Avoiding Clone Workforces

In many workforces, employees have a similar style, similar personalities, and sometimes even intentionally parrot one another in how they talk at meetings. These companies have what I call clone workforces. The advantages are cohesion and ease of communication, with everyone speaking and acting within an identical framework; the disadvantages are identical strengths and weaknesses.

It’s only natural to want to hire people who remind you of yourself, but savvy executives know there are elements much more important than how closely potential employees mirrors you.

In a Q&A last month in The New York Times, Vivek Gupta, CEO of software services company Zensar Technologies, explained how he avoids hiring replicas of himself: “I learned something that is easier said than done. I have tried to hire people who are not my clones. If I find somebody who is just like me, I’ll get along with the person very quickly. But it would be a mistake to hire them just because they’re like me. I want to hire people who are very different from me or better than me in certain areas so that one plus one equals more than two.”

I’m an advocate of hiring people dissimilar to yourself, but I wonder if I were in a position to hire a workforce, whether I would follow through. The problem is job interviews with people very different from yourself often don’t go as smoothly as interviews with “clones.”

When interviewing for my first full-time job, conversation with the first person who interviewed me, Sherry, the editor-in-chief of a trade publication about mail-order catalogs, was smooth and stress-free. Our personalities seemed frighteningly similar, and so was our appearance. We were from the same ethnic background, and looked like we came from the same family. The person I was sent to speak with next was the woman who worked under the editor-in-chief, the managing editor. The interview was uncomfortable and tense. She looked at me with an expressionless face as I answered her questions. My guess is her boss overrode her immediate dislike of me because she had such a good feeling about me. My performance on the job was a success, and I was given more responsibility, but the managing editor and I became each other’s nemesis. It probably didn’t help when people started calling me “Sherry, Jr.,” because I was so similar to our boss.

The question is how to hire someone with complementary, rather than identical, strengths, while also ensuring you have a rapport with the person. With all the personality assessments on the market, there is an opportunity to use these tools to not only assess personalities individually, but also work with experts to determine what personalities mix best with which other personalities. That way, if you have two people on your team who are so different that there is likely to be discomfort between them, you’ll know in advance, and can ensure they don’t have to collaborate directly.

There is a personality assessment I’ve been exposed to in my current job as managing editor of a health trade publication. It’s a system developed by Florence Littauer and Rose Sweet, in which people are classified as powerful, peaceful, perfect, or playful. According to this assessment, we all are dominant in one of these personality traits, as well as displaying certain characteristics of one other of these traits. I’m a peaceful-playful, meaning I like to keep the peace while having fun, and my current manager is a powerful-perfect, meaning he likes to direct others and demand perfectionism. I wish I could say we complement each other, but to be honest, that’s not really the case. It turns out our personality types often have a hard time working together. I’m glad I was hired for the job, but having the benefit of an expert who could have guided us on how to best work together with such differing personalities would have been beneficial.

How do you encourage a workforce with differing personalities and work styles, while also ensuring relations between employees are productive and pleasant?

How can you use personality assessments and workforce personality experts to help assemble harmonious and successful work groups?