We have a tendency to evaluate one employee characteristic at a time. Indeed, it is helpful to understand the extent to which someone is extroverted, tolerant of ambiguity, proactive, and more.
The problem, however, is that it’s not all that informative or practical to view people as one defining characteristic. People are a complex profile of many characteristics. We’re more like a matrix than a single line.
It’s not surprising that we evaluate one characteristic at a time. It’s easier and more actionable. But we shouldn’t give up on evaluating profiles.
The first step is defining which characteristics matter given the context of the work environment. If there’s no direct influence on the outcome of interest it can temporarily be set aside.
The second step is looking for common profiles (also called clusters). In any one setting, there is likely to be a relatively stable set of profiles.
The third step is mapping these different profiles to different jobs, team roles, and behaviors. From there, we have a more accurate view of how individual characteristics influence work outcomes.
Tracking individual characteristics is important, but it’s just the beginning. Start working towards profile analysis in order to balance the needs for generalizability and simplicity with accuracy and specificity.
Organizations spend a great deal of time, effort, and money evaluating applicants. Assuming the applicants have the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to perform their job, the conversation then turns to alternative questions.
Will they work hard? Will they work well in teams? Do they have leadership potential?
We assess all types of psychographics in order to figure out the answers to these questions. But research clearly illustrates that there is one psychographic that is consistently associated with employee performance: conscientiousness.
Although not as sexy as being adaptive, creative, or emotionally intelligent, meta-analytic evidence clearly illustrates that individuals that are disciplined, organized, and reliable are the strongest performers.
If we really want to cut to the chase, we should be asking applicants and their references for examples of conscientiousness. Everything else is a distant second.
You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right? 80% of the value is created by 20% of your employees.
What if I told you that research suggests that it’s more like 5%, not 20%? Yes, 5 out of 100 people are clearly your “star performers,” producing far more value than the remaining 95%.
What are the implications for human capital strategy?
We should be spending more time finding our stars and cultivating those relationships. What would ensure that they stay at your organization, continuing to add value for years to come?
We should also stop encouraging stars to take on positions that aren’t a fit for them. The classic example is promoting the top sales performer into a sales manager position. Salespeople sell. Managing might not be their thing.
We consider all sorts of psychographics when managing human capital - personality, values, strengths, and the like. If we ignore what are arguably the more important factors - employee needs, drives, and preferences - we’re missing the boat.
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