During different points of any career, the day comes when the feedback isn’t positive. A common, although constructive critique many face is lack of conscientiousness. Missed deadlines, failing to remember important details can seem like the normal ebb and flow of a bust life, but at times it can be something more. Stefano Tasselli, Assistant Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University shares his observations in the HBR article excerpted below.
If you have ever gotten feedback like this and wanted to do something about it, you are not alone. Many people want to change at least some aspect of their personality, and conscientiousness is high on that list. So what does the science say about how you can boost your conscientiousness? Are there specific things you can do to become more conscientious over time? …What we found is that people may positively change their personalities by increasing their engagement in activities that fit three criteria: They feel important, enjoyable, and they accord with their values.
With this in mind, think about why you may struggle to act conscientiously. For example, if you struggle with details and deadlines, is it because you consider the project you are working on, or the work you are doing, unimportant? Or is the project or the work unenjoyable? Does it conflict with your values?…If you can’t change the tasks you’re assigned — and let’s face it, a boss who sees you struggling is not likely to give you a plum assignment until you have proven you can change — try to change how you think about them.
For example, say that you miss deadlines because you want to keep working on a project until it is perfect. You will struggle to change this behavior if the message you’re telling yourself is, “I guess I just have to turn in shoddy work.” But if you can remind yourself that timeliness is part of high-quality work, you may find it easier to let go when the deadline approaches. Or say you have trouble responding to email in a timely way, because it just doesn’t feel that important — but as a result, you lose track of key messages, causing angst for your colleagues. You probably won’t improve your conscientiousness on this task by gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to answer email more quickly. Instead, think about why replying more quickly might accord with your values. Do you value collaboration and helpfulness? Building relationships? Teamwork? If you learn to see a task in a way that matches your values, you will have an easier time completing it well.
Importantly, showing your willingness to become conscientious may be just as important as actually doing it. From an organizational perspective, leaders should evaluate their employees not only on their current behavior and performance but also on how adaptable those employees are. Even if you will never become the kind of super-detail-oriented person who lives for color-coded spreadsheets, you will get a lot of credit for improving — even a little — if you show you are trying hard to do so.
Identifying the three characteristics that contribute to conscientiousness, “They feel important, enjoyable, and they accord with their values”, and how you interact with your work and your colleagues can contribute to your success in becoming better in your career.