The DEX Show | Podcast #10 – Mavericks and Operators w/ Predictive Advantage

The DEX Show | Podcast #10 – Mavericks and Operators w/ Predictive Advantage
May 18, 2021

As the show enters double figures,  Thomas McGrath and Tim Flower set out to bridge the gap between IT and psychology, with help from Michael Jones (Associate, Predictive Advantage) and Jeremy Baker (Productivity Director, Nexthink).

In the course of a lively discussion the crew reveals:

  • The history and power of the professional psychometric test: the Predictive Index
  • The need for a truly tailored approach to the modern workplace – psychologically and technologically
  • Where Thomas and Tim fall on the Predictive Index (and how cool this makes them)

Check out Nexthink’s latest eBook, Top IT Trends and Predictions for the New Way of Working, to keep fully abreast of the latest Digital Employee Experience innovations.

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to the Digital Employee Experience Podcast on AppleSpotifyTuneInAmazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform!

Tim Flower (00:00):

Hey Tom, where’d you end up on the index?

Tom McGrath (00:03):

Maverick. Actually, I was going to tell a funny story about that. It’s very funny actually, it might not be very good. I was called a Maverick in a school report once in a roundabout way. They said “Tom has a very Maverick attitude towards registration. He comes in whenever he wants, puts his feet on the desks and opens a music newspaper”. And that made me sound so cool. It was meant to be really scathing, really upset.

Jeremy Baker (00:30):

Makes you sound like Danny Baker.

Michael Jones (00:31):

You see, I’d have been sitting in the class huffing and sighing at you. Thank you.

Tom McGrath (00:36):

Where did you fall Tim?

Tim Flower (00:40):

I’m an operator, which sounds a little derogatory, but I’ll own it.

Tom McGrath (00:43):

Less sexy than Maverick. Go on.

Speaker 5 (00:47):

You’re listening to Digital Employee Experience, a show for IT change makers. Let’s get in to the show.

Tom McGrath (00:54):

Hello, change makers. Welcome to the Digital Employee Experience show. I’m joined as ever by Tim Flower. Tim, how are you today?

Tim Flower (01:02):

I’m doing great Tom. How about you? It’s spring, the weather’s good, attitudes are improving. Things are good.

Tom McGrath (01:08):

In England it genuinely does feel like spring today. The sun is out and we’ve got a great show to get to. And it’s about workplace psychology, self-development, and their interesting intersection with contemporary workplace tech. So let me begin by asking you Tim, are you somebody that enjoys thinking about yourself?

Tim Flower (01:27):

You know, every once in a while Tom, I do get a little introspective and you try to have a 360 degree view, but everybody has a blind spot.

Tom McGrath (01:36):

The reasons for asking you this question will hopefully become clear later on. But first of all, I’d like to welcome the first of our two distinguished guests to the show. Michael Jones. Michael is an associate at Predictive Advantage and a director and founder of Realising Potential Consulting. He’s an experienced coach and management consultant with a passion for understanding what makes people tick. And we’re going to get into it all with him today. But first of all Michael, a very warm welcome to the show.

Michael Jones (02:04):

Thanks Tom, it’s good to be here.

Tom McGrath (02:05):

Okay. Tell us Michael about the Predictive Index. So what are its roots? Where does it come from? And then from that, how and why did it capture your imagination so far?

Michael Jones (02:15):

Well, it’s been around a long time, even longer than I have. So it’s been around since 1955. Originated in the US in Boston, originated by a guy called Arnold Daniels who worked in the Air Corps in the US. Apparently he and his team were an incredibly successful bomber crew at the tail end of the Second World War and became something of a notorious really. And they were essentially bombarded with lots of different psychometricians trying to work out what made them so successful as a team, I think. And so legend has it that’s what sparked Arnold’s interest in measurements of human behavior. He went to Harvard after he was demobbed and essentially started the Predictive Index. He designed it in the 1950s and opened an office in Boston with just him. And now we are a truly global tool.

Michael Jones (03:05):

I think the reason that it appeals to me is its absolute simplicity. I’ve done many of these assessments and some of them take quite a lot of your time to complete, they take you down torturous, forced choice mechanisms. Whereas the Predictive Index is very simple. You see some words, you respond to the words and it takes about five minutes to complete the exercise. So I love it’s simplicity, and it’s a very visual product. Once you truly understand PI you can look at some graphs and you’re off. And you could certainly talk to somebody about who they are insofar as that which we measure and also what’s going on in their world right now. And I’m very privileged to talk to people about what drives and motivates them. And sometimes quite often actually, we actually get to help people.

Michael Jones (03:53):

So picking up Tim’s comments at the beginning, it’s great for me to be able to work with a product that allows me a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but also has that sense of helping people. And you mentioned the business that I own, Realising Potential and for me, that was essentially what we do. We just want to help people, teams, organizations be the best at what they’re meant to be. And I think fundamentally that’s what most psychometric tools are. Certainly what the Predictive Index is, is to help people understand themselves and to be the best version of themselves and not to be what other people tell them they should and ought to be. You need to be full on you, not a halfened version of you because somebody else is telling you “You’re too something”.

Tim Flower (04:39):

That’s fascinating Michael. So as you know, I took the assessment last week. It was definitely a simple process. I’m curious, talk a little bit about what a typical engagement looks like with a medium to large scale customer where you’ve got more than just one or two people doing this. What’s that engagement look like? It feels to me that there’s a certain amount of comfort that people have to have with a little bit of personal risk, maybe being vulnerable, really getting to know themselves a little bit better. But how do you manage that on a larger scale?

Michael Jones (05:12):

The way that we operate is our mechanism of the business model, if you like, is a business-to-business relationship. So our client is the organization. So for example, Nexthink are a client of ours. The organization is the client. And then what we do is we train people internally within the client organizations to work with the assessment in a non consultant-dependent fashion. So we’re really the provider of the tool and we train the people how to operate the tool. But it’s something then that certainly in larger organizations, the organization does to itself. And we’re very much in the background, providing them the trained analyst with what they need to do that job. In smaller organizations we might be more visible, but I’d suggest that within this organization, I’ll be very much in the background because we have some super users.

Michael Jones (06:03):

We have people who know the PI very well, who’ve worked with it for long periods of time and they know how to do it. And our job is to add that value. So I think it depends very much on the organization and the culture of the organization, really. So in a small organization, I might meet everybody. But in an organization of this size, very few. So I keep likening it all the time lately to buying a lawn mower. We provide the lawn mower, we tell you how to work the lawn mower, but you’re the people that have to take it out the shed and cut the grass.

Tom McGrath (06:41):

Yeah. Perfect to lead into our second guest with an analogy who is somebody I think of as the King of analogies, certainly in Nexthink, Jeremy Baker. Jeremy, welcome to the show. Lovely to have you on board at last.

Jeremy Baker (06:54):

Hello Tom. Hello Tim. Thank you for having me.

Tim Flower (06:56):

Well, I want to poke at Jeremy a little bit. Jeremy, you and I have worked together for a while. We know each other fairly well. But what I don’t know, and maybe you can share with the audience is, what led you to where you are today? What’s the professional background? What was your career aspiration? Not to get too deep with you, but what journey did you take to bring you where you are today?

Jeremy Baker (07:17):

Interesting. I started out, believe it or not in the film industry. I started out behind the camera. And to an extent, that’s still a creative itch that I have yet to fulfill in scratching, so to speak. I find myself in effectively, the world of selling out of necessity, around a Harley Davidson dealership. Which you can argue is probably not a huge amount of selling involved, but fulfilling people’s dreams.

Jeremy Baker (07:44):

And then I find myself in high tech IT, primarily in software sales. And as much as I was successful in selling, I have a kind of ridiculous interest in what makes people tick. And I can’t turn it off. I’m genuinely interested in what makes people tick and what makes good, good. So what I found myself doing is in a role that’s called sales productivity. Which to all intents and purposes, the strap line, the billboard for that is I help sales teams sell more for more, more quickly. That’s what my job is. That’s what I do. And I particularly like working with emerging technology companies where they’re not necessarily that established in the market. So that’s a potted history on me.

Tim Flower (08:40):

Good stuff. What’s the backstory or history with Michael? How did you two guys get connected?

Jeremy Baker (08:46):

Well, I met Michael about 10 years ago through an introduction, and I was looking at doing things differently. I was looking at I could stay on this treadmill and just run harder and run faster. There must be a better way of understanding how to help salespeople improve and how to help salespeople to sell into a particular market because not all salespeople and not all selling is the same.

Jeremy Baker (09:09):

I still to this day remember sat opposite Michael in a hotel foyer, where he gave me some feedback, having completed a very, very simple to the point that it passed without even realizing it over the weekend. And he gave me some feedback the following week on my profile. And I swore, I won’t now, but I swore out loud about four times worse to the effect of “How on earth do you know that?”. And it was from that point onwards that the penny very quickly dropped. That if I could understand that about a candidate coming through, I could make the right choice for the company, but also for the candidate or to help the company and the candidate make the right choice as to whether this was a good fit or not. So that was 10 years ago now. Wow.

Tim Flower (09:56):

So Jeremy, this is a tech podcast. It’s not Psychology Today. Let’s connect the dots. Where do you see this approach applying to tech? What is it that Michael and this approach does that leads into the tech space and contributes to what Nexthink does?

Jeremy Baker (10:16):

Well if I can answer that in two parts. I think the first part is identifying a good fit or a good enough fit for let’s say a particular role, a particular type of sales role, or a particular type of role. And that’s important to the point that… Because the last thing you want to do, companies spend an enormous amount of time and money hiring people, onboarding them. And if that doesn’t work out, then there’s a cost associated with that. And for the employee itself, I think as Willie Jones would say, it will be emotional. So it’s a combination of that. It helps minimize the risk of hiring people that won’t succeed. It helps with a better culture fit, et cetera. And then it also helps with hiring and promoting, looking for your next leadership, your natural managers. And then again, teams need to execute against strategies and tasks, understanding that team makeup.

Jeremy Baker (11:12):

And have we got the right team make up to execute against this key strategy? Because businesses are in businesses to compete and to be first to market or the best in some way. And it’s reliant on people, ultimately reliant on people. To answer that from a technology standpoint, I’m one for analogies and quotes, stick with me on this one. John Baez, the folk singer in the sixties was once quoted as saying “The easiest relationship is with 10,000 people. The most difficult is with one”. And I think what our technology does for our customers, so what does Nexthink do for its customers, is it helps fine tune that relationship, that digital, that experience relationship. Anybody that’s listening to this, the listener that’s listening to this will be listening to it through some form of digital device. And what’s happened in the last year, has proven that what we do, where we do it, and how we do it is all digital.

Jeremy Baker (12:12):

Therefore as individuals, we’re not all the same. We have different requirements, we have different demands and we use technologies in different ways. So this is I think, an answer of how Nexthink is helping many of its large customers, is to manage that one-to-one relationship, but also it’s really difficult to manage a relationship with 10,000, 100,000, or 200,000 employees and make it truly effective so they are productive and the organization maximizes the capacity. So coming back to joining the two worlds together, I think what Michael does for companies and what we do for companies is similar, is we maximize and increase the capacity of the people in those organizations.

Tim Flower (12:58):

Yeah, that’s a good observation. Michael, I’m curious from your perspective, a similar kind of question but in reverse. Is there something in the way that you encourage businesses to approach employees and the way that IT companies like Nexthink are now encouraging businesses to do so? Is there some similarity there in your opinion?

Michael Jones (13:17):

I don’t know, I think it fundamentally comes down to the fact that people are people wherever they are. And I just think that probably over the last year or so, this whole digital change has been hugely accelerated of course. And we are operating in ways that probably we wouldn’t even have foreseen just 14 months ago. But in our approach to what we do is based on a philosophy of talent optimization in terms of making the best of the people that you’ve got. And it starts on the basis that organizations exist for a reason and they exist to turn strategy into results. And the only thing that’s going to make that happen are the people that work for the organization. So we talk about a technology company, well there’s no such thing really. It’s a technology company run by people.

Michael Jones (14:03):

If it’s a logistics company, it’s run by people. So I would love to say is there is some synergy, but people are people wherever they are. And I just think that we’ve got a bit more agile, a bit more fluid now about being able to harness the power of digital in what we do. But fundamentally what we do is where Arnold Daniels was doing back in the 1950s. He was about looking at a person, understand what makes them tick, be sure about what a job is, and exactly what you’re looking for, and go through a robust process to get there. And then, and only then does the predictability of the Predictive Index kick in, because you can predict with enormous success whether this person’s going to be able to easily inhabit that role or not. But now we can do it digitally, we can do it quicker. But fundamentally we haven’t really changed. And I’m not sure that’s the answer you want, but I think it’s the only true answer. I don’t know. Would you agree Jeremy?

Jeremy Baker (14:59):

To answer that one, I would say technology has had an impact. I listened to a round table a few weeks ago and to paraphrase, I think it was a customer on that, which is probably this year it would be healthier if I smoked. Purely he said to me, because that way I would get a break. I would get a break from staring at a green dot at the top of my screen, trying to communicate with people.

Jeremy Baker (15:21):

I think extroverts possibly have suffered during this last year. Because for an extrovert, life is a contact sport and contact through what you’re listening to me on now or through a camera is not the same as eyeballing somebody in person. And I think we’re experiencing that at a business level, but also a personal level as well. And yeah, I think last month somebody I think it… It was a report out to say last month, last February, just gone, 40 billion more emails were sent compared to the February before. Many of those in my inbox, I must hasten to add. But yeah, I think that there has been an impact on what type of person you are. So extrovert is one. Extrovert and introvert. I think introverts may have done slightly better out of this last year, I’m not sure.

Michael Jones (16:19):

No, we haven’t. We haven’t. We haven’t because now we have to sit here all day talking to people. We’ve got no excuse. So we can’t run away and hide and we’ve got to be full on. We can’t attend a meeting and look interested, but have our minds be miles and miles away. We’ve got to stay focused just in case. We don’t know who’s watching. So it’s flipping exhausting as an introvert doing this, I promise you. I see you nodding Tim.

Tim Flower (16:40):

Yeah, I kind of fashion myself as on the border of introvert-extrovert. It depends on the mood and the situation. But yeah, I agree. There are times where it does. You exert an awful lot of energy to be an extrovert. And I’m curious, Michael, from your perspective, have you seen a change in results or a change in business interest or anything, any dynamic like Jeremy was talking about over the last 12 months? Has technology and our current situation changed what you’re selling or is it largely the same?

Michael Jones (17:14):

No, that’s changed hugely. Enormously. Because if you’d asked this 14 months ago, could you do this training virtually, this PI stuff? Could you get any? No, I couldn’t possibly do it virtually because it’s all about the human interaction. And you can imagine there was one day in March, we changed their minds on that flipping quickly.

Michael Jones (17:33):

So we’ve been training it virtually now for a year and you know what, we’ve had a debate about this, is it the same great training? And I say “Well, it’s not quite the same great training, but it is nonetheless great training”. So we’ve really had to adapt to technology driven by the having to react to the effect of the virus. It’s been really interesting as well, this whole zoom interaction, how much more available people are to us. And particularly earlier in the pandemic, we’d struggle sometimes to get a meeting.

Michael Jones (18:02):

In a busy day for me in a year and a half would be, I got up at 6:00, I drove three hours, I had a meeting and I drove three hours back and I’d say “I’ve had such a busy day”. Well, now I’ve done that meeting by 8:30 in the morning and I still got a whole day ahead. So yeah, I think that the availability of our key contacts, the enthusiasm that our key contacts have had to engage with this is even more, I think. Because if you’re hiring virtually to virtual teams, which we knew for a long time now, you really truly need to understand that person as much as you can. And of course, the whole dynamic of hiring to a virtual team of people… And I ran a session two weeks ago with a team of people who’ve worked together for six months and not one of them has spent any physical time with any other member of that team.

Michael Jones (18:52):

And of course we have responded to that, and we’ve responded using technology because we put some new, we call it team discovery, a way of looking at teams within the context of the work that the team is there to do. And I suppose that is where technology is playing its part. So now in our software, I can run a team session, whereas just a year and a half ago, I’d have been slaughtering you with PowerPoints.

Michael Jones (19:14):

And now it’s wonderful, you don’t need to go anywhere near a PowerPoint presentation, just to go into our software, press a few buttons, see the whole interactive play of people working together as a team. So yeah, it’s very much accelerated I think, our development and we’re great because we’re run by a group of people who are excited by whatever the next thing is. And we’re always going to be having a next thing. And in the next couple of months, we will have a new product or a new extension to what we do to introduce to our customers. And I think the people that own the Predictive Index would probably see themselves now as a technology company, I think.

Tim Flower (19:56):

Yeah. I’m envious in some ways. It is now my life goal to not come anywhere near a PowerPoint, so I’m definitely envious of that. Jeremy one last one for you that you that you can knock out of the park. So let’s talk a little bit more about technology. And the folks that know me know why I came to the Nexthink because of its absolute unique capability to explore all kinds of different use cases when the lights are turned on, when you’ve got discovery, talk a little bit about what you think this personalization of IT means in terms of value, not necessarily from the individual personality analytics, but the individualization of IT. And why would a large scale enterprise look to understand the persona of its people a little better?

Jeremy Baker (20:46):

That’s quite a question. I think the way I’d answer that, I think there’s value in outcomes at multiple levels. So at an individual level, because we’re only really interested in ourselves, is am I able to get into the zone, get into the flow, do my work that I enjoy doing and not have technology or IT as a parachute that opens behind that and slows me down and disrupts me. And I’d suggest to anybody listening in to this is that you’ve probably had a problem with IT in the last week or two and not done anything about it. But it disrupts us. So there’s value at that level to keep the distractions of IT, the flaws of IT, which is complex, particularly in large enterprise companies, to sustain and maintain. So that’s one component. Another component by personalizing and understanding at a granular level, literally in real time, what is going on.

Jeremy Baker (21:46):

So you can fine tune applications, you can tune the services that are delivered to your functions in the organizations that you support in a way that is productive. Right product fit, right application at the right time.

Jeremy Baker (22:04):

The other aspect is the technology. Again, whether it’s a PC or Mac that you’re listening to this through, is expensive. And it’s about right-sizing that. And to steal a quote from somebody that once said “If your management style is a hammer, you better hope that everybody’s a nail”. And to an extent that’s how companies approach their technology investments in the hardware, the devices, but also in the software.

Jeremy Baker (22:34):

But if you’re able to personalize and understand, then you’ll be able to make far more precise decisions. And what comes from more precision or precise decisions is cost saving and effectiveness. So there are multiple levels of value. For example, personalizing things is getting feedback. It’s not just understanding that, but asking for feedback. I know my definition of good is very different to my wife’s. Bt we could both be using the same technology. So that’s a fairly roundabout answer, Tim. But I think that there’s some of the layers of value that we do help our customers with.

Speaker 5 (23:12):

To make sure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you’re listening on Apple podcasts, make sure to leave a rating of the show. Just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. If you’d like to learn more about how Nexthink can help you improve your digital employee experience, head over to Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

Thomas McGrath is a writer, filmmaker, and podcaster. He has been published everywhere from VICE to Computer Weekly, and is the producer and co-host of the Digital Employee Experience Show. Learn More

Subscribe to the DEX Hub