“So what?”: Adaption-Innovation theory and KAI

– Rob Sheffield

Those of us working in organisational change are deluged with claims made for psychometric tests. How do we choose which ones will give real insights and practical help to the recipient? Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more cynicism from managers who’ve been through a raft of assessment centres, development centres, in-house and external courses, all of which use their own, or off-the-shelf personality measures. “There’s nothing’s new under the sun…”

Kirton’s theory has power and the inventory is widely approved. The certification course is detailed and demanding. But ….

… so what? Does it help in practice?

Earlier this year, a colleague of mine, Paul Saunders, and I worked with The National Blood Service (NBS). The organisation has a formidable logistical challenge in ensuring the nation’s blood supply is safe-guarded and well-stocked. Their blood supplies are very reliant on regular volunteer donors. How to build ever-improved relationships with donors so they can give blood when, how and where it’s convenient for them?

Steven Sugden is Head of Collection Plans. He organised a conference in March 2004, aimed at UK-wide Services to Donors management population. Managers came from 9 geographical regions, plus the National function. As part of the preparation, 192 managers completed the KAI before the event. We trained a group of 20 facilitators in a series of creative problem-solving techniques before the event, and gave them their personal feedback on the KAI. At the conference, we gave each person their KAI feedback, as well as exercises based around a series of NBS current issues. The aim was to raise awareness of their own and others’ problem-solving approaches, plus generate plenty of improvement ideas.

Later, when we looked at the data, we noticed some differences between roles and regions. We produced a brief report which identified the more adaptive and more innovative clusters of people. Not surprisingly, these were often based on requirements from the role. For example, the Clinic Manager looks after a Static Donor Centre and the role is very structured. They have to comply with care and safety standards from several institutions. Their profiles were much more adaptive. Not surprising, and reassuring too!

Mobile Collection team managers have a very different role. In effect they are business managers responsible for management and performance within a specified geographical area. They have to work with a variety of people, within a looser framework, where they impose much of the discipline themselves. Their profiles were much more innovative. But ….

… how has it helped?

Senior Managers at the NBS understand the importance of devolving responsibility to donor-facing teams. These are the people who provide the service, receive what feedback may be on offer, and are most likely to have improvement ideas. KAI, backed up by good presentation of its underlying theory, has become a means of aiding collaboration now that there is a common language of understanding. First, better understanding of oneself as a problem solving person. Then, better understanding and tolerance of people not like oneself – as part of Kirton’s management of diversity – all aimed at the better management of change by teams.

Each region has now received KAI data to help its managers plan better, more effective, even more friendly, collaboration efforts between groups of different sorts of people. This information has also been incorporated into a Donor Loyalty development programme for Team Managers due to be delivered in Q1, 2005. It is becoming part of how people discuss their problem-solving differences, and plan how to work together more effectively.

Oh, and two teams did very well in National awards. The Donor Appointments Project team from the NBS won the SOCAP Award for Innovation in Customer Service 2004! The Milton Keynes team reached the last four in the Customer Service Team of the year – Pharmaceutical and Healthcare category. The objective of the Innovation award is to recognise new ideas and developments within customer service that enable organisations to meet the needs of their customers more effectively, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

Did KAI lead to the award? No!! Did it help? Here are some words from Steven Sugden:

“KAI provided a perspective for both individuals and groups never previously seen in the NBS. It has given managers time to reflect on their own approach to leading and dealing with people, whether they are donors or colleagues. There is recognition that everyone can be creative and those who thought themselves ‘boxed in’, have now started to spread their wings.

“The conference approach to dealing with such a large group was far-reaching. It has also brought challenges to the way in which the ‘Services to Donors’ directorate is operating. Managers are no longer accepting of one person’s views; they are looking for reasoning far beyond their previous thinking, which is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver.

“Managers experienced in personality behaviours have said that it came closer to defining people’s traits than they have ever previously seen, and the NBS are now actively using the information to progress changes in culture and operating systems more effectively.

The award was won by a mixture of adaptors and innovators, (and by) leading them in the right manner! Too much of one thing is never good for you.”

2004