Strengths Coaching Blog

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Comparison of CliftonStrengths and DiSC

By Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans


As coaches, we face a variety of options when choosing the best development tools to help our clients. In this blog, we will dive into a comparison of two well-known tools — DiSC profiles and CliftonStrengths — weighing out the differences and providing a little history, too.

DiSC Theory Overview

The DiSC theory originated with American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who published the Emotions of Normal People in 1928. It established the Marston Model of the Four Dimensions of Behavior, which is based on directly discernable and quantifiable phenomena. The theory derives its name from Marston’s four original dimensions — Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. These were later changed to:

      • Dominance
      • Influence
      • Steadiness
      • Conscientious

The primary objective of DiSC assessments is to be a tool for measuring an individuals’ behavior. A person with a Dominance behavior style, for example, is “direct, forceful and outspoken with their opinions”; an Influence style is “outgoing, enthusiastic, and lively”; Steadiness describes someone who is “gentle, accommodating and patient with others” and the Conscientious style is “logical, reserved and precise.” The dimensions themselves are presented in a quadrant system that creates the DiSC Circle. 


DiSC Assessment Design

In the 1940s, industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke took Marston’s theory and turned it into a behavioral assessment tool. In its original form, individuals would fill out a checklist of adjectives they believed accurately described themselves. By the 1970s, the assessment had evolved into a self-description tool that featured a series of questions designed to force users to choose between two different descriptions to most accurately characterize themselves — the format still used today. 

An individual’s assessment results fall somewhere on the continuum of the DiSC Circle. They receive the letter of their behavioral style — D, I, S or C — and then are shown their distance from the edges of the circle to see where they stand within their style’s quadrant (i.e., how firmly they connect with the characteristics of that style). 

Since 1972, more than 50 million people have taken a DiSC assessment.

CliftonStrengths Overview

Developed after over 25 years of research, psychologist and Father of Strengths Psychology Don Clifton introduced CliftonStrengths in 2001 with the best-selling book Now, Discover Your Strengths. CliftonStrengths analyzes people’s skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits and categorizes them into 34 signature talent themes. In 2007, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was released and became the upgraded version of the assessment used today.

Rather than measure a person’s behavior as DiSC assessments are designed to do, CliftonStrengths gives teams and individuals an opportunity to discover their natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The tool itself is meant for development and coaching. Each result moves beyond simple insight descriptors such as “people person” or “pays attention to details” to creating a language through which individuals can express who they are, what they need, what they give and what they value.

CliftonStrengths Assessment Design

The CliftonStrengths assessment is a timed, online measurement tool consisting of 177 paired statements. For each pairing, respondents choose which statement best describes themselves. Upon completion, they receive their Signature Themes report which presents their Top 5, or five most dominant themes, out of the 34 possible options. There are 278,256 possible combinations of Top 5 themes and more than 33 million different sets of Signature Themes — so each result is unique to that individual. 

To date, more than 16 million people have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment.

Both assessments are accurate; CliftonStrengths is more eloquent. 

As outlined above, DiSC is based on Marston’s Four Dimensions of Behavior, while CliftonStrengths is based on 34 personality themes. Behavior defines how someone acts, which can be more situational. For example, if someone is taking a DiSC assessment for their work, they may not be thinking about how they act in a different setting. Therefore, there are actually seven different DiSC assessment and report offerings: Everything DiSC; the Everything DiSC Sales Profile; the Everything DiSC Management Profile; the Everything DiSC Workplace Profile; Everything DiSC Productive Conflict; Everything DiSC Work of Leaders; Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders; and DiSC Classic 2.0. 

CliftonStrengths does not measure a state; rather, it measures a person’s traits. CliftonStrengths is a development tool that applies to all facets of life. While with DiSC it may be easier to remember your one letter for your behavioral style, knowing your Top 5 CliftonStrengths themes gives you real insight into your talents. For example, knowing someone has Arranger in their Top 5 indicates to a peer, coach or friend that they can “organize, but also have a flexibility that complements this ability. Arrangers like to figure out how all the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.” But this theme is different from someone with Responsibility. An Arranger is like a juggler who momentarily touches all the balls; Responsibility is like a football player who tenaciously holds onto the ball. These subtle distinctions demonstrate the value of knowing your CliftonStrengths Signature Themes versus your DiSC behavioral style. 

Bottom Line

CliftonStrengths provides actionable insights and advice from the moment you receive your results. The personalized report gives you action items and insights on how to turn a talent into a strength. DiSC’s results provide a broad awareness of your behavior style — for example, are you forceful or logical? But after acquiring this knowledge, coaching would be needed to understand the subtleties between two people who work with the same general style. 

Many organizations use both instruments. Even with the applicability of CliftonStrengths, coaching is still a necessary step toward improving performance. However, the CliftonStrengths assessment not only provides context for performance development, it builds a common language within an organization to shed light on the essence of positive psychology — studying what’s right with people. 

What experience do you have with these tools? Please share your insights below!



Adam Hickman,M.B.A.., is a Learning Design Consultant for Gallup. Adam has worked as a consultant and adviser in the field of learning and development, organizational development, and how to transform a culture from best-in-class to world class. His insights have supported many organizations to increase performance by maximizing their talent and human capital systems. Adam received his B.A. in Communications from Hiram College, M.B.A. in Management from Walden University, and currently is conducting a qualitative research study for his Ph.D. in Management from Walden University.

Adam's top 5 strengths are: Ideation | Command | Analytical | Competition | Individualization




Mary Claire Evans is a Qualitative Research Specialist for Gallup. She conducts market research and works with the e-Commerce and CliftonStrengths teams. As an expert in market research and how our coaching philosophy compares to other assessments, Mary Claire is able to help coaches prepare for conversations with clients about each assessment. In addition to being a talented associate for Gallup; she graduated with distinction with a double degree in Economics and Spanish Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Mary Claire's top 5 strengths are: Individualization | Achiever | Learner | Responsibility | Connectedness

Register for the 2018 CliftonStrengths Summit here!

5 comments :

Mezjan Dallas said...

Thanks. This was very informative & educational !

Unknown said...

Great article! I actually wrote a fairly comprehensive guide on DiSC vs StrengthsFinder last year as well. If you’re interested, here it is: http://blog.strengthsschool.com/strengthsfinder-blog/cliftonstrengths-vs-disc

Isabeau Iqbal said...

Thank you. I really appreciate this type of article as this is the type of question I ask myself or get asked. Having this summary really helps me better understand the differences.

Michael McCleve said...

In the work I do with college students, we actually use both DISC and Clifton Strengths for Students. There is tremendous value in both tools. We take the concepts and descriptions of DISC and interact with students and give them opportunity to see how they can use this information to better engage with others, gain insight and understanding in their communication skills, and recognize how personality impacts relationships and begin to learn how to adjust their own approach to interacting with others to improve communication and strengthen relationships.

Of course, we take advantage of all that was written in this article as we use the Clifton Strengths for Students assessment, too. It is not the same thing as DISC, of course, and once students recognize the differences and begin to see the value of each we find their ability to engage with others, and even lead, begins to mature and develop even more effectively.

I think both are excellent tools, when we recognize how each is best used and how we can help others by using them correctly and effectively ourselves.

XteenB said...

Glad to see that you made the comparison using Everything DiSC assessments and not the DISC assessments put out by Tony Robbins or others that aren't as well researched or valued. I've done several Everything DiSC assessments and Strengthsfinder. They each serve their own purpose, both for individuals and for teams. And I think they can both be misused by people trying to find an overly simple way to make hiring decisions.

Search This Blog for Coaching Topics