Building a Better Culture: Assessments to Learn From

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Published on December 7, 2018, at 5:50 p.m.
by Reagin Edwards.

We all dream of the perfect job. The perfect co-workers, in the perfect office space … a perfect boss who respects you and challenges you, but who also knows how to have some fun. A company’s environment helps to set the tone for its employees.

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Positive environments are fervently sought after, and sometimes can be hard to come by. Therefore, it is important to promote this type of environment within your own company, even if you feel as if it doesn’t come very easily. If you wish to enhance your company culture, how do you go about it?

At this point most people have probably heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is a tool a lot of people use to learn more about themselves and how they operate both in casual situations as well as in professional settings. Are you extroverted or introverted? How do you process information? How do you make decisions?

In addition to such self-reflection, many companies and organizations have also incorporated the MBTI personality testing into optional team-building exercises. According to some professionals, however, the MBTI only touches the surface of what self-awareness can really be.

Searching for leadership
Keith Burton, a senior partner with Grayson Emmett Partners, started by explaining his personal experience. In 1992 Burton went to run the Ketchum Public Relations office in Chicago and was in charge of a team that did not work as well as it could have.

“I had difficulty working with this team because each person was very different from the other,” Burton described. “Eventually I went down to Florida to the Center for Creative Leadership. I wanted to learn how I was effectively or ineffectively leading this team.”

Burton spent a week in Florida taking a class with Dr. Peter Hammerschmidt at the Eckerd College Leadership Development Institute. “What I learned that week was how important it is to have insight into who you are, what your preferences are and how you work with others,” Burton explained.

Dr. Peter Hammerschmidt, an economics professor at Eckerd College and owner of Leadership Consulting Services Inc., has spent the last several years helping to lay the foundation for influential leadership. Leadership Consulting Services uses no advertising or fancy webpages to persuade companies to utilize its services. It is simply by word of mouth that the consulting group is brought in when companies or organizations want to start instituting team-building exercises.

The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory
Dr. Hammerschmidt uses the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory as part of his seminars when he helps different companies. The KAI starts with the premise that humans are problem-solvers. Some are trivial problems, while others are much bigger and deeper problems. The KAI measures a person’s preferred approach to solving problems. It does not measure how well they solve each problem, but it takes into account how they like to approach problems and work through them.

Upon completion of the KAI, participants receive a score between 32-160. There are pluses and minuses with every score, but there is no such thing as a good or bad score.

“If you score more than a 20-point difference from someone else, you approach and solve problems so differently,” Dr. Hammerschmidt said. “It’s like speaking a different language. This is a wonderful tool for people in communications. Just recognizing that 20-point difference, we have to understand that our audience might be 20 points away from us. So what do you need to do to clarify your message or your approach to something?”

Numerous insights can be gathered through the KAI. Insights about how your employees operate and solve problems are useful because it teaches individuals to value differences. Once these differences are recognized, you and your company can begin using those insights to help competent employees do an even better job.

These insights can also help with building your company. According to Burton, who reaped these positive benefits in his own career, “[The] great thing about these tools is that they help me to build an organization or to make sure we are creating more diversity within our organization, not just in race or gender, but also in independence of thought.”

Often you are using these tools in a team-based setting, so whether it be the MBTI or the KAI, you are sharing your results with others in the group and vice versa. You get to talk to other people about their preferences and learn more about them as an individual.

“Where we often break down in using these tools is when they are not used organization-wide or among everyone, so people don’t know what you are talking about. If you are going to use them, it is important for people to know to use them, but also to do that in a more universal way where people can benefit from the knowledge and insights they gain,” Burton noted.

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Ultimately, the goal for these seminars and team-building tools is to create a positive and collaborative work environment. Having variety of thought and a proactive culture makes for some of the best jobs. Inclusivity and leadership are at the core of these team-building tools and they should consequently be at the core of your company’s culture. Sometimes these values can fall flat, and it’s up to tools such as the KAI to help bring back those ideas to the forefront.

“It’s about creating a culture that doesn’t give lip service or a quota to diversity, but really recognizes ‘wow you’re not the same as me, help me understand what I am missing because I already know how I see problems.’ … If somebody sees things differently than me, that’s an opportunity for me to learn and gain that new skills set,” Dr. Hammerschmidt explained.

Leadership at school
Students also can experience leadership issues on their very own campus. If a student wanted to learn how to conduct a similar team-building seminar, maybe for their fraternity or other campus organization, how would they do it?

Mark Harris, a retired IBM communications executive who now teaches a public relations leadership course at the University of Alabama, makes the point that whether the audience is business people or college students, “either way, what you’re doing has to be right for the audience, operate at a level that doesn’t assume too much, and never talks down to people.”

It takes planning and commitment, but it can easily be done. It is important to note that leaders of any group of individuals must do what they can to make outsiders feel welcomed. Spending time in the classroom with students, Harris has been able to witness outside thought being rejected as well as accepted. “In class I try to make sure we adopt a non-judgmental way of processing information and hearing all opinions. That’s my highest level of aspiration. The goal is that we remain open to all of it, no matter our own preferences or predispositions, so that the way we assimilate it and use it becomes a much more objective process.”

Creating and maintaining a better company culture take a lot of hard work. Assessments, like Myers-Briggs, are helpful in getting the conversation going. However, ultimately it is not the tool that is important; it is the results that are important. For leaders in the public relations industry and even for students, creating an environment for self-awareness can bring your organization positive results.

It’s crucial to have leaders throughout the organization take the time to invest in their employees and peers. They need to have the passion for what they do and for who they work with. Building a better company culture starts with concentrating on helping people gain greater insights on who they are and what they can contribute to their team and the organization as a whole.

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