by Julie Standfield
Understanding people, discovering what makes them tick and appreciating how our differences genuinely help us work better and get improved results. This is what’s at the heart of much of our work here at Incendo. One of the tools we use with individuals and teams is the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI for short).
Thanks to the work of Dr Elias Porter, SDI maps out some core types of people in a simple way and explains what drives them, which he calls our Motivational Value System. Porter says that we are all born with an innate set of preferences and behaviours, and as we grow and are parented, the values and beliefs of significant adults in our lives further shape and develop these values. In turn, we develop behaviours that help us achieve our goals whilst being in harmony with our values and beliefs. Our preferences and personalities are individual to us all, but it’s possible to spot common values in people by observing their attitudes towards the world and, in particular, towards other people.
SDI likens people’s different core motivations to three colours. Red is for go-getting results-driven people, Green for analytical, independent types and Blue for altruistic carers. Flexible, visionary people displaying all three in equal measure are called Hubs. As with all good psychometric tools, it must be noted that all types have positive and negative traits, and no one type is better, nicer or more successful than the other. It’s fair to say, however, that there’s an unusually high percentage of CEOs and board members who fall within the Red category – at least, that’s been my experience of working with board-level clients for the last decade or so.
Being results-driven, goal-orientated, charming, persuasive, highly motivated and confident are all positive descriptors of a high performing and successful Red. If you take a moment to think about your own MD or CEO, the chances are that you’ll probably see a lot of these traits in them. The drive to be the best, outperform others, leave a mark, beat the competition and claim the rewards (money, success, power, not reporting to anyone else) are all most appealing to a Red, hence the number of CEOs and MDs in this category. They may well have a blend with one of the other colours of course, but that’s for a later blog.
So, let’s be thankful for the Reds – making money, being successful, providing strong vision and leadership and steering their companies towards their goals and achieving great success. We wouldn’t get anywhere without them. In SDI literature, Reds are often depicted as a snowplough; we’d find it impossible to get through a snowed-in road without them pushing the snow out of the way. That’s all great, unless of course you’re standing at the side of the road when they’re clearing a path through the deep snow – what happens then?
The majority of corporate boards know that diversity and difference is not only the right thing to do for good engagement and because shareholders expect it, they do it because they know that it actually delivers better business results, and that definitely appeals to our Reds. So why is it that I’ve found so many boards still have a high percentage of Reds in their most senior positions? One theory is that we tend to recruit in our own image – we like “people like us” – and CEOs are not immune to this human condition, far from it! When interviewing for senior positions, it seems that CEOs will naturally gravitate towards people that are driven, motivated, charming, persuasive, goal orientated, who can demonstrate solid results and experience in their field in previous roles. They innately trust candidates who are known as successful, who have a good reputation, who can sell themselves and who will work hard to make sure that the CEO hiring them looks good and gets great results. Who wouldn’t do this?
The answer is… a great CEO.
A great CEO knows his or her own strengths and weaknesses. They recognise the things that they’re lacking, and they recruit to fill those gaps. They see past the interview chemistry and lust for the ‘best’ person, and see the ‘right’ person for the role and the team. They look for passion in different areas to their own passions. They look for someone different to them, possibly jarringly so. They look for someone who will challenge them, see things differently from them, maybe someone who has a very different background, different qualifications, different experiences to the ones they have themselves – because these differences, these discordant elements, are what helps a board become truly diverse and rounded. I suppose this is about not just hiring more ‘mini me’ types.
I think that a board full of Reds is an artificially high performing team. They’re all likely to be absolutely united and on-board with whatever new approach, product or project that is going to help them win, beat the competition, achieve their financial targets. The all-Red board meetings will typically focus on deadlines, targets, approaches, key people, key stakeholders, margins, objectives, measures. They’ll rev each other up, compete for airtime and strive for a core role to enable them to fulfil their desire to win. At the close of the meeting, they’ll head off, all fired-up and ready to take on the world…and in my head, there’s lots of air-punching going on too (sorry, Reds!)
Problems can arise when the time comes for the work to start. For example, Reds aren’t typically the best at considering the process – considerations like “Should it be done?” and “How much time and effort will it cost us to do this thing?” and “Can it be done properly within these timescales and will it make a profit?” and “Do we have the right skills and technologies available to deliver this?”. For this and more, we need some Greens (process experts) who inject a healthy dose of reality and logic into the powerful dreams of the Reds. In my experience, Reds don’t always react well to being told “no” or “slow down” and as such, the Greens tend to be ignored until it’s no longer possible to do so. Any Greens on the board will have learned the right time and place to put forward their arguments, but for boards without any Green at the table, they inevitably get the frustration of hearing what they perceive as blockers to their plans at a delayed point. So, CEOs, it’s probably a great idea to hire some Greens and have them on the board and listen to them up front.
What about the people? Are they on-board with this plan or will they silently sabotage it whilst pretending that they’re working with us on delivering the goal? Do we have the right people with the right skills to deliver the plan? Are people productive, engaged and willing to join us to deliver this vision? Do Reds know all of this information? Probably not, so it’s time to consider our Blues (relationship experts) who will know core people, with the right skills and aptitudes to get on board. They will also know if there is an engagement problem brewing and what should be done about it. Have I seen many Blues on a board? Certainly not a lot, so if you’re a CEO reading this it’s probably a great idea to deliberately hire some Blues, and when they’ve joined you, seek their input on all things relating to growth, relationships and values upfront (not as an afterthought). Finally, make sure you genuinely listen to them too.
Boards without representation from Greens and Blues don’t work as well as boards with them. Great CEOs consciously ensure that all of these three types are represented and have equal emphasis and airtime; not because they care about the process, and not because they are particularly worried about the people (dare I say it) but because having process and relationships experts helps them to deliver their ambitions of achieving their goals. They can’t do it without them. They hire great people, not like them, to make sure that they are successful and rounded, to make sure that they are winning, to ensure they are successful.
If you would like to explore how SDI can help your board or team be more successful, contact Incendo – we’d be pleased to hear what you’re looking for.