There’s something important about the selection of new staff that those on both sides of that transaction ought to know. No matter who is appointed, they will not do that job in the way that was originally intended, or in the way that it was described, or in the way that a previous person in that post did. Subtly or abruptly, the role will inevitably be refashioned by the new recruit in a way that reflects their talents and their personality dispositions.

Personality dispositions have a persistent influence on the way that we see things and the way that we do things. Homo sapiens are capable of an extraordinary range of behaviours and individually we all have distinctive patterns of drives, preferences and dispositions that constantly push us in particular directions.

In effect, these are personal biases that make some opportunities more attractive than others: the extremely conscientious will tend to work to routine, to be very organised but have difficulty with flexibility and change; at the other extreme, those with a carefree disposition will have difficulty in motivating themselves with routine or repetitive tasks and will want to try different ways of doing things. In these examples, the execution of the role will be pushed in opposite directions; maybe gradually and subtly but sometimes more noticeably and disruptively. Personality dispositions don’t dictate our every move but they do have a very pervasive influence, perhaps best described as broadly predictive rather than specifically predictive.

Of course, the examples above are of extreme dispositions, used because they provide the best illustrations, but in reality these are caricatures. Most people are somewhere between the extremes of personality and the impact of their dispositions on behavior will be less immediately obvious. Nevertheless, they too will make a job their own. This ‘looseness of fit’ inherent in our individual differences creates a chemistry and fluidity that makes the workforce more dynamic. It allows people to complement each other and to fill the gaps between prescribed roles. That’s how it works in an effective team.

This model would predict dysfunctional consequences when the personal demands of a role put too much of a strain on the dispositions of the incumbent – just too much for them to manage. Free will gives us choices but it doesn’t allow us to reshape our individuality. Eventually the cracks in performance will begin to show. Endless training will not solve the problem when the deviation required from an employee’s natural disposition is extreme. Trying to compress any individual rigidly into a tightly defined role and preventing them from expressing their natural talents is likely to be counterproductive, neither enhancing performance nor capitalising on potential.

The influence of personality dispositions has significance for personal development, advancement and redeployment within the organisation. Someone who proves a poor fit for an intended role may become a star performer in another. It is important not to let talent walk out of the door when that person has the potential to fill another space very effectively. This is an argument for personal development policies that can embrace sideways moves, diagonal promotions, job swapping and creative staff redeployment in place of a series of disconnected, narrowly conceived appointments. Surely this is strategy for human capital investment that has to be a winner?

Geoff Trickey, Managing Director