Identity Vs. Reputation II


apples 615Every group I speak to about identity vs. reputation, it seems, contains at least some people who are outraged by the notion that, at Hogan, we focus on reputation while ignoring identity. I think I have heard cries of “Witch!”  “Scofflaw!”  “Heretic!”  “Hotdog!”  from the back of some conference rooms (OK, I might have heard that last one at a baseball game) when I have stated that we focus on making predictions on the basis of one’s reputation, and that we really don’t care so much about trying to make predictions (about job performance, potential, etc.) from one’s identity. Given the outrage that statement produces from some people, I thought it might be useful to clarify 3 points here for those clinging to the notion that identity is the most important—or only—thing to study about the individual if you want to make predictions about the workplace.

The first reason Hogan focuses on reputation is that it is well-understood and easy to study. After all, at Hogan, we like to save time at the end of the day for happy hour, so why not use time efficiently by focusing on phenomena that are scientifically observable, well-researched, and well-understood, rather than spending time on issues like identity, for which there is no measurement base and no consistent measurement taxonomy despite about 100 years of discussion and research. When the Big 5 emerged 60 years or so ago, the study of personality changed; modern views of the structure personality start with the Big 5, or the structure of personality from the observer’s point of view, rather than starting from one’s identity. Using identity as a starting point for studying personality in the workplace at this point in history would be akin to the modern medicine using the medieval diagnostic technique of discerning imbalances in the 4 bodily humours. 

Second, let us assume for a moment that you don’t believe in science as a method for problem solving, so our focus on using science is disturbing to you. It’s important to note that science is not a belief system, so you might as well state that you do not believe in dominos or concrete. Science is a method for problem solving, whether you believe it or not. Moreover, the fact that you believe that you are dashingly handsome, ravishingly beautiful, and the smartest guy or gal in the room (aka, your identity) hasn’t exactly resulted in members of the opposite sex beating down your door, now has it? So perhaps belief shouldn’t be the standard by which you make judgments about science. Science is not a belief system, and the science used in personality psychology is the same as the science used to send a person to the moon; both use the same scientific methodology and the same standards of verifiability, neither of which is subject to belief.

Third, even if we assume for a moment that your disbelief in science nullifies all of the research that leads us to focus on reputation vs. identity, there is a practical matter that you would be wise not to overlook, and it is perhaps the clearest reason why one would want to focus on personality defined as reputation. Please answer true or false to the following questions:

  1. Someone other than me decided whether I would be hired into my current role.
  2. Someone other than me decides how my performance will be evaluated.
  3. Someone other than me decides who will agree to date and/or marry me.
  4. Someone other than me decides whether I will get a promotion.

Scoring and interpretation (count each “True” answer as 1 point)       

  • If you scored 4 Points, you now understand why reputation is superordinate for study in the workplace and identity is not; all consequential decisions in life involving other people are based on who they think you are, not who you think you are.
  • If you scored <4 points – you may be self-employed and lonely, independently wealthy and lonely, or schizophrenic and lonely.
  • As a practical matter, other people make and act on decisions about you all day every day—and those are based on your reputation, not on your identity. Given the importance of reputation, don’t you want to understand something about it?