Category Archives: Management Thinkers

Robert Miller & Gary Williams: Paths to Persuasion

Robert Miller is one of the people who revolutionised ideas around selling, with his Strategic Selling and Conceptual Selling ideas. But of far more relevance to most managers is his second big idea, which he worked on with Gary Miller.

If you want to sell your message, they found, you need to tailor the way you deliver it to the way  others make decisions. And knowing how to do that is not useful only to salespeople.

Robert Miller & Gary Williams

Robert Miller & Gary Williams

Robert B Miller

Robert Miller got his BA and MA from Stanford University, focusing on education, and his whole career has focused on adult education and training. Following service in the US Navy during the war with Korea, Miller worked his way to become a Vice President at consulting and training company, Kepner-Tregoe. He remained there from 1965 to 1974.

While there, he developed his thinking about the sales process that was to lead to a series of books, and the formation of a new sales training business, which he co-founded with his Kepner-Tregoe colleague, Stephen Heiman. Miller Heiman Group became and remains one of the leading sales training organisations. The thinking that Miller and Heiman developed is massively influential in much sales training today.

However, Miller left the business in 1984, although he has had two extended periods of acting as a consultant and advisor to the business. As well as founding Value Sourcing Group in 1996, Miller also collaborated with Gary Williams to create a customer research consultancy, Miller-Williams Inc. There, they conducted the research we’ll be looking at.

Gary A Williams

Gary Williams  studied biology at the University of Alabama, and started his career in the late 1980s, in the software industry. He held a number of positions in both small entrepreneurial and large firms, including Glaxo and IBM. In the mid-1990’s, he was a Vice President of The Sentry Group, a consulting firm that was acquired by The Meta Group.

In 1998, Gary co-founded Miller-Williams Inc. with Robert Miller. This was a research firm dedicated to measuring how consumer behaviour affects market movements. Williams developed the analytical research method (for which he holds a US Patent).

Together, Miller and Williams also surveyed around 1,700 executives to learn how they make decisons. This research led to the book, 5 Paths to Persuasion, and the much reprinted Harvard Business Review article, Change the Way You Persuade.

In 2004, Miller left the business and Williams morphed it into its present-day incarnation, wRatings, which ranks business performance according to how well they serve their customers.

Paths to Persuasion

Miller and Williams surveyed 1,684 executives for their study. This is a reasonable sample size, but we must note a potential for cultural bias: 97% of the respondents were from the United States.

From their results, they divided the executives into five decision-making styles:

  1. Followers (36%)
  2. Charismatics (25%)
  3. Sceptics (19%)
  4. Thinkers (11%)
  5. Controllers (9%)

Note that Miller and Williams defined styles of decision-making. These are not the same as personality traits and they did no work on relating the two.

Whether you are trying to sell, negotiate, or just persuade to your point of view, you need to adapt to the other person’s decision-making style. You need to identify what it is, and then tailor your approach to fit. This gives Miller and Williams’ five paths to persuasion.

Followers

Followers like to make decisions based on what has worked before; either for them, or for other trusted colleagues. They are risk-adverse, but are prepared to take responsibility for their decisions when they make them.

They tend to be cautious and therefore like established ‘safe’ brands, but are also bargain-conscious. They like to feel innovative, but in reality prefer safety, with a slight edge of novelty. They trust expertise, track record, and in depth case studies.

To persuade these decision-makers, refer to proven methods and real results. Use references, case studies and testimonials to support your case. They need to feel certain they are making the right decision, so do what you can to reassure them that their choice is the safe one.

Charismatics

Charismatics love a new idea or proposal but will base their final decision on the evidence. Hook them with novelty, but expect a wholly rational analysis of the risks and rewards to drive their decision-making. When they take their decision, they will be prepared to accept risk and responsibility if the potential rewards are right.

Charismatics are enthusiastic, talkative, and dominant. They are results-oriented and able to focus hard for long periods.

So persuade them with a calm discussion of risks and potential results. Use simple and straightforward language, rather than trying to blind them with science. They often like visual aids like diagrams, maps, and graphs.

Sceptics

Sceptics tend to be suspicious of evidence, particularly if it conflicts with their established point of view. They can be aggressive and combative, and like to take charge. They are prepared to take risks, but will often try to shed responsibility if things don’t work out.

Ultimately, sceptics don’t trust data, they trust people. So you need to establish as much credibility as possible. A good way to do this is by gaining an endorsement from someone the sceptic trusts.

Thinkers

Thinkers are hard to persuade. They need rigorous arguments that are supported by solid data. They dislike risk and take their time to make as certain a decision as possible. Once they trust their analysis, they will commit to it. But they are also willing to re-evaluate it, if new data emerges.

Thinkers, as their label suggests, are cerebral, intelligent, and logical. They read widely, and are comfortable with numbers, processes, and proofs.

To persuade them, start with lots of data; the more the better. Include market research, customer surveys, and rigorous  cost-benefit analysis. Case studies can help. But they need to be in depth, with highly pertinent details and a significant statistical base. If not, the Thinker will brand it as merely anecdotal.

Controllers

Controllers are mercifully rare. They hate uncertainty and try to cast things in black and white polarities. Therefore, they like pure facts. They are also insecure, hiding behind an unemotional exterior, until they need someone to blame. They don’t like risk and don’t want to take responsibility.

Controllers are fairly logical, unemotional and detail oriented, but they also value action. Not surprisingly, from their label, Controllers like to be in charge.

Persuade them with care. They don’t like to feel manipulated, and they hate ambiguity. So you must demonstrate credibility and structure your evidence carefully. Never advocate too strongly for your proposal. It’s better to give the Controller the information, let them convince themselves.

Complicating Factors

This simple model belies the complexity of real people.

It can be hard to diagnose a decision-maker’s style. Many would mis-assess themselves. In their book, Miller and Williams give clues to help spot the decision style.
Additionally, many people have more than one decision style. They either blend aspects of two or more, or switch style, depending on the context. Finding their dominant style is not easy.

Robert Blake & Jane Mouton: Managerial Grid

If you are looking for one simple model that can more than pull its weight in understanding management, then look no further. Robert Blake and Jane Mouton developed their Managerial Grid in the 1950s and early 1960s. Its simplicity captures vital truths about management styles and their implications.

Every manager should understand the basics of the Managerial Grid. Even if you are not familiar with it, there’s a good chance you will recognise its organising principle. And if you don’t, then read on. This is fundamental stuff.

Robert Blake & Jane Mouton

Robert Blake & Jane Mouton

Robert R Blake

Robert Blake was born in Massachusetts, in 1918. He received a BA in psychology and philosophy from Berea College in 1940, followed by an MA in psychology from the University of Virginia in 1941. His studies were broken by the war, where he served in the US Army. On his return, he completed his PhD in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin in 1947.

He stayed at the University of Texas as a tenured professor until 1964, also lecturing at Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge Universities. In the early 1950s, he began his association with his student, Jane Mouton, which led to their work together at Exxon, the development of the Managerial Grid, and co-founding of Scientific Methods, Inc in 1964. The company is now called Grid International.

Robert Blake died in Austin, Texas, in 2004.

Jane S Mouton

Jane Mouton was born in Texas, in 1930. She got a BSC in Mathematical Education in 1950, and an MSc from Florida State University in 1951. She then returned to the University of Texas, completing her PhD in 1957. She remained there until 1964 in research and teaching roles.

It was at the University of Texas that she met Robert Blake. They were hired by Exxon to study management processes after Blake collaborated with Exxon employee, Herbert Shepard. The work led to their development of the Managerial Grid and, in 1961, to the founding of Scientific Methods, Inc (now Grid international).

Jane Mouton died in 1987.

The Managerial Grid

In many ways, Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid is a development of the Theory X, Theory Y work of Douglas McGregor. The two researchers were humanists, who wanted to represent the benefits of Theory Y management.

They did so by defining two primary concerns for a manager:

  1. Concern for People
  2. Concern for Production
    (sometimes referred to as Concern for Task)

Although their work is often simplified to a familiar 2 x 2 matrix formulation, it was a little more subtle. They created two axes and divided each into nine levels, to give a 9 x 9 grid. It was the extreme corners, and the centre, of this grid that they labelled and characterised. They recognised that most managerial behaviours fall within the grid, rather than at the extremes.

Robert Blake & Jane Mouton - Managerial Grid

Robert Blake & Jane Mouton – Managerial Grid

The Five Styles on the Grid

The five styles they originally identified are at the corners and in the centre. They are still best known by the first labels Blake and Mouton published for them (shown in italics in our illustration). Blake did later refine those labels, as well as define two additional styles. This was after Jane Mouton died, in 1987.

Indifferent
Impoverished Management | Low Results/Low People

This is an ineffective management style, in which an indifferent manager largely avoids engaging with their people or the needs of the job at hand. Such managers reason (wrongly) that if you don’t do much, little can go wrong, and you won’t get blamed. The Peter Principle suggests managers rise to their level of incompetence, and here is the style we may see as a result.

This style is only suitable as a calculated decision to be hands off and delegate to a highly capable and strongly motivated team. Even then, a retreat into the very corner is not appropriate.

Dictatorial
Produce-or-Perish Management | High Results/Low People

Authoritarian managers want to control and dominate their team – possibly for personal reasons, or an unhealthy psychological need. They don’t care about their people, they just want the results of their endeavours. Away from the extreme, this Theory X-like approach can be suitable, in a crisis.

The theory X origin of this behaviour mean managers here prefer to enforce rules, policies and procedures, and can view coercion, reprimands, threats and punishment as effective ways to motivate their team. Short term results can be impressive, but this is not a sustainable management style. Team morale falls rapidly and compromises medium and long-term performance.

Status Quo
Middle-of-the-Road Management | Medium Results/Medium People

This is a compromise and, like all compromises, it is characterised as much by what the manager gives up as by what they put in. A little attention to task and a bit of concern for people sounds like balance, but it also reflects a level of impoverishment – not much concern for either.

This is neither an inspiring, nor developmental approach to management and can only be effective where the team itself can meet the leadership deficits it leaves behind. A good manager could only legitimately use this approach where this one team is a low priority among other competing demands, and the manager is confident they can manage themselves to a large degree. If not, mediocrity will be the best result the manager will achieve from this strategy.

 

Accommodating
Country Club Management | High People/Low Results

Sometimes, you need to rest your team, take your foot off the accelerator, and accommodate their needs. These may be for a break, for team-building, or for development, perhaps.

However, as a long term strategy, it is indulgent, and leads to complacency and laziness among team members. There is little to drive them, yet we know pride in achievement, autonomy, and development are principle workplace motivators. Without a sufficient focus on production, the team will get little of any of these.

The work environment may be relaxed, fun, and harmonious, but it won’t be productive,. The end point will also be a lack of respect, among team members, for the manager’s leadership.

Sound
Team Management | High Production/High People

According to Blake and Mouton, the Team Management style is the most effective approach. This is routed in McGregor’s Theory Y. It is the most solid leadership style, with a balance of strong concern for both the means and the end.

A manager using this style will encourage commitment, contribution, responsibility, and personal and team development. This builds a long-term sustainable and resilient team.

Peaks and troughs in workload and team needs will mean a flexible manager with stray away from the corner from time to time, either towards accommodating or dictatorial styles. But this flexibility and their general concern for both dimensions will prevent them from an unhealthy move right into the corners.

When people are committed to both their organisation and a good leader, their personal needs and production needs overlap. This creates an environment of trust, respect, and pride in the work. The result is excellent motivation and results, where employees feel a constructive part of the company.

Two Additional Styles

After Mouton’s death, Blake continued to refine the model, adding two additional styles.

Opportunistic Management

Some managers are highly opportunistic, and are prepared to exploit any situation, and manipulate their people to do so. This style does not have a fixed location on the grid. Managers adopt whichever behaviour offers the greatest personal benefit. It is the ultimate in flexibility, and is highly effective.

What matters is motivation. Some managers are highly flexible for reasons of great integrity others for purely self-serving reasons.

Paternalistic Management

The loaded label represents a flip-flopping between accommodating ‘Country Club management’ and dictatorial ‘Produce-or-Perish management’. At each extreme, this managerial style is prescriptive about what the team needs and how they will supply it.

The subtlety of sound team management adapting to the team’s needs is not present. Such managers rarely welcome a team trying to exercise its own autonomy. They will feel it as an unwelcome challenge.

 

 

W Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne: Blue Ocean Strategy

So here are your primary strategic choices:

  • Exploit an existing market and beat your competition
    – or –
  • Find a whole new market where there is no competition

These two approaches have been championed by some of the greatest management thinkers and corporate leaders. W Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne gave these strategies compelling names, and championed the latter in in a phenomenally high-selling book. They called it the Blue Ocean Strategy.

W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne

W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne

W Chan Kim

W Chan Kim was born in Korea, in 1952. After studying at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School, he joined the faculty, becoming a professor. In 1992, he moved to the prestigious European Business School, INSEAD, in France, where he is The Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of Strategy and International Management and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Renée Mauborgne

Like Kim, Renée Mauborgne studied and taught at the University of Michigan Ross Business School. They moved together to INSEAD. Mauborgne is an American, born in 1963 (AVGY). The two have been long term collaborators, and their primary work together has been the research and writing about corporate strategy, which led to the concept and book, called Blue Ocean Strategy.

Blue Ocean Strategy

The 2004 HBR article, Blue Ocean Strategy, and the 2005 book of the same name are both best-sellers. The book’s sales are approaching 4 million. So clearly, if you’re a manager with any interest in business strategy, you need to know about this idea.

The concept is disarmingly simple.

A Blue Ocean Strategy sees a business finding a new market that is unexploited, and creating a market space for itself. Kim and Mauborgne’s metaphor is that Oceans represent market spaces.

They contrast new market spaces (blue oceans) with existing markets (red oceans). Companies that adopt a red ocean strategy focus on beating their competition and for this, an understanding of strategic concepts like Porter’s Five Forces will help.

The critique that Kim and Mauborgne level at red ocean strategies is that they often operate in crowded (or overcrowded) markets, offer limited opportunities for growth, and require lower profit margins. The bottom line impact of a red ocean strategy is, at best, conservative.

Instead of this ‘market-competing’ approach, they advocate a ‘market-creating’ strategy, which places an emphasis on ‘value innovation’. This strategy should see customer value increasing, while costs drop, because (in Porter’s terms) you are targeting differentiation, rather than cost leadership. Differentiate yourself, they say, by finding new demand that competitors cannot yet address, and meet it.

As you’d expect from two leading academics, Kim and Mauborgne have created a Blue Ocean Strategy Institute, which they co-direct, and built a suite of analytical tools for companies to draw down on.

Critique of the Blue Ocean Strategy

The first critique could equally be seen as an endorsement. Their idea is not new. Numerous business strategy thinkers have developed and published similar ideas, like Gary Hamel, C K Prahalad, Kenichi Ohmae, and even the venerable Igor Ansoff.

The second critique is harder for Kim and Mauborgne to shake. There is little or no empirical evidence that their strategy works, in the sense of creating lasting competitive advantage through its deliberate application.

Without a doubt, businesses have innovated throughout history, creating new markets from nowhere. And many of them have gone on to maintain dominant positions for many years. You cannot argue with the thesis that finding a Blue Ocean and quickly becoming the top predator there works. Their book is full of modern case studies.

But, who has read the book, decided to launch a blue ocean strategy, applied the tools, found some blue ocean, and created a dominant position?

The counter to this argument is: ‘it’s only been a few years’. But as time goes on, we are waiting for the evidence.

So, what is Blue Ocean Strategy?

Is it an innovative management theory that contains a deep new insight backed by rigorous research?

Or is it a brilliantly packaged re-casting of familiar and self-evident ideas, illustrated by a number of compelling case studies?

I leave you to judge.

 

 

 

 

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt: Leadership Continuum

Among many types of model of leadership is one that is particularly useful to practical day-to-day managers: situational leadership. And by far the best version of this idea was developed by two UCLA professors, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt. Their 1958 article (reprinted in 1973) is one of the most reprinted from Harvard Business Review.

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt

Robert Tannenbaum

Robert Tannenbaum was born in 1916, in Colorado. He studied at The University of Chicago, gaining an AB in Business Administration in 1937, and his MBA in 1938. The following year, he started his PhD in Industrial Relations also at Chicago, but his studies were interrupted by the war.

After serving as a Lieutenant in the US Navy, he returned to his PhD, which he defended in 1948. From there, he went to teach at the UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he remained until his retirement in 1977.

Warren H Schmidt

Warren Schmidt was born in 1920, in Detroit, and took a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Wayne State University. He then became ordained as a Lutheran minister.

He changed direction again, and after gaining his PhD in Psychology at Washington University, he went to teach at the University of Southern California and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he met Tannenbaum.

By the by, Schmidt is the first of our Management Thinkers and Doers who has won an Oscar. In 1969, he wrote an Op Ed piece for the LA times, titled ‘Is it Always Right to be Right’. This was well received and turned into a short animated movie, narrated by Orson Welles. It won the Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film in 1970.

The Leadership Behaviours Continuum

In what is regarded as a classic 1958 Harvard Business Review article, ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern‘, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H Schmidt set out a range of leadership behaviours.  They set out seven distinct stages on a continuum, which vary from telling team members their decision, through selling their idea and consulting on the problem, to handing over decision-making.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt - Leadership Behaviour Continuum

Tannenbaum & Schmidt – Leadership Behaviour Continuum
A range of behaviours from the purely authoritarian ‘Manager makes a decision and announces it’ through five intermediate styles, to the most democratic ‘Manager allows group to make a decision’ within appropriate constraints.

Equally valuable is their assessment of how a manager can decide how to lead and choose which of the styles will work best.  They argue you must consider three forces:

  • Forces in the manager
    Your values and style, and your assessment of the risk
  • Forces in the team-members
    Your assessment of their readiness and enthusiasm to assume responsibility
  • Forces in the situation
    Time pressure, the group’s effectiveness, organisational culture

This article is a foundation for what is now known as ‘Situational Leadership, and the two trademarked models developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard.

The Seven Leadership Behaviours

1. Manager makes the decision and announces it
This is a purely authoritarian style of leadership, with no consideration given to other points of view. Most appropriate in a crisis, the manager sets clear instructions and expectations.

2. Manager ‘sells’ their decision
The manager takes  the role of decision-maker but advocates their decision, appealing to  benefits to the group. Valuable when you need the group’s support.

3. Manager presents their decision and invites questions
The manager is still in control, but allows the group to explore the ideas to better understand the decision. The manager answers to their team, without committing to honour their opinions.

4. Manager presents a tentative decision, subject to change
Now the group’s opinions can count. The manager identifies and resolves the problem, but consults their team before making their own decision.

5. Manager presents the problem, gets suggestions and then makes a decision
Still the manager retains ultimate decision-making authority. But now, they share responsibility for finding the solution with the group, who can influence the final decision.

6. Manager defines the limits within which the group makes the decision
Now decision-making sits with the team. The manager defines the problem and sets boundaries within which the group can operate, which may constrain the final decision.

7. Manager allows group to make decision, subject to organisational constraints
The group has as much freedom as the manager is able to grant them. The manager may help the group and again, commits to respect the decision the group arrives at.

For More Information

This model is fully described, with analysis, in The Management Models Pocketbook.

 

GAC RIP 2/5/2010

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka: Scrum Development

Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka have featured in an earlier Pocketblog, which was focused on Nonaka and the work  he led on how knowledge can transform organisations.

Arguably, it is how Nonaka and Takeuchi took some of their thinking forward that has led to a far bigger transformation. In 1985, they co-wrote an article for the January 1986 edition of Harvard Business Review. Called ‘The New New Product Development Game’, this article was instrumental in revolutionising the discipline of Project Management.

Takeuchi and Nonaka gave us a new way of thinking about how to develop products and deliver projects. And they coined an evocative sporting metaphor for their process, which has stuck: Scrum.

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka

Ikujiro Nonaka

Born in 1935, Ikujiro Nonaka gained a BS in political science at Waseda University, then started work at Fuji Electric, where he created their management programme. Nonaka left Fuji in 1967, to study at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded his MBA in 1968, and his PhD in Business Administration, in 1972. He took posts at US universities, before returning to Japan, as a professor at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University.

Hirotaka Takeushi

Born in 1946, Hirotaka Takeuchi got his BA from the International Christian University, Tokyo. After a short spell working at McCann-Erickson, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he got his MBA in 1971, and his PhD in 1977. During his time at Berkeley, he also worked summers for McKinsey & Company in Tokyo and, more important, met Nonaka.

Takeushi took a lectureship at Harvard in 1976 until 1983, when he joined Hitotsubashi University School of Commerce, where he became a full professor and Dean of the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy. He stayed until 2010, when he returned to Harvard, as Professor of Management Practice, where he is now.

The New New Product Development Game.

In January 1986, Harvard Business Review published ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ by Takeuchi and Nonaka. This was about a new way to do New Product Development, or NPD. They drew on the idea of ‘ba’ – a Japanese coinage of Nonaka’s, meaning a meeting place for minds and the energy that draws out knowledge and creates new ideas.

They also took a look at the Toyota idea of teams coming together to solve problems. They introduced a sporting metaphor from the game of Rugby; that of the scrum. They used scrum to denote the way teams work together intensively when the ball goes out of play. In a work environment that demands creativity and innovative problem solving, this is just what is needed.

They followed this article up with a 1995 book, ‘The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation‘. This looks at the way Japan became a major economic power, especially in the automotive and electronics industries. they argue that Japanese firms are successful because they create new knowledge to produce successful products and technologies.

Scrum Teams

The model they created for Scrum Teams is of a cross functional group that can work autonomously to resolve its own problems. Their organisation is ’emergent’ meaning there is no assigned leadership or structure; it just emerges from the effective collaboration of its members.

To work best, a Scrum Team needs to be co-located, and work together full-time. This allows a high level of cross-fertilisation of ideas, and a dedication to working on their shared problems, tasks, and initiatives.

Scrum as an Agile Project Management Methodology

Agile project management seeks to avoid the all-or-nothing approach to projects that used to characterise traditional approaches – especially when done in a way that slavishly follows a set of ‘rules’. Although good project managers have always incorporated a lot of plan-do-review (the Deming Cycle), the growth of software development projects demanded an increase focus on agility and incrementalism.

This was the basis of the Agile movement and today the single most widely used Agile methodology takes its name and guiding principles from Takeuchi and Nonaka’s metaphor: Scrum.

In Scrum projects, a Product Owner is responsible for detailing the business requirements and ensuring that the business gets a good return on its product development investment (RoI). The Scrum Team, led by a Scrum Master, selects one subset of functionality from a product backlog of undeveloped functions, divides it into tasks, and works intensively on developing the outputs for a fixed time, known as a Sprint, which is usually 30 days.

Each day, the team gets together for a daily Scrum Meeting to share learning, report progress, discuss challenges, and solve problems. At the end of the sprint, the team should produce a working product that is stable and useful. After a reflection and learning process, the team then works with the product owner to define the subset of functionality it will work on in the next sprint.

The team continues like this until the Product Owner concludes that the next sprint would not create enough additional value to justify the incremental cost.

The Scrum Project Management Lifecycle

The Scrum Project Management Lifecycle

 

David Merrill & Roger Reid: Social Styles

Social Styles are a model of personality that focuses on our outer behaviour, rather than the inner you. Its founders described it as ‘the you that’s on display’.

In the early 1960s, two industrial psychologists, David Merrill and Roger Reid wanted to understand whether they could predict managerial, leadership and sales performance. To do this, they explored how people behave in social situations. They chose not to concern themselves with why.

Starting with BF Skinner’s ideas of behaviourism and James Taylor’s structured list of behavioural descriptions, Merrill and Reid discovered that people’s behaviour follows two continua, which they labelled: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness and Responsiveness

Assertiveness styles range from ‘asking’ behaviours to ‘telling’ behaviours, while our responsiveness varies from ’emoting’, or displaying our feelings, to ‘controlling’ our emotions.

From these two dimensions, they defined four behavioural styles that we each display. As with other models, we each have our preferences, but can display all of the styles from time to time.

The value of the model lies in using it to assess the people around you, and knowing how to get the best from people with each preference.

Merrill and Reid labelled our ability to adapt to other people’s styles as ‘versatility’.

Four Quadrants: The Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid - Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid – Social Styles

The four quadrants that the two dimensions of assertiveness and responsiveness create, give the four social styles.

Analytical

The analytical style of interaction asserts itself by asking, rather than telling. It is also characterised by a high level of emotional control. It values facts, logic and accuracy, presenting a disciplined and unemotional – some would say cold – face to the world. This manifests in a deep need to be right about things, and therefore a highly deliberative, data-driven approach to decisions. As with all styles, there is a weakness, which is a lack of willingness to state a position until the analytical person is certain of their ground.

Driving

The driving style is the typical task-oriented behaviour that prefers to tell rather than ask and shows little concern for feelings. It cares more about results. This is a fast-paced style, keen to make decisions, take power, and exert control. Often unco-operative, this is an efficient, results-driven behaviour, the inevitable compromise of which is to sacrifice personal relationships in the short term and, in extremis, in the long term too. The weakness of this style is evident: a frequent unwillingness to listen and accommodate the needs of others.

Expressive

The expressive style is also assertive, but uses feelings to achieve its objectives. The behaviour is highly spontaneous and demands recognition and approval, and favours gut instinct in decision-making. At its best, this style comes across as charismatic, enthusiastic and idealistic. At its worst, however, the expressive style can be seen as impulsive, shallow and even manipulative.

Amiable

The amiable style expresses concern for people above all else. Keen to share emotion and not to assert itself over others, building and maintaining relationships dominate behaviour. These concerns manifest a slow, deliberate pace, coming across as sensitive, supportive and dependable. The corollary is a certain nervousness about, and even a resistance to, change. This arises from a deep need for personal security. The weaknesses of this style are the reverse of the strengths of the opposite quadrant: a low willingness to initiate change, and take action.

Assessment of Merrill and Reid’s Social Styles

Is this just another four box model?

Well, yes and no. In its current form, the company that David Merrill formed, Tracom, uses the model with a third, fully-integrated dimension: versatility. This is about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet other people’s needs. It is  closely related to ideas of Emotional Intelligence.

Even as ‘just another four box model’, it’s a good one. As a result, it has been widely emulated. A very similar model by Tony Alessandra uses the styles of Thinker, Director, Socialiser and Relater to replace Merrill and Reid’s four social styles, and dimensions of relationship and task orientation, to replace responsiveness and assertiveness.

Both models have considerable power in helping managers understand their behaviours and those of other people around them. And by adapting their style, the models allow managers to get the best from any social situation. And work is, of course, if nothing else… social.

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner: Freakonomics

Surfing Malcolm Gladwell’s wake on the wave of popular social science books came a pair of writers who set the stage for many journalist/social scientist combinations. Steven Levitt was a rising star in the world of economics when he was interviewed by successful journalist Stephen Dubner.

When the publishing world offered sufficient incentives (in the form of an author’s advance), they began their collaboration that has resulted in four books and over 5 million sales. More important, it opened our minds to the world of perverse incentives that the two dubbed ‘Freakonomics’.

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

Steven D Levitt

Steven Levitt is a successful academic. Born in New Orleans, in 1967, he studied economics at Harvard, graduating in 1989. He then spent a couple of years in management consulting, specialising in decision-making, before enrolling in a PhD programme at MIT.

His time at MIT was far from conventional. Whilst his peers did the standard thing of analysing case studies and studying theory, Levitt discerned a simple truth about academic life: success depends on published papers. So before even starting his formal thesis work, he was gathering and analysing his own data, conducting his own research, and writing his first papers.

His varied and curious approach to economics, and his succession of published papers, paid off. he was awarded his PhD in 1994 and, following a period as a research fellow at Harvard, was offered a post in arguably the most prestigious economics department in the US, at the University of Chicago. In just two years, he was made a professor.

He is now William Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and was, in 2003, the recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal. This is awarded every two years by the American Economic Association to the most promising US economist under the age of 40.

In the same year, a New York Times journalist interviewed Levitt for an extended article. That journalist was Stephen J Dubner.

Stephen J Dubner

Stephen Dubner was born in 1963 (AVGY), in New York, and started writing young. His first published work was in a children’s magazine . He studied at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. He graduated in 1984 and focused on a music career until he switched to writing in 1988 and enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts in Writing programme at Columbia University. After graduating in 1990, he taught in the English Department and started work as a journalist, becoming a story editor at The New York Times Magazine.

Dubner’s journalistic writing is highly regarded, and he has also written for Time, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post. In 2003, he interviewed a rising star among academic economists, called Steven Levitt.

The Spirit of Freakonomics

The thing about Freakonomics is that the book series, New York Times columns, and blogs range over a wide arena of social science and economics. What connects it all is the idea that, whilst everyone knows that people respond to incentives, research shows that some of our responses are surprising. So surprising, shocking, delightful, and curious, that the stories of what happens are compelling, and the unravelling of why it happens often reads like the most gripping of detective fiction.

The other vital aspect of the spirit of freakonomics is the combination of an academic economist’s eye for data and the story-telling capability of a seasoned journalist. These are held together by the glue of a shared sense of curiosity and delight in the phenomena that Levitt and Dubner explore.

The books make for a great read. They are thought-provoking and enhanced by Levitt’s analysis of large amounts of data. Indeed, the use of data is another theme. However, this is not to say that  Levitt and Dubner’s conclusions have gone unchallenged. With astonishing claims, like ‘abortion cuts crime’, come a welter of critique.

In some cases the critiques have hit home, in other cases, Levitt and Dubner have successfully countered them. What all of their writing is, is entertaining and thought-provoking. It is no wonder that their books have sold so well. And, on the margins, they also highlight some important truths that managers would do well to note:

  1. People respond to incentives.
  2. People’s response to incentives is not always what you would expect and is sometimes hard to understand.
  3. Big data sets can hold within them valuable and surprising conclusions. We can uncover useful insights and, equally, demolish cherished assumptions.
  4. Working with big data sets in the messy and complex world of human interactions is tricky. Separating coincidence from causation among correlated data is hard. And extracting data where many confounding variables are present will open you up to biting challenge.
  5. Socio-economic evidence should inform policy, but not dictate it.

The Freakonomics Library

Steven Levitt at TED

Steven Levitt has spoken twice at TED events, in 2004 and 2005.