Improving business results using the MBTI instrument
Sharon Richmond, Principal, Richmond Associates Consulting
Being a long-time consultant to senior leaders in companies of all sizes, and being a ‘textbook’ ENTP, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a data junkie for information on how leaders can guide their organizations to success. I pay particular attention to studies released by global consultancies, as they invest ample resources to conduct large, statistically significant studies. I leverage the knowledge produced by such studies to help prospective clients see how the ‘developmental’ work they’ve requested can produce the tangible business outcomes they need.
Just this month, I came across a study that I found particularly relevant to those of us who leverage the MBTI® (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®) instrument into our work with leaders. In this blog post, I’ll first share some noteworthy findings, then describe how I construct MBTI-based solutions to help these leaders improve their organizations’ successes.
The 'leadership accountability gap'
Lee Hecht Harrison recently released results of a global study on the 'leadership accountability gap'. Among their findings, they report that, despite more than 70% of business leaders and HR professionals affirming that leadership accountability is critical to business effectiveness, fewer than one-third of respondents are satisfied by what they see in their organizations.
Satisfaction among European leaders is even lower – it's only 23%. Overall, fewer than half of the participants say their leaders demonstrate satisfactory accountability.
Weak leadership cultures, such as those described in this study, are quite costly to organizations. Such organizations struggle to attract top talent, can’t drive change effectively, and consequently fail to achieve sustainable success. According to Peter Alcide, President and Chief Operating Officer of Lee Hecht Harrison: “By not proactively dealing with weak leadership, organizations breed further mediocrity, exacerbating the core issue[s] over the longer term.”
Call to action: what to improve
This study is a call to action for each of us – the MBTI professionals. These organizations certainly need help to deal proactively with their leadership gaps, and our expertise gives us unique qualifications to contribute to this and make it work successfully.
When proposing work to clients, how often do you directly discuss the economic value that could be generated for the organization?
Citing data from this LHH study provides a great way to show clients the business results they might expect from improving their leadership capabilities. Rather than ‘having a training’, for example, they can see themselves as ‘investing in the organization’s future success’.
The core weaknesses identified in this study are similar to the applications that are often requested by clients. They are topics that are very responsive to leveraging type knowledge:
- Managing people
- Inspiring teams
- Building healthy cultures
Digging a bit deeper, this study reveals a few specific, and more unique, findings:
- Organizations with higher leadership accountability are among the top performers in their industries
- Organizations at the lower performance levels struggle most with 'holding others accountable for high standards of performance' and 'tackling tough issues'
- Only 20% of companies report that their leaders 'have the courage to address mediocre and unaccountable leaders'
Being type practitioners, we have a vast toolkit at our fingertips, from which we can construct solutions to help clients tackle these and other challenges. And with four out of five organizations seeing their leaders as not having the courage to address mediocre leadership, we know the need is real.
Constructing an MBTI-based solution
After three decades of introducing personality type to businesses and their leaders, I’ve developed a magic question for solution design:
“What should be better after our engagement, and – if we’re successful – how would that improve your business?”
Clients, after some surprise, may start vaguely with something like ‘we’ll have better team work’. Through dialogue, though, they’ll get more specific. ‘Better teamwork’ becomes 'teams that work better together will generate more and better ideas, evaluate them more thoroughly, and choose actions more quickly, helping us get better products to market more quickly than our competition'. This leads to a solution where understanding and valuing MBTI differences forms the core to improve all three aspects of their teamwork process. Reframing client needs in terms of the contributing behaviors helps build enthusiasm for the solution we are co-creating.
To approach the leadership accountability challenges described above, let’s follow a similar approach with an imaginary client. We can summarize the need as ‘reducing our leadership accountability gap, or improving our leaders’ skills’. The value to the organization, courtesy of LHH, we can define as better business results. A quick diagnosis, based on the study, suggests that underlying the leadership accountability gap is an underdeveloped ability to have difficult conversations and address hard topics.
Knowing little more than this, we can construct a draft solution that is built on understanding and leveraging MBTI differences, which might resemble the following design for a leadership team session:
1. Introduce (review) the MBTI framework, distribute MBTI Leadership Reports, and verify type (as needed)
- Pay special attention to the distribution of judging functions (T, F), which are key to deciding when and how to address said 'challenging issues'
- Also pay attention to their direction of operation (Ti, Te, Fi, Fe)
2. Group review of their verified MBTI types and impact on having challenging conversations
- Team reactions, discussion – similarities and differences
- Diagnosing what gets in our way (the collective ‘assets and challenges’ of the group of leaders), and how this is reflected in leadership ‘culture’ (how we habitually behave as leaders)
- Pay special attention to team and 1:1 communication – both frequency and media
- And pay attention to developmental feedback conversations – frequency and content
3. Specific type-alike group discussions exploring how cognitive processes/pairs (depending on type distributions) seem connected to why these conversations are harder or easier
- Type-alike groups: identify types of conversations they find hard to have (performance management, accountability, unpopular decision, role changes…) and why
- Small group role-play or other activity designed to surface the difficulties they face in having challenging conversations
- Debrief – develop empathy for one another, and begin sharing of ‘how to get better at this’
4. Introduction of a ‘healthy dialogue’ model with a strong focus on addressing the difficulties surfaced above
- Coached demonstrations
- Paired/triad practice, using examples generated earlier
- Feedback on practice, using healthy dialogue model
- More practice
5. Develop mixed-type peer cohorts to promote practice, skill development, and behavior change
6. Engagement of HR organization to improve performance feedback skill, and promote accountability for proactively managing performancePlease note that this design is illustrative, and should not be taken a guarantee of success.
Being a seasoned MBTI practitioner, I’m comfortable with regularly developing new applications for meeting my clients’ needs. I hope this example encourages you on the same path, and gives you some ideas you can try.
If you are willing to bring new data to clients from published research, you will continue to find new solutions to their organizational challenges, solutions that leverage a tool they already trust, and in which they have already invested.
Do you agree? What successes have you had in developing new ways to apply type to the challenges your organization(s) face?
About the author
Sharon Richmond is internationally recognized for her work with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, served eight years on the Board of Directors of APT International, and is the author of Introduction to MBTI® and Leadership (© 2016). Sharon earned her BA from Duke University and her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, with which she has long-standing affiliation: she's taught leadership in both the MBA and Executive Education program, is a senior facilitator for the Interpersonal Dynamics course, and has helped develop the acclaimed Leadership Fellows and Leadership Labs, two experientially-based leadership programs for current MBA students.
Sharon has worked as a Senior Partner or Consultant with M Squared Consulting, 54th Street Partners, APM Inc., and Touche Ross Management Consulting. She started and led Cisco’s global Change Leadership center. Sharon has founded and led Richmond Associates – a consultancy focused on business-driven change management – since 1988, through which she coaches and consults with leaders of companies across technology, bio-pharma, education and financial management. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Sharon works with companies from Fortune 50 to venture-backed start-ups.