Personality in the Workplace: Does It Really Matter?

by Regan McPhee 22. November 2010 07:02

Why should we care about the different personalities in our organizations? Does it really make a difference if Joan wants to focus on the details of a task or if Stanley wants to be left alone while working on a project? And do we truly need to trouble ourselves with all that touchy-feely stuff when all we’re trying to do is hire someone to fill the position?


Yes, yes, and most definitely, yes. But personality isn’t touchy-feely; in fact, it’s downright scientific. All we have to do is read some of the numerous research studies published to realize that personality, and the prediction of human behaviour, is quantifiable when valid psychometric tools are used.


According to the 2006 webcast panel hosted by the Human Capital Institute, Why Assessments Work: Answering the Debate, psychometrics measure either one of two things. They can measure an individual’s “Can-Do Competencies” or their “Will-Do Competencies”. Can-Do competencies include skills and knowledge tests and evaluate a person’s maximum performance level (like those found at: Will-Do competencies include outlook, drive and personality and assess someone’s normal level of performance (like MBTI, DISC and EQI).


So the question shouldn’t be why consider personality in the workplace. The question should be why not.


Why not create an organizational environment that reduces the number of false recruitments.


The Talent Institute ( published research, Evaluating the use of Psychometric Testing, that showed while false recruitments are inevitable, it is possible to lower our number of bad hires. The study indicates that unstructured interviews offer a mere validity of 0.18 whereas can-do and will-do assessments offer a combined validity of 0.60.


Rioux and Bernthal, authors of the Recruitment and Selection Practices study, found that companies who have developed highly successful hiring processes are 15 to 22 per cent more likely to include behavioural interviewing, motivational inventories, etc. when recruiting. Those companies also “experienced higher business outcomes (i.e. financial performance, quality of products and services, productivity and customer satisfaction) and employee outcomes (i.e. employee satisfaction and retention of quality employees)”.


Why not make that much needed reorganization of your company an unmitigated success.


GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) did. In 2009, GSK Finland asked SHL Group Ltd. to help with the reorganization of their regional sales team. SHL accomplished a successful transition by selecting specific psychometric tools that addressed the core competencies identified for each of the new roles and by training the GSK HR team on correct interpretation of assessment results and “competency-based interviewing”.


Susanna Grundstrom, the GSK HR Project Manager, was surprised at how often the hiring managers agreed about which candidate was the most suitable for the role in question. They “managed to see beyond the person whom they might already know personally” and the few disagreements they did have were quickly worked out “by looking at it from a ‘what is best for the candidate’ perspective," Grundstrom said.


But taking into account the core competencies of the roles and the personalities of the job candidates weren’t the only benefits of using psychometrics during the GSK reorganization. It also increased the level of understanding between the hiring managers and the HR team. Ultimately, personality helped Grundstrom and her HR team utilize, “the potential of our human capital in a better way”.


So why not harness your own company’s potential and become one of the Best.


Because when you look at the list AON Hewitt compiled for Maclean’s “Canada’s Best 50 Employers”, 2010, employee recognition, training and communication are repeatedly mentioned as reasons why employees are happy working for these organizations (11, 26 and 25 times respectively).


Here are just of a few of the reasons why these companies are so great to work for: “highly collaborative and communicative culture”, CHUBB Insurance Company of Canada in Toronto; “culture of empowerment”, CISCO Canada in Toronto; “respect and trust”, Clark Builders in Edmonton; and “open and transparent communication”, ING Direct in Toronto.


We’re not going to get comments like these if we continue to blithely ignore the personality needs of our employees. An individual is going to find it difficult to respect the organization they work for if their managers continue to push them into sales when they’ve made it clear they’re uncomfortable in that particular role. Or if someone prefers to be a part of a team and yet they’re repeatedly asked to work on solo projects.


Slow pace or quick pace? Leader or follower? Forest or trees? Trust happens when we know, and respect, how our colleagues will answer these questions. Developing a “communicative culture” also requires that same knowledge and reverence of personality. Someone who favours one on one communication is unlikely to open up in a town hall meeting. And if that’s all we’re offering, as a means to voice concerns, then we risk alienating a key portion of our workforce.


At the end of the day, personality really does matter. Because in order for our companies to be the best, we need to fulfill our employees’ needs. And in order to know what our employees need, we need to know our employees’ personalities.