Watterson & Associates BLOG

Information, musings, and brain bites from an I/O consulting firm

The Reality about Ourselves: Our Strengths and Weaknesses are Frequently the Same Thing. It’s All Relative to the Context.

By David Watterson

Self-awareness is important to success in anything that we do. This means being able to identify what are our resources upon which we can depend to be successful and what to watch out for where we are not as strong. However, as we evaluate what is good and not so good, we often forget to place this self-evaluation into context. Anything about us is neither good or bad until we say: “What am I doing?” “Where am I going?” “Is being tall good or bad?” Well, if you have some coordination to go along with your height, it might be good for playing basketball. However, it would not be good for being a jockey or riding on long international flights in coach. So, when we assess our strengths and weaknesses, it is very helpful to add some thought/comment to “in what context” am I considering playing/performing/behaving/thinking, etc. We too frequently assign a + or – to the characteristic without being more specific about the context.

I often like to use my hand to illustrate this phenomenon. You can take into consideration most anything, for instance, being imaginative can be your palm (front side). Having an active and robust imagination can be very productive for art, writing, designing, creating; but, the back of your hand would be negative in roles requiring concentration, precision, and consistent repetition of a thought, process, or motion. Precision machining or being an air traffic controller would not be a good role for someone with high imagination.

I like to think about this subject within three important frameworks. First, in leadership, being control-oriented (dominant) is typically an important aspect of being effective. This inclines someone to “take charge, lead and be decisive” in pursuit of a desired outcome. On the other hand, it may be a detractor when the role expectation is for someone to be a “team” player or on a committee of peers where there is the expectation for members to be cooperative and collaborative as equals. In the second scenario, being accommodating (back of the hand from dominant) is the more positive trait.

Second, a corollary to this two-sided phenomenon is the fact that more of a good thing may not be better. At some point, too much of it becomes a negative. Let’s stay with dominance. Some of it can be very helpful to direct a team to a positive outcome; however, being highly controlling (very authoritarian) may create resistance and animosity. Capable people often resist being told what to do. This over-control is often described as micro-managing. Also, some may stress when attempting to control events, people or processes outside of their control.

And third, it is important to consider that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses in absolutes, as we are either “strong” or “weak”. We are dominant or not. Life is rarely so definitive. It is very helpful to consider varying degrees of the trait, characteristic, e.g. very short; medium height; highly controlling; influential, etc.  



  1. As a consistent component of learning, repeating a concept and then writing it down, speaking it, or teaching it to others assists us to move it into a more permanent part of our thinking (memory). Tell someone about this two-sided aspect to our thinking about ourselves. Pick some characteristic to describe. What are the advantages? Disadvantages?
  2. With some characteristic about yourself, (possibly one that you used in the above exercise), consider where you might fall on a scale from 1-10. What evidence do you have that this is an accurate estimate? How would others’ rate you on this characteristic? Ask a few trusted friends to rate you or comment on this. Where is this a strength? Where is it a limitation? How do you manage it in different situations?
  3. Now for some of the situations where you could benefit from a more of this or stronger skills with this characteristic, what learning would be helpful? For example, with our dimension of dominance, if you wanted to be more influential, persuasive or assertive, what would learning would help? One avenue would be to take a course on assertiveness, or you could look at some of the applied material on influencing from Robert B. Cialdini.

Assessment vs Evaluation

By David Watterson

Many of us flinch when we hear that we are going to have an assessment done – on us. We most often interpret it as being an evaluation, and we are challenged with the awareness that we may come up short. At WAI, we are committed to at least having the discussion of clarifying the distinction of assessment vs evaluation. Without this, there is much needless confusion of purpose and outcome.

When we assess an individual, we are simply collecting relevant information about a person’s skills, abilities, personality, interests, etc. In essence, we are taking a personal inventory of these characteristics. Evaluation is then the assigning of a value to these dimensions in relationship to a goal, objective or outcome. None of these characteristics are positive or negative until you have declared your destination or purpose. Where are you going? What are you planning to do? Nothing is good or bad about a maple tree until you say what you are planning to do with it. Planting it in NE Ohio for shade purposes might be good, but in Arizona, not so much.

Often when I sit down with someone to do an assessment, I will ask what they are anticipating in the experience. They then comment that they are being evaluated. It is here when I explain that it is important that we put it in context. Is this for a specific job? How does this line up with their own career objectives? Is this for an overseas assignment? What works in one setting or for one purpose, may not be as productive in another setting or business challenge. What may be a strength in the morning in one meeting, may be a liability in the afternoon. What is most critical, is do we know who we are, and how do we manage who we are in relationship to being successful in all the different settings in which we find ourselves. That is just one of the advantages of being assessed, we are better at then managing who we are without worrying about what we have (or don’t have) that might fall short.

We do quite a bit of work in leadership assessment and development. We insist on having the individual and organization put into context what does their definition of leadership look like. William Shackleton was a great leader in a crisis when his ship (a three-masted schooner) was trapped in the ice on an Antarctic expedition. He led his men through two years of endurance to finally get to safety; however, he was consistently unsuccessful in business ventures back in his British homeland.

Our goals in assessment and evaluation are to increase self-awareness to better handle the situations that we are facing to be more effective and have more fun. We are not interested in fixing and changing, as much as, we are looking to create awareness and to teach skills to use the assessment to better evaluate life’s challenges in a productive context. We encourage the organizations that we work with to do the same.  

Personality Assessment Fundamentals

By Mark Kogelnik


Finding and retaining quality talent continues to be a top priority for organizations, regardless of size or industry. Properly motivated people, aligned with a company’s values and strategy, are crucial to achieving organizational excellence. But finding the “right” person, takes an incredible amount of time, effort and money. The stakes are high: the cost of a bad hire is staggering. However, the value of an engaged associate is priceless. Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to guarantee success of a new hire. However, there are opportunities to gather and utilize more self-reported data during the interview process to lower the risk and increase the likelihood of success.

One strategy is to utilize a valid personality assessment. While there are many off-the-shelf options available, some of the most commonly known assessments include Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), the DiSC® and Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) ® Each of these assessments are intended to provide a closer look at a candidate’s personality within the context of ideal work performance. 
The best organizations are using personality assessment to take a more proactive approach to hiring and development. Typically, personality assessment becomes part of the hiring process. Doing so offers a more long-term and calculated approach to an organization’s most valuable resource: human capital.

As an Industrial-Organizational Consultant, I help companies make more informed decisions about the hiring process through the use of the Watterson Personality Instrument (WPI) ®, a proprietary assessment created by Dr. David G. Watterson, Founder of our company. From large multi-national companies to small, privately held organizations, we administer the WPI to more effectively measure a candidate’s personality and ability in key areas relative to a particular job. We can also supplement the assessment with in-depth interviews, customized reports, employee development plans and on-going, individualized coaching.


Simply put: any hiring manager can use a quick, inexpensive personality assessment. But engaging a consultant, trained in both administering and evaluating assessment results, provides a greater ROI. Although there are many benefits of the powerful selection and development tools available, it’s important to question how tests are created, as well understand the accompanying methodology used to validate them. The reality is, there are many assessments available today that did not exist years ago. In fact, a keyword search on ‘personality assessments’ results in all sorts of options ranging from anger management, assertiveness, adventurousness, arguing style, and on and on!


Provided there has been care placed into the design and use of an assessment within a work setting, organizations are well positioned to make a strong business case for the use of objective tests - specifically, those that created with a degree of rigor helping them to be consistent, reliable, and legally defensible. Today’s leading companies are making use of assessment data to attract top talent and develop winning, profitable cultures.

Selection Process for Hiring Star Employees

By Mark Kogelnik

It is not new news to hear how difficult it is to attract, retain and develop talent. It seems that nearly everyone agrees that one of the most challenging responsibilities is to hire and onboard employees.

In fact, very few dispute the pitfalls commonplace to staffing. In fact, living with a bad hire is one of the biggest mistakes we can make. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first year potential earnings (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003).

If that’s true, then why is it that hiring practices for many organizations have changed so little over the last 50 years? Why are organizations not making better use of affordable, time-sensitive, activities that can drastically improve a company’s batting average when it comes to selecting and retaining talent? Why are companies not investing in ways to review hiring data that can predict the next star employees?

These activities seem critical given the aging workforce and the need for organizations to improve their succession planning processes. “Companies need formal succession plans to be competitive in 2015,” says Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. In a 2015 HR Magazine article, Bersin wrote that many organizations struggle to facilitate internal talent mobility. Fewer than one-third have formal succession plans for all but the very top levels, according to research conducted by Bersin by Deloitte and published in November 2014.

While it can be easy to see the typical pitfalls when we step back, it is much harder to catch ourselves from making missteps when we are in the middle of filling a critical role. For example, hiring managers often admit the pressures they are under to hire, often sacrificing diligence and patience when it is needed most. Others readily point to a time when they experienced groupthink and didn’t question a peer or boss when making a poor decision after a final interview. Others say they overlooked, and/or justified their decisions in the face of contrary objective personality or ability data, after living with a bad hire.

In other words, people are so busy with the day-to-day, they often do not invest the time to proactively work on their organization’s hiring process. In fact, it seems that many organizations engage the hiring process as a reflexive, knee-jerk activity in response to an opening or vacancy. All that said, many organizations have a ways to go when it comes to tightening up their hiring processes. So, how do you avoid making a bad hire?  Here are my suggestions:

  • Stop making the common errors we make under pressure to hire. For instance, mistakes like falling for candidates who remind us of ourselves, or not having a structured interview format so that we can compare apples to apples.
  • Start treating the entire hiring process as a way to collect data and then incorporating ways to review the information in a consistent manner. Many organizations do not have a common way to synthesize all of the information collected throughout the hiring process, such as interview notes, personality data, resumes, etc. In the end, many feel that there is so much data to comb through that it can be overwhelming.
  • Pay attention to what the research tells us. For instance, new insights from Glassdoor data suggests that globally, the time required for hiring processes has grown dramatically in recent years. Based on a sample of 344,250 interview reviews spanning six countries, key findings from their survey indicate that “Hiring policies of employers can have a large effect on the length of the interview process. Choosing to require group panel interviews, candidate presentations, background checks, skills tests and more each have a positive and statistically significant effect on hiring times.”
  • Copy from those companies that know how to hire effectively. Leading companies have incorporated the latest advancements in personality assessments, combining them with world-class hiring practices, to drastically improve their selection success. Instead of getting mired in too much data, top organizations have systems to assist hiring managers with making sense of the data, thereby allowing them to achieve quick consensus.
  • Learn from mistakes. When mistakes happen—as they occasionally do when it comes to predicting talent—the best organizations look at any missteps made along the way. And the learning is perhaps the most crucial when it comes to the outliers—those who are performing well outside of expectations. With data and systems in place, the best companies can quickly pull together data to hypothesize why and how some people are drastically outperforming their peers.

Looking into the future, it is safe to say that attracting and keeping talent will continue to be a challenge. Paying attention to what you’re doing, as well as what others are doing (like making use of a personality assessment combined with HR best practices) is a wise way to maintain a distinct advantage relative to the competition.