How to get ahead in the office? Don’t hog the limelight, or be a wall flower

High self-monitoring individuals are more likely to occupy advantageous network positions in organisations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 July, 2016, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 July, 2016, 10:52pm

We all want to get ahead in our career. But how do we do that? Some say occupying certain positions in the company helps. Others point to having the right personality as the key.

To better understand why people do well at work and experience career advancement, my research colleagues and I examined over 137 studies previously conducted to assess the relationships among position in the company, personality, job performance and career success.

Besides the formal relationships we see in an organisational chart, there are a multitude of interactions in the workplace – informal networking that can offer individuals of selected positions benefits including access to critical resources as well as opportunities to connect with different groups of people for future undertakings.

Personality characteristics often influence who gets to occupy these advantageous network positions.

Of the six personality characteristics that we examined – extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and self-monitoring – the personality trait of self-monitoring stands out as a key influencer. Self-monitoring refers to the degree to which people regulate and control how they present themselves in social settings and interpersonal relationships.

We found that high self-monitoring individuals are more likely to occupy advantageous network positions because they know how to present themselves in social settings to get others to like them.

Self-monitoring individuals are more likely to occupy advantageous network positions

Quite chameleon-like, high self-monitoring individuals exhibit ease and social skills when interacting with others that enable them to be centrally connected in organisational networks. How so? Humour is often used. They pace their conversations appropriately instead of hogging the limelight or being a wall flower 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 as friends and people seek advice from them as well.

Such behaviour helps high-monitoring individuals to gain 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. By compartmentalising their vast social networks according to separate and specific activities, they can engage in social brokerage. 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; whereas 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.

In Asia, individuals must develop and grow their own guanxi networks with different people

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.

Our observations further show that 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 will enable 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 Asia where networking or guanxi is a common cultural norm, individuals must develop and grow their own guanxi networks of connections with different people. 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.

Fang Ruolian is assistant professor of management and organisation at the National University of Singapore Business School