CEO Insights

Personality assessments foster individual and team success

During the World War I, personality tests were developed to determine which soldiers might freeze or panic during combat, and which soldiers might be best suited for special assignments.

After World War II, tests measuring social and emotional behavior led to the development of rating scales and standardized questionnaires currently used in many common types of tests, including workplace assessments. Today, 94 percent of best-in-class organizations use behavior assessments as standard operating procedure to guide decision-making about employees and potential employees according to a survey by the Aberdeen Group.

Some of those companies rely on Birkman International, Inc., led by Sharon Birkman, president and CEO. The behavioral and occupational assessment company was founded by her parents, and today, the Houston-based firm has some 30 employees and — as Birkman is fond of pointing out — it is located on every continent but Antarctica.

Birkman’s father, noted psychologist Roger Birkman, PhD, who she describes as an extremely shy man, developed the first version of The Birkman Method® personality assessment in 1951.

“He was fascinated by people and cared deeply about helping them, and that was the motivation for his life’s work. He saw the powers of human perception and how that impacted relationships, and so his work was shining a positive light on how people can better — not analyze — but appreciate themselves and others,” she said.

When Dr. Birkman appointed his daughter as president of the company in 2002, it wasn’t an easy transition for her to go from opera singer and fine arts professional to CEO, yet, she had grown up as part of her parents’ business and their dream, so the world of behavioral assessments was familiar territory.

By this time, The Birkman Method questionnaire was already international with over 10 translations, and the new CEO saw tremendous potential.

“That’s where I saw my responsibility as the next torchbearer, it was to keep growing in more places and more countries,” said Birkman, adding that, today, their products are available in 24 languages.

“One of the things that I heard frequently was that Birkman was a wonderful instrument, but why is it such a best kept secret? Because I wasn’t the founder who created the assessment, one of the things that I saw as a big opportunity was to help really get the word out, market it better, grow it and make it more accessible to more people in a way that was meaningful, and still preserve the quality and integrity of what my parents had spent decades developing,” she continued.

To help take her parents’ dream to the next level, Birkman envisioned bringing the assessment tool to organizations and universities of all sizes. Currently, the company touts such corporate clients as Boeing, Comcast, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, MailChimp, and Adecco. And, within the higher education market, UCLA, Emery University, the University of Houston and dozens of other universities use Birkman assessment tools for their staff and executive MBA programs.

Leadership and executive coaching, career exploration, and team building are the most common areas that Birkman International helps clients with on a global scale. Over a dozen applications assess people and their fit in the workplace for purposes of recruiting, succession planning, and career paths, as well as college students who are considering majors and job positions upon graduation.

“Birkman gives you so much deep understanding of how different people communicate and have different needs. What is recharging for one individual can be demoralizing for another,” said Birkman, adding that it is the only assessment that measures underlying needs.

She calls fast-growing MailChimp, a leading email marketing company based in Atlanta, a “Birkman-saturated company.”

“They’re growing fast, and they believe in the power of Birkman, not just for hiring but also for getting people aligned. They make sure that as they put teams together and decide on anything that involves the human side along with the job fit, that they use Birkman throughout the career life of the employee from the top down,” she said.

“There is no leader who leads in a vacuum. You can only be a leader if you have a team and followers who are helping you make it happen; no one can do it all by themselves no matter how brilliant he or she may be,” said Birkman, who was recently awarded the Mary Lehman MacLachlan Economic Empowerment Award from the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO).

“One of the topics we discuss in my WPO chapter is how can you do the best job possible of gathering the right kind of talent around you and then once you’ve got that talent, how do you manage the complexities of dealing with people day in and day out,” she said.

Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., WPO president and founder, said in a press release announcing the organization’s annual awards: “Sharon embodies the qualities of the Mary Lehman MacLachlan Economic Empowerment Award, including economic independence, running a financially-sound business, providing positive financial benefits for staff and supporting other business women in her community.”

Receiving the award was meaningful for Birkman.

“For me it was very exciting, not just that it was an award, but that it was an award that related to women feeling empowered in such a proactive and positive way,” she said.

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