These judgment articles are presented here for your review. We discuss a variety of topics including better hiring practices, safety, risk management, achievement, workforce excellence and more.
Safety, Risk Management, and Judgment in Modern Organizations
C. Stephen Byrum, PhD
Barry W. Hull, CDR, USNR (Retired)
Mark and Jimmy are great guys. They work for an oil refinery that sits along the Houston ship channel north of Galveston, and they are fairly well educated for the type of technical work they do. They are also passionate football fans. Mark and Jimmy, and Dr. Steve Byrum of Athena Assessment Inc., talk often during Athena’s work for their oil refinery company. Dr. Byrum loves Peyton Manning, but Mark and Jimmy are sure Roger Staubach and Don Meredith (Dallas Cowboy legends) were better. Mark and Jimmy are Texas Longhorns. Dr. Byrum is a Tennessee Volunteer.
One afternoon these two great guys were making their regular rounds to check valve closures along the crude oil waste lines feeding out of the refinery. It was pouring down rain, what Jimmy called a “frog strangler.” They drove their small company pickup truck within fifty feet of the vital valve assembly that had always worked perfectly on its automatic settings. Again, it was pouring down rain. Mark said, “Looks closed to me.” Jimmy responded: “Me, too.” They checked “closed” in their logbook and relaxed for a few minutes listening to Willie Nelson on the radio.
By the next morning, well over one thousand barrels of waste had spread out across two acres. Two workers were hurt in the ensuing, expensive cleanup, there were EPA investigations and penalties, and two breadwinners were out of very good jobs. Mark and Jimmy were very sorry. They had not meant to create the problem. The automatic settings had always been right when they had checked them in the past. They are still great guys. They simply exercised bad judgment.
Rather conservative and generally incomplete data suggest that bad judgment causes accidents costing in excess of $38 billion in direct costs, and perhaps as much as $125 billion in indirect costs, annually in the United States. Over 5,000 died in workplace accidents in 2008. Another 3.9 out of every 100 employees in this country were injured. The construction industry had a rate of 4.7, and the manufacturing industry had a rate of 5.0 out of every 100 workers injured. It is hard to calculate the money lost in equipment damages, insurance costs, medical bills, workers’ compensation, over-contract time penalties, and—not to be forgotten—incalculable pain and suffering when accidents take place. Interestingly enough, most experts in safety and risk management agree that 75% or more of accidents are caused by bad judgment, not bad people, but bad judgment.
However, who could have predicted that Mark and Jimmy might have had a problem with judgment, especially a problem with that kind of judgment that “guides” them to follow directions with accuracy and commitment? For Jimmy, all that the recruiters who hired him into the company might have had to go on was his nickname. “Stubby” was the result of a lost finger to a fireworks accident when he was in elementary school. Would it have been helpful if the recruiters had known that Mark and Jimmy lacked certain kinds of judgments? Of course, it would, but how can recruiters predict a lack of judgment? That sounds like guess work.
In fact, there is a mechanism for being predictive about judgment, both in hiring and developmental activities within modern organizations. It is possible, individually, within key groups, and across whole organizations, to place a measurable matrix around the entire issue of judgment. One well-known and respected CEO recently remarked, “If what you are saying is even a little bit true, we needed it yesterday.”
For over 40 years, we have used the insights of The Athena Quotient to make critical determinations about human judgment. We have perfected ways to look at individual judgment as a critical part of the hiring and placement process. We have also perfected ways to improve judgment of existing employees, and to monitor that improvement to verify that it is taking place. We are also able to look at entire organizational databases and make precise determinations about conditions within an organization that may have a negative impact on good judgment. High-risk employees and departments, those with poorer judgment can easily be identified, coached, and counseled, subsequently lowering risk. High-risk applicants can be avoided.
Our signature byline reads:
Exceptional Work =
(Competent Skill Sets + Competent Processes + Good Information)
X Good Judgment.
You can have all of the skills, processes, and information in the world, but without good judgment, every aspect of the organization becomes vulnerable. Even if there is an absence of, or limitations on, the first three elements in our formula, if there is good judgment, organizations still have a chance to succeed. We are confident—although it may sound somewhat audacious and braggadocios—that judgment can be measured with a simplicity and accuracy not unlike measuring carpet.
The Athena Quotient has over forty key indicators relating to various aspects of critical decision-making. Consider, for example—and this will make perfect sense to those who best understand the consequences of bad judgment in organizational settings—the implications relating to just the following four indicators:
- Noticing—measuring a person’s ability to notice the dynamics of situations that surround a person in a work setting that are not blatantly obvious, sometimes merely “paying attention”;
- Focus—measuring a person’s ability to remain intently focused even in the midst of distractions, noise, and “traffic” in an environment;
- Directions—measuring a person’s ability to follow directions, and to give directions, with precision and accuracy; and,
- Priorities—measuring a person’s ability to prioritize, do that which is most important, and the active capacity to distinguish between that which is of high necessity and that which is only of peripheral importance.
Imagine, then, someone who scores poorly in all of these easily and accurately measured indicators. They are the proverbial accident looking for a place to happen.
Many additional areas of judgment can be measured, but even with just these four, you will have found better workers, those who advance your most important agendas, and those whose safety and management of risk will bring immediate benefits to the bottom line of the organization—not to mention the organization’s reputation for quality and excellent work.
Recently, we studied in critical detail the Athena Quotient results of thirty employees of a major construction organization. These particular employees had been involved in lost-time accidents. They had either been hurt, or they had hurt others, or expensive equipment was damaged and work processes interrupted. Conservatively, the average cost of each accident was placed at over $80,000—a total well in excess of $2.3 million.
Athena Quotient data was available on these individuals because of general data gathering early in the organization’s implementation of the Athena processes. Had the organization been using the hiring templates for these thirty individuals, twenty would not have been hired to begin with. Three more would have been provisional to the degree that managers would have been alerted to the need for closer safety instruction and supervision. The six people who would have been recommended by Athena were legitimately involved in real accidents that even people of best judgment might not have prevented.
In the end, we know that work takes place through people, and often through people working together in teams. Therefore, we hope to be able to find, and then to hire, the right people. By the “right people,” we mean people with great skills and people with great judgment. Clearly, part of great judgment is the ability to be safe and manage risk. The Athena Quotient can help find these safe people, help develop the people we now employ, and help avoid hiring high-risk individuals of poor judgment.
If the oil refinery had assessed Mark and Jimmy, they would have discovered judgmental deficiencies, which they could have coached and counseled. If the construction company had assessed the thirty employees with accidents beforehand, and taken action, they would have prevented at least 24 of those accidents, saving over $2 million and a few hurt employees. If there is, in fact, an assessment that can help us accurately and reliably measure judgment, we need that—like the CEO recently said—yesterday.
A Unique Approach to Workforce Excellence
Stephen Byrum, PhD
SEARCHING FOR THE RIGHT WORD
For a moment, I am going to refer to the Athena Quotient Assessment Instrument (AQ) as the Athena Tool. I am using these descriptions to move the discussion of the Athena Quotient Assessment Instrument away from the commonly used terms test, inventory, and profile. These three common terms improperly place the Athena Instrument/Tool into a mass of assessment instruments that have been created and used across the last century to gain insight into individuals and workplace groups. These assessment instruments have been used extensively to diagnose and predict workplace realities, from the functional obstacles being faced by a work unit, to who might be the best candidate for some specialized job. To group the Athena Instrument/Tool with this greater mass of assessment instruments totally misrepresents the uniqueness of the approach and the processes used.
There is no other assessment tool even remotely similar to the Athena Quotient. It does not attempt to measure rational intelligence; an IQ Test. Its premise is that rational intelligence alone is not a good measure for workforce excellence. It is possible, even likely, to find book smart people who do not have common sense. The Athena Instrument/Tool is much more about assessing common sense and wisdom.
The Athena Instrument/Tool is also not an emotional balance profile that seeks out emotional dysfunctions. While there are a few a indicators that have matched the Athena Quotient with distinctly psychological tests such as the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), psychological dysfunction assessment is not its purpose.
In addition and perhaps most significantly—the Athena Instrument/Tool is not a personality profile. Most profiling instruments in existence today fall into this category, and—according to the Center for Creative Leadership and its excellent research—have only marginal positive impact as a tool for workforce enhancement. The problem with such assessment instruments is that individuals may have personality tendencies or character traits that are accurately noticed by the tests, but that are easily overcome in order for individuals to do their jobs. Consequently, personality profiles are misleading and often even unfair to persons taking such tests.
The Athena Instrument/Tool looks at a person’s value system, the lens, or perspective that has evolved in a person over the entire course of their life. This lens or value system will greatly impact every decision, interaction, or task that a person pursues.
There is a value structure of work that reveals elements common to all work. These structural elements of work are (1) competent skill sets (2) competent processes (3) good information and (4) good judgment. Every task, no matter how mundane, involves skill set competence and good judgment. The more complex the task, the more pronounced the need for excellent skill sets and judgment. Most organizations have created means to assess skill set competence. The Athena Instrument/Tool is unique in that it allows for the assessment of the all-important, all-critical dimension of judgment. An IQ test, emotional balance profile, or personality inventory cannot do this.
The Athena Instrument/Tool is not really a test, an inventory, or even a profile. Each of these words is problematic in its own way. Test conveys the idea of right and wrong answers, the ability to pass or fail. The Athena Instrument/Tool is not about right or wrong answers, passing or failing. It examines individual uniqueness, judgment, not how someone matches with a preordained personality. It is more about achieving fit in a workplace rather than passing or failing, although it is very effective when used as a hiring tool.
The word inventory seems to fit better with the number of widgets in a warehouse than it does with the important factors of human life that guide and direct the accomplishment of work. If a person said that the Athena Instrument/Tool was an inventory of various judgment capacities, there would be at least an approximation of what the tool is designed to convey. Otherwise, inventory lacks a bit for clarity.
The word profile has come to hold a number of negative connotations in the past few years; a reality not predicted when the Athena Quotient was created in the 1960s. Profiles are done by the FBI to find criminals and terrorists. Profiling has also taken on negative racial and gender connotations. The fact that the Athena Instrument/Tool has passed every variety of validation study and has been proven to create absolutely no adverse impact on any protected group, still does not keep it from occasional skepticism based on the word profile. I am sure, for copyright and trademark purposes that the name as it presently stands will prevail, and that will be fine. So, the potentially misleading conversation over the word profile will likely continue on occasion.
I would rather use the words task or project. A person working with the Instrument/Tool is actually being asked to complete a task or a project. The task/project is the rank-order prioritizing of two sets of eighteen items. As the person completes this task/project, some of the unique judgment capacities of that person are revealed. How a person goes about working with the task/project will give an indication of how that person will go about other tasks and projects in their life and the resolution of issues. This kind of information is indispensable and not achieved by any other assessment instruments. Who would not want to know about judgment capacities? Who would not want to have some sort of baseline that could lead to the enhancement and improvement of judgment capacities that relate to both work and self-issues?
WHAT’S IN THE BLACK BOX
When individuals and groups have the chance to go through an interpretation session on their A scores, they are routinely amazed. Not only do they immediately see the relevance of the emphasis on judgment—as opposed to other assessment instrument results, but they are often in awe of how much the Instrument/Tool has pegged them. Continually people say, “That’s me! I can’t believe that the order of those words and phrases can reveal so much accurate information.” Then, the inevitable question rises as to how the Instrument/Tool actually works. How does the order of phrases assigned by the participant translate into the meanings conveyed in the interpretation reports? This is a fair question that deserves some explanation, although the best explanation is not likely to remove the surprise at the deep detail provided in the interpretation reports. There are three elements of input that drive the output of the interpretation reports:
- The order of ranking by the participants.
- The mathematical formulas that function as the operating system of the Instrument/Tool. This operating system is highly sophisticated in terms of scientific mathematics and rational logic, and gives a basic text from which interpretation reports can be derived.
- The results of thousands and thousands of individual interviews by Dr. Robert Hartman, the creator, and those who have pursued his work after him that attempt to match numbers and their general meanings (the text noted above) with real-life situations and real-life people.
I am mesmerized by the complexity of the math and logic that stands behind the Instrument/Tool. Its sophistication gives the material great credibility for me. However, I have become convinced by more than three decades of work with a results that the real accuracy and credibility of interpretation reports rise from the diligent and tenacious work of gaining information from real people and real groups. I trust—in my own work—(the numbers and their meanings) because I have personally sat with thousands of people and hundreds of groups, and I have seen firsthand affirmation and confirmation of certain number patterns with certain behaviors, attitudes, and ranges of performance. We also have statistical validation based on best/worst norms throughout many organizations. This validation process continues with each new client.
MORE THAN A HIRING TOOL
The Athena Quotient can be used to vastly improve the hiring processes. The cost of bad hires is often astronomical. Lowering attrition and turnover rates can save organizations large sums of money. Anything that can have an immediate impact on an organization’s bottom line will be of high interest in the business world.
However, the Athena Instrument/Tool is about a lot more than simply lowering turnover rates. Consider the concept of fit, finding the best person for a unique task, finding a person who will fit with others in a work unit, and finding a person who will fit the mission, vision, and values of an organization. Fit will help an organization. Fit is also a credible and fair way of dealing with candidates. Who would want to leave an existing job, possibly uproot a family if there was not as much certainty as possible about fit? In this regard, we agree with the formidable idea of Jim Collins (Good to Great) that the most compelling question facing modern industry is, “Who’s on the bus?” Get the right person, the person who fits on the bus, and almost every other issue will be handled with greater effectiveness.
In addition, this assessment tool serves many other applications in the modern workplace. It helps with selection and promotion. It supports and guides management development and succession plans. It helps build stronger teams. It enhances individual development and builds stronger people and subsequently builds a stronger workplace. Using the Athena Instrument/Tool is more about culture transformation than it is simply about hiring.
THE HIGHEST WORD OF PRAISE
In 2004, I had the opportunity to show the Athena Instrument to a Senior Vice-President in a major Blue Cross Blue Shield organization. This man, both to me and to his colleagues, is looked upon as a near genius. His insights are remarkable, and he has a way of assessing information and synthesizing corporate agendas that is amazing in its acute sensitivity. When this man speaks, people listen.
He had told me that he was not a particular fan of assessment instruments. Most of what he had seen was pretty shallow. I told him how much, across my life, I had held the same sentiment. Perhaps because of some degree of respect he held for me, he agreed to be profiled and sit for an interpretation.
It was another magical moment. He was intrigued and almost mystified by how much the results pegged him. He immediately saw all of the potential contained in the processes surrounding the Instrument/Tool. He was alive with new possibilities for applications that I had never conceived.
As our interview ended—well beyond the hour that had been assigned—he made a comment that I will never forget. He said with deep conviction: “You do not have a mere assessment instrument here. You have a next-generation human resources tool that is without peer.”
There is no substitute for good judgment, and the Athena Quotient can measure it. Measurement constitutes an assessment of how things are right now, but even more, measurement can be a powerful catalyst for growth, development, and improvement.
Benefits to Human Resource Professionals
- Reduce time required to “discover” applicant strengths and weaknesses—cut interview time in half
- Reduce required interviews—turnover typically reduced by 40 to 70%
- Place the right person in the right job the first time—for both new hires and internal promotions
- Reduce “replacement” time and effort to find the right job for a good employee
- Reduce workload due to problem employees, worker’s compensation claims, lawsuits
- Better harmony among manager/employee groups
- Much easier to remain within budget
- Increased efficiency, reduction in overall HR time and costs
- Fewer “people problems”
- Get back your time, and your life!
- Improve relations with Ops—HR delivers a better workforce
- Improve relations with Corporate—lower HR costs, improve HR efficiencies
The Economy – 2010 and Beyond
C. Stephen Byrum, PhD
Barry W. Hull, CDR, USNR (Retired)
The January 2010 unemployment report for the United States revealed that over 10% of the country’s working-age population is unemployed. These numbers represent the worst unemployment rates in over 25 years. Of course, the numbers do not include those individuals who are working part-time who want to be working full-time, or those individuals who are dramatically under-employed compared to the work they have previously been doing. Most experts believe these numbers will only become worse in the second half of 2010, and perhaps beyond. Words such as crisis and even the emotionally powerful word apocalyptic are finding higher frequency of use in describing the present economy in the United States, and of the entire world.
A Major Question
What is the impact of these circumstances on a company that presents itself as having expertise in “workplace selection”? The assumption could be easily made that in a time when reductions in force, layoffs, and closings rule the day that “workforce selection” would cease to be a problem, or even a process that organizations would have any interest in pursuing.
The Fact of the Matter
When economic circumstances like those being presently experienced become the order of the day, “workforce selection” becomes an even more significant issue. The present economy actually is having a major impact on our business—phone calls, emails, all sorts of inquiries are at a higher level than they have been in a decade.
Compelling Reasons Why
- When reductions in force occur, an organization has to be even more careful in making sure that the best stay and the less than best are lost. Our assessment, the Athena Quotient, (a) provides an additional tool in helping to make these decisions more objective at an emotional time in which objectivity is oftentimes extremely difficult. We can even help those being lost in constructing better resumes that can enhance their finding new work more quickly.
- When mergers and acquisitions occur, it is all but inevitable that some will stay and some will leave. New teams and work units will be constituted. In the midst of finance, computer, sales, and marketing decisions for the newly-arranged organization, personnel issues can get lost in the shuffle. The a will create a base for matching new employees for highest efficiency, deciding which employees are most essential, and bringing objectivity to determining who will be the right people in the right seat on the bus—to follow Jim Collins’ analogy—for the new circumstances that are presenting themselves. We are experts in helping newly constituted groups find common resonance with each other that can immediately support the new work they will have to do together.
- Basic cost of turnover can be crippling when margins are narrow. Today, the generally accepted estimate of the cost of turnover of one employee in the United States is 1.5x that employee’s annual salary. The a is proven to be extremely effective in reducing turnover and attrition. And, these savings are not amortized over an extended range of time. These savings—which we have demonstrated conclusively can be sustained over time—hit to the “bottom line” of an organization immediately.
- In times of economic downturn when more and more is demanded from fewer and fewer, the role of development of present employees—both as individuals and as team/unit groups—is even more critical. The a has every bit as much implication for personal development as it does for hiring and promotion.
- In times of economic downturn when more and more is demanded from fewer and fewer, the persons who are placed in leadership positions—from front line mangers to executives—become even more critical. The a gives major emphasis to helping determine who is ready for the next level of management and leadership. Or, if a person needs to be placed on a next level of management and leadership, and that person is not ready, the a can precisely determine what needs for improvement are required and, as a result of training and mentoring, can determine if those needs have been met.
- In times of economic downturn when more and more is demanded from fewer and fewer, the presence of stress can undermine strong leadership and decision-making abilities. The a—whether it is directed at an individual, some special group, or an entire organization—can specifically reveal how much stress is present, the precise kind of stress that is present, and the intensity of that stress. We can, then, help in the construction of stress management agendas that have been highly successful in their implementation across the country.
- Many of our key clients see a 4.2 to 1 ratio in applications per job publicized. That was during the old economy. Today, many of our clients report that the ratio has jumped to as much as 25 to 1. The problem of differentiating who is the very best, when a dozen applicants may be really good, is no easy task. The AQ allows for the creation of custom, best-performer templates that can help determine who is the “best of the best” in the hiring and promotion process.
In this present economy, our area of expertise is not any less important in any way. It is more important in a multiplicity of ways. Edwards Demming believed that if a reality was not measureable that it had little or no meaning. We tend to agree to a certain extent with this sentiment, so when we say that good judgment is a major, critical driver in selection for success, we assert—without equivocation or hesitation—that good judgment can be measured, monitored, and improved. It will be good judgment on local, national, and international levels that will bring us successfully through the economic crisis that is at hand. The necessity of measuring judgment today is more critical than it has been in decades. Bad judgment has gotten us here, and only good judgment will move us to a better future.
What we offer with the a is the ability to add a dimension of measurement that will complement and enhance any measurement of people and groups of people that your organization is presently using. We can help move you from erratic and accidental—cross your fingers and hope for the best—subjectivity, to solid objectivity in your people decisions. The stakes are so critical and the costs so high that objective, effective, predictable measurement has to be pursued with great seriousness.
If your organization has never worked with us, we invite you to see what we are doing and how we can help immediately. If your organization is working with us now, we are likely to be of more benefit to you than we have ever been. We are anxious to help. We want to help. We know we can help. We know how to help.
Hiring Beyond Expectations
C. Stephen Byrum, PhD
Barry W. Hull, CDR, USNR (Retired)
The phone rings in the Human Resources Department of a major construction company. The call is coming from one of the company’s critically positioned Project Managers, who asks to speak to a Recruiting Specialist. The Project Manager is professional, but clearly frustrated: “Mike Smith just quit. I suppose I should be thankful for that, because Smith was nothing but trouble. For the past two months, he cost our company so much time and energy that it’s hard to believe. Never—please—never—send me another Mike Smith. He was a disaster!”
Or, the call might take another track: “Mike Smith just quit. Thank heavens! You told me that he would not work out, but when I interviewed him he seemed—or at least I thought he seemed—better than you were telling me. I saw something in him that, obviously, was not there. How can I get better at this hiring process? I feel that the person I interviewed and hired must have been abducted by aliens somewhere about the third day he was on the job.”
Sound familiar? There is an old saying in many organizations: “We hire most of our problems.” Many attempts have been made to calculate the LOI—Loss of Investment—involved in bad hiring. Most estimates have been judged very inadequate, too small! It can be nearly impossible to place a price tag on the time, energy, and effort to solve problems that should not have happened to begin with, and loss of positive team interactions. A poor hire should come to be seen as an avoidable event.
Jim Collins literally “wrote the book” on the importance of good hiring. He coined the phrase “the right person in the right seat on the bus.” For his classic book, Good to Great, Collins created the subtitle “Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.” That is the question: why do some companies make the leap that separates them from their competition, and allows them to move beyond their former potential to even higher levels of achievement? Collins answered his own question, repeatedly, by pointing to the vital importance of getting the right people.
In today’s challenging economy, recruiting may be more important than it has ever been. Many organizations, in hopes of designing the best workforce they have ever had, are doggedly determined to be smarter in their hiring decisions. As one CEO literally proclaimed with renewed excitement to his key leadership recently: “Now, we really have a chance to get it right for once in our lives!”
Back to Jim Collins, he believed that the right person had a combination of (1) the right skill sets needed to perform a job with excellence; and, (2) the right values. All of that sounds good, with values—maybe—meaning a good set of ethics or personal virtues or even something like humane professional behaviors. “Values” is a hard word to define.
At Athena, we believe that a person’s values are much more than how they think or feel, for a person can think or feel almost anything. A person’s values are best seen in their actions, with actions being primarily driven by their judgment. Therefore, the right person is the person with outstanding skill sets, and outstanding judgment. There must be good skills, and there must be good, solid judgment that will assure that those skills are used in a successful manner. The Athena Assessment scores and measures judgment, and brings a dimension to the hiring process that allows companies new insights and options, to get the best workforce they have ever had.
Any job can be seen as the relationship between three, vital factors: (1) Capability, (2) Capacity, and (3) Demand. Capability relates to the skill sets required to do the job. Capacity relates to the judgment required to do the job well. Demand relates to the intensity, pressure, and stress of the job, and the corresponding personal energy required for the job. Some jobs are more demanding than other jobs.
At this point, it is possible to develop a wonderful augment to the hiring process that can easily be incorporated into almost any Human Resource Department. Consider the following steps, which are not complicated, but will absolutely work. Merely using these steps, as a catalyst to focus attention more intently on the hiring process, will improve the hiring process.
- Assess the specific skill sets necessary to perform the job to organizational standards.
- Assess the general level and types of judgment needed to enhance skill sets in the job.
- Assess the demand, i.e., pressure and stress found in the job, and the personal energy likely to be required to do the job well.
- After the required skill sets are validated in an applicant, apply the Athena Assessment to determine whether the applicant possesses the judgments necessary to enhance their skill sets, and handle the demands of the job.
If lucky, there will be two or three applicants, who match up well with all of the comparative factors. Then—but only then—move the hiring decision toward the applicant thought to be a “nice” person, who you “like” the best, or who you personally respond most readily. Never, should these kinds of factors lead the decisions that guide the hiring process. Additionally, the Athena Assessment can be used to help refine the overall process in terms of which applicant “fits” best with the group he/she will be part of, or to help determine which applicant can be added to a group to best improve overall group judgment. The latter factor is very significant when hiring individuals for leadership, executive level groups.
Above all, be determined to make time your friend and not your enemy. Forget about “needing somebody yesterday.” Forget about “warm body hiring.” If there is not a strong conviction and clear evidence that an applicant is the right person for a particular seat on the bus, look a little longer. This is, indeed, a time of severe economic challenges, but regarding hiring it can be a time of substantial opportunity. This is a time when organizations can get it right, if organizations will take the time to get it right.
Now imagine a phone call in which the Project Manager responsible for a multi-million dollar development calls the Recruiting Specialist to extend compliments for the high level of new employees being sent to the job site. “I don’t know how you’re finding these people, but keep doing it. You’re sending us the best employees we’ve ever had” (an actual phone call from an Athena client).
First, make sure that capability of skill sets is present; then make sure that capacity of judgment is present; then hire with greater precision, accuracy, and predictability.
Stress and Performance
C. Stephen Byrum, PhD
Barry W. Hull, CDR, USNR (Retired)
Across more than four decades, the application of the Athena Quotient (a) in organizational settings has primarily been devoted to understanding what the a can bring to organizations. Following this intent, the a has been used in organizations to help recruit new individuals of stronger judgment and in addition, to help develop the judgment of the current workforce. Consciously adding good judgment to competent skill sets has been a way of helping to get the “right person in the right seat on the bus.” Such additions to organizations are of utmost importance and go directly and immediately to the bottom line. If better judgments are used, better decisions are made, which improves overall efficiency, productivity, and organization economies.
Especially since the events of 9/11, increasing attention has been given to the amount of stress that haunts and impedes individual and team performance, and interpersonal relationships within the workplace. The growing amount and intensity of stress, and its impact, is more than obvious. The fact that stress is a critical “de-railer” of good judgment is also obvious. The prospect of removing—taking out—stress has parallel importance to adding in good judgment. Therefore, recent applications of the a have placed more attention to better understanding stress, placing metrics around stress, and measuring its impact more accurately. Achieving organizational potential may be a combination of adding good judgment and removing stress.
Types of Stress
The a provides information on four types of stress, and is able to differentiate between Work-side and Self-side stress. The vital relationship between work—what a person does—and self—who a person is—stands as one of the primary, overriding convictions of the a. At Athena Assessment Inc., we believe that what we do is always and forever, driven by who we are. What a person does is either enhanced or diminished by who a person is. The a places clear metrics around these concerns.
There are two types of Work-side stress and two types of Self-side stress. In addition to closely investigating and measuring these four types of stress, the a also measures and gives an indication of overall “work-life balance.” Recent studies have shown that the presence of “work-life balance” has a strong impact on how stress is handled, in addition to a person’s coping ability. Oftentimes the number and degree of stressors an individual experiences is less of a factor on performance than the ability to cope with those stressors, no matter what specific level of stress is being experienced.
- Work-side “Anxiety” Stress—the first stress measure is a work-side measure. “Anxiety” stress is produced when there are unclear, uncertain, vague issues requiring attention in the workplace. Clear, precise, and identifiable stressors are usually easier to contend with than vague stressors. A great deal of personal energy is devoted to contending with uncertainty. This energy could be used to solve problems if it were not being diminished by stress. This particular stressor has gained in intensity more than any other type of stress over the past decade, and it has a dramatically negative impact on innovation, creativity, “out-of-the-box” thinking, and overall problem solving. There is also a dramatically negative impact on a person’s general resourcefulness, the ability to deal with difficult situations and difficult people.
- Work-side “Obvious” Stress—the second stress measure is a work-side measure. Obvious stressors can be named. In a traditional SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), the stressors in this particular measure would be the weaknesses and threats found in organizations. In most instances, people are stronger in dealing with this type of stress than might be suspected.
- Self-side “Self-imposed” Stress—the third stress measure is a self-side measure. Self-imposed or self-induced stress is the type of stress that occurs when a person is too hard on himself/herself, too self-critical, too perfectionistic, and too driven. This stress is often the result of exposure to high levels of criticism.
- Self-side “Obvious” Stress—the fourth stress measure is a self-side measure. Similar to work-side obvious stress, the stress measured in this indicator is obvious, capable of being clearly identified and named. Typically, these are personal problems relating to money, mate and child and parent relationships, and personal health matters. People often deal with this stress better than might be expected.
Repairing the Damage from Stress
Stress brings damage to our overall energy, our ability to cope with negative situations, and our ability to handle relationships in a positive manner, much in the same way that a physical injury might damage a muscle, or sickness might damage some bodily function. Stress can leave someone tired, then exhausted, then in a sense of personal chaos, and then—perhaps—on the edge of depression with a tendency to “give up.” Stress can challenge someone’s potential by causing a feeling of hopelessness. When stress is overcome, we feel empowered. When stress gets the best of us, we may feel victimized and may believe that circumstances are beyond our control. Stress is a major obstacle to good judgment, and when we feel stress-exhaustion, we tend to take a “path of least resistance”—do what is easiest—and that path seldom allows us to gain the kind of outcomes desired most. The goal is to understand our stress, create agendas for overcoming our stress, and—ultimately—like a strong tree that stands through the most difficult storm, to become stress-hardy.
The following ideas can serve to provide a start—a step in the right direction—for dealing with the specific types of stress outlined in this discussion. Never forget, that awareness, information, communication, and a raised consciousness about stress may be one of the most powerful catalysts for positive change and an overall reduction in stress.
Work-side “Anxiety” Stress
This first type of stress is best responded to by focusing on improvement in communication. Improved communication can take place on a general, corporate level or on an individual, interpersonal level. The old country preachers used to say, “A devil that is named is a devil that loses its power.” In like manner, when stressors are vague and unclear, they grow in strength, but when they are named, they lose their power. This fact of stress should be almost self-evident, yet is often overlooked. In most employee surveys, the number one desire that employees articulate is a desire for better communication. When couples are in trouble and become involved in counseling, the gifted counselor knows that the first task is to reestablish communication. There is a line from the famous Paul Newman movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” that perfectly captures a powerful, causative factor for creating and increasing stress: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
To relieve and help repair the damage caused by this first type of stress, every effort should be made to examine, with total honesty and frankness, the quality, transparency, and openness that is taking place in corporate communications. Adults want to be—and expect to be—treated like adults, of course. Half-truths and veiled deceptions are not adult responses to real-life situations. People want to know what they are dealing with, and if communication is open, honest, transparent, and forthcoming, then they are more likely to deal with negative issues in a positive manner. Lower the stress of the workforce and create a more efficient, effective, productive, and profitable workforce. Patronizing and condescending attitudes push what might be intelligent and resourceful employees to the far edges of engagement and commitment. This is, of course, completely self-evident, but often discounted and forgotten by even very sharp and engaged supervisors and managers when they are in the midst of overwhelming work-side stress.
Lee Iacocca, when he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company, used to complain about Henry Ford II. Ford’s management theory, a theory that was evidently practiced very aggressively, was termed by Iacocca “mushroom management.” Mushrooms are grown in very dark environments in a base fertilizer that is horse manure. Indeed, many organizations and leaders manage by keeping everyone in the dark and pouring on the horse manure. In such situations, when employees sense a punitive, disingenuous, and untrustworthy culture, crippling stress can be an immediate result.
Work-side “Obvious” Stress
An “obvious” stressor is a stressor than can be absolutely and clearly identified and named, and usually can be named in an organizational setting by sizable numbers of employees. This is why the traditional SWOT analysis that gives open and honest articulation to weaknesses and threats is so important. To bring people together and have them actually list “obvious” stressors is a good starting point. At least, in this process, that which is unclear and only marginally articulated is lifted out of what might be called “the fog of work.” Shine a light on weakness and threats, lift them out of the fog, acknowledge them, and the associated stress will oftentimes diminish very quickly.
Once the list of “obvious” weaknesses and threats is created, it is then possible to create a prioritized list relating to problems that are most pressing and critical as opposed to those problems than can wait resolution. Once there is a prioritized list, benchmarked plans to approach the most critical problems can be established. Not every problem can be solved at one time. A process designed to solve every problem at once often leads to the depletion of resources and energy, and may ultimately solve few problems, while creating additional problems and stress. However, a few problems solved or improved upon can become a snowballing catalyst to many problems being diminished in their intensity.
To date, every study conducted with the a using this stress indicator reveals that people are better at dealing with this type of stress than they typically give themselves credit. People have strong, and sometimes immensely strong, coping skills, not the least of which is a positive attitude and a richness of optimism. If people are given information—the facts of the matter—they will have the capacity to wrap these facts with hope and with concrete plans, both of which are true mechanisms for improvement and relief of stress.
Self-side “Imposed” Stress
This first of the two, self-side stressors is more subtle, perhaps a bit harder to understand, but very, very real, and at times, very, very detrimental. “Self-imposed” or “self-induced” stress is the stress people bring on themselves when they are too self-critical or too hard on themselves. A large number of people easily expect levels of perfection from themselves that are unrealistic, unrelenting, and unforgiving, and that they may not expect of others. However, when the scores on this indicator become too intense, it is highly likely that they will be even harder on others than they need to be, or that others need them to be.
Some people believe that it is a necessity to score in an intense range in this indicator, in order for them to “stay on top of their game.” This tendency to be too hard translates, in their mind, to being driven, and they believe gives them the edge to perform at their best, in spite of various obstacles, not the least of which is being tired. However, across the years using the a, we have not seen any regression whatsoever in work-side, performance-related scores, or in actual work-side performance and success, simply because this score on “self-imposed” stress improves. However, we have also seen across the years that improvements in this kind of stress are difficult to achieve.
In many, possibly most instances, negative scores of this particular indicator seem to be caused by a prevalence of criticism, often starting from a very early age with well-meaning parents who do not balance criticism with compliments and positive reinforcement. This pattern is often reinforced by teachers, coaches, and peers. Even in the modern family, there can be excessive levels of criticism, psychological and verbal abuse, and even more.
An interesting question arises when it becomes clear that—on the one hand—this third stressor is “self-imposed,” but—on the other hand—its basic source is located in people of criticism, and environments of criticisms. How can the sources be outside of us, but the impact be inside of us? A kind of “trick” occurs—psychologists have called it “transference”—when someone transfers feelings from the outside, becomes convinced of their truth, buys into them, accepts them, and makes them into their own feelings about themselves. Just understanding this process can be helpful in diminishing its impact.
It is always important to examine closely the sources of criticism. Criticism may arise from well-meaning people who simply do not know better. At other times, criticism may arise from ignorant people, or from mean-spirited people who are consciously trying to hurt someone or put someone down with resentment as if that gives them some advantage. It is important to be honest, and weigh out what we do well compared to what we—in our own responsibilities and accountabilities—do not do as well. There is often a tendency to do ten things in a day, nine of them perfectly well, but focus attention on the one thing that was not perfect. Highly self-critical individuals should find ways to “lighten up” on themselves. In doing so, greater energy, self-appreciation, gratification, satisfaction, and meaning, all of which are powerful factors in a full human life, are gained.
Self-side “Obvious” Stress
Just as with the work-side “obvious” stress, self-side “obvious” stress can be identified, and named. The same processes noted above relating to conscious identification and prioritizing on the work-side can help on the self-side. Be careful to take on only as many issues and steps at a time as will allow positive momentum to be gained. When someone tries to take on all of their self-side problems at once, they often set themselves up for disappointment and failure.
In the early to mid-nineties, self-side “obvious” stressors tended to be of a more interpersonal nature—relationships with mates, children, parents, etc. Of course, if there were issues of personal health, these matters would rise to the top. Today, overwhelmingly the major self-side stressor is financial, and many, many, people in today’s world find themselves in grave personal economic dismay and even disaster. If you should unfortunately find yourself part of this group, consider seeking advice and counsel in how to remedy your financial situation. In doing so, hopefully you will never, ever, find yourself in a disastrous financial situation again. An important point to remember in this regard, care should be taken to avoid the tendency of too much self-criticism. Many people have times in which they “live beyond their means”, or get trapped in financial situations because of factors beyond their control, and too much self-criticism further increases stress, lowers judgment, and simply does not help.
Above all, it is extremely important to fight the cultural tendencies—and they are very, very strong—to see ourselves in terms of what we have, and especially what we have as compared to others around us. Oftentimes it is not readily obvious of the financial holes that others have dug for themselves, and the stress they are under in their own lives. Quality of life is seldom the result of what someone has in terms of possessions.
A study was done using the a on a group of highly successful executives. Their aggregate score was at the 94th percentile on work-side judgment capacity, and at the 57th percentile on work-life balance. In further conversations, it was abundantly clear to the executive group that they should place much more emphasis not to get better at what they did on the job, but to get better at what they did away from the job. To every single executive who scored poorly, and there were many, there was the clear understanding that the lack of balance on the self-side of life was a detriment to, and placed in jeopardy, everything within the work-side of life. Unfortunately, the majority of people, similarly to these executives, score poorly to very poorly on this indicator.
When the work-life balance goes awry, people sense it, and often want to do something about it, but often do not know exactly where to start. The best place to start may be the communication issues noted above, where renewed conversation and contact surrounds discussions about how the self-side can be reclaimed and better sustained over time. Many people have simply ceased to spend much time with each other in family dynamics, so they have lost true contact and forgotten how to communicate. There may not be alienation or estrangement yet, but there may be a gap—a distance—in which people do not really know each other as well anymore. A conscious process of becoming reacquainted is usually necessary.
Often a return to places and circumstances in which relationships and family dynamics were most alive will help. Healing breeches that have occurred when “distance” took over may be a necessity. When “distance” takes over, actions and choices can occur that would not have occurred when people were “close.” Forgiveness and a strenuous desire to reclaim something that may have been very, very good in its own time can begin. We should however, be aware, and remind ourselves, that such new beginnings again are difficult. Yet, the odds of being at our best in any area of our life outside of the self-side is not very great unless we approach being at our best within the self-side.
Relationships seldom are sustained over time by coincidence, serendipity, fate, or accident. Of course, relationships—even very good relationships—may begin in these ways, and life can be full of wonderful surprises that knock us off our feet in the most positive sense. However, even if a couple marries/establishes a mate relationship for all the right reasons—they fall in love, enjoy each other’s company, and want to be together forever in the kind of blissfulness that drew them together in the beginning, if the work-life balance goes awry it can all come crashing down. The problem with work-life balance, of course, is that the work-side of life begins to get in the way, and someone might believe that his or her relationship that has been so strong for so long can take care of itself, when in fact, it cannot.
Very often, the biggest issue is the loss of time. Relationships require time, and there is no substitute. “Quality time” measures are important, but less time—even if it is “quality time”—is seldom a sufficient substitute for “quantity time,” just being with each other. Work-life balance is achieved through conscious and strategic plans about how time is prioritized. It seldom just happens. Then, these conscious and strategic plans should be turned into tactics and decisions that are executed. At first, this process may seem too “planned,” but it can become “natural” again.
There is usually a very strong, direct link between a healthy work-life balance and high work-side performance. There is also a clear link between a healthy work-life balance and the ability to deal well with stress. This link obviously has a great impact on organizations and all that they want to achieve. Organizations that are pro-active in helping employees in this arena see the results go straight to the bottom line in terms of a more passionate, productive, and economical workforce. Surely, there are times in any career when personal issues will temporarily hold second priority to work issues. However, if an individual does not establish a sense of “who they are” which is at least marginally on par with “what they do” then without equivocation, stress will increase, and the pleasure of living and the overall quality of life, will diminish. Eventually, performance at work will be undermined if personal choices always take a back seat to work choices.
As such, conflicts with work demands that erode work-life balance should be weighed out very carefully. Both permission and concrete strategies must be put in place that will give work-life balance a chance. If this does not occur, and work-life balance of employees deteriorates, the organization will lose as well. Standards of excellence, the basics of performance, and workplace relationships that are vitally necessary to success and sustainability over time, will suffer. Work-life balance is essential for a vibrant, healthy, sustainable, and passionate, employee workforce and of course, the long-term viability of the organization.
The Athena Quotient – the wisdom factor
The ultimate success of an individual or organization greatly depends on the strength of wisdom, or judgment, as it is applied to decision-making. From small everyday tactical decisions to global strategic decisions, good judgment is the key ingredient to success.
The Athena Quotient provides real, quantifiable insight into judgment and decision-making capacities. No other assessment tool available today provides such a unique perspective into measuring judgment.
The a can help organizations in critical areas such as:
- Hiring/Workforce Selection
- Leadership Development
- Promotion and Succession planning
- Risk Management
- Mentoring programs
- Reduce Turnover / loss of Key Employees
- Top-performer “cloning”
- Job fit
- Long-term, Strategic Planning
The a measures judgment in over fifty indicators including:
- Decision making Ability and Style
- Work Ethic, Reliability, and Trainability
- Ability to accurately Follow Directions
- Focus and Concentration
- Morale and Positive Attitude
- Resiliency / Judgment under Stress
- Ability to deal with change
- Assertiveness / Conflict Avoidance
- Insight and Noticing Sensitivity
The AQ is:
A measurable, quantifiable assessment of a person’s value system and capacity for good judgment
Our judgment defines who we are. Our judgment provides the lens through which we view the world, formulate choices, and make decisions. Our judgment evolves throughout our life and manifests in the way we assess and evaluate; the way we size up situations; the way we solve problems; and ultimately in the way we navigate our course of action. Our judgment is influenced by every event, experience, education, and person who touches our lives.
Mission and Value statements often reflect ideas and principles such as honor, integrity, quality, and fiscal responsibility. The a allows an organization to quantify and measure the degree to which these value statements are being realized by their employees. That which can be measured can be monitored, and subsequently, improved.
The AQ is NOT:
- An IQ / rational intelligence profile. Some people score exceptionally well on an IQ test and are extremely book smart, yet have little common sense, wisdom, or savvy within the workplace.
- An emotional balance profile. The a is not designed, nor intended to measure the presence of psychological dysfunction. The a however, will give critical information about the impact of stress on judgment.
- A personality inventory / test. The overwhelming majority of profiling tools used today are personality profiles. These types of assessment tools suggest that certain personality types or character traits will result in certain kinds of competency (or lack thereof). In fact, people are able to overcome very real personality traits and perform their work in an excellent fashion. Personality profiles are simply not a sufficient predictor of performance.
The Key Equation for Best Outcomes
Best Quality Outcomes =
(Competent Skill Sets + Competent Processes + Good Information) x Good Judgment
All quality conscious organizations strive to ensure their personnel possess the best skills, processes, and information in order to perform their job and achieve desired outcomes. The factor of Good Judgment will greatly enhance the chance for success. Unfortunately, Poor Judgment will enhance the chance for less than optimal performance, or even failure.
The a is not a generic profiling tool. The qualities of successful employees and the capacity for good judgment in their local environment are measured and numerically applied to their unique industry and culture. The tool is easy to use, usually takes no more than fifteen minutes to complete.
We observe an event or situation and make an evaluation in terms of our experiences, training, knowledge, education, beliefs, and values. Then using our judgment, we respond. How we respond greatly determines the outcomes achieved in life. The Athena Quotient, the only tool of its kind in the world, allows us to quantify, measure, and improve the capacity for good judgment – the judgment that determines the course of our life and the very quality of our existence.
When Desire meets Judgment—Achievement
Barry W. Hull, CDR, USNR, (retired)
Thomas Alva Edison, America’s greatest inventor, said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” Many organizations have brought onboard that new employee whom they believed had all of those “three great essentials”, who looked great on paper, remarkable credentials, an excellent interview, references, high hopes, high enthusiasm—but—it all went terribly awry. After a period of time, ranging from days to years, the second essential of achievement according to Edison, “stick-to-itiveness”, goes AWOL, missing.
It’s an all too common narrative. We’re left to wonder why. If only we could identify those with it, and avoid those without it. This gone missing stick-to-itiveness can be a very big deal—it is not inconsequential. Individual and team productivity, accomplishment, and ultimately the organizational bottom line suffer, at times with devastating consequences. Resources must be devoted to personnel issues, rather than the organizational mission. At some point personnel changes must be made, and of course the hiring and rehiring process is expensive, time consuming, and often stressful.
If stick-to-itiveness was as easy to measure and predict as the tensile strength of a batch of concrete, organizations would be able to simply measure it, and assign a thumbs up, or thumbs down. Take a quick measure, and get a quick answer. But of course we know the answer is not so simple. There are many variables which weigh into, and have input on, the uniquely human characteristic of motivation, perseverance, dependability, intestinal fortitude, drive, relentlessness, pursuit of accomplishment, bias for action, etc., i.e.—Edison’s stick-to-itiveness.
At Athena Assessment Inc., the examinations of the judgment scores of tens of thousands of individuals and teams, confirms for us what we already intuitively know. Judgment matters. Value clarity matters. Common sense matters. As much as judgment becomes stronger, the likelihood for success becomes greater. Inherent in the esoteric notion of success, nestled among many other traits, is the drive and desire to accomplish and to achieve, of course within the context of each individual’s personal notion of success. We see it in the data, over and over and over.
In Mel Gibson’s 1995 movie Braveheart, Robert the Bruce says to his father, “I don’t want to lose heart. I want to believe…” Robert the Bruce had the passion for accomplishment, which for him was motivating others to follow, to reign, and to rule. He had a drive for success. He bided his time. His stick-to-itiveness lasted his entire lifetime. For others the specifics of accomplishment are entirely different, uniquely their own, but the passion for success and accomplishment exists just the same. As employers, wouldn’t it be grand to be able to identify those who “don’t want to lose heart”, who “want to believe”, and also those who actually have an ability, not just the desire, to accomplish and achieve? There are those with one, or both, or neither, and employers want to be able to make that determination, hopefully before they are brought into the organization.
Unfortunately, even after the identification of the potential terrific employee is made, and then hired, the employer often tumbles back to square one, wondering why the individual who looked so great on paper, who is blessed with a desire to achieve, who “wants to believe” in himself and his future, doesn’t succeed. The big question becomes, how does an employer not only identify those who understand the concept of stick-to-itiveness, but who will actually put those concepts into concrete actions. What can we understand about those who not only have the desire, but whose actions match their desire, whose walk matches their talk?
Within the context of the Athena Quotient (AQ), we describe judgment—or more specifically, evaluative judgment—as the ability, when presented with an issue or problem or situation, to observe and understand the dynamics of the situation, to determine what actions will make the situation better, and ultimately to take action to improve the situation. This judgment is measured via the AQ. Also, the assumption is made that in order to be successful in most jobs, even entry level jobs, there must be a basic minimum level of good judgment, and that the individual does indeed have a desire to be successful. Without this minimum level of good judgment, no matter what the desire for achievement, potential is lacking and the individual will likely fail. However, even making the assumption that the individual meets the minimum level of solid basic good judgment, what is it that allows some individuals to succeed, where others don’t?
In a context similar to Edison’s “stick-to-itiveness”, yet possibly more appropriate in some parts of today’s culture, comedian Daniel Lawrence Whitney, better known as Larry the Cable Guy, rouses his audience with the phrase “git-r-done”. His tag line, while funny, does make clear, and most people are able to easily conjure up real life examples of individuals in all walks and stations in life, from the highest levels of financial success to the most austere, of those with a propensity to “git-r-done”, and those without. Whether an individual accomplishes, or not, is based to a vast extent, on their judgments and their values. Our study of thousands of individual judgment profiles indicates that both work judgments and personal judgments play a significant role in not only the desire to accomplish, but in whether that desire will move to the point of fruition.
For many, the desire to accomplish goes to the very core of who we are. There are several common threads:
- Task Orientation
In order to accomplish work, not merely a desire to accomplish work, but to actually accomplish work, an individual must have a strong task orientation, or in other words, a strong work ethic enveloped within strong tactical judgments. Tactical judgment, which is one of the three global judgments, must also be “relatively” strong as compared to the other two global judgments, the second, people or relational judgment, and thirdly, strategic judgment. Tactical or task judgment doesn’t necessarily need to be stronger than the other judgments, simply strong enough so that by itself and also in relation to the other judgments, that task judgments are being considered, and used, throughout the day, as decisions are being made.
Oftentimes exceptional senior and executive leaders defer their tactical judgments, and focus on their relational judgments, to inspire and motivate, and on their strategic judgments, to set vision, direction, and policy, and leave the tactical decision making to subordinates. Do not misconstrue a deferring of tactical judgments as a diminishing of tactical judgments. However, the undervaluation of tactical judgments, may serve to undermine the success of a junior or mid-level employee, where performance is gauged more often on accomplishment, on detail, on “getting things done”, not on setting organizational direction and vision.
- Meaningfulness of Work and Morale
In order to be successful in the long term, and especially in executive level positions and roles, an individual must feel a strong sense of personal gratification about work, and also be able to project that sense of gratification to others, i.e., high morale. A sense of personal gratification usually, not always, but usually slightly outweighs the projection of high morale in terms of long term success. However, those who project low morale, not simply a lack of high morale, but those who actually project low morale, usually fail. Employees of high morale rarely tolerate an individual of low morale.
Meaningfulness of work or the personal gratification of work is an extremely personal value, and how lucky for humanity that it is. Imagine how monotonous, and the lack of innovation, if all humans enjoyed the same type of work. Most of us have met people from varying walks of life who thoroughly enjoy their particular profession. The saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is certainly true in the arena of meaningfulness of work. The individual who enjoys their work stands a much better chance for success and accomplishment, which is of course, completely intuitive and obvious.
Conversely, and unfortunately, there are many individuals who do not profoundly enjoy their work, yet due to today’s economic pressures, remain in their job. They often perform satisfactorily, but rarely achieve or accomplish to their full potential, due to a lack of personal meaningfulness in their work. They are simply not passionate about what they do.
- Work / Life Balance
It is no doubt a worn out cliché, but the AQ scores reveal over and over and over that for an individual to achieve long term lasting true success and happiness, that a great effort must be made to establish at least a modicum of work / life balance. Surely there are times in any career when personal issues will temporarily hold second priority to work issues. But if an individual does not establish a sense of “who they are” which is at least marginally on par with “what they do” then without equivocation, the pleasure of living and the overall quality of life will diminish. Sooner or later, even if an individual has a desire to accomplish and to achieve success, the ability to accomplish and achieve will be undermined if personal judgments and decisions are, and remain, poor, and if personal choices always take a back seat to work choices.
- Self Image
The ability to project or imagine yourself at some point in the future, more successful than today or in some way better than today, is a powerful internal motivator. A positive self-image will cause individuals to set goals, to have dreams, and provide the drive to achieve them. Individuals without a positive self-image usually have an accompanying lack of self-motivation, and are seen as those motivated by the stick, rather than the carrot, or as the saying goes, motivated “away from pain, rather than toward gain”.
One interesting nuance of self-image is its relation to station in life. If an individual is in the early to mid-stages of their career, a positive self-image is crucial, for without a positive self-image they will likely be seen as the classic “slacker”, simply lacking ambition, motivation, and the drive for success.
However, it is not uncommon for accomplished executives in the twilight of their careers to develop a diminished self-image. In this instance, it is likely due to a profound sense of gratification at their current stage in life, not necessarily a feeling of entitlement, which they may or may not have, but with the pleasure that they have completed the journey, they have achieved success, and are somewhat content. They are often able to enjoy, and work in, the moment, without the need to seek the next rung on the ladder. This may also allow them to guide their organization in a more tempered, thoughtful path to success. Of course depending on the organization, this may or may not be what is needed for long term future success, but a slightly less positive self-image in a senior executive may serve as a calming, more deliberate voice for the organization.
- Sense of Priority
A strong sense of priority, what I “should” or “could” or “ought” to be doing, as with many strong judgments, has an upside and a downside. Those who possess a strong sense of priority are more likely to get the “most” out of life. They are more likely to feel a sense of “calling” within their work, and are more able to experience the simple pleasure and joy of living, if—and this is a big if—they are doing what they feel they should or ought to be doing, i.e., satisfying their strong sense of priority. However, if they are not satisfying their strong sense of priority, they are more susceptible to burnout or at least a sense of angst within their life and work, sometimes manifested as a midlife crisis.
Individuals without a strong sense of priority tend to be less concerned with “what they do”, and possibly even less concerned with “who they are”. An individual with a not so well defined sense of priority will often mutter the phrase, “Hey, it’s just a job, it pays the bills. I’m ok with it, whatever.” The upside here is there is less chance for burnout or angst. The downside is that there is usually a diminished sense of overall contribution, and an accompanying diminished sense of the pleasure of living, not necessarily an unhappy life, simply a lack of intensity of pleasure and fulfillment as compared to those with a strong sense of priority.
Individuals with a bona fide weak sense of priority experience a multitude of personal issues which fall outside the scope of this document.
- Frustration and Job Fit
Most adults either know, or have experienced, individuals with varying degrees of judgment, ranging from poor to very strong. Individuals with overall poor judgment, no matter how desirous they are to be successful, will struggle in a judgmentally demanding job. No matter how hard they try, they just don’t “get it”. Those with stronger judgments will tend to be more successful. So it stands to reason that those with very strong judgments will tend be the most successful. In many situations this is true, but again, as is often the case, very strong judgments require additional consideration, to avoid two of the most common pitfalls, job frustration, and poor job fit, which if manifested can be the death knell of achievement.
Fortunately, in addition to the presence, or lack thereof, of judgment, which the AQ measures with concrete accuracy, the AQ is also adept at measuring the potential for frustration, which is often exacerbated by poor job fit. For example, it is common for extremely task dominant or task oriented individuals to enjoy manufacturing work. They often enjoy repetitive tasks, and to-do lists, whereas an intrinsic dominant or “people person” would likely find this work simply unbearable. We’ve all heard utterances similar to, “I don’t know how you do that work. It would drive me crazy!” Again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and differing value tendencies make all the difference. Of course the Aai does not take the place, especially when dealing with an individual with very strong judgments, of a detailed thorough interview.
Individuals with poor judgment often lack the judgment capacity to handle the judgment demands of the situation. They find the work “over their head”. But what happens if the judgment demands of the job do not stimulate an individual’s very strong judgment capacity? Sometime, not all the time, but sometime, frustration will set in. This may manifest itself in a variety of ways in someone who was originally a model employee, such as job boredom, displeasure with superiors or subordinates, laziness, arrogance, refusal to follow procedures, declining performance, etc.
Individuals with very strong judgment must make sure that they have developed the personal mechanics, and they are firmly in place, to deal with the potential for frustration. Those who “get it” quicker than others, if not careful, will drive themselves and those around them a bit nuts, often allowing minor issues to become major issues for no reason other than an inability to deal with frustration. Frustration is, and always will be, one of the biggest detriments to the use of good judgment and good decision making, and ultimately, a detriment to the ability to achieve and succeed. Frustration is also a judgment call, under our control. We can choose to be frustrated, or we can choose not to be frustrated. It is a choice we make, albeit at times not an easy choice, but nevertheless, it is a choice.
When an employee is immersed in frustration, the core issue—aside from the individual regrettably letting frustration cloud their judgment—may be, and often is, a job fit issue. In the right job, a job which the individual enthusiastically embraces, the individual will bring strong judgment and decision making to issues and problems and will be a motivated, achieving, and accomplishing employee. Therefore, when an individual is identified as having very strong judgment, it becomes absolutely essential to discuss, almost to the point of ad nauseam, job specifics and details and requirements, to improve the chances that the employer and the employee and the job are a good fit. Both employer and potential employee will benefit from an open honest detailed conversation.
Individuals with very strong judgment may be keenly adept during interviews at saying “all the right things”, not necessarily to deceive, they are simply good at saying the right things, i.e., using good judgment. Employers, especially those desperate for quality employees, want to believe, and again, this is not to imply that those with strong judgment are deceptive, but merely to indicate that it is very important when considering an individual of very strong judgment to make certain that the specifics of the job are fully understood and embraced. An individual may sincerely “need” a job, but over the long run, an employee in the wrong job is a setup for failure.
As perplexing as the identification of those with stick-to-itiveness may be, there are some clearly identifiable value tendencies. These tendencies are all intuitive and easy to comprehend, and frankly, easy to measure via the AQ. Strong scores in task judgment, meaningfulness of work, morale, self-image, and the understanding of personal priorities help to identify those individuals with not only a desire to work hard and achieve, but those who will actually do it. Hall of fame college basketball player and coach, John Wooden profoundly said, “Don’t mistake activity for accomplishment.” Of course it helps to be able to make a good decision, but without the desire to achieve and to accomplish, all of the ability and potential in the world will often go unrealized.
It is a quintessential human trait to want to help those who help themselves, and to not want to help those who don’t help themselves. Employers tell us repeatedly that they would rather have an individual with a little less judgment, not weak judgment, but a little less judgment, or a little less decision making ability, but who have a strong desire to achieve, over an individual with an abundance of judgment, but lacking in desire. Of course what employers really want is an employee with both desire and judgment, for when you get both, you get accomplishment.
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