Monday, November 10, 2014

The Right Fit: LT Nininger, Pt. II

Whether we are 'thinkers' or 'feelers,' 'sensors' or 'perceivers' makes an effective distraction from the other kinds of questions: whether the work we do is fairly managed and adequately paid, whether it's personally rewarding and socially useful.  - Annie Murphy Paul


I have a love/hate relationship with personality exams, the new HR kid on the block, and I often wonder which of those two extremes will soon be discovered and appear on a graph with my name boldly printed along the top. Something tells me both will, or maybe neither, but never just one and if so, it will always be the other. I think that covers all bases.

Eighteen candidates... pick the right fit in 12 minutes.
What I have learned from a few I've recently taken (both in and outside the Big Five variety which I still believe hold some promise if used judiciously with great care) instead of those extremes, though, is that I'm fairly structured, focused on the details, and suspected of harboring introverted tendencies. 

Apparently I'm in good company, as witnessed by our Lieutenant Nininger referenced in The Power of Quiet, although I can't claim Medal of Honor credit in advance for our next world war engagements or expect the opportunity to ever find out. Still. Preference for spaces which allow my inner quiet to run free isn't always a good thing and one summary suggested I stay out of direct sales work, yet I would probably be a good manager where processes are established. But, what if what I really wanted to do was to manage car salesmen at a large established dealership, then what? 

No one selling the tests seemed to know.

Despite that, they just can't be resisted, they look so good and seem to reveal so much, one thinks what could possibly be the downside even if they fell a little short of expectations? It all reminds me of a car I once owned that had a speedometer which registered to 140MPH, and I remember thinking back then that even if I only needed to drive 70MPH that would still be an acceptable level of performance - and just having that promise right there in front of me every day seemed good enough. Besides, could it ever be confirmed? 

And that's the feeling I often get with these tests; that maybe it's good enough - to know a little bit might be true - but not really sure, and never really able to test it later. It's both disturbing and comforting, all at the same time. And there we have the rub of personality exams: they can be too much and not enough information, simultaneously. It's an isosceles triangle coming toward us, one we need to dumb down and play the part of a square peg or a round hole, or some other neatly defined person who companies (including many domestic estates) spend countless dollars on every year with tests trying to find and hire. 

No wonder, though, many products and services have sprung up to capitalize on this fit-frenzy, not the least of which are the popular 12-minute personality exams available to peg each candidate, perhaps permanently if results leak out - as their defining characteristic and potential for success. These tests are, one could say, the recently discovered half-sister to the original domestic interview process instant-right-fit, a particular letter of reference (or a lack thereof). An enticingly quick approach, however, it risks tripping all concerned into muddy territory by disregarding the ability of people to not only to adapt to - yet, with properly skilled management and development support, thrive in - changing conditions and actual work environments.

Test now available online using virtual tubes.
The right fit, however, has now slipped into our domestic service language over the past few years, a slicker spin on the age-old, much more straightforward version of you're our kind of people. Rather than focus on the characteristics (and their potential) of either the candidate or the employer as evolving and continuous learning entities, it's oddly become a convenience of assigning characteristics which, supposedly, rarely change shape, stripe, color, or composition. This approach actually dehumanizes the whole candidate, yet then wraps them up in such a remarkable flesh-like color and texture that all responsibility shifts onto the report itself, away from the time-consuming messiness of a real person sitting right there in front of us. We get the convenience of not having to reject the candidate; the 12-minute report does it for us.

This eternal search for the instant right fit has increasingly replaced efforts to understand the complexity of humans' workplace behavior and their ability to adapt and grow into fuller, richer, and higher-contributing workers to any enterprise - in our case, private estates. These evolving potentials can work for the benefit of all and as a former agency owner, I recall learning this truth over and again. A reliance on over-simplifying others conveniently absolves the enterprise of treating employees as the fantastically engineered humans they are and, tragically for the estate, preventing an ability to cash in on both immediate and future dividends - often referred to in OD circles as Human Capital Investments. It's analogous to using a Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 only for Wal-Mart runs to pick up a few diapers; both the driver and car missing out on retaining their potentials with, and for, the other; the machine garaged for a better fit rather than the minor dashboard adjustments available from Corsa, to Sport, or to Strada. 

Author Annie Murphy Paul examines the use of these popular tests (Meyers-Briggs, Omnia, MBTI, etc), although the phenomenon applies equally to the emphasis  many industries (oftentimes ours) place on reducing a candidate's professional and personal being into one particularly, and permanently, assigned "model."  This becomes the candidates' snapshot in time and their capacity for being "fit" into an employment slot which has been similarly, quickly, (and - unfairly to the estate's success) reduced into overly simple terms, with candidates, employees, and employers all being short-changed in the end:

"The administration of personality tests is frequently presented as a gesture of corporate goodwill, a generous acknowledgment of employees' uniqueness.  Under this banner of respect for individuality, organizations are able to shift responsibility for employee satisfaction onto that obligating culprit, 'fit.'  There's no bad worker and no bad workplace, only a bad fit between the two. It's a conveniently fatalistic philosophy:  workers can't be trained in new skills or grow into new responsibilities, and workplaces can't be expected to accommodate their developing needs and abilities...  Whether we are 'thinkers' or 'feelers,' 'sensors' or 'perceivers' makes an effective distraction from the other kinds of questions: whether the work we do is fairly managed and adequately paid, whether it's personally rewarding and socially useful.

But how to explain the most startling aspect of the Indicator's popularity - its ardent embrace by individuals?.... Although the observations offered by the MBTI often have an ingenuous, all-I-really-need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten quality, they are greeted by this group as deeply profound. These are the people who immediately figure out the type of everyone they know, whose everyday speech becomes an alphabet soup of Indicator acronyms, who can explain just about every situation they encounter with reference to the types of the individuals involved."

Beyond the siren call of pop-psychology and other instant-candidate-evaluations (five years experience? What does that mean?) we may use, what approach are successful estates taking to harvest all of a candidate's talents and potential for outstanding
contribution - termed in our industry as - five-star service?  Are the deeper complexities of the whole person examined and used to their fullest potential, or only the thin, snap-on plastic veneer of a particular model?  Is the eternal search for a black and white, two-dimensional "fit" with a similarly depleted square peg of a private estate position, really enough?

Most importantly, what actions can both sides of the equation take to add value and develop each other into a successful entity for the long run.... a universally applicable and ever-improving specimen? 

Maybe the right fit wasn't ever meant to be spoken in past or present tense, yet one in which we imagine as an evolving part of an estate team's future.