Sunday, May 21, 2023

Delivering Negative Feedback

Source: Getty Images

In a recent article for Kellogg Insight, Professor Brooke Vuckovic offered some great tips on how to deliver negative feedback effectively.   Among the bits of advice, Vuckovic recommended trying to anticipate the types of new information that might emerge and challenge one's beliefs about the drivers of poor performance: "To prepare for this possibility, she suggests asking yourself a few prompts: What’s your story of the problem—and what story might this other person tell about the same problem?"  She advocates preparing for the possibility that you might not have a complete and accurate understanding of the situation.  You might ask yourself:  Under what circumstances might I change my mind about this employee's status?  Finally, Vuckovic argues that you also have to consider whether you did not articulate goals and expectations clearly.  What role did you perhaps play by not communicating clearly?

In the end, the employee may not be performing well, and you must deliver some feedback that might be difficult to hear.  Still, Vuckovic argues that you want to make sure to solicit the employee's perspective, listen actively, and play back what you have heard to insure you have understood clearly.   Finally, and most importantly, prepare an exit strategy for the conversation.  If things aren't going well, have a plan for how to bring the conversation to a close, perhaps with an invitation for further discussion once cooler heads have prevailed.  

Thursday, May 11, 2023

What Causes Us to Regret Key Decisions?

Source: Getty Images

Do you find yourself often regretting the path not taken? What's causing those feelings?  Is it affecting your job satisfaction, or your commitment to a key plan of action at work?  Scholars Daniel Feiler and Johannes Müller-Trede have published a fascinating study about regret in the context of decision making.  Prior research had shown that "decision-makers both anticipate and experience greater regret when they can observe the consequences of unchosen options."   However, these two scholars found something slightly different in their study.  They discovered that, "Participants in our studies were more likely to experience regret when they did not observe the outcome of the forgone alternative than when it was revealed."  How could that be?  

Feiler and Müller-Trede discovered that the explanation as to do with our beliefs.  What do we believe is the value of a foregone alternative vs. what is the actual value of that option we dismissed?  They found that, "When there are many alternatives to choose from under uncertainty, the perceived attractiveness of the almost-chosen alternative tends to exceed its reality."  In short, we exhibit over-inflated beliefs about options we rejected.  This misguided beliefs cause feelings of regret.  

Monday, May 01, 2023

What All of Us Can Learn About Decision Making From Baseball's New Pitch Clock

Source:  Sports Illustrated

If you are a major league baseball fan, you probably are enjoying the new pitch clock implemented this year.  Over the past few decades, games have become longer and longer, typically exceeding 3 hours.  In the playoffs, many games have exceeded 4 hours.  The increasing length of games and the slow pace were turning away many fans, particularly younger ones.   Interestingly, a scholar of decision making under pressure has suggested that all of us can learn a bit from the addition of the pitch clock in baseball.  Dartmouth College President-Elect Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist, has argued that we might actually see better performance with the new time constraints for pitchers.  She extends that argument to many decision makers in an array of fields, arguing that situations without time bounds can actually increase decision fatigue and burnout, while yielding inferior choices.  We can spend so much time pondering and re-hashing our options that we become cognitively overwhelmed.  Here's an excerpt from a piece she wrote recently for Fast Company

My own research shows that we actually perform better under tight time constraints—especially when we’re doing something we’re good at. The performance of elite athletes is largely controlled by procedural memory and repetition rather than conscious thinking...  Too much time causes us to focus excessively on the minutiae of our performance, which can disrupt what we are doing. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler had it right when he said that the greatest advantage of the pitch clock will be “taking all the thoughts out of your head.”

Parkinson’s law suggests that when people are given extra time to complete a task, we’ll generally take advantage of that time, even if we don’t really need it. In other words, we don’t lose out by trimming down deliberation time. All we gain is extra time for our thoughts to percolate—and disrupt our performance... In a world where we are all facing 35,000 daily decisions, it’s worth taking stock of how too much thinking time might be causing more harm than help. The “paradox of choice” tells us that having too many options actually makes us less happy—an experience anyone who’s spent a night scrolling through hundreds of Netflix titles only to declare “there’s nothing to watch” knows well. In many ways, the absence of a pitch clock in our own lives could be viewed as the culprit for decision fatigue and burnout, which over half of Americans are struggling with today.

Naturally, we have to consider the context.  The performance of an athlete performing the same task that they have performed millions of times since childhood is far different than a distinctive strategic decision that a CEO is facing and perhaps has never encountered previously.  Still, we should think carefully about what happens when we delay decisions repeatedly in hopes of benefiting from further deliberation and analysis.  There is a delicate cost/benefit calculus at play.  The benefits of delay don't always exceed the costs, and those costs are not only associated with the danger of falling behind more nimble competitors in the marketplace. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

A Leader's First 90 Hours

Source: https://www.nettl.com

As a new leader at any level, what will you do in your first 90 hours on the job?  Fascinating question.  A very important question in my view.  HBS Professor Emeritus John Quelch wrote a thought-provoking piece recently for HBS Working Knowledge on this topic.  He reminds us of the terrific book, First 90 Days, written two decades ago by Mike Watkins.  Quelch argues that the world is moving so quickly that new leaders need to focus on their first 90 hours; they simply can't wait to take certain actions given the pace of change.  Whatever you think about Quelch's arguments and recommendations, there's one piece of advice that resonated with me.  He advocates for careful consideration of actions during those first 90 hours that will signal your values as a leader.  I wholeheartedly agree.  

Think about how people throughout your team or organization will interpret your words and actions during those first few days.  They will be reading between the lines, chatting with their colleagues, and reflecting on the meaning behind your actions.   Through it all, they are trying to discern what is important to you, and what your priorities will be.  Who and what do you value?  

Therefore, consider carefully the way others will perceive those initial actions.  Who are you meeting with during those early days?   What are you emphasizing in your communications?  What small changes will you make to signal your values?  Are there any immediate investments you can make that suggest a new way of leading?  How open and transparent will you be in relation to what prior leaders have done?  Considering these questions carefully will be highly important as you set the tone in those first few days in a new role. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Have You Become Too Reliant on Star Performers?

Source: NBA.com

Tom Taiyi Yan
 and Elad Sherf wrote a brief article this week in the Wall Street Journal describing their fascinating new research regarding team over-reliance on superstars.  They cite a terrific study of National Basketball Association players.  Here's an excerpt:

To investigate how team dynamics worked, we started by looking outside the world of business—at basketball. In our study, published in Organization Science, we examined competitive teams in the National Basketball Association across more than 60,000 games, spanning 34 years. Leveraging motion-tracking-camera data, we examined how teams’ passing patterns and shot distributions changed after wins and losses.

We found that after winning, teams became more reliant on their star players. Teams passed the ball about 6% more to the stars, and their shot distribution skewed 15% more toward the big performers. Although doubling down is intuitive (“We want to exploit what worked before"), it ended up decreasing teams’ chances of winning the next game. The increased reliance on the star players made teams more predictable to the next opponent and easier to defend—and therefore less likely to win the game.

This tendency to stick with stars doesn’t just hold true in competitive sports. All teams—particularly ones in the business world—tend to double down on what has worked. And it is often a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Big Data AND Consumer Anthropology


We shouldn't be choosing between leveraging big data to make decisions vs. conducting in-depth qualitiative research about our customers.  We should be using both methodologies, as they are often quite complementary.  As market researcher and Kellogg Professor Gina Fong states, "“Big data’s having a real moment right now. Numbers don’t lie—and big numbers sometimes give people more confidence in the data. But they only give you the what. Consumer anthropology and qualitative research are there to address the why behind people’s choices.”

Qualitative research can be most effective when we study people in their natural environment - retail stores, homes, workplaces, public parks, mass transit stations, etc. The key is to see what they do, rather than relying simply on what they say. After all, as Margaret Mead once said, "What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.”  Fong offers a wonderful example of how qualitative research can deepen our insights into consumer behavior and even prevent us from jumping to the wrong conclusions. Kellogg Insight describes her powerful example:

For example, a colleague of Fong’s loved eating avocados, but he had stopped purchasing them in the grocery store. Looking solely at patterns in the data, the store’s brand team might conclude that he and others like him didn’t like avocados anymore, or that avocados had become too expensive. Armed with this information, the team might react by discounting avocados or displaying them in another part of the store.  But his motivation for passing up avocados was more complicated.

“He really liked avocados, but he didn’t know how to pick one when it was perfectly ripe,” Fong says. “Either the avocado would ripen too fast and spoil, or it would take too long to ripen, and he would forget about it. This was frustrating to him, so he just punted the whole activity.”  On a recent store visit, he saw a display with avocados categorized in three groups: “ripe today,” “ripe in a couple of days,” and “ripe in four to five days.” This has led to him once again buying avocados.

Monday, April 10, 2023

How You Handle Low Performers Can Hurt Morale and Drive Away Your Best People


I recently re-read a post from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) about a study conducting by Eagle Hill Consulting.  The post focuses on the highly detrimental impact of not acting to address low performers in your workplace. Here's an excerpt from the SHRM blog post:

These findings, drawn from a survey of more than 1,700 professionals from across the private, nonprofit and government sectors, are detailed in a research report by Arlington, Va.-based Eagle Hill Consulting, Are Low-Performers Destroying Your Culture and Driving Away Your Best Employees? The researchers found that:
  • Low-performers hurt morale in the workplace and increase the workload for others. When asked to pick the greatest problems created by low-performers, the top concern was that they reduce overall workplace morale (cited by 68 percent of respondents). Forty-four percent said that low-performers increase the work burden on high-performers.
  • Low-performers stifle innovation and contribute to a standard of mediocrity. Some 54 percent said that low-performers contribute to a lack of initiative and motivation, resulting in a work culture where mediocrity is accepted.
Addressing low performance does not mean you have to fire people.  It does mean you have try to understand WHY certain individuals are not performing to expectations.  What are the causes? Don't assume you know.   Then, you must provide concrete, actionable feedback to people who are not achieving their goals.  It means putting in place a specific plan for coaching and developing low performers.  Finally, it means having key milestones at which you can check in on the performance of these individuals, measure progress or lack thereof, and take additional steps to address performance below expectations.  Failing to have the hard conversations will not only harm the organization's effectiveness, it will lead to a deterioration in employee morale.  Ultimately, it might lead to the departure of your best employees, who become frustrated and upset with the situation. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Why You Should Train as a Barista


The Wall Street Journal's Heather Haddon reported several days ago about the leadership transition at Starbucks. Laxman Narasimhan has taken over for Howard Schultz, who has completed his third stint at chief executive of the coffee chain.  I found one element of the transition particularly interesting.  Haddon notes that Narasimhan "spent 40 hours training to become a certified barista" and served coffee at cafes around the world.  He learned a great deal about challenges on the front lines.  Haddon described the new CEO's plans to stay engaged in the stores moving forward:

Mr. Narasimhan said he plans to regularly work alongside baristas in cafes to understand why it sometimes is so aggravating to get a customer a simple cup of coffee. He intends to work four hours in a different Starbucks store each month and expects his senior leaders to do the same.

To me, this type of direct engagement on the front lines is MUCH more effective than simply visiting restaurants, stores, or factories.   You can truly empathize with your employees if you actually do the work that they do, and if you engage in conversation while tackling tasks alongside them.   You learn a great deal about the obstacles they face each day that make their jobs much harder than they need to be.  Starbucks, as we all know, has had its labor relations challenges in recent years.   This type of engagement can be a step forward. 

Narasimhan's work here reminds me of when Chris Nassetta took over as CEO of Hilton Hotels.  The company was in rough shape.  Inc. magazine reported on the turnaround several years ago.  Nassetta said, "We had lost touch with the front line."  The article noted, that, "Nassetta and his senior executives started spending one week each year working at hotels--in housekeeping, engineering and the front desk. 'Their job is harder than your job,' Nassetta says. 'You get in there, and you pay them the respect.'"

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What Do I NOT Know?


Often, when leaders encounter a challenging problem, they naturally begin by asking themselves: "What do I know about this issue?  What expertise and past experience can I bring to bear on solving this problem?"  That would seem like the appropriate place to start.  However, I've recently been challenging leaders to begin with a slightly different question.  I encourage them to pose the question: "What do I NOT know about this issue?  What do I need to learn to make a more informed and wise decision?  From whom can and should I learn, both on my team and beyond my team?"  

Why begin with this question?  Here's my logic.  If you start with what you know, you frame the problem for others on your team.  You might even exert undue influence on them as discussion ensues about the issue.  They might defer to you and your expertise and authority, and in so doing, you may not gain access to vital information and perspectives.  Perhaps you even make yourself particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias.   As Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson argues, effective leaders encourage people to speak up by acknowledging their own limits.   "I'd like to learn more about this specific issue.  I could you use your help to understand more about it." 

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, put it best when he argued that the "learn-it-all" leaders outperform the "know-it-all" leaders.  Becoming a "learn-it-all" leader begins with asking the question: "What do I NOT know about this issue, and how can I learn effectively and quickly so as to fill the gap in my expertise?"  

Friday, March 17, 2023

Persuading Others: "I'm one of you..."

Source: https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/

Recently, the renowned social influence scholar Robert Cialdini sat down for a chat with Matt Abrahams for his Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast.  Cialdini recapped a few major findings from his research on persuasion.   As he shared a few experimental findings, Cialdini emphasized how we can be more persuasive if we convince others that we are "one of them."   Here's one example:

There was a study done on a university campus, researchers took a young woman who was about college age, dressed like a college student, asked her to set up a table for the United Way on a heavily trafficked area of campus and request people who were walking by to donate to the United Way. And because she looked similar to them she was getting some contributions. But if she added one sentence to her request she got four and a half times as many contributions. So what was the sentence, it was I’m a student here too, I’m one of you.

Cialdini went on to offer another example. In this case, the "persuader" did not meet others in person. Instead, people were persuaded simply becaused they were informed that others "like them" had acted in a certain way. Here's an excerpt from the podcast in which Cialdini described an experiment at a hotel:

We had the cooperation of the managers and we went into hotel rooms and randomly assigned various kinds of cards that were the same except for the recommendation, please do this for, right, and the environment was one, please do this for future generations was another. But the one that made the most difference was “the majority of guests who stay in this hotel have reused their towels,” and that produced a significant increase in the willingness of people to reuse their towels.

But even more interesting we got a more significant effect if we said not just the majority of visitors to our hotel have reused their towels, the majority of visitors who’ve stayed in this room have reused their towels. We got significantly more now because the principle we’re talking about is the principle of social proof, that if a lot of other people are doing something it validates the behavior, it makes it more correct. But if those people are comparable to us, staying in the same room now that’s not unity, that’s just similarity here, they’re comparable they’re like us. Well, that makes their behavior even more diagnostic of what we should do.

For more of Cialdini's terrific work on persuasion, I highly recommend his groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.  

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Synchronized Scheduling Serves as Social Glue


While many people enjoy the flexiblity of collaborating virtually in today's hybrid work environment, they do still crave personal connection.   Many people will make personal sacrifices to insure that the opportunity for personal connection exists.  Franklin Shaddy, Peking University and Ayelet Fishbach have conducted a series of studies to examine the extent to which people will choose to synchronize their schedules with others as a means of connecting with them.  

In one of their experiments, research subjects had the opportunity to receive a box of cookies in either two weeks or two months.  The scholars told some of the research subjects that they could also select a free box of cookies for a friend.  Many of the participants chose to wait two months to receive their box if their friend also would be receiving their cookies in two months time.  Naturally, you would think that most people would want their cookies sooner rather than later, yet many chose to delay gratifications and to synchronize their positive experience with a friend.  


A core principle of psychology is that we typically want to experience pleasure sooner and delay painful or negative events as long as possible. Yet in experiments that studied the behavior of more than 3,000 participants, the researchers found that people were willing to delay pleasure and move up pain — paying a psychological cost — if it meant they could schedule an experience at the same time as a friend or someone they admire, even though they would not be in any physical proximity.

The choice to sync persisted even when experiment participants knew the other person wasn’t aware of the event. Syncing was also prioritized when it meant committing to an inconvenient time slot to “connect” with a friend. And as a bit of proof of concept, the researchers found that when experiment participants were primed to think about someone they didn’t like, they were not motivated to sync schedules.

“Synchronized scheduling acts as ‘social glue,’ increasing feelings of not only person-to-person social connection, but also solidarity, trust and cohesion within the group. As a result, it counteracts experienced and anticipated physical disconnection,” they write.

What's the implication for leaders in the workforce?  Having people experience something at the same time, even if they are physically apart, can have beneficial effects.   It can bind team members together more closely, something we ought to desire in workplaces where too many people are often disengaged and teams are less cohesive than we would like.  

Monday, February 27, 2023

Victim of Layoffs? Don't Burn Bridges, Focus on Development

Source: Flexjobs

Eleanor Pringle has written a good column for Fortune titled, "Do’s and don’ts of layoffs: These are the things you should never post on LinkedIn if you lose your job."   

Pringle has some sound advice.  Naturally, she appropriately recommends "leaving well" - that means no burning bridges, no calling out companies or colleagues who you believe may have mistreated you.  She stresses that posting while upset is a recipe for disaster. Pringle has some other sound recommendations, including advice about leaning into professional development opportunities, such as short courses.  She writes:

DON’T waste time while you’re not working.  Not got a job? Prove you’re proactive and post about it. Alistair Stirling, adviser at Stirling Careers Consultancy, said he always encourages his clients to do volunteer work and short courses while they’re on the hunt for their next role.  He explained that not only does it give people something to talk about –either on interviews or on platforms like LinkedIn– it shows you’re not just sitting around at home.

I agree with the recommendation regarding development.  I would stress, however, that everyone should be developing a plan for lifelong learning, if they do not have one.  It's not something that should wait for the unfortunate circumstance of a layoff.   Each person should be thinking about a stream of development activities, above and beyond the training provided by one's company.  Many of these development activities don't cost much money, if at all, these days.  Others do require an investment.  These opportunities should sometimes be about practical skill building ("I'm going to learn how to code...").  However, other opportunities should be just about stretching your perspective and stimulating your thinking on an important subject ("I'm going to read this book about motivation...")   


Friday, February 17, 2023

The Dangers of Self-Driving Cars: Is it the Technology or the Humans?

Source: Car and Driver

On Thursday, Tesla recalled more than 350,000 automobiles with its experimental self-driving software technology.  Apparently, the software may lead to accidents in intersections, and it can cause cars to move at excess speeds at times. 

Interestingly, Missy Cummings, a George Mason University engineering professor and former safety official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had warned about self-driving technology's potential problems and limitations in a New York Times article on Wednesday.  She argued that some drivers place too much trust in the self-driving technology, and thereby place themselves and others at risk.  

The Cummings interview emphasized a concept I've been writing about for several years:  compensatory behavior.  The idea is simple.  If we know about certain systems intended to assist us and potentially make us safer, we grow dependent on those systems and sometimes compensate by actually taking more risk.  I first explored the idea in the context of Everest expedition teams.  I once asked the great mountaineer, Ed Viesturs, why he often climbs without supplemental oxygen.  He replied, "I don't think oxygen necessarily makes you safer in the mountains.  It can give you a false sense of security."  As a result, climbers engage in reckless behavior, not realizing quite how much danger they are encountering because of the safety blanket that they think the oxygen has provided them.  Similar issues arose in my study of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Boeing 737 MAX design and subsequent crashes.  In the latter case, I also learned that pilots can grow dependent on automated systems, and their skills may erode over time as a result.  Think about driving a car again.  If you always use the backup camera and parking-assist features, you may not be as capable of parallel parking if suddenly those systems are not available to you.  

In sum, I'm not against technologies such as self-driving cars.  I do think, however, that we must become aware of the dangers and risks.  Those risks are not all simply about potential flaws in the technology.  Those flaws also have to do with how humans interact with that technology over time. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Reducing Employee Turnover: Break Up Long Streaks of Difficult Work

Source: SHRM

We know that many employees find challenging work to be rewarding.  They want to feel that their work is meaningful, and that they are making an impact on others.  At the same time, we have watched employee turnover soar at many organizations in recent years.  Does that mean many employees are not being challenged sufficiently?  Do they find their work tedious and mundane?  Or, are they quitting becuase of burnout driven by other factors?  

Maurice Schweitzer, Polly Yang, and David Daniels have conducted a fascinating study that sheds light on one reason employees may be quitting their jobs.  In an ingenious research design, the scholars studied almost 2 million text conversations among over 14,000 volunteers at a crisis hotline.  These volunteers engaged in some very difficult and stressful conversations with callers seeking assistance.  However, not all calls posed an equal level of stress and challenge.  Some conversations were less tense and demanding than others.   The scholars found that the overall difficulty of the work did not affect turnover among the staff members.  However, the sequencing of the work mattered a great deal.  Here is a summary of their findings, as reported by Knowledge @ Wharton

While the content of the conversations influenced the quit rate of volunteers, the data revealed that the order of the conversations mattered even more. Volunteers who experienced long streaks of hard conversations were 22% to 110% more likely to quit. Conversely, breaking up these hard streaks by reassigning tasks to different volunteers would “reduce volunteer quitting rates by 22%, boosting prosocial behavior and likely saving lives,” the authors wrote in the paper.

The scholars go on to explain how long streaks need to be broken up by some simpler tasks to reduce employee burnout.  In short, "When people evaluate a sequence of past events, they disproportionately focus on “streaks” (long streaks of similar events in a row) and on “ends” (the most recent event)."  The scholars have a recommendation for leaders who tend to rely heavily on certain "stars" to constantly take on the most challenging work:

Schweitzer noted the natural tendency for managers to turn to the same reliable employees over and over again to get things done, especially on a deadline. But he urged those bosses to throw some lighter duties into the mix to prevent burnout and bitter feelings.  “Counterintuitively, adding a bit of extra work — specifically, adding easier assignments — can keep workers more motivated, by preventing streaks of hard tasks from being created,” he said.

Friday, February 10, 2023

What Happens When You Invite Questions From Your Team?


I'm reading University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham's new book, Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make It Easy.   The book offers terrific advice on learning strategies for students, as well as tips for teachers on how to help students learn more effectively.  In the book, Willingham writes, 

If your students consistently do not  ask questions, you should wonder about your relationship with them. They are not quiet because your explanations are so brilliant and clear.  They're quiet because they see asking a question as taking a risk.  Ask yourself why that is.  

What a terrific thought-provoking statement for teachers to ponder.  Now replace the word students in the first sentence with the words "team members" or "employees" and consider the implications for leaders at all levels.  If your people are not asking you questions, you have a problem.  Silence doesn't suggest that you have articulated your vision, goals, and strategies clearly and persuasively.  Silence suggests a problem with the climate you have created.  

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Super Bowl Ads: Teaming Up is the New Trend


This year's Super Bowl will feature an interesting new trend.  Companies increasingly are partnering with other brands in their commercials.  For instance, several brands have partnered with Netflix to create Super Bowl ads.  Above, you will hear and see Will Ferrell appearing in a General Motors commercial in which he drives GM electric vehicles "through" several highly popular Netflix shows.  Michelob also will be running a Super Bowl ad in partnership with Netflix.  Molson Coors is teaming up with DraftKings in a Super Bowl promotion. 

These partnerships have several potential benefits. First, they spread the cost of very expensive Super Bowl ads across two or more firms.   Second, they help some older brands tap into younger audiences by teaming up with brands that have more Gen Y and Gen Z fans.  Third, they help these ads stand out among a sea of the usual Super Bowl ads that simply try to offer a quick laugh during the game.    

By the way, you might be wondering whether Super Bowl ads truly generate a positive return on investment.  Several years ago, scholars Wesley R. Hartmann and Daniel Klapper conducted a study showing that the ads do generate a positive return, unless a direct rival also runs an ad during the big game. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

Building Resilience

Source: NIH

On college campuses, many faculty members across the nation have been concerned about declining resilience among our students.   Similarly, I'm hearing many business leaders express concerns about a perceived drop in employee resilience in recent years.  

Resilience has been defined as the capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties (Oxford dictionary). In a 2021 Harvard Business Review article, Rob Cross and his co-authors explained why we should care a great deal about resilience in our organizations. They wrote, "Resilience has been shown to positively influence work satisfaction and engagement, as well as overall well-being, and can lower depression levels. There is even evidence that resilience can help protect us from physical illness."

Cross and his colleagues make a very important point about resilience though.  They push back against the conventional wisdom which suggests that resilience is an internal trait.  According to this line of thinking, it's something deep down inside of you that can be drawn up to overcome challenges; if you lack resilience, you somehow are flawed.   Cross and his co-authors offer an alternative perspective:

We can nurture and build our resilience through a wide variety of interactions with people in our personal and professional lives. These interactions can help us to shift or push back on work demands and alter the magnitude of the challenge we’re facing. They can help crystalize the meaningful purpose in what we are doing or help us see a path forward to overcome a setback — these are the kinds of interactions that motivate us to persist. People in our support systems can provide empathy or simply help us laugh and bolster our resilience by shifting perspective and reminding us we are not alone in the fight. In short, resilience is not something we need to find deep down inside ourselves: we can actually become more resilient in the process of connecting with others in our most challenging times. (emphasis added) 

In short, our social networks matter a great deal.  Building and leveraging those networks can be incredibly helpful when we face setbacks and challenges.  Business leaders should take notice.  They need to help their employees connect with one another and with others outside the organization.  Simply asking people to return to the office is not sufficient, nor is holding a few "bonding" days at an off-site gathering.  Leaders need to assist their employees in building relationships with others who will provide critical support, resources, and coaching.  Moreover, they need to help their employees build relationships that will strengthen the sense of meaning that they find in their work, as well as in their lives outside of work.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Expressing Gratitude May Promote Better Collaboration


In past blog posts, I have featured some excellent research on the benefits of expressing gratitude. Most of that work focused on the benefits to the person giving thanks. New research from UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Sara B. Algoe and her colleagues demonstrates an interesting ancillary benefit from thanking others. They call it the witness effect. Gratitude doesn't just benefit the individuals giving and receiving thanks; it also has a positive impact on third parties who witness this exchange.

In their experimental studies, the scholars found that the research subjects "who witnessed a 'thank you' in one line of text, expressed to someone who previously helped the grateful person, were themselves more helpful toward the grateful person." Moreover, in their studies, they found that witnesses "wanted to affiliate more with the grateful person and with the person toward whom gratitude was expressed." Algoe and her colleagues concluded that, "Gratitude may help build multiple relationships within a social network directly and simultaneously."

Here is an excerpt from the paper that Algoe and her colleagues published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Specifically, when Harry does something nice for Tom, it is the expression of gratitude that provides a rich signal about Harry. At a fundamental level, the witness learns that Harry voluntarily spent time or effort to do something on Tom’s behalf that Tom values. We proposed and found that witnesses would be more interested in affiliating with a person like Tom (Experiment 5). In addition, we proposed and tested the possibility that this signal would reveal Tom to be a morally good person; indeed, we found that benefactors who were more praised by grateful people were seen as more good which, in turn, predicted greater willingness to help them (Experiment 8). Although our evidence comes from one study, we believe this is a promising avenue for future research: prior research documents that people quickly judge others’ moral goodness (Lindeberg, Craig, & Lipp, 2018) and it carries greater weight than warmth or competence in some settings (Goodwin, Piazza, & Rozin, 2014; Wojciszke, Bazinska, & Jaworski, 1998).

In short, this research suggests that a workplace in which expressions of gratitude are commonplace may be fertile ground for more cooperation and effective collaboration.  Leaders should take notice.  

Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Genuine Apology Goes a Long Way


Ben Cohen reports today in the Wall Street Journal about a remarkable apology email issued by Andrew Benin, chief executive of Graza, a startup that sells squeezable bottles of extra-virgin olive oil.  Unfortunately, the company did not cope effectively with high customer demand during the holidays.  Many people received their packages late, and some packages were damaged.  Customers complained of leaking olive oil bottles.  Cohen drafted a detailed apology and sent it to over 35,000 Graza customers.  Cohen described the rather unconventional email:

The mea culpa from a one-year-old company with the subject line “Learning from our mistakes” was just about the opposite of a typical corporate response. It explained in plain English and candid detail what went wrong and why. It took accountability for those errors and offered a discount on future orders. It was raw, transparent about uncertainty and messy with typos and misspellings. It was also oddly entertaining and strangely charming.

You can read the entire email for yourself if you view Cohen's article on the Wall Street Journal website.  Like Cohen, I found the apology very genuine and sincere, and it didn't feel as robotic as many corporate apology emails do (I could do without the spelling and grammatical errors though. I am a professor after all).  In Cohen's article, he cites author Marjorie Ingall's advice for issuing apologies.  

1. Say you’re sorry.
2. For what you did.
3. Show you understand why it was bad.
4. Only explain if you need to; don’t make excuses.
5. Say why it won’t happen again.
6. Offer to make up for it.

The six recommendations seems sensible.  However, the real reason for the effectiveness of the Graza email seems to be in the tone, not just the content itself.  You can do the six things above, and yet you may still write a robotic email that sounds inauthentic.  Did this email work? Well, 867 people actually replied to the email, many quite positively. One said, “Thanks for your honesty. I wish more businesses did the same.”

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Does Pay Transparency Help or Hurt Workers?

Source: TechTarget

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that increased transparency about compensation will help workers. For instance, a CNBC story about New York's new salary transparency law is titled, "How NYC’s pay transparency law could help millions across the U.S. earn more money." Naturally, researchers have not taken the conventional wisdom as a given. They have begun exploring the actual impact on employees. Some early research suggests that the impact might not be as positive as some transparency advocates believe.

The UCLA Anderson Review recently published a feature article titled, "Pay Transparency: Will It Help or Hurt Workers?" The article focused on the work of Harvard Business School Professor Zoe Cullen and Brown University Professor Bobak Pakzad-Hurson.  These scholars found that employers with non-unionized workforces might capitalize on the newly available data about salaries across a wide range of firms to drive a very hard bargain with job candidates.  As a result, the transparency laws might depress starting wages.  Here is an excerpt from the article: 

Cullen and Pakzad-Hurson analyzed all job postings, worker bids and other transactions from 2010 to 2014 on the TaskRabbit platform, where employers hire temporary workers for lower-skilled jobs. Online labor markets employ perhaps 7 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 14 million people. The short-term, constantly renegotiated nature of the gigs offers an accelerated look at how transparency works its way through a market. The findings aren’t necessarily applicable to traditional labor markets, but are certainly worth considering in the transparency debate.

The model, in addition to suggesting fierce negotiating by companies pre-employment, indicates workers looking to be hired would not be so tough. Knowing wages are transparent within the company, a worker would want to get hired and then, upon learning what others make, negotiate a raise. The combination of those factors depressed wages, Cullen and Pakzad-Hurson report.

“Our analysis of equilibrium wages, hiring rate and profits under greater pay transparency reveals consequences that are counterintuitive and economically large in a market for low-skill tasks,” Cullen and Pakzad-Hurson write.

More research clearly must be done, and this paper's conclusions from analysis of the TaskRabbit platform might not apply to the broader labor market.  Still, the study suggests that more attention must be paid to the actual impact of these new transparency laws, rather than simply assuming that they will benefit employees.  

Monday, January 09, 2023

Equinox vs. Planet Fitness: Twitter Clash!

Several years ago, I wrote a case study about Planet Fitness, the "Judgement Free Zone" chain of fitness centers.  Therefore, I tend to follow the gym industry.   On New Year's Day, premium fitness center chain Equinox posted the following message on social media.  It created quite a stir.  


 Planet Fitness responded promptly with a humorous and blunt retort.  


Others on social media criticized Equinox as well.  What was Equinox doing scaring potential customers away with what seemed like an insulting tweet.  Yet, we should ask the question: Did Equinox really make a mistake?  To understand the intent of these dueling tweets, we need to assess the contrasting strategies of these two firms.  Equinox targets serious fitness enthusiasts and provides them a premium experience at premium prices.  Planet Fitness focuses on the person who previously may have not enjoyed going to the gym at all.  They are after the person who is trying to get some exercise, but is most certainly not a "gym rat" at all.  Planet Fitness doesn't cater to the fitness enthusiast at all. For instance, they don't have heavy weights at all in their gyms, and they don't offer exercise classes.  Their gyms focus mostly on cardio machines and light weights.  Given their target audience, this humorous rebuttal is right on the money.  It fits their customer quite well, and it provides that sharp contrast with the upscale gym, Equinox.  

Interestingly, both firms are telling certain people they are NOT very welcome at their gyms.  Recall Planet Fitness' famous "I lift things up and put them down" advertisement in which an employee shows a bodybuilder the exit!  That Planet Fitness advertisement is very much like this January tweet from Equinox.  So, neither firm is off the mark here.  They are each addressing their customers with distinct messages that fit their contrasting audiences and their associated needs and wants.  They are both trying to attract their core customer by explicitly describing who doesn't fit at their gyms.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Owning Your Job

Source: Verywell Mind
Adam Bryant has written a thought-provoking piece for Strategy+Business this week. The article is titled, "Want to set yourself apart? Own your job."  Bryant argues that people who exhibite a strong sense of accountability and truly own their jobs are much more likely to achieve professional success.  Here's an excerpt from his article:

People with these qualities figure out how to get something done, even if the path to success is unclear. When things get tough, they don’t point fingers or throw up their hands in frustration or complain that something isn’t fair or is too hard. Ownership is not just about having a strong work ethic—it’s about having a sense of responsibility to follow through and deliver.

Bryant stresses that the highest performing individuals don't dwell on the reasons why something is challenging, nor do they focus on the situational factors that inhibit expected performance.  Instead, they focus on how they can still accomplish key goals despite these obvious obstacles.  

The article might prove unsettling to some readers. Undoubtedly, some people will label it "old school" and dismiss the logic as out-of-step with today's workforce.  On the other hand, Bryant's comments do remind me of the academic literature on locus of control.  Individuals can exhibit more of an external or internal locus of control.  Those with an external locus tend to explain their performance by focusing on situational or enviromental factors. Those with an internal locus tend to explain their performance by focusing on their personal action and behaviors.  What did I do that caused this particular outcome?  In research on academic achievement, scholars generally find that students perform better in their courses if they exhibit an internal locus of control.  In a sense, Bryant is making an argument consistent with those research findings.  He's arguing for the benefits of an internal locus of control.