“That’s just you being yellow.”

“I need your green side for a moment.”

If you had heard us talking like this during the 2012 Alliance for Continuing Education in the Healthcare Professions Leadership Institute, you might have thought we were a little odd. While that may be debatable, what’s not is how valuable we found the 20-year-old teambuilding tool called the PACE Color Palette that we were introduced to. It is based on the principle that different people interact with the world in different ways: Some are impulsive and project great drive and enthusiasm, others crave order. Some want to make sure we can “all just get along,” and still others care about what it all means. Once you understand how you view the world and accept how others interact, you become more tolerant when people behave differently than you would. We found that knowing ourselves and knowing the people we work with helps us create more effective teams, which is one of the primary goals of leadership. And so we all opened ourselves up to a little introspection.

The result? We came to the Leadership Institute as strangers, but after an intense two days of working in groups organized by personality types sorted by easy-to-remember colors, we became colleagues who have a deeper understanding of how to incorporate our communication styles, joys, and stressors to create positive interactions. The PACE Palette resonated with us profoundly, galvanizing us into close-knit teams, creating a colorful camaraderie, and improving our interactions when we got back to our offices—it even is proving to be useful at home.

Primary Colors: The PACE Palette
While we all know not everyone thinks like we do, we still tend to dismiss it when someone behaves in ways we don’t like or don’t understand. At the Leadership Institute, we learned how much more productive we can be when we understand seemingly odd behavior instead of just dismissing it. People act the way that they do for reasons, motivations, and instincts that even they themselves may not be aware of.

The PACE Color Palette groups people into four primary categories, each associated with a color and a driving force:

Red - Adventure
Yellow - Responsibility
Blue - Harmony
Green - Curiosity

Each color has a talent, an area for which they have near-endless enthusiasm. While each color can channel the traits of the others, Greens will never be as harmonious as Blues, and Reds will never have the gift for structure that Yellows do. All of these traits are essential to highly functioning teams.

For example, imagine having a team made up of all Reds, the high-energy creative types with lots of ideas. They like to delegate, and they usually aren’t interested in the myriad details needed to take something from initial concept to execution. Without their Yellow, Green, and Blue counterparts, Reds likely would come up with many ideas that never come to fruition.

If employed consistently over time, the PACE system allows us to create more harmonious workplaces. Each of the four authors of this article represents one of the colors. Here’s a brief glimpse into how each of us interacts with the world. As you read, think about which color best fits your personality, as well as your colleagues’. (Hint: Many of the physicians you work with will be Green or Blue, while your director of accounting is probably a Yellow. Your director of sales is most likely Red.)

Ever Red-y: Alana Brody, MBA

Are you stuck on a business problem or curious about how to get an edge on the competition? Invite me to your brainstorming session and I’ll give you more ideas than you can shake a stick at. An hour should be enough (30 minutes will be even better). I do my best thinking on my feet. Please schedule it before noon. I’ve been up since 5 a.m.—got my workout in this morning and I’m pumped! Just make sure there is a fresh pot of coffee (the real stuff, please—decaf is for wimps).

I need energy, excitement, and a new string of challenges to perform at my optimum. If it isn’t fun, I’m not interested. I’ve got tons of good ideas and a vast network of professional colleagues who know how to get things done. My time horizon is now! I get a little bit bored with strategic planning beyond the 12-month time frame. Life moves quickly and so do I.

If you want to sell me on a new idea, tell me about immediate benefits—either for our organization or for me. But you’d better be quick-witted if you really want to catch my attention. Green colleagues, please don’t show me 100 slides with a detailed analysis. You’ll lose me that way. I trust you and that you’ve done your homework. Get to the point—better yet; tell me the point first and then let me ask questions.

I’ll sleep well tonight knowing that my Yellow colleagues will handle all the details and develop the plan, the timeline, and the logistics. I welcome a reminder from my Blue colleagues about birthdays that I might miss—and I always appreciate a high-five! Let’s rock!

Better than the Yellow Pages: Beth Brillinger, CCMEP

If you need something organized, a problem solved, or a challenge conquered, I am the one to turn to. I love to get things done, to check them off my list. If I do something that is not on my list, I like to write it on my list just for the pleasure of being able to cross it off. I am very good at taking on a new task that no one else around me has ever done. I love to research the rules and processes for similar tasks in order to develop the outline and process for a new one. Once I “build the car,” I feel a huge sense of achievement. Often though, I am ready to hand the “car” over to someone else to drive so that I can find a new problem to solve or new car to build.

I am confused by lofty strategy discussions that weave a complicated theory without an end in sight. I like to get to the point and get it done. I respect competency and structure and often become impatient if I think that someone else is not being productive or not “following the process.” I appreciate when my colleagues use the correct vernacular and are aware of the rules of my profession. When I realize that a mistake has been made, I am less interested in punishment than in finding a solution or process so that the mistake does not happen again.

I will often forget about the more warm and fuzzy elements of human communication and I need to remind myself to ask how someone is doing today—and then I also have to remember to listen to the answer! I am a loyal friend and colleague and I appreciate respect from and for others. I feel that respect is earned and I thrive on the recognition of my successes.

The PACE Color Palette presented and confirmed some previously learned ideas about how best to work with my colleagues who have different joys and stressors, different perceptions, and different perspectives on a situation. It helps me to understand how others may approach or react to a situation. What I have learned allows me to find the best, most productive way to get the job done, and as a Yellow, that is one of my greatest joys!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Jacob Coverstone

I’m Green. In fact, I’m very Green. The PACE Palette exercise begins with a scorecard where each column represents a color and you assign weight to the adjectives and verbs associated with a given cell in the each row. At the end of the exercise, you tally up your totals and learn a bit about yourself. Our instructor indicated that a difference of three points in one column over another column was significant. My Green score is eight points higher.

Greens, who make up just 5 percent of the population, have an instinctual hunger for information, specificity, and data. We love systems, not for the love of order like our Yellow friends, but because we crave efficiency and see interrelationships between abstract concepts. We’re often driven to solve problems and perform a lot of research. We’re curious, we’re logical—and we can be overwhelming to talk to.

Referencing Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, Greens start with evaluation, back up to analysis, and return to synthesis. Before information is stored away in our mental libraries, we’re picking it apart. “Is it worth remembering?” “How was this conclusion derived?” “How can I apply this?” Having your idea picked apart by a Green is a compliment (in our world); it shows that we’re intrigued, invested in the idea. We want to know more and want to help refine the concept.

One thing you don’t want to do to a Green is dictate process. Cut us loose and let us do our thing if you want to see results; we’ll figure out how. But, while this is a skill when working independently, it can be a barrier when working in a group or leading teams. Greens might not provide enough guidance to others and can leave people feeling lost or without direction.

If you’re a Green, know that you’re uncommon. If people are asking for directions, it’s not because they’re incapable; they may crave that structure or process to get started but accomplish amazing things thereafter. Share your research with them and help them get going. If, on the other end, you’re feeling micro-managed, realize that your boss or team-lead is probably trying to help. A lot of people want that structure or guidance. For 95 percent of workers, their approach might work.

As Greens, we’re the odd ones, and as the great philosopher Kermit T. Frog said: It’s not easy being green.

Bounding Blue: Audrie Tornow, CCMEP

I bound into the office way too perky (especially for those lacking their first or perhaps fourth cup of coffee). But I can temper my enthusiasm for colleagues who need to ease into the day. I’m a people person. I am highly sensitive to interoffice tension. I am a sounding board—“Come in, vent. Feel better?” I don’t take sides, as I believe in agreeing to disagree. I support all the shades of grey that lie between black and white. (Oh yes, I just worked Shades of Grey into this!) As long as it is in the “spirit of the guidelines,” I’m flexible enough to accommodate the process that allows you to work most efficiently. I believe in you. I’m trustworthy and loyal. I take it personally, whether you intend it or not, but I also try not to take it too personally. I treat you the way I hope to be treated. I’m the office cheerleader. We can do it if we try, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Go TEAM!

I believe in establishing strong interpersonal relationships because it aids me in working effectively with you. I understand better when I can push you and when I need to back off. At the Leadership Institute, it was inferred that Blues and food are synonymous. True. When I know you are having a bad day, don’t be surprised to find your favorite treat on your desk. (How did I know? I pay attention to the little things and know you better than you think.)

I want harmony. To that end, I will include my fellow Greens, Yellows and Reds in a discussion, because I value all the unique perspectives that they will bring to the table. However, I may later stress about the best way to incorporate those varied ideas while keeping the project on target, without anyone feeling as if their contributions were not given ample consideration. My project may now be delayed because of the time those considerations will require.

Alana—bring the idea. Jacob—bring the data. Beth—bring the plan. I am the grease for the machine. I will make sure you are comfortable, have all the necessary resources, and I’ll bring the lunch.

Taking It to the Office

These insights motivated each of us to return to our offices and start conversations with our colleagues and direct-reports about what we learned. We shared our knowledge of the PACE Palette, and we’ve had some very interesting conversations about our own communication styles, and the styles of others.

As members of the Leadership Institute, with our colors defined, we wrote this article with a clear understanding of our communication styles, and of what brings us happiness and what stresses us out. We approached each other with a baseline of trust and camaraderie that improved communication and allowed us to get straight to any issue. In fact, this article came together as a perfect case study for how a PACE-centric team can work together. It was almost too easy: Jacob was happy to do the digging and find out more details; Audrie was always willing to set up conference calls and make sure that everyone’s schedule was kept on track; Beth was delighted to draw up timelines and a list of deliverables; and, though it was hard to find a Red, once we found Alana, it was her enthusiasm that pushed the whole project forward.

OK, so it works for writing an article. But how does this method of thinking play out in the CME environment in which we work? Let’s look at a typical situation for healthcare education: Shortly after completing an educational activity, we have learner data, but what’s next? (I smell a little Plan-Do-Study-Act coming.) To leverage each color’s strengths, we turn the evaluation data over to our Green; he is practically glowing as he does a deep dive into the information. A few days later, tired but still enthusiastic, he meets with our Red and shares educational barriers specific to a subset of the learners. With a Red’s inclination to conceptualize, she realizes that while the barriers exist, there may be a way around them. She asks our Yellow to join her for a quick working lunch where she explains the concept. Since Yellows love to plan, she eagerly drafts a time and events schedule to make this idea to a reality. Yellow meets with Blue to discuss the different stakeholder partners and the conversations they’ll need to have. And soon the next activity is born, all while leveraging what each “color” does best.

This is not to say that a Blue will never be the one to come up with the idea, or that a Yellow can’t analyze the data. Still, if the team were all Green, we might have a great discussion about the data, but without the injection of a Red’s next big idea, we’d likely fail to generate momentum. (T. Boone Pickens calls this the “Ready… Aim … Aim… Aim…” problem.)

When you can assemble a team that maximizes each color type’s strength, you expedite your ability to get to a solution. Each situation or challenge is different, and we learned that in times of stress, we can completely forget to consider our own or others’ color characteristics. Now that we know this, we can greatly improve our leadership skills, our perspectives, and our communications with others on our team.

Authors note: If you want to explore this subject in more depth, meet us at the 38th Annual ACEHP Meeting, January 30–February 2, 2013, in San Francisco. We’ll be in Yerba Buena 5-6/Lower B2 at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, along with other Leadership Institute attendees who will be sharing leadership challenges and stories. Come show your colors! 

Resources: Personality Trait Programs





Author Bios

Jacob Coverstone is director of education with the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine; Audrie Tornow, CCMEP, is CME director with Paradigm Medical Communications, LLC; Beth Brillinger, CCMEP, is director of accreditation with CME Outfitters, LLC; and Alana Brody, MBA, is VP, strategic development, with MediCom Worldwide.