Conscientiousness – the personality trait with superpower? #MyNutShare

Hello everybody,

in one of my earlier posts I blogged about personality traits and gave a definition (you can check out the post here). Conscientiousness is one of the Big 5 Personality traits and is handled as the one of a kind personality trait. It shall predict job performance and seems to be therefore directly linked to success. People who scale high on conscientiousness seem to be pretty efficient, orderly,  dutiful, have a high self-discipline and strive to achieve and reach their goals.

For example managerial performance is meant to be composed of different tasks like i.e. task completion. People with high contentious tendencies seem to find it easier to do so and to complete tasks as they count to be dutiful, have a high-self discipline and reach to achieve their goals. (Barrick & Mount, 1991)

With nearly all things also personality traits can, in extreme cases, appeal to be a bit ‘too much’. People with a a very high conscientious tendency could appeal to be over conscientious and could tend to be perfectionistic.

There are many free personality assessments out there to give you an indication on how you would scale on conscientiousness – however, there is no guarantee that these assessments are reliable and valid. In general it is advised to have a ‘guided’ personality assessment with a qualified feedback that is given to you. In general what you need to know is that there is NO right or wrong judgements when talking about personality. There might be a good or better fit but tno right or wrong answers.


What are Personality Traits?

Have you ever wondered what ‘Personality’ is and what is meant when people talk about ‘Personality Traits’? Let’s bring some light into the dar.

Weinberg and Gould (1999) described personality as “the characteristics or blend of characteristics that make a person unique”.

Emotional competency  brings it to the point with “Personality traits are intrinsic differences that remain stable throughout most of our life. They are the constant aspects of our individuality”. These individual differences are fixed and define who you are. There are different measurements to assess your personality traits. In general, there is not ONE overall valid and agreed and measure of  personality. But the most popular and common one is the “BIG FIVE”.

The Big Five assesses the following personality traits:

Openness to new Experiences – to be willing and finding pleasure in trying new things, intellectual curiosity.

Conscientiousness – to be thorough, being concerned with doing things properly. A very strong expression of conscientiousness might end in perfectionism.

Extraversion – where does energy comes from – intrinsic or from external. And where does energy goes to – is a person more external or more internal oriented.

Agreeableness – how agreeable a person is.

Neuroticism – whether a person is emotional stable or might have a long-term tendency to be emotionally negative.

If you combine the first letters of each trait you get OCEAN – this way it’s pretty easy to remember. Some of the traits might be named differently within the Big Five frame i.e. Neuroticism is called Emotional Stability or Openness to Experience is renamed as Intellect. But the general idea behind it is similar.

In general the Big Five does measure so-called bright side personality traits, i.e. pleasant traits. However, if a very strong tendency is shown the originally positive and favoured personality trait can become a bit more unpleasant.

Poor Performance – Beyond Lacking Ability and Motivation


in recent posts I talked about talent, potential and performance. As it has been said already job performance occurs in different stages and with different focus (task performance etc.). To see my other posts around this idea please check the category ‘talent’. Business Dictionary defines performance as ‘The accomplishment of a given task measured against present known standards of accuracy, complexness, cost and speed. In a contract, performance is deemed to be the fulfilment of an obligation in a manner that releases the performer from all liabilities under the contract’.

Well, this definition is quite technically and heavily focussing on task performance – how to perform in executing one task. Further research findings around ‘performance’ were pretty often in line with the model of MindTools – developed from ‘Developing Managament Skills’ by Whetten & Cameron, 2011. This model states:

Performance = Ability x Motivation

With ability being defined as a ‘person’s aptitude, as well as the training & resources supplied by the organisation’ and motivation defined as the ‘product of desire and commitment’.

Facts are:

  1. Ability and motivation are definitely important factors of performance.
  2. Performance is an absolutely essential measure of each company – no matter the company’s size.
  3. Individual’s performance can impact organisational performance.
  4. Many companies prefer focusing on good performance rather than negative performance.

Ability and motivation are important and regarding the fact that many companies are not keen or don’t have the financial resources to focus on too much employee development and training it is essential that abilities and motivation are in place. However, I don’t think this can’t be it. During selection processes we focus mainly on ‘who to select (in)’ – who is the right match for our company / role – whom to pick.

But when we review the impact individuals performance has on a whole team or even organisation shouldn’t we focus more on the parts that trigger poor or even negative performance? Shouldn’t these factors be at least as important as the ‘good’ factors? Shouldn’t we also focus on who to ‘select-out’? Whom to let go?

HR Zone states that good performance does occur on 3 levels:

  1. Relationships between individuals and their boss
  2. Relationships between individuals and their team
  3. Relationships between individuals and their wider organisation

I absolutely like this wider idea of performance. As it does say a lot about the underlying behaviours that form the relationships. Behaviour and soft skills are somehow developable as well as ability is somehow trainable and flexible. Motivation can somehow be increased through external factors like money and other rewards. But shouldn’t we focus on what motivates an individual from the insight? What are the internal motivators? Where does intrinsic motivation comes from? What are the underlying personality traits that form the person’s behaviour, thinking style and finally motivates a person?

In all these definitions above I miss the personality part of performance. Especially the parts that could lead to derailment and contra productive work behaviour which definitely can impact performance – negatively. The relationship levels give a first, nice indication about how people behave in contact with others but to get a real picture of this they must already be employed.

One of my favourite books  is ‘Why CEO’s Fail: The 11 Behaviours That Can Derail Your Climb to The Top & How to Manage Them’ by Dotlich & Cairo (2003). CEO’s who are obvisouly top performers by definition – how else could they have climbed up to the company’s top – are mainly not failing because of lacking ability or motivation. CEO’s mainly fail because of derailment, contra productive workplace behaviour. The  11 described behaviours like e.g. arrogance, mischievousness,  and perfectionism are formed by underlying maladaptive personality traits. Let’s just summarise – an individual’s performance can influence the performance of the whole company. How big also could be the potential damage when a CEO is not performing appropriately but is rather performing bad? Not bad in the definition of not hitting targets or not setting a vision but in influencing others negatively? Shouldn’t we focus, besides ability and motivation, on personality too? Personality traits are stable and unchangeable. This means we can’t change them with training or development. Shouldn’t we pay more attention to ‘whom select out’ in our selection processes rather than ‘who has the ability and motivation to perform’? Isn’t personality a main factor? Aren’t people the most valuable asset of each company? Aren’t people the ones who interact with your customers and who sell your products? So, why is the measurement of so called ‘maladaptive workplace behaviour’ not mandatory in selection processes?  So many companies use psychometrics like personality testing for their early stage selection process but focus in doing so mainly on the desirable traits they would like to select in rather the negative traits they would like to select out. Quite a few companies are not happy to admit that they do have low performers and are less happy to take action. I guess this is something that should be changed. What are your thoughts about this topic? How do you measure performance? I’m absolutely keen to get to know your view.