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The interaction of individual differences and motivational climate using Trait Activation Theory

Okay-Somerville, Belgin; Hadiono, Alvin

The interaction of individual differences and motivational climate using Trait Activation Theory Thumbnail


Belgin Okay-Somerville

Alvin Hadiono


The recent pandemic calls for large-scale organisational and work arrangement changes, in which managers and employees must adapt and maintain high performance within such context (CIPD, 2020). Being agile, innovative and able to consider multiple scenarios in these uncertain times, dealing with complexity and managing paradoxes have been long noted as some of the "in-demand skills" to have during such times of change (Oxford Economics, 2012).

This study investigates the construct of learning agility, i.e., the ability to deal with new experiences flexibly and rapidly by trying new behaviour and making quick adjustments so new learning will be realised when one does not know exactly what to do (Burke, 2016). Firstly coined by Eichinger & Lombardo (2000), learning agility is positively related to employees' performance during changing organisational contexts (Bedford, 2011), the potential for advancement (Miklos, Herb & Forbringer, 2013), being identified as high potential (Dries, Vantilborgh & Pepermans, 2012) as well as to leadership success (De Meuse, 2017). As a relatively new construct, the practitioner's interest in learning agility has been growing rapidly in the last decade beyond robust empirical substantiation (De Meuse, 2015). While the organisational implications of learning agility have been looked at in several research (De Meuse, 2017), our understanding of "who" demonstrates learning agility and "how" individual differences interact within the environment is still relatively scarce.

Responding to the call for empirical research on the role of context (DeRue, Ashford & Myers, 2012), the present study aims to understand the individual differences (i.e., personality and goal orientation) associated with learning agility in the workplace and the organisational climates that facilitate/hinder this relationship. Utilising Trait Activation Theory, we examined organisational motivational climate as a boundary condition within which the impact of individual differences on learning agility is strengthened or weakened. Agile learners might have a deeper appreciation of social realities around them and pay more attention to how those climates affect their behaviours (Hoff & Burke, 2017). In terms of value/originality of this study, it contributes towards a contextualised understanding of learning agility and achievement goal theory in the organisational context, as much of its supporting research was conducted in educational, sports and physical activity settings (Roberts, 2012).

This study is conducted within the context of Indonesia, Asia Pacific's third and South East Asia's most populous country and biggest economy. Using data from 1499 "high-potential employees" from 18 different organisations in Indonesia, the study employed Structural Equation Modelling to test a model of learning agility where personality (HEXACO) and learning goal orientation (mastery and performance orientations) were direct predictors and perceived organisational mastery vs performance learning climate was the moderator of these relationships.

The results show that Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness are positively associated with learning agility, while Emotionality, Honesty-Humility and Agreeableness are negatively associated. Both goal orientations are also found to be significantly associated with learning agility. An examination of the interaction effects shows that the mastery climate facilitated learning agility due to Honesty-Humility, and Emotionality, while the performance climate facilitated learning agility due to Agreeableness. Unfortunately, no significant climate interaction is observed in relation to goal orientations. Further discussions regarding the valence of the personality-climate relationships and interactions were then elaborated using the lens of social adroitness in the context of "high-potential employees" identification in the workplace (Ashton & Lee, 2007; 2005; Markey & Markey, 2006; Ashton, Lee and Son, 2000).

Intended for both academics and practitioners alike, the implications of this study are two-fold. Beyond using more updated and rigorous models of personality (i.e., HEXACO) and motivation than extant research, this study tries to extend the understanding of learning agility by taking trait activation and achievement goal theories into account, emphasising the role of motivational climates. From a practitioner's point of view (Rotolo et al., 2018), consistent conceptualisation, measurement and reporting back to the industry are important to prevent learning agility from becoming another management 'fad'. This study tries to do that by carrying forward Hoff & Burke's (2017) latest line of research and bridging the theory with managerial implications, i.e., relevant HRM practices on recruiting, developing highly agile learners and establishing a conducive learning climate.

Learning agile employees are 1.2x more capable of responding to a competitive environment, 3.2x more prepared to anticipate and react to nature and speed of change and eventually 4.6x more engaged with their organisations ("Global Leadership Forecast 2018," 2018). Hence, this research is foreseeable to be aligned with Goal 9 of the UN's SDG (Building resilience infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation) as well as with the congress theme of "The Changing World of Work," as it primarily investigates individuals' experimentation and adaptive behaviour in order to keep learning and innovating during shifting organisational contexts and priorities (Harvey & De Meuse, 2021).


Okay-Somerville, B., & Hadiono, A. (2023, May). The interaction of individual differences and motivational climate using Trait Activation Theory. Presented at 21st European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference, Katowice, Poland

Presentation Conference Type Speech
Conference Name 21st European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Conference
Conference Location Katowice, Poland
Start Date May 27, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 25, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 28, 2024
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Page 1814-1815


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