November 15, 2021
I interviewed Jen Lawrence, of Jenerosity Partners, to talk about how to responsibly leverage personality assessments to hire and manage our teams. Being a productive team is not always easy, we can’t control the actions of our people, but we can work to understand them.
My background is in utilizing the StrengthsFinder test to help teams understand how to communicate with each other, but when I was introduced to the Kolbe from Jen, and learned about its legitimacy and staying power in the human behavior field, I was SO interested in what the heck my results meant for my self awareness as a leader.
Jen Lawrence is a productivity and systems expert. Her 15 years of experience spans from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. After she reached the pinnacle of her administrative project management career, she asked herself “what’s next?” and discovered she could use all the valuable lessons she learned over the years managing and implementing sound foundational processes into her own business model. She is a certified productivity coach, and trained Kolbe assessment consultant. Jen says, “So my background comes from everything from how to actually get things done, but also leveraging it strategically. And so that’s my magic formula, if you will, is that I can come up with a strategy, but I can also execute it.”
Jen and I met on Instagram and hit it off chatting about Real Housewives and strategic systems. A few months back, Jen and I met and I was lucky enough to get some coaching based on my coaching results. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, while altering my role as Ops and HR Director, and building my team at my own consulting firm.
In the Set To Scale Consulting Membership, I interviewed Jen to learn more about how to use different assessment tools in managing and building our teams. For the full interview, join the Set To Scale community.
So how can we actually leverage these types of personality assessments as entrepreneurs? How does that actually formulate a plan in our day to day?
“So one of the things that I think entrepreneurs dabble in, but they don’t realize is actually a strategic advantage and a very key piece to their success, is self-awareness and self-knowledge. So I mean, self-awareness is like, “Hey, I don’t like talking to people before coffee”. Self-knowledge is “I will not talk to people before I have coffee”. There’s a big difference in that statement.”
Jen explains that different assessments like the Enneagram, DISC, MBTI, Human Design and Kolbe all have different value for different reasons. Although Jen is a Kolbe expert, she doesn’t think one assessment type is better or more valuable than another.
“I always encourage entrepreneurs to take whatever assessments they want to and take the feedback to heart. Because what it is going to do is not only show you what you’re really good at, but some of those assessments will highlight weaknesses. And one of the reasons I like the Kolbe is because we don’t talk about weaknesses, and we’ll talk about that more later. But these assessments will tell you what you’re really good at. And a lot of entrepreneurs really kind of focus on things like, “Well, here’s where I can improve”, and that’s the wrong approach. Focus on what you’re really good at and leverage that. All the other things that you’re not good at are going to show you where you can use the most help. What tools, what software, and what apps do you need to put into place? What can your assistant actually do for you? Who do you need to hire on your team? Because life isn’t about being a perfect person all the way around. It’s about being your true self and owning your strengths and leveraging it.”
What are some of the surprising things that you’ve learned about using assessments to create team cohesion in the roles that you’ve played in different businesses?
“The number one thing that would, I think, surprise most people is that they actually use them wrong. And that’s one of the things that I try to encourage people to do is understand how you’re actually supposed to be using the assessment. One way that it’s used incorrectly is that we like to fish with a net. “We’re going to have everybody take all the assessments, and then we’re going to know all the things about all the people”. And if you’re building a team, you need to pick one or two. And we’ll talk about the difference because you pick one affective assessment, and one conative assessment. They give you very different feedback on the people you’re working with. You should pick one and make it the language of your culture. So it’s fine if you want to have people take the MBTI, and the DISC, and Lumina, and Enneagram, and Human Design, Predictive Index, Strengths Finder, Fascinator, whatever you want, people can take them all. And you can have people take all of these, but pick one that becomes part of your culture because then, as you hire, and you add, or you’re looking to replace, whatever your move is going to be, you have a foundational benchmark to measure against.”
In HR and management, I have run team building events using StrengthsFinder, and when we run those events, it’s not about everybody wanting to learn to speak the other person’s language. It’s creating a shared dialog so that they can understand how to meet people, and meet them where they are.
But one of the things that we do in that type of leadership development, as you mentioned, is literally just giving people a common language that’s also centered around them. So it feels really empowering, which is kind of the whole point of team building in the first place.
“Right, and that’s one of the beautiful things. When you have a common language within a culture, it makes it much easier for your employees, or your team members, or whoever you’re working with to also self-advocate because it gives them the language to say…and speaking specifically for Kolbe… In the Kolbe world we talk with, “I need”. “I need this”. And it allows you to set boundaries in a way that doesn’t feel overly assertive or not like yourself. It kind of gives you that sound bite that you crave to be able to say, “this is what I need”. And when you have that inside of a culture, it removes all of the other interpersonal noise that can get in the way. Like, “I don’t understand why she’s telling me this”. Well, it’s because you’ve crossed her boundary, you know, and it kind of makes the conversation a lot easier.”
So for entrepreneurs who have smaller teams, or are just learning about using assessments to capitalize on their team’s strengths, were do we begin to use these tools correctly?
“So I mentioned earlier that there are two different types of assessments. One thing to remember is that all of these assessments go way back to the philosophies of Aristotle and Socrates, and that there are three parts of the mind.
If you’re unfamiliar, the three parts are the thinking, feeling, and doing parts, or the cognitive, affective, and conative.
So for cognitive, we cover anything that lands on your resumé. What is your thinking part of your mind? What can you actually do? It’s your skills and all of that. When it comes to the affective and the conative, those are the two different parts that the assessments really help with.
The affective part of your mind is your personality. This is wrapped up in the pop culture thing. Any time you take a BuzzFeed quiz and you’re like, “which Disney princess am I”? That’s an affective test. You could take a more serious one, you know, like the MBTI, or the Lumina, or Enneagram, or even your astrology actually kind of falls into this aspect of the mind. And the way to remember affective is it’s all about your wants and your preferences. What are your motivations? What are the things that in an ideal world would make you happy?
Finally, this third part of the mind that isn’t actually heavily measured, and that’s your conative. And the conative part of your mind is what you actually do. How do you take action? How did these things, the things that I know how to do and how I want them to happen? How does it manifest? And the magical thinking here is actually that the conative part of your mind is actually set in stone since birth. It is a natural instinct that you have within yourself. And this is what’s actually measured by the Kolbe assessment.
So when you take the Kolbe, you only have to take it once in your life.
But affective tests such as MBTI or DISC, your affective part of yourself changes throughout your lifetime. So you can take the MBTI when you’re 16, and when you’re 32, and when you’re 48, and you may have different results. The needle may move just a little bit, but you may have different results. And so when it comes to picking the assessments for your teams, I always say do the affective one. So pick whichever one resonates with you. They all tell you the same thing. They all say the same thing. They just say it slightly differently. When you do the Human Design assessment, and you pair it next year with MBTI, there are similar results that come up. It should be that way.
So all of those affective tests will show you what you want. So it really depends on what your preference is. If you like Enneagram and you like the cultural moment it’s having, go with Enneagram. If you like MBTI in the traditional way that it is presented, great. If you love data, go to DISC. But make sure that whatever you choose, you are utilizing it in the way that feels good for you. So I tend to prefer DISC, mainly because of the way that you can measure against other people in your team, the way you can map against your team, the way you can actually have a team culture response, as well as individual responses. There’s a lot of tools within DISC.
But then when it comes to the conative part in your mind, there’s only the Kolbe. It is the only assessment that is certified to measure the conative part of your brain. And when you get those two together, when you match what people prefer with what they actually need, you actually have a very good idea of who that person is in front of you and how to communicate with them, how to collaborate with them, and how to facilitate difficult conversations with them, which I think is one of the most important things to be able to go back and say, “I see this gap”, or “I see this issue”, and being able to come at it from a place of kindness.”
That actually leads right into the next question. What are the biggest benefits of using Kolbe or other assessments in hiring and managing your team? How can we use that?
“You get such a deeper insight into the person who’s in front of you,and it could be someone you’ve known forever. My husband and I have known each other since we were 14 years old, so over 20 years. And when he took the Kolbe, it revealed a side of him that I didn’t really know about. And actually, if you have marriage issues, have your spouse take the Kolbe, because one of the things that we underestimate, and I talk about this a lot in Kolbe, is that any relationship you have, a friendship, or a spousal partnership, is productive. And so we always say, “Well, I don’t need to know how to work with my spouse”, but you do. And when I had my husband take it, I was blown away by how much I actually learned about him, and it changed the entire way we run our household. Because I was asking him to do things, or I was setting expectations on him, that went completely against his natural instincts. So it was always causing friction.
That same impact happens in every work environment that I have ever used the Kolbe in. Where they’re like, “I understand this person, I like this person, and it’s not a trust and respect issue. It’s a ‘how do I take my next step forward’? issue. Because if I think that I’m going to go this direction and you think the plan is this direction, it’s not just a communication issue, but it’s actually an action oriented expectation, and that’s when you run into collaboration issues. That’s when people say, “I really like that person. I just can’t work with them”. That’s how you bridge that gap. It’s this full holistic understanding.”
So I always encourage people to use an affective test and the conative test, MBTI or whatever, and Kolbe. And what that will help your team prepare for this person coming in. How will we actually work with them? And will they also be a culture fit? And it’s really powerful when you have somebody and you already can anticipate a little bit about what their working style is like. Because it’s one thing for me to say, “I’m completely agile and I’m cool thinking on my feet. And if you give me minimal details, I can just fly with it”, because every single one of those is a blatant lie! It is a blatant lie! And let me tell you something… The Kolbe does not lie! So, it is really helpful to kind of bring that out and say, “you know, Jen is actually a 7 Fact Finder in Kolbe. So as much as she’s good at being resourceful, she’s going to need the opportunity to ask questions”. So now you know how to work with me.
So all of these assessments, they’re super fun! But they really should be leveraged in a way that helps you understand the person in front of you.
So having these assessments to be able to gauge what’s actually going on, who is actually on your team and what their actual strengths are, is not only going to help you with hiring, but all the way through to your relationship with whoever’s on your team.”
In hiring and building teams for the first time we talk a lot about culture fit and how that has been an excuse for us to not pursue diverse hires. And often we’ll have people that are really committed to anti-racism, committed to the point of making hiring decisions where they’re focused on the diverse side of things and adapting their company culture to encourage unique perspectives. We’re trying to teach people that company culture isn’t about people’s cultural backgrounds, it’s about the way that you interact with the company as a whole. So do you feel like assessments should be used at all during the hiring process, or should they primarily be used to manage people?
“I actually do. One of the beautiful things about most of the assessments on the market is that they have been fighting this diversity, equity, and inclusion fight for a very long time. I’ve used DISC, MBTI, and Kolbe quite extensively, both within my own company, and the companies I’ve supported, and the companies I’ve worked at. And one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is they’ve done a beautiful job of stripping out anything that could be profiling. And when you have that data and you can say, “these are these people’s strengths”. You’re talking about diversity of strength, not diversity of skin color. And that’s why I think a lot of entrepreneurs get really lost because they focus more on shallow or prolific diversity, and the reality is that in today’s day and age, you don’t have any idea of what people’s backgrounds are unless you ask them to check a box. And so what you should be focusing on is the diversity of skill sets to match the culture and the strategy of the business you are trying to build and its future growth.
So instead having an open mind and saying, “I’m going to hire for these strengths and I’m open to wherever that may come from”, and focus on where you’re actually marketing the job. If you’re looking to attract a certain type of diversity, then you need to focus on where you’re marketing to. You can’t go to your little, all white women networking group and say, “Hey, I’m looking to add some diversity to my team”, it doesn’t work that way. But the assessments, I feel, really level the playing field, especially the Kolbe. With the Kolbe there is absolutely no way to tell if a person is a male or female or identifies differently, or gauge any sort of racial or economic status. There’s no way to determine what their background is because we’re actually talking about a human instinct within somebody, not something that has a cultural or environmental impact. The Kolbe has been around for over 40 years, and they have found no consistency in data. There’s no “women measure more in this direction and men measure more in this direction”, or, “white people are in this direction and Latinas are in this direction”. There’s no cultural impact in the data of Kolbe. And so if you’re looking for something that is actually about equity and inclusion, and having a diversity of strengths, you want to use these assessments to level the playing field for candidates. And so think less about attracting a specific type of person and focus more and more on how you’re marketing the job, and the rest will follow.
One thing we’ve discussed is that Kolbe isn’t something you “win”. If you are a 10 somewhere on the Kolbe, for example a 10 on Quickstart, then you also have to be aware of the shadow side of those traits.
“That’s actually one of the things we talk about a lot with a lot of assessments. Any assessment you take should never be an excuse for a negative impact or negative behaviors. So like, “Oh, well Jen never comes to a happy hour because she’s an INFJ”. Like shut up, right? You can’t be hard to communicate with because you’re a 2 Fact Finder. Just because you don’t want all the details doesn’t mean you can’t be receptive to somebody who feels the need to give you all the details. At that point, you’re just being rude. There are a lot of people who misuse assessments as a way to give themselves permission to behave badly. To say, “Well this is just the way I am”. And the reality is that these assessments should also give you a dose of heavy self-awareness.”
For the rest of the interview, where we dig into more specifics about Kolbe results and what those numbers mean, join us in the Set To Scale Consulting community.
Take the Kolbe: Kolbe
Get out of this professional development, personal development cycle where you’re not actually changing anything about you because a lot of times you’re trying to change your natural instincts. And if you try to do that, you will be setting yourself up for failure. Own your natural instincts, own who you are, own your motivation.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
There’s a lot of language out there that’s like, you know, “the key to being a successful person is knowing your weaknesses and hiring to fit it”. No, the key to being successful is focusing on your strengths and leveraging them. And hiring people on your team with different strengths.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
The number one killer of culture is actually assumptions.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
Don’t use assessments just assuming you know how to use them, it’s kind of like using a sledgehammer, you’re probably going to do more damage than good.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
Any assessment you take should never be an excuse for a negative impact or negative behaviors.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
There are a lot of people who misuse assessments as a way to give themselves permission to behave badly.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners
When you have a common language within a culture, it makes it much easier for your employees, or your team members, or whoever you’re working with to also self-advocate.
And when you have that inside of a culture, it removes all of the other interpersonal noise that can get in the way.Jen Lawrence, Jenerosity Partners