Being A Chameleon In The Workplace Doesn't Help Career Advancement
"Chameleons"-- individuals able to adapt their attitudes and behavior for different audiences--move into central positions in organizations, but it doesn't help them get ahead in their careers. In fact, it may actually burden them, according to some ground breaking new research on the topic from Penn State's Smeal College of Business Administration.
"In work organizations, people who move into 'go-between' positions, connecting otherwise disconnected people and groups, tend to be rated as better performers than others. Our research showed that the chameleons of the social world, those who are good at monitoring social situations and adjusting their behavior accordingly, tend to move into these go-between positions in the friendship network," says Martin Kilduff, professor of management in Penn State's Smeal College of Business Administration.
"But, perhaps because of their social usefulness, these chameleon-like high self-monitors, also tended to increase the number of work projects they were involved with. So, high self-monitors both increased their centrality in terms of connecting people in the friendship network, and increased their workload."
These chameleons or high self-monitors are willing and able to monitor and control their self-expressions in social situations, says Kilduff.
"Some people resemble successful actors or politicians in their ability to find the appropriate words and behaviors for a range of social situations. They present the right image for the right audience. Other people, known as low self-monitors, insist on being themselves, no matter how incongruent their self-expression may be with the requirements of the social situation," explained Kilduff.
Kilduff recently co-authored a study that investigates why some individuals occupy structurally advantageous positions; and how individual differences in psychology and structural positions combine to determine success in organizational contexts. The paper, "The Right Person and the Right Place? The Effects of Self-Monitoring and Structural Position on Workplace Performance," will appear in a forthcoming issue of "Administrative Science Quarterly."
"One of the enduring questions we face concerns why some people outcompete others in the race for life's prizes. In work organization, why are some rated as better performers than others?"
Kilduff co-authored the study with Ajay Mehra of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Bass of the University of Kentucky. It is believed to be the first study to examine how the social networks that affect the performance of organizational participants are shaped by the attributes of interacting individuals. Other studies looked at either social networks or differences in individual psychology.
Within each specific work context, some individuals occupy more advantageous positions in social networks than other individuals, says Kilduff. These positions allow access to groups of people who are otherwise disconnected from each other. The individuals act as go-betweens, bridging the gaps between the disconnected groups, and in this way garnering useful and timely information concerning new developments and resource availability. Kilduff's research shows that high self-monitors tended to occupy these central go-between positions in the friendship network.
"In organizational settings, people whose networks link across social divides tend to gain advantages. They gain information concerning opportunities and resources and a structurally advantageous position enhances career mobility," says Kilduff. "While we did find that self-monitors move into these central positions, it didn't help them become high performers."
The high self-monitors or "chameleons" actually gained more work, says Kilduff.
"It was a mixed-blessing. They had access to more people and information but it increased the amount of people depending on them. They become bogged-down in all sorts of projects," says Kilduff. "But, irrespective of their success in occupying certain positions in social networks, we did find that high self-monitors tended to achieve high performance ratings on the basis of their abilities to listen carefully to what supervisors wanted, their avoidance of conflict, and their interpersonal skills."
In the study, the researchers tested three models of how self-monitoring and structural position combine to affect individual performance in a 116-member high-tech entrepreneurial company. Network and personality data were collected by means of a questionnaire sent to all employees. The researchers collected data on friendship relations and workflow relations, and supervisors rated the performance of those subordinates who reported directly to them. Self-monitoring was measured using an 18-item true-false Self-Monitoring Scale with questions such as "I would probably make a good actor," and, "In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons."
The bottom-line for people wondering how this might affect their careers in organizations is that the benefits of social networking can be accompanied by some unforeseen costs, says Kilduff.
"If, following the recommendations of certain experts, you succeed in occupying a go-between position, bridging across otherwise disconnected groups, you should find yourself being recognized as the source of useful information from one group to another. But you may also find yourself asked to help out on many different projects and this may undermine your ability to get your own work done," says Kilduff.