Is Your Organization Behaviorally Balanced?

Eric Kish
Eric Kish
Oct 8, 2018 · 14 min read

“Behavior drives People, People drive business”
— Unknown

Is Your Organization Behaviorally Balanced?

By the summer of 2017, A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S was the world’s biggest containership operator, operating in 130 countries and employing more than 76,000 people. In 2016, Maersk Line was named the world’s #1 organization for employee development in the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) 2016 BEST Awards — the talent development industry’s most rigorous and coveted recognition.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s proof of how powerful behavioral science can be when used in a business context.

Claus V. Hemmingsen, Member of the Executive Board and CEO of Maersk Drilling, has made use of cognitive and behavioral assessments throughout his 30 plus years with the Group. This is what he said about the value of behavioral science and its use at Maersk.

“I have had the opportunity to use these assessment tools both in my early years as an HR coordinator in Maersk Drilling, doing hiring and crew compositions, and through many years in a wide variety of leadership roles. One thing I have come to personally treasure is the usefulness and the proven validity of these tools, providing great assistance to any leader. The tools are not only useful when one evaluates the candidate against the specific job requirements, but also when the leader is asked to compose his or her teams. Here the tools can assist the leader to create diverse teams with complementary personalities [my emphasis].”

According to internal Maersk figures, 50% of the candidates’ performance will depend on the combination between his or her personality traits and the candidate’s cognitive ability, the rest depending on other factors like leadership and context.

That’s what they’ve been doing at A.P. Moller–Maersk for nearly four decades. They decided that their main competitive advantage in a brutal industry is leadership. And, as the main job of leaders is to lead and motivate people, they needed to educate their leaders in how to use behavioral science to lead. So, it became a rule, as a condition of being promoted to lead people, to become a behavioral science practitioner.

First time I came across behavioral assessments was as a candidate for a job at Tetra Pak. Not known to me at that time, Tetra Pak was light years ahead in using assessments on a global scale. In particular, they were using behavioral assessment tools to recruit across cultures and languages. After all, human nature is the same regardless of geography. It gave them an edge in quickly assessing a very large number of candidates with consistent results.

TetraPak and their famous Carton Packages for Liquid Food

So I go to the interview, and take a couple of assessments, one of them being two pages of words to check. The assessment took about five minutes to complete. Next thing I know, my future boss comes into the room and hands me the assessment report. Together we go over the report, which leaves me stunned because I see how accurately it describes my behavioral preferences. He then explains to me that he uses this to understand me so he can set me up for success. I failed to mention that I did not really want the job, but I went anyway out of curiosity. But after that experience, I was hooked. And I accepted the job with one condition. That I will be sent for training in behavioral science as soon as possible.

Behavioral Drives

Bertrand Russel: 1872–1970

In The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russel beautifully describes how we came to become who we are:

“The source of all this in practically every case is the moral teaching which the man receives before he was six years old at the hands of his mother. To be affectionately treated by his mother was the greatest pleasure of his life, and was obtainable only when he had not been known to sin against moral code. He therefore came to associate something vaguely awful with any conduct of which his mother would disapprove. Gradually, as he grew older, he forgot where his moral code had come from and what had originally been the penalty for disobeying it, but he did not throw off the moral code or cease to feel that something dreadful was liable to happen to him if he infringed it.”

Why do we behave as we do? That question has been the preoccupation of philosophers, psychologists, and researchers for millennia.

The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, in a famous series of experiments today referred to as “Pavlov’s dogs” demonstrated how conditioning (also referred to as Pavlovian conditioning) could be used to cultivate a particular association between the occurrence of one event in the anticipation of another.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov: 1849–1936

Like many great scientific advances, Pavlovian conditioning (aka classical conditioning) was discovered accidentally. During the 1890s Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food. When he discovered that any object or event which the dogs learned to associate with food would trigger the same response, he realized that he had made an important scientific discovery.

In his experiment, Pavlov used a bell as his neutral stimulus. Whenever he gave food to his dogs, he also rang a bell. After a number of repeats of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused an increase in salivation.

Pavlov was said to belong to the Mechanistic School. The name Mechanistic was applied because it has been learned that we will respond to a given stimulus one time in the same way as we have responded before, and that the same response will lead to the same behavior or action.

William Marston: 1893–1947

In the early 1920s, William Marston, an American psychologist and inventor, developed an early prototype of the lie detector. Most people would not remember Marston as a psychologist, but he definitely achieved fame as the creator of the character Wonder Woman, writing comic books under the pen name Charles Moulton. But his most important work as a psychologist was the book he wrote in 1928 called The Emotions of Normal People. He theorized that the behavioral expression of emotions could be categorized into four types: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance.

In 1940, Walter V. Clarke, an industrial psychologist, was the first person to build an assessment instrument (personality profile test) using Marston’s theories, even though that was not initially his intent. In 1956 he published the Activity Vector Analysis, a checklist of adjectives on which he asked people to mark descriptors they identified as true of themselves. The tool, used by Clarke since 1948, was intended for personnel selection by businesses. The four factors in his data (aggressive, sociable, stable and avoidant) were based on Marston’s model.

Empodocles 444 B.C

However, the origins of behavioral science are much older. It begins with the elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Empodocles in 444 B.C wrote about these four quadrants of personality style when he recognized that people seemed to act in four distinctly different ways, but instead of attributing it to internal factors, he believed it was external environmental factors that affected the way we would act.

Hippocrates 460 B.C

Hippocrates redefined Empedocles’s four quadrants as Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholic, when he shifted from environmental factors to internal factors . He called them the 4 Temperaments.

Carl Gustav Jung: 1875–1961

Fast forward to 1921, Carl Gustav Jung re-examined these four quadrants and types of behavior. Carl Jung realized that while personality styles are indeed internal, Jung attributed the difference in personality styles to the way we think and process information.

His four styles were Thinking, Feeling, Sensation and Intuition, now often used in the Myers-Briggs Personality Test (MBTI).

Louis Leon Thurstone: 1887–1955

In the same period with Marston, Louis L. Thurstone, a pioneer in the fields of psychometrics and psychophysics, proposed a technique using words as symbolic stimuli to assess and predict behavior. What Thurstone had discovered was that various people would respond positively to certain descriptive words by checking them, and negatively to others by not checking them. Whether or not the words checked accurately or truly describe the person is of no significance and has no bearing on the analysis of the results.[5] Statistically and pragmatically, Thurstone then developed what he called “clusters” of words to which persons with certain predominant personality traits will consistently respond.

Arnold Daniels

In 1943, Arnold S. Daniels, a young Lieutenant and bombardier officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, came across this body of knowledge when he was sent to learn about personality tests and talent assessments.

The Airforce at the time was already using assessments extensively to select airman. The biggest problem at the beginning of World War WII was that they needed to recruit 30,000 new pilots. Under their existing selection procedures, they would have had to screen an estimated 300,000 men, because nearly 80% of recruits would be eliminated for physical reasons, and a further 50% would be “washed out” during training. The head of the AAF’s Medical Division, General David N.W. Grant, believed that written mental tests should be administered to all recruits. This would identify those who lacked the ability to graduate from ground school and thus reduce the number of physical examinations that surgeons needed to perform.

Daniels was a bombardier, navigator, and gunnery officer. After flying over 30 missions before and after D-Day, Daniels was assigned to partner with a psychologist who had been tasked with understanding the make-up of successful bombing teams. Daniels became quite passionate about the use of assessments for better communication and team development, and was later sponsored by the military to take courses at Harvard Business School to better understand the statistical modeling necessary to develop scientifically valid assessments.This led him in 1952 to develop his own assessment, focusing on making it simple and practical for a business to predict people behavior. He called it The Predictive Index.

The Predictive Index is one of a class of objective assessment techniques based on certain fundamental assumptions of behavioral psychology, the first being that work/social behavior is primarily an expression in activity of a variety of responses to environmental stimuli, recognizable as consistently expressed personality traits. The Predictive Index adjective checklist is essentially a symbolic environment composed of a variety of stimuli associated with four primary and two resultant personality traits. Confronted with the stimuli in the Predictive Index Survey Form, the individual will respond to them, either positively or negatively, in a manner consistent with the ways in which he/she responds to the actual environmental stimuli that the words in the checklist symbolize.

In the words of Arnold Daniels: “Bear in mind that in our work with the Predictive Index, we are not concerned primarily, as are clinical psychologists, with why you have come to respond to a given stimulus as you do respond. What we are concerned with is what your response will be, and how it will cause you to behave, or to act. To put it in practical terms, we want to know how your responses will cause you to do a job. The fact that some of your responses have been developed, or conditioned by your environment, while others are the result of the particular set of nerves and glands you are born with, we can be aware of, and then forget. We want to know what you are now, and what you are capable of becoming, and these are the things that Predictive Index tells us.”

In developing the Predictive Index, Daniels used the Trait Theory. According to it, a unique combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the development of our personalities. Traits are best considered habits of behavior, thought patterns, and emotions. And a given trait produces a drive to behave in a certain way.

Fascinating, right? But let me translate all this academic talk to what you can do with all this stuff.

Each one of us has individual drives. These drives create a need, and you will be motivated to behave in a way that satisfies the associated need. When you’re hungry, you find something to eat. Your survival drive creates a hunger need and thus a logical behavior of ordering a hoagie from your favorite sub shop.

It’s the same when it comes to personality traits. Consider how some of your colleagues at work have a drive for social interaction known as extraversion. The chatty co-workers’ personalities have a great deal of this trait while your more reserved workmates’ personalities only have trace amounts of it.

But just observing behavior is problematic. Imagine you’re hungry and you go to the corner Starbucks to fulfill your need by eating breakfast. You find a lot of people at Starbucks that morning. But are they there because of the same need? Some of them might be there because they are meeting friends and want to fulfill their need to socialize. The problem is that if you only observe behavior, you can only guess drives.

But what if you could measure drives and thus predict behavior? As we already know, behavioral traits tend to be relatively stable over time, so knowing someone’s “behavioral patterns” provides us with a predictable range of behaviors that we can expect them to exhibit.

This is where tools like The Predictive Index (PI) behavioral assessment become extremely valuable, provided they are fast and easy to use (the PI behavioral assessment takes about five minutes to complete and has two instructions). The PI provides precise information that can be used to understand what the individual needs to be in a behavioral comfort zone.

In the case of the Predictive Index, it can measure with a high degree of precision four drives: Dominance, Extraversion, Patience, and Formality.

Cognitive Ability

Within the psychometrics community, it is generally accepted that a single underlying factor of cognitive abilities exists known as the general intelligence factor or, simply put, the ‘g’ factor. This factor of measurement is believed to correlate to measurements of more specific forms of cognitive abilities like reasoning, language, memory, visual perception, auditory perception, creativity and speed.

While it is possible to measure all of these factors separately, research suggests that a single measurement of ‘g’ provides a strong indication of performance in any specific ability. And since the measurement of ‘g’ is a strong indicator of how a person is likely to perform on specific ability tests, it also indicates how well they will handle job-related cognitive tasks. This insight can come in pretty handy when you’re trying to source top talent to help set your business apart from its competitors.

World War II offers an early demonstration. During a period when it had to train many thousands of pilots, the military experimented with admitting to pilot training inductees of all ability levels. Of men in the top tier of the experimental selection battery, 95% successfully completed training, whereas only 20% of those in the lowest tier did so. Subsequent military research has consistently shown that highly g-loaded measures such as the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) and its forerunners, although not always conceptualized as measures of g, are good measures of “trainability.” More recent work, such as Army Project A, has carefully demonstrated the validity of such measures for predicting job performance itself in military specialties.

To be practical for business, what you’re looking for is a simple, quick, and cost effective assessment to measure an individual’s capacity to learn, adapt, and grasp new concepts in the workplace. And you would also want to know on the same scale what would be the required Cognitive Ability for a job.

When paired with behavioral assessments, cognitive testing can help to increase your chances of predicting on-the-job performance and strengthen talent decisions by identifying people who have a propensity to learn quickly, figure things out, process complex information, and adapt to changing work demands. They can be used earlier in the selection process to help identify the best candidates for interviewing or given later in the process to help make decisions among similarly experienced candidates.


When I try to explain comfort zone, I use the example of writing your name on a piece of paper. When you do it with your dominant hand, the result is smooth, easy, and of high quality. When you switch hands, however, the feeling is of awkwardness and discomfort, and the result is of much worse quality. Try doing it the whole day and you will end up the day exhausted.

Working in your comfort zone charges you batteries. And the results are immediately noticeable in your engagement. Moreover, you will notice that most of the value employees bring to the business is through engagement that is discretionary in nature. What I mean by that is that when you hire a person you define their responsibilities as “have to.” You have to do this and for that we pay you. But the highest value comes from “want to.” I want to go the extra mile; I want to care about what customers think. I want to take care of the company by spending my time efficiently.

Not working in the comfort zone is called “working out of preference,” and it’s what people experience when you have them in the wrong roles, ask them to do the wrong things, and have them reporting to people who don’t know what makes them tick. It’s a sure-fire way to make employees check out.

Now imagine what it feels like when you’re in a job where the things you’re being asked to do motivate you, and you have a boss and colleagues who seem to really understand you. You and your job are a great fit. In that environment, people feel passion and energy for the job they do every day. They’re giving you their discretionary effort. They’re totally engaged.

From the book 5 to 50 to 500. Copyright © 2018 by Eric Kish

Eric Kish as an author, speaker and practicing CEO. He is the author of 5 to 50 to 500: How to build and run scalable organizations and Everyday Turnaround: The art and science of daily business transformation

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