Monday, September 14, 2009

Split Style: A Two Edged Sword

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research & Development

Professional Communications, Inc.


This research blog is intended for scholars and advanced practitioners of “I Opt” technology. It delves deeply into the split style pattern, an analytical concept unique to “I Opt.” It offers hard data evidence as well as interpretive analysis. People who have a more casual interest in split styles are encouraged to view the summary video on the website or on YouTube. It is more accessible than the evidence-based research shown here.

Information controls behavioral options. You cannot be precise if you do not have detail. You cannot envision far distant futures if all you have is detail. Information determines possible behaviors. This is not a speculation. It is a certainty.

A split style is a name given to a particular strategic profile that favors two diametrically different information processing strategies. In other words, they differ on both the input and output dimension. Since information determines behavior, this choice causes behavioral sequences that appear to be contradictory. In one situation, the split style may choose a cautious option. The very next situation may be virtually identical but the individual elects to act suddenly with out forethought.

An outsider viewing the behavior generated by this combination over time would likely conclude that the person chooses to behave in an inconsistent fashion. In other words, the assumption is that the individual evaluated the situation in the same manner yet choose a opposite course. The natural outcome of this assumption is that the evaluation mechanism being used is faulty.

From an information processing perspective, there is no fault or deficiency. The person just chose to pay attention to different aspects of similar situations. Graphically, a split style means that the primary and secondary style lying at opposite poles on the standard “I Opt” diagram. Graphic 1 shows that this can happened on either of the two primary axes.

Graphic 1
(Actual profiles from Database)
It is useful to explain what is happening. The Hypothetical Analyzer and Reactive Stimulator combination is termed the HA/RS split. A person using this strategy will at times adopt the HA’s cautious, detail-oriented posture focused on producing a plan, assessment or other similar thought-based outcome. At other times they may elect the RS’ fast response based on minimal information and expedient methods. If seen in sequence over a period of time these alternating postures could suggest a contradictory behavioral pattern.

The Relational Innovator and Logical Processor (RI/LP) split produces different set of behaviors. Here the person may choose the cautious, detail-oriented posture focused on the precise execution of the LP. This action posture alternates with an RI output of ideas or new options spontaneously generated from any available information. Again, over time the only visible pattern is contradictory behavior.

People base their predictions on patterns of past behavior. The opposing postures of a split style profile eliminate commonalities needed for pattern generation. An observer would only see inconsistent behavior suddenly “pop up” without a clear reason. This creates a degree of behavioral uncertainty. It is inherent in the strategy.

Split style profiles are not common. Graphic 2 shows that number of split styles encountered in the population is about 12% (based on a sample of 42, 952).

Graphic 2

Complicating matters still further is the 12% of split styles are not homogeneous. They are about equally divided between HA/RS and RI/LP. This makes prediction even more difficult. People are unlikely to see the HA/RS and RI/LP as two different expressions of the same phenomena. An observer is likely only witness one or the other types of splits and thus see half of the 12% - or about 6% of the population - displaying contradictory behavior patterns.

People maintaining split style profiles will tend to be seen as outliers—people who lie out of the norm of everyday experience. This makes it likely that the contradictory behavior pattern will be treated as anomaly—just a peculiarity that can be ignored.

People using a split style strategy usually develop some kind of “switch.” A switch is just a situational signal. We have seen switches based on the level of risk, the location (home or work), psychological state, organizational levels and time frames. Anything that makes sense to the individual can be used as a “switch.”

The switch does not have to be conscious. All of us would find it difficult to articulate why we chose to use this style or that to address the thousands of decisions we make every day. We choose a particular approach because it is “right.” What is “right” is determined by our profile. We do not have to think about our choices. Neither does the person using a split style.

While the choice of a particular style response may be unarticulated, the same may not be true of the profile as a whole. Once given the lens of “I Opt” we have found that many (but not all) people using split styles recognize their tendency to use radically different approaches. In other words, there is usually no “push back” resulting from the “I Opt” diagnosis.

On an individual level there is nothing to “fix.” Whatever the switch is, it works most of the time for the person using it. If it did not, it would be discarded or modified over time. A split style strategy may be inconsistent but it can be effective for the person using it.

Graphic 3 shows that the thought based styles of HA and RI tend to be mildly favored in split style patterns.

Graphic 3
Theory offers no reason for the slight dominance of the thought-based strategies of HA and RI. However, the dominant style is the one that is used most often. It can be speculated that thought based strategies are more frequently called upon in a modern, complex society. However, this is just speculation. A definitive answer would require research that is beyond the scope of this blog.

A split style is not an issue for the individual holding it. People acquire style preferences as a response to the situations that they typically confront. If the situations require alternating between two diametrically opposed stances, the split style profile is optimal. In other words, split styles can be functional for the individual.

An example may help. One of the people with a split style profile that we encountered was an executive. He headed a function responsible for the distribution of large amounts of money. It turned out that he was using RI/LP split style profile. We wondered why.

We discovered that the choice was based on two roles he fulfilled. When managing the distribution of funds the disciplined, rigorous and detail-oriented Logical Processor (LP) style was being used. But when interacting with higher management levels, the idea generating Relational Innovator (RI) style was most advantageous. Since these two activities occupied a major portion of his time, they became embedded as his general approach.

“I Opt” styles are not confined to work. A split style went home with this executive when he left the office. It may not have been optimal in that context. But it does not have to be. It is enough that it be adequate for addressing the issues being confronted in that context. In overall terms, the gain in a work environment could be enough to offset any loss in other life situations.

A split style profile is used by a person because it works. It is a rational choice. It carries no penalty for the individual using it. It is a functionally effective method of addressing situations actually encountered in the conduct of life.

Split style difficulties emerge only at a group level. They are a sociological emergent. The source of the difficulty lies in the capricious unpredictability of behavior. Group members do not know about the unusual profile (the split style) being used or about the switch that controls it. The negative impact of this condition appears in the area of coordination.

A major factor in group efficiency and effectiveness is the ability of members to anticipate each other. If team members can predict each others behavior they can act on their expectation. They do not have to wait to be told what others will do. This predictive ability creates the widely recognized phenomena of a “smoothly functioning” team. A split style compromises this ability.

This happens because groups typically function as chains of activities. John does this and hands it off to Mary. Mary does that and passes it on to Peter. In this chain, the member’s anticipate the actions of those on whom they depend. Since they are prepared they can act more quickly and efficiently when the event they are expecting occurs.

But, if John were a split style, Mary’s predictions will be wrong more often than they would be if John used a typical “I Opt” profile. In other words, there is a greater chance of predictive error. When that happens, Mary may have to retrace some of steps she has already taken. Her efficiency is lost.

In some cases these bad predictions can compromise Mary’s ability to give Peter what he needs to complete the chain. When this occurs, the inefficiency is magnified. Peter’s prediction of Mary’s likely behavior could be compromised by John’s unpredictability.

The level of inefficiency varies with the degree of unpredictability. However, the fact that there will be a level of inefficiency is inherent. But a loss of efficiency does not mean that a split style automatically compromises effectiveness—the purpose of the group effort.

Internal efficiency losses can be offset by external advantages. For example, in our earlier example of the RI/LP executive the split style was functional. The executive’s LP was well adapted to handling the cash disbursement activity of the group he headed. His RI helped insure that senior management remained satisfied that the group was alert to new options. The executive’s split style approach supported group effectiveness.

Split style profiles are like any other. They are neither good nor bad. Their value depends on the balance of inefficiency generated versus the gain from the broadened range of issues addressed. This balance is situational. There is no general formula for gauging a particular split style’s net value.

Teams are just assemblages of people. The average team size is about 8 people. Split styles are about 12% of the population. On a pure chance basis the joint probability that an 8-person team will not have a member with a split style is 36% ((1 - .12)^8). The remaining 64% of teams would contain at least 1 split. Graphic 4 shows that this is exactly what happens in actual practice. In other words, the real world behaves just as mathematics says it should.
Graphic 4

A split style profile is displayed in behavior. It is not an hidden quality. Yet Graphic 4 shows that there is no bias—either positive or negative—in the selection of split styles as team members. They are included on teams exactly as pure chance would dictate. Yet we know that there is a coordination inefficiency built in. That means that there must be something that offsets this loss.

The logic of this position is that if split styles were dysfunctional teams would have learned to exclude them as members. In that case, we would have expected to find fewer of them than chance would dictate. That is
not what we find. It is reasonable to infer that split styles must bring at least as much positive value to team effectiveness as they cost in inefficiency.

Over half of the teams in the real world include at least 1 split style. So why don’t we see more frustration based on coordination difficulty? The answer is that not all split styles are equal. They come in degrees.

The strength of a split style has multiple determinants. The degree of difference between the two most used styles, the divergence with the closest peripheral style and the absolute level of style strengths are among the items affecting strength. However, for the purpose of this research blog the difference between the secondary style and the closest peripheral style can be taken as a reasonable index of strength.

Using this index, a mild split style can be defined as response set where a shift in 1 question on the “I Opt” Survey would resolve the split style into a more typical profile. There are 24 questions on the survey. Therefore 1 out of 24 would yield a 4.2% differential (1/24=.0417). In other words, over a long series of transactions we would expect a mild split style to be apparent to others only about 4% of the time. Clearly, this frequency is not enough to generate visible levels of inefficiency. What there is could easily be attributed to random chance.

Graphic 5 shows that almost half (46.6%) of split style population falls into this mild category. Coordination based inefficiency will be present. But the low frequency makes its effect almost invisible.

Graphic 5
Medium level splits require 2 or 3 response changes on the “I Opt” Survey to resolve the split style divergence. Using the same logic as applied to mild levels, this would mean that a medium level split would be visible roughly 10% of the time (2.5 average divergence/24=10.4%). This is likely to be noticeable but not highly dysfunctional.

The high category ranges from a minimum of 4 response changes (4/24≈17%) to the maximum actually recorded in the database of 9 changes (9/24≈38%). At these levels the split style will be noticeable and likely to materially affect team operation. However, this high level of split style strength occurs in only about 24% of the split style population. This means it will only be seen in 2.9% of the population (12% total splits x 23.9% strong ≈2.9%).

Split style inefficiency is visible to anyone who wants to look for it. However, noticeable levels occur only infrequently in a typical person’s experience. When it does rise to dysfunctional levels the tendency is to attribute the cause to some personal psychological quality of the individual involved. Without the “I Opt” lens with which to definitively isolate the cause, a psychological deficiency is likely to be the colloquial fallback. Unfortunately, this fallback speculation will do nothing to resolve the situation.

Both the HA/RS and the RI/LP split have the same effect. They compromise the ability of others to accurately anticipate future behavior. In addition, Graphic 6 shows that both are equally likely to occur at all strength levels. This means that there is no basis for differential effects based on the type of split style being used.

Graphic 6

The most powerful negative effects occur with those who are immediately impacted by coordination missteps. The structure of the group determines how many people will be effected. The more people immediately impacted the greater the potential exposure.

Graphic 7a shows a clustering situation. A split style’s (shown in yellow circle) unexpected behavior can effect multiple people. This magnifies the potential consequences to the group. Graphic 7b illustrates an isolated condition. Here split style effects are minimized by the position at the end of a chain of activities. There are simply fewer channels through which negative effects can flow.

Graphic 7

Structural position is not the only factor determining the effect of a split style on a team. Frequency is another determinant. The exposure is obvious. The more frequently the person with a split style is referenced, the greater the probability of a coordination misstep.

Finally, bandwidth matters. Bandwidth is the number of different functional channels (i.e., different areas of activity) that the split style can influence. The greater the number of channels, the greater the number of different ways a coordination misstep can influence group effectiveness. Again this is an obvious exposure.

Structure, frequency and bandwidth are important for organizational advisers to recognize. They can be changed to mitigate split style effects. This gives the adviser the option of changing the situation rather than the person to mitigate split style effects. It is an option worth keeping in mind.

Graphic 8 shows that the proportion of split styles is roughly stable throughout the range of organizational ranks. Spit styles account for 12% of the population and also occupy about 12% of the positions at each level of the hierarchy. This suggests that a split style profile is no structural impediment to advancement. In any particular instance the cost imposed by coordination missteps can be outweighed by the gains offered by broadened scope. But in general, they do not.

Graphic 8

The presence of split styles at all organizational ranks also offers further evidence of the existence of some kind of benefit flowing with split styles. If the inherent coordination penalty was not being offset by some kind of advantage, promotional potential would be compromised. It is not.

It might be noted that the Vice President level seems to have a bit higher split style representation. The difference is significant but without substantial consequence. Graphic 9 shows that a “mild” split styles make up a larger proportion of the Vice President category. In other words, while there are more VPs using split style patterns, they tend to be the weaker variety. In terms of operational impact, the split style effects at all levels are probably about equal.

Graphic 9

Functions impose constraints on the people who staff them. For example, accountants must follow FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) directives to have their work accepted. This kind of external control limits the value that can be contributed by the broadened split style range. Thus it is to be expected that different functions will vary in their hospitality to split styles. Table 1 shows that this is exactly the case at non-supervisory levels.

Table 1

The functions appear to divide into three distinct groups. Functions with low levels of split style representation are clustered in activities that limit discretionary behavioral choices. These activities are constrained by some form of standard or supervisory control. This reduces the value of the split style’s broadened perspective while the coordination cost penalty remains. The net result is that these are not favorable split style environments.

The functions with high levels of split styles appear to share a large discretionary component. With the possible exception of engineers, participants in these functions tend to work outside of large groups. The value of broadened scope is increased while the coordination penalty is lowered. This means that the net value of the split style strategy is enhanced. The effect is that these become favorable environments for the split style profile.

This real world experience supports the position that people using the split style strategy generate both increased costs (i.e., coordination) and value (i.e., broadened scope). Functionally, they prosper in situations where discretionary action is highest (i.e., value) and coordination (i.e., cost) is the lowest. It makes theoretical as well as operational sense.

The value side of the split style equation is situational. It depends on the activity being pursued. It would probably be wise for people committed to a split style strategy to try to avoid functions that limit discretion and that are thickly entwined with coordination demands. While this is an option, in most organizational interventions this will not be a practical alternative. The functional and structural positions are usually fixed. But there is the other side of the equation, the cost.

The organizational cost of a split style centers on its coordination effect. Others cannot predict future behavior. The remedy is obvious. Become transparent. In other words, remove the need for others to predict. The person using a split style only needs to tell others of their intention. This will instantly improve organizational performance and increase the value of the person using the split style strategy. It is an easy win-win option.

The split style profile is a rational choice for the individual employing it. On a theoretical basis it is the equal of any other profile. But on an organizational basis it is a two edged sword.

One edge of the sword is the increased cost. This arises because any split style has an inherent unpredictability component. This can make organizational missteps inevitable unless personal offsetting action (i.e., transparency) is adopted.

The other edge of the sword is increased value. This is situational. It does not occur everywhere and at all times. It occurs where the situation allows for and benefits from a broadened scope of action (e.g., see Table 1: Distribution by Function).

This research has shown that these cost and value components tend to offset each other in real world conditions. Split styles show up in about the same frequency as would be expected by chance.

The obvious prescription for addressing split style issues in Organizational Development is to maximize the value and minimize the cost. The value edge of the sword can be adjusted by seeking positions that benefit from the wide range that the spit style offers. The cost edge of the sword can be minimized or eliminated by adopting a transparent posture. This is not a difficult change. Plus there is a positive motive. It will improve person’s worth to the organization. This is likely to translate into increased rewards over both the short and long-term.