Personality Types Matter More Than Job Titles

An Agency Hums When It Has the Right Mix of Complementary Talents

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I was staring at an organizational chart for my company, PJA Advertising, and it struck me as a lifeless tool. It barely begins to tell the human story behind the rows of descending boxes. Instead of providing a visual strategy of agency talent, all it delivers is a body count.

The traditional way to look at an agency is by function: creative director, account service, planning, digital and finance. Theoretically, you put the right functions in place, hire the correct number of people, and you're ready for business.

That's way too simplistic. It's like lining up your checker pieces for a chess game. I began to try and imagine different ways to assemble an agency, rethinking all the intangibles that lead to innovative ideas and original creative work.

In place of job titles and functions, I began to think about the personality types you need. On its own, any single personality can tip the balance in the wrong way. Get the mix right and you create magic.

Over the years, I've worked with introverts and extroverts; impulsive decision makers and people that deliberate ad nauseam; maniacs and saints; workhorses and the chronically lazy (who occasionally show flashes of brilliance); the overly sensitive and the imperviously thick-skinned; the pathologically organized and their counterpart, the inspired slob. As the old saying goes, it takes a zoo to create an agency.

Looking beyond that delightful range of personalities, you need four or five core types of people to make an agency hum. They represent the essential chemistry for success. They clash and sometimes drive each other insane. They may not want to admit it, but they complete each other.

You need a gambler, someone who will walk the tight rope, and make a few bold moves. At some point every agency will take calculated risks on office space, people and new capabilities. The gambler possesses the fortitude to take those leaps of faith during stomach-turning moments when the outcome is uncertain.

Since extroverts tend to dominate the industry, I would want a quiet observer, a person who shuns the spotlight but studies the human factors and can supply insights into organizational dynamics and complex business situations. When emotions and stress run high, he serves as a celestial navigator.

Every agency needs a lover of all things new, because most of us gravitate toward the familiar, and fall back on the tried and true. This person feels a gravitational pull toward every shiny new object. While he can fall prey to trends, he makes us look at shifts in popular culture and see the potential in new technologies.

Give me a ferocious competitor, a person who wades right in for the fight and doesn't shrink from impossible challenges. Big names don't intimidate him, and where others fall susceptible to doubt, he always believes that victory is in sight.

Don't forget the mechanic, a skilled practitioner with the ethic to produce work to the highest standard with efficiency and pride. These people set the bar for craftsmanship that inspires others.

It doesn't matter in what department these people work, although you may not want the gambler in accounting. They may share some traits as well: the ability to dream big, creativity, and native intelligence. The jackpot is when they appreciate the power of their complementary talents and actually like each other.

Phil Johnson is CEO of PJA Advertising & Marketing with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco. Follow Phil on Twitter: @philjohnson.
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