No, I'm not mad - I'm a fact finder

The mind is a three-legged stool - the cognitive leg deals with intellectual experience and skills, the affective leg is the feelings domain, and the conative leg is how you take action. A Kolbe test measures the conative area.

At first I thought I must be mad to agree to a Kolbe test - a 36-question survey - with Candle.

But I overcame a certain risk aversion (more of that later) because of dedication and loyalty to my job.

The Kolbe test was developed by US management strategist and educator Kathy Kolbe in the 1980s to help employers, such as IT managers, find the right kind of staff. It is not just about what you know, but also how you work.

Jan McKenzie of recruitment firm Candle operates the system exclusively for New Zealand. She uses it to help firms decide whether someone will fit in with a team; or whether that new graduate is actually suited to IT when they might really prefer selling.

McKenzie likens the mind to a three-legged stool. The cognitive leg deals with intellectual experience and skills, and is usually measured by IQ tests, academic records and the like. Second is the affective leg, the feelings domain, which is assessed by personality tests, looking at a candidate's emotional stability, how introverted/extroverted they are, their beliefs and values. Finally, comes the rarely known conative area - how they take action, what they will and won’t do.

McKenzie says we learn things, which may affect our cognitive side, and life experience may change our personality, but our conative area should not change as how we take action is deeply ingrained from early years.

The test should divine our individual mix of striving instincts. These striving instincts are divided into four categories called Action Modes. These are divided into three zones of operation, creating a 12-part chart of "Impact Factors" that summarises how we naturally contribute in each of the four action modes. A Fact Finder mode assesses whether someone is pragmatic, probing, realistic or other. A Follow Thru Mode assesses if someone is a planner, a designer or works to a system. Quick Start assesses someone's innovation, enterprise and ability to handle change. And the Implementor Mode looks at how someone operates with their hands, such as in building, crafting or farming.

I turned out to be a fact finder - a researcher who likes to deal with information, working with detail, enjoying research and acting on past experience. I avoid change unless I know it is for the good, I need time to get things right and I tend to be a perfectionist. Fact finders explain thoroughly, are good at written communication, they like to have a reason for everything, and no one can argue with them as they can justify themselves when they are wrong. They are sceptical, need proof, act on probability not possibility, and are pragmatists and realists.

And the ideal job for me? You’ve guessed it - a journalist. Along with research scientist, assessor, professor, buyer, technical writer, historian, engineer and judge.

Follow Thru people have an instinct to run to patterns, follow systems and processes. I was told I would follow procedures but not when they are unrealistic.

Quickstart people innovate, adjust to multi-tasking and operate within tight deadlines, but don't worry about depth of information unless they also have a fair degree of fact finder. Here I was told I could handle such cases, but would prefer more time. I am also apparently risk-averse, wanting to check and avoid chaos.

Implementing was also not me. I would tend to avoid using tools and solving problems physically and would instead use my mind.

IT people tend to be fact finders as well and very few are poor at fact-finding, says McKenzie. Many score well with Follow Thru as there is a lot of structure and information in the IT process. However, this is changing as IT project management work increasingly deals with multiple projects, which needs better Quickstart skills - dealing with as sense of urgency, acting flexibly and letting someone better suited in the team do the planning.

McKenzie warns strain arises if you set unrealistic goals for yourself and tension arises if people work outside their profile.

Conative conflict also arises when two different people types work together. People with different profiles can be a great team, but unless they understood each other through doing the Kolbe assessment, they would frustrate each other, she says.

Candle finds increasingly IT firms and other use Kolbe to assess their existing staff as well as potential newcomers, particularly for team-building. Firms can conduct classroom team sessions in which they get feedback to the profiles to assess how people would fit in and work together.

But does Kolbe work? Is it accurate?

Certainly many of the characteristics given to me apply. I’m not always a perfectionist, but I like a job well done, though I often want things out of the way, over and done with, ready for the next task. I can work under pressure, I have worked under chaos, multi-tasked and coped well. But yes, this is best avoided if possible.

Risk averse? Sometimes. I have had my fingers bitten in the past and maybe you do get more cautious as you get older. But I’m often game for a new experience.

Pragmatic? Realistic? Yes, which is why I’ve coped with some changes I haven’t always liked.

Sceptical? yes, I was with this test, initially, but I think I’ve seen the "proof".

Probing? I’m often called nosy. Communicator? Well, it goes with the job and I often have an excuse for many things. But a bullshitter, no; sometimes I can be too honest for my own good, a characteristic McKenzie also mentions.

Some of the 36 questions seem a bit unfair, as I wanted to say yes to all four given answers, but apparently candidates would not give them equal weight and from here our characteristic comes out.

“The Kolbe test is more about will and won’t, not can and can’t," McKenzie says. "The ways people find most comfortable. Yes, we will cope doing things outside our modus operandi - everybody does - but the test is about a preferred way of doing things."

Greenwood is a Computerworld journalist. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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