Most managers put a lot of effort into placing new employees in the right slot, but it's a hit-and-miss affair at best. It takes time - weeks, even months - to determine if that new employee is ideally suited to his job. Put a natural-born problem solver in a feed truck, for example, and you've set the stage for boredom and dissatisfaction. Or, fill a team with dominant personalities, and conflict and unhealthy competition are almost guaranteed.

Gary Maas, president of Agricareers, Inc., a 30-year-old employment recruiting company based in Massena, IA, says personality testing can help employers place employees in jobs in which they are most likely to succeed.

"Testing can help determine behavioral style - a person's manner of doing things," Maas says. "For example, if a job involves repetition it should be filled by someone who exhibits a steady or consistent personality type. For another job, like being a member of a repair crew, the employee needs to be able to roll with the punches. They need to be a dominant style type that likes challenge and change."

The Test To determine a person's style type, Maas administers a test that includes 24 groups of phrases. Each group contains four phrases, and for each group the subject selects one phrase that most describes them and one phrase that least describes them. For example, one group includes the following phrases: Well-disciplined, self-controlled; Generous, willing to share; Animated, uses gestures for expression; Persistent, unrelenting, refuses to quit.

"Computer software analyzes the answers, and we generate a 17-page report that describes the subject," Maas says. "It is 87 percent accurate and you'll get a picture of how that person will perform in the workplace.

"Style types are divided into four primary areas - dominant, influencing, steady or compliant. But you have to be careful when considering the analysis. Only 4 percent of the population falls into a pure style. Most of us are a combination of styles. But whenever a person measures above the mid-line on a graph for a particular style, it is likely that style will be an observed behavior," Maas says.

Example To illustrate how the information can be used by an employer, Maas provided the 17-page report generated for "John."

Under "general characteristics," John is described as a self-starter who likes new projects. He prefers variety and change and is forceful and direct when dealing with others. He is decisive and prefers to work for a decisive manager.

John also tends to be intolerant of people who seem ambiguous and may lose interest if others ramble. His creative and active mind may hinder his ability to communicate, and he may lack the patience to listen and communicate with slower-acting people.

The "checklist for communicating" with John contains a number of do's and don'ts.

Under "do," for example, John's employer should: Be clear, specific, brief and to the point; offer incentives for his willingness to take risks; provide an atmosphere where he makes his own decisions; and provide facts and figures about options.

Examples of how not to communicate with John include talking down to him, taking credit for his ideas, leaving decisions up in the air, giving orders, and asking rhetorical or pointless questions.

The report also includes a section describing John's ideal environment. Suggestions include: Challenging, non-routine work; a forum where he can express ideas and viewpoints; and freedom from controls, supervision and details.

"I became interested in this type of testing 17 years ago," Maas says, "and we now have a tremendous data base that profiles personalities and job types in agriculture. Certainly no style test is perfect, but employers can get a good feel for where a prospective employee would fit within the organization.

"What I tell people about testing is that if the information aids you in the hiring decision, it is very valuable. If it makes the decision for you, you shouldn't use it," Maas says.

Personality Types

The personality test that Gary Maas administers is designed to reveal four basic types of personalities:

DOMINANT Action-oriented, demanding and a hard driver. Risk taker and problem solver. Not afraid of something new. Can take on too much, and be undiplomatic and impatient.

INFLUENCING Likes to work with others. Is innovative and optimistic. Good leader and motivator and good persuader. Can be too trusting and may need help with time management.

STEADY Patient, consistent and will not leave a job undone. Good listener and loyal. Can be resistant to change, prefers to do the job rather than supervise or train someone else.

COMPLIANT Seen as perfectionist by others. Questions and examines everything. Accurate with good research abilities. Can get bogged down in details and set impossible standards.

As a manager, do you truly listen to your employees' opinions? Do you actively encourage teams to develop their own solutions to problems? Are decisions made rationally? Do you really communicate with your employees?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably a resounding "NO."

Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., an international training and consulting firm founded in 1958 and based in Princeton, NJ, surveyed 1,414 managers and hourly workers to determine if they believed their companies utilized the brainpower of their workers.

Certainly, the results are disturbing, and they beg the question: Are you using your assets to the best of your ability?

Here are some results from the survey, "Minds at Work: How Much Brainpower Are We Really Using?" The full text can be requested on-line at www.Kepner-Tregoe.com.

* Do organizations tap the collective brainpower of their employees?

Two-thirds of both managers and hourly workers said their organizations used no more than 50% of the collective brainpower available.

* Are organizations "top quality" in thinking?

Respondents were asked to compare their organization to a Yugo, Ford Taurus, Mack Truck or Ferrari. Fully 70-80% of both groups chose the Mack Truck (difficult to maneuver) or Taurus (unspectacular). Only 7% chose Ferrari.

* Do organizations think rationally about issues?

To this question, 42% of the workers and 35% of the managers said there is no systematic approach to setting priorities. And, 46% of the workers and 31% of the managers said they take action without taking time to develop a plan.

* How thoughtfully do managers and workers solve problems and make decisions?

One-third of the workers and 25% of the managers said decisions are made strictly on "gut feel." Compounding the problem: If a solution is not found quickly, two-thirds of the respondents say management puts more pressure on workers to take action.

* How proactive is the thinking in organizations?

Half of the workers and managers said it is not standard procedure to have a back-up plan if the original plan fails.

* What are the most significant barriers to thinking in the workplace?

The three most common barriers were organizational politics, time pressure, and lack of involvement in decision making. Half of the workers and 40% of the managers said workers don't receive enough training. And, 47% of the workers and 22% of the managers said employee recommendations were not acted on.