Curious about how a personality assessment like DiSC gets developed? We spoke with two of the developers for the Everything DiSC Work of Leaders and asked them to explain their process. Mark Scullard, director of research (an S style) and Emma Wilhelm, former senior writer and product developer (a DC style), gave us some insights into their work at Inscape Publishing (now a part of John Wiley and Sons.)
How did you decide to develop a new product like Work of Leaders?
Mark: Our president and I write a column for Training Magazine and one of the topics we tackled was: If you had any topic you could go to training on, that you’d like to see developed, what area would that be? We’ve done this several times and leadership is always the top area. It doesn’t matter if you’re an executive or if you’re a front-line manager, leadership was the one that came up again and again as the most coveted skill that people want to have.
DiSC has for a long time been used to facilitate leadership discussions and leadership development. But in the past it has been a more generalized product. [Work of Leaders was] part of a four-year project where we were developing a 360 tool, we were developing a book on leadership [The 8 Dimensions of Leadership], and then this product is really designed for development of leaders outside that 360 context.
Where did you start? How did you begin?
Emma: Well the first thing we did was delve into all the research that already exists and to read other people’s leadership books. And I think one of the best things we did in this program is not try to re-invent the wheel. There’s already a lot of great leadership literature out there. We tried to find commonalities between them, notice trends and also how those trends linked up with DiSC.
Mark: We looked at it from two different perspectives. One is looking at the leadership literature. For the average person, getting your head around all that is an incredibly daunting task. So we really tried to find common links among these thinkers and the idea of vision, alignment and execution were the ones that really came out of the ringer.
Were you interviewing leaders, asking about their leadership styles and frustrations, and their successes?
Mark: As part of the book, we absolutely did do a series of interviews with a lot of people, particularly at the upper executive suite of leadership. But then with the qualitative research we got to talk with people at all different levels of leadership—we asked them questions about what’s important to them as leaders, what frustrates them, what problems they’ve had in the past, what do they see as good leadership and so on.
Did you give all these people one of the DiSC profiles as well?
Mark: Actually they were assessed, but as part of our research process we have the opportunity to ask them, after they’ve taken the assessment, if they’d like to help us with some research questions. It wasn’t necessarily DiSC-based.
Emma: Part of how we do our quantitative research here—it’s the beauty of our EPIC profile platform—any person who takes an online profile goes through the EPIC system. And Mark, as the director of research, has the ability to add on research questions that they can opt into to help us collect information.
So it may be that our readers will have actually contributed to the production of this new product.
Why was Everything Disc 363 for Leaders completed before the Work of Leaders?
Mark: DiSC 363 was strategic in that we didn’t have a 360 product at that point. It was really in the development of that leadership tool that we realized we also needed a companion classroom training to help leaders develop.
Emma: I think the Work of Leaders needed to percolate a bit longer, too. Everything we do in product development here is very iterative. We come back to it over and over again and add new layers as we have new understanding and we get more feedback from outside the company. And this one is so much better having gone through several years of that, I think.
So you got a handle on this leadership thing and then did you just try and shape it to the DiSC profile mold?
Mark: Our process is that we develop some initial ideas and we talk to consultants and trainers and customers to get their gauge on how they think. We make tweaks based on that—a number of rounds. Then we start to develop a prototype of not only a profile, but maybe some facilitation, then some ways of facilitating that. We run that by people; we get more feedback on that. Then the more painful part begins. We get a working prototype—an assessment that you can actually take and it generate results.
We make a full prototype and then we beta test that with dozens and dozens of organizations and we get feedback. I think this time there has been six rounds of that. Each time there are hundreds of participants and we’re getting feedback from them not only through the trainers, but they also go through our web survey tools to give us feedback about what worked for them. So the products that we end up with usually look nothing like the beta.
Emma: We throw lots of things away. And that’s good because we do not settle until it’s really going to be useful to the end user. We’re not afraid to throw things away if they’re not working.
Mark: The amount of work that any of us puts in that gets thrown away would be demoralizing to most. But we understand it now as part of our process.
How do you validate this work?
Mark: There’s lot of techniques for validating. You can look at it in two ways. One is validating the experience that people had. Did they have an immediate positive reaction? Did they feel it’s useful? Is it actually useful? So as part of the beta testing, we’re getting feedback.
Then there’s also the more scientific end of that which is looking at both the reliability and validity of the tools. I tend to bore people with that information but we have a research report specifically for this profile. We look at the scales and say do they measure what they are actually supposed to measure? Are they measuring consistently? Are they measuring in a stable way? This is probably the most in-depth measurement tool we have to date.
How was working on Work of Leaders different from working on other DiSC profiles?
Emma: There is something unique with Work of Leaders that we really haven’t done before which is that it’s built on best practices. So usually when we’re teaching DiSC we’re just teaching the four main styles and how everybody is different, but in the case of the Work of Leaders we’re actually laying out a continuum, we’re actually laying out that it’s better, in this case, to be on one side than the other. So you naturally fall somewhere on this continuum of cautious to adventurous. So when you’re creating a vision as a leader, it does matter. You do need to be somewhat adventurous. You naturally may be a more cautious person, but we’re saying that when it comes to leadership and crafting a vision, you need to work to come a little more towards the adventurous side. So that’s a little bit of a departure from the rest of our DiSC products.It’s kind of exciting because it gives you more specifics about what you need to do, what behaviors you need to have to be a better leader.
Mark: As Emma mentioned, that’s how we come up with those strategies [at the end of the profile report.] Where is your effort best focused? Because I think a lot of these profiles [created by others] just give you descriptions of how you lead and that’s nice and it’s engaging, but at the end of the day you want some guidance.
I think one of our competitive advantages is all that beta testing and it is a pain in the butt. It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It really does shape not only the profile, but the facilitation. The stuff that you could come up with if you just designed it in a cave is much different than what you come up with as you get ongoing feedback from actual people who have to live it.
by Kristeen Bullwinkle and the DiSCProfile.com team