These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

October 2017

Do You Measure Up?

Do you measure up?Breaking News
Recently, on-line publications Forbes and Business Insider have featured articles about a new book by author Gretchen Rubin.  The Four Tendencies, by these accounts, distinguishes how people respond to expectations.

  • “Upholders” respond readily to outer and inner expectations.  They keep the work deadline, and the New Year’s resolution, fairly easily.
  • “Questioners” question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense and meets their own inner standards — so they follow only inner expectations.
  • “Obligers” meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.  An Obliger journalist has no trouble writing when he has an editor, colleagues, and deadlines, but struggles to write a novel in his free time.
  • “Rebels” resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.  They want to do what they want, in their own way, and if you ask or tell them to do something, they're likely to resist.
Presumably, in a business setting, if you were to know which category each staff member fell into, you might have a better chance of setting goals and building incentives for higher productivity and team collaboration.

With her book, Ms. Rubin has stepped to the end of a very long line of researchers and business consultants advising us how to improve the workplace, armed with personality profiles – or at least sell more books on the subject to determined office managers.

The Big Kahuna
Consider DiSC.  (Not a typo.  Why the i is in lower case is beyond me.)  Arguably created by industrial psychologist Walter Clarke in 1956, DiSC Assessments used theories espoused by another psychologist, William Marston.  (A fascinating bit of trivia is that Marston also created the character Wonder Woman.  Go figure.)

In any event, DiSC Assessments have their own style categories:
  • “Dominance” for people who place emphasis on accomplishing results, the bottom line, and confidence.
  • “Influence” for people who place emphasis on influencing or persuading others, openness, and relationships.
  • “Steadiness” for people who place emphasis on cooperation, sincerity, and dependability.
  • “Conscientiousness” for people who place emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
The Bigger Kahuna
For the most particular testers, the four categories of DiSC don’t offer enough nuance.  So, what do they do?  They break DiSC down with even more detail of “Approaches”:
  • “Pioneering”:  A pioneering leader encourages the group to think creatively about their options and take chances on new opportunities.
  • “Energizing”:  An energizing leader builds enthusiasm for the group’s goals and develops a wide network of professional connections.
  • “Affirming”:  An affirming leader is approachable and helps people feel good about their environment and their contributions.
  • “Inclusive”:  An inclusive leader gets a variety of people involved in the decision-making process and shows concern for their opinions and feelings.
  • “Humble”:  A humble leader maintains a modest, composed demeanor and can be relied upon to make decisions fairly.
  • “Deliberate”:  A deliberate leader provides a sense of stability for the group by communicating clearly and ensuring that decisions are made carefully.
  • “Resolute”:  A resolute leader creates high standards for the group and insists on using methods that maximize efficiency.
  • “Commanding”:  A commanding leader takes charge of situations with confidence and urges others to get results.
Testers All Around

DiSC Assessments are often done with protocols variously described as “360 Degree Feedbacks” or “360 Degree Reviews”.  There's even a popular trademarked variation named “Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders”.  The “360” reference comes from the fact that feedback is solicited from an employee's subordinates, peers, and supervisors, as well as a self-evaluation by the employee him or herself – i.e., from all directions.

Many years ago – so long ago I can’t remember the name of the protocol – I worked with a respected academic and business management consultant.  He offered testing designed to assist managers and supervisors understand how best to motivate staff for high achievement.  The theory was: armed with an awareness of what stirred an individual, a manager might outline instructions or requests with “triggers” that fed the person’s particular bias.  My memory of the motivators:

  • Praise and respect from superiors
  • Praise and respect from peers and coworkers
  • Praise from within, i.e., self respect
  • Fear of threats for failure to perform or achieve
I’ve cited a few of the systems encountered over time.  There are countless more – some of them presumably valid and useful.  Many, I suspect, are pop psychology masquerading as reasoned research.  Curiously, most of the approaches have four personality categories.  (I suspect there’s some subconscious tendency being played out here.  But, I’m not smart enough to know what it is.)  Bottom line: I remain mildly skeptical.

Nevertheless, all of this is interesting; and, when used judiciously, can produce very positive consequences.  But, when uncontrolled, the processes can lead to aimless head-spinning.

And, of course, there appears to be little correlation from one system to another.  For example, I have no idea if an “Obliger” is at all “Conscientious” or “Resolute”, or has any “Fear of Threat”.  I suspect, too, that there may be socio-cultural trends that will eventually render some of the profiling passé.

What to do?
OK – time for some guidance.  That is, after all, what I claim to offer.
  • Pick an approach – Just one.  (Check it out first, of course.)
  • Scale the application for the size of your organization.  Small groups are probably OK with reasonable self-evaluations.  While large organizations may appreciate the value of full 360 Degree Reviews.
  • Share the results between staff member and supervisor.  Otherwise, consider the privacy rights of the staff member.
  • Retain the information in a confidential HR file.
  • Consider the information when doing periodic evaluations.
When in doubt, value the Golden Rule, knowing that it’s a maxim of altruism seen in many religions and cultures.  I have seen little reason to criticize groups when “Please” and “Thank you” are part of the regular discourse.

How do you measure up?PS
At the risk of divulging too much, I have just taken a 20-minute DiSC self-evaluation at website  Yes, I admit this is the business equivalent of a Cosmo Quiz; and I hardly obsessed over my answers.  But, here is their summary of my impact: “You act in an assertive, diplomatic way and strive for a stable, ordered life.  You are goal orientated but tend to avoid risk taking.  You handle pressure well - you push yourself and expect others to do the same.”

I’ll let you guess if this makes me D, i, S, or C.

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

August 2017  “I'm an Architect and I'm Here to Help”
January 2017  “The Future of Higher Education”
November 2016  “The Owner as CM?”
August 2016  “Don't you just hate...”
June 2016  “Duck Testing”
April 2016  “Once Upon a Time...”
January 2016  “I want to take you higher”
November 2015  “Moderating in all Things?”
July 2015  “Alphabet City”
May 2015  “Acey Trey Trey Trey?”
January 2015  “Nature or Nurture?”
August 2014  “Acey Trey Trey?”
June 2014  “The Seven Deadly Sins”
March 2014  “Thar She Blows!”
November 2013  “Giving Thanks”
September 2013  “Back to School?”
June 2013  “What Time is It?”
March 2013  “Acey Deucey?”
January 2013  “A Swamp Full of Alligators”
October 2012  “Plan to Live Forever, Part Deux”
July 2012  “A Midsummer Dream”
May 2012  “Are you Virtually Working?”
March 2012  “Your Huddled Masses”
January 2012  “Observing Observations”
October 2011  “I Want What I Want”
August 2011  “A Beach Read”
May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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