14 Great Places
The Employee Puzzle
THE EMPLOYEE PUZZLE
Attempting to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole is not only frustrating, it's also clearly non-productive.
Human resource directors and top management executives, subscribing to the old cliche that "time is money," are focusing more and more on placing personnel into positions for which an employee's aptitudes, interests, talents and expertise are good fits. And to help avoid the square peg-round hole problem, businesses are calling in employee testing specialists.
One such organization is Kolbe Corp, a 25-year old Phoenix, Arizona, company dedicated to improving peoples' lives by demonstrating how best to use their talents. The information Kolbe generates about employees also helps businesses improve their bottom lines. Insurance is one category in which Kolbe testing programs have gained widespread use in recent years.
"The Kolbe system," says Kolbe International President Will Rapp, "enables individuals to unleash the power of their own natural instincts to find personal happiness, enrich relationships and launch rewarding careers."
The insurance industry's initial exposure to Kolbe's programs was in 1987. Founder and CEO Kathy Kolbe was the keynote speaker at a Million Dollar Roundtable national meeting. There she explained her revolutionary theories on individuals' instincts and her proven methodology for building their innate strengths for both personal and career advantages. Insurance executives immediately grasped the potential of the Kolbe system to hone their new-hire procedures and to position current personnel where they ought to be. The system features sets of questions whose answers can determine how respondents instinctively take action.
A long-time proponent of Kolbe's programs, CFR Insurance (the Rough Notes 1994 Agency of the Year), is a Tulsa, Oklahoma, agency primarily handling large commercial accounts. Chief Executive Officer Jack Allen has a deep interest in the subject of employee motivation. His creative article, "The Little Red Hen Revisited," in which he colorfully dramatized a good fit between employees and their work assignments, appeared in Rough Notes' October 2000 issue.
Allen writes, "When you understand the individual needs of your employees, managers, producers and co-workers, you get better results. Identifying the right person for a position within the agency becomes much easier. We can set people up to succeed, rather than setting them up to fail."
Sherry Burks, CFR's vice president of operations, is another enthusiastic supporter of Kolbe programs. "CFR already had hiring practices in place," she says. "But using Kolbe pushed us to a higher success level. Turnover is almost nil, and morale is extremely high. In fact, Kolbe gives each employee a nametag with his or her M.O. (mode of operation) on it, and people want to display them. When Jack (Allen) brings in carriers and they see our teamwork, morale and what we're doing they want to learn more."
Michelle Rakes is one of many CFR employees who proudly display their Kolbe M.O. on a lapel or office door. Michelle had been in the accounting department where "... crunching numbers day in and day out just wasn't very satisfying anymore. My Kolbe analysis showed my strength to be in problem-solving and follow-through. Now, in my position of commercial lines account manager, I'm much happier with my servicing and detail work than I was before."
The Kolbe A Index, one of several Kolbe tests, identifies the instinctive methods of operation that allow respondents to be most productive and satisfied. It is primarily used by businesses. Other Kolbe indices are geared toward inter-personal relationships and self-improvement. The Kolbe A offers detailed explanations about avoiding stress as well as maximizing career activities and workplace interactions. It is available via the Internet at www.kolbe.com.
Testing programs developed and conducted by such firms as Caliper, Omnia Group Incorporated, and Myers-Briggs also serve the insurance industry. Generally they measure learned behavior, intelligence, and personality--information that's also extremely useful for personnel decisionmakers. Kolbe attempts to measure a person's problem-solving instincts.
Because of CFR's understanding and enthusiasm for their programs and results, Kolbe extended CFR a licensing contract in January. CFR is working with Fireman's Fund, the Sitkins 100 Group, and several other clients to provide insurance industry Kolbe profiling and consulting. Specific insurance industry data is being co-developed with Kolbe Corp. CFR is collecting data at their industry-specific database (www.whateveryoudo.com). That information will help CFR develop best practices information for the insurance industry.
"Sherry Burks was trained and certified by us," says Rapp. "She's very effective and so enthusiastic within the insurance industry. Sherry's really an expert on Kolbe. And, of course, she shares her insurance expertise with us. Through her work more and more insurance professionals are aware of Kolbe."
A good reason for Sherry's enthusiasm is her own case history. For several years she was a leader in CFR's accounting department. "I was plugging along there," she recalls, "but not with high energy anymore. When we all took the Kolbe Index, it showed my M.O. (an accurate map of one's natural instincts) to be a combination researcher/quick starter. A natural thing for me, then, was to get results; allocate resources. By then, I'd recently been transferred into operations anyway, but the Kolbe results almost made me angry with myself. That's what I'd been telling myself I needed to do in this job, but I wasn't seeing who I really was. It actually gave me permission to send other people off to solve some of their own issues rather than my always being the mediator. I wasn't all that good at mediating anyway, and I began to realize I could be so much more productive if I could be true to my natural talent. The Kolbe experience was the most validating thing I've ever been through."
The Kolbe system also benefits from the efforts of the Sitkins Group, Inc., which offers "The Vertical Growth Experience" to top insurance agencies focusing on continual improvement of their operations. The Sitkins Group, Inc., shares analytical data about the insurance industry with Kolbe. Developed by Roger Sitkins, company president, "The Vertical Growth Experience" deals with the disciplines of sales, sales management, CEO, account manager and business development coordinator. Sitkins' says that getting people to focus on their strengths and natural abilities is the key to Kolbe clients' success.
"Know your abilities and work with them," emphasizes Sitkins. "Just the opposite from the old days when we were told to work on our weaknesses. Let's stop worrying about what we're not good at."
Judy Woertz heard similar advice from a business coach at a 1999 regional insurance seminar where she was first exposed to Kolbe's programs. "I could not run my staff and business (the Aguilar-Woertz State Farm Agency of Tempe, Arizona) without a tool like Kolbe," she says. "The Kolbe tests, which can be done quickly online, are inexpensive. It's money very well spent to help get the right person for the job. I run a Kolbe for every serious job candidate, because I have such confidence in the results. Kolbe has opened our eyes internally, too. One particular employee had been a combination office manager and sales person. Kolbe testing confirmed that sales was not a natural fit for her skills. Her instincts and aptitude were better suited for the office managing portion of her duties. She's been doing that work phenomenally well for two years now. And she loves it."
Kolbe officials cite many similar case histories that confirm Kolbe's mission of helping businesses find, recruit, train and ultimately retain a productive staff. They also note that, frequently, a Kolbe Index taker may transfer down to a more junior level position on the organizational chart to achieve greater job satisfaction, reduce personal stress and contribute toward improved teamwork.
David Kolbe, president of Kolbe Corp and son of the founder, heads the firm's technology division which develops, then designs, supports and delivers its own software.
"This is what we say to prospects and clients," explains Kolbe. "The key things we do are: help you find the people who will be among your top producers; help you figure out who should be doing what, and maybe more important what jobs are not suitable for them; and finally, help the people in your organization to understand each other better. They might be doing their tasks correctly, but there still could be tension within that group and we can come in and resolve a lot of those issues for you."
Rapp sums up the Kolbe story: "The ongoing attraction to us seems to be two-fold. I think Kolbe's been particularly attractive to those companies that are sales-driven, and to those industries that are going through great transformations. Kolbe seems to suit these situations extremely well."
In other words, helping keep those round holes out of the square pegs' way. *
Bob Bloss is a freelance writer based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.