The Importance of Understanding How People THINK

Jim Williams
Dec 12, 2023

In last month’s engagement blog post we focused on the concept of meeting your people where they are as a leader to solve one of the most fundamental challenges we are seeing from an organizational standpoint, the sub 35% engagement rates of employees in the U.S.

This month I want to focus in on another key aspect of engagement, as we see it here at Getting Thru and that’s the importance of understanding how people THINK.

I have been lucky enough to be put through all kinds of developmental tools. 360 assessments, the DiSC Profile, Strength Finder, Meyers Brigg, Enneagram, Birkman and various other intelligence, personality, and skill-based assessments. I must admit after using them all the one I have found the most value from is the Herrmann Whole Brain Thinking Instrument, commonly referred to as the HBDI.

I would say that a close second would be the Gallup Strength Finder. Early in my career with Best Buy as we embarked upon the company’s customer centricity strategy, the talent themes, as they are known in strength-based leadership terms were, in my opinion foundational to all Best Buy accomplished from 2000-2010. When I joined Best Buy in the late 1990’s we had a few hundred stores, when I departed in 2013 there were thousands around the world. The strength-based leadership culture that was built by all of us at Best Buy during this period was a big contributor to that growth. Some may recall during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Circuit City was still the number one Consumer Electronics retailer in revenue and store count. BY the end of 2010, Circuit City was gone and Best Buy has cemented itself as one of the best run companies in America.

Now lots of people have spoken and written about how “bad” Best Buy was in the 2012-2014 period and the big “turn-around” the company went through, led by Hubert Joly and his leadership team, many of whom I had the chance to work side by side with during the rapid growth the company saw for a decade plus, prior. The reason I bring this up is that the strengths-based organization that built Best Buy was IMHO the same one that saved it. It’s a fantastic leadership framework and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build their organization around the fundamental talents of those who lead and work in it. Trying to get someone to be or do something that are not naturally included to do, their strengths will likely result in frustration and less than stellar results.

With all that said I guess this goes to show just how much I LOVE the HBDI tool set when you read the success I and so many had used the strengths model. Both tools are awesome, the HBDI gets the edge for me, now looking back based on the simplicity of the model and the art and science that underpins it. How we think is how we behave. It’s that simple. The HBDI profile assessment assigns you to a set of thinking preferences that are quite simple to understand, and the resources provided for you as an individual and then as a team are fantastic.

I was able to see the HBDI in action as a leader at Cox Automotive. Cox is a family-owned conglomerate with a variety of holdings. They are mostly known for the Cox Cable business but also, at the time had a 7 plus billion-dollar automotive services business and their original media (TV, radio, newspaper) holdings.

The biggest piece of the automotive piece of the company was Manheim, a 70 plus year old wholesale automotive auction business. When I got recruited by Cox, I had to Google what Manheim was, it’s what I like to call a “behind the curtain” business, meaning the public doesn’t know too much about it. Well, I learned quickly that Manheim and Cox Auto (when I joined the company that business name hadn’t been created yet) were a BIG piece of the automotive ecosystem in the U.S. If I correctly recall Cox Auto touched 7/10 automotive transactions, with one of their holdings which is quite the statistic. Manheim was its biggest business and was the dominant market share player in the wholesale automotive marketplace.

To cut to the chase for this part of the blog a group of us had been given the assignment to lead a transformation for Manheim. The leadership knew that it wasn’t a question of if the business was going to get disrupted it was when. Most of what Manheim did was almost on pen and paper, we were the biggest and maybe only consumer of 5-part paper forms that were the documents that showed were tens of billions of wholesale car sales transactions were going, from seller to buyer. It was amazing. The team that was charged with this effort, essentially digitizing the company (a HUGE oversimplification) was not only not on the same page but you might say there was a genuine dislike and distrust amongst the 3 groups leading the project.

I am not here to say that us, as a team using the HBDI solved every one of the trust issues we had but it came close. Once we really understood how each of us thought, both under “normal” circumstances (there weren’t many) and pressure (there were plenty of those) we started to slow down a bit and seek to understand the other perspective. It also showed the lack of “thought diversity” on the team and how those of us in the minority often felt attacked and misunderstood, well that’s because in a matter of thinking we were.

At Getting Thru Consulting, we have adopted HBDI and as Certified Herrmann Whole Brain Thinking Practitioners, we see it as a “go to” leadership development tool and highly recommend it to those leadership teams about to go thru transformation or in leading a turnaround. These kinds of scenarios are filled with stress and pressure and if you want to develop a “one team, with one goal” mentality the HBDI will certainly help you get there.