Talent and strengths-assessment have been gaining popularity in recent decades among people leaders, coaches, and consultants. This is hardly surprising given the potential benefits they offer organizations across virtually every stage of the talent lifecycle, from hiring and onboarding to improving employee performance and career development. In this blog, I will answer some of the key questions regarding this relatively new approach to understanding and getting the best from people.   

What is the difference between a talent and strengths assessment?

Essentially, they are very similar in that they both measure underlying or innate qualities that energize people and enable them to do their best work. The main difference is that assessments describing themselves as “talent assessments” recognise an important distinction between talent and strengths that is often overlooked by people professionals and business psychologists. Talents aren’t equivalent to strengths as they require upskilling and experience to bring value to the organization and be perceived as strengths by others. The term “strength” implies a high level of competence, and competence requires skill, practice, perseverance, and the right conditions to develop. At TalentPredix, we therefore talk about strengths being the same as “optimized talents”.

How does this differ from personality tests?

Personality tests measure people’s personality types or traits and how these are likely to manifest as typical or normal patterns of behaviour in different aspects of their lives.

Most of these tests involve the test takers responding to a series of questions or adjectives based on the extent to which it applies to them. Some poorly designed tests have as few as a dozen questions or adjectives while more accurate ones are typically longer as they validate responses using similar questions that are asked in different ways.

From a scientific perspective, the most accurate and reliable personality tests today are typically based on the Big 5 Factor model of personality which shows that personality can basically be measured and described according to 5 key traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Other personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sort people into broad personality types or preferences that people have for certain traits over others.

Are traditional personality tests still relevant for today’s world of work?

Many widely used personality profiles like MBTI and DISC sort people into broad personality types, categories, and even colours, e.g., extroverts versus introverts. The principal reason such assessments have gained widespread adoption and use in business is that they offer a quick and convenient way to describe people’s personality. Although the intention behind most of these tests is overwhelmingly positive, in practice their potential harmful effects have come under increasing scrutiny by the media in recent times. At the heart of the criticism of these assessments is the inconsistent and poor evidence that such tests reliably predict job performance, retention, progression, or any other vital outcomes important to business effectiveness. So, beyond providing a framework to categorize people and supporting their journeys of self-discovery, they offer little or no predictive value to enable organizations to make better hiring, development, and other talent decisions.

Because they classify people into oversimplified (and often imprecise) personality types and categories, it is also becoming increasingly clear that they can even be counterproductive to DEI aims and goals. In the modern world, it is widely accepted that it is crucial to create workplaces that value diversity and inclusion. This involves discovering and leveraging people’s individuality and uniqueness rather than labelling and pigeon-holing people. 

What are the advantages of talent and strength-based assessments?

Consistent with DEI aims of building diverse and inclusive workplaces, this new generation of assessments focuses on understanding what’s unique and different about people’s talents, strengths, and behaviours.  They capture not just people’s innate talents, but also the type of work that enables them to perform at their best. These assessments also recognize that even when people have similar talents and strengths, they will apply them in different ways, depending on their aspirations, background, and the way they interpret and respond to different situations.

How does potential fit in?

Potential is the capacity to grow the capabilities required to be successful in a bigger role, or one involving greater responsibility. However, potential is not just about having the innate qualities to succeed. It involves being highly motivated to work hard to build relevant skills and achieve one’s dreams and aspirations. Therefore, it is important for people professionals to help people discover their combined talents, career motivations and values, as greater awareness of all these will empower them to find career pathways that are engaging and meaningful for them, and where they can thrive and do their best work.

About the Author

James is a leadership and talent consultant, business psychologist, and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talent, performance, and future success.

Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Since moving into talent consulting and assessment design, he has supported leaders and teams globally across many sectors and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP and Yahoo! James has founded and run several ventures, including Strengthscope®, an international strengths assessment and development business, that he sold in 2018.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.