Using DiSC for Career Development in Organizations

by LouElla Jackson


Career Development Defined

Here is my definition of Career Development (CD): any action or actions we take to successfully manage our career. Examples of specific actions include: learning new skills, education, or taking on additional responsibility. Understanding our behavior and adapting appropriate behavior based on the situation is another important facet of career development.

Overview of DISC Theory

William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist first wrote about his theory of human behavior in the 1920's. He was interested in how normal people felt and reacted behaviorally to the world around them. Based on his extensive research he developed a model of behavior that identified four distinct dimensions of behavior. In his book, Emotions of Normal People (1928), he called the four dimensions Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance (DISC). Others have developed assessments based on Marston's theory, some using different names to identify the dimensions, some using Marston's original names along with updated language. An example of the updated language is Inscape Publishing's Personal Profile System (DiSC) which uses: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.

Dominance dimension emphasizes accomplishing results. Behavioral characteristics include:
- Direct, daring, decisive, demanding
- Wants challenge and authority
- Impatient
- Confident
- Risk taker
- Problem solver
- Initiates activity
- Focus on (task) results rather than people

Influence dimension emphasizes influencing and persuading others. Behavioral characteristics include:
 - Influential, inspiring, impulsive, interested in people
 - Articulate
 - Emotional 

 - Optimistic, 

 - Enthusiastic
 - Sense of humor
 - Problem solver
 - Gets results through people

Steadiness emphasizes cooperating with others to carry out the task. Behavioral characteristics include:
 -Steady, stable, systematic, sincere, sensible
 -Relationship oriented
 -Team player
 -Good listener
 -Consistent quality in work

Conscientiousness emphasizes quality and accuracy. Behavioral characteristics include:
 -Competent, cautious, consistent, conscientious
 -High standards (perfectionist)
 -Accurate, detail oriented
 -Clarifies, researches
 -Criticizes and tests


We can observe the above characteristics in people with a high intensity in one or more of the four dimensions. While the behaviors described are very different, each is valuable and needed in organizations. Nonetheless, as we think about the observed behaviors of say, Dominance and Conscientiousness, one can almost feel the tension in the air. Lack of understanding and the knowledge of how to adapt our own behaviors often lead to the tension and to the potential breakdown of communication and conflict.

Organizations often use DiSC in career or executive coaching, with teams, and during conflict resolution. With DiSC, we can also define behaviors expected in a particular role. Many organizations use DiSC as the cornerstone for communications training, in leadership training, customer service, and in developing teams. 
"My manager says I analyze everything to much. How can I do quality work without first analyzing the data to determine the 'right' way?" Or: "My manager says I jump into projects without carefully analyzing and planning." These examples represent phrases frequently heard in coaching discussions with individuals around career issues. DiSC can provide a wealth of information to a client relating to preferred environment, motivation, management style, interaction with others, and development possibilities. By identifying the behavioral tendencies of the client (and sometimes, making some judgments about the tendencies of the manager), we can begin developing strategies with the individual to:
 -adapt behaviors to meet management expectations
 -have a conversation with his or her manager
 -analyze the role and determine if it is a good fit
 -determine if the behaviors are the most natural for him or her or decide if how this person perceives the situation is driving the behaviors.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if teams in all types of organizations would organize in ways similar to sports teams? Think about sports teams for a moment. Each person on the team knows his or her respective role, how it should be carried out, and most importantly that every person on the team is crucial to the team achieving its goal -- winning! People on sports teams also know that how each player approaches a role may be different. Thus, the same is true with teams in all organizations.

Teams hijack themselves when strengths and behavioral tendencies are not identified and valued for the contribution that each makes to the team goals. Every team needs someone who is: 
-decisive and action focused
-concerned for people and is social 

-good with details and follow-through
-analytical and concerned with quality.

Nonetheless, it is the very nature of these strengths that contributes to the potential conflict and lack of progress in teams. No level of team within an organization is immune from this type of hijacking; it can happen with executive teams down through the organization. Identifying and understanding the behaviors that may accompany these strengths have helped many teams get back on track.

Assessments based on DISC theory provide a positive, understandable shorthand to self-awareness and to understanding and valuing differences in others. Recognizing our personal behavioral tendencies and learning to adapt the behaviors when appropriate is a crucial component of career development.

Look for a future article that will explain more of Marston's theory and model, as well as specific cases showing how to use DiSC to help people in organizations.


Marston, W.M. (1987) Emotions of Normal People. Condensed Version. Minneapolis: Performax Systems International, Inc. Copyright 1979 by Persona Press, Inc.

Personal Profile System. (1994) Minneapolis: Inscape Publishing Co.

Personal Profile System and DiSC are registered trademarks of Inscape Publishing Co. Minneapolis, MN

LouElla Jackson is the principal of LouElla Jackson, HRD and has provided career services to corporations and to individuals since 1990. Prior to starting her company she was Senior Vice President of an Evanston, IL bank. She served on the board of the International Association of Career Management Professionals (IACMP) Chicago chapter from 1998-2001. She graduated from Barat College, Lake Forest, IL and has been an authorized distributor of Inscape Publishing since 1992. Contact information: louellajackson@attbi.com and www.louellajackson-hrd.com

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