Motivational Researchers Develop a New Tool for Fitting the Right Person to the Right Job
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a way to match people to jobs in such a way that everyone performs at an optimal level? In this article we discuss a new tool developed by motivational researchers.
Finding and fitting a person for the right job is a common challenge. Every recruiter, every manager and every leader faces it constantly. They know poor fit leads to a mess, loss of productivity and failure. Experimenting is often not a luxury you can afford, whether you are a recruiter, manager deciding on promotions, a board member trying to find a CEO or an entrepreneur seeking a business partner.
Psychometric tests, interview rounds, Myers-Briggs Type are the tools we use. But none of it can help us know how an employee will perform on the job. Although millions of people take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test every year, and employers use it in recruiting, leadership development and in creating teams, the Myers & Briggs Foundation which administers the test makes it clear that “type” does not imply excellence, competence, or natural ability.
But that is exactly what you need to know when fitting employees to jobs. You need to know who will be capable of doing a job competently, and who can excel in doing it.
In Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence, motivation researchers, Heidi Grant Halvorson and Tory Higgins offer you another tool. That is discovering people’s motivational focus because it can affect everything a person does, including their job performance.
Heidi Grant Halvorson is a motivation researcher at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center. Tory Higgins is Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and Professor of Management at the Columbia Business School. According to the authors, people are motivated primarily by one of two things: wanting to win or wanting to avoid losses. They call these the Promotion focus and the Prevention focus.
How Motivational Focus Helps Fit People to a Job
“Being able to identify and understand each focus can provide you with an invaluable tool in the workplace for increasing your employees’ effectiveness, as well as your own,” say the two motivational scientists. If you can understand a person’s focus, you have a “genuine, evidence-based window into strengths and weaknesses—the kind that translate into demonstrable differences in performance.”
Can you discover whether your potential employee, or your current employee you are planning on offering a promotion or new project to is motivated by winning? Then she has a Promotion focus. If she appears to focus more on avoiding losses, she is of a prevention focus.
However, it is possible they are a mix. Science shows that most people have a dominant motivational focus that they turn to in meeting the demands and challenges of life.
Discover their dominant motivational focus
Your job in fitting the right person to the right job is to find their dominant motivational focus. But, things are not that simple.
Motivational focus is situation dependent. And the culture of an organization plays a key role in shaping how people leverage their motivational focus at work. Do you have employees who are ready to take on a challenge and go for the win? Sales and marketing sectors are full of such people. They are highly enthused if you offer a special bonus at the end of the month and begin to work on earning that win immediately. However, if you threaten to fire the 10 percent of workers with the lowest performance, you are putting even the most enthused into a prevention focus.
Optimal performance comes when a person’s motivational focus fits the needs of the job they perform. But organizational culture that fits in, or at least, does not impede motivational fit, can influence optimal performance in a positive manner.
You want creativity and innovation?
If your guess was promotion focus people fit best in this work, you are wrong. You will need people with both types on your innovation teams. Just be sure you put right people in charge at the right stages.
Promotional types are great at brainstorming and coming up with lots of brilliant and whacky ideas. They view goals in terms of gains. They are adventurous. They are risk takers, willing to take chances. They do not self-censor themselves in their thinking like prevention folks do. They don’t shoot down possibilities in the early stages of idea generation. All of this translates to a more exploratory style in information processing, something you need for creativity.
Experimentation comes easy to them since they are not too worried about perfection or even feasibility of ideas. They like coming up with lots of ideas, because “who knows what will turn into a winner!”
“Enthusiastic idea support is another hallmark of being promotion-focused,” the authors say, adding that “It’s like having a built-in cheerleader.”
Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of putting a prevention focused person in charge of idea generation. They are not the best fit for this job because by nature they seek flawless, foolproof ideas; and newly hatched ideas are too fragile and vulnerable for their scrutiny. The excessive structured thinking that prevention motivation folks are prone to will result in hampering the creative process.
Prevention motivational types are great at idea evaluation
At the idea evaluation level, you need prevention focused people to weigh the pros and cons carefully. You want them to select the ideas that are the most practical and workable and relevant for your needs. They will analyze each idea to death. But as they take pride in flawless and methodical work, you will not find half-cooked ideas in the final mix. What you will get are ideas that have been thoroughly vetted and evaluated for their consumer appeal, practicality and usefulness.
Product development and launch requires a balanced motivational focus
At the product development stage, it pays to have both types on your team.
Your execution plan needs to take into consideration both marketing needs as well as quality, engineering and customer service elements. Your promotion focused people would be more likely to add new and fancy features, shapes and colors to your new products. Your prevention motivated group members will ensure the products are of the right size, shape and quality. They’ll ensure that the products will actually work and take great pains to make them perfect.
But expect them to take their time over it, checking and rechecking just one more time. This can—and frequently does—delay launches and play havoc on your time to market schedules.
Then again, putting a prevention focused person in charge of the launch timeline may solve the problem, because they’d work hard at not missing the deadlines. If you make up the right team, fitting in promotion and prevention folks into the right slots, your new product introductions will go smoothly.
You want attention to detail?
Go with an employee with a prevention focus. There are lots of lawyers, accountants, auditors, quality control people and editors who have a prevention focus. They cross the t’ and dot the i’s and generally deliver carefully checked flawless work. They take pride in delivering perfect work products and abhor errors and making mistakes. As a result of this approach, they will keep you out of legal trouble. They will balance your accounts and write your checks making them error free. They will execute perfectly written code as opposed to messy chaotic ones.
You want speed over accuracy or vice versa?
If you value speed, go with promotion focus people. Prevention focused people take their time checking and rechecking (which is not a bad thing) but it impedes quick results and speed big time. But remember too that fast may mean less attention to detail and chances of more mistakes and errors in the work. This is a common weakness in promotion motivated employees.
Want accuracy over all else? Give the job to someone with a prevention focus and you are likely to get flawless work.
If you need a balance, try to find someone who has a mixed focus, who is capable of keeping deadlines while being accurate most of the time.
How about customer service people?
Nothing annoys an already upset customer more than a stick-to-the-rules customer service person on the phone. There is nothing wrong in sticking to the rules, but you need to ensure that you serve the customer’s needs while doing so. Your customer should be made to feel they are being looked after, and that the service person is going out of the way to do so.
Generally, customer service and call center work is great area for promotional motivation sorts because it fits in with their enthusiastic, flexible, idea-rich, ready for anything personalities.
However, because technical customer service has to operate within time constraints, be efficient, reliable and accurate—error free in order not to annoy the customer again!—the more technical customer service jobs may require a prevention motivational focus.
Over all, you may want to fit customer service employees to their job depending on the exact type of work they have to do, how much technical work is involved and the emphasis on safety, accuracy and speed of execution. You will probably be best served by an employee with a mixed focus.
Looking for CEOs and top executives?
What motivational focus is best for CEOs and top executives? That is entirely situational and depends on the industry you are in.
A dynamic environment is a good fit for an executive with promotional focus. They are willing to change, move fast, and try new things—all qualities you need to succeed in an environment in flux.
If you are operating in a stable industry and with mature products, you need a leader who can execute well and keep a steady ship. That might call for a prevention focus.
Beyond the industry, it is also important to see where your company is going; what your plans are for the future. That after all is what your CEO should be focusing on.
As for top executives, you need to look at their key functions and then decide what motivational focus is best for the job.
At the end of the day, what really matters is that your whole team works well together. And a balance of promotional and prevention motivations in the C-suit will serve the company best in the long run. Overly promotional or prevention focused top management teams can steer the company ship into different types of trouble.
Organizational Ambidexterity calls for a balance
Heard of organizational ambidexterity? Organizational ambidexterity is the ability of a firm to maintain current revenues and operations while also exploring and innovating towards future revenues. It is basically the ability of the top management team to balance future growth and current performance. Mature firms need to be able to do both effectively, if they want to not just thrive today, but also survive and thrive in the future.
Too much of a prevention focus in the CEO and at the Board level, especially in a very successful company can be dangerous. This prevents new innovations and ideas from rocking the already steady boat. They resist change because they feel responsible for ‘protecting’ the current level of success makes. This makes companies risk averse, preventing organizational ambidexterity from developing. Scientists call this behavior “prevention-focused strategic defensiveness.”
But unless you keep your innovation pipeline in charge of someone with a promotion focus, and have innovation champions with a promotional focus at the Board level, you may not end up with too many breakthroughs that can take you to the next level of success. You may even fail to retain your current levels of success in a fast-changing world.
Startup company – What motivational focus is best?
Entrepreneurs need to be able to balance their promotional focus with prevention focus.
Creativity, innovation, marketing and sales will require a promotion focus. But putting together a business plan and slide deck with figures that add up and a well thought out business model and the ability to answer investor questions will require a prevention focus. Same goes for financial management and business execution; product development and launching on a strict schedule. A prevention focus, however, may take too long to perfect everything. A new firm cannot afford dawdling, especially in a competitive environment. And when is the environment anything else these days, anyway?
Next time you fit an employee to a job…
Next time you wander how to fit the right employee for the right job, think of their motivational focus. You can find a person’s motivational focus with a simple questionnaire.
Also, here are some additional details on motivational focus from Dan Pink’s blog.
We are not saying you should give up on all the other tools, but try adding motivational focus to the mix to make your work easier, and to get optimal performance from your team.
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