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Stop Trying To Fix People

Why we don't always make sense to each other

Have you ever been held in high regard one day and low regard the next day, even though you were the same person in both situations?  This happens to all of us.  One person may see your ability for getting quick results as a positive strength while another person sees you as shooting from the hip.  One person may see your ability for building great processes as a positive strength, and someone else may see you as constantly aiming but rarely firing. 

When two people approach work in the same way, they make sense to each other.   When they don’t, they may not understand each other, and they may see one another in a negative way.  Shooting from the hip and taking time to aim are both important, but each is appropriate at different times.  Both approaches are valuable and essential for long-term success, but we tend to be invalidated when we approach things differently from other people.  This leads to the real problem: other people are trying to fix us, and though it is hard to admit, we are trying to fix others, too. 

To understand personality differences that lead to conflict, we use a team map.  Four elements make up the team map, and each person’s mixture of these elements predicts behavior, work style, and potential conflict.  Let’s look at two of these elements, methodical process and quick results

Methodical Process----------------------------------------Quick Results

Quick Results
These people are energized by a focus on the results.  Once the goal is clearly visualized, all actions flow toward it.  If detours or surprises occur, they quickly handle them and keep moving in the right direction.  They would say, “Get it in the client’s hands today, and we can make improvements as needed.”

Methodical Process
These people want to do things the right way so they will get the right results.  They plan their work, they work their plan, and they are very bothered when things do not go accordingly.  They would say, “In the long run, the extra time spent up-front is worth it.”

The first group will say, “Just do it” and the second will say, “Do it the right way.”  Can you imagine the frustration they cause to each other?  But they are both right; we need both speed and accuracy.

The other two elements in the team map are task orientation and people orientation. 

Task --------------------------------------------------------- People

Task Orientation
Task-oriented people want to get the work done first, and they will deal with people issues later.   You might say that these individuals go to work to get work done, and how anyone feels about it is not considered until the work is done.  These are not cold-hearted people; they just appear that way sometimes because of their priorities.

People Orientation
These individuals say that people come first because if people are feeling good about things, they will do a high quality job and a little bit extra.  But you must deal with the person before the task.

These are the two extremes, and most of us fall somewhere in between, but we tend to be on one side or the other.  For example, the task person on a project will say, “Let’s get these three things done, and the client should like it.”  The people person will say, “I just had a great meeting with the client, and he suggested three things that will make him happy.”  Notice the slight difference.  They both want to do three things and make the client happy; the difference is the order.  Both approaches are valid, but each will frustrate the other.

Let’s put the four elements together and see how people might behave in each of four quadrants.

1. Task and Quick Results
These are demanding people who get impatient with details.  They want action.  They like to get things going and deal with problems as they occur.  Change is not a threat; it is an opportunity.   Their fear is lack of results.  They will help us as a team by getting us going and building confidence.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not the cooking.

2. People and Quick Results
These people value relationship more than anything else.  Team dynamics and interaction open their creativity and joy for the job.  They identify more with the team than with the results, but results are critical because they want to be identified with the winning team and be in the spotlight.  Their fear is public embarrassment.  Their value to the team is that they like to make work fun.

The pudding must be decorated for a special occasion and be the center attention on the table.

3. People and Methodical Process
This is a loyal group that seeks to create a feeling of family within the work team; the family orientation provides a support system.  They have a natural resistance to change, but if they are part of the process for creating change, they buy into it and embrace it.  After putting so much of themselves into the plan, they stick to it.  Instability is their number one fear, so giving them a predictable work environment brings out the best in them.  They are the glue that holds the team together and will do almost anything for team harmony, knowing that this is the best way to get work done.

Follow the recipe, distribute equal portions, and everyone is happy with a tried-and-true product.

4. Task and Methodical Process
Getting it right is the most important thing; decisions are made after enough information is accumulated that they will be right.   These people appear reserved because they are thinking and don’t need regular assurances from the group.  When they are invited to speak, they contribute thoughtful questions and well thought-out solutions.  Their fear is inaccuracy and criticism of their work.  Their value to the team is that they figure out the process and they ask important questions like, “Why?”

Make the pudding with the highest-quality ingredients, a recipe tested in labs, and FDA approved.

There is good material that helps us understand these four quadrants.  We like the DISC model because it is quick and meaningful when you use it to profile a team and build a team map.  The American Management Association (AMA) DISC Survey labels our four quadrants in the following way: Directing, Influencing, Supportive, and Contemplative.

1.      Directing (D)

2.      Influencing (I)

3.      Supportive (S)

4.      Contemplative (C)

All of these people want to get the job done, but they take different approaches.  The problem is that we try to fix people:  we waste too much time trying to get others to use our approach.  For example the type D (task-oriented, quick results) will say, “Just do it!”  They overcome problems of the past and get people into the present.  Details will be handled when we get to them, rather than talking about them in advance.  You might say they handle details in real-time.  The key word is what, “What needs to get done?”

The type I (people-oriented, quick results) will say, “Let’s have fun getting the job done.”  Fun does not necessarily mean goofing off; fun can mean finding creative ways to delight the customer.  The type I person wants to inspire the whole team to look good, which pays off when they need important things like funding and upper management support.  The key word for them is who, “Who is working on this?”

The type S (people-oriented, methodical process) will say, “This is the way we do it here.”  They have great confidence in the approach because they have a process that is clear, dependable, and predictable.  Keeping conflict at a minimum is extremely important to the type S people because they truly believe that conflict muddies the water and distracts from the path to success.   They keep us on track.  The key word for them is how, “How are we going to do it?”

The type C (task-oriented, methodical process) will say, “Do it right the first time.”  They like data, not opinion, so their first efforts will be towards research.  They pay particular attention to what happened in the past so that they can avoid repeating mistakes.   Type C people protect us from disaster because they verify and test; nothing gets missed.  While the other types (D, I, and S) are asking what, who, and how, the type C is thinking, "Why?" 

Low-Performance Teams
There are two ways to build a low-performance team:

  1. Emphasize your own style and invalidate all other styles.

  2. Try to build the perfect person rather than the perfect team.

Each DISC style has its shortcoming.  For example, let’s look at the sales process.  You might think type I people would be perfect for sales because they like people.  Their problem is that they are so focused on people that they lose sight of the task, and they often neglect the necessary follow-through.  You might think that type D people would be good at sales because they are results-focused.  Unfortunately, they look for quick results, which may not be there.   They might neglect to build rapport with the people who are buying.  Type S people are great at follow-through and they do well with people, but they don’t really like initiating and taking chances.  The type C is looking to crack the code and build the perfect sales process, but they might never leave the office and meet with customers; they want to do such a great job that customers will call them.

When we recognize the shortcoming of each individual and try to fix the person, we make things worse.   For example, we might try to fix the type D people by telling them to calm down and be patient.  We tell them that in the long run if they follow the step-by-step process, they will do a better job; in addition, they need to pay more attention to people’s feelings.  Type D people will become frustrated with this approach because they see short cuts that are missed and everything takes longer than it needs to.  The result is that they lose interest in the project, and the great passion they had for achieving results is gone.

To fix the type I people, we tell them how to get organized.  They try, but quickly become discouraged.  Initially, they may have great success, but they see no result or reward for being organized, and in the meantime all the fun is gone and creativity is reduced.  Their goal had been to delight the customer, and now they are working to satisfy the bean counters.

The type S people don’t need fixing.  They follow the processes, do what is expected, and look out for one another.  The problem is that changing times and shifting goals constantly frustrate them.  We tell them to get with the program, but we don’t tell them how; then we write a bad review because they won’t get going.

We might say that the type C people have to become more outgoing, so we assign them to new activities such as organizing a company picnic, giving presentations, or cold-calling on prospects.  The result is frustration because the real work is not getting done; they want the time to focus on task and do a good job.

High Performance Teams
We must make a choice to be a high performance, a choice to step away from changing people to accepting them.  Find out what each person does well, and then support one another with complementary skills.  For example, in the beginning of a project, we need high D behavior to overcome resistance, get people energized, and focus on the end result.   Once the project is moving, we need some S behavior to get it organized and to institute good processes.  When the team needs motivation or outside support, the type I behavior is desperately needed.  Throughout the project, C behavior forms the foundation to make sure that everything we do is done accurately and does not have to be redone.

We have conducted our workshop, High Performance Teams, at large companies around the country.  Regardless of the group, we see the same thing happen when we map a group’s DISC styles.  We ask the team to find the person with the lowest score in each quadrant and plot it on the team map.  Most often, we see a low score in each quadrant.  If we focus on these weaknesses and spend energy on fixing them, we will create a low-performance team, a bunch of losers.  If they work hard, they might be able to bring themselves up to average, but it will still be hard to sustain that position. 

Next, we ask the team to find the person with the highest score in each quadrant, and we plot that on the team map.  There is almost always someone high in each behavior type.  It becomes obvious that if each person were to do what he or she does well, everyone would be doing well in some area. 

Low performance team:
Focus on each person’s weakness
and try to fix it

High Performance Team:
Focus on each person’s strength
and use it effectively

Looking at the team map, we see complementary skills.  Our task-oriented people (D, C) make sure we stay focused and do it right; our people-oriented teammates (I, S) help people stay motivated and make sure everyone feels he or she is an important part of the process.  Our results-oriented people (D, I) keep things moving quickly, always toward the end goal; our process-oriented people (S, C) make sure things are done right and in the right order.

We have just stated the obvious, but we miss it all the time.  It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do because it’s not natural to willingly accept divergent styles.  We are most comfortable with our own style, and the other styles often don’t even make sense to us.

If you want high performance from your team, make the choice to step away from fixing people.  Everyone is good at something.  Find that something and figure out how to put it all together.

"The class helped me to understand aspects of my own personality and how such traits interrelate with the personality of others around me.  This then helped me to build off the strengths of these personalities and avoid the conflicts, which developed when I did things that were opposed to the nature of those around me.  I learned to build better teams by matching the tasks at hand with the team members' individual personality traits; each had specific tasks of the project for which they were best suited.  These concepts were new to me, and yet I have to wonder how I could have been blind for so long to such simple ways of gaining synergy."

Paul Farnsworth
Director, Applications Development
Guaranty National Insurance

 Copyright © 2003 Bill Kuehn and Steve Wille