This month’s Strategy Session is about Dianetics. No, not really. Actually, it explores how to use personality profile tools to understand and work with people who are totally different from you. Because organizations that consist of people just like you… a) don’t exist b) if they do, they don’t compete for very long. Tara-Lee Goerlitz, partner with Nex Level Challenge, explains.
Full text at Alberta Venture: How to build a great team by understanding how others think
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Strategy Session: Profile This
Confession: I don’t understand the way other people think. Do you? Hmmm, maybe you do. You are, after all, a natural-born leader and you’re amazingly gifted at connecting with people. Even I like you, and I don’t really like anyone.
That’s why I’m fascinated with all these personality profiling tools out there. No, I don’t mean the social media “Which Canadian animal are you?” or “Which Superhero are you?” quizzes (however, the answers for me are osprey and Batman, respectively, if you were curious). I mean Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Learning Styles Inventory, Emotional Competence Inventory, the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, the California Psychological Inventory, NEO PI-R, the DISC Assessment… I keep on waiting to find the One that makes sense of other people for me.
(I’ve given up on making sense of myself. True story: I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test six times over the last two decades. Want to know my type? Me too. Those six tests yielded four different answers. Now, I know you’ve taken the MBTI at least once—can’t graduate from high school, much less an MBA programme without having to endure it at least once—but here’s a quick refresher of the four areas it types: Extraversion (E)/Introversion (I); Sensing (S)/Intuition (N); Thinking (T)/Feeling (F); and Judging (J)/Perceiving (P). Remember what you are? I’ve been an ESFP, an INFP, an ENFP, and an ISTJ. And fine, on at least two—three—occasions, I took the test with the goal of getting a specific tag—succeeded—because… I have no idea why. It seemed like a good idea at the time…)
So when Tara-Lee Goerlitz, partner with Nex Level Challenge, introduces me to the Emergenetics profile, I’m skeptical. As she enthuses about the neuroscience and psychology behind it, and how its measurement of “the seven fundamental thinking and behavioral preferences” is more flexible, less limiting, less judgemental and more comprehensive than its competitors, I keep on wondering whether the homophonic similarity to Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics (aka John Travolta and Tom Cruise’s Scientology) is purely coincidental. Did I mention—skeptical? Just a bit.
So was Goerlitz. But in her line of work—her company focuses on team-building—profiling tools that work are critical. “Here’s the quandary of a team that works,” she says. “It’s composed of diverse people, who think, communicate, and make decisions in vastly different ways. Such teams give an organization the absolutely greatest opportunity for productivity and creativity. But they also have the biggest potential for conflict and miscommunication.”
The way you turn that potential for conflict and miscommunication into mega-productivity and innovation is by teaching all the team-members how other people think.
Most leaders know this. That’s why there are so many of the darned profiling tools out there, right? We’re all searching for the perfect one. Like many of its competitors-predecessors, Emergenetics offers four main “how you think” categories: Analytical, Conceptual, Social, and Structural. Unlike most of them, it doesn’t type you as one type, but presents your results in piecharts and percentages. The guinea pig Goerlitz and I administer the profile to comes out as 39% Conceptual, 38% Social, 18% Analytical and 5% Structural. This means he’s pretty imaginative, intuitive about ideas, visionary, enjoys the unusual, and learns by experimenting (conceptual attributes), and is also relational, intuitive about people, socially aware, empathetic and learns well from others (social attributes). He’s got an analytical side—the attributes of which are clear thinker, logical problem solver, rational, learns by mental analysis—but it’s not dominant or his preferred place to be. And his structural aspect (practical thinker, likes guidelines, cautious of new ideas, predictable, learns by doing)? At five per cent, effectively non-existent.
“So, he can’t make a list or, say, document a process to save his life?” I ask. Basically, Goerlitz agrees. Don’t make this guy your controller—or your operations manager. But he’s make a stellar CEO, VP Cutting-Edge Strategy, or Marketing Director. Provided he was supported by a team whose members included people with strong structural and analytical attributes—because they’d be the ones who’d implement his ideas and create the processes that turned his vision into reality.
Now, those four attributes describe how you—he—I—she—think. An added, and just as important, component here is how we behave. Emergenetics pegs our behaviours into three sliding-scale categories: expressiveness, assertiveness, and flexibility. “It’s not true that all social people are extraverts,” Goerlitz explains. (Or that all structural people are inflexible. Really.) Points on the expressiveness scale include quiet, introspective, reserved, talkative and gregarious; points on the assertiveness scale run from peacekeeping to driving; and the flexibility scale moves from focused through firm, adaptable, and accommodating all the way to “welcomes change.” A structural person can welcome change; a social person can be quiet. A conceptual person can be driving on the assertiveness scale—and thus push their ideas through—or introspective on the expressiveness scale and unable to really articulate them well to anyone.
My guinea pig thinks Emergentics has nailed him—both in terms of how he thinks and how he behaves. But now what? What does one do with that information?
“It starts with understanding yourself—that self-awareness is a very liberating tool,” says Goerlitz. She stresses that what Emergentics really measures is where people get their energy—that is, what ways of thinking excite them, energize them, get them into that coveted Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi flow. If you’re a highly social person whose job is full of structural tasks—well, no wonder at the end of the day you’re exhausted. If you’re highly analytical—and low on the expressiveness scale to boot—but you need to motivate people all day long—maybe it’s time to rethink your career choice? Or find a business partner for whom that’s a strength, while you retire to the critical behind-the-scenes analytical tasks that feed you.
But what excites my guinea pig the most about the process is the sudden flash of insight he has into how his business partners and clients think and communicate (it’s that social aspect of him, homing in, immediately, on the relational consequences of this knowledge). Goerlitz applauds. “We communicate—or should communicate—differently with different people based on their different personality attributes,” she says. “That has been one of my largest lessons, as I’ve worked through this tool and in my overall work with clients’ teams. As a result of our genetic make up and combined with our life experience, you and I are going to look at the exactly same scenario in a completely different way. Neither one is right or wrong. It just is. When you can build that awareness around how people function and what makes people tick into your team, your organization, your communication, your decision-making—that’s a very powerful tool.”
So powerful that Emergenetics client Microsoft—yeah, that Microsoft—has all its people display their profiles in their offices so that their colleagues know what the thinking-behaviour preferennces of the people they’re working with are. Goerlitz’s team at Nex Level does something similar: “We bring our profiles to our meetings,” she says. “The more you embrace the tool, the more you make it part of your language and not a flavor of the month, the more you really use it, the more you get out of it.”
There is, of course, a dark side to personality testing. Lawyer and ethicist Jack Marshall, founder of ProEthics and author of the Ethics Alarms blog, warns that personality profiles can be “traps.”
“Personality is far too complex to be measured with absolute precision, especially in a 60 minute multiple-choice test,” he cautions in “The Ethics of Workplace Personality Tests.” “The tests reduce everyone to a predictable stereotype, and in many of the tests, there are negative qualities assigned to each category as well as positive ones. Sometimes, ominously, the test-givers have access to descriptions of the types that the test-takers do not. How does an employee know that the results of that ‘fun’ personality test won’t disqualify him or her for certain positions, opportunities and promotions?”
Ultimately, Marshall says, profiling is “safe” only if the only person who knows the results of an employee’s test is the employee… which, from an organization’s point of view, dilutes much of a personality profile’s utility. Self-awareness is wonderful—but it is knowledge of what makes other ticks that’s the real power.
I’m trying to type you now. I rather think you’re a nice mix of analytical-conceptual-social-and-structural. You love data, but you can see the big picture. You care about your people, but you’ve got a thing for process. You’re adequately expressive, very assertive—sufficiently flexibility. Just about perfect, really. I guess that’s why I like you.
Now, do I think you should run out and make everyone in your company get a personality profile? Well. Nah. I mean, you can, absolutely. As I said, self-awareness if wonderful, and knowledge of what makes other tick is power. But even the knowledge and awareness that others think differently than you do is power. Your takeaway for the day: prepare the content and delivery of your investor presentations, employee townhalls, and client meetings with an awareness that your audience has a variety of processing styles.
Now go get ‘em.
TAKE SOME TESTS!
- For more on Emergenetics profiling: emergeneticscanada.com
- For more on Myers Briggs: myersbriggs.org
- Want to take a short, unofficial version of the Myers Briggs test for fun? Here’s a 72-question version: humanmetrics.com. Too much? Four questions: personalitypathways.com
- Just for fun, check out the nine corporate personality types here: forbes.com/sites/stevefaktor. Short-hand version: Alpha, Survivor, Soldier, Believer, Natural, Heretic, Toiler, Pragmatist and Bambi
Finally, because you can never get enough flow, get your daily dose of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi here.
Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based business and legal affairs writer. She can be reached at email@example.com, @paddleink on Twitter, and visited at CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.