Posted: 30/01/2015 10:51:19 AM by
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Sometimes, usually when managers are frustrated with employee behaviour, it is tempting to spend so much time contemplating employee personality types and overlook why they were hired in the first place. When we’re annoyed and focused on their personality we fail to hold the employee accountable, and allow them to take ownership of their role.
Michael is the owner of an engineering consulting business. We met recently at his office, where we discussed some of his people management challenges. We asked about his business culture, and whether his team showed accountability in their roles. Michael vented his frustration, and became especially animated when we discussed a sales role, emphatically declaring that, “a sales person must be an extrovert. There is no way an introvert can be an effective sales person.” When we asked his expectation of the role, Michael vaguely described somebody paid to socialise with potential customers, in the hope that it generated extra business. We politely smiled.
Michael had an interesting paradigm about how an effective sales person would operate. He then applied that paradigm to the kind of person he thought would be best for the role, and he ended up disappointed and frustrated. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we see regularly.
Why doesn't this approach work?
Firstly, because Michael had an expectation of how a person would fulfil their role. Once in the role, an employee had no autonomy to actually do the role. If the job was to get sales, then a person might develop their own strategies, systems and processes for actually generating sales. Michael never let that happen because he was too focused on his way, rather than allowing his employee to own their role and have the freedom to craft their working style to suit them. It would not matter whether the person was extroverted or introverted – without autonomy they will never be their true self in any case.
Second, by focusing on the personality type, Michael forgot why the role existed in the first place. What Michael really wanted was sales from happy customers, but what he focused on was how the employee built relationships. Soon enough the employee works out the real accountability is not for winning sales, but for winning friends. Any professional sales employee would soon respond to the mixed leadership messages and act to protect their own reputation, no matter their personality type.
Third, when we focus on the personality, we make it about the employee, rather than the business outcome. Imagine what the performance assessment between Michael and his sales employee sounds like? Would you want to be the employee? Michael is effectively asking his employee to justify their personality at every performance review. Ouch! Instead, if Michael focuses on his business need – generating sales from happy customers – he only has to ask one simple question, “How can the business help you with that?” He will then open an engaging and meaningful conversation that reveals exactly what is needed, including the employees identifying their own skill weaknesses, without any tension or conflict.
Finally, there is no independent evidence anywhere that shows employers who make use of psychometric (personality type) testing have any greater recruitment and employee engagement success than those who don’t. Most psychometric tests have no scientific basis – including the most commonly used personality type tests. Basing recruitment and management decisions on the personality types assigned by these tests is therefore pointless and possibly dangerous.
Michael thinks he needs an extrovert, but there is no evidence that extroverts are better at creating lasting business relationships than introverts. Michael is most likely an extrovert himself, and we wonder whether he is simply looking to recruit someone like himself; because what Michael appeared to be doing was continually asking himself “would I do it this way?” and if the answer was no, then using that logic, "it must be wrong"! It’s too bad then, if the best candidate for generating sales from happy customers is not necessarily an extrovert.
Unlike psychometric testing, there is independent evidence that personal work preferences assessment tools can result in longer-term recruitment and employee engagement success – specifically, where the position requirements were clearly defined and the assessment could be directly compared to those requirements.
So, are you a Manager or a Psychologist? If you’re frustrated or anxious about employee performance feedback then step back and instead of asking yourself "why are they like that?", ask “What are the business objectives?” Clarify them, and then discuss with your employees what is needed to achieve them. You will have more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable performance assessment conversations. Wouldn't you really prefer to be regarded as a professional manager, rather than an amateur psychologist?
*Michael is not his real name.