Personality Profiling

There are many first-time entrepreneurs in China — in many respects, Shanghai is now what Silicon Valley used to be at the height of the dot-com boom.
As a result, there are many seminars on how to actually go about starting up a business, and I try to make it to as many as I can.
One of the more valuable pieces of information I’ve picked up has been about using personality testing to identify core strengths among senior staffers.
In China, these tests can be particularly useful because certain personal characteristics sometimes don’t translate well across cultures.
For example, last summer I hired a Canadian manager to help run China operations and do some marketing. He was an outgoing, upbeat person — especially compared to Chinese staffers. I was surprised when he spent most of his time on busy work, such as producing a very detailed — and universally unread — employee manual.
It’s nice to have policies in place, but the weeks of effort could have been reduced to a page of bullet points and a staff conference.
Marketing was nonexistent, employees were not managed, and a whole month of sales calls resulted in not a single sale.
On paper, based on his resume and educational background, he seemed perfect for the job. The problem became apparent shortly thereafter, after I had all my employees take an online Myers Briggs Personality test from Similar Minds. I like this one because it doesn’t just tell you that you’re an extrovert or introvert — it tells you how far along you are on the continuum.
My employee was very much on the extreme extrovert side of the divide. He was also more detail-oriented and practical — “sensing” — as opposed to creative and visionary — “intuitive.”
In other words, he had the exact opposite personality type than that best suited for sales.
The fact that he was in China made him look outgoing by comparison to my other staffers, who had spent years in the Chinese educational system learning to be quiet and inconspicuous. He also looked like a visionary compared to people forced to channel all their energies into rote memorization rather than creativity.
But when push came to shove, he reverted to type — focusing on minute details, and working by himself at his computer.
One interesting application of this test is spelled out by frequent visitor and speaker Roger Hamilton, author of “Your Life, Your Legacy.” Hamilton takes the basic Byers Briggs test and applies it to the question of entrepreneurship. For example, if you’re an extreme introvert, but highly creative, you may want to follow in the footsteps of entrepreneurs like Ray Crok, who created the McDonald’s system. If you’re highly creative, but halfway along the extrovert-introvert axis, you might want to follow in the footsteps of people who create businesses, like Bill Gates. Hamilton identifies eight basic types (he ignores the one where a person is in the middle along both axes). My own type is heavily extroverted, but about halfway between the practical and the creative — well, a little on the creative side. According to Hamilton, that puts me in the same neighborhood as Jack Welch — someone who is good at managing companies.
Another personality test offered by a recent visitor to China was based on spending patterns. According to Ted Prince, author of The Three Financial Styles of Very Successful Leaders'', the best manager can come up with innovations, but hates to spend money. The worst business leader, he says, is one who is conservative about innovating, but spends money like there’s no tomorrow. That guy is likely to quickly drive a company into the ground. My business manager (who is extremely practical) prefers saving money to spending it, and will negotiate deals and contracts down to the last penny. She is also conservative about change — she wants to see a good case spelled out first. I, on the other hand, will readily spend money on anything and everything — and am always ready to try new things, start new companies, and embrace new management fads. Most people however, fall somewhere along the diagonal, he says — they’re either conservative on both counts, or are both innovative and free-spending. These companies will always be struggling to balance growth and spending.
Here, again, cultural differences may mask personality differences. China is a nation of savers. But people who save money out of necessity in their personal life, may turn out to be big spenders when under the pressure of running a company. Under stress, or at times of change, people are most likely to revert back to their core personality types, Prince says.
Personality testing is not a complete solution to cultural differences, of course. But in companies like mine, where major personality aspects can be hidden by cultural backgrounds, personality testing can be a useful tool to uncover mismatches between employees and their responsibilities — or shed light on underlying causes of conflict.