Comparing Employee Assessments: DiSC® and the HBDI®

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Choosing the right employee assessment for your team or organisation can be confusing. Many instruments overlap in what they measure and how they’re used. We take a closer look at the DiSC® assessment and how it compares with Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI®.

What is DiSC®?

DiSC® is a popular employee assessment for understanding different styles, behaviours and perspectives and how we respond in different situations. Like the HBDI®, it’s a four-factor model, but in the case of DiSC®, each colour-coded letter represents a behaviour trait:

D for Dominance

I for Influence

S for Steadiness

C for Conscientiousness

Unlike the HBDI®, which has a brain-based premise that considers how we process information, DiSC® is a behaviour-based assessment that considers how we behave in specific situations and how others perceive that. DiSC®, like most assessments, gives us insight. Those insights are focused on the impact of the individual’s behaviour.

Because it helps people see the diversity of behaviours in those around them, the DiSC® assessment can be a nice conversation starter and a helpful tool for people who’ve never had the opportunity to do much reflection at all.

With their DiSC® Profile, people can confirm, “This is a style of mine and this is how my behaviour impacts others.” They can quickly observe and evaluate the specific DiSC® traits in themselves and in those around them. DiSC® is great to use as an entry-level assessment for organisations that haven’t used employee assessments before. It’s a good tool to introduce learning about different working styles.

Another plus is the tool’s ability to account for context, environment, function and team dynamics. With these features, the DiSC® Profile can present a more contextually nuanced picture of the person’s behaviour than some other personality or behaviour assessments can.

From a facilitator’s standpoint, DiSC® is easy to administer. The self-paced design requires only minimal facilitation, and its flexibility and lower price point are attractive to companies that have immediate or short-term needs and aren’t necessarily interested in broader strategic impact. If you need to do a quick tactical rollout to “wake people up” to differences in behavioural style and give them a way to talk about those behaviours, then DiSC® can serve your needs.

Similarities and Differences Between DiSC® and the HBDI®

The two assessments have different premises, so they look at different things. Instead of focusing on behaviours, the HBDI® provides insight into thinking preferences, which may or may not inform someone’s behaviour. Thinking preferences also influence how people communicate, make decisions, solve problems and innovate.

The uses, purposes and outcomes are often different as well. In general, the lifespan and long-term impact of a DiSC® implementation is limited to learning more about self, others and teams. Beyond that, it’s difficult to scale DiSC® for bigger organisational initiatives. The HBDI® assessment is based on the Whole Brain® Thinking methodology, which is more than just a lens for insight about self, others and teams; it can be used for more strategic applications, such as decision-making, problem-solving, delegating, creative and strategic thinking, and many other areas.

A lot of organisations use Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® as a foundation for changing culture because Whole Brain® Thinking provides a framework and roadmap to create a common language. This common language can be the basis for all the important business conversations we need to tackle – not just people issues, but issues of process, profit and possibilities as well.

With any assessment, application can be a challenge. Getting people to create a new practice or behaviour based on insight from tools requires attention, focus and keeping the learning in the forefront of people’s busy days.

I have found it’s less challenging when you have a methodology that frames the concepts. Whole Brain® Thinking gives you a language, method and framework for thinking about the world around you. It provides an organising principle for understanding and addressing different kinds of interpersonal or business challenges. And the HBDI® gives you the insight to understand yourself and others, in addition to a framework for analysing, defining and applying shifts and changes in your thinking (and, by extension, behaviour).

For these reasons, Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® are often more appealing to organisations that want to directly link the strategic work that talent management, L&D, OD or HR is doing with tangible business outcomes.

Tips for using both the HBDI® and DiSC® Assessment

Because DiSC® is a nice entry point, you may want to use it to get a short-term, tactical implementation off the ground. But what if you decide to move to a more strategic initiative using Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® down the road? Can the HBDI® and DiSC® coexist?

Absolutely, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Understand that the HBDI® is a different type of assessment, and it measures thinking preferences as opposed to the behavioural style that DiSC® measures.
  • Be aware that there could be some confusion if you use them together because both models use colours as identifiers (e.g., the colour blue means different things).
  • Be explicit upfront with participants about the differences and why you are using one or the other.
  • Encourage participants to look at the patterns of similarity between the two profiles. Have them review the language and descriptors of preferences and behaviours.

In my experience, participants who’ve already taken DiSC® are very quick to pick up the HBDI® and begin making their own comparisons. They typically find value in both tools and appreciate the distinctions, and they can begin to see, define and act on what can be done for greater efficiency, effectiveness and impact.

This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated in 2020 and republished to ensure our readers don’t miss out on valuable information.