I want to take a break in my systemic breakdown of work styles to address why this knowledge is important and the barriers that keep us from using it. After all, we all like to think of ourselves as unique. So why do we insist on treating everyone the same in the workplace, education, and society at large?
Every workplace has spoken and unspoken rules for how we are supposed to perform our job. This goes beyond the job skills specific to our position such as code writing skills for computer programmers or spreadsheet skills for accountants. These are performance rules that cover every day things like written and face-to-face communication, how you structure your time, how you behave in meetings, how you arrange your work space, etc. It is possible to perform our role specific job skills superbly, but have our performance considered unsatisfactory by failing to follow the other rules, regardless of whether they are spoken.
All the spoken and unspoken performance rules combine to reflect the Workplace Personality: the information are we expected to pay attention to, the decision making process we are supposed to use, how we are supposed to manage our energy, and how we are supposed to manage our work environment. These are the same as the Work Style Personality factors that I've been addressing on the individual level in my recent posts. They have a direct impact on how we communicate, structure our time, behave in meetings, arrange our workspace, etc.
Individual interactions work the best when each person is able to bring the best of their personality to the table while still being flexible so that the other has the space to bring the best of their personality. The most effective and productive worker-workplace interactions have the same flexibility.
So why do so many workplaces have a one-size-fits-all approach?
- It's easier.
- It's fair.
- We don't have a good way to systemically understand difference.
- We don't have a good way to systemically act even when we do understand of difference.
Let's start at the beginning...
A single package for everyone is so much easier. We don't have to think. Everyone just does the same thing, the same way, at the same time and signs on the dotted line. We live and work in a world where there is often more to do than there are hours in our day. So keeping everyone in line makes things easier for everyone...
I've been laying out systemically in the last several posts the fundamental differences between people. That means people don't work the same way.
This is more than touchy-feely, free to be you and me stuff. It's about productivity. Ultimately it takes more time and energy to work against your natural Work Style. The greater percentage of the day that is spent working against your natural Work Style, the lower the percentage of your energy that goes into doing your actual job skills. This is your Effectiveness Ratio. It is reduced and your life is more difficult. Not easier.
The idea is that if we make everyone act the same, then we are treating everyone the same, which means we are treating everyone as equals. No one gets more special treatment and therefore no one gets less. So, everyone has the same chance to advance...
It would only be fair if we were all the same. Which we aren't. If we choose one way of doing things and strictly force everyone to do it the same way, we are actually favoring those whose Work Style Personality matches the Workplace Personality. Their Effectiveness Ratio gets a boost that is independent from the quality of the job specific skills and work ethic of that individual.
This means that a chance of advancement is greater for those whose Work Style Personality matches the Workplace Personality. Those whose Work Style Personality is different will have to expend more energy if they hope for advancement.
Rigid adherence to performance rules that favor those whose Work Style Personality matches the Workplace Personality reinforces the status quo as the people who advance to leadership are the ones who match. They then go on to promote others like them, and so on.
Unless you are applying for a tree climbing job...
No Systemic Understanding of Human Differences
The idea that people are different is acknowledged, but then it takes a hysterical turn. After all, there are an infinite number of factors that go in to create each unique human being, including intelligence, values, skills, and life experiences. Then there's gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. You can't consider everything! It's a slippery slope! Because I can't accommodate every single detail for every single person, everyone has to be treated the same.
Work Style factors directly, fundamentally, and systemically impact how we work. We have tools and assessments, like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, that can help us understand these factors as they are reflected in workers and workplaces. You can read my last five blog posts for a brief outline of Work Style Personality types based on the Myers Briggs Typology. My upcoming blog posts will show how the factors work together to systemically influence workplace behaviors such as time management, communication, and leadership.
The System Can't Manage Differences
This is tough for highly controlling, hierarchical workplaces. Creating one prescriptive Standard Operating Procedure that takes different Work Styles into account is difficult. And for some the thought process is that you must keep the reins tight, holding everyone to this one true way at all times otherwise people will slack off and/or mess up. Productivity will suffer. The numbers for the quarter will suffer. Etc...
There is a fair amount of research that shows that in the modern American workplace giving people the freedom to use their expertise in their area to determine the best way to do the job results in greater productivity and innovation. Ideally, a person with expertise in the job is hired for the position. Right? Then let them do their job. Then, if you give those people the tools to understand their natural Work Style Personality and the space to maximize their approach to their work, they will further increases their productivity.
Could there be people who take advantage of this freedom and slack off at work instead of improve? Sure. And now you know more about their true work ethic. So document their performance, tell them the consequences for poor performance, and then fire them if their performance does not meet your needs. Now you can replace them with someone with a better work ethic.
In my mind dealing with one or two performance problems is still less work than micromanaging an entire company.
Stay Tuned for my upcoming blog posts as I go into detail on the ways that Work Styles and cultural differences can be used to maximize our performance in key workplace performance areas. The next blog is on Time Management.