Think You Know Your Employees?

Article by:
Heather Hilliard, EO Vancouver
Heather Hilliard
EO Vancouver

Heather Hilliard, Principal of Caliber Leadership Systems, has more than 15 years of experience working with companies in the areas of organizational development and change, leadership development, reward systems and performance management. Heather, who joined EO Vancouver last year, can be reached via email at hhilliard@caliberleadership.com.

As entrepreneurs, we need to know a lot– at times it feels like we need to know everything. We need to be experts in our industries, our markets and our businesses, knowing them inside and out and from every possible angle. Now we’re expected to know our employees, too? Is this just another trend in organizational diagnostics, or is there actual business value in knowing who our employees are and running our companies with this in mind?

As the Principal of Caliber Leadership Systems, I work with leadership teams to shift dynamics and build distinct cultures that create sustainable competitive advantage. That’s easy work compared to being in the middle of the dynamic as the leader! I have beliefs and goals that translate into things I want to see happen in my company, and employees that don’t subscribe to or espouse the same beliefs and values that I do are not likely to fit into the culture I establish or be compelled to drive toward the long-term goals that I have set for my business. So, what does that mean for me and the way I run my company?

What I have found is the more I really understand about my employees – their motives, aims, fears, drives, hard wiring – and the more they understand themselves, the more effective I have been at creating highly productive, high-performing relationships within my organization. This understanding has been carefully cultivated, not left to chance, through the use of a variety of assessment tools and a process for fostering understanding in all of us (my staff understands me as well as I understand them).

It starts with the hiring process. I admit I have made wrong hires: great, talented people who were not able to get their needs met based on the culture of the organization, the nature of our business and my style as a leader. Now, we have our top candidates complete several assessments which allow us to better understand the needs, motives and behavioral patterns of the individual. It gives us the opportunity to make informed, objective choices about a candidate and build a strong core team of individuals with diverse and complementary skills, abilities and interests.

At the core of our assessment approach is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which tells us how people are hardwired to behave and what preferences will be evident in their actions. We also extensively use the

Bar-On Emotional Quotient Indicator, which gives us insight into behavioral and emotional development.Every few years, we introduce a new tool, a new perspective. This past year, we began working with the Enneagram, which looks more closely at the motives and fears from which people work. Our approach is not a one-time event. We incorporate the language into our practices. It is part of our feedback and development processes.

Through this process of really exploring my employees, I have learned to stop trying to be all things to all people. The more I understand my employees, the less I judge their behavior and the more capable I am of responding to them effectively as a leader. The more I understand about their needs and their strengths, the more I focus their contributions in these areas. One employee perfectly matches my blind spots; she gets tasked with process execution, stabilizing our practices while I move on to the next thing. Understanding her strengths allows me to give her the direction and input she needs to be effective without wishing she were more like me (because if she were, none of what she does for my business would happen).

So, to answer my very first question, “Now we’re expected to know our employees, too?” – I would have to say, “Yes.” Not because knowing your employees is a popular movement, but because the ultimate benefit of knowing your employees is an engaged workforce that is loyal, productive and made up of people who find their work personally meaningful and motivational.


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