Why Your Personality Can Kill Your Company: Advice to Founders on Using Psychometrics to Support Scaling

By Joe White, EF CFO & General Partner
17 January, 2019

When you really start scaling your company, you have to make the shift from being 100% innovation led and fighting for your life, to developing an innovation culture within an organisation that can provide extraordinary but repeatable results, all the while maintaining existing systems and high levels of customer satisfaction as you grow.

As the leader of this org, the skills that got you there, will not necessarily be the same skills that allow you to complete this transformation — most of the things that need to be done will not be things you want to do. You’ll have to welcome new people, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things.

The extraordinary benefit of using psychometric personality frameworks within your organisation is not that they provide the definitive truth of you — you are type N and therefore act only in this way (of course you don’t!) — but they position you and your other key executives on a preference map that immediately shows you how your perspective affects your decisions and influences the way you interact with others. It can also show you where the gaps in the organisation are. This is a transformational insight which can smooth your scaling and supercharge your performance.

I’ve had the pleasure (and challenge!) of scaling organisations from 0–100+ people many times in my career as an entrepreneur — and as an investor at EF, I get to watch many of our companies go through this change too.

When you get past 20 or 30 people you’re clearly doing something right to have got that far! But as the organisation gets to 50, then 60, and 70, and moves beyond pure innovation to continuous improvement and the complexities of running a scaling business — things start to change and cracks often appear.

I’ve used psychometric personality frameworks in scaling several times, working with a number of different tools (Myers Briggs, DISC, Strengthfinder, Facet5), but each time I’m still surprised by how insightful they are for organisational dynamics, and every time I wish I’d done them sooner with my new team.

For those unfamiliar with them, here’s a quick summary.

Psychometrics is the broad field of study looking a psychological measurement, including intelligence, attitudes and personality, among others. Personality tests focus on measurement of personality based on different categorisations. Myers Briggs was developed from a framework proposed by Carl Jung. DISC, developed by psychologist William Marsdon (also the inventor of the lie detector and, bizarrely, Wonder Woman!), and Facet5 based on the big5 personality framework.

All of them provide a set of different personality groupings or profiles, each of which have particular combinations of preferences across the 4 or 5 axes that they assess. After taking the test alongside colleagues you can see your position on the overall preference landscape relative to others, and potentially to your organisation as a whole. To my mind, rather than the exactness of your own position, (which is debatable) its the relative positions that are most insightful.

None of these tests are the truth, all of them have gaps and criticism, and I don’t believe that these should be used to pigeon hole people or define or limit their potential. But as broad descriptions of where you sit on the preference axes, and therefore why you see things differently from others, or prefer certain tasks, they can provide a useful insight.

So having done them a few times, here are my key insights for what they mean and how they can be helpful.

Being a leader

As the leader you have to rise above your profile — that’s what being a true leader means — you are not captured by your preferences, but aware of them and master of them. You no longer think your view is the only ‘right’ one, but recognise that it was the powerful creation driver in the first place. The org requires a balance to function at scale and you need to support, value and tolerate different view points to get the best from everyone.

When the org gets bigger you need to incorporate new ways of thinking and bring in people that love doing things you hate — so you can find the right person for the right task. The psychometric frameworks give you a great map for managing this change.

Keeping your unique culture

Culture does matter! Knowing where the critical mass of your company is on the board will allow you balance things out, without going too extreme in any direction. While keeping a range of preferences in the org is super important, cultural alignment matters hugely too.

You’ll need to foster understanding and cohesion, not holy wars based on extreme positions. By shining a light on the differences in the organisation and giving people a language to understand them and communicate them you’ll build an org wide muscle that’s hugely valuable.

Don’t slip back to your old ways

Finally you need to find a way to keep these insights alive in your org. I’ve often found the initial insight from doing the work can be quickly lost when you sink back into thinking that your view is the ‘right’ and only way.

Ray Dalio in his book Principles talks about how he used Myers Briggs to understand himself and his organisation as they scaled. He went as far as to get cards printed with everyones profiles on them so they should be shared and act as a constant reminder of perspective when dealing with each other!

Here are some things I’ve seen go wrong during scaling that psychometrics could help with:

1. Using creation to address every problem 
Creation energy to get the startup moving was key, but if you keep recreating every process, every challenge from first principle because that’s your go-to skill, you will never iteratively improve the org. Iterative improvement is like engineering and takes a different approach and patience. Judge carefully before deciding to tear everything up and start again.

2. Hiring more people that ‘look like you’
If you hire in your own image you’ll get more of the same, which may not be appropriate if you need different types of tasks to be done. If you don’t want to do them, hiring someone like you to do them won’t work either — they’ll just try to get out of it as quickly as possible too.

3. Rewarding behaviour in your image. 
You know when you do good work, so can see when others do good work like you. It’s less easy to see good work in areas you have no interest in working. If you only reward certain types of work or behaviour you can damage parts of the org that are critical to your success. This is often visible on the introvert/extrovert axises, but can manifest in many ways. (This is one reason to have a harmonisation session with senior leaders at every review cycle so that all employees can be evaluated and rewarded using a broad base of perspectives — but that’s a topic for another day).

4. Getting the wrong people to do the right job. 
Sometimes it’s clear that there’s an important piece of strategic work that needs to be done, getting someone whose preferences align with the work e.g. more extrovert for a expansion role, or more reflective for a piece of analysis, will hugely improve the outcome, and the satisfaction of the person doing it. Putting the wrong person on it puts quality at risk, and they may hate the job too.

5. Starting a holy war inside your company 
If teams with different preferences can’t learn to live with each other, or worse, the leaders of those teams won’t foster understanding between them, you run the risk of starting a holy war where each team thinks they are ‘right’ and their view is the only way of doing things. It’s particularly important that your senior team has an understanding of different preferences, hopefully mastery of their own, and will foster cohesion. As founders, if you don’t, no one else will.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!