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Knowing me. Knowing you. An introduction to DiSC®.

AbbaA poignant line from that classic ABBA hit song of the same name.

Before I left Australia in 2007 (to find, buy into and grow a small UK I.T. company, fast) I asked for some feedback from my fellow business partners and the General Manager we had put in place a few years earlier, to groom the business for sale.

One weakness most raised (which I already knew but my ego was probably getting in the way of doing anything about it) was my people skills. My management style was one of work hard, play hard and make as few mistakes as possible – which obviously I expected of everyone else. I am quite driven, very goal and task focused but can happily talk with people (as long as it’s not small-talk, it must have a purpose!). This style worked fine in some situations and working with some people, but not in others (the same can be said for the other management styles my fellow business partners have – we’re all different).

Now, instead of sulking about this less than pleasant feedback, I decided to do something about it (as an effective businessperson should – continually look for ways to improve things, even if that is yourself). I asked a great friend of mine who was pretty high up in HR at a large Australian I.T. company – “which behavioural model should I study and use in my move to London – so I could be a more effective manager?”. She rolled off Myers-Briggs and DiSC®, and from memory she said the latter was probably the best one. I went away, did some reading but found it all quite dry and none of it grabbed me.

Around then a terrific customer in Sydney put me onto the best management resource I’ve ever come across, Manager Tools. Mark & Mike’s awesome podcast started in June 2005, I found them in early 2007 so as I was in the gym working my way through their back catalogue I noticed a series on DiSC®.

When I listened to the first cast, DiSC® started to make sense. And when I listened to the cast on the “High D” quadrant, I almost fell off the treadmill!

That was me, so vividly described. As I worked through the other 3 quadrants it dawned on me why some business partners and people I come across in business I get along with much better (other “High Ds”), while others absolutely grind against me (the “High Is”, because in my world they are “all talkie, no workie”).

This quote from their podcast on the dangers of managing a High I clearly defines my nemesis in DiSC®:

Deadlines get missed very often by High Is. If you’re a manager and you’ve got somebody who misses a lot of deadlines, and they tend to be outgoing and friendly, and maybe chitty-chatty when you’re not. You’re probably dealing, not guaranteed, you’re probably dealing with a High I. And, that’s OK. You don’t shoot yourself or shoot them. You simply adjust your managerial style which is what we recommend – managing for individuals anyway. - Mark Horstman, Manager Tools podcast: Managing a High I dangers – part 1.

Listening to Mark & Mike I came to appreciate my behaviourial style – the one you revert to under pressure and duress. And they taught me that it is not only possible to adapt your behaviour to other quadrants, but it is OK to do so. It is not mirroring or being false, it is being effective. This allowed me to change my behaviour so I could more effectively engage with other people in business, especially when managing people to get more from them.

Since learning about DiSC® I have been in awe sometimes at how powerful, useful and accurate it is. It is one of the most valuable business tools I have come across, since people are the hardest and most important thing in business.

Each quadrant is in 2 hemispheres: introverts, extroverts, people-oriented and task-orientated:

DiSC summary image

Here’s a quick summary of the model (with a strapline for each, thanks to Mark & Mike at Manager Tools):


D for Dominance - Task-orientated extroverts. “It’s mind over matter. I don’t mind, and you don’t matter.” Or, “Ready, Fire, Aim”

I for Influencial – People-orientated extroverts. “Anyway, enough about me. What do you think…about me?”, or “Ready, Fire”

S for Steadiness - People-orientated introverts, reserved – great team players, very supportive. The gender doesn’t matter but a good image is “a grandmother, the lady who likes to bake cookies – please, eat, How are you?”

C for Conscientious – Task-orientated introverts. “ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim…aim,aim,aim, aim, fire!”

There are better descriptions and explanations at the Manager Tools website, especially in the sample report you can see where you do the DiSC® online (step 1 below.)

What a small business owner/manager should do to manage people more effectively:

  1. Do the DiSC® test on yourself at the Manager Tools site.
  2. I strongly recommend you listen to the early casts on DiSC® at Manager Tools. Start with:
    1. Improve Your Feedback With DiSC‘ (16 February 2006); and
    2. The next 4 casts, which cover each of the quadrants in more detail – High D, High I, High S and High C;
  3. Then think about which quadrant your direct reports, peers and boss lie in – so you can start to understand them better, and begin to adapt your behaviour to extract greater effectiveness.
  4. Finally, add this online test to your recruitment procedure so you know which quadrant people are “high” in when you are managing them.

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