Career Counselor Focuses on Abilities Clients Are Motivated To Use

To Steven Darter, a good job fits like a pair of well-made, hand-crafted boots. It makes you feel good, it makes you look good, and it makes you stand a little taller. 

"And if you're in something that doesn't fit well, you start getting blisters, and that really hurts," said Darter, President of People Management Northeast, in Avon. 

The pain from an ill-fitting job can permeate a person's entire life, draining energy and joy. 

"When I'm engaged in activity that plays into my motivational pattern, the things that I naturally gravitate toward doing and that give me satisfaction, I will have a better chance to be successful and productive," Darter said. "The more I move away from that, the greater chance I have to be frustrated and less productive." 

So it's possible that the dream job you're coveting is not really right for you. Until you dig deep into your motivational pattern and compare it with the specific features of your ideal job, you might be headed down a path that leads to frustration and unhappiness. 

"People often long for things based upon money, title, image, what society says is valuable or not valuable, or what looks cool from afar," Darter said. "And when you see someone who looks cool and you think, man, I could see myself doing that, there's very little knowledge of what it really entails." 

Motivated Abilities 

Sitting at one end of the conference table in People Management's office, Darter explores a client's successes in life to determine what she is motivated to do and what kind of job fits her abilities. Pushing his chair toward the corner of the table, he leans forward and listens intently while making notes on a white legal pad and asking occasional questions to draw her out. 

Her chair swung parallel to the table just a few feet from Darter, Hawk Wood faces him as she tries to describe what she did to succeed and what she found satisfying about a teaching job she once held. 

"I'm peering through the windows of your life, collecting things that are consistent," Darter explains to her.

It's midway through a nearly two-hour interview that Darter conducted to determine Wood's Motivated Abilities Pattern, or MAP, which she will then be able to use to determine what kind of job to go after, to identify opportunities when they arise, and, when a job is offered, to decide whether it fits the unique pattern and abilities that she is most motivated to use.

It's important that employees and employers communicate better about whether a job requires abilities the employee is motivated to use. 

Whether it's a promotion or reassignment with your current employer or a new opportunity on the outside, Darter advises asking questions to break down how you need to behave and what you specifically need to do to be successful. Then look at the description and compare it with how you are motivated to behave, and ask whether there is enough of a fit. 

"No one's in a perfect job, but you want to see how close it is," Darter said. 

"If you put me in a role that captures my essence, you don't have to worry too much about me. But if you put me in a job that I'm not motivated to do, that doesn't mean I can't do it, but my heart's really not in it," Darter said. 

"Managers end up creating their own problems. If their employees aren't motivated, managers have to spend a lot of time beating the horse," he said. 

Arthur F. Miller Jr., who founded People Management in 1961, developed the MAP idea based on observations he had made as a personnel director that motivational patterns emerge early in life, then stay constant. 

He developed what he called the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities, entailing in-depth interviews based on a list of achievements going back to childhood that a person compiles beforehand.

As the interviewer probes and listens, patterns start to emerge as the person describes what he did to succeed and what made the experience satisfying. 

In Wood's case, Darter found a range of abilities that she liked to use, though not all the time. Still, they appeared repeatedly because she was motivated to use them, especially as they pertained to certain subjects and under certain circumstances. 

"There's this process of self-discovery as I get out of her way and just ask, `How did you do it?' " Darter said. 

From that, Darter can deduce a whole set of specifics about what circumstances are conducive to enhancing her level of satisfaction and what activities motivate her to succeed.

Wood, 36, who recently closed a massage therapy and fitness business in Avon after she had trouble finding trained therapists and instructors who met her standards, said she was searching for something that would fit her strengths and personality and make her happy. One of her clients referred her to Darter. 

"I think I came away with some confirmation about myself that I thought I knew but I wasn't positive about, and maybe a little bit about myself that I didn't hone in on as clearly," Wood said. "It's been a good step because although I don't like to not know where I'm going or how I'm going to do it, I feel more positive that at least there are ideas and potential." 

Counseling sessions such as Wood's cost $600 to $750. Or you can read Darter's book, "Managing Yourself, Managing Others,"  which is available through his office or at bookstores around the state. 

Corporate clients pay $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the depth and detail of the counseling and the report Darter prepares. 

Most of Darter's clients are mid- to upper-level executives and managers, many of whom are referred by their companies. His firm often consults with companies that are trying to find ways to do things better and increase productivity. Often, managers will turn around after going through the process and send their people to People Management. 

"Companies are interested in people's happiness," Darter said. "But they're more interested in people's productivity." 

Leading Smarter

Kevin Maddy, general manager of Howmet Corp. in Winsted, looked at his jet engine parts manufacturing company last year and thought that although productivity was good, it could be better. 

"One of the issues I had when I came here was our perception that we were very good already," Maddy said. "For me, being very good is never good enough. I was new to the organization. I was driving the heck out of it to get it up to the performance standards that I expected. What I wanted to do was bring the rest of the team along so they could see my side of it." 

He turned to Darter late last year to create a leadership development program for him and the eight managers who reported to him. He started with himself. 

"What I found was that I was probably driving people the wrong way," Maddy said. "What this whole process helped me do is realize how I'm perceived, and it also helped them understand how they can be successful working for me and how I'm motivated to behave."

Darter then worked with Maddy's managers to help them understand their motivational patterns so they could work with each other more effectively, as well. Although Maddy said it is difficult to measure whether productivity increased as a result of the six-month program, there are definite signs that it worked. 

"If I look at my staff, my leadership team, how they interact with me, how they interact with each other and how they interact with the people that report to them has improved dramatically. That, in itself, leads to happier employees, people that are more effective," Maddy said. 

As a management tool, Maddy said, the program also helped him understand his managers much better, which led to changes in their job functions. 

"I had one guy who was an engineering manager who was much better suited for sales. This brought that out clearly. He was a good engineering manager, but I hink he's an even better sales manager," Maddy said. 

"We had another manager who, overall, was just plain misunderstood, and through this process I think everybody now knows where he's coming from. He was a very effective guy to begin with, but he's even more effective now," he said. 

A Shared Responsibility

Darter said managers can use what they learn about employees' motivational patterns to make them more effective and productive. From the employee's viewpoint, Darter said, if he is channeled in the right direction and is motivated by what he is doing, he is likely to be more productive. "So not only do I benefit from it because I'm getting satisfaction from my job, but my employer ends up benefiting from it, as well," Darter said. 

He said that an employee's satisfaction and productivity should be a shared responsibility with the employer. 

"If I have an understanding of myself and what motivates me, then I want to get into a job that makes good use of it. That's my responsibility to myself," he said. 

"From your point of view as the employer, you just have this job that has to get done. But if you as the employer understand what I'm about motivationally and where I'm going to excel, then we have a shared responsibility till it's a common objective. If you do that, you end up getting rid of a lot of management problems," Darter said. 

Darter acknowledges that many tests are available that define personality types and give people a better awareness of themselves. But, he says, they start with categories and types, then try to pigeonhole people into them and predict behavior. 

"Our approach to people is very, very different," Darter says. "We believe that everybody in the world is unique and different. What we want to do is describe a person in action when they are most highly motivated."

That's where the list of achievements comes in. It identifies moments in a person's life when he is at his best, going back as far as the person can remember, even to elementary school.

From there, Darter coaxes out details that describe how the person went about the task and what he did to achieve it. Darter is not interested in asking why someone did something; he's interested in the process, for that reveals the abilities used to bring about a satisfying result. 

"The reality is that I don't have a magic wand, and I can't create scenarios," Darter said. "But what I can give you is a definition of what the right opportunity looks like so that you can better recognize it when it comes along, or if you're proactive, to better drive toward it."