My library is currently undertaking strategic planning. As part of the process, our consultants (Right Management) are also leading us though “employee engagement.” Employee engagement is the extent that employees are committed to their jobs and, in our case, the library as a whole. Employees who are more engaged in their work and in the organization are generally more dedicated to helping achieve the goals of the institution. To this end, our employees were invited to take a test called the Birkman.
The Birkman identifies your interests, your normal actions, your stress actions, and your needs. The stress actions are those you display when your needs are not met. The report places a different symbol in one of four colored squares on a grid to graphically display where you fall in each of these categories. There is a red square (expediter), a green square (communicator), a yellow square (administrator), and a blue square (planner). There are also implications for task-oriented vs. people-oriented and direct vs. indirect, tangible vs. intangible, and louder vs. quieter. Apparently, my normal actions and interests fall strongly in the yellow square and my stress actions and needs are in the green square, but fairly close to the blue square. No surprises there!
The Birkman also suggests careers that are most suited to you based on all of these things. Apparently I’d make a heck of an administrator, but should also consider literary, scientific, and numerical occupations. Of course, I’m not career-searching, but together these descriptions validate my career choice as a librarian middle manager: administrator = management, literary = information/books, scientific = research, and numerical = analytical/metrics. Those are all descriptions of me and my work, so it seems pretty accurate.
The employees who chose to take the Birkman were promised anonymity. We are all welcome to share our results as we see fit and self-disclose our results – and many did – but some people took the test for their own personal interest and have not shared the outcome. That’s totally fine! The idea behind sharing is so that you understand each other better and form the most efficient team possible, but there is certainly no rule that says anyone has to share their report. I believe strongly in personal privacy, so I’m glad everyone got the choice to participate (or not) and to share their results (or not). We were shown a composite grid with symbols representing each employee who took the test to see how we as an organization are distributed on the chart. There were no identifying characteristics – just a dot on the chart for each person – but it was interesting to see that the librarians mostly fell in the blue square, the administrative staff fell mostly in the yellow square, and as a whole staff we were fairly evenly distributed throughout the grid. The green square was the least-represented.
I’m fine with sharing my results, so I’ll give an example of how I could use my Birkman results. When projects are doled out for our strategic plan, I will happily volunteer for administrative projects that include things like quantifying results, measuring achievement, monitoring progress, or implementing a system. Those are all interests within the yellow square of the grid. I will avoid innovating, getting people to “buy in,” and selling or promoting services. Those are green square interests. (Remember, my green square identifiers were only for stress actions and needs. My normal actions and interests are in the yellow.) Also, I will be aware that my needs do not necessarily match my actions. I may show a proclivity for administrative activities, but I also have a need to keep unnecessary rules to a minimum, not overschedule myself, and vary my tasks. Those are the green square needs. When my yellow square interests are not met, my stress behaviors are defined by the green square, so I may become unsociable, easily sidetracked, and argumentative. (Who, me?)
The Birkman is much more complicated than I can go into in a blog post, but hopefully you get the idea of what the Birkman is and how it can be used for employee engagement. As with anything like this, I will take my results with a grain of salt and use it as a general guide for consideration. It won’t change who I am or how I behave – and it isn’t meant to. However, it just might make me communicate better with my co-workers and more efficient in my approach to projects.