The Personality Factor

In 2005, Fontarome Chemical Inc. needed to change.

That year, the St. Francis manufacturer of synthesized flavors and scents failed to fulfill a major contract. Significant funds, months of work and a relationship with a major client were lost.

Something was broken at Fontarome. The root problem was that the company’s managers and executive didn’t recognize the importance of personality in the hiring and promotion process. That shortcoming was almost disastrous for the company.

“We just had some of the wrong people, and I didn’t know it,” said Carl Sheeley, president and owner of Fontarome. “Some of them shouldn’t have been at the company. Some were in the wrong jobs. And the person who was responsible for the project lost it.”

If Fontarome was going to turn itself around, major changes were needed. To initiate that process, Sheeley turned to Succeedia Inc., a business consulting and coaching firm with offices in Milwaukee and Madison.

Succeedia helped create a new business plan for Fontarome. More importantly, Succeedia helped Sheeley identify the people in Fontarome’s management team who needed to move to other functions or be fired. Succeedia also helped Sheeley interview and hire new members for Fontarome’s management team.

“Succeedia showed us how to save the company,” Sheeley said. “Succeedia came in here, evaluated where we were and developed a plan. Then our people implemented the changes in personnel and culture.”

Those changes have enabled Fontarome to blossom. Fontarome has more than 60 employees now, compared with less than 20 in 2005. In 2004, it had $10 million to $12 million in sales; it will have more than $17 million in revenues this year.

“I now have more than 60 employees worldwide with operations in four countries, am busting sales records each month, have signed two recent more than $1 million each contracts and have the best team ever,” Sheeley said. “Our profits from sales are above the industry. And in 2008, we will crush it. All of the people we’ve hired, in 2008 we will see the brunt of their impact. It is the people. But finding, motivating, understanding and keeping them is the real art.”

In today’s shrinking labor market, finding, hiring and retaining the right people is increasingly important – and difficult.

“Now I think we’re moving into the age of people,” said Cheryl Farnsworth, president and owner of Succeedia. “Study after study shows that for middle management, the pool of people is shrinking. The whole competitive advantage will be people.”

Finding the right people and knowing how to work with them is increasingly a critical factor for corporate success.

“If I hire the right people (for clients), they can figure it out,” Farnsworth said. “If not, it’s like a boat without oars.”

Unlocking personality

Succeedia and several other consulting firms in the Milwaukee area perform personality profiles for their clients on job applicants or current managers. Different tools measure aspects of personality, including how people interact with their co-workers, process information, perceive others, react to stress and more.

The assessments are used in the hiring and promotion process and when the consultants are asked to analyze clients’ management teams. Most assessments are self-administered and written, but are followed up by in-person interviews. Some survey other team members, supervisors and even family members.

“The key in all of this profiling is learning it like a language,” Farnsworth said. “We know it so well that we can predict performance and behavior (using it).”

Both Farnsworth and Karen Vernal, owner and president of Milwaukee-based Vernal Management Consultants LLC, use one-on-one coaching after personality profiles are completed. In some cases, the coaching helps candidates learn how to work with other members of the management team. In others, it helps them improve on aspects of their personality that have become obstacles to career advancement.

“It’s the No. 1 method of accelerating leadership competencies,” Vernal said.

Positive results from individual coaching sessions are often quick and substantial, Farnsworth said.

“People love the stuff we do,” she said. “After a couple of sessions, you can see results pretty quickly. There’s free money sitting out there, between an A and B (type) employee waiting to be energized and given real motivation.”


Peggy Coakley, president and chief executive officer of Coakley Bros. Co., a Milwaukee-based commercial mover, warehousing and data storage firm, hired Vernal last year to assess and teach the management team for three of her companies last year. Coakley is also owner of Data Store Records Management and former owner of CoakleyTech, a document management service.

Vernal was asked to teach all of the employees at Coakley Bros. Co. and Data Store about Emotional Intelligence, the personality mapping and teaching tool that Vernal uses. The tool strongly emphasizes how to recognize and react to emotional highs and lows, Coakley said.

“We learned the physiology of what happens when you get emotionally upset,” Coakley said. “Your brain gets hijacked. It’s become a standard word at our companies. We joke around it now. But it also helps you recognize when it’s happening to someone else, so you can pull them back off the ledge.”

Vernal also performed more in-depth personality assessments of top-level managers at Coakley Bros. Co. and Data Store, Coakley said. Those managers were then given one-on-one coaching by Vernal’s team.

“It allows the team to understand their members better, overcome struggles and capitalize on strengths,” Coakley said. “Coaching is giving them the tools to change if they want to. There are so many good people out there – we all have areas that we need to improve.”

Not to be ignored

Companies that do not pay attention to personality – how managers, executives and employees communicate and work together – limit their success, Vernal said.

“When there isn’t the attention to the people side of the business, the capacity for productivity is significantly diminished,” Vernal said. “Most managers are promoted because of functional capacity. It is a different tool box that is necessary for effective management and leadership than functional capacity.”

Crystal Schroeder, president and CEO of Elite Human Capital Group, a Brookfield-based recruiting and staffing firm, agreed.

“There is a big difference between a manager and a leader,” Schroeder said. “A manager can manage processes, but a leader needs to take it to the next level. And that should be tested independently from skills. That has to be assessed.”

Companies that dismiss or ignore the importance of personality in their staff and management teams are likely to face high employee turnover rates, Coakley said.

“What is the cost of hiring someone?” she said. “If someone doesn’t change on their own volition, maybe they have a great resume and good references, but they get fired. That person doesn’t change because they haven’t been given the tools to change.”

Workplace conflict around personality and behavior can lead to more than just employees leaving, said Susan Marshall, president of Executive Advisor LLC, an executive coach and advisor based in Oconomowoc.

“When you have a conflict going on at work and there is no sense of tolerance or a capability or sense that you can get around this, then bottom lines erode,” Marshall said. “There’s so much hyperbole around this that we tend to dismiss it.”

Marshall, author of “How to Grow a Backbone – 10 Strategies for Gaining Power and Influence at Work,” hopes to create a learning center for individuals, families and businesses to develop aspirations, plans to implement them and a support network to create them. Marshall’s venture is tentatively named, “The Backbone Institute.”

In the 1960s and 70s, corporate America was far better at talking about tolerance, conflict resolution and personality differences, Marshall said.

“Now we have formulas that we plug in,” she said. “We’ve forgotten the human technologies of problem solving, creating and celebrating success.”

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