Know Thyself... And Others

When candidates apply for a job at Stronghold Construction in Boise, Idaho, they face a dilemma unlike that confronted at almost any other company. They have to determine if they're a lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver.

June 30, 2000

When candidates apply for a job at Stronghold Construction in Boise, Idaho, they face a dilemma unlike that confronted at almost any other company. They have to determine if theyÆre a lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver. The test that determines this not only has helped Jim and Joan Stephens, CRs, match the appropriate personality types to specific jobs, but it has also aided their understanding of each other, improved the effectiveness of their sales efforts, and boosted the efficiency of the crews.

The test is based on studies that show there are four basic personality types. Although several approaches have been developed from this research, the Stephens follow one produced by Gary Smalley in his book "Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships." It breaks the personality profiles into Lion (authoritative, in control, strong decision-maker), Otter (fun-loving, carefree, laid-back), Golden Retriever (eager to please, willing to defer decisions to others), and Beaver (detail-oriented, precise, information-gatherers).

The key to the process is understanding that no one type of personality is best, but a personÆs dominant traits will drive them to approach situations in a certain way and excel in different environments than other personality types. Once people recognize their key personality type, they can adjust their natural responses through training and exercises to ensure that habitual patterns donÆt restrict their reactions and opportunities.

"ItÆs proven to be surprisingly accurate and extremely helpful to us in so many ways," says Joan Stephens, co-owner of the $2.5-million firm. "It works well in conjunction with hiring interviews, because candidates often give you the answers youÆre looking for even if that doesnÆt really reflect who they are. The test helps us learn that."

The couple has been using the system for about 10 years, and it impacts how the company does business. For instance, Joan has learned she is a Golden Retriever with some Beaver qualities, which makes her compliant and eager to please. In looking for a receptionist who reports to Joan, the Stephens stay away from applicants who test as strong Lions, because they will resist JoanÆs supervision and she wonÆt force the issue. Likewise, when looking for a bookkeeper, they put emphasis on Beaver qualities of precision; but they also need some Lion qualities because the bookkeeper follows up with slow-paying clients to produce the final checks.

The system has enhanced communication with clients, too. At one point, the companyÆs four lead carpenters took the test and discovered they are primarily Golden Retrievers. ThatÆs not unusual, as more than 50 percent of all people fall into that category, Jim says. But that means their natural tendency was to acquiesce to customers who asked for changes or additional services without the lead explaining the value in doing the work the way it was planned. "WeÆve done training and coaching exercises to help them note when these situations arise and make them be more of a force in explaining why things are being done the way they are and remain firm," he says.

Joan says the test also aids self-awareness. "I didnÆt realize my natural reaction was to dislike change until I plotted my personality," she says. "I realized that I avoid change, and that my first reaction to something new is to dislike it. Now, I can catch myself feeling that way and listen to the situation rather than giving in to that natural inclination immediately. It gives me more ability to see other perspectives."

The Stephens hold a production meeting every Monday, with a portion devoted to exercises in identifying and working with different personality types. They also hold a six-hour training session every quarter to role-play situations with each personality type. "You have to æsharpen the sawÆ to keep it useful," Jim Stephens says. He also uses this process in his work as a trainer with the Sandler Sales Institute in Boise and as pastor of a local church.

"ItÆs not rocket science, but it does give a very accurate peek into a personÆs personality and where the strengths and weaknesses are," he says. "It definitely has helped us in every aspect of our business and personal lives."

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