Can your personality effect how well you adapt to changes in the workplace?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology ( Jan, 2014)
Article: Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

The business world is always evolving, from technology to everyday work requirements. So being able to adapt to changes in the workplace quickly is incredibly valuable for employers.

Evolutionary theory has put forward certain personality traits as better predictors of effective adaptation in various areas of our lives. But the difficulty in evolving within the organizational environment lies in the fact that adaptation in a work setting isn’t about adjusting to a stable environment, but to one that is constantly changing.

A new study on “Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation” examines what kind of person was better able to handle novel work challenges and an environment of constant change.


Reactive and Proactive Adjustments to Change

Adaptive performance at work is basically about how one tackles unforeseen changes and shifting demands. Researchers found that emotional stability and ambition were the traits that had the greatest positive influence on an employees’ ability to adapt effectively.

Personality traits also seemed to influence the strategies that employees use in dealing with change. People tend to display either a reactive or proactive style: A reactive style is highly responsive to the demands of the situation, whereas a proactive style concerns the individual taking initiative at the outset and seeking opportunities for improving things.


Are Some Better Equipped to Handle Change Than Others?

The study found ambition to be associated with proactive strategies. Ambitious individuals seem to fare better when it comes to adaptive performance because they take more initiative and embrace change to a greater extent than others, making the necessary adjustments to continue meeting their goals. Ambitious people see changing with the circumstances as a way to climb the corporate ladder and get ahead.

Emotional stability (which involves keeping your cool even when things are in state of flux) is more closely related to reactive strategies. This trait indicates a person’s ability to remain steadfast in the face of challenges or changes, dealing with whatever curve-balls have been thrown at them in a rational and emotionally appropriate way.


The Role of Job Level in Adjusting to Change

Being able to adapt effectively is not solely dependent on one’s personality, but also the situation and circumstances. An example of this used in the research was the connection between job level and adaptive performance.

Managers generally tend to show more proactive styles, perhaps because they have more opportunities to take various initiatives as a result of being managers. Regular employees showed more reactive styles to change, perhaps due to their limited control over situations in the workplace.


Other Applications of the Research

Why is understanding the connection between personality and the ability to adapt to changes in the workplace important? Because knowing how specific personality traits affect the way people adapt when confronted with change could help organizations become more efficient in hiring the right person for certain jobs. But on a deeper level, outside of the work context, this kind of research could also help solve some of the most pressing social adaptation issues we face.

Repairing Working Relationships after an Organizational Crisis

Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: Organizational Crisis and the Disturbance of Relational Systems
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

We’ve all had those moments of sheer and utter panic: you completely forgot about that client meeting in twenty minutes; you made a monumental error on a deliverable you just sent over; or that instant message about how much you hate your job somehow found its way onto your boss’s computer screen. Ahhhh! Well, organizations enter a similar type of “crisis mode” when the unexpected happens, or when threatened by high-impact events that may have seemed unlikely to occur, but now have.

The current research adds to the literature on organizational crisis management by emphasizing that damage to relationships may linger once a crisis has been resolved from a simple business operations standpoint. These dysfunctional relationship patterns introduce hidden vulnerabilities and can cause long-term issues with performance.

The authors explain that an integral component of the recovery process post-crisis is repairing any damage to relationships that occurred. To prevent a long-term drain on a company’s performance these relationships must be restored to health.

Effective responses to organizational crises must address not only what caused the crisis, but also how the crisis has affected peoples’ ties to one another. Although stressful situations put a strain on relationships, if well handled, they can have the opposite effect and should be seen as an opportunity to bring people closer together than they were pre-crisis.

Bottom line: Operational recovery is integral to restoring order post organizational crisis, but if you burn all your bridges in the process, you’ll end up winning the battle but losing the war.

Success through consistency

Publication: Academy of Management Journal(2013)
Article: Move to the beat-Rhythms of change and firm performance
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Companies that alter their strategy at consistent times and for consistent durations perform better than those who make these changes in a less predictable manner, according to a study by Patricia Klarner of the University of Munich & Sebastian Raisch of the University of Geneva. In this study, the strategic changes of 67 European insurance companies that occurred between 1995 and 2004 were categorized as either regular or irregular. Strategic changes includes a company’s entrance into a new market (i.e., diversification) and a company’s withdrawal from a country or a business segment (i.e., refocusing). An example of a regular change is a company that diversifies or refocuses in years 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, and so on, whereas an example of an irregular change is a company that diversifies or refocuses in years 1995, 1996, and 2001. Further, within the category of irregular change, there were three types of change: focused, punctuated, and temporarily switching. For instance, a company that engages in focused change will have long periods of change interrupted by a brief period of stability; a company that engages in punctuated change may have long periods of stability interrupted by a brief period of change; and a company that engages in temporarily switching will have both long periods of change interrupted by brief periods of stability and long periods of stability interrupted by brief periods of change. The relationship of these types of change to firm performance – as indicated by annual return on equity – was then evaluated. Via quantitative analyses, it was found that companies that alter their strategies in a uniform, steady, and even manner perform better than those that alter their strategies at less regular intervals. So, in pursuit of performance, try to be consistent and predictable as you create and implement different strategic changes.

Keeping Your Business Model Afloat Before It Goes Under Water

Publication: Harvard Business Review (Dec 2012)
Article: Surviving Disruption
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

At some point in our lives we’ve all had that nagging worry of being replaced or displaced by someone younger, smarter, better looking, or more talented. Well, navigating the business world is much the same. You’ve got to be vigilant and constantly on the lookout for new products or services that come to market and threaten to steal your client base.

The best way to protect your organization from a typhoon that could be heading your way is to accurately assess the current state of your business environment, and compare the pros and cons of the goods or services you provide against those of potential threats or “disruptions” to your business. Disruptive innovations are those products that possess technological or business model advantages over their competitors. These advantages enable them to gain traction and maintain their industry status as they become more advanced and continue to gain market share.

Wessel and Christensen provide a basic framework through which you can accurately evaluate whether a threat is looming on your horizon, and if so, plan a strategic response accordingly. First off, identify the strengths of your disruptors’ business model, or their “extendable core.” What are your competitors doing really well that is allowing them to expand their market share and gain traction? Next, identify what your organization’s strengths or areas of competitive advantage are, and why consumers turn to your company to meet their needs. What aspects of your competitors’ “extendable core” may enable them to develop better products or offer better services, but in what strategic spheres might you still have a clear advantage? Finally, look to the future. What conditions could enable a looming disruptor to subsume your business and what circumstances might thwart or hinder its hostile takeover within your domain?

Consider online grocers, for example. Consumers love that they no longer have to drive to the store, search for their items, stand on long lines and drive all the way back home again. With one click of a button you can have everything you need brought straight to your door. At the same time though, your local supermarket or grocery store serves its purpose for last minutes runs to pick up ingredients for dinner. Also, there’s something about being able to squeeze your tomatoes before you buy them that online grocers will never be able to compete with. Online grocers certainly have a clear advantage when it comes to nonperishable, staple items that people stock up on. However, the necessary changes to their business model that would allow them to meet consumers’ last minute shopping needs would destroy their competitive advantage.

Give ‘em the One-Two Punch!

Topic: Business Strategy, Change Management
Publication: Harvard Business Review (DEC 2012)
Article: Two Routes to Resilience
Authors: Clark Gilbert, Matthew Eyring and Richard N. Foster
Reviewed By: Susan Rosengarten

PR_009-_SI_-_14_03_12-390Strategists at every organization worry about keeping their companies’ products and services relevant for the twenty first century. With new electronics brought to market before you can say the word “i-phone,” its no wonder companies are finding it harder to compete and maintain market share, yet alone dominate their industries. What’s the secret to not just staying afloat, but flourishing in this economy? Well, Gilbert, Eyring and Foster have the answer for you in their article “Two Routes to Resilience.”

You’ve got to take a dual-transformation approach and come at your competitors from both sides. Give them the “one-two punch,” if you will. “Transformation A” should focus on your presently existing core business, and strategies that allow you to adjust your current business model to accommodate shifting markets, technological advancements and an ever-changing business environment. “Transformation B” on the other hand should create a separate business that feeds and thrives off of “disruptions” in your environment. The trick to creating synergy and a competitive advantage for both businesses is a “capabilities exchange” through which the parallel businesses share resources without infringing upon the mission or operations of either company.

Take the chain bookstore Barnes & Noble for example, which saw a dramatic drop in sales with the rising popularity of the virtual mega-bookstore Amazon. Barnes & Noble responded by redesigning their business model and concentrating less on lower-margin high-selling books and more on higher margin children’s books and gifts.  Stores were no longer merely places that sold books, but they now sold an experience; they became a place where parents could spend time with their children and customers could peruse through gifts for their loved ones (Transformation A). Barnes & Noble also became relevant for the 21st century with its release of the ‘Nook,’ which had an advantage over Amazon’s ‘Kindle’ because consumers could touch it in their hands and try it out before buying it (Transformation B). These transformations benefited from a number of shared resources including common branding and publishing relationships.

Now’s your chance! Take the next step in transforming your business and competing with the best of what’s out there. Best of luck! Knock ‘em dead!

Gilbert, C., Eyring, M. & Foster, R. N. (2012). Two Routes to Resilience. Harvard Business Review, 90(12),65-73.

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Take the Lead!

Topic: Business Strategy, Change Management, Leadership
Publication: Harvard Business Review (JAN/FEB 2013)
Article: Strategic Leadership: The Essential Skills
Authors: Paul J. H. Schoemaker, Steve Krupp, and Samantha Howland
Reviewed By: Susan Rosengarten

imagery_09_11_08_000051Whether you set your sites on becoming CEO or simply want to take your lemonade stand to the next level, there are a couple of essential skills you’ll need to have. According to Schoemaker, Krupp and Howland, mastery of these six skills will help you navigate the murky waters of the 21st century and become a strategic leader in your own right.

1) Anticipate- Don’t get stuck on the present; conduct a SWOT analysis of your surroundings and consider how economic and market changes may effect your business model. Anticipate and plan for potential opportunities and threats, and gain insight into what makes your competitors successful.

2) Challenge- Never be complacent! Challenge the status quo and think outside the box. Promote a collaborative culture within your organization that encourages diversity of thoughts and ideas. Argue your point from different angles and multiple perspectives and see where it takes you.

3) Interpret- Take a closer look at relevant feedback and how it relates to the current state of your organization. Are there any readily emergent trends? Put your critical thinking skills to use by analyzing the situation and forming patterns and connections. What is your information telling you?

4) Decide- Come to educated conclusions based on a thorough consideration of the issues and all of your options. Play devils advocate and argue the problem from all angles. Once you’ve come to your conclusions, muster the strength and courage to begin executing on your plans.

5) Align – Make sure all your stakeholders are on the same page. Communicate the plan and bring everyone onboard. Consider whether your suggestions run counter to some of your stakeholders’ agendas or interests, and how you might go about dealing with resistance to change.

6) Learn- Set the example for your team and show your coworkers that it’s okay to take risks and make mistakes. Learn from your failures and come out stronger for them. Promote a “culture of inquiry,” and take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.

Want to put the pedal to the metal and see which of these six areas you can work on to hone your strategic leadership abilities and reign supreme?  Take this Strategic Aptitude Assessment and find out:

Schoemaker, P. J. H., Krupp, S. & Howland, S. (2013). Strategic Leadership: The  Essential Skills. Harvard Business Review, 91(1), 131- 134.

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Managing Change for the Twenty-First Century

Topic: Business Strategy, Change Management
Publication: Harvard Business Review (NOV 2012)
Article: Accelerate!
Author: John P. Kotter
Reviewed By: Susan Rosengarten

Organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of consumer, industry and worldwide change. Technological advancements as well as cross-cultural integrations have allowed for tremendous economic opportunities. At the same time though, the stakes are much higher, and the threats more real. Today’s leaders feel progressively more pressure to carefully consider how their investments in new ventures and R&D to remain competitive in changing markets will impact stakeholders’ perceptions and affect their bottom line.

While the conventional operating systems of the past, composed of traditional hierarchies and managerial processes, have been sufficient to run day-to-day activities, they are not enough to enable organizations to develop and implement strategic initiatives and react to unexpected impediments to organizational goals.

John Kotter, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School and a pioneer in the field of change leadership suggests a new approach to dealing with this ever-pressing problem; create a dual operating system. Maintain current organizational hierarchy systems to sustain daily operations, and in addition, create a concurrent “network-like structure” to carry out strategy. This new network or “volunteer army,” composed of employees at all level of the organization serves as a “guiding coalition” to swiftly address inadequacies and manage change.

Kotter outlines eight “accelerators” imperative for the strategy network to operate effectively:

1) Create a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity.
2) Build and maintain a guiding coalition.
3) Formulate a strategic vision and develop change initiatives designed to capitalize on the big opportunity.
4) Communicate the vision and the strategy to create buy-in ad attract a growing volunteer army.
5) Accelerate movement toward the vision and the opportunity by ensuring that the network removes barriers.
6) Celebrate visible, significant short-term wins.
7) Never let up. Keep learning from experience. Don’t declare victory too soon.
8) Institutionalize strategic changes in the culture.

So go ahead- transform your organization! Do you dare?

Kotter, J. P. (2012). Accelerate! Harvard Business Review, 90(11) 43-58.

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Organizational Inducements and Resilience: Oft Ignored, but Effective Resources for Building Commitment and Support for Change

Topic:  Change Management
Publication:  Academy of Management Journal
Article:  Resources for change:  The relationships of organizational inducements and psychological resilience to employees’ attitudes and behaviors toward organizational change
Authors:  J. Shin, M.S. Taylor, M. Seo
Reviewed by:  Kecia Bingham

Although change is common among organizations, successful organizational change is far from typical.  Why the low rate of success, you ask?  Well there are likely a number of contributing factors, but research increasingly cites the importance of the often ignored, but invaluable resource called employees—specifically employee attitudes and behavioral reactions to change.  A study by Shin and colleagues extends previous research on organizational change by highlighting organizational inducements (i.e., valued tangible and intangible outcomes employee receive in exchange for contributing to organizational performance) and psychological resilience (i.e., a trait-like ability to recover from adversity and adapt to shifting demands) as resources that can be developed over time before organizational change begins, and examines the mechanism by which these resources affect employees’ commitment to change and change behaviors (e.g., support for change and turnover).

The authors used survey data collected during three time periods (over a 22 month period) from 234 employees and 45 managers at an IT company in South Korea undergoing large-scale organizational change.  Results indicated that employees who perceived themselves as having received high levels of organizational inducements (e.g., career development, open communication with management, good healthcare benefits, competitive salary) tended to have high normative (i.e., support stemming from feeling a sense of obligation to an organization) and affective (i.e., support stemming from belief about benefits associated with the change) commitment to change because those resources helped them develop a state positive affect (i.e., transitory positive emotions) and a high-quality social exchange (i.e., ongoing interaction based on mutual trust and obligation) relationship with the organization.  Also, employees with high resilience tended to express high normative and affective commitment to change because of the high positive affect they experienced during the change.  While both types of employee commitment to change had direct positive relationships with behavioral (i.e., demonstrated employee support for change above what is required) and creative (i.e., provision of innovative ideas consistent with the spirit of the change) support for change, as assessed by work unit managers, normative commitment had a stronger relationship that existed beyond the effects of affective commitment to change.  Moreover, employees with high normative commitment to change were less likely to voluntarily leave the company compared to those with low normative commitment.

Based upon results, four practical implications for managers were noted. First, it is important for managers to be aware of the importance of employee commitment to and engagement in organizational change.  Results show how employee commitment relates to demonstrated discretionary behaviors that can affect change implementation.  Second, organizations should consider providing high levels of organizational inducements before initiating change to enhance employee commitment to change.  In other words, companies would do well to be proactive rather than reactive to employee attitudes and behaviors towards change.  Third, employee psychological resilience should be considered as a criterion for selection and/or as content area of training interventions.  Reportedly, resilience can be developed through training and social support.  Fourth, managers can enhance employee commitment to change and behavioral reactions to it by building employee positive affect and social exchange (e.g., using words that express optimism and enthusiasm when discussing the change).


Shin, J., Taylor, M.S., & Seo, M. (2012).  Resources for change:  The relationships of organizational inducements and psychological resilience to employees’ attitudes and behaviors toward organizational change.  Academy of Management Journal, 55(3), 727-748.

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Change Agents Beware: Does Your Social Network Help or Hinder Change Initiatives? (Human Resource Management)

Topic:  Change Management
Publication:  Academy of Management (APR 2012)
Article:  Change agents, networks, and institutions:  A contingency theory of organizational change
Authors:  J. Battilana, T. Casciaro
Reviewed by:  Kecia Bingham

Not all change initiatives are created equal.  Divergent organizational changes (changes that diverge from the institutional status quo) are especially difficult to implement since they require change agents to persuade organization members to not only adopt new practices, but break with institutional norms.  The authors of this study sought to answer what factors increase the likelihood that a change agent:  1) will initiate a divergent change initiative, and 2) will persuade other organization members to adopt that change.

The researchers found that change agents with rich structural holes in their network (i.e., a low degree of connections between contacts in his/her network) were more likely to initiate divergent change than were change agents with network closure (i.e., few structural holes in his/her network).  That makes sense, right? The less ingrained someone is in the organization, the more likely they are to shake things up. A network with structural holes is more likely to foster novel ideas compared to a network with a high degree of structural closure, which is characterized by redundant information and pressure to conform to existing norms. Also, the researchers found that those structural holes in a change agent’s network increased the adoption of changes that were different from the status quo, while network closure hindered the adoption of such changes.  Reportedly, structural holes allow change agents more leeway in deciding when and how to present change to various stakeholders, which is important in implementing changes that go against the grain.  However, structural holes in a change agent’s network hindered the adoption of low degree divergent changes, presumably because it made it more difficult for the change agent to mobilize people and resources around the change.

These findings suggest several practical implications for practitioners.  First, contrary to popular thought, network cohesion is not advantageous for all change projects.  Instead, change agents with networks rich with structural holes appear better for implementing radical institutional change.  Second, when selecting change agents, it is important to consider not only the degree of institutional change, but the change agent’s organizational connections.  Lastly, to improve the matching of change agents to change type, organizations may benefit from training potential change champions to recognize structural holes in organizational networks.

Battilana, J. & Casciaro, T. (2012).  Change agents, networks, and institutions:  A contingency theory of organizational change.  Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), 381-398.

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My Ideas are an Extension of Me: Why Individuals Embrace or Resist Feedback (IO Psychology)

Topic:  Decision Making, Change Management
Publication:  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (MAY 2012)
Article:  Blind in one eye:  How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt
Authors:  M. Baer, G. Brown
Reviewed by:  Kecia Bingham

Remember that time your polite suggestion to your loving partner on how he/she could pare down their “funny story” was met with an exaggerated eye roll? Or perhaps there was a time you suggested to your partner that he/she add a certain ingredient to their signature recipe and to your surprise they did.  This study sought to understand why people at times seem open to feedback, while at other times seem to resist it.  The authors proposed that psychological ownership (feeling a material or non-material object, such as an idea, is yours and is part of your extended self) and the nature of the change attempt determines how people respond to suggestions for change.

While most research focuses on the benefits of psychological ownership and encourages it, results across two studies in this article indicate that ownership can have both positive and negative implications for change.  Specifically, participants who felt strong ownership of their ideas were more likely to adopt additive change (suggestions that built upon his/her idea) and less likely to adopt subtractive change (suggestions that eliminate aspects of his/her idea) compared to those who felt limited ownership of their ideas.  The authors reasoned that additive change builds upon our ideas so people with strong psychological ownership were willing to adopt such changes for personal growth.  In contrast, individuals with limited ownership tend to be less invested in their ideas and would not view additive change as a way of enhancing themselves.  As expected, since subtractive change takes away from what individuals have attached themselves to, people with strong ownership in these situations experienced a greater sense of personal loss compared to participants with limited ownership.  Results also indicated that personal loss was positively related to negative affect (e.g., being upset or frustrated), such that when feelings of personal loss were high, negative affect was also high.  This finding is compelling since participants with high negative affect were less likely to adopt others’ suggestions for change.  In sum, when people with psychological ownership of their ideas were presented with feedback that diminished their ideas, they were more likely to experience a sense of personal loss which then elicited elevated levels of negative emotions and reduced their adoption of subtractive changes.  However, the reverse was true when participants with strong ownership were presented with feedback that enhanced their ideas.

Results imply that individuals with strong psychological ownership may selectively adopt feedback so that they are blind to suggestions that diminish parts of their idea, while being receptive to feedback that builds upon their idea regardless of the quality and usefulness of the feedback.  To encourage collaboration and innovation the authors suggest organizations encourage collective vs. individual ownership of ideas and train employees on how to use techniques that foster a culture of openness and agreement (e.g., agree, accept, and add).

Baer, M., & Brown, G. (2012).  Blind in one eye:  How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118, 60-71.

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