MBTI is trash but trash can be treasure, it all depends on your approach to it. The fact is the science behind Myers-Briggs is super sketchy. It fails 2 basics requirements needs to be solid; reliability and validity. Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, wrote a great breakdown of all its flaws back in 2015 in this piece titled Goodbye to MBTI. Countless others have done similar before and since and yet MBTI persists. What I love most about Grant’s piece though is that he includes the two big reasons it persists and not just all the reasons it’s pseudoscience. This is the treasure in the trash, it’s the way to use MBTI to it’s maximum benefit – learn from it and apply it as a lens over all other questionable practices.
The two critical points Grant raises are from Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Cult of Personality Testing. First, “thousands of people have invested time and money in becoming MBTI-certified trainers and coaches.” There is BIG money behind MBTI, and money to be made from perpetuating it. It’s smells much like a pyramid scheme to be honest. And second, “the “aha” moment that people experience when the test gives them insight about others—and especially themselves.” Basically we know people hate ambiguity, we want things to be in neat little boxes – black & white is easy and comfortable. To see yourself or others as being a certain “type” makes it simpler to justify and ultimately accept reasons why you are/they are acting a certain way. Neat but wrong.
I think MBTI, with these points in mind, is super powerful for us to use to question every simple solution that comes our way. For example, knowing that we hate ambiguity we can look at other tools and approaches and ask – “is this idea dividing people too conveniently?” Millennials are different we’re sold (errr… I mean told) but is that really true or is it just us conveniently taking a few observations of some people born in a set time and classifying all in that segment to be the same? This behavior is better known as stereotyping but that word sure feels yucky. Ahh Generational Differences… that’s better! The other is to follow the money. The best way to push an agenda is to turn followers into ambassadors. These people buy certifications and then unconsciously suffer from a sort of cognitive dissonance, i.e. “I paid for it, so it must be right!” The tools, glossy handouts and official looking exams don’t hurt either, they help to solidify legitimacy. Ask yourself – Are there armies of people or resources behind this that paid to play? It’s a pretty good indication something isn’t right.
So where else can we apply these lessons from MBTI?
All = Big shiny money and the defeat of ambiguity through convenience of categorization.
So, yes spread the word of the myth of Personality Types but also use the bigger lessons from it’s monetary success and perseverance over time to combat each new idea that presents itself as ready to divide people and divide people from their money!
There are really only two reasons we still have annual reviews, well maybe three. First it’s legacy. Your grandmother had annual reviews. It’s just what is done, usually in Q4 when revenue is better understood and the calendar year is coming to an end so it ties in with compensation – a nice little bundle. And that leads to the second reason; convenience. Just 2x a year do we have to “deal” with this issue. Set some goals in January and review how well they were accomplished in December; set, scheduled, delivered. And finally, a third reason and one that is really more recent, the advent of the HRS. The Human Resource System is a software system that locks you into the archaic process that most organizations never questioned. Now with a system that requires unique skill sets and of course a significant price tag it’s really hard to justify changing. Here’s why – add these 3 factors up and you’re ultimately up against some serious cognitive dissonance; “We’ve always done this, it’s convenient, and we have a shiny system in place… it must be right!”
OK, I made my case. This isn’t going to be easy but that shouldn’t hold you back from pushing for what is right.
We all know the obvious things that happen for the business when we break free and shift from annual reviews to more continual ones – feedback is timely and today’s work is improved. Got it. But here’s the less obvious, if done right, continual feedback isn’t just more frequent, the space between when it happens and when it doesn’t happen actually disappears, the friction of process is gone and friction in business is a bad thing. The “scheduled more periodic” becomes the “ongoing conversation”, managers manage less and support more; “try this”, “have you considered…”, “who else can help…”, “what about doing…”. Yes, you’ll still need to work out the compensation stuff as that too will need to be more incremental and frequent but in an age of Venmo and PayPal you have to figure that any HRS system worth it’s salt will evolve.
Reducing friction is the key measure of success in a social organization. So not only is feedback timely and work improved but new ideas too can just flow, engagement increases, the stress of proving value and meeting months old goals is eliminated, an increase in openness and transparency results – more social, less friction, better business.
The famous 90-9-1 of social networks is often debated as the numbers vary some based on perspective. Regardless of the numbers, most people lurk, many people contribute and a few people create. If you’re looking to up participation in your organizations ESN, here’s my advice, don’t put much energy in the 90 at all. Instead focusing on helping more of that 9 joining the 1 is a better use of your time. Just think what 5-10% greater sharing and collaborating will do for your company?
Start by flipping the equation and put 90% of your time and energy towards moving that 9% and far less effort towards the majority. The 90 will come along or move on so don’t waste time pushing or convincing. Instead pull them with value (more on this below). Next, think of your role as a multiplier, the “x” in a simple mathematical equation. Look at it less as 90-9-1 and more 90 x (9+1). To solve, you first add what’s in the parenthesis then “distribute”. What’s this look like? Distribution is like wandering over to where the majority (90%) do give their attention and show how contributing on the platform is working for the minority (10%) of others. You do this by using social proof. Most likely the vast majority are living and working in email. If so, sending out a weekly newsletter where you highlight key topics, conversations and successes can be eye-opening, grab some quotes from active users and encourage those people to be open to inquiry and have the most enthusiastic add a link to the signature. Maybe those in the 90 find most value in meetings? Help those 1 & 9 percenters who will be present in those meetings to share a story of their success in the network or tell of an ongoing relatable conversation, again just a subtle nudge.
There are plenty of ways to inform without cajoling. Show value regularly, in their “places”, over time is enough as meanwhile that 5-10% where you really put energy will be happily bringing value all over the company.
It’s a fact, the Business Cycle happens. Ride the wave of prosperity and growth and eventually suffer and endure the phases of contraction and pain. When things are good, good companies spend time on their employees and work to create an open and “engaged” culture. They know that employees who stay when they’re wanted to stay are good for business. Good times won’t last however and even “the best to work for” companies can fail to extend their culture building efforts when times get hard and money is tight. And when it gets really bad, sacrifices must be made.
Culture may eat strategy for breakfast but you know what eats culture? Layoffs.
Terminations can happen sometimes a few at a time, sometimes in a wide slash. Business leaders think the worst is over after a calculated purge and some carefully crafted public remorse statement but these actions sting and can gut a culture. In the aftermath terminations can lead to a greater, longer crisis. Employees will quietly question leadership’s decisions and treatment of co-workers and peers. They will lose confidence and trust and wonder about the businesses decisions that led to needing to release certain roles and not others. And they will be looking over their shoulders going forward, paranoid about when their number is going to be up. Make no mistake, one thing is also proven true, in tough economic times collaboration dies. And the longer the recession, the new habit of self-preservation solidifies – worsening the situation.
The best cultures of innovation and creativity emerge in open, transparent environments but when push comes to shove, people hoard knowledge as their world becomes dog eat dog, and executive openness closes quickly when tough people decisions have to be made. The saying “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” applies here. The more you inflate the culture, beyond reality, the bigger the damage when the rug is pulled out. I think the absolute only way to protect a great culture is to temper it some – don’t shoot for an awesome culture when a good one will do. My advice for organizations – Never provide a sense of being infallible, and never hide failures and mistakes. And don’t be fully transparent and open if you feel you won’t maintain it in a downturn. If you do, know that in the end that the company may weather the storm but what of that amazing culture? Never to return.