KSAOs/Individual Differences

A Better Way to Use Personality for Predicting Performance

Using personality assessments to help predict job performance is nothing new, but by understanding the factors that influence personality traits related to job performance, organizations can increase the effectiveness of their assessments. Many personality assessments utilize “contextualized items”, meaning items are written to be answered within a particular context. For example:
  • I keep my desk and workspace very organized.
  • My coworkers would describe me as outgoing.
The example items above include a “workplace” context. For use in organizations, personality assessments using a context (like that illustrated here) are far more effective than assessments that do not provide a context for providing responses. What both general, and contextualized, personality assessments fail to do is give real consideration to the situations people are in – the environment that draws out their personalities. Understanding the situations surrounding how individuals’ personalities affect their performance has the potential to allow for better predictions of performance.

Situational Aspects:

Whether or not a person will express a particular part of their personality depends on different aspects of the work situation:
  • Task aspects are the day-to-day demands of performing the job.
  • Social aspects are the interactions a person has with coworkers, subordinates, or superiors.
  • Organizational aspects are the most broad, and relate to the culture and climate of the organization.

Value of Personality-related Behaviors:

Along with the three different aspects of the situation, personality-related behaviors are evaluated as either beneficial or detrimental in value to job performance. For example, if the behaviorsof being social (an expression of the personality trait extraversion) is seen as contributing to job performance, then those behaviors will be positively valued and encouraged – whereas if being social is seen as being detrimental to performance, it will NOT be valued and therefore discouraged.

Situational Aspects and Behaviors Coincide:

It is important to note that different personality traits (e.g., extraversion, agreeableness, or conscientiousness) may be brought out by different aspects of the work situation. Additionally, a particular trait may be brought out by multiple aspects of the situation, but valued differently for each. For example, being friendly and outgoing (extraverted) while serving customers (a task-related aspect) may be valued and beneficial; while those same friendly and outgoing behaviors may be distracting to coworkers (a social-related aspect) and viewed as detrimental.

How Can Organizations Use This Information?

There are three critical ways that organizations can get the most out of the information they collect through personality assessments. Each is focused on a detailed understanding of how a person’s personality drives his or her behavior.
  • Conduct a thorough job analysis, focusing specifically on how personality traits relate to job-focused behavior.
This is the best way for organizations to determine which personality characteristics are the most desirable in their workforce. The O*NET (Occupational Information Network) Resource Center contains tools that can be useful as a starting place for gathering this type of vital information.
  • Document the activities associated with the three aspects of the work situation.
Organizations should take the time to consider the task, social, and organizational aspects of their work situations to identify which personality characteristics are likely to emerge in each.
  • Evaluate people’s personalities and behaviors appropriately.
Personalities are expressed through behaviors in response to different aspects of the work situation (task, social, and organizational aspects). These behaviors are often evaluated by others, usually through annual performance appraisals. Problems may occur when the person conducting the evaluation relies too heavily on his or her own personal theories of what the best personality traits are for the position they are evaluating. For example, a person in a sales position may behave in a confident and assertive manner, which contributes to her high level of sales. Yet this person’s performance ratings could be low if her supervisor thinks that being confident and assertive is a negative characteristic (because it makes that person difficult to manage), and allows this opinion to overshadow the evidence of the person’s performance. Organizations currently, or considering, using personality assessments will be best served by spending some time to truly consider how the information they gather can be best utilized for predicting performance. This may take some time and effort, but it has the potential for creating a strong return on their investment.

Interpretation by:

Kathleen Melcher

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Christiansen, N.D., & Tett, R.P. (2008). Toward a better understanding of the role of situations in linking personality, work behavior, and job performance. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1, 312-316.