Menachem's Writings

On Spaghetti Makers, French Management and Assessing Personality

Amongst my many hats, my company is the Israeli representative of an English company called Thomas International Systems. Thomas market a really neat and simple, but very telling and accurate, personality assessment.

We believe that personality is the most important factor in workplace success. People are hired for their skills and fired for their personalities.

There's a well known company in Israel which started as a cooperative, back in the forties, of a number of independent spaghetti, lockshen, makers. Long after it became a publicly listed company, the original families still dominated the shareholding, and some of their members controlled the key management positions of the concern itself. The company grew into a megashekel enterprise, employing many people in a number of manufacturing locations around the country. This was the situation in the nineties when our story took place.

Unfortunately the company today is 51% owned by a multinational -- so much for lockshen Zionism. Rav Kook warned us more than eighty years ago that the time would come when greed will override the love of our Land.

Due to the stature of this company, we were pleased to sign an agreement to provide the spaghetti manufacturers the use of our assessment system. Each of the company's various facilities around the country produce a different part of the product range. We were to start with the head office, located in the centre of the country. In addition to housing the administrative headquarters, this facility is the largest of their manufacturing plants.

In terms of personnel management, each remote location acts independently. Thus success at the main branch did not guarantee our entry into all the facilities, but it would be a useful door opener.

The personnel manager of the main branch was an ambitious little man with a cute French accent. Part of his problem, in my humble opinion, was that he couldn't sit still for very long -- a bit of methylphenidate may have been useful for his condition -- and e continuously searched for ways to big-note himself to his superiors. Needless to say he was married to a spaghetti princess.

We signed an agreement and setup a training schedule. Mr Personnel didn't have his own staff -- no-one was directly responsible to him. The company worked with a pool of manpaower who were available to all of the branch's administration. Our Personnel Manager selected five people from this, who in addition to himself would participate in two training sessions, each of about three hours. We normally hold a full day seminar off-site to ensure undivided attention, but this company refused to release six staff for a full day out of the office.

One condition on which our personnel manager insisted, was that we supply a computer and printer for carrying out the assessments. This way a computer would always be available for an assessment when his staff deemed it necessary. The machine wouldn't be used for anything else. We weren't happy about this but, but because of the importance of this client, we agreed. A three year loan.

We arrived at the first training session with the computer. The company computer guy told me I was "stark raving mad. Do you know how many computers and printers like this are sitting in boxes downstairs, unassigned?"

We sat down with the appointed staff. "Where is your manager?" He'll be along shortly -- he asked that we start without him.

Twenty minutes later our star employee waltzes in. Sits down for a few minutes. Fidgets around. Asks an irrelevant question to sound important, and waltzes back out of room. "Perhaps you should stay and learn how to use your system." I have an important matter to which I must attend -- I'll come back as soon as I can.

Story repeats itself an hour later. Session over. Manager has had nearly ten minutes of training.

"Would you like to join us for lunch?" [not the manager] OK -- thanks. But this was a story in itself. Coupons, permissions, eat anything except the steak. "We can't see them, but we're sure there are surveillance cameras. The big boss seems to always know everything that happens anywhere on the premises, in the offices and in the cafeteria. We can't bring you for lunch every time you come here.

Second training session was pretty much a repeat of the first. And onto production. A few of the current employees filled out the questionnaire and everyone was pleased with the assessments.

They started to use our system for potential employees and were very happy with the results. The underlings seemed to understand well how to incorporate the information provided by our assessments into their hiring process.

The system is comprised of two subsystems. One, the Human Job Analysis questionnaire, defines the job position to be filled: storeman, driver, forklift operator. The second questionnaire, assesses candidate personality. The system indicates a level of match between the two.

One fine day, the general manager, a very proper type of gentleman, decided that he, like all the other important men of Israel, should have his own "executive secretary". Our personnel manager, though this appointment did not fall under his jurisdiction, saw a new opportunity to big-note himself. Salivating, he went to Big Boss and suggested the use of his new fantastic, shiny, now well-proven assessment system.

Sounded good to Big Boss. He just wanted an executive secretary; he didn't want to waste too much time in the hiring process. He handed the Job Analysis questionnaire to his [clerical] secretary to fill out. Of course, had Mr Personnel Manager sat in on our seminars, or ever used the system, he would have realised that it is at least strongly recommended that the direct employer define the task.

Not only did Big Boss not define the task to the system, he also didn't read any of the reports. He just looked to see if there was a match. Why not -- that's what his personnel manager told him to do. Like effortless magic!

The new executive secretary was a disaster. Why so bad? Because a successful stenographer has a very different personality to an executive secretary. Different things are expected from each.

In general, without going into theory of the system, there are four main personality types: Dominant, Influential, Steady and Compliant. A stenographer needs to score high in the last two factors, specifically they need to be able to sit in the same office, desk, task etc continuously, and they need to follow rules. We do not want a stenographer who talks a lot, is overly friendly or pushy, or decides to modify correspondence to her writing style.

An executive secretary, on the other hand, needs to show more dominance, be comfortable talking to many different people, be able to move quickly to different situations and locations, and is expected to know when to show flexibility in the application of company rules and norms, for the benefit of the situation.

Our stenographer didn't know any of this. Not her fault. I'm sure she thought she doing a great job and a clone of herself (if not exactly herself) would be the ideal candidate for Big Boss's new executive secretary. So she filled out the Job Analysis based on herself. Big Boss did say he wanted a new secretary. Of course the successful candidate was totally unsuitable. No-one directly involved in her new appointment ever interviewed her.

Big Boss fired the unsuitable secretary after a few days. He angrily called our French friend for a rare visit to the lofty executive suite. It wasn't a very sympathetic meeting and the personnel manager was told in no uncertain terms to get rid of the system post haste.

Mr Personnel Manager, trembling voice, rings me and yells at me. It's all your fault! Mine . . . and thanks for the three year loan on my computer.

A more charming gentleman I may never meet. I found out when our friend was away for the day. Out of the headquarters. I tell my liaison guy in the office that we needed to perform an off-site lab service on the computer. He let front gate security know I'd be leaving with a computer going to service. He knew what was flying. He'd been taken advantage of more than once.

I only stopped sweating when I, computer in the boot, was back on the highway.

I never heard that French accent again.


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