Assistant professor of management and organization at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School
How do we get ahead in our careers? Some say occupying certain positions in the company helps. Others feel having the right personality is the key to success.
To better understand why people do well at work and experience career advancement, I examined over 137 past research projects conducted to assess the effects of position in a company and personality on job performance and career success.
In the workplace, the position in the company can provide informal networking that offers selected individuals benefits ranging from access to critical resources to opportunities to connect with different groups of people for future undertakings.
Personality characteristics often influence who gets to occupy these advantageous network positions.
The personality characteristic of self-monitoring is a key influencer of these networks. Self-monitoring is to the degree to which people regulate the presentation of themselves in social settings.
We find that high self-monitoring individuals are more likely to occupy advantageous network positions because they know how to present themselves to get others to like them.
High self-monitoring individuals exhibit ease and social skills when interacting with others that enable them to be centrally connected in organizational networks. Often using humor, they pace their conversations appropriately instead of hogging the limelight or being a wallflower at meetings or social gatherings.
In their conversations, while they are adept at revealing some things about themselves when getting to know new people, they also know how to talk about other people instead of themselves all the time. Importantly, while they seek information and advice from well-connected colleagues and collaborate to resolve conflict, their attentiveness to others makes them appealing to friends and people seek advice from them as well.
Such behavior gives them access to resources that will come handy for job performance such as assistance from others.
High self-monitoring individuals are also able to connect disconnected people. They compartmentalizing their vast social networks according to separate and specific activities. At the workplace, for instance, they have different lunch partners for different purposes and different sets of friends for each social activity. This ability to segregate their wide networks of friends affords them the opportunity for social brokerage — introducing one friend to another who otherwise do not know each other.
In comparison, low self-monitoring individuals tend to have their contacts together all the time, leaving them no special advantage to connect people when the need arises.
Our findings demonstrate that while having central connections and social brokerage ability are important benefits, it is the former that relates more to superior job performance and greater career success. Having direct connections to others is more critical in enhancing performance and promotional prospects than the ability to connect different people who had no prior ties.
We also observed personality characteristics predict job performance and career success above and beyond advantageous network positions. People who are high self-monitoring, more conscientious and open to experience perform better on their job. Those who are more extroverted, less neurotic and more agreeable also achieve greater career success.
What are the takeaways? One needs to be socially aware and have that sense of self-monitoring that enables one to build relationships with different people at work so that they will occupy advantageous network positions that provide opportunities for personal growth and development.
In Indonesia where networking is a cultural norm, individuals must develop and grow their own networks of connections with different people. Don’t forget to present yourself as a person before talking about business. Such small talk can improve social networking, leading to knowing more people for possible social brokerage opportunities. Also, “yes” is not always “yes”. Coming across as pleasant goes a long way towards relationship building.
Grooming and social development courses, often seen as soft and overlooked in many sectors, may help individuals towards developing the skills that will lead to getting the necessary expertise and connections to do the job well and achieve career success.
The writer is assistant professor of management and organization at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.
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