Where leaving it to Beaver meets the bottom line

Topic: Citizenship BehaviorJob Performance
Publication: Human Performance
Article: Test of Motowidlo et al.’s (1997) theory of individual differences in task and contextual performance.
Blogger: James Grand

A helpful hand here or a thoughtful “hi-how-are-ya” might be more valuable than we think. Psychologists are starting to realize that such dispositional characteristics can be meaningful predictors of on-the-job performance. Nearly 10 years ago, Motowidlo, Borman and Schmit proposed that performance at work was more than just the number of pizzas one delivers in 30 minutes or less or any other similar indicators of taskwork proficiency.

There is also a contextual performance aspect to an individual’s job, which is broadly defined as work behaviors that maintain and promote the social, organizational and psychological environment in which employees perform the technical functions of
their job.

Thus for example, the number of policies an insurance salesperson racks up in given quarter might be considered their task performance; however, ratings of customer satisfaction, ability to deal with customer complaints and the number of days he/she covered for a sick co-worker might all be indicators
of the salesperson’s contextual performance.  So why distinguish between these two areas of performance?

As a recent study by Bergman and colleagues demonstrates (2008, Human Performance, Vol. 21, Iss. 3), there are at least two reasons:

· Contextual performance is often strongly related to task performance.  Employees who promote a healthy and productive organizational context tend to also be good workers in the traditional sense.  Although not covered by Bergman et al., high contextual performers also tend to positively influence the task performance of others—in other words, not only is the task work of high contextual performers better, but the task work of their co-workers benefits as well.

· The predictors of contextual performance and task performance are not always the same.  What makes people good at the technical parts of their job does not necessarily make them good at the contextual components.  Oftentimes, things such as personality or other dispositional qualities are better predictors of who deals with the annoying customer better than typical predictors of task performance like cognitive ability or experience.
Certainly, one shouldn’t expect a group of nuns to outperform a pool of Ivy League business grads in the competitive world of corporate America.  But as research like Bergman et al. shows, a good dose of wholesomeness might go a bit further than you’d think.

M. E., Donovan, M. A., Drasgow, F., Overton, R. C., & Henning, J. B. (2008). Test of Motowidlo et al.’s (1997) theory of individual differences in task and contextual performance. Human Performance, 21(3), 227-253.
Motowidlo, S. J., Borman,W. C., & Schmit, M. J. (1997). A theory of individual differences in task and contextual performance. Human Performance, 10, 71–83.