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Chris Warren

Hypothesis for a Doorway to Smoother Change part 1

  • 20 December 2011
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Chris Warren is managing partner at Personal and Organisational Development Services (PODS). In this first blog out of three, he explains how differently people can respond to change… depending on their type according to the DISC methodology. We also take a brief look at what the Competing Values Framework and organizational culture change have to do with this.

I’ve always been amused by the saying that, ‘everyone who passes through our doorway brings joy to our house – some by arriving and some by leaving!’

However, as well as amusing me, the saying illustrates the more serious point that understanding why others behave in a particular manner can be quite testing and, more importantly, how those differences can induce harmony and/or disharmony between individuals, groups, and even societies, communities, cultures and nations.

The bottom line is that human behavioural characteristics, although including some genetic modelling, are primarily developed through learned responses and are reliant on acquired beliefs, preferences, opinions, customs, practices, attitudes and perceptions. Essential, one might argue, it is acquired behavioural characteristics that are responsible for both marriage and war.

It is worth examining the underlying principles associated with behaviour and, in particular, how these might impact inter-personal relationships in the context of change – a topic close to the heart of us all, but even more so, in present times, to those responsible for organisational development, at all levels.

Type or Trait Profiles?

I have encountered many and varied tools claiming to provide a sound basis for analysis of behavioural characteristics and classification of individuals into various groupings. It seems to me, there are two categories into which these tools fall – those that work, and those that don’t! Discarding those that don’t work, I have found that the remainder can again be divided into two camps – the ‘type’ profiles and the ‘trait’ profiles.

The type profiles are those that categorise behavioural characteristics at a broad level and then attempt to translate these into likely behaviours at a specific level. Myers Briggs Type Indicator is an excellent example of such a tool.

The trait profiles require respondents to select a specific situation in which to assess behaviour and then consider how much of this behaviour might be associated with core characteristics and how much might be variable dependent on the specific circumstance. The DISC profile is an example. Both types of profile are valuable and proven over many years of professional application and many, including Myers Briggs and DISC, are well validated across USA/Europe and other parts of the world.

A further subdivision becomes important for organisational development purposes: that is whether or not the average person can readily understand the output from the profile and translate and apply it in a practical way to impact positively on their relationships with others and life in general. What do I mean by ‘impact positively on’? I mean, where necessary, for individuals to modify or adjust their approach and response to others to ‘get on the same wavelength’ or ‘tune into’ others – I do not mean to radically change their core behavioural style or pattern.

I recently proposed, at the Berlin Change Days Conference, that the DISC behavioural profile might form the basis for one half of a hypothesis concerning the process of supporting people through change. My suggestion is that the differing core (or prime) behavioural styles might be linked to the principle stages of the change cycle. In doing this we might produce a foundation for a model indicating where people of different behavioural styles/patterns would find it easier or more difficult to cope with certain phases of a transition.

What’s your prime behavioural style?

The DISC profile invites respondents to select descriptors (words and short phrases) to indicate what they believe to be most and least like themselves. Through this process the respondent creates a self-assessment based on two scales. The first scale is a measure of how much information they require before they are prepared to make a decision, giving a score for their risk/caution orientation. The second is a measure of how they prioritise task/people orientation - the pragmatic process of ‘getting the job done’ set against sensitivity towards ‘how people feel about things’.

Combining these two scales creates a quadrant grid outlining the four prime behavioural styles of the DISC profile.

Task and Risk orientation – tagged the Dominant style,

People and Risk orientation – tagged the Influencing style,

Caution and People orientation – tagged the Steady style,

Caution and Task orientation – tagged the Conscientious style.

The well-tested and validated, self-perception of core behaviours forming the foundation of these prime behavioural styles is summarised here:


Dominant style behaviours

  • Efficient
  • Single-minded
  • Takes charge
  • Determined

Influencing style behaviours

  • Enthusiastic
  • Creative
  • Spontaneous
  • Energetic
  • Patient
  • Detailed
  • Precise
  • Thorough

Conscientious style behaviours

  • Friendly
  • Helpful
  • Co-operative
  • Trusting

Steady style behaviours


You will have noticed that in the paragraph above the model I have emphasised the words ‘self-perception’. The reason being that the very same behaviours, which are tagged in a positive manner by the respondent completing the self-assessment (people do not generally go around perceiving their behaviour as negative), will often be perceived in a less positive, even negative, light by other individuals with a predisposition to view the world from a different perspective.

How do others perceive your style?

The same grid viewed by an individual who sees joy being brought to their house by a particular visitor leaving, may do so because they have divergent perspectives on one or both of the scales making up the grid. They may perceive the same behaviours as:


Dominant style behaviours

  • Dictatorial
  • Obstinate
  • Critical
  • Insensitive

Influencing style behaviours

  • Phoney
  • Head-in-the-clouds
  • Undisciplined
  • Tiring
  • Slow
  • Finicky
  • Pedantic
  • Boring

Conscientious style behaviours

  • Interfering
  • Time-wasting
  • Prying
  • Gullible

Steady style behaviours


Needless to say, the above are only examples of the characteristics relating to the prime behavioural quadrants. There are physical and psychological issues concerned with needs, values, trust factors, attitudes, preferences, behaviours and much more that can bring harmony or diversity to a relationship.

Already we can begin to see that an individual’s relationship with certain aspects of life, particularly where other people are involved, will be coloured by their behavioural preferences. What one person might view as a challenge, others might see as a threat; for some a situation will present exciting prospects, for others the same situation may provide only irritation and aggravation; behaviour that one individual will see as being friendly will cause others to cross the street to avoid an encounter. To stimulate or provoke, to inform or to gossip, to deny or to agree, to resist or to accept, to experiment with or avoid, to commit to or reject – all are possible differing responses to the same trigger. That trigger can be real or perceived, behavioural or situational – at which point, the issue of ‘Change’ enters the arena.

Competing Values Framework

But before we look at change, let’s make a quick connection with the Competing Values Framework that’s the basis of the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument. It’s a grid as well and there are interesting similarities, one might argue.

The risk-caution scale resembles the flexibility-stability polarity in the CVF. The people-task orientation could correspond a little to the internal-external focus in the CVF. Though this axis is normally drawn from left to right, if we turn it around, we recognize the 4 quadrants that describe different culture types based on competing values:


Dominant / Market culture

  • Results-oriented
  • Competitive
  • Ambitious
  • Getting it done

Influencing / Adhocracy

  • Extravert
  • Experimenting
  • Innovative
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Clear processes
  • Efficiency
  • Details matter
  • Reliability

Conscientious / Hierarchy culture

  • Interfering
  • Time-wasting
  • Prying
  • Gullible

Steady / Clan culture


Although the structure of each model does not allow one to be directly superimposed on the other, it does seem likely (see above) that some DISC behaviours fit better into a certain culture type than others. Culture is a dynamic group process, it involves all individuals and their primary behavioural styles, so, the DISC model integrated with the CVF can start to ask the important question, - what do your colleagues bring to the table of change?

Look out for part 2 of this blog – where we step through the doorway to enter the challenge of change

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