Oakbox

Not just answers, the right Questions
Mind Expansion 101

There are two places I go when I am looking for a mind expansion fix. For me, it’s just depressing to sit and stare without something in my mind to turn over and think about. I am a pretty creative person, so my subconscious usually has no problem keeping me occupied. But every now and then, there’s no ‘there’ there. I need some more thinking fuel and I wanted to share two of these with you, because I like you.

The first is a web site with plenty of thought-provoking articles on ethics, science, philosophy and critical thinking. It is a blog put together by the Foundational Research Institute and has a group of engaging bloggers that do a great job of breaking down concepts and putting them together again in a thoughtful and interesting way:

http://crucialconsiderations.org/

The second place is a podcast and a blog and a couple of books by Daniel McRaney, so I can get my fix in lots of different formats if I don’t happen to be sitting in front of a computer. Daniel takes the latest information and let’s you know, in no uncertain terms, how you are fooling yourself and that you are not so smart:

http://youarenotsosmart.com/

I might update this in the future with some of my other go-to links, but these will keep you occupied for DAYS of thinking and contemplation. The kind of thinking that makes you feel good and mentally stronger and healthier. Go get some!

HCM needs HUMANS
Putting Humans in HCM

Human Capital Management is a catch-all term for anything touching on moving, hiring, promoting or dealing with all those messy humans that populate so many companies. On the technology side, there seems to be a definite drift toward reducing humans, who are infinitely complex and entirely unique, into a set of numbers and checkboxes.

  • Was the correct paperwork completed?
  • Are we in compliance?
  • Did the right person get the right pay raise at the right time?

All of these are important questions, I don’t dispute that for a minute. But in the vast majority of the technology offerings I see in the market, and in more than a few of the HCM consultancy companies, the focus is very much on high level, strategic, considerations and not very much on the people in the organization. The focus is on “which direction the organization needs to move”  without spending time learning if the people that need to implement these plans are on board or capable of moving in that direction.

Without a deep understanding of the people in an organization, these strategies are severely handicapped before they even begin. This would be the same as trying to drive a race car without knowing that it tends to drift to the left at low speeds and third gear is missing. You need to know the people in your organization, your grand strategic plan will not, cannot, succeed without this information.

So here are some steps you can take to put Humans back in Human Capital Management.

1. Learn to talk about people

As with any complex discipline, you need to have a vocabulary for talking about your subject matter. The easiest models I have seen is the Competing Values Framework, but almost any model is better than no model at all (except the MBTI, don’t even get me started). See the article I wrote on how to select a good personality test: 8 simple rules for choosing a Personality Test.

You need to have a model to give you a vocabulary. You need the vocabulary to talk about these issues in your strategy and  communicate this to all levels of the organization (management, operations, HR, etc). A cornerstone of strategy is making sure everyone knows what the strategy is.

2. Consider Culture

Organizational culture might feel like an indefinite, ephemeral construct, but it is very real. Ignoring it will very definitely bite you on the butt. The culture of your company is how people are promoted, how managers deal with employees, the relationships between employees and the organization, the actions that are encouraged, the behaviors that are discouraged, etc. Culture is a web that touches and connects every part of your organization together. You need to know what the culture of your organization is before you make strategic plans.

Again, I gotta recommend the Competing Values Framework for this. Here is an article that talks about the OCAI model, I highly recommend that you read that. Luckily, the model is well known and you can find lots of providers in the marketplace.

3. Think about Values

You can hire people that will do the work and get them all moving in the correct direction and implementing your strategic vision. This is a recipe for success and is the bare minimum that HCM should be doing.

Here is what will take your organization to the next level: passion. Passion (the term of art right now is “engagement”, but I prefer “passion”) happens when the values of employees match up with the values of the organization. Our vocabulary for talking about value is the Schein model of Career Anchors. I made a video about this:

 

And there you have it. Three not-so-simple, but very important steps for putting Humans back into Human Capital Management. Your comments and feedback are welcome!

Building an Effective Team

The Octogram test results can be used on three levels:

  1. Personal
  2. Team
  3. Organizational

On a personal level, the Octogram Talent Profile gives you plenty of insights into how you operate as an individual. At the team level, the Octogram gives you an effective way to put everyone in roles that play to their unique strengths and compensate for the weaknesses of other team members. At the organizational level, the Octogram allows you to see where key skills need to be developed and who can be promoted into or hired into the organization to fill those needs. In this article, I’m going to focus on using the test results to put together a team.

First off, you need to watch the video I made that describes how the traits of the Octogram relate to how people communicate.

The most essential element of building a team is clear and effective communication

So, right from the beginning, you can use the Octogram to help everyone understand how to communicate more effectively. By understanding your own style (how you appear to other people) and the communication styles of the other members of the team, you will be able to pull back or amplify different aspects of your own behavior to make interactions flow more smoothly and keep everyone moving together. This will also help everyone understand how to moderate or flex their own styles when communicating with other members of the team.

Next, the Octogram helps you place each member of the team in the roles that most suit their work style. Put your best Anchor in the role of proofreading, details, planning and paperwork. Put your strongest Networker in roles that require communications and messaging to everyone outside your group. Put your strongest Achiever in the role that most suits her competitive attitude and high energy. By taking the time to identify each individuals’ strengths and preferences, you dramatically increase your chances of success by making sure everyone is doing what they do best.

But how will this work in a practical sense?

First off, have everyone in the group take the Octogram test. The Talent Profile available on this site gives an extremely detailed view of each person (including the section titled “As a Member of a Team“), but there is a research version of the test available at Octogramtest.com for free. You also have the option of contacting one of our partnering psychological agencies for extra services like group reporting expert help on interpreting the results.

20150819_105159Next, get everyone to print out their Octogram graphic, you are going to sit down with them as a group to let everyone see who they are and to see who everyone else is. This meeting serves several purposes,

  1. it teaches everyone how to talk in terms of work styles and communication styles, it also gives them a vocabulary for this discussion
  2. it gives everyone some clues and insights into how other people in the team prefer to work and communicate, it also shares your own styles with the group
  3. it allows you to walk, with the team, through the roles and tasks that the group needs to perform and place people in positions that fit them best

That last point is the critical one, everyone can see why each person is doing what they do. How many times have you seen groups fall apart through lack of understanding in how to talk out problems or what other people are supposed to do? This also gives the group some insight into what kind of manager you will be and what they can expect from you. This sets expectations where they should be and avoids conversations 6 weeks or 6 months in the future about what they thought you were going to be like.

Culture

There are different ways to talk about culture. For example, the Octogram grew up out of an organizational culture model. But this paragraph is more about societal culture. The process I have described above works best in a societal culture that does not have a significant power difference between management and labor. In societies with a big power difference, it is usually difficult to speak about differences and conflicts between employees and employers. If you are in one of these society cultures, this process will still work, but you need to walk into this meeting with an open mind and work to make sure everyone knows that open communication and honesty are not only best, they are essential to the success of the group.

Communication and working together require understanding. The Octogram test is the best method I have found for making work styles understandable and for talking about these important issues in an open and honest way.

8 Simple Rules for Choosing an online Personality Test

Psychometric test development is a combination of intuition, inspiration, vocabulary and statistics. A test developer needs to have the intuition to see patterns in human behavior. They need to have the inspiration for seeing the underlying sources of those patterns. They need to have the vocabulary for defining those patterns in tests (through several revisions!). And they need the mathematical background to check the validity of their instruments. The thing is, if you don’t know how any of those steps work, you can make bad purchasing decisions.

Judging the quality of any particular personality test is difficult if you don’t have the right background information. Without that information, you cannot tell the real medicine from the colored sugar water. The normal signals for quality (adoption rates, attractive design, pricing, etc) are almost totally useless in this arena. I have seen tests online that look like they were designed in 1995 that were high-quality and valid instruments. I have also seen very slick web sites and reports that were not much more valuable than a horoscope.

So, how can you, the normal human being who just wants to use a personality test but not spend 6 months becoming an expert, tell a good test from a bad test? This is where I am going to save your bacon, your sanity and quite possibly the future of your company with a few 8 Simple Rules for Choosing an online Personality Test. Read the description of the test and poke around the publisher’s web site. After doing that, let’s look at the following Rules.

Warning sign: Avoid the Woo-Woo

If the ‘inspiration’ for the test came from a hermit on a mountain top, discard.

If, at any point, the description points to some form of “Ancient Wisdom”, discard.

If they try to connect the “magical powers” of numbers (or any magical powers at all) to personality, discard.

Any use of the word “Mystical”? Discard.

Confusion

You have read the description of the test and what it is measuring. Can you explain it to someone else in just a few minutes? I have noticed a trend in ‘bad’ test developers to try to baffle the reader with overblown terminology and contradictory claims. A test should be measuring something specific and what it is specifically measuring should be easy to formulate into a few sentences and explain to someone else. If you cannot explain it to someone else, how are you going to explain it to the candidate, your customer or yourself?

The purpose of personality testing is to take something very complex (human behavior) and explain it in a simpler framework so that it is understandable. If the description or test results are not doing this, discard.

Horoscope

You know how the horoscopes you read in the newspaper are super bland and can be applied to just about anyone? How the claims are so general that if you handed the same one out to 10 different people, 9 of them would say that it was written especially for them? This is a sure sign that the test is, if not wrong, is useless.

The official word for this is ‘Discrimination’, telling people apart. It’s really easy to try this out. If three people take the test and you remove the names from the reports. Can people who know them tell which report is for which candidate? If they can’t, then the test is failing its basic function of describing a person accurately.

If the report reads like a fortune cookie. Discard this test. In bed.

Not even wrong

This is a subclass of the Horoscope kind of report. Every statement in a report can be absolutely true, but totally meaningless.

Here is an example of a statement that is true and meaningless at the same time, “You need to breath air.”

I class these types of tests and reports as not even wrong.

A good test should tell you something meaningful and useful that directly relates to your question.

Too much milk from the cow

The description of the test should describe what the test measures in clear terms and a good exercise is to count up all the things a test measures (x). Look at how long the test is, count up the number of items (y).

If 4x>y, discard.

Just kidding. I won’t make you do math.

Keep in mind that a single test measures one area of human behavior. As soon as someone starts claiming their test measures 5 or 6 different areas and intelligence and your shoe size and your political affiliation and your whatever, discard.

I once saw a publisher offering a 90 page report based on a test with only 4 questions. It made me want to cry, it really did. People base their careers on these results! Real people’s lives are really affected by this information and seeing someone put an instrument out there like that just really upsets me.

Model

A personality test must be based on a model of human behavior. This is the theory or pattern that the test is trying to measure.

The model needs to be understandable and explainable and related to your question. A model is also quite generic, there might be several tests that are based on the same model of behavior. This is a good thing. Having a lot of tests based on your model is not the sole criterion of quality, but having no other tests based on a model is a red flag.

New models are proposed all the time, but it usually takes at least 5 years for it to be fleshed out, challenged, refined and justified/refuted.

A web of relationships

Test publishers publish and they pay attention to what is going on with other publishers. Tests are not created out of thin air, they are usually evolutions of earlier tests and models. There should be a trail explaining where the test came from and what earlier research was referenced. There is not much of a line between “totally unique” and “made up”.

New tests are validated by using other, validated tests. People take the new test and the old test. The model predicts certain relationships between these two tests. If the experimental data doesn’t show those relationships, then there is a problem with the test or the model.

A test should have some documentation describing how it relates to other, high quality, tests. If it’s not published on the web site and the publisher won’t provide that information, discard.

Black and White

Nobody puts Baby in a corner and nobody should try to put you in one, either.

People are variable and when a test tries to force you into a box, red flags should be raised. You are not a binary yes|no bit, you are on a bell curve, just like every other biological system.

So, when the results of a test try to express the totality of you by pointing to one of a few boxes, just say, “Discard”.

Numbers

Behind all of this personality and theory and models and tests, there are a bunch of numbers. I’m not saying that you need to know what all of the numbers mean, but you should know that there are different numbers and a test that puts all of its claims on just one of them is probably hiding the numbers that aren’t so good.

If they don’t have the numbers on the web site, ask for them.

“Can you please share the results of your validity research on test X with me? For example, I am interested in the Cronbach’s Alpha for the traits measured. ”

If they so no, red flag.

If they don’t know what you are talking about, run away!


I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions for improving this list, I would love to hear from you richard at oakbox.com.

 

 

If I was the boss [Talent Profile]

The number one question I get from people who take the Octogram® test has to do with the fundamental shift from labor to management. This is especially relevant for people in the middle of their career path, they have worked their way up the chain, they have maxxed out their potential income in their current position. The next step on the career ladder is into a management position. Can they do it? Should they do it?

This can only be answered by asking two very important questions:

  1. Do you want to be in a management position?
  2. What kind of manager will you be?
office space manager

The poster child for bad bosses

The first question seems obvious, but it’s not. It is the failure of people to answer that question correctly that leads to the concept of the “Peter Principle”, that people are promoted until they reach a level where they are incompetent. When answering this question, I always encourage people to look objectively at what a manager does, day to day, in their work. This is just like any other job move. Do the day-to-day requirements of that position match with your values and work style? I encourage them to think about the job itself, not the perceived benefits of the job. No matter how good the perks, if you hate what you are doing, you put yourself at risk for stagnation and burnout. You also put the people around you at risk because you might end up being a crappy boss.

Let’s assumes that you have looked within yourself and that you want to be a leader.

“What kind of manager will you be?” is the question that the Talent Profile is here to help you with. If you know you want to take the lead, you should know what kind of leader you are going to be!

Let’s see what the Talent Profile says about me.

leadershipstyleLeadership Style

Even though we focus on work styles, the Octogram was originally developed as a leadership model. Thus, we can offer some insights into the relationship between work and leadership style. Based on that information, what would Richard look like if placed into a managerial or leadership role?

  • As a leader, Richard is less attentive to the emotional signals of his employees. He does not invest a lot of time into individual employees, unless it concerns something that is directly important for good job performance. He will need to stretch occasionally to show more empathy to other people, without this, he will have a tough time engendering loyalty in his team.
  • Richard finds a good team spirit to be less important than things and activities that are more measurable. Eventually, problems are likely to arise because he tends to overlook conflicts or problems within his team, hoping that they will go away of their own accord.
  • Richard is first and foremost a specialist. As a leader, he is an effective guide for helping his team solve problems and find solutions. As a specialist, he can effectively manage other specialists and field experts because he recognizes their concerns and “speaks their language”.
  • As a leader, Richard is going to be spending a lot of time on the work floor motivating his employees. He is strongly task and result oriented, which means that he is going to pressure employees to perform at their best. He is demanding, he speaks directly to people and is clear about setting expectations. He encourages a competitive atmosphere and rewards performers who exceed his expectations.
  • Richard is a strategic manager, he is focused on long term trends and the big picture. He is less inclined to get involved in the short term everyday difficulties and problems that pop up in a team or group. He wants to set the course and let other people fill in the task lists and worry about the details. He will be effective at leading employees who value autonomy and prefer working to goals without direct micro-management.

The first two bullet points are referring to my very low Team Player and Helper role scores. I’m going to come across as dictatorial to my team unless I burn a lot of energy toward being, essentially pretending to be, warm and caring. So, if I’m going into a managerial role, it’s got to be in a place that is either very short-term (projects) or maybe with remote workers? This also connects with my personal experiences as a manager, I just come across as a big meany to people who need a warm workplace atmosphere.

The other points in the report back that up. If I take a management role, it should be dealing with specialists, who value their autonomy and want clear goals and want to be rewarded for their performance. I would do well in a position that ties specialists together into a coherent strategy. “You do this, you do that, and I see all the moving parts so I know that our strategic goals will be met if everyone does their job.”

I don’t want to be in a management role.

So, if I was a normal person, and not writing a review of my review, I might have skipped this section. Being a leader is complex, I think it’s something baked in, you want to be a leader or you don’t. Managing people is an expertise that must be learned by working with and seeing good managers in action. I sometimes read a post on LinkedIn that says something like, “The one thing all leaders must do”, and I just shake my head. It’s not one thing.

A good leader has to have the skills and the drive. I’m smart enough to develop the skills, but I’m also smart enough to know I don’t have the drive!

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.

Ideal work environment – [Talent Profile]

What kind of job should I try to get?

What career path most closely aligns with me?

Where do I fit in?

When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a mad scientist. But couldn't find a college that offered that as a major.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a mad scientist. But couldn’t find a college that offered that as a major.

There are lots of systems on the internet that purport to give you suggestions for an ideal career. This information might be based on your interests (Holland Inventory / RIASEC) or personality in a specific context (the military’s ASVAB test) or on fantasy (MBTI). The truth is that your ideal career is shaped by a lot of somewhat independent variables.

Here are just some of the things relevant for you finding a good fit with your career:

  1. The match between your work style and the position
  2. The match between your career values (Schein model) and what the position offers
  3. The match between your preferred work environment (OCAI – ideal) and the culture of the workplace (OCAI – current)
  4. The match between your intelligence and the level of cogitation required by the job
  5. The match between your life circumstances and the job
  6. etc.

Actually, I could have just kept going with that list. A full psychological selection assessment takes several hours, involves filling in multiple questionnaires that look at different aspects of you and a qualified and trained psychologist trying to connect the dots between the position and you.

The Talent Profile report is only looking at two pieces of this very complex problem; your work style and your education level. If you want to go deeper, you will need to contact a qualified psychologist, hopefully one that uses good psychometric tests like those provided by (blatant commercial plug) Online Talent Manager. The Talent Profile is also drawing on correlated results from both career values and personality questionnaires and 12 years of research, this extra information narrows down the list of suggested positions shown in the report.

So while this section isn’t going to tell you everything you need to know to pick a career path, it will tell you something and what it does tell you will be as accurate as possible. The report also gives some general career choice guidelines, helpful, but you need to do some extra thinking here to connect this information with other jobs that might be appropriate for you.

That’s a lot of caveats just to say, “This list isn’t exhaustive, there are other jobs that might match your work style. This list is to give you some ideas to think about when choosing the next step of your career.”

Let’s see what the report actually says:

idealenvironmentIdeal work environment and relevant careers/jobs

Richard has a work style that will function best in specific work environments. When we analyze the scores, we come to the following conclusions:

Richard feels comfortable in organizations where management is rational and makes decisions based on data. He wants to work in an environment that values his knowledge, where being an expert is important and noticed. Richard wants to be in a position where thinking before acting is viewed as a good thing.

Richard fits best in an organization with a competitive and goal-oriented environment. He feels happiest in environments that are challenging and require a high level of performance from him. Situations that compensate him based on his level of performance are especially attractive to him.

Richard wants to work in an organization that encourages him to think about fundamental problems and ask big questions. He wants to have a say in the course of the organization, to set goals and influence policy.

Relevant positions and types of work

  • Functions that require independent work with a strong orientation on being productive and where achievement is important
  • Director/Leadership functions
  • Statistician
  • Researcher
  • Librarian
  • Database Administrator
  • Operational manager
  • Business leader
  • Project leader
  • Commercial manager
  • Functions on the tactical-strategic level
  • Political director
  • Troubleshooter in major reorganizations
  • Association director
  • Policy officer
  • Consultant

I’ve actually done several of these jobs, so I know what they are like. That’s the benefit of experience, I guess. I also have secret knowledge, I did take those other tests (career values and preferred organizational culture). So I know that being seen as a technical expert and autonomy are big draws for me and management is not.

I mean, I guess I knew that anyway, but I actually have that on paper from a verified psychometric instrument. It’s just more concrete and real when it’s on paper, you know?

So I can take a some of those jobs off the list because they involve managing people. I can manage people, but my work style doesn’t make me a warm fuzzy manager who engenders loyalty in his team. If I was leading a group of technical experts who were also not interested in emotions mixing into their professional life, that might work. Or, if I was a manager involved in short term projects where results were important and being able to mediate personal conflicts wasn’t important, I could do that.

SupermanI have highlighted the kinds of positions I have done in the past and enjoyed. I enjoy working as a programmer, but not so much as a programmer in a team of programmers. I like meeting directly with customers to get their needs and then putting on my red and blue tights and magically solving all of their problems with my brilliant solutions. And getting all the credit for doing so, can’t forget the fact that I want to get recognition for a job well done :)

But seriously, I like looking at problems from different perspectives and deep diving on complicated issues. I haven’t really looked at consultant positions seriously in the past, it’s something for me to think about.

I mentioned earlier that these suggestions are based on my work style and my education. I have a Bachelor’s degree, if I had a lower education level, the jobs would have been more directed toward that education level.

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.

As part of a team – [Talent Profile]

Based on the earlier sections of my Talent Profile, I was kinda scared to delve into the next section called, “Functioning as a member of a team”. I mean, when you look at the earlier sections, my scores on the Team Player and Helper roles are in the toilet. I think I get along with my co-workers okay, but what if that’s just a delusion?

So I was bracing myself to be told that I shouldn’t interact with other humans on a regular basis, but that’s not what it says at all. I prefer working alone, yes. I don’t get involved in other people’s business, in my own head I think that asking too many personal questions is just me being invasive and rude. But I’m not rude to the people I work with, if the laughter isn’t just polite, I have a good sense of humor and can tell a good story . . .  Sorry, let’s just bite the bullet here and see what the report says.

TeamplayerFunctioning as a member of a team

A well functioning organization needs to cover all the roles of the Octogram. A well functioning team needs to identify what is required and then make sure that they have the personnel in place that match up with those needs. How will Richard function when placed in a team?

  1. In the team, Richard is the man pushing everyone else to greater action. He is the one to constantly exhort his teammates to “Roll up your sleeves!” and that “Actions speak louder than words!”. He wants meetings to focus on efficiency, with concrete information on what people are actually doing.
  2. Richard encourages everyone in the team to see the big picture and look at long term goals. He is the one to usually ask questions of cause, “Why are we doing that?” or consequence, “What will be the result?”. If he thinks he has the best answer to a problem, it might take some effort to get him to see otherwise.
  3. When it comes to making decisions, Richard will make sure everyone is aware of the quantity and quality of information that is available to make that decision. If facts are in short supply, he can generate scenarios for debate and argue against positions that are not founded on solid information.

Well, it doesn’t paint me as some kind of asocial recluse. What a relief!

He is the one to usually ask questions of cause, “Why are we doing that?” or consequence, “What will be the result?

I am very much a consequentialist, when a change is suggested, I think hard about all the things that change will touch and what it means for all the other moving parts of the company/project. I also ask a lot of questions about the proposed change, will it do what you want it to do and is there another way to get that same result?

I don’t see the truth in the phrase: He is the one to constantly exhort his teammates to “Roll up your sleeves!” That sounds kind of like a cheerleader, but the rest of the sentence seems to say that this is more like an emphasis on achieving concrete results rather than an exhortation for everyone to feel good about doing it.

If facts are in short supply, he can generate scenarios for debate and argue against positions that are not founded on solid information. I can play, “What if?” with the best of them. But I have to work to balance that against the needs of the group. I want things to move forward. At some point, you have to stop thinking in scenarios and start doing something. This is a conflict within myself.

Coming to the decision, ‘pulling the trigger’ is one of my biggest challenges. Once a decision is made, I commit and start moving that decision into concrete reality, no problem. But if there is no clear logical choice, I can teeter on the brink of that forever. This is so annoying that I have, on occasion, resorted to flipping a coin and going with whatever random chance “decided”. Sometimes any decision is better than no decision at all.

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.

Dealing with Change – [Talent Profile]

This section of the report is important for people in flexible environments. This could be an organization going through a shuffling of roles and responsibilities, a change in defined work roles, a change in compensation packages or any of a thousand other things that alter over time. Living is a constant process of change and this part of my Talent Profile is meant to give me a review of how I will deal with these changes and some advice on riding out the shifts.

dealingDealing with change

Organizations are constantly in motion, constantly changing. Understanding how a person will deal with these changes is, therefore, important information. This section describes how Richard will deal with change and what you can do as a manager to help Richard deal with those changes.

Richard is easily disturbed by changes that affect one-on-one contacts, especially if they hamper the achievement of goals set by him. His negative reaction to the changes will be in direct proportion to the amount of change that he did not foresee.

Advice: Ask him to expressly map out what changes he experiences as problematic and then let him work out different scenarios on how to deal with those changes.

Richard responds to changes that are objectively measurable. He will be less enthusiastic about changes that are not about creating concrete and practical results.

Advice: Richard will try to work out every possible consequence of every change, do not let this happen. Encourage him to identify the most likely outcomes and work out the consequences of only those changes.

Richard can handle external changes well, changes in regulations or the structure of the market, are no problem for him because he is thinking about the future. He will assess how those external changes affect internal processes and understand if they are relevant for the previously chosen course. Depending on his assessment, he will push for maintaining the previous course or changing directions.

Advice: Challenge Richard to be critical of his own assumptions. He might be right, but he might also be wrong and he needs to be aware of the possibility and plan for that as well.

When Richard is confronted with changes that may affect what he is doing, he will judge those changes on their possible relevance to the goals he has set for himself. If the changes are in conflict with his own goals, it is possible that he can set aside his own goals, but it is also possible that he will remain fully committed to his own goals and try to block the proposed
changes.

Advice: Work with Richard to go through several possible scenarios and work out the pros and cons of each scenario with him.

Changes that might have an affect on group processes will usually not be welcomed by Richard. This is especially true if the changes were not anticipated, because those changes might hinder the groups ability to reach its goals.

Advice: Ask him to clearly define how the changes will affect the group. Ask him to clearly state his resistance to the changes. Then work with him to see if those challenges can be re-framed as opportunities.

This section of the report has a LOT to say and I have to admit, I don’t find that it paints a very attractive picture of me. I acknowledge that it’s honest, it’s just hard to read it in black and white and turquoise like that. I can see that the advice for my manager is spot-on, I really do need someone over me or with me controlling my tendency to think through every possible scenario. I think I mentioned that in my last post, my need to build huge what-if decision trees in my head.

On the other hand, there are times when all of these tendencies have fit right in with the project I was working on and my job. As a System Architect, you need to have a clear vision and think through all of the ways that the bad guys might try to break in or your users might accidentally break something and plan for those eventualities.

Being committed to a vision is what makes good leaders great.

Great leaders don’t seem to have these kinds of holes in their personality, at least from the outside. But when I look at entrepreneurs that I admire, there is usually someone beside them, keeping them in check or counterbalancing their more extreme positions. Where would Steve Jobs be if Steve Wozniak hadn’t been there in the beginning? What would Bill Gates have done without Paul Allen?

So, if I want to take over the world, I just need to have someone with me on that vision quest, whispering the advice given above.

Or using bullhorn, when necessary.

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.

Rational Communications – [Talent Profile]

Communicating with other people is the most important thing that we do. It determines our social position, how others perceive us, treat us and interact with us. Effective communication with others can have a huge effect on our success in life and in our career.

peoplestylesatworkThere is a model of communication based on the work of Robert Bolton, he wrote several books about it, including the excellent and practical guide, “People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better”. I cannot recommend that book enough, it changed the way I saw myself and others, it unlocked a whole world of nuance that I had, up until that point, ignored. People who are strong in the Helper and Team Player roles probably pick this stuff up naturally, I didn’t. I had to go out and get some book learn’n.

That book breaks down communication style into 4 quadrants and it has a solid practical foundation. The author of the Octogram(R) test created a test for that model called, “Communication Styles” (very original, I know). That test was taken along with the Octogram test by several thousand candidates and there were some very strong correlations between how people communicate and how people work. Based on that research, the report can say something about how you communicate and give you some tips for making that communication more effective.

Here is what the Talent Profile has to say about my Communication Style:

commstyleCommunication style

In communications, people speak in general terms or focus in on specifics, they are inwardly focused or focused on others, they are followers or leaders. Communication style is a description of how a person communicates both verbally and non-verbally with others. This section describes how Richard communicates and gives advice on how best to communicate with him.

Richard gets to the point quickly. He clearly states what he wants to happen and what is to be achieved. He talks a lot about targets.

Advice: Talk about what needs to be done and especially about possible obstacles. Be straightforward, do not beat around the bush.

Richard asks fundamental questions about the identity and mission of the organization, division or department and keeps these questions on the agenda. He is good at finding the main issues and subjects in a discussion and putting them into a logical framework. Richard will sometimes use unnecessarily abstract language and terms. He is reluctant to provide detailed explanations, thinking that his listener should just ‘get’ what he is talking about.

Advice: Be prepared for a substantive conversation. Challenge him and confront him with fundamentally differing viewpoints.

Richard gives reliable information. He is focused on making sure what he is telling you is correct to the best of his ability, which makes him less willing to share opinions. If he senses that his conversation partner is exaggerating or distorting information, he will emotionally block them.

Advice: Do not combine personal feelings and facts together with Richard, make sure he understands when you are talking about facts and when you are talking about opinions. Keep business discussions professional, he will let you know that he has done his homework.

My reactions:

Richard gets to the point quickly.” Is a very nice way of saying, “Blunt”, I think. I can illustrate this with a story from my own work life. For a while, I was developing year-end review systems for companies. A way for managers to keep track of their reviews, their notes from previous yearly reviews and a systematic way of making sure that everything happened at the appropriate time. It was sticky. Every organization had there own way of doing it and after (re)building it for two companies, I had decided that this was not a future I wanted to pursue. The second company was dragging out negotiations on the yearly licensing, they wanted to have meeting after meeting to argue about the cost. I just wanted to wrap it all up as a failed experiment, I didn’t want to *talk* about it for several more weeks. In our first meeting, their negotiator is going down a list of items submitted by their technical guy (on her right) and their financial guy (on her left) and it’s clear that they want to hunker down and talk about this for-e-ver. I look at the agenda and see that there is nothing crazy, they’re just willing to waste several man-months trying to negotiate for a few hundred bucks. I know that anything they offer is going to be gravy for me, keeping the system up was going to cost me about 500 a year in hosting costs and any changes would be expensive, for them.

(start of meeting)

(introductions)

Negotiator, “We want to talk about the licensing costs.”

Me, “How much do you want to pay for the yearly license?”

Negotiator (startled), “We . . . umm.”

Me, “It’s okay, just tell me a number you would be comfortable with.”

Negotiator, “4000?”

Me, “Done. I’ll send you the new contract this afternoon.”

(end of meeting)

Now you might look at that interaction and wonder if I should have argued for more money or pushed for something else. I just wanted to solve the issue and quickly move on to the next project. It worked, by the way, that contract is still running, 8 years later, and they think I’m great. “That Richard, he sure gets things done!”

There is a sentence in the second paragraph that I don’t agree with, “He is reluctant to provide detailed explanations, thinking that his listener should just ‘get’ what he is talking about.” I am good at coming up with analogies that make things understandable for non-technical people. But that is probably experience (my stint working a phone support for Prodigy Online in the early 90’s), I had to develop that skill early in my career. The rest of the paragraph seems relevant to me.

He is focused on making sure what he is telling you is correct to the best of his ability, which makes him less willing to share opinions.” Aha! But it’s not an opinion if I think I’m right. And I tend to think I’m right too much. I’ll have to keep an eye on my mouth! Seriously, I do speak with a different tone of voice when I think I’m communicating facts, it’s been commented on by my co-workers. Unfortunately, I sometimes use that tone when I am communicating things that I only think are facts. I am aware of this tendency and my co-workers are aware of it, too. They will challenge me when I start using the ‘fact’ voice too much and keep me on the up-and-up.

For more background on Communication Styles, I made a video for Online Talent Manager about this model:

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.

We're making it stronger!
Getting Better Every Day – [Talent Profile]

developmenttipThe Talent Profile is written from the perspective of your manager. The section I want to talk about today is called, “Development Tips”. This is, essentially, the advice a really insightful and intelligent mentor would give to you. Imagine that really cool manager now, sitting down with you across a table, you both have lovely hot cups of coffee and he/she is going to give you some advice to help you in your career.

There. Do you have the image in your mind? Then let’s proceed…

Development Tips

Nobody is perfect and based on the Octogram scores, it is possible to highlight some areas where Richard might exhibit less effective behavior. This section will give suggestions for personal development. Richard might seek out training or be given specific coaching to address some of these issues.

  • Be more patient. Be more supportive and try to adjust your behavior to be more in line with how the people around you are behaving. Try to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Realize that cooperation is often the key to success. Pay more attention to group interactions and the social dynamics within the team.
  • Try making decisions with less information, you will never know *everything*. Try developing and listening to your intuition, don’t always go for the safe option.
  • Be more open to other views. Talk with more people on the “work floor”. Think more about the impact of strategic decisions on those who are affected by it.
  • Realize that not only competition but also mutual cooperation can be beneficial to performance. Have more patience and take a step back every now and then. Do less and perform better because of it.

So let’s take these one by one. If I am hearing my manager correctly, I need to work on paying attention to my colleagues in the office. The patience is a tough one, in general, for me. My manager isn’t saying that I should slow down, “Be more patient“, but that I should have more patience with my colleagues and social interactions. This is a real stretch for me, time spent not moving my projects forward feels like wasted time. This is a reminder that human relationships are important, not only for my personal well being, but also for my long term success and the success of the projects I am working on.

Picture of a card from the board game "King of Tokyo"

Stronger every day!

The next point, Realize that cooperation is often the key to success, hits me, because my natural inclination is to state the facts, make a plan and GO! This point is also emphasizing that I need to work more on my interactions with others on my own team.

Try developing and listening to your intuition, don’t always go for the safe option. Ugh. Risk. Actually, I’m okay with purely social risks, but not with security risks. If the question or situation touches on security, I become Dr. Spock, unable to move unless the next step is known and safe. I can see that this tip will be a tough one for me to take on board. Maybe I should work on this by focusing on small steps.

Be more open to other views. Another tough one! This report is going to make me work. This was actually listed as one of my Pitfalls, the easy acceptance of my own correctness when I feel like I have enough facts to back up my position. You know what it is? It’s that I’m constantly building huge what-if decision trees in my head and once the tree is built, I’m reluctant to tear it down and build it again with new information. Maybe some embarrassment that the first tree was incorrect? Anyway, note to self, ask for more input and actually listen to that input.

This last bullet point, seems to reinforce the others as well as add the admonition to take some more time for myself and ease off on the accelerator pedal. Realize that not only competition but also mutual cooperation can be beneficial to performance. And failing to maintain those relationships might generate active opposition and make my work that much harder. Have more patience and take a step back every now and then. Especially if I want to avoid that burnout risk mentioned in the Pitfalls section. Do less and perform better because of it. This runs counter to my intuition, if I’m working hard and not succeeding, my instinctual reaction is to bear down and push even harder. This sometimes works, but I can also recall plenty of times in my career where it has left me feeling like my brain had been squeezed through a colander.

Whew! Another section of the Talent Profile navigated. I’ll have to put these on post-it notes or something to remind me about these tips.

The Talent Profile is available on the Octogramtest.com website.