Skip to Content

How to Identify Work Styles and Why It Matters

According to a recent Harvard Business Review, assessing each employee’s work style can provide valuable insight into their approach, personality, focus, and the way in which they process information. Work styles are a form of diversity, just as gender or ethnic groups.

The HBR article identifies four primary work styles that all employees fall into. They are:

  • Pioneers – Pioneers see the big picture and like to go with their gut
  • Guardians – Guardians are the protectors of order; they like stability
  • Drivers – Drivers are results-oriented and comfortable with challenge and momentum
  • Integrators – Integrators prize connection and draw teams together

What does implementation look like in practice? Here are some examples from a related Harvard Business Review piece.

Work styles can help managers think through future needs.

Real-World Uses for Identifying Work Styles

  1. Hiring and Job Creation – According to Greg Keeley, the Executive Vice President of American Express, the work styles assessment (which can be found here) is an optimization tool for hiring and job alignment functions. Potential employees take the assessment; their results are compared against what the job is estimated to need. Job candidates are interviewed according to what work style the position needs.
  2. Team Functioning – Keeley also pointed out that, for managers, requiring an entire team to take the assessment can help maximize management. A manager of a team who is a Driver, for example, might find another two Drivers on the team. That opens the possibility of being able to delegate more often and more flexibly, freeing up the top manager’s leadership skills.
  3. Decision-Making and Guidance – Gary Pilnick, the Vice Chairman of Kellogg, uses the assessment of work styles to guide middle managers and make decisions. He counterbalances the tendency of work styles to make sure they are not conflicting with other types or running into trouble with too narrow a focus. A Pioneer, for example, may be asked for data to counterbalance the tendency to look only at the big picture. A Driver is asked what other people need to be in the loop or what experts need to be consulted, to counterbalance a sole focus on momentum.
  4. Strategy – Adam Malamut, the Chief Customer Experience Officer at Marriott, also uses the assessment to define whether his team needs augmentation in certain areas, and how if so. He also uses the work styles assessment for higher level strategy assessments. When a global initiative is planned, for example, management looks at how it can realistically be implemented given the work styles. He also uses it as a collaboration-enhancement tool.
  5. Management Interface – Elizabeth Bryant, the Vice President of Southwest Airlines University, uses her knowledge of work styles to take into account how she can best interface with other styles. She, for example, is a pioneer. With her own manager, who is a Driver, she needs to make sure he is aware that goals are being met. She is also more conscious of how comments she sees as off-hand might be construed by a Guardian, for example, as an important task to follow up on.

Work styles are an important part of how teams — and the corporations they are part of — function. More knowledge of work styles is an important part of improving that function.