Q: What are your thoughts on behavioral tools? What's out there, and how useful are they? Do you have personal recommendations on how to put together the right team dynamics from a client and internal perspective?

A: Assessments are an interesting topic when it comes to leadership. Are they useful? That's unclear. The distinctions they draw can help you get results, but only if they are applied with thought and care. The assessment part is easy; knowing what to do once the results are in is difficult.

One problem with assessments is that they determine an individual's traits, but give little guidance on translating them into specifics in the workplace. Let's say you are a sales manager who tests out as a Myers-Briggs N--someone who lives in the inner world of ideas rather than the outer world of data. What do you do with that information? Do you change the material you read? Do you abandon collecting outside data? Do you collect more outside data to compensate?

I find assessments more useful in balancing teams. Even if it's hard to know what to do with an N (intuition) or an S (sensing), it's easy to guess that a team with N and S members will bring a well-rounded approach--as long as style differences don't tank the team. In groups, a style difference is what's managed. If people clash, you can look at style differences to fix the problem. For instance, as a Myers-Briggs T (thinking), I sometimes collide with my F (feeling) partner. We find that defusing arguments by concentrating on satisfying our style needs is often more important than resolving the right or wrong of the issue itself.

In my experience, the particular assessment matters far less than the adoption of any framework for understanding difference. Most of an assessment's value comes from recognizing that people are different and giving a vocabulary to those differences. The assessment categories then become a common language people can use to form balanced teams and resolve conflicts.

The dimensions I've found most useful in my own life don't correspond to any one assessment. You can discover them by observing someone or even just by asking people to self-categorize:

  • Is someone motivated by achieving goals or fixing problems? The former make great visionaries; the latter make great quality-control people, organizational firefighters and customer service people.
  • Does someone need external or internal feedback? Some people can evaluate how they're doing on their own, while others need strong external direction. The same person can flip between internal and external depending on the circumstances. For example, a person might be very internal when it comes to choosing a car ("I don't care what anyone says--I want a VW!"), but very external when it comes to buying computer equipment ("Excuse me, can you tell me what to buy for a novice home office user?").
  • Is someone a day or night person? Some people do their best work in the morning; some do their best work in the afternoon and evening. When scheduling meetings and coordinating group tasks, creating the highest-performing team means attending to people's natural rhythms.
  • Does someone prefer starting or finishing? Some people are great starters but lose interest once a project nears completion. Others don't like the start-up phase but relish bringing something to the finish line. Both are necessary when developing an ongoing business from scratch.

Here are a few assessments I've heard of that I'm familiar with. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I can't personally vouch for any of the specific materials except for the first:

  • The LAB Profile, a language-based profile for understanding people's motivation and work styles, is statistically validated, and I've found it to be among the most powerful and effective assessments in terms of its ability to predict specific behavior.
  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a very famous and popular assessment, but can be hard to connect to daily activities.
  • Many experts sing the praises of the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, an assessment that looks at brain dominance, creativity style and more.
  • DiSC Dimensions of Behavior is an assessment that looks at four aspects of behavior, including drive/aggressiveness, interpersonal tendencies, stability vs. the need for variety and the ability to follow rules. DiSC is widely used and is based on a categorization system that's been in use for several decades.
  • The book The Owner's Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research by Pierce J. Howard presents a more recent assessment system; the author claims it's a research-validated set of distinctions that correlates with all the other established assessments.

Whichever assessments you choose, make sure they are easy to understand and apply. You want an assessment that people can learn and adopt as a tool for getting along. If it requires $2,000 worth of testing by a trained professional to assess someone and interpret the results, then it's not an assessment you can use on a daily basis to keep things running smoothly.

As an entrepreneur, technologist, advisor and coach, Stever Robbins seeks out and identifies high-potential start-ups to help them develop the skills, attitudes and capabilities they need to succeed. He has been involved with start-up companies since 1978 and is currently an investor or advisor to several technology and Internet companies including ZEFER Corp., University Access Inc., RenalTech, Crimson Soutions and PrimeSource. He has been using the Internet since 1977, was a co-founder of FTP Software in 1986, and worked on the design team of Harvard Business School's "Foundations" program. Stever holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a computer science degree from MIT. His Web site is a http://www.venturecoach.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.