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Fall 2018 - The Value of ‘Social Style’
The Value of 'Social Style'
Enterprise Minnesota’s Abbey Hellickson interviews renowned HR expert David Collins about how giving employees better leadership skills might just cause them to stick around, too
October 2018

The TRACOM Group is The Social Intelligence Company that uses SOCIAL STYLE®, Behavioral EQ®, Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency® and Adaptive Mindset for Agility® assessments and courses to help people create amazing relationships and build high-performing organizations.

TRACOM contends that most leaders recognize that their organization’s success is built on the capabilities of their people, but they often don’t understand how to maximize that potential in today’s fast-paced world. They invest in functional skills or generic leadership training without ever considering how to develop the full potential of each person. Social Intelligence is the realization of this true potential in individuals, teams and entire organizations.

TRACOM enhances organizational performance with interpersonal skills-based development solutions covering the core aspects of the individual: Behavioral Style, Emotional Intelligence and Mindset. By focusing on these three elements, they say, each person can learn to thrive in the workplace, even in the face of rapid technological shifts and organizational changes.

David, you are the author of the Social Style & Versatility Facilitator Handbook. Why was this written and what led to the development of it? 
Social Style and Versatility are critical and interlinked skills in today’s world. When TRACOM first started, we focused on helping organizations identify top performers to hire or promote. Over time we discovered four patterns of behavior in people, and we named these patterns “Social Style.” All the research we’ve done shows that each one of those four Styles brings unique advantages and challenges when it comes to communicating and working with other people. People are far more predictable than most of us realize, and when we understand what others’ preferences are, we can adapt our behaviors and approach to meet their needs. The best part of all is that all four of the styles can be effective in any role. It’s not your Social Style that matters; it’s how you use your Style that makes the difference.

The biggest indicator of people’s performance is a concept called Versatility, which can be described as how well people adjust or adapt their behavior to the preferences of those they work with. In other words, how well they take the time and energy to approach another person in a way that he or she would like to be approached.

It was over 50 years ago that we discovered that people who demonstrated Versatility by adjusting their behavior to other people’s behavioral preferences were consistently ranked as the highest performers. Over time, we found that those skills were not necessarily innate in people, but they were trainable; we realized that we could absolutely change people’s lives by giving them skills to work better with people.

David Collins is president and CEO at the TRACOM Group, a Denver-based company whose Social Style & Versatility Facilitator Handbook is used by Enterprise Minnesota’s consultants to help manufacturers improve workforce engagement
David Collins is president and CEO at the TRACOM Group

That’s really how we became a training and development company, and it was the genesis of how Social Style has become the most popular interpersonal effectiveness model in the world today. The book we wrote, the Social Style & Versatility Facilitator Handbook, is designed to pass along all of the knowledge and real world experience and insights we have gained to the thousands of Social Style instructors and facilitators all over the world.

What are your thoughts about using Social Style and Versatility as the foundation for leadership development? 
Let me break that down in pieces. Social Style and Versatility are critical foundational skills for anybody in leadership. All of us have preferred ways to interact with others. The best way for leaders to get the most out of the people they manage is to understand their preferred patterns and adjust how they communicate with them, how they assign tasks to them, how they coach them, how they delegate to them, and how they provide them with rewards and incentives. By understanding Social Style, managers and leaders are able to change the very nature of the relationships they have with employees. We know through research and experience that very simple changes can have huge impacts in working with their teams.

How do organizations benefit when their leadership teams go through this process? 
We measure how leaders and managers who are highly versatile—who adapt their behavior to others—have much better engagement scores with the employees on their teams. In other words, they’re getting more out of their employees on an everyday basis. And we all know how important engagement is to getting people to perform at their best today and to get them to stay around so they’re here to help us tomorrow.

Research also shows that leaders who are high in Versatility are much better coaches; they’re rated as better conflict solvers and they’re also able to get the most out of their team. We see differences in performance anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent in a whole bunch of tasks in those areas. 

How do you help people see the value of recognizing their own behaviors and the impact that it has on others? 
As human beings, most of us are relatively blind to how other people see our behavior. So our training features a survey of behavior-based statements that allows people to assess their own behaviors as well as get input from others to provide their outside perspective. That gives us insights into how others view our behavioral patterns. Research tells us that more than 50 percent of people see their Social Style differently than how other people see it. That means we think we’re coming across to people in one way while, in reality, people are seeing us in an entirely different way.

Social Style & Versatility Facilitator Handbook by TRACOM GroupThis survey provides us with the gift of feedback. When you receive feedback from other people, you get to choose how you respond to it. You can either have a negative reaction, or you can slow down, reflect, and ask yourself: “That’s not what I expected. I wonder why that is and what that means?” That’s actually one of the most valuable parts of the learning that we can give to somebody. The resulting profile that people receive based on the survey has two parts to it: your Social Style and your Versatility, which is how effectively you adjust your Style to work with other people. 

We find that over 70 percent of people see their Versatility differently than how other people see it. What’s interesting is that people who are naturally versatile tend to rate themselves lower on Versatility; people who tend to need a little bit more work tend to rate themselves higher. That sounds counterintuitive, but ultimately what you realize is somebody who thinks they are a little bit lower in Versatility is somebody who says, “I just had a really good conversation with my direct report, but if only I said this thing differently, if only I had provided this piece of information, if only I had gotten it done just a little bit faster, it would’ve been better for that other person I was working with.” These are the people that grade themselves a little harder and are always looking for ways to improve by adapting to others. And don’t forget the opposite may be true for someone that says, “Yeah, I am really good at this people stuff, so let’s get on to the next task at hand.” These people might grade themselves a bit higher, but the reality is that they may be missing important signals on how effective they really are in working with others.

How do you help overcome stereotypes of certain roles should have a specific style? For example, engineers think they should be analytical, or managers think they should have a driving style. 
We have never found any single Social Style to be the majority in a job function or any particular industry. For example, when most people think of an accountant they usually think an accountant should be analytical, but the reality is very different. In fact, only 32 percent of accountants are analytical and what surprises people even more is that 29 percent of accountants are the Expressive Style, which is basically the exact opposite behavioral preference.

We teach people not to think about stereotypes, but rather to observe other people’s behavior to determine what their Social Style is. The facts I just shared highlight those stereotypes, pointing out assumptions that, quite frankly, just aren’t true. We need to focus on behavior and try not to make snap judgments about other people.

It is difficult for managers and leaders not to hire people just like them. Those are people they understand, and people that they will relate to very quickly. And when they hire people in their own likeness, they usually end up hiring people with the same Social Style. We find the most effective teams often are the ones that represent all four Social Styles: Driving, Expressive, Amiable and Analytical. This provides a balanced approach—someone to move the project along quickly, someone to make sure it’s being done accurately, someone to make it exciting, to keep everybody engaged, and someone to ensure everyone feels like they’re a part of the team.

Abbey Hellickson, business growth consultant, Enterprise Minnesota
Abbey Hellickson, business growth consultant, Enterprise Minnesota

Leaders should learn that it’s not only about identifying Social Styles and working with others, but making sure that you are utilizing the strengths of each one of those Styles on your team. And if you don’t have those people on your team, find ways to strengthen your weaknesses. 

How do you help teams develop Versatility as a daily habit? 
A beautiful thing about Social Style is it’s very easy to learn, easy to remember, and easy to apply. When you’re looking at another person’s observable behaviors, it’s very simple to predict their Social Style and then start applying what you learned to just one or two people at a time. To make it easier, we provide a digital tool called the Social Style Estimator that enables you to identify someone’s Style by answering 14 simple questions. Once you know the other person’s Style, you can start to adapt to their behavioral preferences.

If a manager or leader is going to reward or recognize someone, it’s important to take Style into account. Some Styles enjoy public recognition and praise, while others may be embarrassed by that, preferring a quiet, more personal thanks. You want to provide the reward and recognition in the way the person prefers for it to have the maximum impact, and if you don’t deliver it that way, you could accidentally have the opposite effect with that person. There are three things we suggest: One, figure out the style of the people that you’re working with. The next thing is to role-play an upcoming interaction. And third, you’re going to find that after a couple of times, it’s going to become more natural for you; and you’ll get a different reaction from the person.  

The most fulfilling part of my role in working with companies is seeing the positive impact of Social Style and Versatility. What successes have you seen? 
The impact of Social Style and Versatility has been career-altering for some people and absolutely life-changing for others. I personally get the most satisfaction when I can see somebody make the connection in the classroom that they can take back to his or her home life. I can see this when they say, “That’s why my kid does it that way,” or “I can’t believe it, that’s exactly the way my husband or my wife reacts.” When you can get somebody to see the benefit of why he or she would use this in his or her personal life, I can 100 percent guarantee that person uses it in his or her work life.

People contact us and say, “Such and such employee is a good employee, but they just can’t get along with their teams,” or they try to figure out ways to save this person. “We’re going to save that person so we can get them back to where it is that they need to be.” It just has to do with how our behavior is being perceived. The gift of feedback really unlocks a lot of problems. I’ve seen people go from being less than 30 days from being fired to becoming one of the most loved leaders inside their organization. And it has nothing to do with what their innate ability was or what kind of person they were. 

It’s not uncommon for us to have people show up 15, 20, 25 years later and ask, “Now that I’m a manager, now that I’m a leader, how about training my teams?” When I’m in those classes, those people share what a difference this particular skill made for them in their careers, and how that kind of made a big difference in their personal life.

If you think about it, the biggest separator of workplace performance for people or for individuals is really how well they can work with other people and how well they can relate to others. This is a skill that frankly we totally miss through that whole education process, that whole education system that we have that’s there. It really is one of those off-ramp skills.  


About David Collins
David Collins is president and CEO at the TRACOM Group, a Denver-based company whose Social Style & Versatility Facilitator Handbook is used by Enterprise Minnesota’s consultants to help manufacturers improve workforce engagement. With more than 25 years in training and human resources experience, Collins has helped hundreds of organizations improve their performance. His experience includes the creation and sales of training and development tools, recruitment and selection systems, e-learning platforms, custom training solutions, 360s and assessments, and complete learning management systems. Since 2003, David has managed the expansion of TRACOM’s product offerings including new courses and guides to apply Social Style. He has led sales efforts for packaged products and custom solutions, and has worked with fast-growing companies such as Learning Byte International and ePredix. He is a graduate of Syracuse University.

About Abbey Hellickson
Abbey Hellickson is a business growth consultant who works with manufacturers throughout the state to help them engage their workforce, maximize productivity, improve company culture, and strengthen their leadership teams. Drawing on a wealth of experience in talent and leadership development, Abbey enables companies to drive performance at all levels of their organizations and develop the effective leaders they need to build and sustain profitable growth.  

Prior to joining Enterprise Minnesota, Abbey served as the director of business and workforce education at Rochester Community and Technical College and as a corporate training instructor for Fastenal.  

She received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Winona State University and a Master of Education in Human Resource Development from the University of Minnesota.

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