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Explained: The five employee personas

David Danzig, European Director, O.C. Tanner

Employees are diverse in countless ways and so leaders can’t expect every employee to respond in a predictable manner to a particular leadership style. In fact, research* identifies that employees fall into five main categories, and by understanding the nuances of each ’employee persona’, leaders are better equipped to influence them to deliver great work. Here, David Danzig, European Director of workplace culture expert, O.C. Tanner, explains the characteristics of each of the five employee personas, and what leaders should focus on to get the best out of their diverse teams.

Leading with diversity in mind
Employees have different characteristics and behave differently. They also have unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and exhibit great work behaviours differently. As such, treating everyone in the same way won’t necessarily get the same outcomes, including employees’ level of engagement and their likelihood of doing great work. Some employees may be highly engaged and perform ongoing great work, and others may well be engaged but are less likely to be high performing. It’s important for leaders to recognise the differences between employees so they can decide how to best deal with these nuances.

The five employee personas and what this means for leaders
O.C. Tanner’s global research identified five  ‘employee personas’ – Socialiser, Tasker, Builder, Coaster and Achiever. And each differs in terms of focus, work style and self-esteem. Plus, each of these employee personas has a different probability of being engaged, as well as a different probability of doing great work.

Socialisers are the most outgoing and driven with an assertive work style and positive self-esteem. Taskers are quieter and more composed, responding well to rewards but they aren’t so great at receiving feedback.  They also have an intentional and dedicated work style. Builders are warm, friendly, emotionally intelligent and resilient but can be fussy, while Coasters are known to be more pessimistic and prone to stress. Finally Achievers can be assertive and honest but also abrasive, tense and moody.

Builders and Socialisers have the highest likelihood of doing great work, while Coasters have the least. And Achievers have a relatively high probability of engagement, but not necessarily great work.

Knowing about different employees’ work styles and likely behaviours, allows leaders to tailor strategies that maximise employee performance. For instance, research shows that by helping Achievers improve the mix in their work, there’s a 133 percent increase in great work frequency. If they are helped to deliver the difference (encouraged to keep persevering until they know they’ve done something great), there’s a 201 percent increase. And if both behaviours improve, great work frequency soars 577 percent!

Key ways to improve great work across all personas
Although it’s important to understand that different personas behave differently, leaders can’t consistently lead in four totally different ways. Thankfully, the research suggests that by focusing on the following four key elements, all employees will be influenced to deliver great work to some degree:

Strengthen culture – The delivery of great work is far more likely when there’s a strong, thriving culture. In fact, cultures that provide purpose; opportunity for growth and success; appreciation; a focus on wellbeing; and a modern leadership approach increase the probability of great work for every type of employee. When there’s a flourishing culture, the probability of great work increases by 572 percent for Coasters, 222 percent for Taskers and 149 percent for Socialisers.

Provide integrated employee recognition – When recognition is integrated into everyday culture to the point that giving appreciation to others becomes second nature, then great work is far more likely, especially by those employees more motivated by rewards and recognition. But the recognition must be given frequently and in an authentic and personalised way by leaders and peers alike. When recognition is integrated, all employees are more likely to deliver great work with Achievers twice as likely and Coasters 19 times more likely!

Be a modern leader – Traditional leaders who focus on micromanaging and controlling their teams, have little effect on the production of great work and even prevent top performers from fulfilling their potential. Modern leaders on the other hand – with their focus on mentoring, supporting and recognising their people – have a positive impact on all employees who are self-motivated and enjoy autonomy. In fact, when Coasters have a modern leader they are 351 percent more likely to deliver great work, Socialisers are 50 percent more likely and Achievers are 20 percent more likely.

Ensure inclusivity – When employees feel valued and a sense of belonging, great work is far more likely. Inclusion has a particularly strong impact on aspirational great work frequency for Coasters (+875 percent), Socialisers (+284 percent), and Taskers (+220 percent), and so leaders must understand the importance of inclusivity and then follow this through in their behaviours to encourage high performing teams.

Inspiring growth
Leaders want to get the very best out of their teams, which means helping them to deliver ‘great work’. To achieve this, must first come the realisation that not every employee is the same. Managing two employees in exactly the same way could well lead to two totally different outcomes depending on the persona of the employee. However, what is clear is that, across all employee personas, there are four fundamental elements that when focused on, will help all employees across all personas to deliver their very best work. And by investing in organisational culture, integrated recognition, modern leadership and inclusivity, companies are well-placed for excellence and high growth.

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