Individuals in an Organization: Big Five Personality Traits and Abilities
Organizations are made up of individuals with individual differences – different ways of looking at the world and approaching specific situations. An effective manager must be able to leverage these individual differences for the benefit of both the individual and the organization. Due to differing personalities and abilities, certain employees may be stronger in certain capacities. Matching employees with the role they are most suited for is a critical endeavor for practitioners of organizational behavior.
Personalities in Business
Personality is defined as the pattern of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts exhibited by an individual. We all know intuitively that there are different types of personalities – some people are tightly wound, while others are laid back. Some are friendly and personable, while others may be more reserved and distant. Personality is affected primarily by nature (genetic factors) and nurture (upbringing and life experiences). Obviously, certain characteristics are present from birth, but others can be acquired as a result of experiences over time. However, these timeframes are so long (5-10 years) that personality can, from an organizational behavior viewpoint, be treated as relatively constant in the business environment.
The effect of personality on job behavior is inversely related with situational pressure. In an “assembly line” environment where the situation demands certain fixed actions – whether in a fast food joint or in an actual factory – personality is less relevant. However, in organizations like consultancies where employees’ actions are less tied to specific procedures, personality will have a greater correlation with behavior. It becomes a more important factor to consider.
One strategy that managers often use is complementary personality pairing. For example, if the company needs to make an important presentation to a client, they may form a presentation team with various personalities. One might be the outgoing, friendly, confident type who is good at summing up the major points. Another might be a more reserved technical type, who isn’t quite so gregarious, but is superb at explaining the detailed nuances of the proposal. Together, these two personalities are better than either one alone.
Big Five: Modeling Traits and Personalities
The best way to analyze personalities is to analyze their component traits, or components. Personality psychologists generally concur that there are five general personality traits:
A Big Five personality type is composed by scoring someone on each of the traits.
Extroversion: Sociability and Affection
Extroversion (also known as positive affectivity) is a trait characterized by positive thinking, high self esteem, sociability, interpersonal affection, and other “happy” traits. (Note extroversion can also be spelled with an “a” as extraversion.)
Extroverts are generally happier with their life and more satisfied with their jobs.
Neuroticism has a slightly different connotation in organizational behavior and personality psychology than it does in everyday context. Neuroticism, also known as negative affectivity, is a measure of how often people experience negative thoughts. (Sort of the opposite of extroversion.) Neuroticism is correlated with stress and occasionally anger.
Neuroticism is not all bad, though at first glance it may appear to be. People who are highly “neurotic” in the psychological context often have a drive to improve themselves – a quality shared by many very successful people.
Agreeableness is a term for likability. “Agreeable” individuals tend to be trustworthy, cooperative, helpful, and generally caring in regards to others. This personality trait is especially important in careers and situations that require gaining the confidence of others – for example, when seeking venture capital or trying to bring a new client on board.
Conscientiousness describes the behavior of a person who is very self-disciplined, organized, and persevering.
Openness describes the personality trait of being open to new ideas. It’s especially important in creative or innovative disciplines.
Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) Framework: A Part to Whole Model
University of Maryland researcher Ben Schneider developed a framework for determining organizational personality as a whole. The ASA (Attraction-selection-attrition) framework makes the following assumptions.
- Prospective employees are attracted to an organization that matches their personality type
- Hiring managers tend to hire employees that match their own personality type
- Increasingly surrounded by people of a certain personality type, people of other personality types will over time choose to leave the organization for one that more closely matches their personality type
This framework explains why certain companies are seen as “innovative.” The company has a track record of being innovative, so innovative employees apply and are hired. Employees who aren’t innovative leave, and the company becomes even more innovative, which starts the cycle again.
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