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Master mind

Psychometric tests offer the promise of developing personal and team awareness, but can they really provide insight into the workings of a marketer's mind?

January brings New Year's resolutions and sometimes itchy feet. By February some of those people who resolved to find a new job are well on their way to landing one. If they are in your team you probably don't know it yet. Staff seeking greener pastures are understandably coy about mentioning the fact until they are ready to leave, with all the upheaval that entails.

High staff turnover is often a sign that all is not well. So what can you do to build and develop a happy and productive team that everyone wants to join?

The first step is to bring forward from the back burner truths you know but are often too pressured to fully act on. Top of the list is that as a manager, whether you are running a team of two or 200, you are a leader: and as leader, you set the tone. Your level of confidence, energy, motivation, the way you communicate, all these have a major impact on the morale and, ultimately, on the effectiveness of your team.

Next comes the reminder that your own personal development really does matter. Helping your team thrive requires you to be really aware of how you operate, how you communicate, how you give feedback, how you inspire. The more awareness you bring to your role as leader, the more readily members of your team can take their cue from you.

Identifying key influences
If all this sounds too much like an extra burden, the good news is that there are plenty of personal development tools and techniques out there to help, from personality profiling (such as Myers-Briggs, Thomas International's PPA, the Enneagram) to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Used wisely and selectively, these tools can help identify key influences on attributes such as confidence, motivation and the capacity to see perspectives other than your own, both in yourself and in members of your team.

Yet even the very best of these tools will not, in themselves, guarantee a happy and productive team. Take a classic, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) the results of which are based on four pairings between Extrovert (E) and Introvert (I); Sensing (S) and Intuition (N); Thinking (T) and Feeling (F); Judging (J) and Perceiving (P) (for an explanation of these pairings see www.myersbriggs.org). The test itself has impeccable credentials and thousands of users have gained awareness of their preferences for 'Thinking' over 'Feeling', or 'Extroversion' over 'Introversion', and how these may affect the way they act and interact with others.

At the same time, it is common to hear comments along the lines: 'Myers-Briggs... we did that ages ago. Can't remember my results... I know I was an Extrovert [most people remember if they come out as Introverted or Extroverted] and then was it S, I think... I've got it written down somewhere.' For Myers-Briggs you could substitute many of the other personality profiling tools introduced into organisations. Unless people really recognise themselves in the results of psychometric tests and want to make use of the findings, the exercise will be just that, an exercise, and soon forgotten.

Preparing your mind
To get the most out of any modern personal development tool, it is important to approach it with a prepared mind which means focusing less on the intricacies of the tool itself, and more on how, specifically, you can use it to throw light on your way of operating. To prepare your mind, there are three keys points to remember:

  • The results of personality profiles and NLP techniques are not the truth. They are simply models of human behaviour that can give clues as to how we tend to think and act. Therefore they should not be used to label people and put them in boxes along the lines of: 'Joe is an Introvert so we won't get him to do the presentation.'

  • These tools are actually about helping us to recognise and make use of what, at some level, we already know. One of the assumptions underlying the field of NLP sums it up: `People have all the resources they need to succeed and achieve their desired outcomes. There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states.' Using these tools effectively requires us to recognise within ourselves that, say, using an NLP example, we spend most of our time in first position (NLP spells out three 'perceptual positions' from which to view any interaction: first, your own point of view; second, imagining the other person's perspective; third, what an engaged observer would see). The recognition that you rarely visit second or third position and that this makes your communication less effective needs to be felt viscerally, as an 'a-ha!' moment.

  • Achieving such moments requires you to be able (and willing) to observe yourself and notice how you feel and respond (for instance, how have you been responding to reading this? Are you relaxed and interested? Or resisting, saying no, this is not for me? And if you are resisting, what does that tell you?) Eckhart Tolle put it well in his classic book, The Power of Now, when he said we need to 'watch the thinker', be able to step outside the `incessant mental noise' and actually notice how we are acting and reacting.

~

The study of human excellence
With these foundations in place you are in a stronger position to put together a personal development toolkit both to hone your own skills and to use in developing your team and recruiting new members.

You can specialise and gain in-depth expertise in, say, NLP (eg, by doing an NLP practitioner course), or you may prefer more of a 'pick and mix' approach, using your awareness of your and your team's strengths and weaknesses to select elements from what NLP and different psychometrics have to offer.

NLP, for example, (often described as 'the study of human excellence') was originally treated with suspicion but has now found its way into the mainstream. The original researchers studied exceptional people and discovered common patterns of thinking and behaviour. By modelling these patterns they produced a body of knowledge about how humans experience the world, how they function and interact with others. From this knowledge tools and techniques were developed that can be used in everyday work situations. Among the most useful are those concerned with:

  • Perception: a guiding principle of NLP is that each individual sees the world through the lens of their own experience and the way their brains have processed it. Your perception of any situation will therefore be different from mine. Simply remembering this as you interact with your team in itself can prevent you falling into the trap of assuming you must be right. You can also use the first, second and third 'perceptual positions', mentioned earlier, in a variety of ways. Suppose, for example, you are preparing for a difficult meeting: project forward and visualise the scene in detail. First from your perspective: watch yourself as you enter the room and sit down. What are you thinking and feeling? Are you looking up or down? Are your shoulders hunched or relaxed? Get a really physical picture. Look over at the other person and get a picture of them, their eyes, their body posture, the set of their features. Now walk over into their position; take on their body stance and look over at yourself. How do you appear from the other person's perspective? Finally, look at the whole scene from the third position of the engaged observer. How do the two of you look from there? An exercise like this can produce valuable insights into your impact on others and theirs on you. It is an exercise you can also use in coaching members of your team.

  • Goals: frame your goals in terms of what NLP calls 'well-formed outcomes' which include stating them in positive terms ('I want...' not 'I don't want...') and making sure you are in control of achieving them: goals set by others usually do not materialise.

  • Flexibility of behaviour and thinking: the essence of NLP is to demonstrate to you that you always have choices. A key question you can always ask is: 'is there something else I
    could do?'

  • Modelling: the central methodology of NLP is modelling. You might borrow this approach by choosing an individual or team you admire and spelling out what makes them shine: how can you develop some of these attributes?

To use these techniques effectively requires some homework. A good place to start is with The NLP Coach by Ian McDermott (of NLP training company, ITS) and Wendy Jago.

Personality assessments
Where NLP offers techniques for increasing your range of choice in the ways in which you act and react, personality assessments, such as the MBTI discussed earlier, offer more of a snapshot of how people typically behave and deal with different situations. You can use these not just to help develop yourself and your team, but also to help recruit the best people in the first place.

If you are using Thomas International's PPA (Personal Profile Analysis), for instance, and you are recruiting in sales, the snapshots you get from candidates can help you choose someone who scores highly in the two `active' attributes, Dominance (D) and Influence (I), rather than the 'passive' attributes, Steadiness (S) and Compliance (C) - see www.thomascan.com/disc.htm for an explanation of the DISC attributes.

As psychometric tests are widely used in the healthcare sector, a good place to start is with what is already available in your organisation. Review:

  • Which tests are used and why: talk to human resources (HR) about benefits and downsides of their favourite assessments. Do some exploring yourself. Visit the British Psychological Society's site (www.psychtesting.org.uk `Test Registration') for a list of tests; or one of the big providers such as S&H (www.shl.com)

  • Which tests you have done while in the organisation. Revisit the results: what did you learn at the time? What has stayed with you from these results and how do you use it?

  • Which tests have your team members done? How have the results been used? If they haven't been, what does this tell you?

Psychometric dos and don'ts
Reviewing your experience puts you in a more informed position when it comes to choosing from among the hundreds of psychometrics available for use in recruitment or team building. Remember also:

  • Don't let the tests decide which attributes you should focus on. Clarify for yourself what you want the test to do for you. If it is to help in recruitment, think about the characteristics of your team; what is there and what is missing? Get advice from HR as to which test will best help you identify in candidates the particular attributes you need

  • Do any test you are going to use in recruitment or team building yourself; get yourself debriefed by an expert. That way you will experience the test from the inside and be better able to make use of results from job applicants or team members

  • Don't just assume the results of tests are true: look for evidence in behaviour or thinking to show that the person actually does (or does not) have the attributes assigned by the test

  • Do use all the expertise available in your organisation to help you choose tests wisely.

One that's a bit different
Psychometric tests are designed by specialists and debriefed by experts, which is both a strength - giving them scientific respectability - but also a weakness in that as users we are assigned results; we don't really discover them for ourselves, which is crucial if we are to taken onboard the information.

One more unusual personality tool requires us to recognise our own type from descriptions put together over many years from thousands of subjects: it's the Enneagram, which is starting to be used in some organisations (for an introduction, try: www.enneagraminstitute.com). This is definitely one to watch. Engaging with it could just give you an edge in building that team that no one wants to leave.

The author
Chris Carling is a personal and business coach, and founder of Chris Carling Coaching
(www.chriscoach.com)

12th February 2007

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