Interesting question from the head of the Learning Academy in a very big multinational company: what’s the difference between WeThrive and the Insights Discovery system? On the face of it there ought to be connections, as companies aiming to improve the way people relate to each other and perform at work might well choose either. But in fact they could not be more different, and here’s why.
The idea of personality types has been with us since around 160 AD, but it was in 1921 that Carl Jung published Psychological Types, the book that spawned personality testing as we now have it. Jung thought that people could be categorised by seeing where they fit in a series of dichotomies: between, say, the ‘judging’ (or ‘rational’) functions thinking and feeling and the ‘perceiving’ (or ‘non-rational’) functions sensing and intuition. He then thought that these functions might be expressed in either an introverted or extraverted form. So you would end up with eight basic personality types: Extraverted sensation, Introverted sensation, Extraverted intuition, Introverted intuition, Extraverted thinking, Introverted thinking, Extraverted feeling and Introverted feeling.
From this various extensions and adaptations have arisen: the 16-factor Personality Test, the MBTI or Myers-Briggs, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Socionics, various DISC assessments and so on. Unfortunately scores in personality tests do not generally fall into distinct categories but produce the normal distribution or bell curve, so they have been the butt of considerable criticism, to say the least, among personality researchers and others. See this particularly trenchant example from the philosopher Bob Carroll.
However, despite the fact that personality type theories are more or less an embarrassment in psychology, instruments like the MBTI, and now the Insights Discovery system with its ‘colour energies’, continue to be used in great numbers, and people often report getting really useful results from them. This is not a puzzle – the Hawthorne effect alone would predict that any exercise that wasn’t actively harmful would be likely to improve the way people work, for a while. The very fact of drawing attention to one’s own traits, understanding and rationalising them, would also be highly likely to encourage collaboration, as interpersonal difficulties would now be being discussed and understood rather than just being an irritant. Improvement always begins with knowledge, as we say.
I haven’t used the Insights Discovery system but it sounds a lot of fun, and putting yourself into a big personality map with your work colleagues just might resolve some difficulties at work. But it seems likely to me that the most important element of the system is simply that it brings into consciousness some elements of our mental activity which normally just happen, un-monitored and un-mediated, whether they are useful or not. Great – but a missed opportunity.
When we started WeThrive we were setting out to provide something rather more down-to-earth: a practical system that would tease out the difficulties being experienced by each staff member, whether or not they were consciously aware of them. We wanted the system to prioritise these according to how big a deal they are, and to make sure that something is done to improve them. And that’s what we’ve built.
WeThrive helps you create a humane workplace, by which we mean one where the human being’s natural enthusiasm and problem-solving ability is not frustrated by the environment and culture. It uses a clever adaptive questionnaire to look round all the areas of working life that could be problematic, using domains distilled down from motivation theory and humanistic psychology, and turns the results into a prioritised list of conversation points for the line manager.
This is great for the individual – it means their frustrations at work will not go un-noticed but will be the subject of good-quality management attention. It’s good for the line manager, who can go into a review or a regular 1:1 meeting knowing that the agenda will be of real relevance and importance to the individual and their work. It’s good for the company because the result is reduced upset and frustration – lowered arousal in the jargon – and that leads to improved collaboration, creativity, focus and productivity.
I can almost see the point of using personality typing to choose who to put into a particular job, if you could be sure a) that a personality-type test tells you something valid about the individual, b) that it is stable from one day to the next, and c) that you can be sure that personality type is a good predictor of how someone will fare in a particular job.
But I suspect that the problems most people have at work are more connected with their understanding of what they are supposed to be doing and how, or with the training they have had, or the kind of communication that happens in the workplace, or the support they get from their manager, or with the social conditions in their section, or one of the many other factors that WeThrive investigates. Those will not, for the most part, be connected to personality type, and understanding your personality type won’t change them anyway.
I think the idea of labelling people by their ‘colour energies’ is cute, and likely to be memorable in employees’ minds. I hope it does indeed help them remember who they are, and what their strengths and weaknesses might be, assuming these to be stable and useful elements of their personalities. Will it help busy line managers understand what is in their staff’s heads, or structure their coaching conversations so as to cover the issues that are most important to the employee? Perhaps that’s not so likely.
If you’re at the point of deciding whether to use WeThrive or a personality-type system I do hope you’ll let us know which you choose, and why, and what the results are. Whatever you choose, I suggest the most important thing is to uncover what is getting in the way of staff doing well. That seems the most likely path to success.
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