We Are Not the MBTI

duck on water

Often when I meet someone for the first time, I am asked what I do. When I describe the work we do at Hogan and the personality assessments we create for clients, the invariable response is, “Oh, like the MBTI.” Well, not even close. Although the Hogan assessments and the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) are both designed to provide insight into personality, they are dramatically different. Think about ducks and hummingbirds: both are birds, but you probably shouldn’t expect a hummingbird to swim or a duck to eat sugar water while hovering in the air. Similarly, you shouldn’t expect the MBTI to help you make consequential decisions in your organization, but you can confidently use Hogan assessments to do so. Here’s why.

Theoretical Foundations

The MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, which was based on his beliefs and observations — not substantiated science. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, had read about Jung’s ideas and used them to create the MBTI, but neither had any training or education in psychology.

The Hogan assessments, on the other hand, are based on socioanalytic theory, which is rooted in multidisciplinary science. Created by Robert Hogan, PhD, a highly trained and internationally renowned personality psychologist, they are regularly updated and validated by a team of master’s- and PhD-level psychologists.

MBTI Usability for Selection

The MBTI should not be used for selection. We’re not making this up; the Myers-Briggs Company says this.

Hogan assessments were expressly designed for use in employee selection in addition to other workplace uses. In fact, the Hogan Personality Inventory was the first measure of personality based on the Big Five — that is, the most widely accepted model of personality — designed specifically to be used in the workplace. The Big Five model of personality has been studied extensively by personality psychologists over the past half century and now forms the basis for most new research on personality. One of the many strengths of this model is its universality; it captures how people, regardless of geography or language, describe each other.

Hogan’s assessments are supported by more than 30 years of research demonstrating their validity for workplace applications. Nonetheless, assessment users are often concerned about potential demographic differences in assessment results that could impact work outcomes. Well-developed personality measures, in general, and Hogan assessments, specifically, show trivial differences in comparisons across genders, races and ethnicities, and ages, indicating they make selection practices more equitable, regardless of demographic differences among assessees.

Usability for Development

If your organization’s objective is to help people gain insight about their identities, the MBTI may help you do so. The question is do you need an assessment to inform you about your identity? The only expert on your identity is you, so if you think the assessment results do not reflect it, the assessment provides no developmental value.  

I often hear practitioners acknowledge the well-known psychometric limitations of the MBTI that prevent its usefulness in selection while in the next breath indicating that it’s OK to use if the purpose is development. That’s problematic. Why should the scientific standards you apply to selection be lowered for development? Shouldn’t development assessments be focused on characteristics that predict important work outcomes? Isn’t the purpose of development in the workplace to improve performance?

If, however, the purpose of your organization’s development investments is to help people gain insight about how their personality and behavior impacts their reputation (i.e., how others describe and interpret their behavior) and outcomes that matter (e.g., effectiveness at leading people), Hogan assessments are appropriate and designed for the purpose. Unlike identity, the experts on your reputation are other people you work with, not you, and their perspectives are what influence whether they will follow you, want to interact with you, or trust you. It is useful to gain insight about your reputation if you want to understand where to focus your development efforts.

To be clear, the purpose here is not to convince you that the MBTI has no useful applications. It is to encourage you to look deeper into any assessment before assuming they all are the same or interchangeable, and to encourage you to use the assessment that is appropriate for the application and outcome you intend. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck and not a hummingbird.