What traits predict work performance?

Excellent work performance is always that ‘goal’ employers most want to get from their employees.  But what traits are likely to predict work performance?   My grand-mother always said, “education is easy carried and good manners will take you far”.  In many ways, she is exactly right.  Cognitive ability is important for success in work but that is only one side of the coin.  The other side, personality, is also important but this is not readily measured by cognitive ability.  Therefore, we very often see in recruitment advertisements that ‘Good Interpersonal Skills’ are required; and much valued in organisations.

IQ or Personality in Work Performance

Work Performance - Image of workplace dest

So, what should employers be looking for to enhance work performance.  Many psychologists do highlight the predictive ability of ‘cognitive ability tests’ and how they relate to work performance.  Please read our article on those selection methods that organisations can use to predict success in the job | Click Here 

Another school of psychologists argue that cognitive ability alone is not sufficient to ensure success in the job and that one’s personality is of equal importance.  Within ‘personality’ research much has been written in relation to the ‘Big 5’ traits.  The traits of Conscientiousness | Openness | Extraversion | Agreeableness | Emotionally Stable (Neuroticism).  Within this many believe that ‘Conscientiousness’ is the single most important trait in measuring work performance.

“Highly conscientious employees do a series of things better than the rest of us,” says University of Illinois psychologist Brent Roberts, who studies conscientiousness.

To start, they’re better at goals: setting them, working toward them, and persisting amid setbacks. If a super ambitious goal can’t be realized, they’ll switch to a more attainable one rather than getting discouraged and giving up. As a result, they tend to achieve goals that are consistent with what employers want. (Source Business Insider UK – http://uk.businessinsider.com/conscientiousness-predicts-success)

However, conscientiousness isn’t always required for all job roles.  Having too much conscientiousness can be stifling in jobs that require creativity, innovation or were spontaneity is needed.

New research shows that in leadership roles the trait of ‘Honesty-Humility’ is an important trait.  This domain measures an individual’s tendency to be – Genuine in interpersonal relations | Avoidance in fraud and corruption | Uninterested in possessing lavish wealth, luxury goods, and signs of social status | Modest and unassuming.

Work Performance in Context

It is important when recruiting or promoting people at work that you have a good understanding of what traits or aptitudes are required in the job role.  There is considerable misuse of various psychometric tools.  Unfortunately, we still come across companies that use the Myers Briggs (MBTI) profile in recruitment contexts, when it never should be.

So what tools should you use to improve Work Performance?

This is a common question we are often asked.  Our advice is always to use a reputable test publisher, and ask what the Reliability and Validity of the ‘test’ is.  Is the test registered or reviewed by the likes of the British Psychological Society?  It is also very important that the test has been developed with good quality research evidence underpinning the assessment.

Peter Saville (one of the top occupational psychologists in the world) in his book ‘Psychometrics @ Work’ provides a summary overview of how to evaluate a ‘test’.

  • Does it look reasonable?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is the content clear, relevant, inoffensive and unambiguous?

Try to put yourself into the shoes of candidates.

  • What message does the use of the assessment tool send to candidates?
  • What’s the candidate completion experience like?
  • How fair is the assessment?
  • Are there any norm groups/performance benchmarks available for the assessment?
  • Are there case study examples of it being used successfully in similar contexts?

So, in coming back to my grand-mothers saying, “education is easy carried and good manners will take you far”, assessing people either in a recruitment or promotion context, does require both a consideration of an individual’s cognitive ability as well as examining their personality.  However, this must be done within what the requirements of the job role are.

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