Who Are You?

ends of colored pencils

Practical tips for utilizing personality assessments in the workplace

By Scott McAfee, PT, DPT, and Jane Oeffner, PT, DPT, MBA*

Hiring correctly and retaining top-notch employees are the cornerstone of any successful business. So, what is the secret sauce? One ingredient may be personality assessments.

Personality assessments are becoming increasingly popular as part of hiring processes around the country. In fact, 67% of human resources managers across the United States report utilizing them at some point during the job application process.1 Although these assessments offer valuable insights into an employee’s communication styles, learning preferences, strengths, and risk tolerance, it is important to note that personality assessments are not designed to predict job performance. Therefore, as with any recipe, there are many other ingredients in the mix, so choosing the right assessment and administering it in the right way and at the right time is crucial.


What is meant by personality, really? A person’s personality is a combination of qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character, their consistent attitudes, and behaviors. The various personality assessments out there, and there are many, are our best attempts at measuring human personality constructs. These tests indicate which type or style we gravitate toward, in other words, our comfort zone. This knowledge helps us to understand tendencies and preferences and adapt our behaviors to interact with others more effectively.

Utilizing personality assessments aligns with a renewed focus on soft skills — the non-technical skills that drive a person’s work performance, including how they communicate, interact with others, and solve problems. The more we know about our employees’ critical thinking and problem solving, ability to collaborate and lead, adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, the more successful we will be in hiring, team building, professional development, project management, and cultural alignment. And having your team members share results with others facilitates resilience, which is needed now more than ever. Resilience only happens if we are open and transparent, sharing our vulnerabilities and acknowledging our challenges.


Personality assessments are only one piece of the puzzle. Hiring for the right fit requires a holistic approach and synthesis of many data points. We must be cautious not to “pigeonhole” applicants; we don’t want to bring bias to an interview or make assumptions and end up weeding out stellar candidates. However, we can’t discount the potential efficiency in the early hiring process that using these tools offers.

One therapy company has discovered that applicants’ performance on the Predictive Index2 is associated with the level of success in certain positions, specifically front desk operations. Running the front desk requires an attention to detail, the ability to multitask, and an affinity for data and technology; thus, only those applicants with that profile reach the hiring manager for review. Steve Rapposelli, PT, owner of Performance Physical Therapy and Fitness in Delaware, has candidates for all positions complete the DiSC assessment3 at the time of application. He is looking for a match with his practice and believes it enables him to quickly hone in on the right candidates.

The key is balancing the right fit with diversity, as variety is the spice of life and of strong, functional, productive teams. And, as with anytime we are assessing humans, the results are not always cut and dried. Many of us are not just one of the types or styles but fall right in the middle of the grid. Perhaps those team members bring their own special strength, the ability to pivot more easily to better handle the variable and unpredictable situations that define health care.


Oftentimes, as is the case at Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island, these tools are employed post-hire and pre-onboarding to better facilitate the transition and inform the manager. Brian Hay, PT, DPT, MS, Performance’s Chief Programs Officer and Director of the “Lead the Way” program, explains that the DiSC3 provides the clinic director insight as to how the new hire processes information so they can create the best learning environment, particularly related to delivering new information and feedback. For instance, a new hire who is a “high D” (Dominance) will respond best if the clinic director cuts to the chase with new information and feedback. However, a new hire who is classified “high I or S” (Influence or Steadiness) will respond best when the clinic director takes a warm-up approach, first making a personal connection and then easing into the conversation. Matching employees’ preferred mode (email vs. in-person) and frequency of communication is critical to satisfaction and these assessments assist managers in individualizing their approach according to Christine Osman, PT, DPT, Executive Vice President at Phoenix Physical Therapy.

Joshua Grahlman, PT, DPT, owner of Clutch PT+ Performance in New York City, uses the Kolbe A4 with every new hire, including his administrative, billing, and marketing/PR staff, to “find strengths and to head off any communication issues.” The Kolbe A identifies an individual’s patterns of action or instinctive method of operation instead of focusing on personality assessment. For instance, understanding a therapist’s Kolbe “strength” (unique method of problem solving) in the Fact Finder Action Mode (the instinctive way we gather and share information) provides insight into the amount of preparation that a therapist needs when facing a new situation or a patient with an unusual diagnosis or clinical presentation. Grahlman believes that, at the very least, the Kolbe A results provide the platform for such discussions, minimizing stress and pressure in the clinic. Understanding his staff’s Kolbe strengths in the Follow Thru Action Mode (the instinctive way we arrange and design) helps with accountability when he delegates. He knows who needs a hard deadline to ensure completion versus who will just get things done in a timely manner.

Scott McAfee, PT, DPT, Chief Marketing Officer of MovementX, says his executive team utilizes personality assessments very frequently to better understand each other’s communication styles and problem-solving tendencies, maintaining that “a team more aware of how it functions moves quicker and accomplishes more.” Jane Oeffner, PT, DPT, MBA, Director of Business Development for Lincoln Reimbursement Solutions and KEY Functional Assessment Network, benefitted from both the CliftonStrengths (previously known as Strengthfinders)5 and Colors6 assessments for self-discovery and improving group dynamics. As manager of a large therapy department, Oeffner had her leadership team complete the Colors assessment only to discover that she was the lone Orange among a sea of Blues and Golds, which explained some challenges her team was experiencing and helped them chart a new course for smoother sailing!


Performance Physical Therapy’s “Lead the Way” management program starts with sharing the results of participants’ DiSC with the group to enhance communication during the training and the future, and to develop balanced teams for the group project. On an individual basis, Hay believes the DiSC improves future managers’ emotional intelligence and provides self-awareness, including insight as to how the managers will respond in different scenarios, as well as areas of strength and opportunity for growth. The future managers also learn how the DiSC can help them to use staff to the best advantage when rolling out a new program. First, get staff classified as “high I” (influencer) on board, the fast adopters, and then utilize staff classified as “high C” (conscientiousness), the detail oriented, to take the lead in implementing the roll out.

Hay teaches the future managers that employees’ DiSC-style preferences change over time and can be situational. He has observed that therapists who are new to a practice are often high in S and C (steadiness and conscientiousness) and low D and I (dominance and influence), but move toward D and I over time, especially if they are oriented toward leadership roles. Glenda Key, PT, CEO and owner of KEY Functional Assessments Network, encourages her providers and potential providers to complete such assessments for self-knowledge and to gain insight into their approach to starting a new service line such as industrial rehab, which, in turn, helps her strategy to best assist them to be successful. She also believes that “as a business owner, whether in industry or clinical practice, knowledge of these assessments and the types of potential customers is critical to creating and implementing a successful marketing plan.”


It is not surprising that measuring something as multifaceted, complex, and individualized as human personality and employing those results in the workplace has its limitations. For instance, with the help of YouTube, applicants may try to lie to beat personality assessments, though most incorporate control questions to ensure honesty. Including a personality assessment can make the application process arduous and, therefore, lead some high-quality applicants to forfeit their application.

There are also legal implications to think about, mainly discrimination and employee privacy. The 1978 Department of Labor Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures provides a set of principles for employee selection that meet the requirements of all federal laws including the proper use of personality tests.7 The guideline describes how to evaluate and document the validity evidence for such tests and instructs employers on what records to keep.

Benjamin Hardy, in his book Personality Isn’t Permanent, argues that people’s scores on personality assessments naturally change with time, experience, and learning.8 Thus, it is best practice to have employees complete such assessments at regular intervals.

The legendary rock band The Who implores, “Who are you? Who? Who? I really wanna know”!9 The answers may lie in an exploration through personality assessments. 

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1Lezotte D, Marder B. Evaluating the skills and assessment methods used by employers in the entry-level hiring process. Mercer; 2017.

2The Predictive Index. www.predictiveindex.com. Accessed November 5, 2020.

3DiSC Profile. www.discprofile.com. Accessed November 5, 2020.

4Kolbe Corp. www.kolbe.com. Accessed November 5, 2020.

5CliftonStrengths. Gallup. www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths. Accessed December 17, 2020.

6Can Overview of the True Colors Methodology. True Colors. www.truecolorsintl.com/the-four-color-personalities. Accessed December 17, 2020.

7Uniform Guidelines On Employee Selection Procedures (1978). GovInfo website. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2011-title29-vol4/xml/CFR-2011-title29-vol4-part1607.xml. Accessed December 17, 2020.

8Hardy B. Personality isn’t permanent: Break free from Self-limiting beliefs and rewrite your story. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group; 2020.

9Townshend P. Who are you. Who are you [album]. Universal City, CA: MCA Records; 1978.

Scott McAfee

Scott McAfee, PT, DPT, is CMO of Movement-X, a nationwide mobile therapy company. He can be reached at scott@movement-x.com.

Jane Oeffner

Jane Oeffner, PT, DPT, MBA, is Director of Business Development for Lincoln Reimbursement Solutions and Key Functional Assessment Network and VP of Sales for SportPump. She can be reached at joeffner@lincolnrs.com or janeoeffner@keymethod.com.

*The author has a professional affiliation with this subject.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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