Square Pegs

For those of us that grew up in the 80’s we remember some fine television programming.  The spectrum ran from groundbreaking shows like Hill Street Blues, and the always wonderful M*A*S*H, to shows like Manimal and Misfits of Science.  I bet you’ve never even heard of the last two.  One popular show depicting high school life was Square Pegs, and it really was just about what you’d think; kids that struggled to fit in with the average gang.

            I love the metaphor of the square peg and the round hole because it represents so many truths.  We often think there is something wrong with the peg, we sometimes use a hammer to drive it into the hole, we try to shape the square peg, grind it, sand it, and blast it.  But the most profound truth we miss is that the square peg doesn’t belong in the round hole, it belongs in a square hole.

            When we begin to apply this thinking to the way we lead our team members there are a few clear benefits.  First, Jim Collins reminds us to worry first about the who, and then the what.  He uses the imagery of a bus on which there are seats available, and when we find someone we know belongs on our team, we invite them on the bus, even when the seat they are taking isn’t the right one for them.  And it means we need to continue to find ways to get them to the right seat so that the tension doesn’t kill their ability to be productive.  It’s as simple as hiring an administrator knowing that as soon as a marketing position opens, you are moving that individual.  Right person on the bus, temporarily the wrong seat.

            Second, when we look at a team member who may be in the wrong place, trying to change them and adapt them to the round hole isn’t likely to provide great results.  We could look for a square hole and that might solve our placement issue, but a much better place to start is learning what you can about the team member.

            It’s pretty well established that happy team members perform at a higher level than unhappy ones.  Therefore, if we can get people into the roles they are designed for, wired for, and passionate about, we find a winning application.

            An abundance of assessment tools exists to help leaders discover more about their team members including DiSC, the Birkman, and Kolbe among others.  Let’s not confuse these with personality tests, they aren’t the latest quiz in Vogue.  What these tools provide is insight into motivations, behaviours, passions, and responses.  Imagine an understanding of what motivates your people, and a plan to get them into the role that enthuses them most.

            A tool that is particularly effective is Patrick Lencioni’s Six Types of Working Genius.  Applied to both individuals and teams, Working Genius can help find square holes for square pegs but can also provide a much more effective work environment for meetings, understanding each others’ motivations, and figuring out which things an individual is most passionate about.  On top of all that, it also allows an opportunity for teams to identify weaknesses and strengths and fill gaps that may be hurting the organization.

            So let’s find some square holes for square pegs, and round holes for round pegs.  You’ll be shocked at how performance improves…there might even be a couple of triangles out there!

Al Mills is the lead consultant and founder of The Advantage Mill, a company dedicated to bringing out the best in the workplace. You can find the website at theadvantagemill.com.