Q&A: Personality and Values with Angus McDonald

We spoke to Angus McDonald about his recent presentation ‘Personality and Values: The Generation Game’ delivered at this year’s ABP Conference.

  • Can you define the difference between values and personality, and explain why it is important to consider these when working with Gen Z and Gen X employees?

In probably its simplest terms, I refer to the difference between personality and values as the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Values are closely linked to energy and drives, but also satisfaction. If left free to choose, people will tend to engage in activities that fulfil their values or meet their needs – they tell us why we choose one thing over another.

Values may influence choices but personality influences how we actually go about carrying out those choices.

Personality is more about how we go about tasks. So values may influence choices but personality influences how we actually go about carrying out those choices. In the workplace, once given a task, our personality will influence our typical style of carrying out the task (e.g., are we systematic and methodical, taking one task at a time or do we take on many tasks at once and frequently switch between them).

  • How did the findings around personality match up with HR predictions?

Differences were in the direction suggested by experts in 5 out of 8 cases, but all these differences were quite small and unlikely to be meaningful, except for Dominance. Even here, Gen Y were only marginally lower than Gen X.

  • Did the predictions made around values match the findings? 

Differences were again in the direction suggested by experts in 5 out of 8 cases. As before, all differences were small with only two of these (Recognition in favour of Gen Y and Conviction in favour of Gen X) likely to be meaningful.

However, there were some differences not predicted by the experts that were also observed (Conformity and Orderliness in favour of Gen Y, Independence in favour of Gen X).

  • What implications does this have for team development and interaction?

In many ways, we are probably all a lot more similar to each other than is sometimes assumed, and basing assumptions of difference on age can be misleading and wrong. It is important to develop a shared language for understanding important differences – such as the 20 scales measured by SOSIE – and then use this to recognise and make use of differences in a constructive way. As values say a lot about ‘purpose’, they are helpful for understanding what teams are looking for or getting out of a task.

They recognise that although a team may all be involved in a common task, each member may be getting something quite different out of apparently similar actions.  This is important when leading, motivating and rewarding teams.

  • What differences did your research show between Generation X and Generation Y and their approaches to work/development? 

Some of this is covered above. But essentially, more differences were seen in values than personality, suggesting values may be more sensitive to social effects / circumstances than personality – simply that values are more learned whereas heredity has a greater influence on personality.

Though the effects are small, on average the different groups may look for different things in their lives and work. Interestingly, younger people (Gen Y) may seek more Conformity and Orderliness but also look for more Recognition for their work and achievements. They may seek less Independence – they may be more group oriented – and also less Conviction.

  • What issues do you see management teams facing when considering generational differences?

Generational differences are hard to pin down and may in fact not be that helpful.  The current research did show some small differences between the generations on average, but the overlap between generations is much greater than the differences between them. My personal view, and one largely backed-up by this research, is that supposing there are generational differences and working on this assumption is dangerous. It’s a form of stereotyping.

Rather, we need to look at people as individuals. These individuals bring diversity into the workplace when diversity is too often looked at in terms of superficial characteristics. Variation in personality, values and other such characteristics are a very important, though often a ‘hidden’ and so overlooked, form of diversity that needs to be embraced.  However, it requires management to be aware of both the strengths and potential challenges of working with diversity and create a culture that embraces and supports it.

  • Why should HR teams consider using tools such as SOSIE as part of their team management?

Values are a very important way in which we connect to others, much more so than personality; we are drawn to people who have at least some things in common that they see as being important to them. Unlike personality, values are not easily ‘visible’ and not something that we may naturally speak about. For example, we may know that a colleague likes to get out in front of clients, but what are their motivations for this?  Values can answer the question of what one person gets out of working with clients whilst accepting that this may be very different from what another person, who is maybe equally as adept at it, gets out of a similar experience. SOSIE provides a way into helping respondents deepen their self-understanding and it gives HR a way of ‘surfacing’ values in a positive way that they can then be ‘worked’ with.

  • Based on this research, what advice would you have for HR professionals considering their management methods and resources?

My key messages are:

  1. Be careful about making assumptions based on generational differences.
  2. Data does not support large differences between groups; the overlap between them is much greater.
  3. Variation in personality and values can be considered a form of diversity.  If handled well, this will bring strength to your workforce.
  4. Attend to values especially, as they are linked to many positive workplace outcomes (satisfaction, engagement, fit etc).

Download our whitepaper: Personality and Values: The Generation Game >>

More About Angus McDonald, Chartered and Registered Psychologist

Angus is a Chartered Psychologist with over 20 years experience of working with psychometric and other forms of assessment in organisational, educational and research contexts. During this time he has worked on many high- profile consultancy projects and is the author of numerous published tests, questionnaires and assessment exercises. He runs training courses in conjunction with Real Training and the Association for Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), and regularly contributes articles on assessment to the TalentLens blog.

Angus is committed to promoting excellence and best practice in the application of psychology to organisations, particularly in the areas of psychometric tests and other forms of assessment. He is a member of the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Committee on Test Standards, the Deputy Senior Verifier for the Society’s Test User Educational qualification and a member of their Test Review Panel. An experienced project manager, consultant and trainer, Angus believes passionately in the ethical use of assessment to enhance individual and organisational effectiveness.