Metaprogram Categories

PrintPrinter-Friendly Version
Home About Products Services Research Join Us HR Login Test Yourself FAQ Contact Site Map
 
 

The iWAM questionnaire measures an individual's attitudes and motivations within the context of the workplace. This survey includes 48 metaprogram parameters, which are the series of mental filters which determine how one behaves what one pays attention to during observation. This page is an explanation of which metaprograms the iWAM measures. Each of the 48 parameters is measured and rated separately, but for simplicity we have grouped them here under 15 headers (some categories have the technical name in brackets):
 

1. Action Level

The end of the 20th Century showed an incredible boom in venture capital investment. Almost anyone with an idea could find funding to start an Internet-based company. They were the good old days for entrepreneurs. This period valued enormously proactive behavior: the idea was to be first, start a company and execute the idea, before anyone else would. Getting funding sometimes was a matter of days, with the entrepreneur choosing the venture capital to work with. Compare this with the conservative attitude of most bankers. They wait until a company comes with a well-organized proposal with a high probability of success. Even then the banker will be asking additional guarantees. The total time to get a loan approved may become months. Some say that if the procedures are followed by the book, a bank will only give a loan to companies that don't need it.

What's the difference between the two kinds of funding? Speed and Risk are two important parameters. Venture capital investment is very proactive; speed is the key. The expected market return and the number of investments was seen as the way to spread the risk: if one out of 10 funded companies succeeded and was introduced to the stock market, the VC investor is content. A banker is more reactive: speed is not important; certainty (no risks) is the key. A banker takes the time to thing through each aspect of the credit decision.

One can ask similar questions for each individual. Is a person proactive or reactive? How fast does the person start taking action? How much patience does this person have?
 

2. Priorities and Focus [Action Direction]

Some jobs, such as sales, are goal-oriented. A salesperson will get a target volume of sales to obtain for the next year (or even week). Their income is often linked to this target, which serves as a motivator for a good salesperson. Other jobs such as a helpdesk are more focused on solving problems. The job of the computer helpdesk is done if all problems are solved. One might say that the "goal" is "no problems". In the first type of job, the action is oriented towards a goal. In the second type of job, solving problems is the key.

The same categories can be applied to personal motivation. How well can a person maintain focus on goals? Are they able to recognize the problems which would interfere with obtaining these goals? How do they function in a "problem-oriented" work environment?
 

3. Decision-Making [Evaluation Reference]

When Walt Disney set out to create Disney World in Florida, banks didn't like the idea. Walt wasn't really surprised; after all, he had had enough problems financing the first color movies and the movies that integrated sound. He didn't consider it as his job to come with ideas that would please his bankers. After all, what does the banker know about the entertainment industry? Often, entrepreneurs succeed because they keep believing in their idea, and whatever other persons do tell them, they keep going until they succeed. For other jobs, such as customer desk at a Marriott hotel or a complaints desk at Southwest Airlines, the opposite is true. What counts are the customer satisfaction ratings. Again both examples show 2 extremes of a metaprogram category: Walt Disney evaluates his plans for himself. He knows what he wants. This is called "internal reference". Marriot and Southwest Airlines refer to the customer's evaluation. The customer is always right. This is known as "external reference".

An internal referenced person that is also independent may want to be left alone almost the first moment they are hired. They are better "managed by exception". If their internal reference is strong, they will decide which external source they accept as being "credible". A more external referenced person will prefer that their direct manager checks in with them almost daily. Some will need recognition, either from their boss or from their peers.

As we did before, we can apply the distinction to individuals. What are the sources of motivation for a person? Does the person decide for himself or does he need others to give advice or even make the decision?
 

4. Procedures and Options [Task Attitude]

We know a couple that owns a small training business. She is the main trainer, and is really able to adapt her training content to the individuals in the room. In fact, before starting the training, she is always considering how to adapt the materials so that they will fit the group as well as possible. He doesn't like that too much - he believes it's hard to sell the product if it changes all the time. Also, there is the time it takes to customize the materials, making it difficult to bring out standard course handouts, or to order a stack of workbooks from a printer. And of course, she refuses replacing the overhead transparencies with a standard PowerPoint presentation. We can find similar differences in other work areas. For instance, when an information analyst is typically faced with incomplete data and plays out alternative scenarios to cope with this, generating and testing different hypotheses. A bank clerk at the front desk has to follow procedures rigorously: there is only one correct way to register money that a customer withdraws from an account, for instance.

The contrast between these people reflects two possible task attitudes. Which of these persons is following procedures? Which one prefers to generate alternatives?
 

5. Point of View [Task Orientation]

The higher one gets in the hierarchy of a company, the less time one has to work out the details. Often when a manager keeps focusing on the details, it becomes difficult to delegate, because one risks to be doing work that someone else could do. Instead of doing the work, it is the job of a leader to keep the overview: to see how the work of each person fits into the bigger picture, and how this whole delivers the results the customer wants. Other jobs require people that are willing to work the details. For instance, the bookkeeping needs to be correct to the last cent. A difference of one cent may not seem important, but can hide several larger mistakes that compensate each other "by coincidence". Similar distinguishments exist elsewhere. A computer analyst should have the overview, collect the pieces of the puzzle while a programmer needs to work out the details given all the pieces, which ends in writing a functional program.

When working with information, what is the size of the pieces of information this person naturally thinks about? Does he or she tend to work with large, medium-sized or small pieces of data?
 

6. Body Language [Communication Sort]

In this metaprogram category, we distinguish between the content (the words) of the communication and the non-verbal packaging of the communication. Indeed, we communicate using several channels at once. The literature often groups these channels into verbal and non-verbal. As long as the communication in the two channels is "compatible," the non-verbal aspect is not important. However, from time to time the communication is "incongruent," meaning what is said verbally is not consistent with the non-verbal signals that accompany the message. Certain jobs, like those in the legal sector are concentrating on the content: a judge should focus on the facts, not on how it is said. However, as the O.J. Simpson case and Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinski showed, the non-verbal aspect plays it's role in winning or losing a lawsuit, especially if there is a jury. As is the case for other metaprograms, both jobs and people will differ in their preferences concerning use of verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication.

How is this person's communication organized? To what extend is the content of the message dominating the communication? How much attention is given to the non-verbal part of the communication? Are non-verbal signals used consciously, as a part of the communication?
 

7. Social Contact [Work Environment Type]

On Microsoft's Redmond Campus, each person gets a private office, yet there is place for sharing and collaboration. Other companies are known to put people together in huge open offices. Not only should these open spaces help to promote teamwork, savings are often cited as a key reason: an open space office can accommodate as much as 50% more staff in the same space as separate offices. Cubicles are an intermediate solution to get some of the space savings, while still giving some privacy to people. A question few people ask is: "What is the most productive office configuration for a certain type of work?" Once can distinguish between group space and individual workspace. Microsoft chose for individual space, because it knows that ITers are often more productive because they can better concentrate when they have a private office. Putting ITers in large open spaces can result in a productivity drop of 50% or more. On the other hand, marketing people often profit from being around with other marketing staff: it stimulates the creative cross-fertilization.

As you can infer from the previous paragraph, the work environment type metaprogram category examines to what degree a person wants to work alone or with other people around. Does he or she want social contact or not?
 

8. Distribution of Responsibility [Work Assignment Type]

In the book "How to be a Star at Work," Robert Kelly indicates that star performers don't fight over who holds which responsibility individually, but rather take responsibility for areas that are left unclaimed - of course while doing the work within their own area of responsibility. When the Volvo car plant in Ghent, Belgium started to introduce teamwork, their aim was to increase productivity. When a group of 4 people feel collectively responsible for assembling a section of the car (for instance, the brake system), they won't complain when an improvement of the brakes requires that 5 screws be fixed instead of the previous 4 screws. However, if each person only feels responsible for one screw, the 5th screw looks like a 100% work increase! Of course, as you can read in Jon Katzenbach's "The Wisdom of Teams," not every task or group of activities is suited for teamwork. For instance, sales persons are typically individually responsible for their own sales area, and compete with other sales persons in the other areas. Especially when they are paid on commission, or get bonuses related to their individual sales results, it is difficult to transform their jobs into teamwork.

For this category, we will test whether persons want sole responsibility for the work results or whether they want to share that responsibility.
 

9. Cycle Time [Relationship Sorting]

Today, most people consider lifetime employment as something of the past. Given that the only certainty is that things will change, it's difficult to predict how a company will look like in 5 years, and even more difficult which jobs will be required. Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that between 1979 and 1999 the average person in the United States held 9.2 jobs from age 18 to age 34, and has as many as 3 to 4 careers during one's lifetime. Both a company and the employee need to take this new element into account. Some people have no problems adapting to change, they even like it and get bored if things don't change enough. The IT industry and other technological fields are on a track of rapid change. For instance, the most advanced PC you buy today will be considered outdated in 3 years time. Other people require more certainty and security, and would prefer their job to stay the same for years. Indeed, some jobs, like bookkeeping, don't change much over the years.

This leads us to the following questions. What is a person's cycle time for projects, tasks, and jobs? Does a person want a fast cycle, moving from one thing to another quickly, or do they prefer things to remain stable for a long period of time?
 

10. Basic Motivations [McClelland's Motivational Types]

According to David McClelland, author of "Human Motivation" and an expert in the field, people are basically motivated by three criteria: how much power they have, how much they are appreciated as friends by their environment and how successful they are (and are recognized for that). Certain kinds of jobs require certain types of motivation. For a manager in a large, hierarchical organization, being motivated by power seems advantageous to a certain degree. For other jobs and organizations, performance orientation is the key.

The metaprogram category will help to answer the following questions: "What are the basic motivation factors for this person? Is it Power, Popularity, or Performance? In which hierarchical order does the person put these 3 criteria?"
 

11. Work Approach

Some jobs require that the focus of the person starting something new is "just do it." This is often the best approach for someone who is self-employed or for an entrepreneur starting a small company. This is often contrasted to "academic approach," where a researcher concentrates on the theory or on the concept. And then there is a third way: When the organization is becoming bigger, it becomes more important to work in a structured way. When you start something that will involve a lot of people, "just doing it" may end in chaos. A manager in a large organization has to concentrate on the structure and will delegate the doing to the other people. To some extend, each of us combines these 3 approaches, mostly spending the most time on the approach we prefer. This explains why entrepreneurs sometimes get into trouble when their organization starts to grow. After a while, they should switch from "doing it" to "organizing it," and failing to make this switch will leave the company "under managed." The same problem exists in the other direction, when a manager from a large organization becomes self-employed. Suddenly, all the structure is gone and the manager now has to do it.

In short, this category addresses the following question: "When approaching a task or project, what is the internal process a person uses? The three parts of this internal process are: Use, Concept, and Structure. An additional question is: "How do they distribute their available energy and time over these 3 processes?"
 

12. Time Orientation [Temporal Processing]

Different functions in the organization concentrate on different aspects of time. For instance, the production manager focuses on doing the work that needs done now, and solving the problems that prevent today's work to be done. The auditor will look if the bookkeeper has been doing their work correctly, and may give some advice based on what they learn from looking at this past. An organization's strategic thinkers will focus on the future. It's their task to work out what the company should look like within a number of years. Of course, if people with a different reference frame come together to discuss a project, this can lead to conflicts. The strategist may have a dream fro the future, which the bookkeeper might criticize, proving his point of view with facts from the past. The production manager might feel squeezed in the middle, left wondering what to focus on right now. She might wonder what the others are arguing about; given there are already enough current issues to address.

These are the questions we address with the temporal processing metaprograms: When working on a project or task, or when thinking about or organizing something, in what time reference does this person tend to be? Is he remembering the past, is he thinking about the present, or is he planning or projecting the future?
 

13. Rules and Conformity [Norming]

This category indicates one of the biggest differences between a large conglomerate and a small, entrepreneurial company. Inside a large organization, it's often important to try to be the person the company needs. Also, most large companies have quality systems in place, with procedures one needs to follow. It's the job of the manager to enforce these procedures. Given the size of the organization, it becomes difficult to tolerate deviant behavior. In a small entrepreneurial company, rules are less important, and often there are few written rules. Sometimes the organization even appreciates that persons bend the rules in order to get results. Rules tend to differ from person to person and managers have less need to communicate the rules.

How does this person deal with the unwritten rules or the social contract in the work place? Does he feel the need to tell others how they should act? The metaprograms included in this category are: assertiveness, indifference, complacency, and tolerance.
 

14. Convincing Means [Convincer Patterns - Input Representation]

Getting convinced requires that one has the information one needs in order to take the decision, and that one then processes that information. As a trainer, one learns to use the different types of input representation in order to enable persons to learn. Some people like visual information: they need to see graphs, process charts, or maybe they want to observe a demonstration. Other people like to hear the explanation. A third type wants to read a book or a manual. The fourth type of persons needs to do exercises and learn via a "hands-on" approach.

The same is true for convincing. The first metaprogram aims at answering the following questions: "How is this person convinced about something or someone new? How does he gather the data to be convinced?"
 


15. Convincing Process
[Convincer Patterns - Interpretation Process]

Of course, most of the time it's not enough just to "throw" the right type of information to a person in order to convince that person, even if some persons almost seem "automatically convinced" once they have the data they require. At the other extreme, you'll find people that seem never convinced: they will consistently reprocess the data, checking whether their previous decision is still the right one. Other types of interpretation consist of gathering a number of examples or observing the situation over a certain period of time. In short, the second metaprogram category linked to convincing answers the question: "What does a person do with the data to be convinced?" The key factors are automatic, consistency, a number of examples, and a period of time.
 

16. Environmental Priorities[Interest Filters]

Consider the following parties involved in the building industry. Each one has its own interests. The team coach concentrates on the people he is helping. A carpenter may pay attention to the tools. The quality engineer is thinking about the system. The manager considers the information he has to distribute. For the bookkeeper, money is important. For the real estate agent, location is all that counts. For the future house owner, the timing is important: he wants to see the building finished in time. Finally, if you are the director that wanted to make a movie out of this, having enough action is key. The conclusion: there are a lot of environmental factors that motivate people at work. If all of these people would pay attention to only their interests, the happy ending may be difficult to find.

The previous paragraph illustrated 8 types of interest filters. We can ask these distinctions for any job and for any individual. What does a person pay attention to in the environment? What does this person have to be working with to feel successful? The primary filter of interest is the filter which the person prefers the most.
 
 

Back to iWAM
Back to Research

The following articles are in-depth studies of global trends among certain metaprograms:
Article 1: Action Direction: Goals and Problems
Article 2: Task Attitude - Options vs Procedures
Article 3: Work Environment & Work Responsability
Article 4: Rules and Conformity

Home About Products Services Research Join Us HR Login Test Yourself FAQ Contact Site Map

 
 
 
last modified: 2012/Dec/14 01:20 CET