OPINION! Personnel developer & occupational psychologist Armin Surma: personality development in practice & the right training strategies for managers

Armin Surma is head of personnel development at ETO MAGNETIC GmbH in Stockach and also lecturer for personnel management at FHW / IMB Berlin. His area of ​​responsibility is personnel development, potential analyzes, assessments, trainings, Coaching.

Surma, born in 1964, studied Psychology with a focus on work and organizational psychology in Frankfurt and completed various further qualifications in the field of personnel management, training and coaching. Among other things, he was a freelancer Adviser and trainer in the field of management development and head of personnel development at apetito AG.

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Mr. Surma, you are dealing with developmental psychology and its application possibilities in practice. Can you briefly explain what it is about?

To put it very simply, the results of developmental psychology indicate that it depends on the degree of maturity of a People depends on whether he is able to perform certain complex tasks and to do so Things to Learn or to develop further - or not.

Can you explain that?

Conventional learning (eg acquisition of experience or specialist knowledge) is viewed in developmental psychology as “horizontal development” and differentiated from “vertical development”, which is seen as a kind of transformation or maturation process towards a more comprehensive / complex action logic. With regard to this vertical development, a distinction is made between 3 levels (pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional) with a total of 9-10 development stages.

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The personality develops from a strong impulse control, through processes of social adjustment, to ever stronger self-regulation and the development of one's own standards, which are finally transcended again. In interpersonal dealings, there is a maturation process from more manipulative/controlling behavior to increasingly taking into account the autonomy of others and to a systemic understanding of social relationships. The cognitive Style develops from an undifferentiated, very simple logic to more complexity, multi-perspectivity and networking.

How did you come to development psychology at all?

I found developmental psychology interesting even during my studies, especially with regard to the development of moral judgment in adulthood. As part of my work as ExecutivesAs a trainer or head of personnel development, I noticed that there are sometimes highly qualified executives who have enormous difficulties in raising a reasonable level of empathy, tolerance and composure towards their employees.

Others manage to do this - even without special training - almost playfully. I have observed something similar with regard to the understanding of systemic processes. From time to time I have also met consultants who are good at giving lectures on a topic such as “managing complexity” on an abstract level, but on real problems in confusing projects fast reach their limits.

I recently visited two very stimulating seminars on the subject of I-development for adults at Thomas Binder in Berlin, where a very good explanatory model for the above mentioned phenomena was presented. In the following period, I became more involved with this approach, which is internationally represented by researchers such as Jane Loevinger and Robert Kegan.

What is the significance of the findings of developmental psychology for professional life?

The question of what degree of maturity of ego development (in the sense of "vertical development") a certain person has reached is, in my opinion, much more practical Significance for management diagnostics or suitability assessment. A highly complex management task, such as that found at middle to high hierarchical levels, requires a relatively high degree of maturity from the job holder in order to be able to fill this position appropriately at all.

Because here it is important to recognize the complex aspects (operative and strategic tasks) and to be able to deal with them accordingly. From my point of view, this also requires that a manager is able to include different points of view in their actions. On the other hand, ultra-authoritarian systems that are primarily based on command and obedience can also be led by people at an earlier stage of development (however, it only lasts there in the long term Employees who are willing to adapt to this in the long term).

What problems do you think when the people responsible do not have the necessary maturity for a task?

Controlling complex projects or change processes in the Company successfully tasks are to be implemented that require a later stage of development and can therefore by no means be taken on by every employee who may be available at the moment. Change Projects often fail because of unsuitable/overwhelmed project managers - and that only partly has something to do with know-how.

Or a completely different example: A department manager who is, for example, at the so-called Rationalistic Development level will hardly be able to understand and appreciate the different approaches of an employee who has reached a post-conventional level. Because managers at this level often act according to the motto “My way or no way”. He will ideas of the employee probably even perceive as disruptive and combat them.

Does such a thing, for example, also apply to perfectionist perspectives?

Yes, that's a good example, too: Employees and executives who tend to exaggerate perfectionism in a particularly pronounced way and who are on an average level of ego development are rarely able to express this personal Pattern to recognize and consciously distance oneself from it. Because, as I've observed, they see increased effort and striving for perfection as the only way to be successful at all. On a (possibly legitimate) Criticism because of their perfectionism, such people sometimes react very aggressively because they cannot understand them.

What impact do these findings have on the selection of applicants?

The more complex and multifaceted the task or position is, the more important it is to take into account the respective level of ego development Candidates or owner advised.

And what tools do you use when selecting applicants to identify those with the appropriate personality traits?

In my practical work, I use a large number of instruments for applicant selection and suitability diagnostics, which, of course, are not just about personality traits but also about task-specific skills. This starts with structured interviews, goes through problem simulations and assessments to the use of diagnostic test procedures (although by no means every psychological test useful can be used in companies). Thomas Binder's IE profile makes sense as an additional instrument for recognizing the maturity of a manager.

This is a projective psychological test that allows valid statements about the individual maturity level. This has the additional advantage that it can hardly be answered in terms of social desirability. To round off the picture further, the use of a broad personality inventory, with which stable personality traits can be measured (such as the “Bochum inventory” by Rüdiger Hossiep) would be recommended.

Is it possible to recognize in advance whether an applicant has the necessary maturity for a job?

In my experience, a conventional simple application interview would be insufficient here - especially if it was about more important higher ones leading position goes.

But are there so many matching applicants at all?

Sometimes there is one here Problem. For certain positions, for example development engineer with project assignment, customer contact and managerial responsibility, it is sometimes difficult to find someone who seems really suitable in terms of professional, social and developmental psychology.

So advanced training is just nonsense, Richard Gris criticized in his book "The further education lie" because it depends on the level of personal development?

Clearly, how useful or effective a training (coaching) measure or a coaching for leadership skills can be is also dependent on the development level or the action logics of the participants.

However, I regard the book “The Further Education Lie” as a polemic that was only partially successful and would like to distance myself somewhat from the statements made there and from the very radical conclusions. But: A further training measure is basically only useful if the teaching content and/or experiences offered there can actually be usefully processed by the participant. As soon as a measure significantly exceeds or falls below the individual level of mental abilities or the degree of maturity of the participants, the learning success or benefit of the measure is seriously questioned. Pure incentive training without klare Set and meticulous Planning are of course even more questionable.

How then, according to the findings of developmental psychology, do you see any meaningful further training or how do you have to look?

The well-known formats of Further Training or training for specialists and managers by no means all have to be turned inside out. From a developmental psychological point of view, however, an in-depth examination of the question of which measure is actually beneficial for which person is urgently recommended. In many companies, good specialists are promoted to management positions and then personnel development is given the task of compensating for the lack of management skills through training. Here it would make more sense to determine beforehand what level of ego development the candidate is at (and possibly also advise against a management role). Thus, the developmental psychological Perspektive an important aspect when assessing leadership potential. In addition, the issue of individual maturity can and should play an appropriate role in coaching processes.

There is also the question of whether traditional leadership development programs promote development at all, or whether they are essentially just learning programs. Thomas Binder assumes that most programs for executives would have to be redesigned in order to focus more on the actual development aspect focus.

Are companies even willing to invest money here?

This depends strongly on the importance of human resources development in the company and the level at which it is operated. Personnel developers who deal with the subject of self-development should, for a sufficient understanding of the subject matter and also to the exercise of their advisory role, naturally have a sufficient development stage.

What does a company have when it applies the findings of developmental psychology, for example, to applicant selection? And can the successes be measured, for example in sales figures?

The Risks of mistakes, especially for high-paying and very complex ones Features, can be significantly reduced by appropriate suitability diagnostics. (Such misjudgments or incorrect recruitment, including the necessary correction and replacement, can in some cases be very high Costs generate well over €100.000.)

A study of the connections between sales success or sales increase and I development stage is not known to me so far. However, there are numerous studies on the relationship between the I-development stage and effective sustainable management.

Are there any other fields of application in practice?

I think a very important application will be in Future can selection- and Vocational Training by consultants, coaches and change agents.


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