When you need something done — and done right — you probably know who you can count on. Even at work, most people have someone they can call on at a moment’s notice.
If you gave your team a basic personality test, the reliable people would probably score high in conscientiousness, one of the five basic personality dimensions. It reflects how organized, disciplined, thorough, and careful someone tends to be. There are a few ways that we identify people as conscientious. Basic personality scales (often given by HR during hiring) will include a measure of conscientiousness. However, managers can usually determine someone’s conscientiousness by their tendency to complete tasks without much supervision. Starting in the 1990’s, organizational research has found that people displaying these traits tend to succeed in management roles.
It’s important to note that conscientiousness is independent of agreeableness, which I talked in a previous post. People (particularly men) who are highly agreeable tend to have problems as managers, because they are not willing to say things that might upset the people around them. A person’s level of conscientiousness does not predict their level of agreeableness, and vice versa.
Unsurprisingly, conscientious people do make good managers. They make sure that things get done. They keep teams on track. They pay attention to little details that can spell the difference between success and failure. So, there is a tendency to get these folks on a management track early.
Senior managers may hastily groom conscientious people for management, but these star performers often have many other skills — technical expertise, innovative thinking, good communication, etc. The key dilemma here is that it can take several years to determine that someone has these skills. For example, technical expertise often influences a company behind-the-scenes. But, the company will not benefit from these other abilities when employees are put quickly on the management track.
Here are three suggestions for keeping a closer eye on your conscientious employees, and helping develop their critical hidden skills:
Keep track of their assignments. Make sure that you are not loading them up with extra tasks just because you know that they will take care of them.
Reward them. If you have overloaded your conscientious folks, reward them with some time and space to work on projects dear to them. That autonomy and appreciation strengthens their bond to the company. It also provides you with more opportunities to observe where their greatest contributions to the organization may lie.
Get a broad picture of their skills. Before moving them to the management track, give your conscientious employees a chance to display all of their strengths. Consider characteristics that might make someone successful in other core areas, like research and innovation settings. For example, people with a wide base of knowledge who are highly open to new experiences (another core personality trait) are often successful as innovators. Those people will not have much opportunity to serve in innovation capacities if they are first brought into management.
Remember: Don’t rush anyone into management based on how conscientious they are, which is fairly easy to see. Some of the other abilities may be harder to observe. Give yourself a little more time to get to know what people can do well. This way, you’ll allow them to not only demonstrate how reliable they are, but all the ways they can contribute to your company.
By Art Markman
Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently editor of the journal Cognitive Science, and consults regularly through his company Maximizing Mind. Follow him on twitter @abmarkman.