Traits are powerful predictors of behavior


The essence of trait approaches in OB is that employees possess stable personality characteristics that significantly influence their attitudes toward, and behavioral reactions to, organizational settings. People with particular traits tend to be relatively consistent in their attitudes and behavior over time and across situations.

Of course, trait theorists recognize that all traits are not equally powerful. They tend to put them into one of three categories. Cardinal traits are those so strong and generalized that they influence every act a person performs. Primary traits are generally consistent influences on behavior, but they may not show up in all situations. Finally, secondary traits are attributes that do not form a vital part of the personality but come into play only in particular situations. For the most part, trait theories have focused on the power of primary traits to predict employee behavior.

Trait theorists do a fairly good job of meeting the average person’s face-validity test. Think of friends, relatives, and acquaintances you have known for a number of years. Do they have traits that have remained essentially stable over time? Most of us would answer that question in the affirmative. If Cousin Anu was shy and nervous when we last saw her 10 years ago, we would be surprised to find her outgoing and relaxed.

Managers seem to have a strong belief in the power of traits to predict behavior. If managers believed that situations determined behavior, they would hire people almost at random and structure the situation properly. But the employee selection process in most organization places a great deal of emphasis on how applicants perform in interviews and on tests. Assume you’re an interviewer and ask yourself : What am I looking for in job candidates? If you answered with terms such as conscientious, hardworking, persistent, confident, and dependable, you’re a trait theorist.