Several years ago, I was sitting in a conference room at a management off-site meeting surrounded by my colleagues and senior leadership. We were waiting for the results of our individual and team’s DiSC management assessment to be delivered by the facilitator.
For me, this assessment was timely, as our vice president of human resources (HR) had recently laid out a growth goal for me by stating, “Michelle, we know you are a great lawyer who gets great results, but we need to see if you can build and run a team of great lawyers who achieve great results.”
When he said this to me, my immediate thought had been, “If I am good, then I should hire people who act just like me, right?” As such, I was excited to get my DiSC profile results and see the qualities I needed to search for in the candidates I would be hiring.
The facilitator opened the discussion by stating as a management team, we had more than 60% of our team identify as a D. The D category — or Dominance — is characterized by quick decisions, direct answers and a competitive atmosphere. The I category — or Influence — is characterized by an energetic, collaborative and optimistic atmosphere. The S category — or Steadiness — is characterized by stability, collaboration and supportiveness. Finally, C category — or Conscientiousness — is characterized by a focus on quality, accuracy and order.
He informed us that on average, most management teams were approximately 25% Ds. In fact, we had only one S, and no one identified as a C. As these facts began to sink in, several people raised their hands to question whether this finding was good or bad?
The facilitator began his analysis by advising that having so many D personalities in our group was neither a good nor bad thing. It was simply about understanding our decision-making process and how we work. With a strong D culture, we needed to understand the advantages and drawbacks of this type of team dynamic and be mindful of both.
This made sense to me. We were a fast-paced team that valued results, but didn’t like to sweat some of the small details, and could drown out colleagues who questioned or disagreed with decisions. Not that there were many disagreements, because we were all Ds.
Indeed, the facilitator said we likely violently agreed with each other. But then he made an observation that would impact my professional life for years to come. He said it was clear that our team was prone to “like hiring like.” What he meant by this turn of phrase was that we were hiring and promoting people with similar attributes to our own. As a group, we were rewarding directness, decisiveness and results. But what drawbacks to the group culture were we also enhancing? Drawbacks included burnout, power struggles and accepting too many risks.
With that observation, I dug into my assessment and confirmed what I already suspected. I was a D. My detailed report noted that “driven” was the best word to describe me. Check. Sitting still was agonizing for me. True. It stated I speak up in meetings and question policies and protocols if I feel they don’t make sense. Again, true. It further advised that I place a high emphasis on achieving results, and that I like to be in charge. Check and check. I shared my results with my colleagues seated near me — also Ds — and we bemused that these attributes are what made us successful and got us seats at this table, right? Note: For a great read on this premise, I recommend Marshall Goldsmith’s bestseller “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”
My assessment then identified the drawbacks of the D attributes. For example, it said I tend to get bored easily if there is too much discussion or if conversations last too long. True. When I am irritated, it is difficult for me to hide my annoyance. Guilty as charged. It stated I likely tend to disregard opinions that conflict with my ideas and my aggressive approach could be stressful for people in the group. Ouch. That stung a bit. Finally, it highlighted that I have little patience for people’s hesitancy or other obstacles that stand in the way of immediate progress. Yes, I was a strong D.
So what did this mean for my budding, new in-house legal team? Should I hire me or not hire me? As in-house lawyers, we are asked to assess risk on a daily basis and provide sound legal advice. Whether we are reviewing and negotiating contracts, implementing a new policy or evaluating our liability after an incident, we strive to get the best answer and result for the business.
Previously, when I interviewed lawyers, I always gravitated toward litigators, even if the position didn’t require a litigator. Since I was a litigator, I valued the litigator’s qualities of being able to think quickly on their feet, the hardworking and relentless approach to their work, their innate ability to persuade and negotiate and even their sometimes over-the-top confidence and argumentative nature. It was true, like hires like.
After taking the DiSC assessment, I set out to build a team that was balanced. Mindful of my bias toward D personality traits and litigators, I began to question what qualities we were missing from or needed by our team. Did we have blind spots or gaps? Is there someone who champions questioning the status quo? Is there someone who likes to take their time and think before answering questions?
After seeing the benefits of having different personality types, we quickly learned that there is tremendous value in adding people to the team who come with different experiences. This is the interplay with diversity and inclusion (D&I). I think when people hear about D&I, they immediately think of race and gender. And yes, that’s a part of it. But there is so much more. We have seen on our team that diversity and inclusion includes differences in from socioeconomic groups, past experiences, education, hobbies, ethnicity, geography, age and seniority, to name a few.
The team continues to grow and evolve, and we are developing our culture and how we interact as a group. The team uses words like self-awareness and authenticity. COVID-19 changed the business environment and how teams interact with each other. And I have come a long way from that conference room many years ago.
My advice to a leader challenged with building a team is to first know your personality profile. Whether you take the DiSC or another profile assessment, knowing your motivations and stressors and then hiring people to complement or challenge those characteristics will quickly enable you to create an inclusive culture. Now, when I see myself in a candidate, I don’t immediately think they would not be a good fit. It simply means I must consider what it does to the team if I bring another D in to our balance.