For well over a century now, industrial and organizational psychologists have turned their collective focus towards a singular goal: trying to explain why employees behave the way that they do.
While these hyper-focused disciplines have generated a significant body of knowledge about the complex correlations between human behavior and business outcomes, most of these models rely almost exclusively on the joint influence between individual characteristics and cognitive factors.
By individual characteristics, of course. I’m referencing stuff like intrinsic motivation, interpersonal dynamics, cognitive ability and personal skills or experience. Contextual factors, on the other hand, lie either somewhat or entirely out of the control of the individual employee. These contextual factors include such considerations as job characteristics, company culture, leadership communication, performance management, organizational structure and development.
While the interplay between the individual and the bigger business are essential to understanding the bigger behavioral picture, the best way to understand (and thereby, have the ability to predict and manage) the variable of human behavior is to recognize the fundamental reciprocity that must exist as a prerequisite for any successful relationship between employee and employer.
In this area, the scientific study and application of personality theory has yielded a wealth of insight (and terrabytes of data) when it comes to collectively managing individual outcomes.
A Quick One: Building The Business Case For Personality Assessments.
First off, let’s start with a simple definition of the word “personality.” When we’re talking about the functional relationship between work and work environment, probably the best way to conceptualize this critical concept is to look at personality as the unique cluster of each individual employees’ consistent behavioral patterns.
This framework allows us to look at the way we select and manage top talent based on such an amorphous, ambiguous concept as “personality” with an understanding not only of how each employee relates to their employer, but also why that person behaves differently under diffuse situations or changing contexts.
For example, by assessing “personality” by applying the above definition, we can see if an employee or candidate is likely to:
- Show the potential, patience and perseverance to go above and beyond for a client.
- Push hard (but not too hard) to appropriately close clients in selling situations.
- Make the right decision by considering all relevant details, inputs and potential outcomes when situational judgement or thoughtful deliberation is required.
Similarly, the above definition of personality is a highly concise, highly effective framework for framing the relationship between individual employees and the greater work context factors in which each operate in order to best understand the intrinsic motivators that define an individual employee’s unique drivers. These include:
- Distinctiveness: By distinctiveness, we’re simply referring to the aspects of an individual’s personality and interpersonal dynamics that make them different or unique from other employees and/or job candidates.
- Consistency: In this context, we’re defining consistency simply as the aspects of an individual’s personality and interpersonal dynamics which provide enough input points to allow us to reliably predict that employee’s behavior across a wide range of different dynamics, situational approaches and potential business scenarios.
Personality assessments have consistently and repeatedly proven themselves to be highly valuable to both the individual employee and bottom line results when they’re effectively leveraged as part of an integrated talent management approach. By utilizing personality assessments holistically across a wide range of potential situations, senior managers and executive leadership can have a much better understanding of why individuals behave the way they do in various professional contexts or workplace conditions.
Once you know the why, of course, you can better control the how when it comes to people processes, programs and policies – and finally maximize that “greatest asset” every employer always seems to be talking about.
It’s Hard: Aligning Mission, Visions & Values.
Having accurate insight into the intrinsic motivators that differentiate individual employees and candidates with some level of consistency provides obvious clarity behind performance drivers in a variety of divergent contexts, which obviously, optimally, profoundly impacts organizational efficiency and efficacy when it comes to such critical competencies as employee selection, professional learning and development and performance management programs.
One question, of course, remains: how exactly do we know when those drivers are pointed in the right direction or whether or not it might be time to rethink our overall organizational approach and alignment? That is, how do we know when the behaviors that drive decisions across the employee lifecycle, from selection to succession, are actually aligned with the bigger business picture. If our people strategies and revenue strategies don’t match, we’re more or less dooming our organizations to death by a thousand cuts.
The only way to truly survive – and thrive – is by ensuring that employee selection and talent management programs align with the company’s bigger business or bottom line strategies, and making sure that those initiatives are flexible enough to continually adapt and adjust to the rapidly changing, constantly evolving business environment so endemic in the world of work today.
The best way to do this is by creating competency frameworks for every critical role within an organization, and making sure that the way in which both prospective and current employees are measured or managed strongly supports the bigger business strategy and aligns with the company’s greater vision, purpose or mission.
How effective those competency models will actually be, of course, varies drastically depending on how accurately employers can articulate, communicate or inculturate organizational expectations to individual employees around such high level considerations as competitive landscape, shifting consumer or customer demands, legislative or economic environment, technology and talent trends.
Once these variables are controlled for, competency frameworks can them be created by aligning them with internal factors such as measurement systems, company culture, HR policy and practices or organizational structure.
Odds and Sods: A Closer Look At The Personality-Competency Connection.
A well-defined competency framework, therefore, must vertically link the behavior of each individual employee to all of these larger organizational, strategic and business or bottom line outcome considerations, clearly linking which personal attributes and personality characteristics, skills or abilities work best within your work environment to deliver the best performance every time, all the time.
Furthermore, that performance should be linked to the most critical areas of your business. Any company operating in a highly dynamic, rapidly evolving business environment – and let’s face it, that’s almost all of us – must compete primarily on iterative improvements and/or innovation.
That means the most successful employers consistently build the best workforces by focusing on finding current and future employees with strong potential across key competency areas. These include:
- Adaptability: the tendency to work effectively and shift course when external influences affect an initial plan, condition, or situation. Willing to change own ideas or perceptions on the basis of new information or evidence.
- Creativity & Innovation: the tendency toward divergent thinking; the propensity to question existing practices; challenge commonly held assumptions; originate new or radical alternatives to traditional methods, processes, and products.
- Managing Innovation: the tendency to foster an environment open to new or radical alternatives to traditional methods, approaches, and products.
Of course, the true power inherent to this approach comes from exploiting the proven scientific link between personality assessments and these business-critical competencies. While I’m afraid fully describing the complex methodology and field of research behind this correlation is beyond the scope of this article, at a high level it includes conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups with all stakeholders, then quantifying the pre-identified performance criteria proposed for assessing business outcomes and aligning those to various personality characteristics and interpersonal or group dynamics.
It’s only through thorough analysis of the company’s mission, goals and strategy within the context of broader business factors and the bigger economic environment and how those components correlate with organizational design and workforce development that we can come to truly understand not only what a company stands for, but why a company exists, too.
The better we understand our corporate mission, vision and values, the more informed our decision making when it comes to aligning individual employees with the bigger business picture.
By employing personality assessments, therefore, companies can finally figure out why employees behave the way they do.
And that right there, my friends, is more or less the silver bullet for HR, recruiting and everything else even tangentially related to talent. If you’re not aiming for the right target in terms of personal dynamics, however, your business – and your bottom line – will almost inevitably miss the mark.
Don’t take that shot. Seriously.
About the Author: Frank Costanzo has more than 30 years of experience building and leading technology-based business enterprises across multiple industries, including education, banking, online brokerage, and publishing.
Frank currently serves as Senior Vice President and Executive Committee Member at Caliper, a pioneer in talent management, data, and knowledge for over 50 years, has conducted more than 3.5 million assessments for over 30,000 companies. In this role, he is responsible for providing strategic direction and ensuring that Caliper is delivering solutions that maximize clients’ human capital potential.
Prior to joining Caliper, Mr. Costanzo spent 13 years in a variety of leadership roles with Peterson’s, a division of Trinet; Mr. Costanzo started his career with Applied Graphics Technologies (AGT) and Computer Graphics Resources, where he served in a number of key management roles in sales, marketing, product development, product management and innovation.
A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Frank currently resides in Princeton with his wife and two sons.
Click here to connect with Frank on LinkedIn.