Monday, October 22, 2007

How Styles Affect Promotion Potential

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D., Chief R&D and CEO
Professional Communications, Inc.

"I Opt" research has revealed a statistically significant connection between "I Opt" strategic styles and organizational rank (e.g., manager, VP, CEO). The research is also able to reveal why this condition exists. The connection between style and rank is not a mere association. It is causal in the sense that X causes Y. The only way the relationships will change is if information flows change.

The implications for Leadership Development are clear. The current stress on skill sets and techniques is necessary but not sufficient. Prospective leaders must master a sequence of processing patterns suitable to the level to which they aspire. What works at one level will be suboptimal for another. There is no "one" leadership strategy suited to all levels

The statistics used were developed using a database in which rank can be associated with "I Opt" strategic style scores. This study includes the following elements:

124 CEO/Presidents
________This is the single individual who either
________________________owns the firm or is responsible only to
________________________the Board of Directors.

460 Vice Presidents________These are corporate level Vice
________________________who can make policy for the entire
________________________organization. It includes people identified
________________________as Presidents of subsidiaries. Nominal
Vice Presidents who are responsible for
departments, plants or other subsets
of the larger organization are classified
under Manager/Directors.

2,090 Managers/Directors____These are people who are responsible for a
________________________function within the firm. They are
typically accountable for multiple
supervisors and/or for the deployment
________________________of significant assets.

295 Supervisors____________These are first level supervisors who
typically manage people who perform
a particular activity within the firm.

6,028 Non-Supervisory_____These are people responsible for an activity.
It includes high level professionals (e.g., MD,
Ph.D., CPA, etc.) as well as unionized hourly
workers. Most people in this category are
professional level salaried employees.

The subjects of the study come from all parts of the United States. There is also a substantial international component (e.g., Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, Middle East, etc.). The firms in the sample include manufacturing, health care, finance, banking, non-profit, universities, government and many others. It is a reasonable basis from which to draw general conclusions.

"I Opt" Strategic Styles are strategies people use to resolve issues that arise in their lives. The dominant style is the first one a person is likely to try if it is not precluded by the nature of the issue. The four strategic style possibilities are:

Reactive Stimulator____The RS strategy uses unpatterned (e.g.,
spontaneous) input and action output.
It is characterized by rapid reaction
_______________________using expedient means.

Logical Processor______The LP strategy uses structured (e.g.,
planned, logical, systematic, etc.) input and
an action output. It is characterized by
exacting detail, high efficiency and
_______________________reliable execution.

Hypothetical Analyzer__The HA strategy uses structured input
and thought (e.g., plans, assessments,
recommendations, etc.) output. Well-
reasoned thought, exhaustive research
_______________________and complete understanding characterize
_______________________this approach.

Relational Innovator
___The RI strategy uses unpatterned input
and thought output. It is characterized
_______________________by an ability to identify
_______________________relationships and quickly generate
_______________________unexpected options.

The four strategic styles are NOT merely names attached to statistical associations. They are derived from theory and have been statistically verified along all eight dimensions of validity. They represent stable categories that can be relied upon.

Chart 1

Chart 1 compares rank to the dominant strategic style. It shows an explicit and consistent relationship. The higher the rank, the more likely the person is to use the RS and RI styles. The “stair-step” pattern suggests that the underlying cause is systematic. It appears to affect every level and every style in a methodically progressive way.

While the RS and RI styles are favored, they are not exclusive. At every level each style has at least some representation. This can have several explanations. First, styles say nothing about intelligence. You can be a genius using any style. Intelligence is a key competitive factor in the competition for rank. It is likely that this factor is reflected in the data.

Another factor is the nature of the firm. There are firms in the sample where exacting standards, high efficiency or methodical execution are keys to success. Here the LP style might be favored (e.g., food packaging, regulatory agencies and sub-assembly manufacturing). In other firms mastery of complex systems or avoiding error can give the HA style the edge (e.g., insurance, chip manufacturing and safety engineering).

Still another factor affecting strategic style representation is the stage in the life cycle of the firm. For example, about 40% of the CEOs in Chart 1 who have a dominant RS style were founders of their firm. This risk-taking, action-oriented style is well suited to launching a firm.

While there is room for everyone at every organizational level, there is nonetheless a clear bias toward the strategies using unpatterned (i.e., spontaneous) input—the RS and RI—at higher levels. This relationship is statistically significant at levels that fully meet academic standards (p<.001 ). This is not a statistical accident. Something is causing these results.


The dominant style analysis is categorical. It only tells you which style is dominant. It says nothing about how much the strength of one style exceeds another. For example, the strength of RI style may only be microscopically higher than the RS style. The categorical analysis would classify person as 100% RI.

Fortunately, “I Opt” can determine the exact strength of each style within a person’s behavioral repertoire. Since there are only four possible styles, the strengths can be stated as a percentage.

Chart 2

Style strength in Chart 2 shows the same relation between rank and style as did the categorical analysis. Once again the relationship is statistically significant (a free copy of the statistical analysis is available upon request). This finding is not a random event. It has an objective cause.

The stair step pattern within the “I Opt” strategic styles argues for a systematic cause. Every step up the ladder must involve increasing levels of whatever is driving the relationship. The one factor that varies directly with rank is information flow. It happens in every organization, industry and culture. It is a universal that can explain the finding across the broad range of industries sampled in this blog.

The Input Variable
The decision horizon moves outward with increases in rank. The information available becomes less concrete. There are no “facts” for what has not yet occurred. There are only inferences. The longer the time horizon, the less certain are those inferences.

The LP and HA styles use structured input (e.g., planned, logical, systematic, etc.) to excel at lower levels. They can take full advantage of the depth of information available. They are efficient and effective. The RI and RS styles use unpatterned input (e.g., spontaneous, naturally visible, unplanned, etc.). The random elements in this stream result in a loss of efficiency and effectiveness. The result is that the LP and HA have a natural competitive advantage at activities typical at lower levels.

The RS and RIs use of unpatterned inputs gives them an advantage at higher levels. They are better able to “see” possibilities that lie outside the scope of present conditions, assumptions or expectations. They are more comfortable with the uncertainty and vagueness. It gives them a competitive advantage at higher levels.

The Output Variable
Both the RS and RI use unpatterned input. The fact that the RI tends to exceed the RS at the upper levels (i
.e., VP and CEO) must be due to something other than input. That “something” is output elections.

The RS is an action-based strategy. It is a quick, decisive posture that seeks to directly cause the world to be different. Since action only makes sense in the relatively near-term, a natural shorter-range focus is created. In addition, the RSs tendency to use of expedient means increases risk. The cost of error grows as more assets are put into play or as strategic directions of a firm are changed. This caps the value of the RS at the highest levels. There is a limit to how much risk any organization can take.

Like the RS, the RI strategy uses unpatterned input. Unlike the RS, it is a thought-based strategy. It does not require action to be satisfied. It is focused on new ideas, novel relations, unexpected theories and other change-oriented initiatives. Since they are not forced into quick action, lower levels can vet these propositions before implementation. But, since they arise at a high level they cannot be dismissed out of hand. The possibility will be considered. There is no capacity limit in organizations to ideas. This gives the RI a competitive advantage over RS as rank increases.

Other Factors
There are other factors that can create advantages between the various styles. Visibility is one. Decisive action and unusual ideas get more attention than consistent performance. A natural affinity with people already at a high level is another. High level executives promote lower level ones. Talking the “same language” as higher level people helps promotional chances.

These and many other such factors operate in the real world. However, none of them would be able to completely offset the advantages or disadvantages created by information flows. If one were to use these other devices to gain high position, inferior performance would eventually be noticed. The likely result is replacement. Other tools might be able to get you to high position but they will not keep you there.

The findings reported in this blog expose a gap in current leadership development programs. A focus on techniques, methods and practices is valuable but insufficient. Candidates for leadership must be taught how to adjust their information processing profile to match the level that they are targeting.

This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Because RI is favored at the CEO level does not mean that aspiring leaders should be guided toward the highest level of that strategy. This would insure failure. To survive the lower levels leaders have to have at least threshold levels of LP and HA. Remember that you have to get through the lower levels to reach the higher.

The above observation highlights an interesting aside. The data used in this study focuses on success. It neglects to count the people who have suffered the consequences of failure in their attempt to rise up the hierarchy. For every RS and RI executive who has risen to VP or CEO there are many who have been fired, demoted or sidelined. The price of leadership development that neglects strategic styles is not only the failure to develop the talent in the LP/HA pool. It is also the unnecessary attrition of the RS and RIs.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to delve into changing strategic styles. Suffice it to say that we all have some capacity in each style. The more we use a style, the more skilled we become at it. The greater the skill, the more likely we are to use it again. It sounds easy. It is not. However, it is doable and it is an obligation of a complete Leadership Development program to provide the knowledge that is necessary to navigate the necessary transitions.