Last Saturday I enjoyed a few hours of tailgating with old college friends. The next morning I got up and went to church. I enjoyed letting loose like John Blutarsky on Saturday, and on Sunday I ratcheted things back in the general direction of Ned Flanders. One might ask which is the real me – the “Animal House” version or the “God’s house” version? The answer, of course, is both. Like any functioning adult, I adjust my behavior to accommodate my surroundings. This is nothing special or unique about me – none of us act exactly the same at church as we would at a tailgate party. The same applies at work, where our behavior varies around supervisors versus peers or subordinates.This is common sense, but has caused problems in the world of performance appraisal, especially multi-source (or 360) ratings. Historically, professionals assumed that each person has one true performance level, and dismissed differences across raters as error. Only in the last two years have researchers concluded that (shockingly) a person’s performance varies across contexts, and various parties think differently about effective job performance. Specifically, supervisors focus on technical performance, whereas peers and subordinates focus on interpersonal and leadership performance, respectively. Research now confirms what basic logic tells us – our performance varies across different groups at work, and those groups expect different behavior from us.These insights hold major implications for personality assessment and employee development initiatives, especially leadership development. Historically, these efforts provide employees with feedback about maximizing performance in light of personality, but have done so by considering how the person looks on average across all groups. However, by considering rating differences across groups, we can tailor this information to inform employees about specific changes they can make to maximize their performance as viewed by supervisors, peers, subordinates, or other groups. This line of thinking represents a more dynamic, flexible, and multi-faceted view on personality and performance, and falls more in line with the common sense notion that we may each act like John Blutarsky in one instance and Ned Flanders in another.
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Last week, Steven Slater, the former JetBlue flight attendant acted out the fantasy of a large contingent of employees who have had enough of on-the-job stresses. After a heated exchange with a passenger (an exchange that is now more in doubt than previously reported), he grabbed the PA and let out a few choice words, grabbed his stuff (including a few beers), and stormed off of the plane via the emergency exit slide announcing that he quit. Fortunately, the plane was on the tarmac and near the gate. Nobody was injured. In the aftermath of this instant-classic example of how to quit one’s job, Mr. Slater has garnered the adulation of many, as evidenced by the numerous Facebook fan pages with thousands of friends and any number of blogs on the internet. Many have romanticized his actions, making him out to be a man who stood up for himself, didn’t take abuse from anyone, or had just had enough and decided it was time to move on. However, the reality of the situation is quite a bit different. Within days, Mr. Slater had retained a lawyer, and was asking for his position with JetBlue back, saying he loved his job, the airline, and he wanted to return to work. His lawyer offered a number of explanations for his behavior, including the stress of the job, an injury sustained in the course of the flight, and a confrontation with an unruly passenger (which is, at this time, unsubstantiated by any of the passengers). Mr. Slater’s behavior is actually a perfect example of derailing behavior. He lost his cool under stress, made an emotionally charged decision (the Excitable derailer), and executed his decision in a dramatic and attention-seeking manner (the Colorful derailer). Despite all the adoration lavished upon him in the aftermath, Mr. Slater quickly regretted his decision and is now contemplating a lawsuit to retain the position he so sensationally abandoned. A working-class hero sticking it to the man, or a case of derailment played out in dramatic fashion? The preponderance of evidence at this time points to the latter. Jarrett Shalhoop Senior Consultant Hogan Assessment Systems