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Why We Should Not Use the Enneagram in Recruitment | A Guest Blog by Catherine Bell

Would you use the Enneagram to recruit a senior leader, a key contributor, or really, anyone in your organization?

According to the Academy of Management Journal, the variability in profit margin in a company is 44% attributable to the quality of senior executives. Hiring is both an art, like this painting of a forest in eastern Canada, and a science, like the black line (where the artist outlines the painting in black before beginning) approach to art. How do we blend intuition with empirical data?

The key to recruiting is to understand the type of person, the role you are recruiting for, and the strategy, values, and culture of the organization. It is imperative that the desired success factors, experience, education, and personal characteristics are known for the role, as are the underlying character and competencies of the candidates. Recruiting is about making the implicit explicit – what is the role really truly about and what are the candidates truly like? It is about understanding what the organization needs to achieve, what skills and experience are needed to do so, and why this is the right “next step” for the candidate.

There are a number of assessment methods:

Cognitive ability
Personality inventories
Unstructured and structured interviews
Biographical data
Integrity testing
Situational testing
Work samples
Writing samples
Assessment centres

The Enneagram is one of many possible personality inventories available. According to the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, in terms of hiring success, personality tests have low to moderate validity, have low adverse impact, costs are low, and applicant reactions are less favourable (Pulakos, 2005).

However, according to Anna Sutton, Ph.D., the Enneagram has a “…positive impact on self acceptance, self development, and understanding of others” (Sutton, 2012). This supports the use with leadership teams for their ongoing evolution and awakening, developing the ability to work together and actually having critical, productive business conversations about key issues.

Is the Enneagram a good assessment tool in prescreening executive candidates? Not all types of assessment tools are – psychological assessments designed for clinical use, for example, should probably not be used. Analysis of the Enneagram, on what Americans call Protected Classes, is an area for further exploration and beyond the scope of this blog.

At BluEra, an executive recruiting and team development firm based in Canada with a global reach, we facilitate usage of the Enneagram once a candidate and team begin their integration – on-boarding the new leader with the team. However, we do not use Enneagram testing as an assessment in executive recruitment for the following reasons:

  • Not all clients have been fully exposed to the Enneagram and, therefore, have little or incomplete knowledge or  understanding of it.
  • Although we try to deeply understand each potential candidate, we cannot, in fairness to the candidate, identify the candidate’s Enneagram type and subtype/instinct. Our philosophy is this: a person’s Enneagram type is theirs to discover, not ours for speculation.
  • There is too much variability within each Enneagram type for us to use typing for recruitment –­ for example, levels of health, subtype/instinct, wings, arrows, culture, and other factors in the candidate’s personal life.
  • There are a number of potential legal considerations – for example, is the Enneagram a clinical test and if so, can it be legally used for recruitment?

Because of these reasons, there is the possibility of misunderstanding with the Enneagram in recruiting. What we do is look for the character traits of Awakened Executives (TM)and we include the Enneagram in our candidate integration process.

Pulakos, E.D. (2005). Selection Assessment Methods: A guide to implementing formal assessments to build a high-quality workforce. Retrieved from: http://www.shrm.org/about/foundation/research/Documents/assessment_methods.pdf

Sutton, A. (2012). “But is it real?” – A review of research on the Enneagram. International Enneagram Association Enneagram Journal, 2012.

Catherine Bell, a Senior Member of the Enneagram in Business Network, is an Enneagram teacher and founder of BluEra, an executive recruiting firm that also offers intensive team building services. She is the past-president of the Professional Enneagram Association in Canada, the Enneagram Institute’s Canadian representative, and a board member of Opportunity to Grow, a microcredit nonprofit that helps women in developing nations. You can contact Catherine by email: catherine@bluera.com.

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