Onboarding new hires can be a challenging process for both the new employee and their leader. Successful onboarding involves introducing the new hire to the company culture, policies and procedures, as well as building relationships with their colleagues.

The Big Five personality model can be a useful tool in this process since it helps leaders tailor their approach to each individual and facilitate the development of positive working relationships.

The drawback of this model is its complexity. On contrary to some popular personality tests, it doesn’t categorize people into discrete types. This means that there’s no convenient one-size-fits-all solution for a new hire. Instead of rolling out a standard onboarding program for everyone, learning leaders should take an individualized approach to get new hires up to speed.

What Is the Big Five?

Also known as the Five Factor Model (FFM), the Big Five is a psychological model that identifies five distinct factors as key components of personality. The five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (OCEAN).

  1. Openness refers to the extent to which a person is open to new experiences, ideas and perspectives.
  2. Conscientiousness refers to the degree to which a person is organized, reliable and responsible.
  3. Extraversion refers to the extent to which a person is outgoing, assertive and sociable.
  4. Agreeableness refers to the degree to which a person is cooperative, kind and considerate of others.
  5. Neuroticism refers to the extent to which a person experiences negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger or sadness.

Note that the scores are continuous, not binary (e.g., the higher your extraversion, the higher your need for social stimulation). Furthermore, each combination of scores come with its own set of challenges and advantages.

Building better relationships, faster.

The process is fundamentally about understanding your new hire, making sure they feel appreciated for who they are and adapting your leadership and communication to best suit both of you. The added value of the Big Five is being able to provide a reliable framework to quantify and conceptualize how similar or different you and the new hire are and a language to talk about it.

The Big Five can help team leads:

  • Better understand their new team member’s personality and communication style. For example, if a new hire scores high on openness, they may be more receptive to trying new things and exploring different approaches to tasks. In contrast, someone who scores high on conscientiousness may be more organized and reliable, but may also be more resistant to unpredicted change. By understanding these traits, leaders can tailor their onboarding process to better match the new hire’s needs and preferences.
  • Facilitate the development of trust and rapport with the new employee. Trust is a crucial component of any working relationship and understanding the personality traits of the new hire can help leaders identify common ground and build a stronger bond. For example, if both the new hire and their leader score high on agreeableness, they may be more inclined to work together cooperatively and build a harmonious working relationship.

In addition to understanding common ground, it’s equally important to understand the differences between you and your new hire. While minor differences won’t matter much, any sizeable gap in a trait between the new hire and the leader could result in friction. To best resolve that friction, awareness, acknowledgment and empathy of that difference will be necessary.

What about culture?

Besides building a solid relationship between the new hire and team lead, the Big Five is also essential to instilling a sense of belonging between your new hire and organization’s culture.

In this case, it will be particularly important to look at discrepancies. If your new hire has behavioral tendencies that significantly vary from the norm of the business, this could interfere with their sense of belonging, which is never a great feeling during onboarding.

Here’s the solution: First, don’t force your new hires to conform to the team mold. Instead be open and agile to new perspectives and change. Second, learn how you can use their individuality to contribute toward company success.

Consider this example:

A customer company had a team who scored relatively low on openness and as a result, was resilient to change. Only one team member scored high on openness. To adapt to the team’s strengths and weaknesses, the manager shifted brainstorming from a team activity to a one on one with the employee. This suited the rest of the team, who had felt weighed down by the exercise, while giving free rein to the team member who instead felt restrained by the rest of the team’s lack of enthusiasm.

Looking Ahead

Overall, the Big Five personality traits can be a valuable tool in onboarding, helping team leads better understand their new hires’ needs and preferences and facilitate the development of positive working relationships. By using this framework, leaders can tailor their approach to each individual and create a more seamless and successful onboarding experience for all parties involved.