Warning: do not use this slick all-purpose assessments for screening out people. However, it’s useful for becoming a better interviewer and screening in people.
DISC and all its variants (Calipers, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, etc.) should never be used to pre-screen people. At best, and if they’re not faked, these “tests” only predict preferences, certainly not competencies. At worst, they prevent diversity by eliminating the chance to see and hire people who can achieve great results but use a style different than the expected. (Note: Use these types of style indicators after you’ve narrowed the selection to 3-4 people who you’ve determined can meet the performance objectives required for success.)
Despite this predictive limitation — although it will be argued by those who use or sell them — the DISC style preferences are quite helpful for understanding how people communicate, make business and hiring decisions, and interact on-the-job.
To determine your dominate DISC style, look at the descriptions of the four styles in the graphic and select the one that best describes you. Then to validate this, answer these two questions:
Question 1: are you impatient or not? If you’re very impatient and would rather make decisions with no information, put yourself on the far right in the diagram. If you’re still trying to figure out your answer to this question, put yourself on the far left. Everyone else can put themselves somewhere in between.
Question 2: are you more into results or relationships? People who are more focused on the success of the project and are less sensitive to the needs of the people involved fall somewhere in the top-half of the grid. Those who are more concerned with the people involved are in the bottom-half.
Your answers to these simple questions categorize you into one of these four dominant styles:
Directors (impatient and results): these are people who are driven and results-oriented. They are dominant, frank, make quick hiring decisions based more on intuition than facts, and at times can be perceived as heavy-handed or overbearing.
Influencers (impatient and people): these people are typically extroverted, friendly, and persuasive, possessing the classic salesperson persona. They quickly decide whom to hire based on first impressions.
Supporters (patient and people): these people are the consensus builders — HR people, diplomats, and counselors. When hiring they look for people who “fit” with the organization and are team players.
Controllers: (patient and results) these people are the classic analyzers and techies. They tend to focus on experience and technical expertise when making hiring decisions.
Generally speaking, people are more comfortable with those who are similar to them. This includes their own dominant DISC style and the two adjacent styles. They tend to have the most conflict with their anti-DISC style — their diagonal opposites. However, by forcing themselves to adopt this style, they can improve interviewing accuracy as well as better understand some of the cause of their interpersonal disagreements. Here’s how:
- Directors need to become more like Supporters, slowing down long enough to hear everyone’s viewpoint, especially those who disagree with you, using evidence rather than intuition and gut feelings, before deciding.
- Influencers need to become more like Controllers, getting evidence of the candidate’s actual performance and ability rather than overvaluing first impressions and personality.
- Supporters need to become more like Directors, judging the person more on the results achieved and not just whether the person fits the culture and is a team player.
- Controllers need to become more like Influencers, determining if the person can work with a variety of different people, not just assessing their technical competency.
DISC has its good and bad points. Since you can figure out your DISC style in a few minutes, and even the not-so-clever can fake it, caution is urged on how it should be used. It should never be used for screening purposes for a number of reasons, but has value from a communications and self-development standpoint.
From a hiring standpoint it can be used to make better assessment decisions on two fronts. For one, the interviewer can become more open-minded and objective by collecting information using the best techniques of each style. For another, during the interview observe how candidates have modified their styles depending on the circumstances.
Some people are more flexible and others more rigid. When used as part of fact-finding this way, a DISC style assessment can help the interviewer better understand a candidate’s flexibility, cultural fit, and the person’s ability to work with and manage others. For something so simple, this has great value as long as it’s used properly.
As many of you know, I’ve been asked to participate in LinkedIn’s Influential Business Leaders Forum as spokesperson for career management and recruiting passive candidates. This article is a version of one of my first posts on LinkedIn. It caused a big reaction among the recruiters, candidates, and hiring managers who read it.
Between the lines it describes one of my prime tenets of good recruiting: the critical need to control every step in the process and the conversation. This covers many dimensions including how candidates make career decisions, how hiring managers assess and recruit candidates, and how the hiring team makes their evaluation.
Whether you’re a third-party recruiter seeking more business or a corporate recruiter tired of having your best candidates misjudged, I think you’ll find the approach used in this true story useful on your next assignment.
Here’s how it goes.
Many, many years ago I was contacted by a business owner who had heard me speak at a business leader conference. The company had about 500 people and was producing household merchandise sold in the big box stores — Sears, Target, and Kmart. He was clearly desperate. He implored me to tell him the two questions I had said were all you needed to ask to fully assess competency for any position. He was looking for an operations VP, and being a full-time executive recruiter at the time, I told him I would be happy to reveal my secret assessment technique, but we needed to meet in person and discuss the actual job first. He continued to protest, demanding the questions on the spot. Sensing panic, I relented. Before proceeding though, I asked him what was so urgent that he needed the questions instantly. “The candidate is in the waiting room,” he quietly confessed.
After getting some sense of his business and the position he was trying to fill, I told him to follow the following instructions without compromise. Then call me right after meeting with the candidate.
- First, do not meet the candidate in the office. Take the candidate for a tour of the manufacturing facility, instead.
- As part of the tour, stop at each area that clearly demonstrates some of the biggest operational problems the person taking the VP job would have to address right away. These turned out to be poor factory layout, too much scrap, outdated process control measures, and excess raw material inventory.
- After describing each problem for a few minutes, ask the candidate “if you were to get this job, how would you fix it?” Then have a 10-15 minute give-and-take discussion around his ideas. The purpose of this conversation is to understand how the candidate would figure out the problem and develop a reasonable solution. Based on this, evaluate the candidate on his problem-solving skills, the quality of the questions asked, and his general approach for implementing a solution.
- When you’re done with this line of questioning, ask the candidate to describe something he has already accomplished that’s most comparable to the problem needing fixing. Spend another 10-15 minutes on getting specific details about this, including names, dates, metrics, type of equipment used, how vendors were managed, how labor problems were solved, who was on the team, how these people were managed, and the results achieved. Don’t be satisfied with superficial or general answers. I told him he must push to get actual details even if painful, and especially if he already thought the person was hireble.
- Ask the same two questions and follow-up the same way for the other operational problems.
- It should take at least 90 minutes to complete the tour. When done, tell the person you’re impressed with his background, and will get back to him in few days after seeing some other candidates. Then call me and we can discuss your reaction and figure out next steps.
The call came three hours later. The owner’s insight was profound. He said the candidate aced the problem-solving questions, but didn’t have any evidence of achieving comparable results. He told me the candidate was assertive, insightful, and clearly understood the problems that needed to be solved. However, the owner said the candidate’s answers to the comparable accomplishment questions were vague, shallow, and short.
He went on to say it was like talking to two different people. One was eloquent, animated, and confident talking about how he’d go about figuring out the problem and how he’d implement a solution. The other was like a fish out of water, hesitant and unsure, lacking details along with confidence. He concluded the candidate was probably a great consultant or staff person, but one who couldn’t be left in the factory alone. He wasn’t hands on, and wouldn’t relate to the people on the floor. This was pretty amazing when you consider he only had a 10-minute course in interviewing under his belt.
He then gave me the search assignment. We filled it in about a month. The person hired took the same tour, to the same spots, and answered the same questions. The difference though was our candidate could not only tell the owner how he’d figure out and solve the problems, but he had also accomplished something comparable. Also critical to this true story, the person hired was not from the same industry, had different academic credentials than listed in the job-description, and had less overall experience. More important, not only did he successfully eliminate the initial four problems once on-the-job, but another half-dozen or so, too.
Moral: If you know what you need done it only takes two questions to figure out if a candidate is competent and motivated to do it. If you don’t know what you need done, take a tour of the factory, and call me in the morning.
Recap: in part one of this series, the two-question performance-based interview was introduced. The first question involves asking candidates to describe some of their most significant business accomplishments in great detail. While it’s only one question, it’s repeated multiple times to ensure you’re covering all aspects of exceptional performance. Of course, to accurately assess this question you need to first define exceptional performance in the form of a performance profile describing the top 5-6 critical performance objectives required for job success. Most job descriptions over-emphasize skills and experience requirements with a short list of vague responsibilities. Being reasonably specific with regard to expected outcomes is the key to using the two-question interview and making an accurate assessment
The second question involves asking the candidate how he/she would go about completing one or two of the most critical performance objectives, including figuring out the problem, putting a plan together, and overcoming job-related challenges. This is more a give-and-take type discussion to get at thinking, planning and the ability to visualize job-related problems
The two questions in combination with the performance profile, and an in-depth review of the person’s resume looking for the achiever pattern is all that’s necessary to accurately assess a candidate across all job needs.
The following formula defining hiring success will help guide you through this process
Hiring Success = (Talent x Motivation2)+ Team Skills (EQ) + Problem-solving Skills
Here’s the quick explanation of each term. Some people call these factors competencies or behaviors. Regardless of what you call them, the idea is that you need to assess them in order to better predict a person’s ability to meet objectives described in the performance profile
Talent is the ability to do the work, and the easiest of the factors to measure. Surprisingly, too many interviewers, especially those with a technical bent, overvalue this factor, oftentimes demanding brilliance. While talent is obviously important, it needs to be measured in terms of job demands, not some artificial standard
Motivation to do the work required is the most important of these factors, and the hardest to assess. It’s squared in the formula since it has so much impact on job success, output, and performance. To assess it properly you need to find multiple examples of where the person went the extra mile doing work comparable to what’s needed to be done. Alternate terms for this could be “drive” or “results-oriented,” but the key idea is that during the interview you’re not looking for generic motivation, but specific job-related examples of the person doing far more than required
Team skills, aka Emotional Intelligence (EQ refers to the term Dan Goleman coined in his book on emotional intelligence), relates to how the person relates with others. During the interview look for examples of how the person interacted on projects and/or led teams. Seek out coaching examples, dealing with conflict, and persuading or inspiring others. Also look at the make-up of the teams, the person’s role, if the make-up changed or grew in size over time, and if they were multi-functional or comprised of more senior-level company leaders. Team skills and cultural fit is not determined by warmth or affability during the interview. It’s determined by the person’s impact and effectiveness in collaborating with others and the teams the person has been asked to join
Problem-solving skills addresses the person’s understanding of job-related issues and being able to figure the best course of action among various alternatives. The problem-solving question involves asking the person how he/she would solve a realistic problem. Look for depth of insight, the questions asked, the process the person uses to figure out the problem, and how he/she develops and evaluates different alternatives. As part of the assessment, get detailed examples of actual accomplishments the person achieved comparable to the problem under discussion. This two-question combo is called the Anchor and Visualize interviewing process
Organizational fit covers a number of dimensions including fit with the job, the hiring manager, and the company’s environment, values, culture, and its way of doing business. From what I’ve seen, the candidate’s fit with the hiring manager and the job are the dominant factors here. If the candidate and the hiring manager clash from a style, coaching, and/or development standpoint, the person will fail, regardless of capability. Job fit is just as important. A person competent enough to do the work, but not motivated to do it, will underperform. On top of this you need to consider resource availability, the company pace, and the level of sophistication, to accurately assess organizational fit. Ask about these cultural issues as part of each major accomplishment question for comparison purposes. (Here’s a video I’ve prepared that describes how to use the two-question interview to assess organizational fit along these dimensions.)
There are some caveats to follow as you assess candidates using the formula for hiring success. For one thing, don’t make a yes/no decision until the end of the interview. Most people are overly affected by the person’s first impression, good or bad, so it’s best to temper this by waiting until the end of the interview to determine the candidate’s suitability for the job. While it’s okay to determine if the person’s first impression will impact job performance, do this at the end, when you’re not personally affected by it. To make sure the team assessment is as objective as possible, go through each of the factors in the hiring formula as a team getting specific and factual evidence from each interviewer. Using the following 1-5 ranking scale can help minimize errors caused by first impressions, intuition, or biases. The idea is that each interviewer has to provide evidence to support their ranking, not feelings or emotions
The 1-5 Evidence-based Ranking Scale
Level 1: Not hirable. Not competent, missing a critical skill, or not motivated to do the work required under the organizational and cultural demands of the job
Level 2: Competent, but not motivated, or not a cultural fit. Technically and team-wise a fit, but not motivated to do the work required. Alternatively, the person is a weak fit from a cultural or organizational fit standpoint.
Level 2.5: Average performance. The person meets the minimum needs of the job on all factors, including cultural fit, but not exceptional in any
Level 3.0: Hirable, rock-solid performance. This is a person who can achieve all of the performance objectives listed in the performance profile and is highly motivated to do the work required. In addition, the cultural fit is right on. This person is promotable and can take on bigger projects quickly
Level 4.0: Far exceeds performance expectations. This person will do more, faster, and/or better. While the person will likely exceed the performance standards of the job, the person must also be given the freedom and opportunity to perform at this higher level
Level 5.0: High-potential all-star. This person will achieve a level of performance far in excess of what’s described in the performance profile. The company and hiring manager must support and encourage this, otherwise dissatisfaction will quickly follow
Using the two-question performance-based interview in combination with the hiring formula for success is a great way to assess competency, motivation, and organizational fit. It’s vital that some type of formal debriefing be part of the assessment where everyone on the interviewing team shares their evidence for each of the factors. Using the 1-5 ranking scale can help minimize the impact of feelings and emotions. Under no circumstances should you allow the team to add up individual yes/no votes to make this decision
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll describe how this type of interview can be used for recruiting purposes. Conducting an in-depth professional interview is part of this. Another part involves looking for differences in what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to the performance objectives for the job. These differences could relate to the size of the project or team, the importance of the work, or the opportunity for accelerated growth. Collectively, these gaps can represent a significant career move for the candidate, which can more than offset the need for a significant compensation increase.
While finding and accurately assessing candidates has always been important, doing it quickly will take on extra urgency as the economy recovers. Interestingly, if your candidates are high achievers, most managers will meet them even if they’re a bit off experience-wise. This is one way to ensure 100% of your candidates are seen. It will also reduce the amount of work involved in putting together a slate of candidates for any search assignment.
You can spot achievers in about 15-20 minutes by looking for clues high achievers leave in their wake. This is the forensic connection. But first, let’s define an achiever.
An achiever is a person who:
- Is highly motivated to do the work required
- Consistently delivers high quality results on time and on budget
- Is personally driven to become better
- Takes great pride in doing high quality work
- Works well with a broad and diverse group of people
- Will commit and deliver high-quality results despite the challenges
- Doesn’t make excuses; just gets it done somehow
- Volunteers for tough tasks or takes them on despite personal inconvenience
Let me start the forensic interviewing approach with a bit of reminiscing. I vaguely remember a high school physics experiment where the teacher demonstrated how to determine if a primary activity was present by looking at its secondary impact on other things. I suspect this is comparable to determining if a planet that isn’t visible is present by examining the gravitational shift it has on other planetary objects. Forensics is a form of this by looking at the clues left at the crime scene to determine what actually occurred (think CSI). From an interviewing standpoint it means looking for clues that an achiever pattern is present rather than looking directly for achiever-related behaviors or competencies.
Here’s how this works during the phone screen. A phone screen should consist of these four core sections:
- First, the introduction and engagement
- Second, the resume and work history review, looking for general fit and the achiever pattern
- Third, determining if the person is a strong fit for the actual opening and if the position offers the person a career move
- Fourth, either recruit the person for the open position, put the person in the talent pool for future positions, and/or get referrals
During the phone screen, the work history review should last at least 15-20 minutes, and longer for senior-level positions. For the uninitiated, a work history review is a comprehensive evaluation of the candidate’s resume, job by job. Done properly, the achiever patter will quickly emerge. Here’s how to conduct this type of forensic assessment:
- Find out the actual dates of each major job, including months and years. Many people hide non-positive information in their resumes, so it’s important to first ferret this out.
- Get an explanation of any gaps in employment. If there are gaps, look for areas of personal development or special training the person initiated on his or her own. Achievers are constantly improving themselves, so look for this throughout the interview.
- Determine why the person changed jobs and why each new job was selected. Achievers tend to carefully select jobs based on some major overriding career goal. I’m not fond of asking candidates first what their long-term goals are, since this is often fanciful. Instead, I ask them about major career goals they’ve already achieved. If they have a pattern of achieving these goals, I then ask them about their long-term goals. Make sure the jobs selected logically support the major goal.
- Determine if the job change achieved the desired result. Non-achievers tend to move from job to job based on circumstances out of their control, or convenience, with a focus on tactical issues like compensation, location, security, and basic job content. Achievers tend to focus more on the strategic aspects of the job, including the potential for learning, impact, and growth.
- Within each company ask about major projects, accomplishments, and results achieved. Achievers demonstrate a pattern of increasing impact and consistent results. Quantify this with specific details, and look for trends and improving performance over time. Also find out how the person proactively expanded his or her role and influence. This is what achievers do, so look for it.
- Get comparisons of performance to the person’s peers. Compare the person’s specific performance to others in the group by asking about rankings, standings, differences between the top and average, and what the person would need to have done to be at the top level. Achievers are competitive and self-motivated to improve.
- Ask about any type of recognition received. Achievers receive lots of recognition, so look for this and be concerned if you don’t find much. Recognition can be any number of things like raises, bonuses, awards won, promotions, patents awarded, assignments to bigger projects, presentations at industry conferences, published whitepapers, huge blog followers, commendations of any type, scholarships, honorary societies, and leadership awards. The amount of recognition received, when it when was received, and what it was for are the best confirming evidence of this achiever pattern.
- Prepare a graphical work chart for each major position. Rather than use personality traits and personal affability to assess team skills, just track the growth of the teams the person has been assigned to over the past 5-10 years. If this has increased significantly to include expanded functional responsibility, broader cross-functional involvement, and more exposure to senior management inside and outside the company, you can be assured the person has strong team skills.
Achievers leave lots of evidence in their wakes, and if the wake is big enough, you can rest assured there’s an achiever out in front. Of course, you then need to determine if the person is a good fit for your current job opening and if the position provides the candidate a strong career move. You need both to ensure you can recruit and close the candidate on favorable terms, and beat back the competition. In my book, Hire With Your Head, I demonstrate in detail how to do this. Once you get the person on board, don’t be surprised that those with the achiever pattern also possess all of the traits described in your company’s competency model. As an old high school teacher demonstrated many years ago, you can often find something without looking for it.
This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange (www.ere.net). Check out ERE for more great recruiting information.