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The Science of Dream Teams

Mike Zani

Mike Zani says creating a community is important for workplace culture.

With 3.5% unemployment and a continuing recession, the pressure to build a collaborative, productive, and happy workplace is greater than ever.

“We all benefit on the business side from productivity, engagement, and performance. But more importantly, for every person in this room and every person you’ve ever worked with, is their act two: not work, but going home,” Mike Zani said. “And if you send them home more energized, happier, more fulfilled with purpose, then you’ve sent home a happier spouse, a better parent, better siblings, and better neighbors. If leaders do this right, they can create a more meaningful community than they already are.”

Zani was the 16th speaker at Bay Path University’s Innovative Thinking & Entrepreneurial Lecture. The university’s Business Leadership Council launched the series to connect students and others with innovators, such as Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick; Delcie Bean, CEO of Paragus Strategic IT; and Michelle Wirth, president of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield.

Zani, CEO of the Predictive Index and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Drives Engagement, Productivity and Happiness, spoke to a large audience about the importance of talent optimization and how the Predictive Index (PI) Assessment is helping companies and organizations make better, data-driven, people-centered decisions.


What Is the PI Assessment?

Arnold Daniels, creator and founder of the Predictive Index Assessment, got the idea for it when he served as a flight navigator in World War II. His team logged more than 30 missions, all without a single combat casualty. When commanders noted the team’s record, they sent a psychologist in to work with Daniels to study just what made their teamwork so successful.

In 1952, Daniels released the first PI Assessment, and three years later, he founded PI Worldwide, now called the Predictive Index. The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment was created through a normative sample of thousands of people and has since been the subject of nearly 500 validation studies. It has received continual updates and today represents a well-established, business-relevant, and scientifically proven measure of behavioral tendencies in the workplace.

“Talent optimization is linking the third leg of the stool, linking business strategy to results. If you don’t get results, you don’t have the privilege of staying in business.”

PI later introduced the PI Cognitive Assessment, which provides a better understanding of each person’s learning capacity, and the Job Assessment, which defines jobs via individual attributes and needs. Together with the PI Behavioral Assessment, this trio of tools has fulfilled Daniels’ vision — identifying what uniquely motivates and drives each person, and setting them up for ultimate success in their work.

Daniels paved the way for the future of workforce development and built a foundation for the new discipline of talent optimization, the framework that aligns business and talent strategy, which has since grown into a discipline powered by assessment data.

Today, the Behavioral Assessment helps employers understand the personality traits that make their employees and candidates tick. Assessment takers get two lists of adjectives. Using the first list, they are asked to select the words that describe the way others expect them to act. Using the second list, they are asked to select the words that describe them in their own opinion.

Each adjective is associated with one of the four key factors that determine workplace behavior: dominance, extraversion, patience, and formality. These four key factors — or key behavioral drives — provide a simple framework for understanding employees’ and candidates’ workplace behaviors; it lets employers see beneath the surface so they can predict how people will behave in given situations. Behavioral testing, combined with an understanding of cognitive ability, can dramatically improve the hiring process.

A good example of this is Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world. It has been using the PI assessment since 1972 and uses it for every single employee.

“They can tell the profile of the ship’s captain versus a navigator versus an engineer versus a deckhand,” Zani explained. “And, interestingly, this has changed over time. They have not only been using it for every position, but they’ve actually evolved over time as these positions have evolved with technology and with changes and how they operate, so that they’re always trying to make sure they have the right fit for the role.”

With the evolution of the workplace, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, managers are having to change their hiring strategies, and Zani thinks the assessment will be a step in the right direction.


Benefits of Talent Optimization

Zani went on to say the biggest mistake leaders make is relying on their own conscious and unconscious biases.

“They manage people the way that they want to be managed, or they don’t hire the person that walks in with a neck tattoo or knuckle tattoos; they just can’t get their arms around that, even though they’re the right candidate,” he said. “This is a problem today.”

Most leaders have a one- to five-year financial plan to support that strategy, but few have a talent strategy. And if they do, it doesn’t say what kind of people they are going to hire or who they need to fill in the gaps on the current team. It’s a critical element, as 65% of costs in businesses in an average company today are personnel-related.

“Becoming self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses not only benefits the individual, but it also helps you understand others better so you can be a better teacher, a better manager.”

“Strategies don’t execute themselves; people execute those strategies,” Zani said. “Why wouldn’t you have a plan for 65% of your cost? Talent optimization is linking the third leg of the stool, linking business strategy to results. If you don’t get results, you don’t have the privilege of staying in business.”

Most businesses follow an unstructured interviewing model, where résumé checkers are taking less than six seconds to review the résumé, and interviewees are taking less than 10 minutes to prepare for the interview. There is a cycle of questions, such as ‘tell me about a time when you were challenged at work?’ or ‘why do you want to work here?’ And someone will ask the same questions in the following interviews.

This creates a system that doesn’t tell the employer who the best fit for the job will be. Embracing talent optimization creates what Zani calls a ‘T-shirt effect’ — the front of the shirt embraces a person’s strengths and capabilities, but the back ultimately shows their flaws. The PI Assessment helps leaders figure out the behavioral and cognitive abilities needed to create a well-meshed team.

“Becoming self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses not only benefits the individual, but it also helps you understand others better so you can be a better teacher, a better manager,” he said. “You can modify yourself to get the best out of them so your people can be their best on their best day. It’s about understanding others.”

He continued by saying the onus is on the manager to modify themselves so they can get the most out of their people. The beauty in doing talent optimization well, he reiterated, is being able to send employees home more energized to be better parents, spouses, siblings, and neighbors.

“Community kind of stinks right now — like, there’s not a lot of it,” Zani said. “And if we can help create happier, better members of the community, we really impact the world in a positive way.”

The real inspiration is to make sure people feel like they can be successful and have purpose at work. By sending people home more energized, happier, and more fulfilled with purpose, leaders are creating a stronger community, both inside and outside the business world.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]