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Last week we saw that individual performance depends on the combination of individual attributes of the worker, work effort of the individual and the support the company gives to the worker to carry out the tasks. Individual attributes relate to capacity to perform and include three broad categories, namely demographic characteristics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity), competency characteristics (aptitude or ability) and personality characteristics (what a person is like). From a performance management point of view the individual attributes must match task requirements to facilitate job performance. Today we will look a bit deeper into some of the individual attributes that influence performance.
Demographic characteristics are the background variables that help shape what a person has become. Examples of demographic characteristics are gender, age, race and ethnicity. Although these characteristics are often detailed in a worker’s personal file, care must be taken not to stereotype and thus denying individual differences and assessing performance inaccurately.
Contrary to what many people believe, there are very few differences for instance between men and women that would affect job performance. There are in fact no consistent differences between men and women in the ability to solve problems, analyse, compete, motivate, learn or socialise. Yet women face a hard time proving that they are able to perform just as well or sometimes better than their male counterparts. This is also the case in Ethiopia, where the men often cannot accept having to deal with a woman manager for example.
A common stereotype, when it comes to age is that many people don’t think elderly people are still able to learn and be flexible. However, the truth is that this depends on the individual. Many elderly show themselves to be quite flexible indeed, while age and performance have been found to be unrelated in research. Older people are no more likely to be unproductive than younger people.
Aptitude represents a person’s capability to learn something. Ability reflects a person’s existing capacity to perform the tasks needed for a certain job and includes both knowledge and skills. These are both important consideration when initially hiring someone for a job.
Personality represents the overall profile or combination of characteristics that capture the unique nature of a person. It reflects how a person looks, thinks, acts and feels. Understanding personalities helps the manager predict what somebody can do and what that somebody will do. Cultural values and norms play a substantial role in the development of an individual’s personality and behaviour. Compare for example the individualism of some western cultures with the collectivism of some African cultures. Social factors reflect such things as family life, religion, and the many kinds of formal and informal groups in which people participate throughout their lives. Finally, situational factors can influence personality. Personality may develop over time, for example from immaturity to maturity, from passivity to activity, from dependence to independence, from shallow behaviour to deep interests, from short-term to long-term perspective, from little self-awareness to much self-awareness.
Management expert Argyris believes that the nature of the mature adult personality may sometimes be inconsistent with work opportunities. Management may neglect the adult side of people. They may use close supervision and control which is more typically needed by younger workers. In other words, personalities develop in predictable ways over time and these developments require quite different managerial responses. Thus, an individual’s needs and other personality aspects of a person entering the company for the first time can be expected to change as he or she further develops in personality.
In conclusion, there are quite a number of attributes that determine the individual, his or her personality, who somebody is, that a good manager must be aware of. Not being aware of these factors, which also influence individual performance, will lead managers into using blanket management instruments, not necessarily the most effective. In Ethiopia, management does not normally take all these factors into account. Workers are often stereotyped and treated accordingly, leading to frustration and under performance instead of recognition of individual capacity and unleashing potential.