PERSONALITY TESTS ARE BACK The latest management tool dates to Carl Jung. It slices executives into 16 categories and purports to help different types communicate. Some managers like the test so much they give it to their children. Which type are you?
(FORTUNE Magazine) – ESFJ SPOKEN HERE,'' reads the sign on the accountant's desk at Compass Computer Services in Dallas. Her boss, the controller, has a card that says he speaks ''ISTJ.'' The scrambled letters have also been spotted in Transamerica's pyramid in San Francisco, at the Naval Surface Weapons Center near Washington, and at Virginia Power Co.'s headquarters in Richmond. They turn up in church-group discussions, on license plates, even in personal ads -- ''ENFP female desperately seeking INTJ male.'' No, the proliferation of these mysterious initials does not represent an invasion of extraterrestrials or even the rise of a new order of Masons. The four-letter combinations are the hallmarks of a theory of psychological types that is spreading rapidly out of counseling circles into corporate America. According to the tenets, people of different psychological types may have a hard time working together mostly because each has a distinctive way of perceiving the world and making decisions. Make people aware of which types they and their co-workers are, the theory goes, and voila, communication improves and with it productivity. While some psychologists are not impressed, business people are lapping this stuff up. The letter combinations stand for personality traits first posited by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung in 1921 and further amplified after World War II by a mother-daughter team in the U.S., Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Just as people are born with a predisposition to be left- or right- handed, says the so-called type theory, they are also predisposed to be either extroverted or introverted (E or I), sensing or intuitive (S or N), thinking or feeling (T or F), and perceiving or judging (P or J). Extroverts are oriented toward the outer world of people and things, introverts toward the inner world of ideas and feelings. Sensing types sniff out detail, while intuitive souls prefer to focus on the big picture. Thinkers want to decide things logically and objectively; feelers base their decisions on more subjective grounds. Perceiving types tend to be flexible and to seek more information, while the judging sort want to get things settled. Type theorists divide people into 16 distinguishable personality types according to these four dimensions (see table). In the course of 20 years' work, Briggs and Myers developed a test -- or inventory of preferences, as they called it, since there are no right or wrong answers -- that indicates an individual's predispositions. It does not measure intelligence, motivation, maturity, or mental health. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI as it is commonly known, poses over 100 questions about how the test taker usually feels or acts in particular situations. For instance, in a group, do you often introduce others, or wait to be introduced? (Extroverts tend to introduce, introverts to be introduced.) Do you find it harder to adapt to routine or to more-or-less constant change? (Judging types have a tougher time with change, perceiving types with routine.) Would you rather work under someone who is always kind or always fair? (Feelers go for the kind boss, thinkers prefer a fair boss.) Research suggests that about 60% of men are thinkers, about 60% of women feelers. But the majority of women executives are thinkers, as likely as their male counterparts to neglect others' feelings. In 1986 some 1.5 million people took the MBTI, according to its publisher, Consulting Psychologists Press in Palo Alto, California. It is almost certainly the most widely used personality test in the U.S., at least among the allegedly normal population, and the test whose use is growing fastest. Average cost of the test: less than $1. The corporate world is by far the biggest user, and businesses accounted for 40% of test sales last year, double their share of three years ago. Companies that give it include Allied-Signal, Apple, AT&T, Citicorp, Exxon, GE, Honeywell, and 3M. Colleges, hospitals, churches, and the U.S. armed forces also administer the test. MOST COMPANIES use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator primarily in management development programs, to help executives better understand how they come across to others who may see things differently. Converts are going forth to apply type theory to chores ranging from job assignment, performance appraisal, and negotiation to strategic planning and marketing. In defending the new gospel, they stress the damage that botched communications and internecine conflicts can do.
Executives at Transamerica and its subsidiaries, past and present, rank among the most fervent of the believers. In 1979 Lad Burgin, a former offensive tackle from Ohio State with an MBA and a Ph.D., created the company's management development program using ideas on motivation developed by Harvard psychologist David McClelland. Burgin concluded, however, that ''an important piece of the puzzle was missing.'' He found it when he began working with a former history professor turned management consultant, Alan Brownsword, who had become a leading expert on Myers-Briggs and type theory. Brownsword specialized in applying the theory to team building -- getting a bunch of individuals to work together effectively. Says Burgin: ''We found that by joining the theories of motivation and type, we can solve a lot more problems in the business world.'' One of their most successful students was David Carpenter, chief executive of Transamerica's Occidental Life Insurance Co., which generated 60% of the parent holding company's profits in 1986. After he took over in 1983, Carpenter insisted his top management team take the course as a group. His staff was skeptical but soon found type theory a big help in transforming the subsidiary from a sleepy life insurance bureaucracy to a streamlined, competitive financial services company. Carpenter says, ''We've used the theory to help us change our corporate culture; it has turned out to be one of the most meaningful things we've done.'' An example: Shortly after he took over, Carpenter called in two top executives to talk about how to turn the company's five-year management plan from a dull cover-your-behind forecast to a visionary, best-guess document that laid out the changes they hoped to bring about. While Carpenter and Executive Vice President Simon Baitler started bouncing ideas off each other about the new ''picture'' they wanted to present, the other executive, a numbers man, just sat looking puzzled. ''He didn't get it,'' Baitler says. ''We're talking pictures, but he's looking for details. To him, we're not even talking the English language.'' Carpenter then spelled out to the numbers guy exactly how he wanted the first three tables in the plan changed. But when the executive came back with the new plan, two of the tables were the same as before. Carpenter was furious. ''The guy must think he's brighter than me,'' he told Baitler. In fact, the executive had concluded that he wasn't in the same league as Baitler and Carpenter; he was thinking about quitting. Two weeks later Carpenter and his top management team took the week-long course on type theory, and as Baitler put it, ''the lights went on.'' It turned out that the finance guy, like many number crunchers, was an ISTJ, a very different personality type from Carpenter and Baitler, who were an ENTJ and an ENTP, respectively. The financial executive was introverted, while they were extroverted -- a situation that promoted constant misunderstandings. But more important, the numbers man was a sensing type, someone who thinks largely in terms of facts and detail, while the other two were intuitives, people who think in terms of context first and fill in pertinent facts later. ''After the class, we knew he didn't hear the instruction about Tables 2 and 3, much less form an overall picture of what we were talking about, because he was still focusing on the details of Table 1,'' explains Baitler. ''It had nothing to do with motivation and intelligence.'' Carpenter and Baitler now often ask the finance man to summarize what was agreed upon at a meeting and then they fill in any gaps. They have also come to recognize that an ISTJ, whose type is more realistic and pragmatic than theirs, has a better grasp of the risks in any big-picture idea than they do -- an invaluable asset that can save them from intuiting their way into a debacle. In turn, the financial executive now thinks twice about how he is going to present information to the chief. At one point he had to make a report to Carpenter that combined ten pieces of bad news and one big element of good news -- a positive that outweighed all the negatives. True to his orderly ISTJ type, he had planned to list each bad news item and then give Carpenter the good news. But Baitler advised: ''If you present it that way, Carpenter, being an ENTJ, will judge each piece of bad news adversely. Why not give him the overall picture first -- that you've got good news that outweighs some bad news -- and then fill in the details?'' The revised presentation worked nicely. COMPASS COMPUTER, a computer reservations company owned jointly by Hilton Hotels and Budget Rent-a-Car -- and formerly owned by Transamerica -- is a virtual laboratory on the chemistry between different types. President Michael Carrico and some of his top managers went through Transamerica's course and tried to put what they learned to work. Says Carrico: ''We had some morale problems. I realized I had a mixed bag of people reporting to me and that this could help us understand each other better and also understand how we make decisons.'' Over 100 of 180 employees have taken Brownsword's team-building program. Executives say it helped the company adjust to a recent major upheaval after Hilton and Budget forced Compass to drop a big project and make major cutbacks. As an introvert, Carrico was inclined to withdraw and make decisions alone when under pressure. But with the training in mind, he went out of his way to get his management group's advice on where to cut back. One piece of advice he accepted was to continue the team-building program, which had cost the company $400,000 over two years. Says Linda Edwards, the company's human resources vice president: ''We wouldn't have made it through without type training.'' Other outfits experimenting with type theory tell similar stories. Apple Computer uses it to help different teams work on task force projects together. West Jersey Health Systems, a small nonprofit hospital group, is using a type program to help its nurses, doctors, and managers come up with ways to make patient services friendlier. Virginia Power uses type theory in strategic planning workshops to jar managers into thinking more competitively. The utility industry may be deregulated down the road, and the company wants to explore new ventures -- a discipline many of its executives have never undertaken. ''Everybody knows we're in a new ball game, yet they keep doing what they've always done,'' says Wylie WanVeer, senior training specialist. ''We've got a lot of sensors who worry about the next five quarters, but we need intuitive thinking that focuses on the next five years.'' Knight-Ridder's Charlotte Observer used type theory as a basis for team building in a fractious newsroom that had been jolted by a series of management changes. The outcome was so successful, says publisher Rolfe Neill, that he and his executive team took the same course and then turned loose the trainer, Dolly King, on the rest of the company. Government has become interested too. It should come as no surprise to learn that city managers in trendy San Francisco are taking type training. But the General Accounting Office? The federal agency uses type theory to help improve + the effectiveness of its teams of analysts. The Foreign Service Institute applies the theory to teaching languages. Otto Kroeger, a Myers-Briggs consultant, has taught over 4,500 officers at military colleges, including top brass at the National Defense University. Some graduates now call him in to help them with their managerial headaches. A military chaplain had him come to West Germany a couple of years ago to analyze certain troublesome incidents at isolated defense posts. The symptoms included drug abuse, vandalism, shootings, bar fights, and suicide. Says Kroeger: ''What you had was a bunch of SPs ((sensing-perceptives)), action- oriented kids who dropped out of high school, loved Army training, and then were shipped off to some little outpost where they were told to be constantly on alert. They sat there waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever did. So they ended up dropping a wrench somewhere to stir up a little excitement.'' To make things worse, many outpost commanders were SJs (sensing-judging types) and thus sticklers for daily reports and routine procedures -- the bane of SPs. Kroeger negotiated a truce between types rather than ranks. The officers relaxed some rules and cut back on paperwork, and in return the soldiers made sure they got their job done. Accidents and hooliganism declined, says Kroeger. Despite the growing popularity of type theory, many psychologists and managers remain skeptical. An operations chief from 3M stared hard at the grid of 16 types and asked, ''Why does the word Communism pop into my mind?'' The charges that Myers-Briggs stereotypes people, that it is a static, undynamic theory that traffics in labels much like astrology, have dogged the theory for years. Doubts linger even in some centers of faith. Transamerica Corp.'s chief executive, James Harvey, who never took the course, has decentralized the parent company's sponsorship. Now each division or subsidiary chooses whether to pursue the training. Says Reed Gregg, head of Transamerica's audit department and a champion of the theory: ''The top management group wanted to see something tangible, but how do you measure a change in attitude?'' SOME SKEPTICAL managers wonder whether type theory may turn out to be just another management fad. David Fry, a British-born vice president of systems development at Compass Computer and one of the few disbelievers on the staff, jokingly compares its spread through the company to a religious revival. He rejects the theory on purely scientific grounds. ''You can't measure the results, and the consequences are not predictable,'' he says. ''It does seem to make people feel better. But when the preacher leaves, I think the Christians will become heathens again.'' For their part, many Myers-Briggs proponents say the test should be used only as an instrument to improve the test taker's self-awareness, and never to screen employees for jobs. They argue that type skills could be used to help, say, an introverted salesperson learn to develop the necessary extroverted behavior for the job. Other psychologists defend the MBTI as one of a battery of tests and techniques that can be used together in making evaluations. ''It is a tried and true instrument,'' says Richard Diedrich, a clinical psychologist with Rohrer Hibler & Replogle, a consulting firm that advises corporations on matters psychological. On balance, the theory may well be less significant than the communications it seems to foster. Talking about what type you are and what type I am and the differences between the two often proves to be an unthreatening way for people to raise and resolve problems. Indeed, many executives who have been exposed to Myers-Briggs urge their spouses and children to take the test. Some report that the results help explain behavior that has puzzled them for years.
CHART: THE 16 DIFFERENT PERSONALITY TYPES
INTROVERT (I), EXTROVERT (E), SENSING (S), INTUITIVE (N), THINKING (T), FEELING (F), JUDGING (J), PERCEIVING (P)
ISTJ Serious, quiet, earn success by concentration and thoroughness. Practical, orderly, matter-of-fact, logical, realistic, and dependable. Take responsibility.
ISTP Cool onlookers -- quiet, reserved, and analytical. Usually interested in impersonal principles, how and why mechanical things work. Flashes of original humor.
ESTP Matter-of-fact, do not worry or hurry, enjoy whatever comes along. May be a bit blunt or insensitive. Best with real things that can be taken apart or put together.
ESTJ Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact, with a natural head for business or mechanics. Not interested in subjects they see no use for. Like to organize and run activities.
ISFJ Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Work devotedly to meet their obligations. Thorough, painstaking, accurate. Loyal, considerate.
ISFP Retiring, quietly friendly, sensitive, kind, modest about their abilities. Shun disagreements. Loyal followers. Often relaxed about getting things done.
ESFP Outgoing, easygoing, accepting, friendly, make things more fun for others by their enjoyment. Like sports and making things. Find remembering facts easier than mastering theories.
ESFJ Warm-hearted, talkative, popular, conscientious, born cooperators. Need harmony. Work best with encouragement. Little interest in abstract thinking or technical subjects.
INFJ Succeed by perseverance, originality, and desire to do whatever is needed or wanted. Quietly forceful, conscientious, concerned for others. Respected for their firm principles.
INFP Care about learning, ideas, language, and independent projects of their own. Tend to undertake too much, then some how get it done. Friendly, but often too absorbed.
ENFP Warmly enthusiastic, high-spirited, ingenious, imaginative. Able to do almost anything that interests them. Quick with a solution and to help with a problem.
ENFJ Responsive and responsible. Generally feel real concern for what others think or want. Sociable, popular. Sensitive to praise and criticism.
INTJ Usually have original minds and great drive for their own ideas and purposes. Skeptical, critical, independent, determined, often stubborn.
INTP Quiet, reserved, impersonal. Enjoy theoretical or scientific subjects. Usually interested mainly in ideas, little liking for parties or small talk. Sharply defined interests.
ENTP Quick, ingenious, good at many things. May argue either side of a question for fun. Resourceful in solving challenging problems, but may neglect routine assignments.
ENTJ Hearty, frank, decisive, leaders. Usually good in anything that requires reasoning and intelligent talk. May sometimes be more positive than their experience in an area warrants.
CREDIT: SOURCE: INTRODUCTION TO TYPE BY ISABEL BRIGGS MYERS. CAPTION: NO CAPTION DESCRIPTION: See above.