Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Grit": An example of will do

Personnel psychologists often make a distinction between factors that indicate a person can do a particular task and those that indicate they will do. Usually "can do" facets include things like cognitive and physical abilities--baseline traits that a person must possess to even be able to perform the task. "Will do" facets are related to motivation and interest and get at whether the person is likely to perform the task, regardless of ability.

In the March 2011 issue of Fast Company, Dan and Chip Heath (Switch) write about the concept of "true grit" and its importance for successful performance. They point to the recent movie remake of True Grit. While many might assume the title refers to the crusty gunslinger (Rooster Cogburn), it actually refers to Mattie, a teenage girl who hires Cogburn to avenge her father's death.

The Heaths describe several examples where organizational leaders and innovators refused to give up in the face of failure or long odds and go on to impressive success. They even cite research conducted several years ago by Angela Duckworth and her colleagues who found that scores on a measure of grit predicted retention in West Point (a prestigious U.S. military academy).

What they don't point out is that the retention finding was specific to a summer training program and scores on the measure of grit were not superior to other predictors when the criterion was first-year cadet GPA or performance ratings. In addition, the percentage of variance accounted for across the studies was around 4% and the measure correlated highly with a measure of conscientiousness. However, grit demonstrated incremental validity beyond IQ and conscientiousness and it's still a fascinating study that you can read here.

To be sure, "will do" factors are often overlooked when talking about selection. Often we focus exclusively on ability factors, either because we're unsure how to measure motivational factors or we're afraid to. But that doesn't mean they're not important. We know in some situations (e.g., jobs with low entry and ability requirements) noncognitive measures can out-predict ability measures.

This article also raised two other issue for me. First, laypeople often conceptualize KSAPs as dichotomous: you're either smart or you're not, you either have integrity or you don't. The reality is practically anything you can think of measuring lies on a continuum--so we talk of degrees of personality characteristics, or levels of ability. With respect to the topic of this post the situation is the same: there are shades of grit.

The second issue has to do with having too much of a good thing. One can be too smart for a job; it's not that you can't do it, it's that you'll likely get bored after a short period of time. Similarly, one can have "too much" (or be too far on either end) of a personality continuum. Take grit. Imagine someone who was so determined that not only do they persist in the face of obstacles, they refuse to give up, even when presented with overwhelming odds. Now they're bordering on obsessional and/or delusional.

So what does this all mean? Back to basics:

1) Know the job and its requirements
2) Pick critical, necessary-at-entry KSAPs to measure
3) Select and/or develop high quality measures
4) Know your applicant pool and the likely range of scores you will obtain
5) Recognize that the relationship between tests and job performance is probably not linear (particularly when your concept of job performance is multifaceted)

And finally, back to true grit. The best thing we can do as assessment professionals is demonstrate it ourselves by not taking the easy way out and not folding in front of obstacles such as the desire for speed over quality, or ignorance. No guns required.

No comments: