Building Organizational Culture with OCBs

A man in blue shirt and yellow hard hat shaking hands.
by Deborah Bell

As Vice President, Consulting, Deborah conducts assessments, manages consulting projects, and designs and delivers custom solutions. She enjoys building relationships with her clients and uncovering their needs so she can serve as a trusted adviser and business partner.

What are OCBs?

Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs) are discretionary behaviors that team members display that contribute positively to the performance and culture of an organization.  They can be directed:

  • towards the organization itself, such as job dedication and a willingness to work extra hours.
  • towards others, such as offering to help coworkers and being courteous
  • towards change, such as proactively identifying creative ways to make things, (like remote working), more efficient

Whatever form the OCB takes, it is important to note that what they all have in common is being discretionary; they are not what the person was hired to do (i.e., task performance), but rather how they do their job (i.e., contextual performance).  The net positive impact that these behaviors can have on a company can be invaluable.

What are CWBs?

Counter-productive work behaviors (CWBs), on the other hand, are voluntary behaviors that have a negative impact on the culture and performance of the organization.  They can be directed:

  • towards the company itself, such as goldbricking/cyberloafing
  • towards others, such as engaging in intimidating or passive-aggressive behavior.  

These types of actions can create a toxic environment and are estimated to cost organizations many billions of dollars annually.

Personality Traits that Predict OCBs and CWBs

The good news is that you can predict who is more or less likely to exhibits OCBs and CWBs. The science is clear on which personality traits are most predictive: 

  • Individuals who are higher in the personality domains of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness are more likely to be good corporate citizens (i.e., exhibit OCBs) who avoid displaying negative behaviors towards others or the organization itself (i.e., CWBs). 
  • Being high on the personality domains of Openness and Extraversion are also likely important, especially as it relates to displaying change-oriented, proactive OCBs that help to facilitate remote working in general (e.g., discovering and using new digital tools to communicate with teammates).

The Impact of Leadership Style on OCBs and CWBs

Here, the science also provides us with clear guidance. Self-reported leadership style adds value beyond personality measures in predicting leader effectiveness.  In particular:

  • Laissez-Faire Leaders are more likely to have direct reports who are not satisfied with their jobs, making them less likely to display OCBs and more likely to display CWBs.  Laissez-Faire leadership is when the leader does not exhibit important behaviors that are necessary to create a positive environment in which people are highly motivated and productive.  The negative impact of this approach is often magnified within remote teams because of the physical separation between the leader and their direct reports.  Read more on this topic: Laissez-Faire Leadership – The Silent Killer.
  • Leaders who exhibit a high degree of consideration for people, while providing a sufficient degree of structure, are more likely to have satisfied direct reports.  In turn, they are less likely to display CWBs and more likely to display OCBs.  Read more on this topic: The Secret to Effective Leadership: Keep it Simple.

By including valid measures of personality traits that predict OCBs and CWBs in your hiring process, you will be able to create a positive culture in which people are motivated to give discretionary effort.

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