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From millennials to technophobes: Managing personalities at work

Successfully managing a diverse workforce is about discovering, developing and using every employee’s individual potential. And key to this is realising that potential differs. Jane Asscher, chief executive and founding partner at creative communications agency 23red, says: “Recognising that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to managing individuals is the first step to ensuring an engaged, productive workforce.

“Getting to know the individuals you manage by finding out what motivates them, how they like to receive feedback and how they want their careers to develop will enable you to tailor your management style, and enable the kind of open and honest conversations that will facilitate the achievement of both company and individual goals.”

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In her 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain defines introverts as having a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment. She also suggests that introverts listen more than they talk, think before they speak and have a more circumspect and cautious approach to risk. She says that expecting introverts to act as extroverts can be damaging. So how do you get the best from them if they won’t speak up? Jim Whitehurst, chief executive of tech company Red Hat, says: “I’ve noticed that while introverts are not always as eager to speak up in a meeting, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to share their great ideas. Encourage them to use a different outlet, like e-mail or an online forum, where they can process and engage in issues they are passionate about.”



“An extrovert has an awful tendency to judge others as per themselves,” says Henry Daglish, managing director of Arena Media. He suggests playing to an extrovert’s ego: “If you openly undermine them, they tend to collapse,” he says. “Help them understand how to work with others and listen. They love fame, so give it to them if they deserve it.” Mr Whitehurst adds: “Extroverts really feed off of the energy of others and tend to shine when the spotlight is on them. That’s why it’s important to create social and teamwork-oriented opportunities for them as a way to keep them engaged and motivated.”



Studying customer behaviour and data capturing is becoming more and more essential to modern business as it enables us to understand better how companies and individuals use services. Jason Downes, managing director of conference call service provider Powwownow, which conducts personality tests on its staff, says: “Managing analytical types is certainly an aspect of the job that I have had to learn and learn quickly since joining Powwownow. Setting firm deadlines and targets is something I have found effective, as generally analysts work predominantly with numbers and that’s the language they communicate best with. Analytical people don’t like empty phrases and business buzzwords so use direct communication. Most analysts, although working as part of a team, will perform a lot of tasks individually so it’s important to create a sense of freedom, avoid micro-managing and allow them time to work away from the office to think more laterally should they want or need it.”



“Creative people tend to be considered by analytic types as dreamers, yet creative people can see beyond the current trends,” says executive coach Marielena Sabatier, chief executive of Inspiring Potential, which specialises in team and leadership coaching. Working together with them is key. She says: “With greater understanding, instead of shutting down creative ideas, analytics could use their strengths in critical thinking and analysis to make the dreamers’ idea more robust and help turn the idea into a reality.”



The very word “technophobe” is somewhat loaded. But those who purport to fear technology often have, and can be encouraged to use, other skills, even in a digital age. Mr Daglish says: “I find that technophobes are actually pretty good ‘people’ people and can provide a good balance in the modern workplace.” He talks of one employee who insisted on closing his e-mail before he did anything else on his computer. “We tried to get him to change his ways, but it didn’t work,” says Mr Daglish, “and the fact was that he was great with his clients and his people because he virtually refused to do much more than talk to his team or clients and pick up the phone if he really had to. His refusal to use e-mail, personal messagers and ‘Tweeter’, as he used to call it, was massively refreshing, strangely enough.”



“Individualists don’t care what other people think,” says organisational psychotherapist Joan Kingsley. “They are not easy to manage, but you absolutely want all kinds of diverse people on your team because if everyone you have is the same, you have what is called ‘group-think’. Individualists are often creative so when managing them it’s important not to interfere with those creative processes because, as soon as you do start interfering, you block their creativity. You’re very likely to shut someone down if you try to control them so you need to manage individualists carefully.” However, she warns: “It’s important to set boundaries and the rules of the game, which are the same for everybody.” The best way, she says, is to come up with an agreement on how to work together and how they’re going to work within the confines of a team.



It’s another loaded word, especially with the current trend for improving work-life balance, but the fact is that some people will always be workaholics. This trait can be used positively, however, says Martin Woolley, group managing director at marketing agency The Specialist Works. “There are some people who are called workaholics who are actually hard-working individuals who are ambitious and engaged,” he says. “There are probably no easier people to manage.” However, he warns: “Real workaholics treat work like an addiction, and in some cases will need therapy to help them regain perspective and deal with underlying issues.” If workaholics are managers themselves, there can be strain on their teams who can feel under pressure to be available outside office hours or they simply cannot keep up with the volume of requests or the pace that a workaholic can set. “By definition, workaholics can cover a lot of ground,” says Mr Woolley. “They spend more time working than most. This can mean they will go outside the parameters of their brief so it is important to make sure these are clear and you are aware of what they are doing. If they start down the wrong path, they might be a long way up it by the time you realise. And not all workaholics are as good as they like to think, which means they can do a lot of damage very quickly.”



Sometimes how you behave at work is more about when you were born and how this affects your expectations. Millennials are those born between the early-80s and early-2000s. Phil Jones, managing director of communication and technology company Brother UK, says: “Millennials crave variety, pace and knowledge.” To that end, Brother UK’s review structures take impact as well as performance into account. “Millennials seek purpose,” he says, “This relates to both the business in terms of collective goals, but also being part of a wider social purpose by getting involved with community charity initiatives. We’ve aligned our citizenship-based initiatives even further in response to this.” Author and trainer Rob Brown, adds: “To get the most out of millennials, employers really do need to pull out the stops with technology and workplace comforts. Whether it’s BYOD [bring your own device] or ensuring there is genuine fun and engagement taking place in the office, millennials value relationships, collaboration and creativity, and like to see work as a second home so employers need to ensure there is flexibility and wellbeing perks.”

However, classifications such as these should be used with caveats, says Tony Nicholls at organisational change company White Stone OD. “Adapting one’s style to suit those in front of you is a great strength,” he says, “However, if done badly, it can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust.

“Start by studying the research on each trait and group. Find out what behaviours are likely to be demonstrated in different situations. Note that each individual may carry more than one trait and polar-opposite traits can show up depending on context.” For example, he adds: “I’m an introvert by nature, but have learnt to be extroverted at work. Put me in a boardroom and I will hold my own. Put me in a social setting where

I don’t know anyone and I struggle not to run out the door.” Complexities like this, says Mr Nicholls, can make it difficult for managers to read the situation, particularly with staff they have known only for a short time.

“Being clumsy or overt about this ‘reading’ is what really irritates people and makes them feel they are being manipulated. So avoid the temptation to jump to conclusions when first seeing particular traits. Each person needs to feel they are being treated as an individual, not just another example of a particular group,” he concludes.