The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice
Column Editors: Mark L. Poteet, Organizational Research & Solutions, Inc., and Lynda Zugec, The Workforce Consultants
“The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice” is a TIP column that seeks to help facilitate additional learning and knowledge transfer in order to encourage sound, evidence-based practice. It can provide academics with an opportunity to discuss the potential and/or realized practical implications of their research as well as learn about cutting edge practice issues or questions that could inform new research programs or studies. For practitioners, it provides opportunities to learn about the latest research findings that could prompt new techniques, solutions, or services that would benefit the external client community. It also provides practitioners with an opportunity to highlight key practice issues, challenges, trends, and so forth that may benefit from additional research. In this issue, we explore the HEXACO model of personality!
The HEXACO: Improving the Usefulness of Personality Within Organizations
Matthew J. Mol and Sylvia Luu
J. Craig Wallace
University of Denver & AOE Science
In this article, we make a case for the value of the HEXACO model of personality. We start with a brief overview of the history of personality, beginning with the origin of the Big Five, through today. We then emphasize what sets the HEXACO apart from the Big Five. Next, we discuss why these differences make the HEXACO promising for use in the workplace. We briefly summarize some of the research the authors are engaged in on the usefulness of the Honesty-Humility factor before discussing some future directions.
A Brief History of Personality in the Workplace
The five-factor model of personality was originally discovered in the 1960s as the result of the culmination of the lexical hypothesis applied to the English language (Tupes & Christal, 1961). Shortly thereafter, interest in personality research was put on hiatus as the field wrestled with the work of Mischel (1968), emphasizing the importance of the situation, as opposed to the power of the individual in determining behavior. The “Big Five” came into being in the 1980s (Goldberg, 1981; comprising Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness). Around the same time, there was a resurgence in personality testing, presumably due to the general acceptance of the Big Five framework among test developers (Gibby & Zickar, 2008). The 1990s saw a series of meta-analyses (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Tett, Jackson, & Rothstein, 1991; Tett, Jackson, Rothstein, & Reddon, 1999) quantitatively summarizing the effectiveness of personality in predicting job performance. However, the rise of globalization, and the consequent focus on cross-cultural research, led to a new personality model: the HEXACO (Lee & Ashton, 2004). In the early 2000s, researchers applied the lexical hypothesis across multiple languages and discovered/developed the HEXACO model (Ashton et al., 2004). The HEXACO model is composed of six factors: Honesty-Humility, Emotional Control, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. Today, personality testing is used in organizations for a variety of reasons, including employee selection, leadership development/coaching, teambuilding, and as a means to improve the effectiveness of a host of other organizational initiatives. However, many organizations use the Big Five and, consequently, miss out on some of the benefits of the HEXACO model.
The HEXACO and the H-factor
The factors of Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Openness to Experience are relatively similar across both the Big Five and HEXACO models. The HEXACO model most notably differs from the Big Five through its inclusion of a sixthh factor, Honesty-Humility (AKA the H-factor). This higher order H-factor borrows some of the variance associated with Agreeableness and Emotional Stability in the Big Five model, which purifies and narrows those two factors in the HEXACO model. Through this purification and added specificity, the HEXACO model offers an improvement in predictive ability over the Big Five. For example, take the role of a debt collector, who may need to be high on the H-factor in order to push for what is fair (the repayment of debts) but low on Agreeableness to demand that people pay their debts. The HEXACO model allows for this specification; however, in the Big Five, both of those behaviors would fall at opposite ends of Agreeableness, effectively washing out the predictive ability of Agreeableness for this role.
Figure 1. Dimensions and subdimension of HEXACO; © AOE Science, reprinted with permission
In addition to the benefits of purification and specificity, the six-factor HEXACO model has now been replicated across at least 12 languages and has been found to be more generalizable across cultures, compared to the Big Five model. This may not have been something worth considering 50 years ago, but as technology continues to make the world smaller, it makes sense to use a personality structure that holds true for people across the globe. Though the HEXACO model offers many advantages over the Big Five, we focus specifically on the H-factor and its potential implications for the workplace (for a thorough review of the HEXACO model, see Ashton & Lee, 2007).
The H-factor is composed of four subfacets: fairness, sincerity, modesty, and greed avoidance. Those high on the H-factor acknowledge strengths and weakness in themselves and others, actively look for feedback on how to further develop themselves, and are sincere, loyal team members. Colloquially speaking, people high on the H-factor are generally viewed as “just good people.” That’s not to say that being high on the H-factor is always a good thing. In some situations, a certain degree of self-interest, deception, or even boastfulness is necessary in order to perform appropriately. For instance, it wouldn’t be much fun (albeit easy) to play poker with somebody high on the H-factor or have someone high on the H-factor involved in trade negotiations.
The Utility of the H-factor in the Workplace
Given the prosocial and honesty aspects of the H-factor, one can postulate what its relationship would be with various organizational criteria. For instance, the H-factor is (perhaps unsurprisingly) negatively related to undesirable workplace behaviors, such as CWBs (Hilbig & Zettler, 2009; Marcus, Lee, & Ashton, 2007). People who are greed avoidant tend not to be the ones who steal from their employers. It may seem logical to assume that because the H-factor is negatively related to undesirable workplace behaviors, it would be positively related to desirable workplace behaviors, such as OCBs and job performance. That being said, however, these relationships are relatively understudied. Despite this, there are a few conceptual reasons to expect, on average, a positive relationship between the H-factor and performance, across most jobs.
Honest self-appraisal. The H-factor is not limited to the individual’s interactions with others but also extends to their own internal cognitive processes. People high on the H-factor tend to have more honest self-appraisals of their strengths and weaknesses. Their desire to have an accurate appraisal of who they are and what they are good at allows them to more accurately allocate their time and resources, making them better performers. They maintain the accuracy of their self-appraisal by valuing information and feedback about themselves. They are less likely to dismiss information that does not validate their self-concept so as to maintain an accurate self-appraisal. If they have an honest view of who they are, and it doesn’t agree with them, they are more likely to remedy their weaknesses through self-development. An employee who actively develops his or her self should be a higher performer, especially in dynamic settings that require consistent change.
Honest other appraisal. In the same way that high H-factor individuals have more honest self-appraisals, they also tend to have honest other appraisals. These high H individuals are more honest with their appraisals of others’ strengths and weaknesses, which can afford others some of the same benefits that an honest self-appraisal does. Having somebody in the office to keep everybody grounded helps everyone in the office to know themselves and helps them to allocate their time, resources, and developmental goals more accurately. It also helps to have somebody in the office who “tells it like it is,” so that when people are off task or performing a task in a less than optimal manner, they are informed that their behavior is not in the organization’s best interest.
Social tendencies. Research has tied the H-factor to a series of traits such as improved adjustment (Shu, McAbee, & Ayman, 2017) and cooperation (Hilbig, Zettler, Leist, & Heydash, 2013), as well as decreased aggression and revenge (Lee & Ashton, 2014). People who are high on the H-factor generally get along with others. As most organizations constitute social settings, it stands to reason that high H-factor individuals would be more adept at navigating the workplace, especially in team settings.
Job specific characteristics. So far, all of these reasons suggest the H-factor should predict job performance for almost all jobs (maybe even all jobs, at risk of sounding presumptuous). However, when using personality as a selection tool, it is conventional to use a job analysis to specify linkages between personality traits and certain aspects of the work that vary by the job. One such job that might be particularly well-suited for somebody high on the H-factor would be police officer. Individuals high on the fairness subfacet are less subject to corruption. Being high on the modesty subfacet may improve relations with civilians, making the officer more effective. There are also jobs where being low on the H-factor could be useful. For example, keeping with the industry of justice, defense lawyers high on the H-factor may be particularly poorly suited for the job. High levels on the sincerity subfacet may mean they are unwilling to manipulate the jury into believing their clients’ innocence. Furthermore, the fairness subfacet may lead them to want to see their client punished if they believe their client to be guilty, which might impact their defense.
Current Research on the Utility of the H-factor
The authors have gathered data from three different organizations to examine both the criterion validity and the uniqueness of the H-factor. The organizations represented a diverse set of industries and comprised warehouse and distribution, software sales, and healthcare, with an overall sample size of over 1,000 employees. Across all three samples, the bivariate relationship between the H-factor and performance was between .23 and .24 (.28 corrected for unreliability), and the H-factor explained unique variance in performance beyond all other HEXACO traits, cognitive ability, and core self-evaluations. These finding suggest that the H-factor is a worthwhile predictor of performance and would meaningfully contribute to a selection system. Additional research is required to examine the full potential of the H-factor across all jobs and industries.
Future Considerations for Practice
Given the conceptual potential and current empirical support for the H-factor, there are several possible avenues for its application in the workplace. Examples such as debt collectors, police officers, and defense lawyers highlight some potential uses of the HEXACO model, and the H-factor specifically, within selection contexts. The field of I-O psychology benefits from a wealth of literature that suggests certain personality traits are better suited for certain jobs (e.g., an extraverted sales person would likely be more successful than an introverted sales person), and the H-factor is no different. Additionally, there are potential avenues for building developmental models around the H-factor and encouraging workers to have more honest self- and other appraisals. Merging a high involvement leadership approach with trait activation theory, managers could encourage and nurture these honest appraisals in their employees, which, in turn, could lead to more accurate and effective developmental goals.
Hopefully, the advantages of the HEXACO model and specifically the H-factor have been made apparent. Though the five-factor model is still the most common of the personality models and has provided us great insight into the psyche and behavior of employees, it has some shortcomings that the HEXACO model addresses through greater construct specificity and better cross-cultural generalizability. The HEXACO model, and particularly the H-factor, has demonstrated exciting promise for the prediction of work and life outcomes, but there is still much more to learn in terms of research and application. As research on personality continues to expand, examining the HEXACO model, its mediators, and its interactions with situational constraints will only provide a richer understanding of individual differences in the field of I-O psychology. Embracing the HEXACO model in future research and practice may allow for better prediction of job performance across a greater variety of situations.
Calling Potential Contributors to “The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice”
As outlined in Poteet, Zugec, and Wallace (2016), the TIP Editorial Board and Professional Practice Committee continue to have oversight and review responsibility for this column. We invite interested potential contributors to contact us directly with ideas for columns. If you are interested in contributing, please contact either Lynda (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Craig at (email@example.com).
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