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HUMAN RESOURCES

Mom Pop Psychology

Your company has a personality all its own. Find out what it is.
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Over the years, as Sandra Fekete worked with the clients of her $1.2 million Columbus, Ohio, marketing firm, she came to suspect that most of them had a skewed idea of their companies. "I'd be on the phone with them or in their offices, trying to get to the root of what makes their company special," she recalls, "but then I'd go out to their plants and see something totally different."

That disconnect led Fekete to believe not only that companies take on a life of their own, but that they actually develop their own quirks, ticks, and personality traits--traits that usually differ radically from those of the CEO's own personality or even the personalities of the staff. To test out her ideas, she decided to conduct an experiment with her own business, Fekete + Co., designing a personality test based on the Myers-Briggs test for her company. The results bore her out: The company's personality type didn't match that of anyone on the staff, yet it accurately described the organization. "Our company had an almost bull-headed personality, a type that was convinced it was right and took exception to being questioned," she says. "If it had been a person, it would have been someone who came across as condescending."

The test results made Fekete realize that she and her staff were to blame for a frequent breakdown in communication with clients. After getting initial client approval, "we would take the ball and run with it," she says, "failing to get client feedback in the development process. Our independent nature ignored clients' need to be included." To fix that, she added client contact to her staff's daily to-do lists. "If we hadn't talked for a while, we'd initiate a call or meeting to keep the client in the loop," she says. Fekete's staff also invited all clients to a quarterly "meeting of minds" to discuss new marketing strategies face-to-face. And to make clients feel appreciated, Fekete began to send them birthday cards and personal letters on their anniversary with her company. Since initiating those changes, she says, she has landed many new accounts through word-of-mouth.

The test Fekete devised is based on one developed 50 years ago by the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator draws on psychoanalyst Carl Jung's theories that there are common behavioral patterns in the way people perceive and process information. It determines individuals' personality traits based on their preferences among those mental processes. "Myers-Briggs is widely used across many employment and counseling settings," says psychologist and management professor Peter Bycio, of Xavier University in Cincinnati. "I feel it's best used in promoting understanding of interpersonal differences and teambuilding."

Eighty percent of CEOs have a perception of the company that differs from that of the staff.

Fekete turned her theories into a book, Companies Are People Too. She believes that by taking her test, CEOs can better understand their company's character, play up its strengths, shore up its weaknesses, and improve the firm's focus on its core values. Her test breaks down company temperaments into 16 personality types using Myers-Briggs categories: internal versus external, sensing versus intuitive, thinking versus feeling, and perceiving versus judging. Internal companies tend to work individually and rely on ideas generated from within; external companies are outgoing and seek partnerships with other firms. Sensing firms tend to be pragmatic; intuitive companies emphasize innovation. Thinking companies value logic and fairness; feeling companies, group harmony and people issues. Judging companies are rigidly organized, while perceiving companies like to leave their options open.

When Fekete gives the test to companies, the results often shock the CEO. In fact, 80% of CEOs have a perception of the the company that differs from the perception of the rest of the staff. "Sometimes it's hard to mentally separate yourself from your company to take an objective look," notes Fekete. "It could also mean that the CEO's vision is out of touch with the daily operation of the company. It's really easy for that to happen, because leaders can't always be out in the trenches."

Bob Rothschild, CEO of gourmet food maker Robert Rothschild Berry Farm, based in Urbana, Ohio, was a tad disappointed when the test showed his company had strengths such as dependability, high quality, and customer service. He wanted innovation to be its strength. Still, he decided to embrace the company's strengths and play them up in its promotional materials--a move he credits with increasing revenue 25%. At the same time, he set up cross-departmental brainstorming and innovation teams that met twice a month, which generated fresh marketing ideas.

Fekete says that all company types have strengths and weaknesses, but that some dispositions seem better fitted to certain industries. Take Dixon Schwabl, an advertising agency based in Victor, N.Y. Its test results categorized it as a dependable, efficient, logical, and often rigid firm. "That's more of a manufacturing mentality," says Fekete. But for an ad agency, it meant that the creative people were being overshadowed and didn't feel valued. "We were always known as a company that could crank things out and give our customers a quick turnaround," says owner Mike Schwabl. After seeing the test results, Schwabl felt a change was needed to help the company grow.

Schwabl took conscious steps to create a more playful work environment and put more focus on rewarding the contributions of the creative staff. Now every new hire is handed a water gun, employees can get to the first floor from the second by a slide, and the offices include a "primal scream room" for blowing off steam. He also instituted weekly creative team lunches and staff outings and gave his creative team more responsibility and freedom. "They're more motivated to do great work, and it's become easier to attract new employees," he says. But the company had to reeducate its customers. "We made a conscious effort to let clients know that if they want our best work, it's going to take a little longer," he recalls, "The results of a better product won them over." Buzz about the agency's work has grown, helping bring in a large new contract with paint-maker Benjamin Moore.

A year after the initial survey, Dixon Schwabl now tests as a spontaneous, innovative, energetic place--which is more consistent with the fun-loving, creative company that Schwabl wanted it to be. "It's brought the team together," he says.

Sidebar: What's Your Company's Personality?

Diagnose your business's type with Fekete's test

1. We are most energized about:

a. working directly with customers and other people
b. developing ideas, products, and services in-house

2. We communicate internally by:

a. in-person chats and phone calls
b. notes, memos, letters, and e-mail

3. Our company reacts to change:

a. quickly
b. after giving it some thought

4. Our new products and services are:

a. cost-effective, practical extensions of successful products or services
b. innovative ideas, often different from the current product line

5. Our company is best described as:

a. practical
b. innovative

6. Our company values:

a. common sense more than imagination
b. imagination more than common sense

7. The potential impact of a decision on employees and others is:

a. rarely considered
b. usually a factor in the decision

8. Our company expects workers to:

a. leave their personal problems at home
b. be supportive and caring when co-workers have problems

9. Our company tends to believe:

a. people don't have to like each other to work together well
b. group harmony is important to get jobs done well

10. Meetings tend to:

a. follow a set, often written, agenda
b. have a general purpose, allowing the project to evolve

11. After decisions are made, our company is more likely to:

a. develop follow-up plans, assign responsibility, and set a schedule
b. leave the option open for changing the decision later

12. Our company is:

a. decisive and regimented
b. reasonably organized chaos

Answer key

For questions 1-3, your company is External if you have more a's, Internal if you have more b's. For questions 4-6, your company is Sensing if you have more a's, Intuitive if you have more b's. For questions 7-9, your company is Thinking if you have more a's, Feeling if you have more b's. For questions 10-12, your company is Judging if you have more a's, Perceptive if you have more b's.

For Sandra Fekete's full, in-depth quiz and analysis, visit our website at http://www.inc.com/keyword/personalityquiz

Last updated: Dec 1, 2003




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