Personality Traits and Workplace Culture

Online tests measure the fit between person and organization.

2001 Volume 4 Issue 1

Determine how compatible you are with your primary work group.

Have you ever stopped in the middle of a work frenzy and asked yourself, “Why do I continue to work for this organization?” When you try to promote your ideas, do most of your peers frequently react with indifference? If so, it may be time to evaluate the relationship between you and your company.

This article will help you explore one dimension of this complex relationship: the cultural match factor, or “How compatible is your personality with the organizational culture of the company for which you work?” Even more than that, it will provide you with the assessment tools to figure out whether you are, indeed, compatible. One tool helps you evaluate the company culture, one tests your personality type on the related dimensions, and the third shows you how to compare responses to see how closely they match. Together they help you address the question of “How well do I fit in this organization?”

The cultural match between an individual and an organization is determined by the degree to which the individual’s personal traits fit the organizational culture, or perhaps vice versa. A lower cultural match may indicate that the individual is drained of important resources by having to continuously adjust to the workplace environment. A higher cultural match suggests the potential for a more satisfying interaction for both the individual and the organization.

It is generally assumed that a successful relationship between an individual and an organization is based on a shared foundation of beliefs and behaviors. Similar beliefs and ways of working usually encourage communication and tend to support the working relationship, allowing synergies to emerge. In contrast, a high level of dissimilarity usually requires a high consumption of adaptive energy.

Integrated Cultural Framework as a measure of organizational culture

Organizational culture can be described as a set of collective beliefs and values that influence behavior. The Integrated Cultural Framework (ICF) developed by Mallinger and Rossy offers a means for measuring organizational culture. The ICF contains six dimensions which are described below. Also included is a set of questions to assess the level of each component.

Ability to influence is the extent to which individuals are able to influence outcomes within the organization. A high ability to influence suggests that the organization is open to input from a wide range of members and is willing to consider and react to those suggestions. It is likely decentralized. A low ability to influence indicates a culture where most individuals have little chance to impact the outcomes. Decisions are made by a small group of individuals at the top who are not open to input from more than a select group of employees. Assessing questions include:

  • Where are decisions made within the organization?
  • Is the organization centralized or decentralized?
  • To what extent can most members participate in changing procedures and policies?

Comfort with ambiguity describes the extent to which the members of the organization are comfortable with uncertainty and risk taking.

  • Are there lots of rules and regulations that explicitly define the way “things should be done here?”
  • Can decisions be made without complete information?
  • Is risk encouraged?

Achievement Orientation refers to the extent to which the members of the organization are striving to accomplish goals and improve performance.

  • Is goal accomplishment the norm?
  • Is there a high expectation of achievement?

Individualism vs. Collectivism refers to the extent to which the members of the organization are encouraged or given incentives to focus primarily on personal gain (individualism) versus considering first the interests of the group as a whole (collectivism)

  • Are rewards individual or group based?
  • To what extent do members work as a team?

Time Orientation measures the extent to which the organization’s missions/goals are focused on values from past, present or future. However, combinations of time orientation can exist. For example, an organization may demonstrate both present and future orientation (e.g., focus on bottom line, while also engaging in meaningful strategic planning)

  • Is the vision based on the values of the founders (i.e. past), the current environment (present) or an estimation of the future?
  • Is the implementation of the strategy past, present or future oriented?

Space Orientation refers to the extent to which physical layout is public, private or a mix of both.

  • To what extent is office space shared?
  • To what extent do you see closed versus open doors?
  • To what extent are members protective of their space?

IPIP-NEO Personality Test

As a personality assessment tool we have chosen the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP-NEO) Test because it has a fairly large number of personality traits that can be associated with the cultural dimensions used to describe the organization. The IPIP-NEO Test estimates the individual’s personality on five broad domains (known as the Five-Factor Model) and 30 sub-domains. The test measures normal differences in personality and it is based on, but it is not equivalent to, the NEO PI-R™, authored by Paul T. Costa, Jr. and Robert R. McCrae. A reduced version of the test can be taken for free (link no longer available). The comprehensive version of the test is also available.

For the purposes of comparison, a smaller group of characteristics has been selected from the larger pool of six traits within each of the five domains. Some traits, such as immoderation or artistic interests, were deemed not relevant for defining a match with the cultural dimensions listed above Consequently, we only will describe, briefly, those traits that are used in linking personality and organization culture.

Extraversion

  • Friendliness: The ability to quickly establish relationships with other people.
  • Gregariousness: The level of social engagement. High scorers enjoy the company of others and tend to be comfortable in groups. Low scorers have a greater need for privacy and tend to avoid large groups of people.
  • Activity Level: Active individuals get involved in many activities, leading fast-paced lives. People with a low activity level enjoy a more leisurely, slower-paced life.

Agreeableness

  • Trust – the capacity to rely on someone else’s integrity, ability or character.
  • Altruism – the need to help others, viewed as a form of self-fulfillment.
  • Cooperation – the ability to lower the priority of personal needs in order to get along with others.

Conscientiousness

  • Self-Efficacy – the confidence in one’s ability to accomplish goals.
  • Achievement – Striving. High scorers have a strong achievement drive and wish to be perceived as successful. Low scorers don’t value social recognition as much and are satisfied performing at a level with which they are comfortable.
  • Cautiousness – the disposition to analyze all possibilities before taking decision or acting. Low scorers often do or say what comes first to their mind.

Neuroticism

  • Self-Consciousness – the degree to which an individual is sensitive to what others think about him or her. High scorers indicate a concern about being criticized or rejected by others whereas low scorers are less concerned about judgment from others.

Openness to Experience

  • Adventurousness – the degree to which one looks for new experiences. High scorers are not comfortable with routine, while low scorers tend to feel uncomfortable with change, preferring familiar routines.
  • Liberalism – the psychological meaning of the term refers to the readiness to challenge authority, convention and traditional values. Low scorers are called conservative and prefer security and stability brought by tradition.

Comparison between organizational cultural features and matching personality traits

In selecting the personality traits that match the organizational cultural framework, the personality trait within a cultural dimension should enable the individual:

  • to feel comfortable in the specific organizational environment.
  • to feel motivated by this environment.
  • to be able to deliver the expected results for the organization.

The following table offers the means to assess the degree of cultural match between an individual personality and an organizational culture. To illustrate this, you are invited to take the personality test referenced above and compare the results with the cultural climate of your own organization or another with which you are familiar.

When carrying out the cultural assessment, select a unit of analysis that is related to your organizational identity – the segment of the business with which you most identify as your work group. Depending on size, location, or divisional responsibilities, the unit of analysis might be the corporation, the division, the department, or the functional arena.

The first column of the table contains a listing of the organizational culture traits measured at the ends of the scale, each of them being assigned a value (1 or 3) in parentheses. Because the “low” and “high” values used by the Integrated framework scale could not be compared directly with the “low” and “high” values offered by the IPIP measure, we have introduced numerical values from 1 to 3 to make the comparison possible.

The second column is to be filled in with the scores that reflect your company’s culture. For example, if, in your opinion, your company ranks high on “ability to influence,” you will assign a 3. If there is moderate “ability to influence,” you will score it a 2.

The third column offers a short description of the matching personality traits for each organizational culture feature. The fourth column specifies the corresponding IPIP-NEO measures, and the numerical score associated with each. Use the fifth column to calculate the average score of your personality traits for that line. For example, if you scored high on liberalism (3) and medium on self-efficacy (2), your IPIP average score will be 2.5.

After grading both organizational culture and your personality, the comparison between the second and the fifth column will show the degree to which the scores match. A strong match is suggested if the columns contain equal scores or are within a 0.5 difference. A 1-point difference between the corresponding scores may reflect an incongruity, whereas a 2-point difference is likely to indicate a misfit.

Organizational Culture-Personality Comparison Chart

(Click title to download a pdf file of the table.)

Organizational Culture Feature Your Org. Score Description of Matching Personality Traits IPIP-NEO Measure Your IPIP Ave. Score
High ability to influence (3)
Low ability to influence (1)
Challenges authority, likes to be empowered
>Respect for hierarchical structure, needs direction in life
High liberalism (3) High self-efficacy (3)
Low liberalism (1) Low self-efficacy (1)
High comfort with ambiguity (3)
Low comfort with ambiguity (1)
>Adventurous, risk-taking
Rigorous, cautious
Low caution (3) High adventure (3)
High caution (1) Low adventure (1)
High achievement (3)
Low achievement (1)
Achievement striving, active
Follower, contemplative, less concerned with high achieve.
High assertive (3) High activity (3) High achive. (3)
Low activity (1) Low achivement-striving (1)
Collectivism (3)
Individualism (1)
Cooperative, “Doing for others,” Trust
Independent, Don’t like to share, Little trust
High cooperation (3) / High trust (3) High altruism (3)
Low cooperation (1) / Low trust (1) Low altruism (1)
Present-future orientation (3)
Past-present orientation (1)
Liberal, open to future experience
Conservative, stability, tradition
High liberalism (3)
Low liberalism (1)
Public (3)
Private (1)
Friendly, seeks company
Reserved, needs privacy
Low self-consciousness (3) High gregariousness (3)
High self-consciousness (1) Low gregariousness (1)

To enhance the model presented in this article, it is important to be aware of the following considerations:

  • As stated earlier, it is useful to compare your personality with the culture of the organizational unit in which you work. In addition to your business unit, however, a fit with the company as a whole would offer hope for a more satisfying career as you continue to move through the organization. For some people, a personal/culture fit may exist only in the functional area in which they work. For example, an adventurous and non-conformist individual could match the less risk-averse, more creative subculture of the Design Department of a garment factory, even though the overall company might be rigidly structured and have a low comfort level with ambiguity.
  • While a large base of similarities may enable successful and harmonious interaction, dissimilarities are also valuable. They are the source of attraction, of added value and information exchange that give substance and fuel to the relationship.
  • The optimum degree of cultural match depends on one’s psychological profile and, ultimately, on personal preference. Flexible, risk-taking personalities would handle a larger percentage of dissimilarities more successfully than a cautious personality, enjoying more intensive exchange and adjusting processes. Conservative or cautious personalities would require a solid, large basis of similarities as a support for their cooperation with the company.

One’s success in the organization often goes beyond “doing a good job.” Frequently satisfaction with work comes from not only performing well, but also being comfortable with corporate values. It is essential, therefore, to examine the match between personal characteristics and organization culture. It is our belief that the greater the degree to which the match is favorable, along with the contingencies raised in the paragraph above, the more likely one will be satisfied with his or her work.

About the Author(s)

Mark Mallinger, PhD, is a professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management's at Pepperdine University. He teaches in the full-time, fully-employed, and executive programs. Dr. Mallinger is a management development consultant and has published works in a number of academic and practitioner journals.

Ileana Rizescu