The Power of DiSC in Uncertain Times

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When times are tough, teams look to their leaders for compassion, guidance and reassurance that everything will be OK. Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of introducing organisations to the DiSC Model of Human Behaviour, based on the work of American Psychologist Dr William Marston.

The DiSC model centres on four core behavioural styles: Dominance, influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness, and allows individuals to analyse their behavioural patterns (their preferences and priorities) and understand why other people do what they do. Of all the models and personality/psychometric assessments I have seen and used throughout my career, DiSC is a favourite because it is so simple and easy to apply – perfect for the current circumstances.

Building awareness of the four DiSC styles will enable leaders to recognise and manage their own and reactions to the covid-19 pandemic, and provide a powerful decoder that ensures they are equipped and confident to lead their people through this adversity.

In this blog I will give an overview of the 4 DiSC styles and look at how we can quickly and effectively use DiSC to:
• Lead and Coach through Uncertainty
• Optimise Your New Remote Workforce

The 4 DiSC Styles –

1. Dominance (‘D’)
Those with the Dominance style can be described as direct, decisive, results-focused, competitive, firm, strong-willed and forceful. They tend to make decisions based on a whim as to them it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. They would rather lead than follow and are very self-confident. They thrive on opposition and excel at seeing the whole picture. They seek authority because they like to control the outcomes of projects and activities. They are big on cost/benefit analysis, seek recognition and respect, and won’t be afraid to pursue changes or enter a robust discussion; in fact, they welcome a good debate.
The ‘D’ style prioritises getting immediate results, taking action and challenging themselves and others. In Harry Potter terms, think Slytherin.*

2. Influence (‘i’)
People with the influence style can be described as outgoing, inspiring, talkative, enthusiastic, optimistic, high-spirited and lively. They are bright, bubbly and interesting, and quite happy being in the limelight. They are also quick thinkers who are brave and excellent at motivating others. Often daredevils, they do anything for a good time and are willing to engage in risky behaviour to reap the rewards. They are more likely to foresee potentially positive outcomes for a situation than dwell in potential dangers.
The ‘i’ style tends to prioritise expressing enthusiasm, taking action and encouraging collaboration. In Harry Potter terms, think Gryffindor*.

3. Steadiness (‘S’)
Those with the Steadiness style can be described as even-tempered, loyal, steadfast, accommodating, patient, humble and tactful. They are slow and steady, reliable and hard working. They seek security and a enjoy a calm, team-oriented atmosphere. Not boastful or competitive they do not set out to win, they are just happy that everyone has a good time playing and that no one gets hurt. They understand the need for authority and are fine with other people having it as this means they won’t have to make the tough/unpopular decisions or tell someone what to do. They are excellent listeners and they appreciate what they have – for that reason they will shy away from change for change’s sake.
The S style tends to prioritise giving support, maintaining stability and enjoying collaboration. In Harry Potter terms, think Hufflepuff*.

4. Conscientiousness (‘C’)
And finally, the Conscientiousness style can be described as analytical, reserved, precise, private and systematic. They excel at puzzles and improving existing systems. Open-minded to new possibilities the C style are excellent problem-solvers because they pay attention to details and see things that no one else sees. Not concerned with popularity they are focused on being correct and well-informed. Often seen as perfectionists they have very high expectations of themselves and a fear of criticism or being wrong, so they work extremely hard to achieve results and exceed expectations.
The C style tends to prioritise accuracy, maintaining stability and challenging assumptions. In Harry Potter terms, think Ravenclaw*.
*Character references are used as a guide only.

To think of the DiSC styles another way, the ‘D’ and ‘i’ styles are fast-paced and extroverted whereas your ‘S’ and ‘C’ styles are slower paced and more introverted. And, the ‘D’ and ‘C’ styles are more task-focused and questioning, whereas the ‘i’ and ‘S’ styles are more people-focused and accepting.

While we are all different, DiSC suggests we are predictably different. So, as we face into the covid-19 pandemic and in particular this lockdown period, we know every employee will respond differently. Research also shows that while we are all a blend of the 4 core styles, and our behaviours can be situational or dependant on other factors such as life experience, education and maturity, in times of stress we all typically revert to our core style. This is where DiSC becomes so powerful for leaders. If we know someone’s core style, we can predict their behaviour and adapt our approach to best connect with and support them through this unprecedented time.

Take a moment to let the 4 DiSC styles percolate. Read back through, can you think of someone in your team who represents each DiSC style? What style are you? (If you’re not sure and would like to find out, flick me a message and I can help you out).

So, if the DiSC model suggests people are predictably different, what behaviours might we be seeing from each style as we face into this sudden change from normality to lockdown? The following tips may help you recognise which styles your team members are –

• A Dominant style person may be quick to focus and ‘get on with it’ in the new environment. They will be ready to take the lead wherever they can, especially if this means they stay ahead of the rest. They may prefer the cold hard facts without any sugar coating and will typically ask their leaders to tell them how it is, whatever that means so they can get on with the challenges ahead.

• An influence style person will also be quick to respond, is likely to remain optimistic and may actually thrive in times of uncertainty, jumping at opportunities to innovate and solve problems quickly. They are also likely to crave the social interaction that their normal workplace offered so they will be seeking plenty of visibility of their leaders and their peers.

• Someone with the Steadiness style may be the most emotionally vulnerable within the team. Remember this group prefer stability, like working collaboratively and are very focused on giving support. As exceptional listeners with huge empathy they are the ones who everyone goes to when they are down or need a shoulder to cry on. So, add this to their own discomfort amidst the sudden change that has been thrust upon them – they may need time to process, and some leniency as they come to terms with this situation and remain available to others.

• A Conscientious style person will follow the rules, seek out and challenge the facts, and look for ways to retain control or use their expertise to help in any way they can. Being private and logical they are very unlikely to want to talk about their feelings or people’s opinions/predictions during this time. They are also quite happy working independently, so they may not be as phased by having to work remotely, away from the social team environment.

What can you do to successfully connect with, coach and lead each style though this crisis?

For your “D” and “C” employees – stick to the facts.
These groups will likely be glued to news sources and frequent updates. ‘D’ styles will be checking to see if the lockdown is working yet (results-focused) and ‘C’ styles will be fact-checking and seeking out the most reliable sources of information. As a leader, while it is good to show some vulnerability, try to keep personal opinions and emotions to a minimum here, and provide reputable sources for any crisis-related information provided. Keep the focus on clear and concise communication that is pertinent and keep fearful rumours or speculation to a minimum.

For your ‘D’ employees – tell them what you expect of them and let them get on with it. They are driven to succeed and they will embrace the challenge. Remind them they may need to give their ‘S’ colleagues more space to voice their emotions.

‘C’ employees will also remain focused on the task at hand but may appreciate being empowered to work independently without being micro-managed. Perhaps ask them how often they would like to catch up, rather than automatically phoning them twice a day. Note that Conscientious style employees may become increasingly frustrated at ‘outside the box’ thinking from their ‘i’ colleagues so it can be valuable to shelter them from some of the ‘group think sessions’ and allow them to get on with their to-do list, using their preferred tried and tested methods.

For your ‘i’ and ‘S’ employees – allow Q&A time.
As much as possible, host virtual group sessions to allow them to check in with each other, voice concerns and ask questions. Let your creative ‘i’ employees share their new ideas or ways of working with you or other ‘i’ employees – you’ll be blown away by the suggestions they will have for retaining a close and positive team culture during this time. Give your ‘S’ employees time to see and hear their peers, they will be picking up on cues that you may miss, and they will have everyone’s wellbeing front and centre of their mind.

Note that ‘i’ employees crave a sense of belonging and acceptance, they will be seeking your recognition and approval for a job well done, so now is the time to sprinkle praise everywhere, even over the little things.

And again, as potentially your most vulnerable group your ‘S’ employees will value seeing your own personal vulnerability (your human non-Boss side) so take time to share your own thoughts and feelings while maintaining clear control of the situation. And if you’re out of your depth dealing with the emotions from this group, engage the services of experts to help – EAP counselling for example but do always keep checking in, your S’s need you now more than ever.

And what about YOU, as the leader? Whatever DiSC style you are, as a leader you will feel the impact of this pandemic just as much as your teams. Take the opportunity to connect with your leadership peers and trusted mentors. You, as the leader, must have a robust support system in place to help navigate you through the time of crisis. I know the importance of this first hand, having led a team through the Christchurch Earthquakes in 2011 and 2012. Share your concerns, ask for feedback on significant decisions or vent any overwhelming frustrations you are experiencing. This will reset and build the resilience you are going to need to get through this without burning out.

Using the DiSC Model to optimise your newly created remote workplace.

On a typical day managing a workforce in-person can be challenging. Leaders who understand DiSC behavioural styles can predict the team dynamic, the strengths of individuals and how they operate under pressure. They can separate personalities that clash and pair those that inspire.

In our current crisis scenario, understanding styles and the motivators and stressors of your team members will absolutely help you optimise your new remote workforce. Leaders can strategically assign tasks or responsibilities in line with the DiSC style that is most suited to that function. For example, an influence style employee may excel in driving collaboration by initiating conversation between team members or opening and maintaining dialogue with your key clients, while Steadiness style employees excel in the ability to resolve conflicts by acting as peacemakers, ensuring satisfactory results in your key deliverables. ‘Conscientious’ styles might assess the remote infrastructure or crisis policy/procedures and develop training programmes to mitigate risks while the ‘Dominance’ style employees will keep a watch on what competitors are doing and measure team or business success.

In a nutshell, recognise your employee’s core style and allow them to lean in to these, to play to their strengths – they will respond to this as it is where they operate organically and the organisation will reap the benefits; it’s a win-win.

And finally – every DiSC style will thank you for Communication Communication Communication!

Ask any team what their organisation needs to improve on and I’ll bet one response is ‘communication’. While some organisations were moving slowly towards flexible and remote working options, few locally were ready to instantly flick the switch to full remote working. With teams now spread across the city, working from their individual or family ‘bubbles’, they are even more vulnerable to the disengaging effects of poor communication. Isolation can be particularly detrimental for some during times of crisis, especially our people-focused colleagues. This lockdown has resulted in less social interaction and the brakes have been put on activities that would otherwise offer the opportunity for community and connection (drive-way drinks aside!).

Now is the time for leaders to empower teams to develop creative ways to stay connected, check in on teammates, and notify leadership of any critical personnel needs or circumstances. Naturally we all hope everyone plays their part to unite against covid-19 and ensure this lockdown is short-lived, but research suggests that regardless, the residual effects may last much longer. Equipping yourself as a leader, and your employees, to understand each other and survive during times of crisis by effectively communicating, connecting and collaborating with purpose, and keeping the wellbeing of everyone in mind, will strengthen your organisation and ensure you thrive long into the future.

If you have any questions about DiSC, or specific people/team challenges you are facing, please reach out.

Stay Home and Stay Safe.

Pip x