Tag Archives: Talent Management

The Four Personality Types: Initiators, Blockers, Supporters, and Observers

I just finished reading Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, which explores the psychological influences that can lead us to make bad decisions. One section of this book proposes that only four types of people exist in any group:

  • Initiators who always have ideas, propose new projects, and are optimistic about the outcomes
  • Blockers who are likely to question and block new initiatives
  • Supporters who side with either the initiator or the blocker
  • Observers who don’t take sides but prefer to just comment on the matter at hand

You would think you’d like to fill up your team with plenty of initiators and few blockers to help drive innovation. But, that would be risky. Initiators tend to be highly optimistic about any new idea. Without a sobering second thought by a blocker, energy can be wasted on bad ideas.

The risks are significantly higher in the airline industry. Research indicates that a large percentage of plane crashes have been caused by pilots who, as confident and optimistic initiators, attempted dangerous maneuvers. The other members of the cabin crew, too respectful of the captain’s authority and swayed by the captain’s optimism, remained silent. As the author describes it:

“A strong initiator can quell a blocker.”

To address this risk, airline cabin crews are being provided with Crew Resource Management training to learn to become potential blockers when faced with bad or overly optimistic decisions by those in authority. This training program was designed by NASA and is intended to catch bad decisions before they result in loss of life.

“When pilots spot a departure from safety procedures, they are trained to challenge the captain.”

Teams in any workplace should learn these skills. Those in charge need to learn to tolerate dissent. Blockers need to be given the freedom to voice concerns without reprisal and need to be encouraged to provide feedback.

MFAs are the New MBAs

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the FutureMy teenage daughter has changed her mind repeatedly about a future career:

  • For many years, her love of animals led her to consider veterinary medicine. A couple of trips to the vet’s with our own cat convinced her that there was just too much potential for gore in this career.
  • After our first summer vacation on the coast of the Bay of Fundy, she considered a life as a marine biologist. What could be better than spending a life by the sea? But, although she continues to love the outdoors, she’s increasingly enjoying urban life.
  • So, a career as a biologist has now been replaced with plans to attend art school and become an artist.

Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, would think she’s making a wise choice.

The premise of this book is that, in the western world, jobs occupied by knowledge workers will either shift to developing countries or be eliminated through advances in technology. According to Mr. Pink, the Information Age of the 20th century is being replaced with a new Conceptual Age, one where creators and empathizers will rule.

To prove his point, Dan Pink points out that:

“Corporate recruiters have begun visiting the top arts grad schools—places such as the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art— in search of talent.”

The book goes on to provide exercises to help logical left-brain types unleash their inner Picassos. According to Pink, creativity isn’t innate. It can be learned.

MFAs are the new MBAs. How cool is that?

"Cavemen With Briefcases"

Cave drawing

Compared to many other species, humans have a long lifespan. Whereas geneticists can study more than 50 generations of fruit flies in a single year, the human species is more difficult to study from an evolutionary standpoint. Since a new human generation comes into being every 20 years or so, our rate of evolutionary change is significantly slower than that of fruit flies.

Evolutionary psychology aims to explain human behavior by considering the fact that the human brain has not changed very much in the last 10,000 years. Although technology is advancing at an exponential rate, we are, as Alan Kay, co-founder of Xerox PARC describes, “just cavemen with briefcases.”

Evolutionary psychology does a great job of explaining human behavior, from marriage, divorce, competition, war, etc. We may feel we are enlightened compared to past generations, but, in reality, we are still driven by the same urges that influenced our behavior 10,000 years ago.

Looking at humans from an evolutionary psychology viewpoint may explain why telling and recording stories is becoming an important part of formal knowledge management and learning strategies within many organizations. Telling and listening to stories has been at the very core of human communication since the dawn of time. As technology has advanced, our stories are now more likely to come from books, television, film, and the Internet, rather than from fellow tribe members seated around a campfire. But, stories still remain central to human life.

According to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, organizations such as the World Bank, NASA, and 3M, among others, are implementing “organizational storytelling.” Mr. Pink reports that:

“Xerox—recognizing that its repair personnel learned to fix machines by trading stories rather than by reading manuals—has collected its stories into a database called Eureka that Fortune estimates is worth $100 million to the company.”

Organizations have for years been wondering how to capture the knowledge of their employees. Unlike traditional knowledge management solutions, organizational storytelling may be the most human approach to solving this problem.

Time to turn on the video cameras.

The Myth of Boomer Retirement

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/qousqous/823128674/For a number of years, the media have been reporting that many countries will be facing a severe shortage of workers due to the impending retirement of the baby boomers. Increasingly, I don’t think this will be the case.

If they haven’t already begun to do so, many boomers will soon be taking a sobering look at their finances. For the vast majority, the possibility of retirement at the age of 55, 60, and even the traditional age of 65 will likely evaporate as they begin to crunch the numbers.

According to a recent article, The Real Price of Affluence, in the Globe and Mail, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith predicted that, as the population’s income grew, people would tire of acquiring material goods and would instead opt for more leisure time. This has not occurred. Continue Reading →

Net Worth of Only $3.5 Million Keeps Executive Working

Ferarri Hood (Flickr photo by Steve9567)In doing research about what our future workforce might look like, I came across an interesting article in the N.Y. Times titled In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich. The story is about Hal Steger, a 51 year-old Menlo Park marketing executive with a net worth of $3.5 million U.S.

Mr. Steger continues to work “12 hours a day and logs an extra 10 hours over the weekend,” not because he wants to, but because he feels he HAS to. Although Hal Steger’s wealth places him in the top two percent of families in the United States, when compared with his Silicon Valley neighbors, he’s just an average Joe.

Almost anywhere else in the world, $3.5 million would finance a care-free retirement. But, being “rich” is a relative term. If you’re the only person on your street with a hot new BMW, you’ll feel on top of the world — until your neighbor shows up with a shiny new Ferrari. Continue Reading →

Will 35 Year-Old Adolescents Join the Workforce?

Flickr photo of hippies by Scragz (http://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/429695535/)(Still on the subject of an aging workforce) The Coming Death Shortage, written by Charles C. Mann and published in The Atlantic Monthly, examines the possible effects of increased human longevity on society.

According to Mann, “From religion to real estate, from pensions to parent-child dynamics, almost every aspect of society is based on the orderly succession of generations.”

This is now changing.

We continue to live longer. Life expectancy in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century was 47. The 2006 Canadian census reports the average lifespan at 83 years for women and 77 for men. Most scientists predict this trend in greater longevity will continue. (A few scientists, including Ray Kurzweil, even believe that the rate of technological progress is accelerating so quickly that, barring accidents and catastrophes such as severe changes to our planet, many of us we’ll be living hundreds of years. Technology will simply be advanced enough to cure many common diseases.) Continue Reading →

Sears Catalog Workers Call It Quits in Droves

Quit Now (FLICKR PHOTO: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fuzzcat/76738710/)My last couple of blog posts have been about the ramifications of changing workforce demographics. Because of our aging population, governments will be encouraging people to keep working as long as possible to avert an impending labor shortage.

Some of those people will need to work. They will not yet have achieved financial independence. Many others, though, will be working because they want to, not because they need to. These financially secure older workers will want to stay in the workforce to remain active, keep intellectually stimulated, maintain social contacts, ward off boredom, support a cause, etc.

My mother was such a worker. When my sisters and I left home, my mother, in her 50s, got a job in the catalog department of a local Sears outlet. She didn’t need to work. (In fact, my father, a traditional bread-winner-of-the-family-type-guy, wished she would just stay home.) Continue Reading →

The Coming Boom in Older Workers

Older Woman (Flickr Photo by kr4gin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kr4gin/415506129/)I’ve been thinking a lot about aging. (No, I’m not planning to quit my job, buy a red convertible, and join a rock band as part of a midlife crisis.) Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the future impact of a rapidly aging population.

The Canadian Census Bureau reported a couple of weeks ago that the Canadian population is getting old fast. The same trend is occurring in most Western countries, including the United States.

Median age in Canada:

  • 1996: 35.3
  • 2001: 37.6
  • 2006: 39.5
  • 2031: 44 (projected)

(Highlights of the findings are available here.)

With the boomers thinking about retirement, most organizations are now scrambling to implement talent management strategies to find, hire, train, and retain the best young workers.

What a lot of people seem to be ignoring is that there will be increasing pressure to keep older people in the workforce longer. The Toronto Star today ran a story, “Keep boomers working: Senator“, that discusses the real need to keep this demographic employed to avert the coming labor shortage.

Some older people will continue to work because they have not saved enough for retirement. But, many others will have benefited from the magic of compound interest, will be financially secure, will have no real need for the money, but will choose to work to keep active, to advance a cause in which they believe, etc.

These financially secure older employees will introduce significant challenges to organizations everywhere:

  • How do you keep employees who aren’t working for the money engaged?
  • How to you keep them happy?
  • How do you keep them?

I just can’t see these people sitting in cubicles from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. doing the Dilbert thing. They’ll want flexibility, a pleasant work environment, stimulating projects, social interaction, etc.

Best to start planning for this now.