A Psychometric Lens on Proactivity


Organisations that thrive stay ahead of the curve somehow. Its hard. Any time you’re standing still you’re actually going backwards, because for sure, your competitors are doing whatever they can to win business from your clients. So, no matter where you are as a business, no matter how successful, and how comfortable in what you have developed – it’s never enough.

The world around us is filled with a plethora of examples of this relentless constant growth pressure. On a continuous basis all the gadgets and devices we see as essential to living have new versions of themselves. Our phones, wearables, TV’s, cars, laptops, houses, software, headphones never cease to have newer shinier versions that become de rigueur one moment and obsolete the next. Remember when TV screen resolutions went from normal to HD? Now there is 4K, 8K, HDTV, HDR, Full HD, 1420 x 1080, 4406, Ultra HD (UHD). That’s not to mention new confusing display technologies OLED, QLED (QDEF), LCD, LED, plasma alongside refresh rates, bezels, latencies and ports in every combination possible. But there is no argument, the upgrades of this year improve on what was there last year. It just never stops and yes, change is essential. So how does it happen?

Well, while many large corporations have R&D departments whose role is to create the next enhancement, in many smaller companies there are some individuals who have something inside of them that is always looking for a better way. They get bored with routine, tired of doing it the same way every day, and ask themselves if it could be done better. Sometimes, it stops there. They dream up ideas, but keep those ideas to themselves, their brains a graveyard of unconsummated creations. Translating a novel idea or shift in thinking into a workable and implemented artifact takes a lot more than the initial fantasy. So, what are the characteristics of those proactive staff members that go beyond daydreaming and actively champion regular breakthroughs? I let science tell me the answer.

Measuring Proactivity

Some time ago Omnicor acquired the use of a Proactive Personality Scale from its developers, the legendary Thomas Bateman and J. Michael Crant. Since then, we have measured thousands of people on it and as a result we have some interesting statistics on the construct and how it correlates with other personality dimensions (from the Occupational Personality Questionnaire). For a start, demographically we found no statistical differences between gender or race. Educational level also did not predict proactive tendencies at all. Postgraduates and high school finishers were as equally likely, or not, to be proactive. I explored the correlations between proactivity and personality, and this yielded some interesting results. All underlined dimensions shown below were robustly statistically significant in their correlations with Proactivity.

Proactivity Scores Distribution

Firstly, here is the distribution of proactivity of over 1400+ people:

As you can see it skews slightly right with about 30% of people being muted proactioners. The mean was about 6.3 suggesting that most people (in our sample anyway) lean towards some proactivity.


Innovative people tend to Proaction

Perhaps not surprisingly the highest correlation was with Innovation. Inventive people who like thinking about new ways of doing things are generally proactive. If you love science, you will also love the perfect trend line below. With every step that innovation takes upwards, so proactivity climbs though not at the same rate.

High Achievers are Proactive

Proactive people seek to get ahead, and they scored high on Achieving. They are ambitious and goal focused. Clearly being proactive feeds their need to grow from their current situation. Persuasion was the next significant dimension. It tells us the being proactive comes with the requirement to broadcast and sell your ideas. You need the appetite to take people on a journey and showcase the ideas that you come up with. There are many naysayers in the world who are quick to critique new ideas. The proactive staff member needs a solid level of Assertiveness to stand their ground and work through the objections. This is shown in the graph below.


Taking Charge

When they are championing an idea and seeing it through, proactive staff can become quite territorial. They may even be a bit bossy. With higher scores in  Self-Confidence and Controlling (see graph below) they also have little difficulty in executing on their vision and being Decisive.

So, what aren’t they?

There were three correlates that were negative. The first one, Modest made sense. Proactive people make their accomplishments known, they may brag a little. They are proud of what they have done in the past and use that to support their next mission. The second negative correlate was Worrying, suggesting that proactive people are bold. They jump in and take a risk without agonizing over it too much. Then the third negative correlate was Emotional Control. It surprised me, but probably makes sense. Proactive people are passionate and probably loud. The more proactive you are the closer your emotions are to the surface. They are less likely to conceal their frustrations but are also happy to shout about their new ideas, and get into a rumble if that is what it takes. Hopefully they do know when to let go as well.

Summing up

You probably get the picture. Being proactive takes guts. You have to put yourself out there and fight to be heard. You cannot be proactive and invisible at the same time. All businesses need at least some staff members to be proactive. If you have a business, you probably know who these people are – they are unlikely to be flying under the radar.

If you are looking for new hires who have proactive characteristics, then a few low-cost assessments will help you discern them with ease.

The Proactive Personality Scale provides a clear answer, alternatively, most other personality tools will provide a good read using selected dimensions as described above.

Psychometrics are a very useful tool in general, as you reduce the risk of a poor fit in any role by over 70%.

The cost for this a generally a fraction of the new hire’s first months’ salary. So, a lot is gained for a modest cost, and it is definitely worth having a few disruptive thinkers on your team.



Hilton Rudnik – Omnicor


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