One familiar pastime for any of us who have drifted into the tiny hours with work friends and clients, and have run through the litany of pictures of my cat, Jerry, is this: A discussion of personality type.
We all know the MMPI, loosely based on Jungian archetypes, that plots us victims along four sliding dimensions from introvert to extravert, thinking to feeling, etc.
There is also a large squad of inventories that classify us based on workplace style. Different from more general (what we could call, “civilian”) inventories, these profilers are specifically intended to categorise us as workers, employees, managers — all of our corporate roles.
The implication of course is that our workplace “self” is not identical to our larger “self” — which, itself, may not be our true “self.” (But this final distinction belongs to the theologians.)
In conjunction with our research into the digital workplace, Gartner has been exploring a fascinating hypothesis:
• What if each company itself has a personality type that can be measured?
In other words, in the same way you might tend to be a dominant and blunt action-oriented yapper — and I might be an accommodating task-oriented perfectionist — perhaps it’s true that companies themselves exhibit similar, collective personality types.
Don’t believe me? Let me lay out some adjectives, and see if you can’t immediately think of companies you know — large and small, national and around the corner — who fit the bill:
• Rude, pushy, aggressive, always closing
• Really positive, rah-rah, outgoing, almost culty
• Status quo, stately, calm, respectable, risk-averse
• Nerdy, data-oriented, socially awkward, quiet
Forget people for a minute — we can all think of dozens of people in each of these categories.
What about companies themselves? I have no trouble coming up with brands, even national brands, who align. Where would you put Microsoft? What about Google?
Remember that companies are simply groups of people. There needs to be a cult of coherence to any organisation, and often it is affected either by the personality of the founder or its approach to business.
Company founders often have strong personalities that are mimicked in their organisation’s hiring and actions.
In later generations, corporate personalities can change . . . often toward the more risk-averse type. Intuitively, I don’t see any reason to reject the idea that companies have personalities.
What are the implications? Well, there are two important ones that come to mind here.
First, if companies have personality types, then it should be possible to determine what those types are with a test.
Second, these types will impact how successful companies are in those areas where they have to interact with the outside world:
1. Alliances, partnerships and negotiations
2. Marketing communications
As an outcome of this research, it should be possible to come up with recommendations around who (or who not) to partner with, how to approach negotiations with different types of partners, and how to handicap success.
Even more promising is the idea that self-diagnosing your corporate personality type could give you a clearer vision of what you do and don’t have as a marketer, and where you should seek help — either improving your own (corporate) skills, or forming a smart alliance with a complementary type.
A concrete example: I was in a meeting recently with a marketing analytics firm that had a mind-blowing technology for building predictive models and recommendations for marketers. Trouble was, nobody was buying.
Without a degree in psychology, I could see this company had a very task-oriented and indirect communication style — what we might call Conscientious.
They face the common conundrum of the tech company: how to turn a nerd into a used car salesman? Their answer was to form an alliance with a large company with a patently more outgoing style.
They are good complements, and the alliance looks win-win.