Q: I know big corporations and large companies use a myriad of profiling tests designed to evaluate talent and personality factors. As a small-business owner, I can't afford to use these tests. How important are talent and personality factors in increasing an individual's productivity?

A: The fact that you can't afford to do a lot of testing is probably a good thing. Although I do believe businesspeople can learn from some tests, I don't believe personality tests are helpful. Achievement tests, which measure academic and job skills and should not be confused with intelligence tests, are probably the most helpful.

Your question indicates to me that you're concerned with productivity. If you are, the solution to your problem doesn't lie in either an employee's talent or personality.

Let me first deal with talent. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State Universityin Tallahassee, has studied the subject of expertise for many years. He's examined every conceivable activity where it's possible to measure expertise, from figure-skating and playing chess to practicing medicine and law. In all the areas he's studied, he's found that talent plays an extremely small role (less than 4 percent) in whether someone becomes an expert in a certain field. Rather, the critical factor is practice. What this means is that almost anybody can be successful if they work hard enough and long enough. So if you're having performance problems with an employee, forget about talent as a limiting factor.

Two things that you should consider when analyzing performance problems are: Do you know that the person can do what's necessary to do the job well? Has he or she ever done it consistently? If the answer to either one of these questions is no, you probably have a training problem. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes to both, you have a motivational problem. And that brings me to personality.

In order to motivate someone, you don't have to know their personality; you have to know what they want, like and value. In my books, Other People's Habits and Bringing Out the Best in People, I show how to use positive reinforcement to get discretionary effort. I find that many people think they're using positive reinforcement effectively when they're not.

Look first at your behavior. When do you talk with your employees? Is it only when there's a problem? Or, if you tell people they're doing a good job, is it when they're complaining or not doing what you want? If yes, that means you're reinforcing what they're doing at the moment-undesirable behavior-instead of reinforcing desirable behavior you want more of. The time you choose to reinforce is as important as whether you reinforce-you need to deliver positive reinforcement when employees are being productive so they'll associate being reinforced with doing a good job.

So rather than focusing on talent and personality, look for those small accomplishments to reinforce every day, and you'll be on your way to creating satisfied, productive employees.


Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.