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.