The Social Networks of High and Low Self-Monitors: Implications for Workplace Performance

By Mehra, Ajay; Kilduff, Martin et al. | Administrative Science Quarterly, March 2001 | Go to article overview

The Social Networks of High and Low Self-Monitors: Implications for Workplace Performance


Mehra, Ajay, Kilduff, Martin, Brass, Daniel J., Administrative Science Quarterly


This article examines how different personality types create and benefit from social networks in organizations. Using data from a 116-member high-technology firm, we tested how self-monitoring orientation and network position related to work performance. First, chameleon-like high self-monitors were more likely than true-to-themselves low self-monitors to occupy central positions in social networks. Second, for high (but not for low) self-monitors, longer service in the organization related to the occupancy of strategically advantageous network positions. Third, self-monitoring and centrality in social networks independently predicted individuals' workplace performance. The results paint a picture of people shaping the networks that constrain and enable performance.

One of the enduring questions we face as human beings concerns why some people out compete others in the race for life's prizes. In work organizations, for example, why are some people better performers than others? One answer to this question is provided by research on the importance of structural position. Within each specific work context, some individuals occupy more advantageous positions in social networks than other individuals. These positions allow access to people who are otherwise disconnected from each other. The individuals who act as go-betweens, bridging the "structural holes" between disconnected others, facilitate resource flows and knowledge sharing across the organization. Their contributions to organizational functioning may lead to enhanced rewards, including faster promotions (Burt, 1992) and higher performance ratings.

Research on structural position has emphasized the importance of being in the right place (Brass, 1984) but has neglected both the possibility that the network positions occupied by individuals might be influenced by their psychology and the possibility that personality and social network position might combine to influence important outcomes such as work performance. The structural approach to organizational dynamics tends to emphasize the structure of positions in social space (Pfeffer, 1991; Blau, 1993) and avoids dependence on difficult-to-measure psychological properties of actors (e.g., McPherson, Popielarz, and Drobnic, 1992). Recent calls for more insight into the origins of network positions and the importance of individual characteristics (e.g., Emirbayer and Goodwin, 1994) prompt us to investigate why some individuals occupy structurally advantageous positions and how individual differences in psychology and structural position combine to determine performance in organizational contexts.

The structuralist approach is not alone in disregarding the possible effects of individual characteristics on social structures. Despite a long history of psychological research suggesting that individuals differ with respect to social influence (e.g., McGuire, 1968; Riley and Eckenrode, 1986), there has been relatively little work in psychology on how individual differences affect the structures of the social worlds in which people live and work. Rather than neglecting either the structure of the social world or the psychology of the individual, we investigate how individuals strive within social structures that both enable and constrain action. We follow in the tradition of those who recognize the importance of understanding the micro-foundations of structural patterns (e.g., Granovetter, 1973; Ibarra, 1993; Uzzi, 1996).

Earlier work by social network pioneers included personality measures (e.g., Newcomb, 1961; Sampson, 1968) and interpersonal orientations (e.g., Breiger and Ennis, 1979; see also recent work by Janicik, 2000). In bringing the individual back into social network analysis (cf. Kilduff and Krackhardt, 1994), we build on this previous work. Rather than treat individual attributes and social attributes as separate realms of enquiry, we seek to understand how the social networks that significantly affect the performance of organizational participants are shaped by the attributes of interacting individuals. …

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