Does Your Company Have the Right DNA?

Businesses have been using personality tests for years to determine employee’s thinking styles and corporate fit. In general, the benefit from all this testing and analysis has been meager. The test results, communicated in complex language, are not easy to put in practice.

Quick question: What does ESTJ mean to you?

Nevertheless, having an understanding of how your leaders think, their personality, and what they prefer to do is important. For several years, we used the more straightforward HBDI testing (Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument) to determine how someone thinks and what they prefer to do. Keeping it simple, the test measures someone’s method of thinking along four quadrants, which can be defined as follows:

  1. Analytical
  2. Organized
  3. Inter-personal
  4. Creative

Everyone is a mix of one of these four types. A superstar may think and have equal preferences in all four quadrants; but that is rare. In general, financial and technical people tend to be more analytical and organized. Artists and designers are more creative (no duh); and sales people are more inter-personal focused.

Now consider the combination of all the thinking and personality styles of your company.

  1. Would an organization of all analytical and organized leaders effectively focus on customers over the long term?
  2. Would an organization of all creative or all inter-personal types effectively execute on all the new ideas and contacts that they come up with?

At the risk of gross over-simplification, the answer is: No!

This mix of thinking style, personality and preferences determines the DNA of the company. This DNA then determines the company’s approach to the market and the company culture.

Three key points about your company’s DNA.

1.  DNA Diversity is Good
People with different thinking styles will clash with one another. The analytical and organized person may be a “just the facts, ma’am” type of person in all his or her dealings, while the inter-personal may empathize more with the feelings of others. As such, there will be conflict. But, this conflict allows diverse ideas and viewpoints into the discussion. Moreover, without the diversity from having people with different personality and thinking styles, the company will become one-tracked and may lose its way as the marketplace evolves.

Many companies achieved success in their business during the great boom by being organized to deliver their products well and analytical in detecting and resolving any inefficiency. Demand was high; operations and finance were king. Today many of these same companies are struggling. They remain analytical and organized and have few creative or customer-focused leaders in positions of influence. Their DNA pool is too narrow. As such, they seek to solve problems in an organized and analytical way even when that is not appropriate. In trying to drive sales and profits, they may focus on pricing programs or re-organizations (analytical and organized approaches) rather than promoting superior customer relationships (inter-personal) and developing new and innovative products and services (creative). Their restricted leadership tool-kit is hindering the business from adapting to the changed reality.


2.  The External Environment Determines the Best Fitting DNA
No one type of company DNA fits with all external realities. In the example above, an analytical and operational focus worked quite well in the boom years. Likewise, many computer companies have struggled as they have not adapted. Led by techies they have under-appreciated the evolution in the marketplace. No longer does the latest and coolest technology win the battle. Now, having the most innovative, best-designed (think Apple) technology is the critical factor for success. In short, struggling technology companies have not evolved their DNA to downplay the analytical side and strengthen the creative side.

As with evolution, the winners will be able to adapt and fit their corporate DNA to the changing external environment.

3.  To Change DNA Significantly Usually Requires New Blood
People can evolve their own DNA – their unique mix of thinking style, personality, and preferences – somewhat. But, to really evolve and change your company’s DNA requires new leaders with different ways of looking at reality, different ways of thinking and different preferences. This new blood strengthens the overall company gene pool by adding new mindsets and new personalities. This will certainly lead to conflict; but it will also make the company more adaptive to the changing marketplace. As you consider how to succeed in the “New Normal” reflect on what is lacking in your current company DNA. Then, either find someone in the company that has that “missing link” or hire from the outside. Your company’s long term success and survival may depend on it.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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