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.