#189 from R&D Innovator Volume 4, Number 12          December 1995                               

Brain Skill Management
by Weston H. Agor, Ph.D.

Dr. Agor is professor of public management at the University of Texas, El Paso.  Heís the author of Intuition in Organizations (Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 1989).   To learn more about Dr. Agorís assessment instrument mentioned in this article, fax him at (915) 747-5400.              

Organizations are frequently challenged to make major changes.  Such changes can include downsizing, altering strategies, or integrating after a merger or acquisition.  These changes must therefore be carefully considered.                                 

Sometimes such decisions are made solely by the chief executive, perhaps after consulting with other high-level executives.  Will the others merely approve their boss's ideas without aggressive analysis?  In other cases, consultants are invited to look over the situation and make recommendations.  But, in their cursory analysis, will they really understand the dynamics and needs of the organization?

I advise organizations to consider using their own resources to make these difficult changes, and to use a process called Brain Skill Management.  This program's foremost principle is that the decision-making process be designed, implemented, and evaluated by a team selected first and foremost by brain skills. The assignment must be made without regard to hierarchical status, responsibility for the change, or seniority level.  This approach will successfully break through such traditional organizational obstacles as "group-think" or "analysis paralysis."                          

Program Components                                                                         

A Brain Skill Management program consists of three major components: diagnostic testing, custom placement, and training in brain-skill development.                                         

Diagnostic testing should be used at the very beginning of the process that will lead to change.  Such testing can be used to increase productivity in a variety of ways.  For example, testing can be used to design management teams that are more likely to work effectively together.

Testing can also be used to locate personnel who are most skilled at developing new and innovative ways of making an organization more effective.  At the same time, testing can be employed to find those who have the greatest ability to critically evaluate the proposed ideas of others in detail, as well as the talent to successfully guide changes at the implementation stage of the process.

Organizations rarely make use of diagnostic testing and the information it can provide.  All they usually know about their employees is their formal job title, responsibilities, and years of experience.  Seldom do they know which brain skills people possess that can be used in the process of a major change.  There are several assessment instruments that can be used.  The Myers-Briggs Type indicator is, perhaps, the most well-known.  This instrument measures a personís brain-skill preferences along eight dimensions.  Another is the Kiersey Temperament Sorter.  A third is my Agor Intuition Managed Survey.  These are but a few examples of a wide variety of instruments which have a high level of reliability and validity.  You can learn more about them by checking with a university department of psychology.

Custom Placement                                                            

Custom placement based on brain-skill assessments can enhance the design and implementation of any proposed change in several ways.  One way is to divide personnel according to the stage of the change where their brain skills will be most useful (See Table I).  Broadly speaking, personnel tend to divide into two types:  Intuitive and Cognitive (See Table II).         

Steps in the Cutback Process Guided by a BSM Program
Action             Step I                    Step II                    Step III
                   Select/assign         Select/assign          Integrate two
                   intuitive group         thinking group         two groups
                   first.                      second.                  last.
Capabilities  Sees possibilities.  Sees facts, can       Can identify new ideas
                                               analyze, organize     that also can be
                                               and find flaws.          practically implemented.

                   Ingenious                                             Is conciliatory and

                   Can deal with                    
                   complexities and

The Continuum of Brain Skills and Styles
Thinking (T)                                         Intuitive (I)
     Task Preference                                 Task Preference
Routine                                               Non-routine
Precision                                            Broad issues
Detail                                                  Idea generation
Repetitive                                            Constantly new assignments or problems

     Style                                                   Style
Deductive                                            Inductive
Objective                                            Subjective
Prefers solving problems by breaking    Prefers solving problems by looking at the
down into parts, then approaching        whole, then approaching the problem through
the problem sequentially using logic.    hunches and insights

Those who score as highly intuitive are the most innovative and creative pool of talent in the organization.  They would be best grouped at the beginning of the change process and assigned such tasks as creating new and more productive ways to achieve the organization's goals.  When grouped together, these executives can make synergistic breakthroughs--because intuitive managers tend to use thinking styles that other "like types" are comfortable working with (See Table III).         


Brain Skills to Use in Guiding the Cutback Process
Thinking Managers (T)                            Intuitive Managers (I)

Careful with details                                Good at generating new ideas
Strong on follow through and                  Good creative problem solver
implementation of programs                   Can spot emerging trends effectively
Enjoys handling routine and                   Can make sense out of situations when
repetitive tasks                                     data are limited or unavailable
Works in a smooth fashion from day
to day

Once a proposed change has been identified and developed by the intuitive group, cognitive managers would be best assigned the task of evaluating it.  These people are most skilled at detailed analysis and evaluation.  They're capable of identifying missing links in a proposed plan of action and in implementing a program plan once agreed upon.                           

Once an overall program to implement the change has been proposed and evaluated, step three is to bring the intuitive and cognitive groups back together to discuss and refine the final product.  At this stage, custom placement based on testing can once again be useful.  For example, it's critical to select a leader who is skilled at facilitating effective interaction between the different styles that exist within the two groups.  A skilled facilitator can help make each member feel ownership in the final product, which enhances the probability of successful implementation.  One test to help select such a leader is The FIRO Scales by Will Schutz.

Brain-Skill Development

The third component in Brain Skill Management is training in brain-skill development.  A number of tools and techniques can help the executive become a more capable decision maker.  For example, mind-mapping and modified-Delphi can be used to free up the creative side of the brain in order to think up new and different ways of solving a particular problem.  These methods can help break habitual ways of thinking so that other possible solutions and relationships will be seen, or so that emerging trends which might bear on a particular issue will be accurately perceived.  You can learn more about these techniques by reading Robbins and DeCenzoís Fundamentals of Management (Prentice-Hall, 1995).

New Organizational Practices                                                                    

Employing a Brain Skill Management program to develop and guide your changes means you will have to be committed on a day-to-day basis to creating an atmosphere in which innovation is encouraged.  This means being willing to organize groups and meetings in a somewhat less traditional manner, and dropping old management practices when they don't serve any productive purpose.                                                                                                                            

Your staff members have varied experiences, temperaments, interests, and capabilities.  When, through Brain Skill Management, you find out what these are, you will have an important advantage in maximizing the benefits of change.       

Finally, it's important to note that the true leader is one who can combine both intuitive and cognitive styles effectively.  He or she does this as an individual and, as a manager , using to best advantage others who are especially intuitive or cognitive.  Such a person is truly a rare find--as well as one most likely to make any change succeed.

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