Detail Orientation at Work: A Free Introduction to the 7 Work Traits

  • By Jordan B
  • April 2023

The Detail Orientation trait measures a person’s need for structure, orderliness, and accuracy, as well as their need to follow rules and conform to authority.

Detail Orientation is the trait which tells us why some people crave structure and seek approval for meeting expectations, while others resist authority, establish their own standards, and enjoy working environments where expectations are vague and ambiguous.

More specifically, detail-orientation quantifies a person’s generalist-specialist orientation, their willingness to delegate responsibilities to others, and their tendency to focus on strategic vs operational responsibilities.

The higher someone’s measured detail-orientation, the greater their sense of duty, worry, and perfectionism, and the greater their need for rules, direction, and order.

The lower someone’s measured detail-orientation, the more casual and unconventional their approach to work activities is. They will also have a greater tolerance for stress and are more flexible about rules and guidelines.

At work, highly detail oriented (High D) people are very attentive to the rules, and seek approval for producing thorough, accurate work. Those higher in detail-orientation are increasingly picky and perfectionistic and are uncomfortable in ambiguous circumstances where the way forward is not immediately obvious.

High D people often thrive in more technical roles as researchers, scientists, accountants, architectural draftsmen, and corporate lawyers.

Conversely, those low in detail orientation (Low D) are less concerned with the rules and the approval of others. They take a “big-picture” approach to problem solving, and enjoy delegating more operational tasks to others. They tend to be very independent and are unphazed by criticism and rejection.

Low D people often thrive in more big-picture oriented roles as entrepreneurs, CEOs, salesmen, and consultants.

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The purpose of this article is to provide a sketch of the differences between High D and Low D people to illustrate and clarify the meaning of the detail orientation trait, one of the 7 factors measured by the TRAITS assessment. With a better understanding of the trait, you will begin to recognize behaviours in others that reflect high and low levels of detail-orientation, and by extension, which roles they are best suited to.

High Detail Orientation at Work

  • High D people enjoy the sense of security that comes from a well-structured working environment with clear rules and guidelines for performance.
  • High D people tend to have specialized, technical interests. They want to know how/why things work the way they do, not just whether they work as intended.
  • High D people are very conscientious about the thoroughness and accuracy of their work.

Low Detail Orientation at Work

  • Low D people demonstrate tenacity when confronting barriers/obstacles.
  • Low D people are more “big-picture oriented” and generalist in their interests, preferring to delegate detail-oriented work to others.
  • Low D people tend to be non-conformist and independent. They are willing to bend the rules and challenge the status quo in pursuit of their goals.
  • Low D people are resilient and bounce back easily from setbacks or criticism.
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In addition to predicting natural behaviours, an understanding of someone’s patience (and other TRAITS) can also be used to understand their motivations.

High Detail Orientation Motivators

  • Clearly defined guidelines and expectations.
  • Recognition for producing thorough, accurate work.
  • Opportunities to learn and develop new skills.

Low Detail Orientation Motivators

  • Discretion over their activities and priorities.
  • A focus on strategic problem solving rather than operations.
  • The opportunity to bend the rules in pursuit of their objectives.
  • Minimal supervision.

As with all factors measured by the TRAITS assessment, the higher (or lower) the level of detail orientation, the more intense the behaviour.

Those who are closer to the average on detail-orientation can display a degree of both High D and Low D behaviour, but with considerably lower intensity than those who are strong in either direction.

People who are closer to the average on detail-orientation often thrive in roles like site foremen, project managers, franchisers, school principals, and hospital unit managers, which involve a mixture of detail oriented and more hands-off behaviours.

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Those with stronger traits are more consistent in their behaviour but have their own sets of challenges.

High Detail Orientation Risks and Challenges

  • Can be overly fussy with rules and unwilling to challenge the status quo.
  • Can be worrisome and perfectionistic. This can lead to inefficient use of time “over-polishing” their work.
  • Can hesitate to make decisions in vague and ambiguous circumstances.
  • Can be overly rigid and inflexible with their beliefs, appearing judgmental.

Low Detail Orientation Risks and Challenges

  • Prone to overstepping organizational guidelines and their own authority.
  • May provide insufficient guidance when delegating tasks to others.
  • Can produce sloppy, unpolished work.
  • Can be overly candid with others when they fail to meet expectations.

When deciding the appropriate level of detail-orientation necessary for a particular role, it is important to reflect on which behaviours are essential for the role, and which behaviours may be detrimental to that role. We hope this blog has provided some helpful insights you can incorporate into your personnel decisions.

Interested in learning more? Check out the other guides in our free introduction to the 7 work traits.

  • Assertiveness: Directiveness, independence, willingness to take risks, and accountability.
  • Sociability: The need to communicate and influence others.
  • Patience: The need for established processes and predictability and one’s sense of urgency.
  • Detail Orientation: The need for structure, order, and accuracy.
  • Behvaioural Adaptability: Flexibility and versatility in behaviour across environments.
  • Emotional Control: The need to express one’s emotions.
  • Creativity: The need for innovation and ingenuity.

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