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Do employees change their behavior over time?

March 22, 2011
The question is not necessarily whether people change or not, it really has to do with consistency of behavior over time.  People definitely change; we learn new information, new ways of doing things, and broaden our means of understanding our environment.  A classic view of human development described in detail by French psychologist Jean Piaget is that we assimilate new information or skills and gradually accommodate those new skills and ways of seeing the world into our preexisting world view or skill set.

Despite developmental changes in people, it’s really quite astounding the level of consistency that exists over time in people’s behavior and personality.  People who are terrible at working with others (low teamwork) rarely become excellent at working with others.  However, they may become moderate (an acceptable level) if they really focus on becoming better.

People can change by truly focusing on developing in an area and making it a priority in their lives.  For that reason, it is important to have skill development opportunities and training available to employees, allowing them to improve their skills.  However, in adults, change comes slowly and must become a habit for it to be meaningful and long term.

In general, 12 – 18 months can be considered a reasonable period for retesting an employee.  Any less than that and you’re likely to observe more randomized error than real change. Research suggests that test-retest reliabilities for personality, problem solving, and interpersonal dimensions are relatively high and stable over extended periods of time (20 years and more!).

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.