This post is taken from our sister blog, The Occupational Research Digest, written by Dr Alex Fradera. It’s like this Research Digest but with a focus on psychology in the workplace – please go pay a visit.
Derailment is when a manager with a great track record hits the skids, often spectacularly. It’s highly undesirable, for the disruption and human harm it can involve, and its costs, which after tallying up lost productivity, transition, and costs of a new hire, can exceed twice an annual salary in the case of executive departures.
As a result, organisational researchers have developed measures of ‘derailment potential’ that consider key suspect behaviours such as betraying trust, deferring decisions, or avoiding change. Work to date has confirmed that managers fired from organisations are judged to be higher in these derailers, but these were post-hoc judgments that could have reflected biased hindsight rather than honest evaluations.
To avoid this, a new study led by Marisa Carson utilises database information on 1,796 managers from a large organisation to examine behaviours rated during employment tenure instead of on departure. Each behaviour was rated by between eight and ten sources – from subordinates to supervisors – with ratings combined into single potential scores. Drawing on staff turnover data, the study confirmed that individuals exhibiting more derailment potential behaviours were more likely to later be ejected from the organisation. In addition, they were more likely to leave early of their own volition, suggesting they jumped before they were pushed.
The study also looked beyond the behaviours exhibited to the traits that might be behind them, through a personality inventory, the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), that all managers had completed. The researchers were exploring the philosophy that derailment isn’t caused by a deficit in positive traits such as conscientiousness, but the presence of additional, unhelpful qualities, measured in the HDS, that resemble features of clinical disorders. These traits come in three areas: ‘moving away from people’ such as a cynical, doubtful disposition, ‘moving against people’ including manipulation and a tendency to drama, and a third area of ‘moving towards people’ involving an abiding eagerness to please and defer to others.
Carson’s team predicted each of these areas would predict derailment behaviours, but in the analysis only one mattered: moving against people. This factor also predicted turnover of both kinds, and its effect on turnover was brokered by higher derailment behaviours. Conversely the ‘away’ area turned out to relate negatively, but non-significantly, to the derailment scores, and the ‘toward’ area didn’t emerge as a coherent factor during preliminary analysis so wasn’t pursued further. The story here, then, is that qualities that rub up badly against others, such as attention-seeking, idiosyncracy, over-confidence and rule-bending translate into red-flag behaviours that predict early exit from the organisation.
What to be done? This research provides some support for screening for these types of tendencies early in a manager’s career, in order to inform decisions about future role as well as identifying priority areas for training and development. These efforts, should they avert derailment, are likely to pay off in the long run.
Marisa Adelman Carson, Linda Rhoades Shanock, Eric D. Heggestad, Ashley M. Andrew, S. Douglas Pugh, & Matthew Walter (2012). The Relationship Between Dysfunctional Interpersonal Tendencies, Derailment Potential Behavior, and Turnover Journal of Business and Psychology , 27 (3), 291-304 DOI: 10.1007/s10869-011-9239-0