Making your work DOPE
November 22, 2021 -
I’m typically wary of “personality” tests, and the whole subset of the people management / “human resources” space that’s heavily invested in them. Speaking from my own experience, the personality that others notice in me has changed substantially over the last few years. Any assessments that claim to see into a steady inner core, therefore, get a skeptical look.
On the other hand, I see a lot of benefit in assessing the way I’m used to interacting with people, particularly at work. Although they’re inevitably oversimplified, shared frameworks help me focus on one or two things I can change about myself and others.
On which note: I recently learned about a framework that taught me something. It’s commonly called DISC, although I prefer the variant called DOPE, and it describes people in terms of four core characteristics, which are portrayed through avian avatars. As a manager, this gives me a mental picture to guide me in checking in with my whole team, and making sure everyone has what they need to be successful.
Doves are patient and accommodating – they represent “Steady” in the DISC grouping.
Owls, analytical and systematic, represent “Compliant” in DISC.
Peacocks are outgoing and enthusiastic, and show up as “Influential” in DISC.
Eagles, firm and direct, are the “Dominant” in DISC.
Of course, the idea that these are immutable personality types doesn’t sit well with me, but I’m perfectly willing to believe that these groupings reflect important values that shine through in our daily behavior. A diverse balance of all these behaviors are important in any organization for success – we need steadiness and encouragement; communication and influencing; conscientious following-up; and decisions being made.
Many if not most of us are culturally conditioned to pay attention to and give credit for success to those who tell us so firmly – those who display “Eagle” behaviors. The most telling thing I read about this is the bald statement that “Eagles are natural achievers.”
This means that:
- organizations make unwise decisions following dominant personalities.
A great example of this in my experience was a previous job where a team spent two years building and maintaining a whole bespoke CRM application because no one would disagree with the product manager.
- organizations lose valuable contributions to burnout as they insufficiently reward critical team members.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having numerous experiences with teammates who should have been promoted, and quit when they weren’t.
- people are miserable
- we don’t learn how many fascinating organizations could be built by other personality types
- under-represented folks (e.g. women, in software), already discouraged from asserting their needs, go unheard even more frequently
So I ask everyone to think hard about how they’re expressing themselves (Richard Step’s personality quiz is one way to get a handle on it) and:
- politely but firmly assert your own achievements
- notice and lift up the work of colleagues that makes your own work possible
- push for their organization’s management to feature a broader balance of behaviors
Particularly for managers, I suggest some techniques I’ve used to make sure my team is appreciated for what they bring:
- on a regular basis, trawl through the company chat and call out teammates who have been supportive, influential in spreading knowledge, or especially systematic and thorough. Where I work now, our two-week iteration planning is a good cadence for this.
- lean in to ticketing system issue templates and checkboxes, to ensure owls can be conscientious and peacocks have support structure
- in team meetings, deliberately let three virtual tumbleweeds go by (5 seconds each) so that everyone has a chance to have their say
- ask the most naive questions I can, so discussion is stimulated and peacocks and doves can chime in
- always, always provide the rationale for a decision so owls aren’t threatened
As an example of how pervasive this way of thinking can be, when I was recently looking through startup job postings for template material (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all), I found the phrase "low-ego" used widely. Does that mean that the team includes lots of Doves, and its culture won't mix well with ego-driven behaviors? Or, less charitably, does it mean the managers are Eagles, and are looking for people who won't speak up when credit for their work is claimed by others?