Personality testing: finding a nurses’ ‘instinctive style’

1 March 2012

What is your ‘instinctive style’? A trial of a personality test by one of the country’s largest general practice group indicates nurses gravitate to roles that reflect their ‘innate strengths’.

Are you happiest in hands-on practice, do you revel in risk-taking, or are you drawn to working methodically?

Catherine Abel-Pattinson, a nurse and the senior workforce and strategy manager for Auckland’ ProCare, recently trialed a psychometric-style test on 77 of the 600-plus nurses that work for the general practice group.

The test – the Kolbe Conation Psychometric Test – claims to reveal an individual’s instinctive style of working (see box for details). Abel-Pattinson says the trial results indicated strong correlations between the test’s four modes and the requirements of different nursing roles.

The ‘significant’ findings were discussed in a yet-to-be published article The use of Kolbe action model indexing in selection of nurses for new models of care written by Abel-Pattinson, health governance consultant Lee Mathias, and others.

The psychometric profiling of 77 practice/primary health nurses, telephone triage nurses, and nurse leaders was carried out for a general practice development project – that includes the creation of more nurse-led clinics – and aimed to see whether the test helped match nurses with new roles.

Abel-Pattinson says the test results appear to confirm that nurses “gravitate almost subconsciously” towards certain roles and responsibilities that suited their way of working.

All nurses tested shared a common enthusiasm for using information and facts in their work with the vast majority of the nurses scoring highest in the Fact Finder mode (most scoring between 6 to 8 out of 10, see sidebar for interpretation).

The next most common mode of working for nurses, according to the results, was their willingness to be systematic with most nurses scoring a medium to high score (4-7) in the Follow Thru mode.

But a difference emerged here between the practice nurses and telephone triage nurses. Abel-Pattinson says the vast majority of telephone triage nurses (80%) were responders and none were preventers in this mode indicating they “heavily favoured a consistent process they could work to without alteration”. On the other hand, practice nurses had a greater spread of scores with 56% responders and 35% initiators indicating practice nurses were more likely to “modify or develop even more robust systems”. Non-clinical nurses had an even higher percentage of initiators.

The overall results indicated the nurses on average were not risk-takers with most being responders* or preventers in the Quick Start mode. Clinical nurses were more likely to be preventers in this mode (most scoring between 2-4) compared to non-clinical nurses (4-6) and nurse leaders, who had twice the number of initiators than practice nurses.

In the fourth action mode – the Implementer end mode or preference for hands-on concrete types of working – the non-clinical nurses had the lowest score with an average of three and clinical nurses were slightly higher with an average of four. But Abel-Pattinson said within clinical nurse roles the practice nurses had a higher preference for hands-on working than telephone triage nurses.

Abel-Pattinson believes identifying a nurse’s conative traits could provide a good guide for a nurse’s career direction within the nursing profession, particularly as Kolbe suggests a major mismatch between a person’s instinctive behaviour and the requirements of their job can cause personal strain.

“Matching the individual’s conative instincts with instinctive traits needed for a particular job role, which can be identified through similar testing, will produce a more productive workforce with a clearer career development path and greater longevity in the profession.”

Testing your ‘natural instinct’

The Conation Psychometric test claims to measure a person’s innate or instinctive strengths in the way they work. It was developed by American sociologist and entrepreneur Kathy Kolbe. It has been used as an employee assessment tool in the corporate world for decades but has not come under much academic scrutiny with a ‘Google Scholar’ search coming up with only about half a dozen mentions of the Kolbe test.

Kolbe’s action model theory is built on the concept that along with our cognitive skills (thoughts/intelligence) and emotional skills (feelings) we also require conation – the drive or desire to act on those thoughts and feelings. She argues that all people have innate but different conative styles that the test reveals.

The Abel-Pattinson article examined the academic literature on conation and decision-making, and found disagreements on what is the basis for ‘instinctive behaviour’. The article also acknowledged there was no “academic discussion” of Kolbe’s theory. But it said the research that had been done indicated test results were consistent when individuals were re-tested and it believed that the conative approach ‘did have its place’.


Action Modes

Kolbe’s theory is that conative strengths fall into four action modes or ‘instinctive styles’ of working or problem-solving:

• Fact Finder (FF)- your desire to gather and share information.

• Follow Thru (FT) - your desire to be systematic, ordered and organised.

• Quick Start (QS) - your desire for risk-taking and uncertainty.

• Implementer (IM) - your desire to take a hands-on, concrete approach.

And your score for each mode (or working style) reflects the degree you have that trait:

• A high score (7-10) is an initiator who turns to that mode first to ‘initiate’ solutions

• A medium score (4-6) is a responder* or accommodator who’s happy enough to use that mode

• A low score (1-3) is a preventer who avoids that mode if possible and ‘prevents’ others from getting bogged down in using that mode only.

An example would be that a Follow Thru initiator would develop schedules and systems, a responder would follow the systems set by someone else and a preventer would resist getting bogged down by a set way of doing things.