Assessed for success

B.C. ministry’s award-winning program uses several tools to improve leadership
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/14/2012

When Elaine Jones became executive director of the strategic human resources branch at British Columbia’s Ministry of Finance in 2006, she wanted to make improvements on numerous fronts including employee engagement, a supportive culture and continuous learning.

A Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) certified master practitioner, Jones was keen to use the MBTI instrument — an assessment of personality type — to deliver her vision for an improved workplace.

The MBTI is well-researched and has been around for about 70 years, so it’s valid and reliable, says Jones.

“I find it to be one of the most useful tools to help bring that self-awareness to leaders and to employees,” she says. “You can’t really be a good leader to others if you aren’t aware of yourself and your own impact on others.”

As a result, nine members of the branch have been trained on steps I and II of MBTI and other assessment tools.

“They administer the MBTI, along with other assessments, for leaders and teams to create self-awareness, understanding of differences and (the) uniqueness of each employee, and improve team dynamics,” says Jones.

In the past five years, the branch has used psychological type as its primary model in leadership development, team-building and com­munication skills enhancement. To date, more than 600 MBTI step II assessments have been administered and debriefed.

“We can use (psychological) type to look at communications but also in reducing stress, improving decision-making, problem-solving amongst the teams — just understanding each other better and reducing conflicts,” says Jones.

These efforts were recognized with an award from the Association for Psychological Type International (APTi) in Richmond, Va. Jones and her team received the Otto Kroeger Organizational Excellence Award, which honours an organization outside the field of psychological type for ethically using type to improve its business practices and the work lives of its employees.

Numerous assessment tools

A strong focus on leadership is also needed at the ministry because of a succession program started three years ago to address succession and leadership needs at the director and executive director levels.

“The program has been so successful, we were just asked by some of our executives to enhance our program and move it to a lower level in the organization where we’re getting non-managerial employees ready, the ones with high potential, ready for future manager roles,” says Jones.

The other assessment tools include Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behaviour (FIRO-B), the California Psychological Inventory’s CPI 260 Instrument and 360-degree feedback.

The FIRO-B standard helps people understand the impact they have on others through three different needs — control, inclusion and affection or openness, says Jones. For example, if you’re a person with a high need for control, you might micromanage people more than they would like. But if you have a low need for control while an employee has a high need, you might not provide enough direction for the worker, which leads to frustrations, says Jones.

Having this knowledge can help people talk about the issues and establish different kinds of relationships or boundaries, so it really helps with teamwork, she says.

“That’s really a good little instrument — not a long one, it doesn’t take a long time to do it — but it provides valuable insights.”

The CPI 260 instrument features 24 leadership characteristics and shows a person how they compare to successful leaders, looking at areas of strength or areas in need of improvement, says Jones.

The tool can be useful in assessing whether a person is ready for leadership development and what work he needs to do before he goes down that path. Obviously this kind of assessment should not be done with entry-level supervisors as they will have a huge number of needs and it would be demotivating, says Jones.

All of the assessments can be done online at the employee’s convenience. To ensure more accurate results, they are encouraged to do the assessments when they are focused and not rushed, says Jones.

Discussing results

Once the tests are taken, the HR team sits down one-on-one to go over the results. The employees then agree to focus on two areas to work on that year, such as gaining broader leadership experience by taking on temporary assignments. HR also meets with them regularly to see how they’re progressing.

The ministry’s ongoing use and application of the MBTI instrument has helped develop a culture of trust and diversity, an increased understanding of differences and team dynamics, and a positive and supportive work environment, according to APTi.

And, as a result of the successes, the work of Jones and her team has recently been expanded to the 400-employee Ministry of Labour, she says.

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