Less Testing - More Face to Face

     A case study I was asked to analyze recently points to the over utilization of testing, the lack of common sense and the value society has placed on numbers (from tests) over face to face engagement.  The scenario is this:
  • Lydia, 58 years old, is a 12 year employee of a 250 member small business and highly successful as the assistant to the personnel director.  She integrates all new employees into the culture, solves HR issues for all staff, and negotiates on their behalf with management, often working after hours and weekends. She is well liked and respected within the organization. A widow with a large insurance settlement, her children are grown and onto their own lives. The CEO decides to give Lydia a promotion/raise to payroll manager with brief training where she has a team of five accountants.  Within weeks the unit is dysfunctional and missing deadlines while Lydia is often late to work and having migraines.  What tests would you prescribe to motivate Lydia and the team to better performance?
     Absolutely none. Of course the above doesn't contain nearly enough information but demonstrates the lack of engagement that often occurs in smaller organizations as well as major corporations. One may suggest that Lydia has high levels of loyalty and organizational citizenship behavior, so when the owner asks you to take on a new task  you agree because helping others is what you do and he/she has a need. We might also assume from the case that Lydia, lacking the activity of a home filled with family members has adopted the employees as family. Interacting with them as well as solving problems and opportunities as a mother/wife daily does with a wide diversity of activities.  While she clearly has some leadership skills, she acts as a daily facilitator, producing results throughout the organization and does so face to face with high levels of personal engagement.  She is motivated by purpose and relationship.

     Whether one knows any accountants or  not, the basic personality of CPA's is often completely opposite of those who are successful in an HR capacity.  Not that they couldn't learn from each other or value the skills and personalities each has.  Accountants tend to be detailed, by the book intensive thinkers because the numbers have to be exact.  Successful HR folks tend to be sensing, feeling, intuitive personalities who understand the guidelines but are better at relating to people.  Lydia's promotion is a complete personality conflict waiting to happen.  On top of which our case study gives us no inkling that she has any accounting experience (legitimate authority to manage) or any leadership training.

     My solution to the problems which have arisen isn't to spend any money on motivational or leadership tests. In small business there may not be funds, nor can the organization afford to waste time if the payroll department isn't getting paychecks or state/federal tax liabilities done on time correctly.  All six members of the team can take a basic Big Five personality test on line for free.  What really needs to happen is an individual conversation with Lydia to determine if she really wants the position (she doesn't need the money).  Chances are she doesn't, but if she does it is a team meeting run by an independent third party fully engaging all participants that needs to take place, now.  A hierarchical member of the organization leading the discussion may introduce bias and hinder open sharing.  However if the team members understand the value each brings to the unit and a measure of trust is developed from the conversation, then agreement on what needs to be done now to solve performance problems can be developed and instituted.  After all, the desired outcomes (on time accurate payroll) is a known quantity and the unit trusted Lydia in her prior position (implication).

     Far too often in organizations of all sizes we want to waste time and money taking any number of tests so we can crunch the numbers and make a seemingly logical decision. What we really need is face to face open honest discussions, brainstorming and agreement on path, process and performance expectations.

     Of course, that's just my opinion.  I could be wrong.  I'm not looking at the numbers, just the people.  And none of this is meant to denigrate stay at home mothers (or significant others) or any individual's value to society and an organization. Everyone has value at some level but too often we either don't know our ourselves, or jump to perceived opportunities that the organization doesn't really prepare us for.  There's no blame involved.  Blame doesn't help solve problems.  Trust, honesty and values do.

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