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Organisational Psychology – Dynamic Performance

Answers the Question

How can you predict High Job Performance?

How it Began 

Performance is a core concept in organisational psychology but in research regarding selection there is an assumption that performance is stable.  Though convenient acknowledging that performance is dynamic and fluctuates over time helps to facilitate our understanding of job performance and its antecedents (see Hofmann, Jacobs, & Gerras, 1992; Sonnentag & Frese, 2012).

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Developing a comprehensive theory of performance covers areas such as learning, forgetting, vigor, fatigue, engagement and burnout by exploring various temporal processes which lead to positive and negative cycles of performance.

Predictors of change have been researched in areas such as job design (Wall & Clegg, 1981), reinforcement (Luthans, Paul & Baker, 1981), training and education (Lipsey & Wilson, 1993) and self regulatory processes bring about performance change and adaptation (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008).  More recent studies have focused on how people adapt over time to workplace or task changes (Lang & Bliese, 2009; LePine, 2003).

Performance dynamism isn’t restricted to individual performance but occurs at team and organizational level.

Key Terminology

Performance – any activity or gathering of reactions which leads to an outcome or has an impact on the surroundings when confronted with a particular job.

Stability – The lack variation or maintenance.

Variability – the quality of being subject to variation

Trajectory – the path followed under the action of given forces

Skill Acquisition – the ability to learn and acquire a new skill

Self-Regulation- the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values

Action Theory – theories about the processes causing movements of more or less complex kind.

Life Span – the length of time for which a person or animal lives or a thing functions.

In Brief

To arrive at a better understanding of job performance enables researchers to make predications about performance trajectories over time and improves our predictive knowledge about performance changes over a period of time.  Developing performance concepts also enables the identification of individual characteristics and situations that can help predict performance changes.

Deadrick et al (1997) examinded predictors of individual differences in performance trajectories and identified job experience and abilities as a predictors of performance, with workers with previous experience improving more slowly than workers with no previous experience.  Cognitive ability predicted a fast increase in performance.

Ployhart & Hakel (1998) examined individual variables relating to earnings, persuasion and empathy and demonstrated that past salary and future expected earnings predicted inter-individual performance differences and those who thought they were persuasive and empathetic increased performance at a faster pace than those who rated themselves lower.

There has been research examining motivational constructs such as personality traits in the context of more sophisticated models of individual performance change. (Steele-Johnson, Osburn, & Pieper, 2000)

Thoresen et al (2004) distinguished between maintenance and transitional job stages using research including the Big Five personality variables and demonstrated that job tenure and conscientiousness were significantly related to mean levels of performance; extraversion was a marginally significant predictor of performance and that broad personality constructs did not matter much with respect to performance increase and acceleration over time during the maintenance stage.  In the transitional stages agreeableness and openness to experience were related to performance.  Overall personality factors as predictors of performance trajectories differ between maintenance and transitional job stages.

Cognitive ability and conscientiousness, two most important predictors of performance are more fluid and change over life span. (Baltes, Staudinger & Lindenberger, 1999)  However decreasing cognitive ability do not translate immediately into lower levels of performance.  Although lower levels of absenteeism, reduced tardiness and citizenship behaviour are all positively effected with age.

Two models have emerged directly from the literature on dynamic performance to help explain why the relationship between predictors and performance changes over time: the changing tasks model and the changing subjects model.

The changing subjects model theorises that individuals who possess various characteristics (abilities, motivation and job knowledge) result in performance levels  which change even if the contribution of these characteristics to performance remains constant (Keil & Cortina, 2001).

In the Changing Tasks Model performance changes are attributed to job changes, new job roles, or revised organizational requirements, predicting that an individual’s performance changes because the determinants of performance change (Alvares & Hulin, 1972; Deadrick & Madigan, 1990; Fleishman & Hempel, 1954). The model suggests that changes in job requirements – such as after a promotion, transfer, the introduction of new technology, or other change in job duties – may lead to the need for new sets of abilities while reducing the impact of current abilities on job performance

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

Estimating performance vectors will require the combination of theory, empirical research, individual-specific information, and company-specific information. Existing theory and empirical evidence helps establish expected patterns.

All human resource decisions that involve predicting performance (e.g., who to recruit, who to promote, who to reward, who to train) can be based on the information seeking to understanding dynamic performance.

Similarly, human resource interventions can be evaluated based on the their predicted effects on performance (e.g., what are the expected effects of implementing a new selection system, a new pay plan, a new training program, a new feedback system?).  Estimating performance vectors will require the combination of theory, empirical research, individual-specific information, and company-specific information. Existing theory and empirical evidence helps establish expected patterns.

Performance trends over time can result in outcomes that are highly relevant for organizations and individuals alike.  Examining performance trends makes sense from a practical point of view.  From an individuals perspective they may look at their development and may decide whether to leave the organisation, since performance levels may impact job satisfaction.  A manager may observe performance trajectories of their team and determine whether they should remain in their current role or whether changes to the job role or team dynamics may be required to ensure performance is maintained.

Bibliography

  • Sturman, M. C. The Past, Present, and Future of Dynamic Performance Research, Cornell University, 2007
  • Kozlowski, W. J. The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology Vol. 1 Oxford University Press, 2012

 


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