There are several reasons why DISC doesn’t work for screening employees.
Before I dive into those reasons, let me first address a few of the reasons why so many employers do select DISC as their pre-employment test of choice for employee screening.
First of all, DISC has been around a long, long time. While the acronym DISC was adopted sometime in the mid-twentieth century, the four-style behavioral model was first described by Hippocrates somewhere around 400 B.C. If longevity has anything to do with credibility, the DISC assessment certainly has time on its side and centuries of endorsement.
Another reason is that DISC is also one of the most user-friendly assessments available. Most DISC assessments require only 10 to 15 minutes to complete, the questions are very easy to understand, and face validity (which means the participant agrees with the results of the assessment) is extremely high. And while fees vary widely, the cost is generally below $100, often times significantly less.
By now, it should be fairly obvious why DISC is so popular – user-friendly, high credibility, low-cost. All those reasons sound pretty good, don’t they? Then why am I saying that DISC doesn’t work for screening employees?
There are many reasons. Let me start with three.
- Validation. This reason is a big one- one that concerns HR and employment law attorneys. While the DISC assessment itself is valid (it accurately measures what it says it measures), DISC is not a valid tool for job success. If that was the case, every assertive, outgoing individual would be a successful salesperson and every steady, compliant person would turn out to be a very successful accountant. But we know for sure that’s not the case. DISC merely assesses HOW energetically an individual will respond toward problems, people, pace, and procedures. It was not constructed to predict how proficient that same person might be at solving problems, interacting with people, working at a fast pace, or complying with rules and procedures.
- Observation. DISC is an “observable language.” Each style (D-I-S-C) is easily observed by others when the other person(s) know what to look for. Ds and Is tend to be very animated; Ss and Cs more reserved. Is and Ss are more people-oriented; Ds and Cs are task focused. Is and Ss should be "good with people." But we know that isn't always so. People make assumptions about performance based on behavioral style. But as the research about hiring success shows, the behavior you see might not be a predictor of the results you get. Five-factor personality tests and cognitive ability tests are much better predictors of future job fit and skill potential than behavior style assessments like DISC and temperament assessments like MBTI. And that’s not only my opinion but the caveat offered by many of the DISC and MBTI publishers.
- Norming. DISC assessments are considered ipsative tests. The preferred type of test for hiring is a normed test. Like hundreds of other assessments based on the four style behavioral model, DISC reports the relative strengths of the person being tested. If a DISC assessment reports the individual is 75% “high D”, this merely means this individual is energized by asserting him/herself in dealing with problems. What it does not predict is how two people with similar DISC patterns will perform a job or interact with others. In plain English, two people who both "score" 70% in the D Style might appear to approach the same problem in a similar way but get two entirely different outcomes. Using normative tests, an individual’s “score” measures a specific characteristic against confirmed patterns of normality, usually represented as a bell curve. In business, normative testing allows individuals to be compared to other employees who have met with success or failure in a job.
Normative tests (like PeopleClues, Prevue, and Assess) are therefore best suited as a recruitment and selection instrument. They can be also useful in developmental, coaching and training. By using normative tests when screening employees, managers can select candidates who will have the best chances of success if hired or promoted and avoid placing the wrong employee in the wrong position.
Note: I do recommend on occasion using DISC for employee screening and selection. While I mentioned DISC is not a good predictor job skills, it is a powerful assessment for predicting HOW a candidate will interact with other people and approach a project. By using DISC in conjunction wth five factor personality tests, managers can predict both job fit and team (people) fit with accuracy. When selecting the right pre-employment test for your organization, the best choice is not a case of either-or. If DISC is used for hiring employees, use it in conjunction with other hiring tools...or not at all.