Understanding an employee’s personality type may mean the difference between effective communication and chaos.

At an early age, Sesame Street teaches children how important cooperation and communication is in our daily lives. Why then is it so difficult to implement those same concepts as adults?

The key to making your operation run smoothly is the effective management of your greatest resource   –   your employees. A business is only as good as its workers, yet you can have qualified, hardworking employees and still not meet your production capabilities.

Veterinarian Paul Yeske, from St. Peter, Minn., is studying just how important it is to understand employee personalities. “It allows us to understand how we communicate and interact with each other,” he says.

As part of his research, Yeske has surveyed decision-makers on 1,400 pork operations. The survey included a personality profile, attitude assessment and general production poll. Yeske’s early results show managers typically fall into two categories:

Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judgmental   44 percent

Extroverted, Sensing,   Thinking, Judgmental 20 percent

Those results show that pork production managers are people who are in tune with their environment, says Yeske. “They use logic-based thinking and are quick to come to closure. This may explain why they are in these positions.” 

Introverts are commonly know to be quiet and keep to themselves. However, introverts are also big-picture thinkers. Extroverts, on the other hand, are detail-oriented in addition to being outgoing and people-oriented.

Generally, big-picture people don’t want to be bored with details, and detail people need more than a big-picture overview. Knowing this about an individual can help you tailor communication to best meet his or her needs.

But before you can understand others, you need to tune in to your own personality and how you want people to communicate with you. “If you understand yourself first, then working to understand others is easier,” says Yeske.

You can do this by taking the same personality tests you give to employees and by doing some self evaluation.

There are several personality tests available. Each is designed for a specific purpose.

Pre-hire tests can be used to evaluate attitudes, honesty and integrity. They
especially are beneficial in jobs where employees are in contact with cash or
inventory, says Don Tyler, president of Profitable Solutions, a business management consulting firm in Clarks Hill, Ind.

Pre-hire tests are an evaluation of a candidate’s abilities and their attitudes about unethical behavior. When using any assessment tool in a pre-hire situation, make sure it is legal to use as part of your selection criteria.

Tyler and Gary Maas, president of Agri Careers, Massena, Iowa, often use the DISC test to evaluate personalties. The test evaluates individual work style and temperament.

DISC is a four-quadrant, computerized test. “It evaluates how you do something,” says Maas. “Two people may complete the same task, but because of style differences, their approach and manner could be entirely different.”

Using the DISC test, an individual will generally fall into one of the following categories:

Dominant: a decisive, direct personality.
Influencing: a people-oriented, inspirational personality.
Steady: a consistent, friendly personality.
Compliant: a perfectionist, detail-oriented personality.

The DISC test has multiple versions and you can gear each one toward a different area of interest. You can take a broad or detailed focus on a personality.

A complete test takes about 10 to 20 minutes to administer. Discussion and analysis of the results can be done in 60 to 90 minutes, says Tyler.

Another test Tyler uses is a Preview test. It’s a longer, more extensive test.

The Preview test includes a personality profile and learning scale. It differentiates between a person’s abilities and interests. Tyler believes that’s critical information. 

For example, you may enjoy working on your truck. While tinkering, you end up taking it apart and then have to call a friend to help put it back together. You’re interested in mechanics, but you’re not skilled at them, relates Tyler.

There are many other personality tests on the market. However, it’s helpful to work with a consultant to select or administer one.

“I’d recommend starting with a consultant. You will need help running through it, especially the first time,” says Alan Good, a Frankfort, Ind., pork producer. “Once you get the hang of it, you can use it on your own.”

Good often refers to what he’s learned from profiles while interviewing potential employees. “Having worked with the test in the past, I can more easily pick up on an individual’s personality type when I meet them,” he says.

Profiles range in price. The computer-aided DISC test costs $18 to $30 per person. Price will vary with the version you use. Paper forms cost $8 to $12 per person, but these tend to pigeonhole people, says Maas. And that’s something to avoid.

“It’s money well spent when you consider how much you invest in employees,” explains Indiana producer, Brent Waibel. He uses the more extensive Preview test. They range in price from $165 to $195 each and are more often used with management-level employees.

Waibel has used personality profiles to improve communication with workers on his farm. “It gave us an opportunity to learn more about each other,” he notes.

But keep all this in perspective. Personality information lets us predict how someone may respond to a situation, or even what job may fit them best. But personality profiles have limitations. “You can go wrong if you limit a job to a specific personality,” says Yeske.

When someone takes a personality evaluation, they will likely want to know if the results are good or bad.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad personality,” says Yeske. “We need to appreciate our differences and realize it makes the team stronger.”

There’s rarely an exact fit. Tyler points out that 80 percent of the time people are a combination of personalities   –    a blend that is as unique as your thumbprint.

“Avoid pigeonholing. Different temperaments exist, and you should look for traits in the people you hire based on what you hire them for,” adds Tyler.

Working primarily with pork producers, Tyler says he gets a telephone call when a producer:

Needs help finding, hiring and interviewing potential employees.

Needs help with current employee communication skills.

Expands and creates a new management structure.

Is unable to achieve goals or cannot reach the next production level.

Often producers are happy with the staff they have but just can’t seem to reach their goals, explains Tyler.

This rarely has anything to do with production techniques. It’s almost always due to a breakdown in communication and worker attitude.

Australian animal scientists Paul Hemsworth and Greg Coleman found a strong correlation between a stock person’s attitude and behavior to the fear level a sow exhibits toward humans and how it affects her reproductive performance.

Hemsworth and Coleman evaluated employees’ attitudes and behaviors toward pigs as they worked. The researchers then trained workers to be more aware of their negative attitudes around the animals.

The result: There was a 6 percent increase in pigs born per sow per year on farms with trained personnel. Herds with untrained workers showed a 3 percent decline.

Similarly, Yeske’s preliminary results suggests there’s a strong correlation between an individual’s personality and the number of pigs weaned per mated female per year. “Consequently, anything you can do to understand and train employees should translate into improved production,” says Yeske.

But try not to overemphasize or overuse personality profile results. “If it helps you make a decision, then it’s a valuable tool. But if it makes the decision for you, you need to be careful,” warns Maas.

Making The Right Fit

Personality profiles offer more than insight to improved communication. They also can help you assign workers to the right job.

“Personality information lets you use people’s talents to build a team,” says Gary Maas, president of Agri Careers, Massena, Iowa.

For example, it’s a matter of degree or combination, but a person typically has extrovert or introvert tendencies.

The extrovert personality needs more personal interaction. They are more productive when working with others. They need human contact and conversation throughout the day.

Introvert personalities work better when left alone. They don’t work well in groups and often need less personal attention.

With this in mind, you should place employees in positions that reflect their individual needs. The introvert can be left alone in a farrowing room all day. The extrovert will be more productive working with someone.

Research shows that women tend to be more sensitive toward animals than men. This makes them good candidates for farrowing and nursery rooms. But this doesn’t mean you should place only women there.

Some women   –   and men   –   are too caring. Instead of euthanizing incurably ill piglets, they try to save them all, which can actually result in more sick pigs.  

Remember that people are a combination of personalties. Using profiles will help you understand your employees, but they’re not a sure thing. You need to look at them as individuals first.