Think about your roles from day to day, and chances are you’re really great at some of the things you do, and others are a struggle. Why is that?
Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but in many cases it boils down to one of two things:
- It’s hard to complete your work because you’re not [yet] good at it, and you are learning while doing.
- You’re good at the work, but progress is slow because it’s hard to find motivation and/or the right environment.
In Andy Grove’s classic High Output Management, he frames productivity in much the same way, saying that the only thing a manager can do is train or motivate. When you’re flowing smoothly, “in the zone,” it means that you’re doing something you’re good at, and you’re enjoying it and motivated to do it.
This state of flow is similar to what Taoist philosophy calls wu wei, or “doing not-doing,” where the distinction between the work and the worker blurs, where the job seems to accomplish itself.
What does this have to do with personality testing? As I wrote previously , I’ve witnessed the benefits personality assessments can bring to a manager’s work of defining roles clearly, finding the very best people to fill those roles, and then supporting them. Aligning motivations with the roles automatically helps people succeed, and the work becomes less like work.
Most personality assessments focus only on people’s behaviors and styles, but good ones go deeper and try to quantify various dimensions of motivations. I’ve been surprised at how often I review when someone is struggling with an aspect of their work, and on reviewing their assessments again, I see clearly that their motivations don’t match the requirements of the roles.
This doesn’t mean people can’t succeed, it just means some kind of external or self-motivation needs to be consciously created. Doing what the job requires becomes a little bit harder, a little bit more of rolling the stone up the hill.
Here are two examples that come to mind readily.
- An employee in a sales role was apparently doing all the right things, but just wasn’t ringing the cash register. After analysis and coaching, I realized he was doing everything except asking for the next step, and especially not asking for the sale. Upon reviewing his assessment I found that, to put it bluntly, he wasn’t money-motivated. He was much more socially motivated. He wanted to be an advocate for the prospect, a resource. He wanted to know how he could help the prospect. Asking for a sale put that relationship at risk, and relationships were of paramount importance to him. This employee eventually departed. Immediately after that another sales person picked up the phone, called all of his accounts, and closed many of them right away. All he had to do was ask, but it wasn’t his priority.
- An employee was in a role that was ambiguous, with many possible dimensions and types of work. As time passed I realized what type of outcome we needed the role to create, and we weren’t doing it. This time I was prepared: before trying to make the shift, I examined her assessment results. I concluded that her natural motivation wasn’t to do what the role was turning into, and that she’d likely find it an uphill battle and would be discouraged. I didn’t mark this off as a loss, because this person was extremely diligent and can-do. I just knew it wasn’t where her passion in her career was; it wasn’t what had led her to join the company. It turned out that this was correct.
It’s vitally important to note that I do not rely on what the assessment tells me. It’s just a statistical tool and it is often pretty good, but sometimes is wrong as well. I do an in-depth review of the assessment together with the person. We go through the results and agree, disagree, strike out, supplement, qualify, highlight, and in general just use the assessment as a starting point. As a result, when I look at an assessment to help me orient myself, I’m not basing my opinion on the assessment results. Instead, I’m listening to what the person told me about the assessment. I’ve found this is an extremely accurate picture.
I also don’t judge people for not fitting a role’s natural requirements. If I put you into a sales role and asking for the sale isn’t your natural inclination, it doesn’t mean you are a bad employee. It just means we have a situation we need to address. We can do that in many ways, such as by changing your role, figuring out how to make things work, or parting ways. The company needs specific things, and my job as a manager is to identify and fill those needs.
Originally posted at The Dance Dances Itself: Using Personality Assessments in Hiring