Myers Briggs of an Organization

Have you ever thought about the Myers-Briggs of your organization?

I worked with a company once that I thought was INFP. In M-B speak, if you say someone is INFP, that means that they tend to take their energy from within not from outside sources, that they rely on their own intuition more than data from outside sources, that they listen to their heart more than their head, and that they like to leave all their options open until the very last minute.

Internal vs External

For this company, the “I” translated to looking in the mirror more than looking through window – they knew what they did and didn’t really care what other companies were doing – a dangerous position for a company that has to compete against other companies, but more prevalent than I think many companies would like to admit. It’s a risk for larger companies and for older companies, companies that are founder-led, that owned a unique niche for a long time, and that were held privately for much of that time.

The risk is that you lose sight of your competition and what they’re doing. You tend to mold newcomers to your own vision. It becomes difficult to change.

The funny thing was, if you asked me what the people in the company who spent the most time with the customers were, I’d say they were, as a group, “E”s because they had to be – they had to listen to their customers, because customers who aren’t listened to don’t come back; they had to watch their competition because they were held accountable to a sales goal and knew what it meant if a competitor opened up nearby; they it every day. It was just the corporate leadership that, as a group, was “I”.

This was not to say that the individuals in these groups tended to be I – there were a lot of folks in these groups that took their energy from being around others and were, what people would call “extroverted.”

Intuitive vs. Senser

For this company, the N meant that they relied more on their intuition and experience than what their senses (sight, hearing, etc.) were telling them.

What made this very interesting was that they thought they were data-driven. They collected a lot of data, looked at a lot of data, talked about data. But data can be spun to say anything that you want it to, and it often was. There was also a lot of reliance on summary data.

I tend to think of myself as intuitive, but I actually like data more than I like to admit. At one point, this company surveyed their employees about service levels from their corporate departments. One department was singled out as needing to change, but when you looked at the data – really looked at it – there was a branding problem going on. There were three departments with similar names and, when you looked at the qualitative data associated with the ratings, the comments were all talking about things that belonged to the other, similarly named, departments, who had also scored badly. But leadership just looked at the executive summary and didn’t actually look at the data which, even if it had been talking about that particular department, could have told them exactly what was wrong in the department.

I often heard people make statements like, “Sales before Black Friday are depressed because our sales associates tell people to come back in a week when things will be discounted.” There was some data in there – sales did drop before Black Friday – but there was also some intuition, a story that the corporate team was making up about store employees. When asked what their data was to support the story, they couldn’t tell you, because there wasn’t any data.

I was working on a project responsible for employee morale and, being the eternal optimist, I got excited by the data from our employee survey, because the employees were so open with what they needed. There’s the data, I thought, surely they can’t ignore the data!

But they did.

Time and again, I saw people make up stories to explain away data, or spin the data to tell them what they wanted to hear. Data can be a dangerous thing in sales, particularly if you tend to be internally-facing, because you tend to look at what it tells you what you are already doing, and causes you to do more of that, instead of looking at what it’s telling you about what you’re missing. So, if you run a restaurant and the data tells you that most customers eat hamburgers so you push the hamburgers and then sales go down, but the data keeps telling you that most of your customers like hamburgers so you go even deeper on hamburgers; what the data isn’t telling you is that the people who are leaving don’t like hamburgers.

Feeler vs. Thinker

Feelers tend to think with their hearts more than their heads; when making decisions, they prioritize people’s feelings over what their head is telling them about decisions. On its surface, you’d think this could be a good thing. And, in many situations it was. I saw people punished for saying or doing things that made other people feel bad. You could make a dumb mistake that cost the company money but if you deliberately hurt someone’s feelings, goodbye.

Toward the end of my engagement with them, this shifted. People started using thinking as an excuse of doing what they wanted to do. They’d say they were making a business decision, when the truth was, they were just doing something they wanted to do or that someone wanted them to do.

Perceiver vs. Judger

People who tend to be more on the judging end of the spectrum tend to think the “P” stands for “procrastinator” but the “P” really stands for “Perceivers”. Perceivers are people who leave all their options open, continuing to gather data before making a decision, often at what feels like the last minute to Judgers. (Judgers are people who like things to be definite and for people to just hurry up and make the darned decision so they can take action and move forward.)

As someone who tends to be more on the Judger end of the scale, the Perceiver tendency was like nails on the blackboard. You’d present the data, make a recommendation, discuss it endlessly, and then wait for the decision, wait and wait and wait. You’d schedule follow up meetings, ask questions to identify where they felt that they needed more insight to make the decision and move forward, present that information, and call for a decision. Only to have them put off the decision long past the point where you needed to take action.

It’s a dangerous position for a company for be in, for it causes analysis paralysis and stops things from moving, and is disempowering to employees.

When you think about organizations that you are a member of, what do you think of?

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