Whenever we meet people, we unconsciously create a picture of ‘how’ someone is and how he/she will act. So, we do diagnostics. And in almost every professional people process in companies, diagnostics is somehow the basis. And when strategies fail, it is often due to human behaviours.

However, very few companies deal professionally with diagnostics – and it’s not that difficult.

A lot of instruments …

What makes it a bit more difficult is to classify the multitude of diagnostic tools on the market. In addition to the freely available ones, there are also proprietary developments of the large consultancies.

How practicable are these instruments?

And isn’t the personality of a person far too complex to be described in a few dimensions? Doesn’t this put us into pigeonholes, and doesn’t that do harm us?

I have made experiences with a multitude of instruments and consider many of them to be legitimate, if they are introduced properly (showing their limits!) and if they are not taken too seriously but are used as a language to talk about personality in the company. Nothing more.

… in short:

Hogan Assessments offers a range of ‘hard’ personality assessment tools. They are based at their core on the Big5 model – which is generally the only model truly acknowledged in psychology. The Hogan test is like the big blood picture, it is expensive and always needs a certified expert to explain the results. But then it is more meaningful than any other instrument in predicting behaviour on the job. It is not without reason that almost all major headhunters use Hogan Assessments.

Other scientifically proven instruments are also suitable for leadership style analyses, such as Zenger Folkman’s Leadership Competencies or the Leadership Circle. And most of the instruments of the major search firms work in a similar way.

DISCinsights, HBDI®, MBTI® are contingency models based on theoretical assumptions about personality and succeed in reducing personality to a few dimensions. The scientific basis is somewhat thinner than for the Big5 – but I consider these instruments at least evident enough to apply them in practice with restrictions – as a language and to recognize that people are different. And that is how they should be introduced.

The Predictive Index (PI) is somewhat special: A very easy-to-use tool, which delivers surprisingly sharp results with only a 6-minute test. Even non-experts can understand the model in a few hours of training and can then work with it. The PI therefore also offers a portfolio of tools, such as creating job profiles, based on the PI.

The bridge to culture

In most cases, it makes sense to take a look at the culture of an organization in addition to individual behavioural preferences: Where do we stand? Where do we want to go? Where do we need to change? Who fits in with us? Here, motives and values play an important role. The Hogan has included such a test on individual values and motives. But there are also two other models that I would like to point out explicitly: The Reiss Profile® and the 9Levels Test.

These are also based on models of life motives (Reiss) or maturity levels of value development (9Levels). Identifying such preferences in coaching, for example, and perhaps discussing them in a team can be very helpful. However, the 9Levels can also be applied to teams and entire organizations, thus making it possible to derive measures for cultural development. Large consultancies often use their own procedures for this. SpencerStuart, for example, applies an integrated instrument that correlates the personality and values/culture of a candidate and an organization.

Customized competency models:

To analyse and understand, personality models and tests are useful and important. However, they fall short when it comes to justifying long-term transformations or building systematic personnel development on them.

There exists another diagnostic path:

If you need a real basis for recruiting, to address and select the right candidates, to create development and training plans or to initiate a transformation, a simple psychological ‘contingency model’ is not sufficient. It then makes sense to develop a customized competency model for the company. Personality dimensions, values or motives and culture can also play a role. If a personality model is to be used as the basis for the core competencies for each position, professional advice is required. This is necessary because the development of a competency model is a project in which professional competencies are classified/grouped into a few scalable and comprehensible categories, considering the respective corporate strategy, vision, mission statement, mission and values. This is exactly why a competency model can hardly be standardized – because every company is different.

Once a company-specific competency model has been developed, it can become the ‘language’ in the company over time, when feedback is given, or performance or potential is discussed with employees. The competence model can also point in a cultural direction and prepare the way for more agility or more self-organization.

Competence-based HR work

A well-done competency model can also be used for succession planning or training planning. At the same time, it can even be the basis for a very modern job evaluation or compensation & benefit system. Together with the Comp&Ben consultancy Lurse, we have developed some highly innovative concepts for this purpose.

Based on competency models, we have also developed and conducted customized interview trainings for managers (and teams). In my opinion, it has the greatest effect if attention is paid to the right competencies already during the selection of new employees – and this particularly includes the personality, values and motives (‘mindset’) of the applicants. In my experience, a well-coordinated team of interviewers with competence models for evaluation beats any personality test!

Audits – tailor-made

Besides transformation projects, company mergers are an important groundbreaking event for which diagnostics can be extremely useful. These audits are usually done by search firms with their own instruments. In my opinion, the use of a competency model that reflects the company’s new strategy in order to see which employees can help shape the new strategy is vastly underestimated. Culture eats strategy. We have some very positive examples of how it can be done better (and cheaper) with the targeted use of validated tests.

Finally, I would like to share with you that diagnostics properly used does not hurt, and most people love to be ‘known’ and to perceive other people in a more differentiated way. Whether it is a competency model or a personality test – in my experience, such projects always have a positive effect on cooperation, feedback culture and fun at work.

We at Breitenstein are experts in diagnostics and would be happy to help you.


Alexander Gisdakis

Partner and CEO Breitenstein Consulting