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..."


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.