Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When job performance failure begins with the job description

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 14, 2010

I write this posting with yesterday’s firmly in mind (see Effective Mentoring in Spite of Personality Differences – the consultant and client context) as this also deals with matters of personality and work. There, emphasis was on working with others, and here my focus is on tasks and goals. And I start out by making note of what as an abstraction is an obvious. There are tasks and types of task that are easier and more enjoyable for those with the right temperament and personality, and for each task and potential task there are also people who would not be suited to them – and regardless of what they know academically and intellectually.

• Who would you look for by personality type and temperament to manage teams in the presence of rapid change and uncertainty and in the face of significant risk and opportunity?
• Who would you look for when your goal is to find that perfect candidate for diving into the details, and doing the careful data analyses and syntheses needed to manage due diligence for the changing approaches that this first bullet point performer will be developing and leading through?
• Is it realistic if a board of directors decides that they have to have one person – one CEO who will be both the up-front visionary, big picture leader of that first bullet point and also that detail oriented, close –up perspective high performer of the second?
• In the real world, the people who can most effectively accomplish for the first bullet point will set aside the requirements of the second as complex, onerous and distracting – and due diligence just will not get done to the extent that they do not delegate it to others. If you find someone more suited to the second, more detail oriented job requirements you may very well see that big picture leadership set of requirements drifting off course too, and once again unless they have explicitly brought in someone (e.g. a chief strategy officer or similar) to take care of that for them.
• Either way, success will require dividing this conflicting-by-candidate-type set of high priority tasks and priorities so everyone can focus on what they do best by temperament as well as training and experience.

It is amazing how many job descriptions are drafted with organizational goals and priorities in mind, which is good, but without regard to the issues of actually finding people who can span these personality type and temperament chasms – which I will simply say is common.

If it is important to look to personality types and compatibility considerations when assembling teams, it is just as important to consider these factors when assembling job descriptions. Does this mean there are no potential hires who in fact excel at managing all of the tasks and responsibilities of both bullets point one and two above? No – this just means these Renaissance men and women are going to be very rare finds if you find one of them at all, and they will cost you accordingly.

Divide the tasks and responsibilities that your team has to manage according to how they cluster for technical and hands-on skills and experience. But also partition them into separate job descriptions with personality and temperament in mind too. And if you see that a recent hire is failing on some tasks and priorities while excelling at others from their same job description look at them and their performance but take a fresh look at that job description too. If you find it difficult or even impossible to find a candidate who can meet all of your key requirements ask yourself if you are really looking for what you should be expecting in two people and not one. And reorganize your larger set of requirements and goals to flesh out two separate job descriptions that single individuals are more likely to be able to successfully do and on an ongoing basis.

As a final thought for this posting, people change with time and experience, and the more introverted and detail oriented can become more extroverted and big picture oriented (or vice versa). I write this from personal experience as I have seen how my own approach and perspective has changed over the course of my career and I have seen this in others as well. When you are looking for senior management and people who need to connect with and communicate with a diversity of personality types and temperaments, look for people who have grown and changed and who have at least some experience viewing the world and those tasks and priorities lists from more than just one perspective. (Hint: that can be taken as an indication of having picked up at least some wisdom, though I would probably not list that per se as a job description bullet point.)

A simple, basic awareness of this set of issues is an important first step, and my goal in this posting has been to prompt some thought in what may be a new direction for at least some.

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