Senior positions in marketing require both creativity and logic. Firms are using psychometric testing to help assess staff and find potential recruits, writes David Waller.
It is an interesting time to set your sights on a chief marketing officer role; the landscape is changing so fast. You may have thrived at Coca-Cola, for example, but could you cut it at a digital start-up? You can tell people you are creative, but that doesn't make it any easier to prove. Good with numbers? That is not as hard to showcase. Personality is a nebulous concept and, after all, marketing has always been a left-brain, right-brain kind of business.
Craig Inglis, marketing director at John Lewis, sums up the marketer's challenge of having to straddle commercial and creative worlds. 'Some meetings (I have) can be hardcore, commercially focused and quite quantitative, and then I go straight into the fluffiest meeting I've ever had. To sit in both of those worlds is not for everybody.'
To make the process of finding such a combination of skills more scientific, some organisations have turned to psychometric testing. By analysing people's personalities using a computer, the theory goes, recruiters gain the tools to assess their team's composition and find gaps they need to plug.
Meanwhile, individuals are supposed to benefit from the added insight into their personality. Psychometric testing, its proponents say, will make it easier to find the marketing chiefs of the future.
So what type of person is that? Geoff McDonald, global vice-president of human resources for marketing at Unilever, looks for an extrovert nature in a top marketer.
'A successful chief marketing officer will be good at building relationships with people,' he says. 'They are energetic networkers who are able to play different roles, like that of a supporter or facilitator.'
If McDonald were to describe those needs in terms of the classic Myers-Briggs psychometric test (see box, far right), he would find his ideal marketer to be what is known as the ENTJ type: a quick-thinking extrovert, who is led by their intuition.
Russ Shaw, chairman of the Marketing Group of Great Britain and previously at Skype, says many successful marketers tend to fit that description. 'Several times I've met marketers who have said they've done Myers-Briggs, and I guessed that they're ENTJ, the same as me. Marketers are people-focused, with decision-making driven by their gut, not their senses.'
So, is it imperative to be an outgoing ENTJ type to make it as a chief marketing officer? Not necessarily. Instead of looking for a narrow set of traits, a canny recruiter will use psychometric testing to see how the personality of the existing team is skewed, and locate someone to complement that. Marketers are likely to be action-oriented and focused on getting all the ideas out there - so the team might need someone to put the brakes on and let the idea mature.
'It's about being aware,' says Shaw. 'If Myers-Briggs shows you that everyone on your staff is an ENTJ type, then you're likely to go charging in one direction and miss something. Someone who is introverted may add a different perspective.'
A marketing career in a technology company such as Google, Facebook or Groupon will require - or help shape - a different personality from those who thrive in FMCG. These days, a successful chief marketing officer will need a blend of both, hitting what McDonald calls 'the sweet spot between logic and magic'.
'I've taken on one high-potential candidate recently who has the buttoned-down perspective, but sees the possibilities too,' says Sue Shaw, managing partner of marketing recruiter Journey HR. 'This person is highly analytical, enjoys statistics and understands the bottom line, yet that is balanced by his love of change, his creativity and his innovation. He will quickly fly up the marketing ranks.'
Shaw is a staunch supporter of using psychometric testing, both in recruitment and ongoing personal development. When used well, the tests can be a powerful tool. Mark Batey, head of R&D at psychometric tester e-Metrixx, claims tests are twice as powerful as a face-to-face job interview, boasting a 40% success rate.
That is not really the point, however. The key is to use the tests alongside interviews, and to continue their use beyond recruitment, to identify what Batey describes as the 'under-the-iceberg stuff'. It is often the hidden traits that add competitive advantage to a marketing team.
Stuart Wilson, chief marketing officer at Burton's Foods, first encountered psychometric tests 20 years ago on the Cadbury-Schweppes graduate programme. He claims they are a boon across the business, helping to build self-awareness in individuals and achieve a better understanding of external business partners.
'It has given us a language to talk about ongoing personal development, and a real sense of how you and others can get the most out of you,' he says.
Despite the support for psychometric testing across the industry, though, even its fans are canny enough to remain cautious. People can make the mistake of seeing the results as the be-all and end-all, pigeon-holing themselves or others based on a strict interpretation of their report.
The advice is to combine personality profiling with other tests of numerical or inductive reasoning, and to use all of this simply as a starting point. The real business begins not with punching details into a computer, but when you start talking to people about the findings and how they interpret them.
Indeed, those taking the time to do so may uncover some intriguing surprises. Take creativity, a talent that, says Batey, deserves deeper analysis.
'Most people kind of know what creativity is, but scratch their head when you start asking about it in-depth,' he adds. 'People are frightened to dig into it. With a framework that breaks it down into chunks, they can explore exactly how they are creative and work on their areas of weakness to become even more so.'
As successful marketers like Wilson and Shaw will attest, psychometric profiles tend to leave a lasting impression on those who use them, increasing their chances of achieving success when they land that chief marketing officer spot.
'I've learned a lot from psychometric tests,' says Wilson. 'Whether through helping my self-development or my understanding of others, I have never done a test that hasn't been useful.'
Need to know | Psychometric tests for marketers
What it is Probably the most established of all psychometric tests, Myers-Briggs measures traits as defined in the work of analytical psychologist Carl Jung.
How it works It will help ascertain whether someone is primarily an extrovert or introvert, processes new information mostly with their senses or intuition, and how they tend to make rational decisions.
Former Skype vice-president and general manager, mobile, Russ Shaw tells how he and his executive management team used it last year for a leadership session.
What it is Me2 is a psychometric test focusing on creativity, problem-solving and how people exploit opportunities, and is therefore well-suited to marketers.
How it works It breaks creativity down in four ways: how people create and interpret ideas; their levels of curiosity and tolerance to ambiguity; what motivates them; and their confidence in producing, sharing and implementing ideas.
'Curiosity drives thinking and creativity,' says David Walters, a former marketer who is now e-Metrixx chief executive. 'Me2 will tell you that if you improved your curiosity, say, you'd have more ideas.'
Stuart Wilson, chief marketing officer at Burton's Foods, uses the tool in senior marketing team meetings every month. 'Me2 is designed with relevance and application to the marketing environment,' he says. 'As well as building self-awareness in individuals, you can use it to become more effective at an organisational level.
What it is Talent Q's Dimensions test allows a recruiter to pre-determine what personality type they're seeking, against which they can later plot an individual's results. From here it will even produce a custom-built report to use in interviews, allowing them to probe any areas of doubt.
How it works 'The test conducts due diligence on people,' says Talent Q chief executive Steve O'Dell. 'It splits into several areas: people and relationships, tasks and projects, and emotions and drives - all of which are part of a marketer's role.'
The result is a 15-point trait profile, showing someone's resilience or flexibility, for example, or their approach to teamwork. These results can be fed into other systems, so you can see where that person would sit on, say, the Myers-Briggs scale.
'Talent Q works with marketing well,' adds Sue Shaw, a consultant at marketing recruiter Journey HR. 'It's nimble and it generates lots of user-friendly reports that I use in team-building and one-to-one coaching alike.'
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