Personality & Motivation: Findings From My Dissertation

Personality and motivation – findings from my dissertation and how I was wrong

As some of you might know, I am working on my PhD in I/O Psychology and have been for many years.  Too many years actually – which is why I think my wife insisted that I attend a five day Dissertation Writers Retreat held by Capella University just outside of Chicago.  So for the last five days I’ve been working on Chapter 4 of my dissertation which is the results section.   I’ve been having a blast inputting data, crunching numbers, running statistical tests and analyzing the results and what I found out is surprising…at least it was for me.

The research hypothesis

Simply stated, my dissertation is on personality and its impact on motivation.   More specifically it is examining the correlation between personality traits as measured by the NEO-FFI and performance in an annual non-cash recognition program.  I had two research hypothesis: 1) There is a significant relationship between one or more of the five personality trait factors of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness as measured by the NEO-FFI and performance among sales professionals in a non-cash sales incentive program, and 2) The five personality trait factors of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness can predict with a significant degree of confidence the performance of sales professionals in a non-cash incentive program.

Basically what I predicted was that I would find a relationship between sales people’s score on their personality assessment (the NEO-FFI) and how well they performed in the contest.  Remarkably, I was wrong!

The findings

After all my data crunching and statistical analysis, what I found for this study, was that there was no significant correlation between personality and performance in the contest.  The findings suggest that personality did not play a role in how well a sales person performed.  This is not what would have been expected based on prior research or even my own experience.  I looked at each personality trait individually, I looked at them together, I paired them up – it didn’t matter, there was no correlation.  I ran regression analysis, multivariate statistics, and Pearson R correlations – nothing showed up that was statistically significant.  Actually, it was not even close.

Why and so what

People might think that I’m disappointed – but I’m not.  It is actually very interesting for me because now I need to figure out why?  And that my friends is the fun part!  Was it do to the economy?  Did I set up the study incorrectly?  Were there other confounding factors that came into play?  Have I stumbled upon something that will change the current theories on motivation (I very highly doubt it, but it could be a possibility)?  Why did the results not match up to what was expected…

My initial instinct on this is that it has to do with a few different things: 1) economic conditions, 2) the length of the contest, 3) the contest rule structure (and please note that this is my initial instinct and I will be doing much further analysis around each of these and others to see if they hold true).  Having said that, I also recognize that personality might not have as much influence on performance as I originally thought.  In other words, personality’s influence could not overcome whatever the confounding factors were.  That is a good thing in some respects.  It means that if you design an appropriate recognition or incentive program, you don’t have to be as concerned about the varying personalities of the participants.  It implies that the motivational power of the incentive or recognition program has a strong influence on performance regardless of if individuals are emotionally stable or not, highly extroverted or introverted, closed minded or open to new experiences, eager to please or self-centered, or if they are highly conscientious or not.  Extrapolating out, it implies that as designers of motivational programs, we need to look more at how these programs align with company objectives, building autonomy, how they drive purpose and passion and how they utilize the four drives of acquire & achieve, bond & belong, challenge & comprehend and define & defend and be less concerned about individual personality differences.  That is a stretch I know…but it something to think about.

I still do not think that a one size fits all program is the best kind, but based on the findings from this one study, it might mean that our focus shouldn’t be solely on customizing to the individual, but looking at other key factors that will truly drive performance.

Oh this is going to be fun!

Would love to hear your thoughts, comments or critiques…



Celebrations – Love or Loathe?


Warning Signs: Are Your Employees Motivated?


  1. That’s interesting. I would have thought myself that personality would have played a bigger role. Thanks for sharing your thoughts from your dissertation!

    • thelanterngroup

      Yes – it was quite surprising. Of course, as I stated, there are probably many confounding factors that led to this finding. I will not throwout years of research and personal experience on the basis of one study…however, it does make me rethink some of my preconceived ideas and makes me look at this issue with a little more scrutiny.

Start a conversation! What do you think of these insights?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Behavior Matters!