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Breaking Bad Chemistry – An Open Letter to The Harvard Business Review

The New Science of Team Chemistry (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2017) doesn’t look so new to the founders of SOCIAL STYLE®.

An article written by two Deloitte employees and published in The Harvard Business Review described their company’s “new science” which featured a model with four primary work styles and related strategies for accomplishing shared goals.

This probably doesn’t sound so “new” to you. It didn’t to us, either.

We’ve written to the magazine expressing our views on a subject we had a hand in inventing some 50 years ago. Many readers share our same view, judging by their comments on HBR.com.

Here’s our response to that article:

The New Science of Team Chemistry (HBR, March-April 2017) doesn’t look so new to us.

It’s flattering to see that Deloitte is now confirming what TRACOM® discovered 50 years ago: that people primarily exhibit one of four distinct behavioral styles, and we can use that intelligence to help us form stronger, more effective relationships.

It’s something quite less than flattery that may have led the designers of this model to imitate the most basic concepts of SOCIAL STYLE®, first published in 1967 by Dr. David W. Merrill and Roger Reid. On the surface, they look a lot alike.

We give its designers some points for their creative naming of three out of four style descriptors. It might have been more difficult to come up with a fourth, as “Driver” sure sounds like our “Driving” Style.

Here’s a comparison:

SOCIAL STYLE (1967) 

Driving (“action oriented”)
Amiable (“relationship oriented”)
Expressive (“intuition oriented”)
Analytical (“thinking oriented”)

BUSINESS CHEMISTRY (2017 HBR article)

Drivers (“generate momentum”)
Integrators (“relationships…are paramount”)
Pioneers (“it’s fine to go with your gut”)
Guardians (“pragmatic”)

Even if Deloitte does believe it has developed a new science of behavioral chemistry, here’s where that science is lacking:

  • It’s self-perception only—and self-perception is flawed
    Al Capone thought he was a terrific guy who got along well with others. But what did others think of his abilities to build relationships? The self-serving bias is well researched and should be accounted for by any assessment of behavioral style, but the Deloitte measure relies solely on self-assessment. Only by using a multi-rater assessment that includes observations from work colleagues can we truly understand our behavioral style, including strengths and weaknesses. This level of feedback gives us a basis to understand and adjust our behavior in order to create more productive relationships.
  • There’s no measure of interpersonal effectiveness
    Regardless of my behavioral and communication style, how good am I at adapting to others’ styles? If the Golden Rule is to treat others the way we’d like to be treated, then the Platinum Rule is to treat others the way they would like to be treated. We call this “Versatility,” which is one of the most critical components of the SOCIAL STYLE ModelTM. A separate dimension from behavioral style, Versatility measures our ability to meet others’ needs, as well as our own, to interact most effectively with people of all Styles. This underpinning of TRACOM’s Model—proven to differentiate the performance in teams, management and sales—is remarkably absent from the Deloitte methodology. We consider this a scientific flaw, like mixing four different chemicals and failing to add the catalyst that keeps them from blowing up.
  • One size does not fit all
    When it comes to accurately assessing how individuals prefer to communicate and how versatile they are toward others, one mixture does not fit all. There are these tricky elements known as cultural differences. TRACOM has spent decades studying data on millions of people in over 100 countries. This research has led to continuous improvement in our invention through the years, and a deep understanding of the nuances of how people communicate and behave. We’ve used this knowledge to norm our assessments to multiple world regions and countries. In addition, TRACOM has discovered distinctions across various demographics, as captured in our most recent book, The Versatility Factor (Book Press, 2016).

To accurately assess how individuals prefer to communicate, and how versatile they are, it takes just the right mix of elements to create a useful compound.

Chemistry is a scientific business. If not analyzed and mixed properly, the results can get messy. If Deloitte would like to test its chemistry against our 50-plus years of study to see which one is actually sound science, we invite them into the lab with us.

Sincerely,

John R. Myers
President & Chief Executive
The TRACOM® Group

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