Friday, March 19, 2010

Breaking out of the Birkman box

I have been sorting out my files at work, shredding confidential stuff like the original interview notes from all the interviews that I’ve done over the years. I have a blue recycling bag with the equivalent of about four to five reams of paper stacked in it. In a way it’s profound – my career reduced to recycling. (I made someone mist up when I said that today. Oops.) 

 However, I also went through my personal file, shredding all my staff reviews and old holiday forms and stuff. It was interesting to rediscover documents relating to the previous massive restructuring, with details of the ‘new structure’. Now it’s all fallen over just two years later, the letter I wrote in protest at the changes seemed almost prescient. But I shredded it, so you’ll have to take my word on that. 

 I also shredded my Birkman profile. Birkman has been the bane of many people’s existence in my workplace. The previous CEO believed in it with the kind of passion people usually reserve for veganism or voodoo. 

Apparently Birkman was the sum of all wisdom and defined you in elemental terms. I always had my doubts about that. True there were some helpful things I learned from it, as I’ve learned from all such pop-psych exercises. 

I learned, for example, that when I’m stressed I will exhibit pessimistic, critical behaviour and will want to ‘break social conventions’ (which I presume in a Christian organisation means calling someone who’s being an f-wit an f-wit instead of smiling and giving them the more Christian benefit of the doubt). 

It also noted that I am ‘selectively sociable’, i.e. I only seek out the opinions of a few people who I respect and whose opinions I value. And that has been pretty true, although since having it pointed out to me I have tried to seek out opinions from a wider circle of people. This helps me to make sure I don’t just go to the people who are going to say what I want to hear. 

But what I really hated about Birkman is the way it became an excuse in our organisation, particularly by colour-coding people according to their preferred working styles. 

I’m not disputing the definitions. My ‘blue’ profile is correct – I like to know why; I like strategising; I enjoy being left to self-prioritise my work; I hate micro-management; I thrive when I can ask questions; I like to be asked my opinion. 

The problem is when other people – particularly those marked ‘red’; the “action” people – use their Birkman profile to justify behaving a certain way. ‘I’m red. I like things done now. I don’t want you to raise questions. I just want you to do it. And do it the way I tell you, not a better way.’ 

What I’ve noticed is that a Birkman ‘blue’, such as myself, will look at their profile and a ‘red’s’ profile and say ‘Oh, they’re red. I’d better modify the way I work to enable us to work better together.’ But generally (and note this is generally) a ‘red’ will look at their profile and say ‘This is how people had better act if they want me to respond’, but then never think to modify their behaviour to benefit their co-workers who have been colour-coded differently. 

Now you can call that whatever you want: leadership, clarity of focus, goal-focussed, or whatever. But ultimately it can become just a way of justifying ignorant bullying. ‘I want it my way and screw you and your needs’ would be another way of describing it. 

And that was the weakness of Birkman, as far as I could see. It didn’t actually deal with defective and unhelpful personality traits. It just quantified them and in the process justified them. So, if you wanted to behave like an utter cock, then you could, because that’s how your Birkman profile said you would behave. And who are you to go against the mighty pseudoscience that is Birkman? 

So, shredding my Birkman profile today was cathartic. Hurrah. The labelling menace that is the coloured boxes will no longer dominate my destiny. 

Mind you, I can be as guilty of mis-using Birkman as anyone. In terms of working preferences I have a very low “outdoor” score. That’s why I don’t bother drawing the curtains if I’m first into the office and have never wanted a seat next to window. I’d be happy in a bunker, or at least happier than most. 

It’s also probably why I hate gardening and camping and can’t really be bothered with long walks in the country. So, if you ever wondered why my garden is over-run with Triffids, now you know. It’s all in my Birkman profile.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous20/3/10 12:04

    Joy to my heart to read your views on Birkman. Hurrah - and well shredded. Just be yourself. Uniquely and perfectly made in the image of God - and slightly frayed or flawed around the edges like we all are!! And none the worse for it either (most of the time!)