What color are you?

In today’s NYT Business Section, in a story on the Jobs page titled “Workplace Gossip? Keep It To Yourself” by Shayla McKnight, I found this bit about an online printing company quite interesting:

When employees are hired here, they’re given a communications assessment, a commercial program that the company uses to pinpoint a person’s dominant communications style. The styles are linked to colors that identify how each employee likes to communicate.

If someone is a “red,” for example, he or she appreciates when others are direct and state the facts quickly. A person who’s a “blue” enjoys having all the details, and time to process them. A “yellow” is spontaneous and likes a personal connection.

I’m a “green.” That means I’m sensitive and like to be approached as courteously as possible; greens tend to be compassionate and supportive.

Nameplates on our desks have a color bar to identify our styles, or we can easily find them in a company database. This system lets everyone know how co-workers prefer to be approached, and it goes a long way in promoting harmony. If I don’t know someone’s style, I check before I visit his or her office or send an e-mail message.

I’ve never seen a company that does this, but it’s intriguing.  Do people actually adjust their own style of communication when speaking to someone self-identified as another color?  From this description, I’d have to go with  blue for myself, with a little red mixed in… does that make me a purple?

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Comments

  • Jim  On November 16, 2009 at 8:15 am

    COLOR INTERPRETATION!

    by Jim (a RED)

    Red will get you ahead!
    Blue MAY get you there too!
    Green assures you’ll not be seen.
    Yellow makes you a Sales fellow.

    Color classification is a tool used
    By Human Resources “greens” sooo confused!!

    Curt, your self analysis is right on – don’t know what purple means but it is my favorite color. I think you are a RED inside and use your blue tendencies as a security device, for what that is worth!

  • Curt  On November 18, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Yes, there are a number of interesting follow-ups here:

    How does color relate to job title?
    How does color relate to salary level?

    For me at least, I think I like more information in areas that I’m less familiar with… as you know more about a subject it’s easier to go with a ‘just the summary’ approach.

  • Jim  On November 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Agreed – but I would add the more you surround yourself with good people knowledgeble in particular areas the better you can do with less detail because it allows you the freedom to make a “best” decision knowing it will be reviewed and stopped if not the “best”. I include surrounding yourself with capable peers, as well as bosses and employees.

    Some random thoughts on the subject:

    In the last 18 years of running my little assembly company I have noticed I become quite unhappy with something each time I implement a “system”: my observation is that each new “system” effects the creativeness of employees – they become dependent on the “system” rather than using their heads!

    For instance, before we had a planning system with Work Order controls my people knew how to move product to the next station and when to do it. Now, if they don’t have a Work Order they won’t move the product! Drives me crazy!

    Sometimes I wonder if the “system” is worth it. But to grow you have to have the “system” because the size gets beyond the capability of people to keep up.

    I wonder if we are effecting our society in this way. As our society and economy grows are we dumbing down people? Is that why, in my opinion, our society is moving in an unhealthy direction? I know many do not agree this is the case, but at least they can acknowledge the society is moving in another direction!

    I see a parallel in the color story: I have always classified people as they do – and I will bet you a weeks pay you have too – so what does the color coding “system” do other than dumb down the employees so they don’t have to evaluate people as you and I have.

    Unintended consequences?? I wonder.

  • Curt  On November 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Many interesting issues here…

    It does seem that many ‘systems’ do tend to stifle people’s creativity and even ‘common sense’ – and yet, as you say, you need to institute systems to handle much of the complexity that comes with growth.

    It seems to me there is a trade-off: reap the benefits of specialization and efficiencies of scale, but pay the price of more limited areas left to on-the-spot judgement – following the rules blindly. Overall you get more standardized results. Whether this is good or bad is a subjective call, but I know I prefer situations with a bit more room for improvisation!

    In this case of the color system, I think you are right that it serves little purpose – it seems like people should have enough sense to approach new people politely and suss them out, rather than depending on a color code to decide how to interact…

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