When Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers, developed the first version of their personality indicator in 1942, their goal was to translate Carl Jung’s complex but compelling theory of personality types into something people could easily understand and apply to their everyday lives.
To say they succeeded would be an understatement. The tool they pioneered, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is now the best-known and most widely used personality assessment tool in the world. Although it has been revised, refined and evaluated in hundreds of studies over nearly seven decades, it has remained true to its creators’ original intention.
How it works
The basic MBTI assessment (Step I) begins with a questionnaire that can be completed within 20 minutes. The questions are designed to assess differences in four major areas that look at:
•where people prefer to focus their attention
•how they prefer to take in information
•how they prefer to make decisions
•whether they prefer to plan things out or keep their options open.
Based on these fundamental preferences, people tend to identify closely with one of 16 normal personality types, each defined by a four-letter combination (see chart above). Each type has unique characteristics that are balanced by the other types.
The more detailed MBTI Step II assessment breaks down the basic preferences into 20 subcategories that illustrate further differences, even among people of the same type. No matter which MBTI assessment is used, the goals are the same: To give people useful insight into their own type and to improve how they relate to people of different types.
What’s in it for employees?
Common uses for MBTI tools include professional development, team-building, career counselling and conflict resolution. Employees who have taken MBTI workshops often say they have gained:
•a better understanding of themselves and others
•improved communication and time management skills
•a better understanding of conflict and how to deal with it effectively
•greater flexibility to handle change
•deeper knowledge of which jobs and tasks satisfy them most.
“The key benefits of using the MBTI assessment are that people identify and leverage their own strengths, but also recognize the strengths of others who may be different,” says Shawn Bakker, psychologist at Psychometrics Canada, the Canadian certification provider and supplier of the MBTI assessment.
Those benefits even extend to employees who have previously completed an MBTI assessment — the depth of information it provides is always worth another look in a new context. For example, someone who originally did the assessment for a team-building exercise could later find it helpful for furthering her own development, resolving conflict or becoming more effective in working with a particular colleague.
What’s in it for employers?
For any employer, the value of having employees like this should be obvious. In addition, HR professionals and trainers are finding innovative ways to use the MBTI tool to serve purposes as diverse as the people they work with:
Employee engagement: The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) used the MBTI assessment to build high-performing teams that could unite quickly and rise to the staggering challenges of preparing for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Mentorship: Alberta’s ministries of energy and environment use MBTI tools to bridge corporate cultures and forge strong one-on-one partnerships in their joint mentorship program.
Cultural awareness: The Aboriginal Student Centre at the University of Saskatchewan is using the MBTI tool to help students reconnect with the traditional wisdom of the medicine wheel.
Stress management: The Canadian Police College in Ottawa uses an MBTI-based exercise to show senior police executives how they can rely on their preferences to ease the grip of the real-world stresses they face.
Misuse of the MBTI tool
Despite its long track record and popularity, the MBTI assessment has not been immune to controversy — particularly about whether it should be used for selecting employees. The tool’s creators and distributors view the use of the MBTI assessment in selection as unethical and invalid. Selection is competitive in nature so it has a different focus and requires different decisions from what the MBTI assessment is designed to promote: individual development and co-operative teamwork.
With its solid foundations and real-world relevance, the MBTI assessment is a powerful tool HR professionals can use to influence positive, people-first change in their organizations. Used skillfully and ethically, it can start people on a journey of self-discovery that helps them learn and build on their own strengths, respect the diverse strengths of others and open their eyes to new ways of seeing the world.
Sean Townsend is in communications at Psychometrics Canada (www.psychometrics.com), an assessment publisher and consultant for the development and selection of people in business, government and education, and the Canadian certification provider and supplier of the MBTI tool.