Why Observable Behavior Alone is Not Enough: A Study on Predictive Behavior in Hiring

DISC is one of the most valid and reliable instruments of its kind, originating back to Dr. Marston’s work in 1928. It is estimated that over 30 million DISC assessments are used or sold yearly across the globe. However, it is not enough to only understand or apply DISC theory for critical hiring, training, conflict resolution, and other significant business needs. You must also understand the underlying factors contributing to all aspects of predictive behavior in an individual including their values, thinking style, and hidden motivational factors “below the surface” which might not be understood using observation alone.behavior
Your observable behavior (DISC style) is believed to come from a combination of three things:

  • Heredity: Your DNA make-up designates a particular temperament;
  • Nurture: How you were raised impacts your behavior; and
  • Environment: Cultural, regional, and group factors, as well as our situational environment (workplace vs. home or family) also have an impact on behavioral tendencies.

Most can agree, however, personality and communication are more learned or reactionary than bred through our genes.
A 2019 International Study on the PeopleKeys 4-Dimensions (4D) Report correlates the data from the behavioral instruments used including DISC, Workplace Values, Team Thinking Style, and Behavioral Attitudes Indicator (BAI) assessments. The study includes assessment data from 300,000 participants ranging in age 16-90, in over 33 different languages and countries and thousands of different career paths. Through the analysis of the data, ground-breaking, underlying principles have emerged showing that DISC alone is not enough. Many, including other top DISC publishers, believe DISC alone dictates your work attitude and what positions you may be good at and benchmark or categorize people accordingly.
Let’s look at an example:
Suppose you are a hiring manager, and you interviewed someone who is very verbal and assertive (DI/ID style), so you naturally place this person in a sales role. You also interviewed someone who answered questions very accurately with facts and who is soft-spoken and somewhat reserved (SC/CS style). You place this person in an administrative support role. Using DISC alone, this might seem like the best hiring placement for each.

Observable Behavior Is an Expression and Not the Underlying Cause of Behavior

Imagine how surprised you are when the salesperson makes no sales in 6 months and your soft-spoken, detail-oriented person prefers to brainstorm ways to improve the company profit margin instead of working on administrative duties. Not good on either front. This is because DISC is the “expression” of our behavioral traits and merely the observable way we interact with the world around us, having little to do with the real underlying behavior that makes us who we are. DISC has no more to do with our underlying behavior than our outward appearance has in determining our blood pressure or general health and well-being. A deeper, nonobservable assessment must be done.

Observable Behavior Alone Does Not Determine Predictive Success

In the example above, we only used observable and audible clues for candidate placement rather than taking into account the true behavioral tendencies below the surface. The revolutionary breakthrough with the international study is that underlying behavioral patterns and tendencies, such as values, thinking styles, attitudes, and passions are more reliable in predicting success than just our outward expression, or DISC, alone.

Look ‘Below the Surface’ for Predictive Success

Both of the candidates failed because their values, thinking styles, and personal passions didn’t align with their job role. The DI/ID person wanted to analyze data (analyzer thinking style) and do work in a nonprofit area (high social/humanitarian passion), with no real interest in sales, numbers, or performance goals. The high SC/CS style had a very high, theoretical thinking style and a high economic/knowledge passion in their approach to work. This person was actually a top salesperson with a previous employer and had learned how to adapt to a precise method of communicating based on sales training.
A DISC assessment alone did not predictively reveal which of the two was actually the top salesperson. It was a combination of training, experience, and assessing the unobservable traits beyond their DISC style. Is DISC still relevant and important? Of course! It takes all blends and styles working together to have a successful team, just as it takes a host of musical instruments to form a band or symphony. The instruments do not compose or direct the piece, they only express the audible, observable portion.
Now you can understand why revealing underlying, unobservable traits will have the greatest impact on predictive success and how you can analyze the most successful person for the job.

Dr. Bradley Smith is the Managing Director of PeopleKeys, Inc., a leading provider of behavioral solutions worldwide for over 35 years.

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