Stop us if you've heard (or uttered) words like these before:
"He has the skills, but he's just not the right person for the job."
"I keep trying to encourage her to do better work, but I can't figure out what makes her tick."
Bruce M. Hubby, 65, has heard those words thousands of times. His goal is to eliminate them from the business lexicon. Hubby is chairman and founder of PDP Inc., based in Woodland Park, Colorado. PDP has created a series of surveys (Professional Dynametric Programs) that evaluate what makes people tick and what gives them job satisfaction.
Organizations around the world are convinced that these tests work. Since 1978, when Hubby founded PDP, 5,000 companies have used its services, and more than 3 million people have taken PDP surveys. In an interview with Fast Company, Hubby explained what makes his tests tick.
What determines whether someone is right for a job?
People are at their most productive when they're in a position that lets them draw on their natural strengths and that allows them to be themselves. When people feel the need to act unnaturally, they experience stress, which lowers productivity and leads to job dissatisfaction. So we try to identify their "basic natural self" - how they would be if there were no outside pressures. You need to look for their most intense trait and to create a work environment that capitalizes on it.
By the way, you don't need to know a lot about people's weaknesses. But you need to know about their strengths. Trying to correct someone's weaknesses can be a demotivator. People gain confidence when you build on their strengths.
Aren't there as many traits as there are people on a team or in a company?
Experts generally agree that four traits are essential to predicting how a person will perform. Those traits are dominance, extroversion, pace (or patience), and conformity. If you understand which of those traits is most salient and how the other three factor in, you can identify the kinds of environments where a person will thrive.
The logic works the other way too: If you can figure out which trait profile is right for a job and then hire people with that trait, you'll avoid a lot of frustration. We worked with a hotel company that had a problem with turnover among its general managers. The company employed 14 GMs, among whom there had been a turnover rate of three or four per year. So we profiled the "ideal" GM - the type of person who would run the hotel most productively and also be the least likely to leave. The company started hiring general managers according to the profile, and it slashed turnover and saved about $1 million over three years.
It sounds like common sense. Why do so many people end up in the wrong job?
We gravitate toward people who are like us, or we try to change people who aren't like us so that they'll be more like us. That's just human nature. It's also a mistake.
What do you do when you've already got the wrong fit?
Many managers try to reshape the person to fit the environment. In fact, it's easier to reshape the environment to fit the person. And it's rare that you have to fire someone because his or her profile isn't right for a job.
We worked with a company in which the chairman promoted his chief engineer to president. Now, the chief engineer was highly regarded, but he wasn't right for this job. The company needed a president who could be charismatic with the analysts and who could make tough decisions about the future. The new president was risk-averse.
We ran a profile and documented why the promotion was a mistake. We also learned that the president himself was very uncomfortable. Then we designed a new position - vice president of engineering - that was both tailored to his strengths and important to the future of the company. Then we helped the chairman position the change. No one lost face, and the former president was enthusiastic about his new role.
David Beardsley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer living in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Contact Bruce M. Hubby by email (email@example.com) or visit PDP Inc. on the Web (www.pdp-inc.com).
A version of this article appeared in the November 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.