How Elizabeth Roberts Uses DISC to Help Start-Ups Succeed

When Elizabeth Roberts, Partner and Head of People at Ulysses Holdings, took the DISC TriMetrix HD Assessment over three years ago, it made an immediate impression on her.

“I thought, ‘I don’t really understand this, but I feel like they might have cameras in my house’,” she jokes.

She had taken assessments before, and hadn’t been overly impressed. She hadn’t bought into the idea of an algorithm telling her about herself and had been put off by tests that attempted to tell her who she was. “Different tests told me I was an introvert, an extrovert … and the feedback was never in a language that I understood.”

But the DISC assessment was distinctive, and she saw the difference immediately.  “Your DISC results tell you what you do, not what you are. It identified strengths in my work that I had previously been apologizing for,” she says. “What I learned through DISC is that I have qualities that really come in handy for entrepreneurs. Most successful entrepreneurs are driven, fast-moving, and with an almost insane level of optimism and self-assuredness. Those qualities help entrepreneurs believe that their idea or business will succeed, and help them move forward against all odds. It’s incredibly exciting to be around, and can be intoxicating. My natural pacing is slower, which in the past I thought was a problem, but one of the value-adds I bring to a team is the ability to temper the potential down-sides of that level of drive and speed. I can help a founder see the forest for the trees (or the trees for the forest)! The ability to have another executive at the table with an inherently different intellectual and emotional pacing helps a start-up be more grounded and built on a more solid foundation.”

“DISC has given me a language to talk about my strengths and understand myself. What’s more is that it has given me the tools to USE those strengths. It really does hold up a mirror and show you what your behavior is (whether it’s flattering or not). I couldn’t have found a better tool for my professional life. By introducing me to DISC, Whit [Mitchell] and Ron [Price] literally changed my life. They completely changed my professional outlook,” she says.

In her role at Ulysses Holdings, Elizabeth regularly uses DISC to help start-ups recruit, hire and develop their people. “DISC is a Swiss Army Knife. I use it in every aspect of my consulting work,” she says. “It is infinitely powerful and impactful. I am sometimes afraid to teach it because it means so much to me personally, and because it is such a deeply powerful tool. The stakes are high: I see DISC’s ability to make good leaders into great leaders. There isn’t one—not one—person whose life wouldn’t be positively impacted by DISC.”

“Investing in yourself and in other people is a long-term investment. So helping people understand themselves understand others is the foundation upon which my career is based. I was good at it before, but now with DISC I feel I’m driving a rocket ship; it’s that powerful. Hiring people is the single most terrifying, expensive, and risky thing an entrepreneur does. Using DISC, s/he can make informed decisions. The success rate skyrockets when we use DISC as a recruiting tool. We know where the pain points will be. DISC helps us get beyond the normal ‘everyone on their best behavior only asking questions they already know the answers to’ tendency in interviewing.”

Elizabeth came to HR management and consulting from what many might consider an unconventional path. She sang opera internationally for 12 years, but despite her success, she wasn’t fully happy in that career. “I loved performing and working with small groups of people, but the need to sell yourself and to hustle made me deeply uncomfortable. The lifestyle I was living took a toll, and I didn’t have the language to understand it at the time. Taking DISC in the middle of my career actually enabled me to look back at my artistic experiences and discomforts with a deeper understanding of what behavioral factors may have been at play.”

Because of her personal career experience, she also found the assessment’s measurement of “natural” and “adaptive” behaviors very eye-opening. Natural behaviors are how people act when they are alone or with people they trust, essentially who they authentically are.  Adaptive behaviors occur when people shift their natural tendencies to behave in a way they believe is expected of them in a given situation. “My behavior can change if needed. I can be a demanding, driving presence if I need to be, but there is a personal cost to that,” she says.

Elizabeth believes that the most significant value of DISC is the language it offers. “DISC gives a neutral language you can use to better understand yourself and everyone with whom you come into contact. It removes connotations, both positive and negative, from your vocabulary. I have been able to impartially identify someone’s behaviors using the DISC language, rather than just labeling that person. I can also look at my own profile compared to another person’s, and I can see where conflict might arise in advance. I can plan ahead and communicate more clearly. Conversely, if I need to persuade a colleague, DISC enables me to succeed in knowing how to appeal to his or her nature. It’s a full picture: It’s all of the observable data you have.”

Elizabeth consistently sees results when she uses DISC to help companies hire the right people. “DISC is extremely powerful in recruiting. I believe there is a fundamental shift that needs to happen in recruiting. Often people are trying to hire quickly or operating from a position of scarcity, but they are only able to make the decision that is appropriate in the short term, often to the unknown determination of the long term.”

“Creating a job benchmark takes time in the short term, but you are not hiring people for the short term. Using DISC for job benchmarking gives us the ability to identify and measure the qualities someone is going to need to succeed in a position. It’s a brilliant translational tool.”

“There’s nothing that can’t be made better by understanding yourself and others more completely,” says Elizabeth. “Whit recently said to me, ‘Step 1: understand yourself, Step 2: understand others, Step 3: adapt for increased communication and teamwork.’ I think that says it all.”