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.