The New Hiring Standard: AdaptabilityPublished: January 02, 2008 in Knowledge@W.P. Carey
There's just one constant in today's business world, says Angelo Kinicki: Change.
Globalization, increased competition, uncertain markets and tenuous world politics -- all of it has made the business of doing business less predictable, and more volatile, than ever before. So it only makes sense, Kinicki and a colleague recently concluded, that companies need employees who can thrive in an ever-changing environment.
"We believe that today's organizations are going through levels of change that are unprecedented," says Kinicki, a professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business. "And because organizations are going through these changes, we became interested in determining how we could identify that certain kind of person who can respond to and handle those changes. What are the characteristics that make somebody handle change better than others do?"
Staffing for change : personal adaptability
In a new paper to be published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Kinicki and his colleague, Mel Fugate of Southern Methodist University, provide the answers -- and propose that companies re-evaluate the way they find, and evaluate, new employees.
The paper, "A Dispositional Approach to Employability: Development of a Measure and Test of Implications for Employee Reactions to Organizational Change" provides a blueprint, custom-fit to the frenzied modern business world, to finding and hiring those employees who will provide the best return on investment.
Though business researchers have already explored the notion of "employability" -- or, speaking broadly, the value that an individual potentially brings to a company -- most assessments of employability have focused on traditional models that look at skills, work experience and education. A few others have considered personality traits.
But Kinicki and Fugate's approach is unique in that it has been specifically created around this notion of change, and how employees react to it. As Kinicki explains, he and Fugate are specifically interested in a candidate's adaptability -- for the simple reason that, today more than ever, employees need to adapt, and be comfortable adapting, to survive and thrive.
"Personal adaptability is increasingly important to both employees and employers in today's dynamic work environment," the authors write. "Individual characteristics that predispose people to be more proactively adaptable are clearly beneficial, as individuals now are required to negotiate a never-ending series of workplace changes and transitions."
The premise for this research, then, was simple enough: Because organizations are facing a state of never-ending change, the authors proposed, those organizations need to find employees who can thrive amid all of that change.
Profile of adaptability
Their challenge, in other words, was to identify those specific personality traits, or dimensions of employability, that make one person more adaptable than another.
"When people are faced with the implementation of change, some become overwrought, and others thrive," Kinicki says. "We wanted to find those interpersonal characteristics associated with a person’s adaptability during organizational change, and then we expanded our focus to include how people are proactive in the management of their careers."
Eventually, Kinicki and Fugate identified and defined the following five underlying dimensions of an individual’s employability:
Openness to changes at work: Individuals with this trait view change as a challenge and an opportunity -- not as a threat. They are also more likely to "exhibit flexibility when confronted with the challenges inherent in uncertain situations," the authors write.
Work and career resilience: People who score high in this category are positive thinkers who display high levels of personal confidence. They are therefore more likely to "attribute career successes to personal ability and effort" and less likely to dwell on setbacks or defeats. They are optimistic about the future, have "positive expectations about future events, and show confidence in their ability to handle objective and affective challenges."
Or, as Kinicki explains: "This would be someone who, both in their work and their career at large, is able to handle any of the stresses that might come up. They simply have a disposition that gives them strength in the face of adversity."
Work and career proactivity: Always looking forward, these individuals "proactively acquire information about the environment" -- and therefore are more apt to know when to expect organizational change. This allows them to react earlier, and better, than others.
"At work, these people are always looking for ways to do what they do better," Kinicki says. "They are scanning their work environment, asking themselves: 'How can I improve this, or get what I want?' They're very proactive about their function and their careers."
Career motivation: Quite simply, motivated individuals are more likely than their colleagues to set high personal goals for themselves -- and are therefore more likely to take the action needed to meet those goals. These workers "are more motivated at work, persist during periods of boredom or frustration, and sustain effort in the face of challenges."
Work identity: This dimension measures whether or not individuals identify themselves with their work and their career.
"This one is about the extent to which a person defines himself in terms of his career," Kinicki says. "A lot of people who rise to the executive positions or have great promise tend to identify themselves with their work."
In other words, the authors say, "career identities provide motivation -- direction and purpose -- to career-related endeavors."
The authors' conclusion? If companies find a job candidate who scores highly in each of these five dimensions, they should hire them.
"The extent to which people have these five characteristics -- the higher they score in all of them -- then the higher they score in terms of employability," Kinicki says. "Proactive adaptability – it is a key trait that we believe employees should possess in order to succeed in today's workforce."
This new approach to hiring -- one that is focused on adaptability, and built around the demands of today's business world -- represents a significant change from the longtime hiring standard. For years, an individuals' employability has been measured by the old, reliable "KSA" standard -- that, is, how well they score in the areas of Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes.
But while the KSA system worked just fine in the old days, Kinicki and Fugate suggest, a new day in business has definitely arrived. And it's time for companies, and their HR managers, to take note.
"We're taking a very different perspective here," Kinicki says. Whether or not companies will adopt a new model for measuring employability remains unknown.
But Kinicki also suspects that, eventually, many companies will get on board -- or at least consider the possibility that the adaptability approach has some merit, for one good reason. Change will demand it.
- Globalization, increased competition and other factors have created a modern business climate dominated by change.
- Organizations that want to thrive in this climate, then, need to seek out employees who are adaptable, and able to respond favorably to that change.
- W. P. Carey management professor Angelo Kinicki and his colleague Mel Fugate of Southern Methodist University recently identified five personality traits -- openness to change, resilience, proactivity, motivation, and work identity -- that make certain individuals more adaptable, and therefore more valuable, than others.
- The research represents a step forward and major change from traditional means of measuring employability, which have focused on knowledge, skills and attitudes.