Shhh! Let’s listen to a conversation between Glenn, Michelle and Bob during their weekly sales meeting. Glenn, the sales manager, is struggling with weak sales and what he feels is a sales force lacking ………

Glenn: We are barely holding our own. Sales are flat. We are not even close to making a profit this year. What the heck have you guys been doing?

Bob: Boss, we are doing the best we can. Everyone is nickel-and-diming us or has put everything on hold until next quarter. You asked me to make 10 more calls a day and I’ve done it. It’s really not our fault. You can’t blame the economy on us.

Michelle: I agree with Bob. Our customers have just cut back. The best I can do is to keep calling. But you know January is always slow for us, and I hear the recession is going to last until at least April, maybe even longer. Maybe our quotas are just too high.

Glenn thinks to himself. “I’ve spent a year and thousands of training dollars waiting for these guys to act with some sense of urgency. They come to work, make their calls, pick up their paychecks and then wait for something to happen. If they can’t meet their quota, they tell me I’m unrealistic. When they meet


their quota, they get cocky and expect bonuses and more money.”

Glenn: Bob, let me ask you something. Are you telling me I should be paying you for the number of phone calls you make, not sales? By the way, did either of you ever register for the chamber mixer and networking meeting I recommended?

Bob: Come on, Glenn. You read the papers. Sales are off everywhere. Sooner or later, things will turn around. And Glenn, I told you I couldn’t attend those meetings. You know I have trouble getting up so early and I go to the gym after work on the same day the mixer falls.

Michelle: I don’t think it’s fair that we should have to go to those meetings on our time. Those people know what we do. All they want to do is sell us anyway.

This volley of blame and excuses continues back and forth for a few more minutes. Glenn then issues an ultimatum. He is willing to accept that sales will be off but demands that both Bob and Michelle prepare an individual sales action plan outlining their next quarter goals and how they plan to achieve them.

Bob resigns the next day. Actually he calls the office about 10 AM to say he won’t be coming in anymore. Michelle hands in a list recommending that the company place more ads, more frequent mailings and better incentives to motivate her and she’ll follow up on the leads. Glenn sighs in disbelief and buries his head in his hands.

Unfortunately, similar conversations seem to be taking place in the offices of many managers these days. An epidemic of blind-sided optimism infected the minds and bodies of managers during the last 1990’s and 2000. In their haste to fill open positions, expand territories, and gain market share, managers hired a lot of warm bodies. The overlooked problem was that these fair weather employees never really learned to start their own fire in case of a cold spell. Glenn hired sales people who could sell if they were given a lighter and paper but now he expects them to build a fire from scratch to keep warm.

Glenn is not alone. A day doesn’t go by without a manager asking me if flexibility, resolve, motivation, attitude, urgency, integrity and a host of other qualities can be tested for.

This, of course, begs a question. Do those traits determine the difference between top performers and average performers and if so, how can a hiring manager identify these qualities and skills before they hire? Can managers do anything to develop these qualities and skills in existing salespeople?

The answer is undeniably yes. Personality tests have been used for team building since World War I. Recently many organizations have begun to use personality tests, or more appropriately called performance assessments, to help screen out individuals who are not qualified or will not fit the company culture before they hire as well as select-in the right people.

Although few managers would disagree that the information acquired from personality tests is quite accurate, many of them question whether or not they actually helped identify a more qualified employee. The differences between assessments are really subtle, enough to drive anyone crazy. Too often a test is selected based on referral from a friend or out of desperation just to try something different. Most tests are validated and reliable, meaning the results are accurate. The test, however, may not be providing information that is predictive of success, just interesting reading. An analogous story might be an individual who is having chest pain. If a blood sugar test is ordered and the results are normal, the test was accurate and the information good. Unfortunately it may not be relevant or appropriate at that point in time.

With the advent of sixth generation assessment tools, cognitive abilities, interests and personality are incorporated into an evaluation that evaluates the whole person, the model recommended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for fair, unbiased selection. These sixth generation assessment tools now can put job-specific predictive information about individuals and how well they will fit the position and team into the hands of a manager with considerably more accuracy and reliability than ever before. This level of specificity has elevated talent selection and team building from a science to an art. sixth generation assessments can be used for coaching, team building, career pathing and succession plan development, too.

What is the difference between cognitive abilities, interests and personality?

Cognitive-Can the person do the job? For example, Prevue, a sixth generation tool, measures a person’s ability to work with numbers, words, and shapes.

· The higher the individual scores working with numbers, the more likely he or she is to be quicker and more accurate in reasoning with information derived from simple numbers.

· When dealing with words, those individuals who score higher will likely have no problems related to the use and understanding of written language. They should also find it easy to follow instructions.

· When dealing with shapes, individuals are likely to be quicker and more accurate than most people in dealing with information that involves mentally manipulating shapes and objects in space. They should find it easy to work with plans and diagrams.

Interests-Is the person interested in doing the job and why will he/she do the job? Assessments like Prevue evaluate an individual’s motivation in working with people, data, or machinery. Personal Interests, Attitudes, and Values provides very specific information such as whether an individual will be motivated by learning, money, creativity, volunteerism, competition or a particular cause. Individuals placed in jobs that do not fit their motivations and interests generally under-perform, burn-out quickly and change jobs often.

Personality-How will the person do the job and does he/she have what it takes to do the job and fit the culture? Prevue identifies four factors called ICES and norms the results against the general population based on representative study groups:

  • Independence: Competitive, tough-minded, assertive, forthright.
  • Conscientiousness: Conventional, traditional, concerned with moral values, organized, attentive to detail.
  • Extraversion: Group-oriented, sociable, outgoing, group dependent.
  • Stability: Poised, unruffled, not easily annoyed or upset, relaxed, not anxious.

Assessments like DISC, on the other hand, measure the four P’s of performance:

  • People who seem to be energized by challenges and respond to problems tend to be direct, blunt and quick to anger.
  • People who are energized by the interactions of other people tend to be more outgoing, talkative, open with their gestures.
  • People who prefer to approach their pace of life methodically prefer predictability, and like to bring closure to whatever they start before moving on.
  • Finally, people who prefer a more structured approach tend to know and follow the rules and procedures.

In his new book Good to Great, Jim Collins says “if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover direction, you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Selecting and retaining individuals who under-perform is unfair to the rest of team, your customers and the bottom line. Identifying the difference between average and great performers has never been easier or more accurate since the introduction of sixth generation assessments.

Ira S. Wolfe is president of Poised for the Future Company and founder of Success Performance Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in matching, managing and motivating employees.