Business and Finance

Personality and Work Performance

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Personality is very stable after around eighteen years of age. If you’re a parent, you probably think it’s more like eight! In fact, some personal psychologists are now saying that the child you see at three will be the adult you see at thirty – frighten if you have an unruly three year old! But it’s safe to say once we hit eighteen we are “stuck” with who we are. Can we change our personalities to “fit” certain situations?

Yes, we can but we will always revert back to “home-base.” Let me give you a workplace example.

Suppose we had an accounts clerk whose personality was very accommodating, they lacked high assertiveness and strong resilience. The company they work for has suppliers who were late paying their accounts. The boss gives the administrator a list of these bad debtors and asks her to call all of these people and tell them their supplies have been stopped, effective immediately, unless they settle their account within 24 hours to reinstate delivery.

An analogy for personality is folding your arms. People will always fold them the same way. But if asked to fold them the opposite way, they will find this difficult and uncomfortable – it can be done, but as soon as practical, they will revert to a comfortable fold.

Moving to our second question, is personality genetic or environmentally shaped? In psychology, this is the famous ‘nature/nurture’ debate. A new study completed by a team of psychologists at the University of Edinburgh, lead by New Zealander, Tim Bates found compelling evidence that our personality is equally influenced by our genes and the environment. What the study showed was that identical twins in a family were very similar in personality and in well-being, and by contrast, the fraternal twins were only half as similar. This finding strongly implicates genes as a major driver of personality traits.

So, if you’re a worry wart, you can lay 50 percent of the blame on your mum or dad and probably the other 50 percent on the way they brought you up! As psychologists, we have always known the huge role personality plays in a person’s work performance. As a lay person you can observe this in action every day. Stop right now and think about your problem employees. I bet the issue is attitude, their personality – the “who they are,” not “what they know.” Most managers will always hire on aptitude but fire on attitude. Personality influences attitude and attitude drives behaviour.

The problem with most hiring managers is that they tend to rely on gut or emotional judgement to assess attitude during the job interview. It’s impossible to “read” a person’s personality when we first met them. Yes, as humans we are predisposed to do this – known as the ‘flight or fight’ concept. Sometimes we get it right, many times we get it wrong. It is often dangerous to jump to instant conclusions.

When selecting new employees, it’s important to ascertain if the person has the knowledge, skills and experience to do the job. It is probably more important to understand how that knowledge, skill and experience will be put into practice. What are their personality characteristics and general mental abilities of the candidate and does this “fit” the job? There are many personality and mental ability measures available. It’s vitally important that you choose the right ones for the role and that the instrument is specifically designed for selection. There are many cheap, or free, pop psychology tests available on the internet or sold by people with no psychological background. Using teambuilding tools like Myers Briggs and DISC should never be used for hiring.

These tools cannot be normed against specific populations or jobs, plus they lack reliability. They are great at telling you the ‘make and model of the car’, but poor at telling you the condition of the ‘engine’. Using valid personality and general mental ability assessments, benchmarked to the job, alongside a multi-rated, behavioural interview based on the competencies required for the role and a diligent background check will ensure you get an excellent performing employee about 75 to 80 percent of the time.

These are damn sight better odds than relying on a general meet-and-greet and unstructured interview that is at best a friendly chat. Your odds of a successful hire in the latter case is about 5 to15 percent at best. There is a big difference between whether a person CAN and WILL do the job. Given that the person CAN do the job, measuring their personality will explain how they WILL do the job and this is the key to successful work performance. Rob McKay Director of AssessSystems Aust/NZ Ltd, Leaders in employee assessment for selection and development Promota readers can download a complimentary copy of his eBook, “How To Avoid Putting Square Pegs Into Round Holes” at

I bet this person is going to hate doing this task. It’s not in their nature to be so forthright and aggressive, but they will force themselves to do it – it’s part of their job. However, if they had to do this task day-in and day-out, they would soon lose internal motivation and decide this job is not for them and leave.

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