Friday, June 6, 2008

Why Does the Workplace Attitude Test (WAT) Work?

I think that the WAT test works for some very simple reasons: it has a limited objective; it is based on understanding values from the right cohort; people are fairly open about their beliefs and values and extreme or disruptive behavior results from holding certain values in the extreme. Let’s look at each point.

WAT’s limited objective. When I set out to develop the WAT I sought to answer a simple question. Do disruptive workers share certain identifiable attitudes? I made the assumption that the workplace is almost always a social environment and I wanted to understand individuals who do not get along well with others. This is much easier than trying to understand personality or trying to match people to a certain type of job. Personality has many components and jobs can be done in a variety of ways but there appears to be a limited number of ways to be disruptive in the workplace.

The right cohort. A cohort is simply a group of people that share some characteristic. I refer to them as turkeys or jerks. Fortunately they’re not hard to find and they tend not to be bashful. Part of my research included going to supervisors in various types of organizations and asking if it would be possible to interview some present or past employees about their work-related beliefs and attitudes. I didn’t say I was looking for jerks and I interviewed all kinds of employees but, in truth, it was a turkey hunt. I correlated problem employees with many variables such as job-hopping, negative work experiences, dislike of work in general, involvement in law suits, etc. As you may appreciate, it is not hard to find problem employees.

Beliefs and Values. Short of saying, “Yes I am a jerk,” turkeys or jerks are quite willing to talk about their beliefs and values. Often this is to amplify their low opinion of others. You’ve heard of the term “a people person,” well these are “anti-people persons.” Where Will Rogers said he never met a person he didn’t like, these individuals almost never met people that they do like. I am reminded of the pundit who said, “I love humanity, it’s people I don’t like,”

Now to understand values one must ask open-ended questions. This is much like the jury-consultant approach. They ask questions like, “What do you think of the justice system?” This is followed up with such questions as “Why do you think that?” or “Why do you feel that way?” Now, I’m not going to go into the exhaustive set of questions that I asked jerks and non-jerks but I am going to tell you about some of their answers and attitudes.

Here are some of the scintillating insights found in their answers. “Most people are stupid.” “You can’t trust anybody.” “My boss is so stupid, he couldn’t find his ass with both hands.” “I spend my nights lying awake thinking of ways to get even.” “Work sucks but you have to do it.” “I never get a break.” “I should be making more money.” And one of my favorites, “Step on my toes and forget to apologize and I’ll kick your ass—I don’t care who you are.” I was wise enough not to suggest steel-toed shoes for the last one. I could go on, but you get the idea. Next let’s look at some of the attitudes that underlie these sentiments. To name a few, the problem attitudes include judgmental, vindictive, adversarial, egocentric and entitled.

Extreme values. I found a strong correlation between disruptive behavior and holding the above mentioned values in the extreme. For each value, five test questions were developed. Each question had three options, one weak, one moderate and one strong. For example, for the judgmental attitude the following question is an example:

When I feel I have been treated unjustly …

* I will do whatever is necessary to defend my rights.
* I seldom feel I have been treated unfairly.
* I probably should do more but oftentimes just let it go.

It is only when the respondent answers four of five questions like this it is deemed that they hold that attitude in the extreme.

Respondents have strong (belief-related) rationales for their extreme answers and these extremes are strongly related to disruptive behavior. This test works because people tend to be proud of their values and they use those values to justify their behavior. Although job candidates may not reveal this information in a job interview, they are willing to express themselves in the test.

There you have it. The WAT works because it doesn’t try to do too much, it is based upon understanding the right people, they are willing to reveal their beliefs if given the chance, and strongly held disruptive values are related to disruptive behavior in the workplace See:

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