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Managing Personalities December 22, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
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I’ve come to believe that personality is pretty much defined early in life, and certainly by the time an adult enters the world of full-time work. People don’t change much, but most of us learn to modulate our behavior somewhat, particularly if it helps us gain financial rewards, social standing, or other aspirational goals. That’s the key to managing performance: figuring out what each person wants and then establishing a clear link between results and rewards.

I was thinking about this the other day when a manager in my department complained to me about one of my peers in a different organization. The peer manager is a real driver, focused on results without much regards for people, and definitely not what I would call a team player. He’s loud and assertive, and that’s probably his innate personality. It’s also very likely that his performance at work is measured based on what gets done and not so much about how it gets done. His behavior is not going to change as long as he’s being rewarded for what comes naturally.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a subordinate about their performance, specifically concerning complaints from their coworkers. I’m sure this person had heard it all before from other managers, and at some point in our meeting they said, “Tim, this is who I am. You can’t change me, and you can’t tell me what to do.” I thought about it for a minute, and then I said, ” You’re right. I can’t tell you what to do. But I will tell you what I’ll do if this continues.” I can’t compel people to behave or perform a certain way, but I can make it clear that there are consequences — cause and effect. They’re free to choose, but my job is to reinforce behaviors that support the goals of the entire team.

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1. CHIA YH - December 22, 2009

A good article!

A manager’s job is , “my job is to reinforce behaviors that support the goals of the entire team.”

In fact, a manager’s job is also to have the right combination of personalities to get the overall project completed, safely, on time, and with the highest output quality with minimal cost – that is a whole lot of constraints are facing each and every manager. That personality you describe may be very suitable in dangerous jobs. Of course, the first requirement, is that he is competent. A loud voice and assertive behavior definitely beats a soft-spoken-timid Safety Manager!

Yes, I totally agree with you that, to a large extent, for most people, some aspects of a person’s personality can hardly change over time.

But I have also seen real transformations and change happening to real people. These are mainly due to drastic or catastrophic events in a person’s life. Therefore when you mentioned, ”You’re right. I can’t tell you what to do. But I will tell you what I’ll do if this continues.”

I believe, if you really do take a ‘drastic action’, that poor guy may change; especially in his next job!

Anyway, what “you’ll do” is just one of the ways to change him. Have you tried the Japanese style QCCs? These are very popular in the far East; the place that we live. The approach is more mile and subtle, some said it as the softer approach. The focus is to build co-operation and commitment before helping them to change.

The real benefit to the manager, is perhaps, the manager (like yourself) will not need to go at the individual alone to help him change. Rather, the team helps one another, support one another and help in the behavioral modifying process. Eventually their habits, then their personality will slowly fall in-line. As you said, the personality are formed very young, so the change process will not happen very fast!

Just some of my thoughts.

timrodgers - December 22, 2009

Thanks for the comment. My next post will talk about the challenge of putting the right people in the right job, ideally matching skills, talents, and personality with the requirements.

Sent from my iPod


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