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When is a focus on people just too much?

Learn how to spot people who are just “too nice”

Since I first became involved with the assessments at Strategic Talent Management, a little over two years ago, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of assessment takers were (and still are) far more focused on people than production and planning. If you aren’t familiar with STM’s assessments, one thing we measure in addition to behavior and motivators, is one’s capacity for understanding people, production, and planning – three things that are important in any job. In an ideal case, we like to see an equal understanding and focus in all three “P”s, yet most people are showing a very strong understanding of and focus on people, and substantially less focus on and understanding of planning and production.

Since I was relatively new and didn’t have almost 30 years of assessment results to compare, I approached Art, CEO and Founder of STM, and asked if this was normal. We did a little bit of digging and ultimately chalked it up to COVID and how the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of a more people-centric attitude and approach to business, for many people. Even before COVID, relationships were already on the rise. In 2018, Art conducted a study where he analyzed all the job applicants STM had ever assessed. He found that Millennials were 75% more likely to value teamwork and supporting others over non-millennials.

Having a good understanding of people and relationships can be critical in almost any professional role. In a Culture and Management study we recently completed, we noted the owner’s propensity to be helpful and team oriented works because that is how you win over people’s hearts and loyalty. However, in more of a “doing” or project management type of role, if production and planning suffer as a result of being overly focused on others, you can certainly run into trouble.

Let’s say you’re looking to hire for a position that requires a strong focus on detail, organization, and efficiency – a project manager, for example – how can you try and screen out individuals who may be overly focused on people and not likely to meet your standards set for detail, organization, and so on?

  1. Be aware of your own biases.
    If you, the interviewer, are super friendly, outgoing, and so on, then you will be biased towards candidates who have those same behaviors. But the key is to look beyond behavior and to understand a candidate’s attitudes towards people, production, and planning.
  2. Be clear about your expectations.
    You must know exactly what you are looking for in the position you are interviewing for. If the position must deal with a particularly tough customer or is taking over a team that needs lots of direction and hands-on management, then you may need someone who is tough but fair.
  3. Ask the right interview questions and know what answer you need to hear.
    Asking questions about people, managing tasks and details, and planning and organization can be a good place to start, but the key is to be structured. You must know why you are asking a question and what answer you are looking for. What type of answer might indicate that they lack some understanding in a certain area? What type of answer could indicate that they really get it? Let’s look at some of our favorite questions that we routinely recommend to our clients below.


  • How do you determine when it is appropriate to stick to a plan or do something differently?

    Does it sound like they have a practical, objective approach to following a plan? Or does their answer suggest that they will change the plan often, especially if it is better for the people involved, potentially risking that the project goes completely off track?

  • How do you manage your time so that you can be helpful to others but ensure all your work gets done accurately and on time?

    Here you want to listen for clear and specific tools and techniques that they use which would indicate that they know how to prioritize their own time and responsibilities and keep things on track.

  • Describe a situation when you went above and beyond for a client or colleague. How would you feel about doing that regularly?

    Do they preach that they are always willing to go the extra mile for whoever needs it? That could be a red flag that they prioritize the needs of others at the expense of their own work or overextending the company’s resources.

Asking questions about how they handle conflict is another good tactic. If the role has a strong project management component, they need to be able to put their foot down and not be so worried about upsetting people in the process of holding them accountable.

  • Do you prefer to avoid conflict situations or face them head on?
  • Do you often find yourself taking on the role of “peacekeeper” on a team?
  • Give me an example of a time when someone didn’t follow through on a commitment to you. What did you do about it?  How do you make sure that others around you follow through on their commitments?  How do you ensure that you do?

In all these responses you do not want to hear that they always avoid conflict and play “peacekeeper”. On the last question, you want to hear clear and specific examples of how they hold people to account for their commitments and responsibilities.

To recap, these questions are designed to help you screen out the overly people-focused individuals who may not be suitable for your highly task-oriented role. Remember, it’s okay to care about other people, but sometimes we really just need someone to focus on the details and make sure things get done according to plan. So, if you have a candidate who you feel in every sense is a rockstar but they might be a bit too focused on relationships, that isn’t necessarily a show stopper. In today’s tough hiring market, it may be worth investing in some type of coaching or development for the candidate to bring more balance to their style.

If you want to be sure that a candidate is not overly focused on relationships, take a look at our assessment offerings.

Want to learn more about how STM can help your business grow?

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