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Personality Testing:The Hidden Sustainability Weapon

Sharon Birkman Fink, President and CEO, Birkman International

The past year has proven that no industry is immune from recession. Although the beauty sector has fared better than other consumer products, sales globally are trending flat to down—whether in everyday mass market goods or in high-end luxury ones. And the daily business headlines have shown that even leading companies in a variety of consumer product applications quickly fall prey to financial or market weakness. In such conditions a planned approach can spell the difference between a sustainable organization that withstands the storm and emerges stronger, and one with leadership and performance deficiencies that could prove fatal. Sustainability in any marketing and product-focused organization does not just “happen.” It is built on a solid foundation of performance metrics—each of which relates to the human capital that is the industry’s most important asset. Effective use of accurate personality assessment to identify and nurture human capital strengths can be a company’s hidden sustainability weapon. A look at seven of the most important sustainability metrics shows how testing supports and enhances the positive impact of each.


Building employee productivity takes an affirmative effort to identify and enhance the best fit between personal skills, interests, motivations and personality traits and job responsibilities so that employees can perform to their true productive potential. No beauty brand would attempt to make a product without a thorough understanding of how all the chemical elements interact. Personality testing provides that understanding for the most important productivity factor of all: the human factor. Whereas assessments of skills and abilities measure the “can do,” personality assessments accurately measure the “will do.” The testing focus should be on measuring and understanding the interaction between personality traits and job requirements, including the ability to productively work with or effectively lead others by accepting feedback, advancing teamwork efforts and demonstrating commitment. Testing takes the guesswork out of productivity improvement, and, thus, can be a lasting competitive edge.


Testing identifies whether people work better alone or on a team, whether they prefer a structured or flexible work environment, whether they take initiative or need guidance, whether they think in terms of details or the big picture. By bringing those characteristics into focus, personality testing helps employees understand how to pursue career paths that better integrate their core capabilities into the team. The more an assessment measures, the more useful it is to predict workplace behavior and the greater insight it provides on how best to boost the performance of individuals and the teams of which they’re a part.


The team dynamic is crucial when reconfiguring and reducing a workforce, as consumer products companies increasingly are forced to do, creates an opportunity to assign team members jobs that they are good at and passionate about. Such enthusiasm will create an environment where employees can better handle and embrace the extra work in a smaller team. And, even though fewer people are doing the work, if they’re now performing a function that fits perfectly with their core abilities and passions, higher pay will likely not be a primary motivator. The ability of testing to define an individual’s underlying needs and motivations shows what drives that person’s behavior as a factor in the enthusiasm that is especially essential for sales and marketing performance. This allows each person to assume more personal responsibility for job conduct.


Creativity, enthusiasm and awareness of social trends are highly valued for persons at every level in the beauty industry. Once such employees are developed, they become high value targets for executive recruiters to lure them away to competitor companies. Personality assessment can be used to identify the capabilities of each person within an organization so that those with high potential can be nurtured and targeted for retention. Tests can help the companies that use them fit employees where they will be most comfortable and most likely to succeed. The result is greater job satisfaction, and greater employee retention. Cosmetics companies want to retain the right kind of employees, those with the drive and skills that will enable them to grow into greater responsibilities and make more contributions. Here again, testing provides the crucial insight by offering basic recommendations for how employees can fulfill their motivational needs while best contributing to organizational success.


Producers and marketers of cosmetics and personal care products typically place a premium on energy, innovation, style and awareness of social trends as key values for candidates that are promoted into positions of responsibility, in every area of the organization. What motivates a sales team may be very different from what motivates a team of product researchers and chemists. Through personality assessment companies can identify which of their current staff might have the natural strength or potential leadership style required in specific operations. Leaders have traits and talents, but basic skills can always be further developed. Assessments can accelerate development by pointing up strengths and weaknesses and allowing leaders to broaden their portfolio of leadership skills. Based on the company’s assessment of the leadership needed in each functional area, the desired leadership styles can be learned, cultivated, honed and enhanced at every organizational level thanks to personality tests that reveal and assess individual strengths and weaknesses. Organizations using personality assessment can often find unexpected leaders capable of inspiring others in the organization to change and improve.


Many cosmetics and personal care companies grow through merger and acquisition transactions. Integrating the personnel of the acquired entity is vital to retain and promote those persons whose creativity and customer service capabilities made the acquired entity attractive to begin with. For the acquisition to really work, these employees must perform at peak levels that are not at cross purposes with the combined entity needs, with “performance” measured by metrics that can be easily tracked, reported upon and rewarded. Personality testing is a vital element in performance measurement and enhancement, because it makes understandable the way people prefer to handle direct and indirect communication. Communication impacts team performance, and structuring teams based on personality assessment of compatible communication styles can improve internal trust and communication, both of which are necessary to high performance in a merged organization. Company-wide personality assessments should be able to give management some sense of how their important team members react to goal setting and how accurately they interpret the requirements for success.


A key goal of organizational training is to accelerate the promotion of qualified candidates into positions of responsibility. The best way to accomplish this is through training that focuses on and develops the unique assets of each individual. Training should enhance how personality traits mesh with specific job requirements and allow an individual to work with or lead others productively and effectively. To support such training efforts, the best personality tests analyze and report what motivates workplace behavior, and identifies the needs that drive behavior in positive and productive directions. Each person will have his or her own strengths, weaknesses, productive behaviors and stress behaviors that may be similar to or differ from his or her peers. Personality testing identifies and brings those characteristics into focus. The training can then prepare employees to fit where they will be the most comfortable and able to execute to the fullest of their capabilities. When approached in this way, training will accelerate the promotion and retention of qualified employees who can help the company grow and evolve. And that ultimately is what defines a sustainable company.

Sharon Birkman Fink is president and CEO of Birkman International, Inc., which provides an assessment tool that accurately measures internal needs, behaviors, occupational preferences and organizational strengths. She can be reached at 713-623-2760.

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