Brace yourself for a troubling statistic: a recent Gallup poll found that only 35 percent of employees are engaged in their work. What’s worse, research shows that when managers are disengaged, it has a cascade effect on the employees they manage, leading to less engagement over all. [1. “U.S. Employee Engagement Unmoved in June at 31.9%,” http://www.gallup.com/poll/184061/employee-engagement-unmoved-june.aspx?g_source=EMPLOYEE_ENGAGEMENT&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles] With all the effort good leaders expend trying to create a welcoming, engaging atmosphere for managers and employees — everything from ping pong tables in the break room to major diversity initiatives— it can feel disheartening when levels of engagement are low. The possible culprit? Leaders that place employees in roles that don’t match their work style. All the ping pong tables in the world won’t make an employee an engaged, fulfilled, and successful team member if he or she just doesn’t have a natural aptitude for the position.
Companies generally do a good job of placing employees in positions based on two attributes: their cognitive and affective qualities. These qualities make up two of the three parts of the mind. Cognition refers to the processes of knowing and reasoning; companies can measure a potential employee’s cognitive strengths through IQ tests. The affective part of the mind deals with mood, feelings, and attitudes; managers can generally suss this out during interviews for potential candidates. So what’s missing? The third part of the mind: conation. If your team feels disengaged, stressed, or is struggling to complete projects effectively and efficiently, a conative misalignment could be to blame. Read on to learn about conation and workplace tweaks you could make to fix your conative problem.
So what is conation, exactly? Conation refers to a person’s instinctive way of doing things, or their Modus Operandi (MO). Each person’s unique blend of conative qualities primes them to take actions in certain ways. The Kolbe A assessment categorizes a person’s conation by measuring their strengths along four action modes: Fact Finder, Follow Thru, Quick Start, and Implementer. The Fact Finder mode refers to how we gather and share information, the Follow Thru mode refers to how we are naturally inclined to arrange and design, the Quick Start mode refers to how we deal with risk and uncertainty, and the Implementer mode refers to the natural way we handle space and tangibles. [2. “Four Action Modes,” http://www.kolbe.com/why-kolbe/kolbe-wisdom/four-action-modes/] A person is naturally, instinctively inclined to solve problems in a unique way along each of the action modes, and that makes up a person’s “conation.”
How, then, can conative misalignment lead to problems in the workplace? If an employee or manager’s conation — or natural way of doing things — doesn’t match up with how his role in the workplace requires him to do things, that will cause major stress. And stress at work is a big no-no: high levels of stress at work lead to higher levels of disengagement, more health problems, and absenteeism among employees.[3. “Workplace Stress Leads To Less Productive Employees,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/karenhigginbottom/2014/09/11/workplace-stress-leads-to-less-productive-employees/] Unfortunately, it can be hard for leaders to pinpoint the source of stress for a single employee or even an entire team. If you have a stressed team but can’t figure out the cause, conative misalignment may be to blame.
A few years ago we worked with a team dealing with this exact situation — high levels of stress and no readily apparent cause. After key team members took the Kolbe assessments, we found that the roles demanded of the team members didn’t match their MO at all. The team leader was especially affected and since his conation was out of alignment in a major way, it was causing the rest of the team to have to pick up the slack. More work for them meant more stress for the team overall.
The gap between a team member’s natural way of taking action and the action necessitated by a particular role can cause major stress. Luckily, there are strategies that team leaders can implement to alleviate the conative dissonance in the workplace.
Identify and Leverage Conative Styles
Leaders can try shifting team roles to align more with each team member’s natural conative abilities. When we were working with the previously mentioned team, we found that team members were experiencing conative dissonance in part because they were modeling their behavior after the team leader. This is common: based on the idea of social learning theory, numerous studies have found that employees mimic the behavior of their bosses, for better or for worse.[4. “Abusive Bosses Make Everyone Mean,” http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7003-abusive-bosses.html] By having each team member take the Kolbe A assessment, we allowed them to come to terms with their own conative way of doing things, and reinforced the idea that their conation was just as valid as the leader’s. To the team’s delight, we found that when team members adapted to their own conation style, they produced far better results.
Keep in mind, though, that leaders may have to shift responsibilities between team members to bring conation into alignment, since some tasks can only be accomplished by a particular way of doing things. Clearly defining roles at the beginning of a project — and asking team members to volunteer for certain tasks rather than just assigning roles yourself — can help.
Create Coping Strategies
Providing team members with coping strategies to effectively deal with their conative dissonance is another tactic. Not all responsibilities are “shift-able;” certain tasks need to be done by certain employees, no matter their natural conation or aptitude for the task. That’s why creating coping strategies for conation is vital. In the example of our stressed out team, the Kolbe assessment revealed that the team leader scored high on the “quick start” action mode, which meant he was quick to take action and improvise. While this was certainly a desirable trait in a leader, the downside was that he created a lot of distractions for the team. To assuage the issue, we built up healthy boundaries between the leader and the rest of the team. For example, the leader would often email the team throughout the day and week with ideas and strategies as soon as they popped into his head. We shifted his way of doing things a bit by having the leader collect his ideas throughout the week and organize them in a single email that went out to the team a few days before their weekly meeting. Relatively simple changes like this can have a huge, positive impact on the stress levels of a team.
Assess, Assess, Assess!
This final conative strategy may nip the conation problem in the bud: business leaders should implement conative assessment during the actual hiring process to eliminate conative struggles down the line. Doing so will save time during the vetting process and will help prevent the costly and timely process of rehiring someone once you realize the initial hire can’t perform his or her role effectively. Cognitive and affective hiring assessments are already widely used in the HR world; it’s time to add conative assessments to the list.
Is your team experiencing abnormally high levels of stress with no readily apparent cause? Then you may need to take a closer look at conation. At Applied Vision Works, we can help leaders identify conation issues, administer Kolbe assessments, and then strategize ways to work with team members’ conative abilities, rather than against them. To learn more, get in touch with our experts today.