Mr. Personality

Bob Hogan knows personality. In the 1970s, when conventional wisdom in academia asserted that there was no such thing as personality, Hogan dedicated his life and his career to that very thing.
Hogan and his wife Joyce founded Hogan Assessment Systems in 1987 as a distributor for the Hogan Personality Inventory, a test designed to aid employers in the selection and development of their staff by pointing out characteristics of their employees’ personalities that determine their dependability, composure and customer focus.
The HPI is modeled after the Office of Strategic Services (now known as the Central Intelligence Agency) assessment center, which, during World War II, would evaluate people who wanted to be U.S. spies.
“Historically, personality psychology had been about craziness. It had been about neuroticism and psychoticism,” Hogan explained.
“The assessment center tradition, the OSS tradition, was a complete reversal. The focus was on trying to identify the characteristics that made people really successful,” he said. “Turns out, there are a lot of very successful people who are really very crazy. And there are a lot of very well-adjusted people who are failures …”
He mentioned President George W. Bush as an example.
Hogan, a self-described academic and “old-fashioned, unreconstructed liberal” with plenty of personality of his own, completed his PhD at a research institute in Berkley, Calif., that was a spin-off of the OSS assessment center.
The assessment center, in the 1960s and ‘70s, studied mainly high-level effectiveness—elite samples, like Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winners—and Hogan sought to apply the center’s methodology to the study of “regular people.” He left the institute with the drive to study police performance.
“This was the late ‘60s, and there were some real problems—there still are—with police departments,” Hogan said. “Police know who good cops are and who bad cops are; they just don’t know how to find them.”
Hogan’s first piece of research was with the Maryland State Police Department, studying police performance.
Typical assessment centers require two days and thousands of dollars to complete, Hogan said. Through Hogan Assessments, though, a client can spend about an hour and about $500 to get the same information they might from a two-day center.
Hogan’s tests analyze the personalities of potential hires for more than 400 jobs, from janitors to CEOs. More than 50,000 personality assessments are completed every month, all of which are conducted online. The results are sent back to the employers instantaneously.
Hogan’s tests are taken around the world, by more than 1,500 companies in 30 countries. Hogan and his team work out of Tulsa’s operation center near 21st and Lewis, and co-owner Rodney Warrenfeltz runs another operation center in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Hogan Personality Inventory test measures what Hogan calls the “bright side”—what employers see when people are at their best.
The Hogan Development Survey measures the “dark side”—what is seen when people are at their worst. The Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory is a measurement of a person’s core values, goals and interests, and the Hogan Business Reasoning Inventory is a measure of a person’s cognitive reasoning skills, those necessary for successful decision-making in business.
Typically, employers who are interested in a person as a candidate for a position, following application for employment and an interview, will instruct the applicant to complete the personality profile online. The results are sent directly to the employer in a matter of minutes. How much information they get back is up to the employer and the price the company is willing to pay.
Some results are as simple and straightforward as to say “hire” or “don’t hire,” and others can be as detailed as informing an employer what a particular candidate’s strong and weak points are, in what areas of business or management he or she will excel and in what areas he or she might need further development.
“Selection goes like this: If you hire every person who comes through the door, you’re in good shape,” Hogan explained. “If you don’t hire every person, you’re making decisions. How do you make those decisions? Typically, you make them based on an interview and a background check. That’s terrible.”
Hogan says the typical method of employee selection—the interview—is tainted because it allows for discrimination based on ethnicity and gender.
“In many cases, the one question they want to know,” Hogan said, “is, is it a black, or is it a woman? They’ve fudged the hiring process. Interviews perpetuate the worst characteristics of American society: They allow for racism and sexism.”
Hogan says the practice of using IQ tests as a method of selection is also racist, a way to “avoid hiring blacks.”
“They do it quite systematically, and there have been a number of big-time lawsuits associated with this,” Hogan said.
He said African-American people traditionally score lower on standard IQ tests than Caucasian people do, not because black people are less intelligent than white people, but because IQ tests are designed to ensure that result.
“My wife and I are the only psychologists in North America who think that’s wrong. Intellectually wrong,” Hogan said. “I just don’t believe that white folks are smarter than black folks. I just don’t believe it. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a function of the kind of tests they’re using.
“The virtue of these personality tests for selection is that they don’t discriminate. Blacks and women and minorities get exactly the same scores as white males.”
What Hogan’s tests do tell employers is what strengths and what weaknesses a potential employee possesses, based on seven recognized dimensions that influence occupational success: Adjustment, ambition, sociability, interpersonal sensitivity, prudence, inquisitive and learning approach.
The person taking the test answers a series of more than 200 true-or-false questions, some of which are repeated, that identify his or her preferences in social, occupational and solitary situations. Translated, the answers can inform an employer as to whether or not a person will work well with others, will have a strong work ethic, will be a good leader, etc.
Bama Pie Co., Tulsa’s local high-volume bakery, perhaps best known for producing the delicious fried pies available at McDonald’s, has been using Hogan Assessments’ personality tests in its hiring of management-level employees for a year, according to Cathey Flood, director of organization development.
Bama’s human resources director conducted research around the various personality tests available, taking them all himself, and found Hogan’s to be the most accurate and reliable one, in terms of determining key personality characteristics, and also the most usable, in terms of reading the data reported back to the company.
Flood says Bama does not hire its managers based solely on Hogan’s tests, but it uses the tests to develop behavior-based questions specific to the results.
“We do a lot of probing, ask a lot of questions around the areas of highlighted strengths, weaknesses and opportunities,” Flood said.
She likened it to detecting a lump in your neck. Once you know the lump is there, you see doctors and specialists and undergo a number of tests to determine what exactly the lump is.
“One thing the test doesn’t do,” she said, “is it doesn’t take into account how a person has learned to manage (his or her areas of weakness). What actions has the person taken to overcome his or her natural tendencies and behaviors?”
As an example, Flood said, when she took the test, the results told her she would be better served “using something other than emotional outbursts to get attention,” she said.
“I rarely have emotional outbursts anymore,” Flood said, but 10 years ago in her career, a supervisor tactfully told her to, essentially, stop throwing fits when things didn’t go her way at work. And although she’d learned to manage that particular weakness so that it doesn’t show up in the workplace, she found it interesting that her tendency toward that behavior was still evident in her personality assessment.
Many companies who use Hogan’s tests do so to hire and develop their managers. And leadership selection and development is a big part of what Hogan Assessments does, he said.
“Leadership is a huge enterprise of people selling leadership training all over the world,” Hogan said. “The difference is that our focus is on how leaders, managers impact their staff. Nobody else does that. When they talk about leadership, they just want to know, ‘Are you charismatic?’ Well, you can be charismatic and still drive everybody crazy.
“We’re the people who discovered what we call the ‘dark side.’ Our view is that 50-60 percent of the managers, people who are in managerial positions in the private sector and public sector, are not any good. Fifty to 60 percent of existing managers are driving their staff crazy,” Hogan said.
“The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta said the principal cause of illness is stress. The principal cause of stress in everyone’s life is bad managers. Bad managers are the major health problem we have in this country. Bad managers cause turnover, absenteeism, low productivity and crappy customer service. Good managers cause high retention, low turnover, low absenteeism, high customer service and high productivity,” he continued.
Hogan calls his study of bad managers “managerial derailment.”
“If you know that 50-60 percent of your managers are not going to be any good, what are you going to do about it? Well, you’ve got to try to fix them. When I say ‘development,’ that’s what we do,” said Hogan. His company attempts to give others the tools they need to make their bad managers better, which isn’t always easy, especially if those at the very top are bad managers themselves.
“In many cases, they actually have to fail before you get their attention,” Hogan said. “When I first moved to Tulsa in the ‘80s, I interviewed the top guys at Williams, and I went, ‘Oh, man. How are they going to stay in business?’” They were “dumb” and “lazy,” he said.
In 2002, Williams Companies filed for bankruptcy after shareholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company, contending it did not properly disclose the company’s true financial position and lied about its plummeting fiscal circumstances. Williams settled with the plaintiffs in 2007, paying out $290 million.
Flood said using the Hogan Assessments personality tests has changed the way Bama hires its managers.
“We’ve become better at hiring since we started using Hogan,” she said. “Part of that is because of the data we get from their tests, and part of it is because we set a process in place that forces us to do certain things in a predictable pattern.”
She said that, in the past, many of Bama’s senior leadership positions came from employee referrals, and the interviews were always very positive, giving everyone involved good feelings about the people being interviewed. She said they’d miss some of the negative characteristics about the people being hired because of their warm, fuzzy interview practices, and once they had their new senior leaders, they’d realize the people they had hired weren’t right for the company at all.
Bama uses the values profile, the challenges profile and the potential profile, and Flood says she is interested in exploring some of the additional services Hogan provides that her company is not yet using.
She has been through Hogan’s training and is certified to read the tests (training she would recommend to any company interested in using Hogan’s personality profiles), but, when she has trouble reading or understanding the results from a particular test, she can call the operation center, and someone will walk her through the report, step by step.
Since using the HPI, Flood says Bama has hired about 10 people, only one of which was a “bad hire.” It was the first person Bama hired using the HPI.
“The information was there,” Flood said. “We just didn’t see it.”

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