A New Personality Assessment: Are You a Dog or Cat?

A different way to assess employee personalities to understand the best way to get them to do what the organization needs accomplished.

Myriad personality assessments are available to determine employee personality and the kind of tasks each person will excel at. However, sometimes a less complex and less scientific assessment might be helpful: dog or cat? I’m not asking if an employee prefers dogs or cats, but which of these animals they most resemble in personality.

For people who know me, this sounds like exactly the kind of informal personality assessment I would come up with myself. However, this wasn’t my idea. I found an article on LinkedIn by Glenn Engler that offers the dog/cat question as a way to classify human personality types. “You know that moment when you have to lead employees through a very tricky yet important project, and you’re not sure how best to get to the finish line? I’m here to say, ‘It’s easy.’ Simply figure out if they’re a dog or a cat,” Engler writes.

Canine vs. Feline Traits

Dogs, he points out, are loyal, easily trained, and easily led. “They know you’re there for the good of the long term,” he writes of dogs. “Feed them, take them for walks, play with them, and let them sleep on the couch. (Seriously—they’re on the couch while you’re out, you know.) If that team member sounds like this, treat them accordingly.”

Cats, on the other hand, are smart and sneaky. “They have amazing attention spans and can spend hours working on that particular thread dangling from the bed attached to the sweater,” Engler writes of cats. “In fact, it’s possible to outsmart them and give them a toy to play with. As long as they want to. As in, they have requirements, and as long as you’re sensitive to them, and aware of their particular mood, no one will suffer and the household will run smoothly.”

Assume They’re All Cats

So what do these two portraits of our most popular companion animals tell you about the people you and your organization’s managers are tasked with leading? You have to figure out if an employee you need buy-in from is blindly loyal and only needs to be treated well to be responsive to you, or if you have a cat on your hands. They appreciate that you treat them well, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to do what you ask them. They are likely to be more tentative and strategic in their reactions to your requests.

My recommendation is to assume that all of your employees are cats. If you can get a cat to do as you wish, then there is no question you will get the dog to do it. Both animals need to be treated well. The difference is that for cats it takes more.

Like the owner trying to break a cat’s concentration on a squirrel outside the window by dangling a new toy, you may need to get creative to win the full attention of cat employees. It may take substantive yearly career development planning in which you show them the interesting, rewarding projects they are working toward if they do what you are asking them to accomplish. You have to come up with that new, exciting toy that will tear them away from whatever they would rather focus on at the moment.

If you are not able to provide employees with meaningful and interesting career growth opportunities that allow them to feel like they are working toward something rewarding, many—the cats—will go elsewhere. Or they will stay and engage in “quiet quitting.” They will be present, but one eye will be looking out the window at the bird fluttering on a nearby branch. It won’t take much for them to make the leap away from you to chase that bird.

Dogs Have Limitations, Too

It may be easier to get a dog employee to do as you wish, but they do have their limitations. To ensure dog employees stay on the right track, managers have to be sensitive to their emotions, respect them, and consistently reward them when they do well.

How do you assess employee personalities to understand the best way to get them to do what the organization needs accomplished?