By Vincent J. Natoli, Jr., DBA

Like people, organizations have personalities but the traits, or dimensions, aren’t necessarily the same because of differences between the two. While an organization has reporting relationships, people do not. Some traits (i.e., authoritarianism and conformity) apply to both people and organizations while others (employee participation) are unique to organizational hierarchies and don’t apply to people.

Personality traits
The organizational personality trait that is most relevant to organizations is authoritarianism. Herbert A. Simon, a social scientist who won the Nobel Prize for economics, said authority is the mode of influence that distinguishes individuals’ organizational behavior from their non-organizational behavior, and authority gives an organization its formal structure. Simply, an organization’s chart is an authority structure whereby those in positions of authority have the formal power to distribute, withhold or retract economic benefits to those lower in the hierarchy. Unknown to many, there’s a formal psychological definition of authoritarianism and that’s the three attitudinal clusters: aggression, submission and conventionalism. Organizations can be characterized as authoritarian if they have human resource (HR) practices that score high on these three behaviors.

Punitiveness is the extent to which employers punish employees and it’s related to authoritarianism because this is how authoritarians control employees. An employer inclined to manage employees with HR practices that punish them is more likely to rate high on punitiveness, and also authoritarianism, than an employer who controls employees through non-punitive practices.

Employee conformity is the extent to which employers move employees to their norms—or standards of behavior.

Employee participation is the extent to which employees share in the decision-making process. Employee participation ranges from relatively minimal where employers inform employees as to what is occurring in the organization, to relatively extensive (rare in the United States) where employees sit on the board of directors and have influence over major organizational decisions.

Organizational socialization is the process by which employers acculturate employees to their norms, values and behaviors, though I sometimes use it to mean the extent to which employees are socialized or acculturated to the organization’s norms, values and behaviors. Just as authoritarianism and punitiveness are related, employee participation and organizational socialization are related. Research shows that when people are given input to the decisions that affect them, they are more committed to those decisions.

Therefore, if employees are given input to the norms, values and behaviors that affect them, they’re more likely to be committed to those norms, values and behaviors and thereby are more highly socialized. The extent to which employees are socialized is important to employers because the more socialized they are, the fewer bureaucratic mechanisms are needed to control them.

Ways to compliance
The organizational sociology literature as given in compliance theory (see FYI) states there are three types of organizations in terms of how they gain compliance of their members or employees. Coercive organizations, such as prisons and custodial mental hospitals, are the most authoritarian and punitive and least participative; they have the least socialized members and gain compliance by force. At the other extreme, in terms of the personality traits of interest, are normative organizations such as religious institutions and charities. Normative organizations gain compliance of their members through common values, not coercion, and have the highest level of employee participation and organizational socialization. Between coercive and normative organizations are utilitarian (or remunerative) organizations, which include most businesses. Utilitarian organizations gain compliance of employees through the use of material rewards.

Authoritarian outcomes
These five organizational personality traits—authoritarianism, punitiveness, conformity, participation and socialization—are important to employers because over 60 organizational performance outcomes have been associated with them. Among the organizational outcomes associated with employer authoritarianism are employee motivation and commitment; employee selection; employee complaints such as grievances, unionization, regulatory agency complaints and litigation; implementation of incentive plans; implementation of performance appraisals; empowerment; effectiveness of organizational change; productivity and effectiveness; organizational learning; coaching; employee need achievement; employee creativity; job enrichment programs; absenteeism; bullying; turnover; work stoppages; quality, and workplace violence.

Employer punitiveness
Among the organizational performance outcomes associated with employer punitiveness are empowerment, performance appraisals, turnover, absenteeism, unlearning old behaviors, employee creativity, organizational learning and productivity.

Employee conformity
Among the organizational performance outcomes associated with employee conformity are organizational learning, role conflict, autonomy, job satisfaction, willingness to quit, organizational change and employee involvement.

Employee participation
Among the organizational performance outcomes associated with employee participation are productivity, organizational learning, organizational change, competitiveness, employee stress (which is related to health care costs), job satisfaction and commitment, employee creativity, employee performance, employee’s sense of security, implementation of gain-sharing programs, retaliation against whistle-blowers, absenteeism, turnover, morale, motivation, safety and decision-making.

Organizational socialization
Among the organizational performance outcomes associated with organizational socialization are turnover, discipline, organizational stability, retaliation against whistle-blowers, productivity, motivation, bureaucratic control, commitment and satisfaction, performance and employee stress.

While space doesn’t permit an extensive explanation of how organizational personality traits lead to the outcomes, some will be briefly explained for illustrative purposes. Authoritarian employers who show aggression toward employees for refusing to submit to behavior the employer considers conventional may find the employee has a different concept of conventionalism and isn’t happy with the employer’s aggression. Such unhappiness, depending on the extent, could lead employees to miss work, quit, produce a reduced level of output the employee considers fair based on the workplace environment but that the employer doesn’t, get fired, seek protection in the form of a union or litigation, avoid risk-taking behavior or, most drastically, use violence as a form of redress. Similarly, participative employers have lower levels of employee stress because employees have more control over their work lives when they participate in the decisions that affect them; and, likewise, participative employers have employees who are more likely to show up and not quit, and show an ownership interest in their jobs with a greater concern for output. (NOTE: the above segment that you asked be deleted makes no sense without some context of the employer’s view of the work as well; the idea you’re referring to is that the level of work is reduced or of poorer quality; also one of the consequences is the employee’s dismissal because the employer is not happy with that level of work—it is a possible likely outcome).

Determining personality
There are five ways to determine where your organization stands in relation to other organizations on the personality traits of interest, particularly with respect to authoritarianism.

  1. The law. If the employer’s concept of conventionalism violates American legal standards (i.e., conventionalism), then your organization is probably too high, at least on that particular issue of concern;
  2. Standard American conventions;
  3. Industry or general business practices;
  4. Employee feedback, and
  5. Benchmarking.

Personalities in mergers
In order to improve its performance, it’s also useful for an organization to compare its organizational personality dimensions with another organization when considering a merger or acquisition. If an organization low on employee participation, for example, is considering merging with an organization that is high, it’s less likely to have a successful merger than if the two organizations have a similar level.

By optimizing the organizational personality, organizations can attain more desirable outcomes that take advantage of human resources for best efficiency, personnel satisfaction and overall results. With respect to the trait of authoritarianism, there’s a good reason to believe employers can improve their behavior. The theoretical literature shows authoritarians often don’t realize they’re authoritarian and, once apprised of their standing, are often willing to change their behavior, particularly when offered a concise, clear path to how that can be accomplished and how it can improve productivity and profits. (NOTE: see previous edits for a perspective on how this is left hanging at the end otherwise; you have to tie this back into the motivational reason why an employer would want to take this advice; most won’t change simply to change—particularly in a corporate setting—without being offered a rationale for how the organization will benefit.)

About the author
Vincent J. Natoli, Jr. is president of Organizational Assessment Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif. The consulting firm uses analyses of organizational personality traits to improve performance through organizational personality audits, supervisory training and employee selection. Natoli holds a doctorate in business administration (DBA). He can be reached at (805) 379-9070, email: [email protected] website:

FYI—Up the Organization
For additional information on the structure, culture and personality of your office and how to improve it see the following synopses or abstracts from these books found at the American Management Association website:

John Putzier, Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work, “Want to Hire and Retain the Best Employees, Motivate your Staff, or Change the Corporate Culture?”:

Renee Blank and Sandra Slipp, Ph.D., with Vincent Ford, From the Outside In: Seven Strategies for Success When You’re Not a Member of the Dominant Group in Your Workplace:

Jim Harris, Ph.D. and Joan Brannick, Ph.D, Finding & Keeping Great Employees:

Edward M. Marshall, Building Trust at the Speed of Change: The Power of the Relationship-Based Corporation, “How NOT to Implement Change (Top 10 Mistakes Companies Make)”:

Other websites of note include:
• Workforce Online:
• Society for Human Resource Management:
• Winning Associates:


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