Erin Werde’s job centers around a term that has the dubious distinction of being among the top 1,000 most obscure words in the English language. The word? Conation.

Conation is the part of the subconscious that deals with a person’s natural tendencies to do something. It is separate from intelligence and emotion. Werde works with companies to help employees find roles that best suit their natural instincts and help managers do a better job of hiring, building teams and, ultimately, making the organization more productive and profitable.

As president of St. Louis Park-based Affiance Coaching, Werde’s main tool is the Kolbe Index, a 36-question multiple-choice questionnaire developed 30 years ago that measures various aspects of a person’s conation.

With four generations in the workplace bringing different values and approaches — along with some generational conflicts — Werde believes success lies in harnessing the power of instinct.

Q: Why do companies hire you?

A: A variety of reasons — anywhere from having trouble with retention, to their team isn’t quite gelling to interoffice conflict. We start by giving everyone a Kolbe Index because my objective is to make sure employees have a chance to work within their instinctive drive.

 

Q: Tell me about the Kolbe Concept and this term “conation.”

A: Conation is defined as action derived from instinct. When we’re working with Kolbe, it’s all about our gut. It’s all about our default settings. It’s about how we take action when we don’t even realize we’re doing so. Anybody — if they’re motivated enough — can be forced into a position that goes against their grain, or outside of their instinct. But it’s stressful, it’s frustrating, it depletes their energy. From an employer perspective, they’re not getting the best out of their employee. They will get the best out of their employee when that person shows up for work every day able to work within their instinct.

 

Q: How does Kolbe differ from other personality tests or career assessment tools?

A: Kolbe doesn’t measure preferences, it doesn’t measure motivations or values. It’s not an IQ test, either. It won’t tell me about somebody’s intelligence, it won’t tell me anything about their experiences, their education or any particular skills they have. It’s just about this instinctual component.

 

Q: Let’s say you hear from a manager whose team isn’t working effectively. Then what?

A: I like to start out giving individual Kolbe assessments. Then, depending on the size of company or team, I’ll sit down one on one and go over results, which often validates what people already know about themselves. Then when we get to the group session, I can say, ‘You know a lot about yourself, let’s learn about others in the room.’ That’s when you hear — ‘Oh, that’s why I get so frustrated when so-and-so does this.’ It really lends itself to a generosity of spirit. Instead of constantly getting frustrated with XY because he’s always doing something at the last minute, now I know that’s how he works.

 

Q: Are there some common traits you see when things aren’t working?

A: With Kolbe there are four “action modes” and there are three ways people go about taking action within each mode. In order to have a perfectly well-balanced team, we’re looking for all 12 of those talents to be covered. Examining the team and figuring out which of these boxes is missing, I get an indication that things may not be functioning on all cylinders. One thing that can happen in the world of Kolbe is “cloning” — there are too many people with a similar way of doing things. If I have a team where a lot of people’s action mode is fact-finding — it tells me they’re really interested in finding details and that they’re going to be very deliberate with their decisionmaking. Sometimes a team leader who’s got a different instinct will look at that and say this team isn’t functioning. Actually they’re functioning exactly as I would predict, it just isn’t necessarily going at the speed on which somebody else desires.

 

Q: What kind of companies do you work with?

A: It really is industry-agnostic. Everything from financial service companies to interior design to construction to pet food companies and really everything in between. I’ve worked with tiny two-person companies and $50 million companies with 350 employees. About 70 percent of my business is in Minnesota; about 30 percent is coast-to coast — Washington, D.C., to Hawaii.

 

Q: How important is emotional health in the workplace?

A: What I see most often that just bewilders me is that there’s a lot of management in terms of “I behave this way so you must, too.” Not only are we causing a great deal of tension by forcing people outside of their instinct and outside of their sweet spot, but we’re really squashing talents they’re bringing to that position. I think it’s a big reason why we see so much turnover. I think it’s a huge reason why companies are struggling with retention. As much as we like to think it, humans are not a one-size fits all approach.

 

Q: Do you work differently with leaders than you do with the workers?

A: Yes and no. No matter where anyone’s results come out, it is through the lens of discovering the talents you bring to the table. So if you are president of the company, the receptionist, the HR manager or in sales — no matter where you are, this is what you need to know about yourself to thrive.