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A Blueprint for Success

A Blueprint for Success

Use personality assessments to identify the traits that set top performers apart.

In a world where unemployment is high, yet good talent is hard to find, companies must be more structured in their hiring and employee development approach. To stay competitive, companies have to find and develop individuals who share the qualities of their top performers. The first step is to determine what those qualities are, and the next is to seek out those qualities in applicants and within the organization. Using a validated personality assessment is one way to identify the traits that set top performers apart.

In working with our company, Caliper, during the past two decades, rental car company Avis Budget Group has developed a top-performer benchmark to clearly understand what potential exists in its sales force. This process has become an ongoing, integral part of the company’s hiring and development process.

“We had in-depth personality profiles conducted for everyone in our sales organization,” said Tom Gartland, North American president of Avis Budget Group. “That gave us a baseline view of each individual’s potential, strengths and limitations. When we match to their current performance, we are able to view them from where they are now, how we can help them meet their goals and where we see them moving next, with an eye even further down the road.”

Paul Orleman, director of global management development for business software company SAP, took a similar approach in 2008 with assessments for the company’s top performers and high-potential employees. He then had growth plans developed for each of those people, saying growth plans “start with understanding the individual goals of each of these highly talented people and letting them know that the leadership of the company is committed to their futures.”

In addition to looking at top performers, by studying marginal and bottom performers, leaders can compare results and see how they differ. The result of this comparison is usually quite telling, highlighting the key qualities that sharply distinguish one group from another.

This exercise allows management to do two things. First, if psychological testing or a similar assessment technique is used, management can compare a job applicant’s assessment with top performers’ profiles to determine how closely the applicant’s profile matches the ideal. This will provide a clear picture of whether an applicant who interviews well truly matches the job.

The second benefit is that it allows management to see where the deficiencies are in the marginal performers and to start to bridge those gaps with targeted training and coaching.

At smaller companies, there may not be a sample size large enough to study. It is only slightly useful for a company with six salespeople to attempt a benchmark using its top two people. In that situation, it is useful to assess the team both as a means of upgrading individual productivity and as a way to get a sense of overall strengths and limitations. When it comes to hiring – as opposed to development – for smaller companies, it is most appropriate for them to use industry norms as the benchmark to judge promising applicants.

In either case, the ideal profile can serve as a roadmap for future hiring. It will allow companies to make informed decisions about which tradeoffs in a particular candidate might be acceptable, and what kind of training or coaching would be appropriate to address any weakness from the beginning.

Thus, while some compromises inevitably will have to be made, the overall result of the personality assessment approach is often a substantial increase in a company’s hiring success. Further, with this new information in mind, leaders can look deeper within their organizations to identify employees who have the ability to move into other roles. And when outside hiring is the option, this approach allows companies to select only individuals who have the potential to flourish in the culture.

Which of the fundamental qualities that help define you come out at different times? Is it your empathy? Your perseverance? Your persuasive skills? Your resilience? Your ability to connect the dots? Or your ability to connect with people?

Which of your key qualities are you tapping into when you are managing a project? When you are leading an important discussion in the executive committee? As leaders, most of us find ourselves switching, almost chameleon-like, from leading to managing, depending upon the challenge or opportunity we are facing. To be most successful, it is important to know what we’re switching from and what we’re switching to.

In our studies, we have found that top-performing managers and the most effective leaders share many of the same qualities. That’s what helps the best managers rise through the ranks into leadership. But there are also some critical differences to be aware of in the qualities that distinguish the best managers from the best leaders.

As you review these, consider which of these qualities you share. And which ones you draw upon in different situations. First the similarities:

The best managers and the best leaders are bright, empathic, assertive and persistent. They are also open to new ideas; and intrigued by analyzing situations, solving problems, thinking strategically; and, ultimately, creating new solutions. In addition, they like to work quickly and multi-task.

Now the differences:

Leaders are less willing to follow the status quo than managers. Leaders, as a group, are also less willing to accommodate others, less concerned with being liked. Leaders are also more interested in motivating others than in pleasing them. Those qualities allow leaders to make tough decisions and communicate in a clear and straightforward manner.

So, the question is: which of those qualities come out in you when you are leading? And which qualities do you tap into when you are managing? Can you recognize the difference in yourself?

It is not that one approach is better than the other. It is realizing that the right approach is necessary for the right situation.

And understanding that when you are managing and when you are leading, you are actually tapping into different aspects of your core personality.

The more you realize the different strengths you are tapping into when you are managing and the unique qualities you are calling upon when you are leading, the more versatile and effective you will be. What qualities are you drawing upon when you are attempting to solve a problem? Struggling to understand others? Taking a necessary risk?

The more you know about yourself in each of these situations, the more you’ll be able to connect with your inner strengths. And the more you connect with your inner strengths, the more you will connect with others.

Skip Cimino, the CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, gets this. He has explored management and leadership roles in various capacities before coming to Robert Wood Johnson. In fact, being at the helm of this hospital is his first foray into health care. What he has learned about himself and about how he manages and leads has prepared him for what he is doing now.

He says, “All of those opportunities as a leader, quite frankly, gave me the benefit as well as the experience in coming into this role as to how to shape, lead, nurture, guide and direct the management team here to seek the input as well of the employees.”

What has he learned about leading? Cimino knows what it is and isn’t. “It’s not about the leader standing in front of the pack. Yes, your responsibility is to help lead, shape, guide and direct, but you can’t do that as an individual to move any organization, particularly an organization of size. It takes lots of people working together in a harmonious fashion to make it happen.”

This leads to an interesting dilemma for companies. If managing people and leading an organization draw upon different strengths, how can potential leaders rise through the ranks of management? If managers succeed by maintaining the status quo, they’ll blend into the woodwork and their leadership skills won’t be recognized. However, if they rock the boat, other managers may feel threatened and try to subvert them.

That’s why many organizations inadvertently suffocate potential leaders.

How can organizations break out of this cycle to truly identify and develop future leaders?

It starts with having a very clear and focused strategy for identifying and developing future leaders in your organization. This involves recognizing and rewarding your best managers. Then you need to have a formalized approach to identify those who rise to the top of your management ranks and help them determine if they also have true leadership potential. And, for those who do, you want to invest in their development.

It is all about recognizing and developing potential.

As Cimino says, “I’ve found that leadership is not something you can designate or anoint. Leadership is about the willingness of individuals to want to step up, take responsibility, become accountable, accept risk, and move forward.”

That is not to say that leaders always have all the answers. But we have to keep asking. And coming up with the right questions: Of ourselves and of others. And it is also realizing that those questions are different from the ones we learned about in school. As students, many of us were taught that we are supposed to have the right answers. When you move into leadership, however, that is really not the case. In fact, sometimes one of the biggest derailers for us as leaders is thinking that we have to have all the answers. The concern is that we will be tempted to stick with our own ideas, whether they are working or not. We have to make sure that we don’t get caught up in defending our own ideas because we want to make sure that we are right and that people will look up to us.

Instead, the most able and successful leaders we have come across are those who collaborate most. They make sure that they are developing the people around them to be innovative, to be thoughtful, and to be looking out for the success of the organization. They work on concerns together. Probably the greatest thing a leader can learn is to ask insightful, thoughtful questions that cause reflection and deep thinking by others. That’s how they create an environment where ideas are generated and innovation thrives.

No one person can in today’s climate can have all the right answers. That is an unrealistic expectation to have of ourselves as managers and leaders. What the best of us do, whether we are managing a project or leading and organization, is to engage those who we surround ourselves with to be part of the process and part of the solution. That’s when we can see our own impact on the success of the organization. That keeps people wanting to stay there. It makes them feel loyal and devoted to the organization because they know that they have a real and meaningful impact on the success of the organization.

As managers and leaders, our most important challenge is to identify and develop our own potential. Everything else grows from there.

Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney

First Appeared in:
Talent Management

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