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Shortcomings of DISC Profiling

DISC based profiling is widely used in sales recruitment. So widely used, in fact, that most applicants for sales positions have taken one of the many DISC-based profiles several times. As with any test taken frequently, it is easy for candidates to learn the ‘preferred’ answers to the questions and hence manipulate their responses in order to look like the perfect candidate.

Easy to cheat
The ease with which the results of DISC can be manipulated, together with the fact that recruitment agencies have been known to ‘coach’ candidates in how to approach the questionnaire, has largely undermined its value as a selection tool. Moreover, when the questionnaire is given to a group of people who are specifically asked to ‘cheat’ i.e. make themselves appear to be ‘almost perfect’, the end result is a set of virtually identical profiles. The reason being that almost everyone can puzzle out how to answer the questionnaire in order to project a specific persona.

Technical shortcomings
Based on Marston’s biosocial theory of emotion and personality dating from 1928, in addition to being rather old-fashioned, DISC also suffers from a number of technical shortcomings. Beyond offering only a simplistic two-dimensional model of personality, the most significant of these are inter-dependence of the scales and its forced-choice questioning technique. These aspects are subject to much criticism from both Psychologists and Human Resource professional alike.

Forced-choice questioning
Forced-choice questioning means that when a test candidate chooses an adjective that is weighted for, say, Dominance, this prevents him/her choosing an adjective weighted for one of the other three adjectives weighted for Influence, Submission or Compliance. This means it is impossible to get a high score on all four traits and impossible to get a low score on all four traits. Essentially the scales are linked. In fact, there is evidence to suggest the only trait measured with any accuracy is, indeed, Dominance.

Interdependence of the scales
Interdependence makes DISC an ipsative rather than normative test. Being ipsative, DISC profiles measure the relative strength of the four traits within one person not the strength of the traits in one person relative to that in other people.

For example, a very high Dominance score means the person is more interested in dominating than in influencing, submitting or complying. It does not mean the test candidate is a very dominant person relative to other people.

Moreover, a high Dominance score on DISC does not even prove the test candidate is dominant in real life; it could simply be that he/she particularly avoids being influential, submissive or compliant. Some people score high on Dominance not because they have dominant personalities but because the adjectives they chose which resulted in their high Dominance score were the lesser of four evils not the most attractive of four possibilities.

Because the test is unable to distinguish between these contrasting reasons for a high Dominance score it frequently happens that individuals who are relatively submissive in real life produce high Dominance scores i.e. results that have little correlation with actual behaviour and performance.

If you are an existing DISC user interested in experiencing how much better the results of our CPQ personality profile predict behaviour and job performance, we offer a back-to-back comparison exercise.

Unable to compare results
As recruitment normally involves comparing candidates with each other or with people in general, ipsative tests of which DISC is an example are entirely unsuited to the task. This is a view endorsed by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel, Training & Development (CIPD).

For details of an independent review of DISC-based profiling published by the British Psychological Society, please contact us.
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