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.