, but it is one of the few recognized tests used throughout the profession. Other personality profile assessment tests used extensively include Myers-Briggs and DISC - an acronym for dominance, influence, stability and compliance.

"Their primary value is to help people understand that there are different kinds of personality styles, and that it's important for people to know and understand that it's okay to be different. Each different style has unique contributions," said Tom Porter, a human resources consultant and former director of human resources for Olive LLP (now part of BKD LLP) in Indianapolis.

Porter indicated that the personality assessments are most effective in group and team dynamics, but also have other significant uses. "They have important uses in selection, as well as development of people and even in retention, the three big key areas of talent management."

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Wright Griffin Davis and Co. uses the PI "to gain a better understanding of our employees and what motivates them," said firm administrator Dawn Hanna Bell. The firm uses the assessment results to match employees with the right assignments and the right team, and has seen noticeable improvements in retention in the past two to three years since they began using the PI. "Our turnover is definitely reduced over the past couple of years."

Clifton Gunderson reported improved retention as well. "Since we've instituted PI, our turnover has been cut in half [to 15 percent], and we've gone from having the highest turnover in the profession to one of the lowest," said Malensek. "Granted, PI hasn't done all of that - we've instituted a number of other programs that have played a role - but PI has certainly played a part."

In addition to using the assessment tool internally, Wright Griffin Davis and Co. has also been successful with a reverse use of the PI, administering the profile to clients for the purpose of matching accountants with the needs of clients.

Michael Lindblom is another believer in personality profiles.

A partner in the Rainmaker Group, a Bismarck, N.D.-based business training and development company, Lindblom regularly advises his customers on the use of various assessment tools for improving retention, communication, job placement and coaching.

Lindblom recommended going beyond the basic personality profile assessments to include measures of other features such as values and talent. There are a variety of tools on the market for performing other types of measurements, all of which can help a company zero in on what motivates its employees, in what situations they are most likely to provide peak performance, and where their talents can best be utilized.

Testing the test

With the widespread use of the Internet, personality profiles can be administered online and scored instantly. However, there are literally thousands of personality tests available online, and consultants warn that companies wanting to take the results of their tests seriously should ensure that they work with professionals who are trained or certified to provide the analysis that should accompany test results.

Any test used to analyze employees should follow the 1978 federal guidelines on discrimination, and should adhere to the standards of educational and psychological testing published by the American Psychological Association, according to Wendell Williams, an industrial organizational psychologist for Atlanta-based Scientific Selection. By contracting with an IOP or a consultant certified to administer and analyze one of the tests that can stand up to the federal discrimination law, a company can protect itself from the threat of lawsuits.

"It's important that if you use a tool in the hiring process that you do due diligence to determine the tool has met all the statistical standards required in using a tool for pre-screening," said Malensek.

The personality profile test can be part of the hiring process, but firms should be careful not to rely on that test alone.

"I wouldn't use it just by itself," explained Porter. In hiring, for example, he suggested weighing the results of the profile at no more than 15 to 20 percent, and combining the information from the personality profile with a resumé review, an initial interview and a behavior-based interview. "The personality profile would be part of a core battery."

Gone are the days of selecting staff based solely on number-crunching skills. CPA firms looking for new staff or making decisions about which existing members will lead the firm in the future must take into consideration more than college grades and test scores - yet there is no cookie-cutter model for the future accountant.

"You want diversity," said Porter. "The strength in the organization is in the diversity of the people."

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