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Conative Screening: Using the Kolbe Index to Understand New Hires

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There are three parts of the mind that should be measured when screening potential new hires: affective, cognitive and conative. The best assessment for measuring the conative or “doing” part of the mind is the Kolbe Index. With Kolbe, the focus is about understanding a person’s “intrinsic knack for how they get things done,” according to creator Kathy Kolbe, which certainly is consequential to a successful hire.

(Related: Beyond Myers-Briggs: 4 Personality Tests for Hiring Advisors)

The Kolbe comprises 36 forced-answer type questions that typically take approximately 20 minutes to complete. A 13-page report with results is generated immediately following the assessment.  

There are four action modes in Kolbe: Fact Finder, Follow Thru, Quickstart and Implementor. These are driven by instincts, and represent the primary ways we tackle challenges. Kolbe measures them on a scale of 1-10, and respondents are labeled as Preventative (1-3), Accommodating (4-6) and Initiating (7-10). As the labels suggest, the continuum spans from preventing problems to initiating solutions.

There are no good/bad or right/wrong Kolbe results; the point is to simply understand an individual’s approach to thinking through and solving problems. Only 5% of the population is likely to have any one particular configuration of Kolbe traits.

For further detail on the four Kolbe action modes:

Fact Finder (FF) – Provides insight into how comfortable a person is with details. Being detail-oriented is critical in the new planner role when they are expected to gather and analyze client data.

I have witnessed a great deal of conative stress in this mode between firm owners who might be Preventative FF and their new planner who might be Initiating FF. The new planner wants to share all of the details while the supervisor would prefer to have the bottom line only. If this is the way you prefer to receive information, make sure your staff knows it.

Remember this as well if your employees keep asking questions about a task you have given them. It might not necessarily be a “Gen Y thing,” but rather how they are wired instinctively.

Follow Thru (FT) – This is not to be confused with following through; that is, completing a certain task when someone says they are going to do it – that should be a given. The FT action mode shows how a person arranges and designs, or how much structure they prefer.

Even in the most customizable situations, financial planning is heavily process-driven, at least if you are doing it successfully and profitably. Because of this, firms benefit from process-oriented people. Plus, having an Initiating FT colleague is valuable to you if you find yourself coming up with many of the big ideas and need others to work out everything to make it happen.

Likewise, when new planners develop a process that they perceive you aren’t following, frustration can occur on their part. Keep in mind that processes are one of the key components in transitioning from a practice to a business that has intrinsic value to others. So if you are a little light on the processes and procedures, consider strengthening them as a fourth-quarter project.

Quickstart (QS) – Examines how likely a person is to take uncalculated risks.

Typically, financial planning firm owners are entrepreneurs who tend to be initiating QS, and are at their best when they are innovating, experimenting and improvising. These are terrific attributes to keep a firm running and growing, but I have also witnessed some stresses here.

From firm owners I hear something to the effect of “my employees are resisting change, are moving too slowly, cannot anticipate and don’t take initiative.” From the new planners I hear something like “my firm owner is changing things all the time, the deadlines are unrealistic and my boss is unpredictable.”

A healthy balance should be sought because an Initiating QS firm owner needs a respectful level of pushback from some of their Preventative QS employees as not all innovations or ideas are good ones. In the same way, a Preventative QS employee needs an Initiating QS firm owner to keep them from getting too comfortable professionally and to finally move forward with a decision.

Implementor (IM) – This is not to be misconstrued as a person who “can get the job done and get it implemented.” Instead it revolves around the instinct to construct a handcrafted solid solution (which may not be as applicable to financial planning as something like computer science, engineering, etc.).

The way to think about an Initiating IM individual is as someone who is more comfortable creating concrete solutions or prototypes versus a Preventative IM person who is more abstract and prefers to visualize and then move on to the next thing.

Most people in financial planning are in the Preventative and Accommodating areas of the Implementor action mode unless they happen to be changing careers from something where people used their hands and built things. If your new planner will be responsible for the firm’s computer and software equipment, and required to integrate various programs for a seamless back-office solution, look for Accommodating and Initiating IM individuals.

Remember that the Kolbe is measuring how someone prefers to take action, and is not to be misinterpreted as specifying that adaption cannot occur. Most everyone in some way, shape or form can adapt, but the ultimate goal is to use one’s conative energy in the most purposeful way. We administer the Kolbe to every one of the candidates and recruiting clients our firm meets. The index can be a useful tool as part of a comprehensive recruiting process to assist in placing people in positions where their innate talents can flourish.

— Read Win the Talent War by Aligning Values With Growth Objectives on ThinkAdvisor.