It had long been apparent to me that other tests in use had two major flaws. First, they didn’t account for people who tended to respond with defensive answers that put them in the most favorable light–whether or not those answers were honest. And second, the tests used rigid personality categories that didn’t account for individual differences. I felt I could go beyond those limitations and create a much-needed instrument that would measure social expectations, self-concepts, interests, and stress behavior in a single test.
My Test of Social Comprehension was born in 1950, and my first big account was an insurance company, where I helped to select the best candidates for sales jobs. A few years later, we changed the name to the Birkman Method. Of course, personality testing has now become an accepted part of the human resource process–more than 80% of midsize and large companies use personality and ability assessments of new hires for entry and mid-level positions. But the testing typically assesses an individual’s “can do” ability and skills. Far more important, and too often neglected, is the “will do” assessment that shows personal responses to job situations. The ability to break beyond surfaces of behavior and to see depths of complex potential within each person–that is what captured my imagination and became my life-consuming passion.
To understand how the Birkman differs from the many other workplace assessments that describe or “label” people, consider a landscaper who can tell you that one of your plants is a cactus and the other is a ficus. While that is good information to know, it still doesn’t tell you how to keep your plants alive. However, when the gardener says that one of your plants loves arid soil and thrives on minimal watering, but the other one is a thirsty plant that requires regular watering–well, that really helps, because now you know what the plant needs if it’s to stay healthy over time.