All posts by Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Layoffs (Usually) Don’t Work and Why They Harm More Than Help

“Layoffs are mostly bad for companies, harmful for the economy, and devastating for employees.” -Newsweek (2010)

In December 2017, I (along with many of my colleagues) got laid off by the parent company that had acquired our smaller company in 2014.

I think what struck many of us was that this larger company was (and still is) very wealthy and extremely profitable (constantly emphasizing this point in their town hall meetings) and they repeatedly reassured us that our jobs would be safe and that we were now part of this much better, larger, wealthier, more powerful enterprise.

Thus, when they began implementing mass layoffs, and eventually laying off almost everyone in the company, it came as quite a shock.

Although I am very fortunate to have landed an incredible new role, at an amazing company nine months later, some of my former colleagues are still looking.

Having gone through this layoff experience, I want to share this article in hopes of bringing attention to the harmful effects of layoffs to not only the employees who are let go, but also the companies that implemented the layoffs.

Downsizing Defined

Downsizing is the planned elimination of jobs or positions (Cascio, 2016).

“Whether we call it ‘rightsizing,’ ‘downsizing,’ ‘layoffs,’ or ‘reductions in force,’ there’s no denying that U.S. corporations have been reducing the size of their workforces at alarming rates since the late 1980s” (Levy, 2017, p. 384).

The Consequences of Losing Your Job

This passage from Aamodt’s Industrial/Organizational textbook is a powerful reminder of the dramatic and devastating effect of losing one’s job:

“From a health perspective, victims of downsizing report increases in headaches, stomach upsets, sleeping problems, cholesterol levels, physical illness, hospitalization rates, heart trouble, hypertension, ulcers, vision problems, and shortness of breath. Emotionally, victims report high levels of stress, increased drug and alcohol abuse, more marital problems, and feelings of depression, unhappiness, anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction with life. Socially, victims are reluctant to share their feelings with friends, avoid family and friends due to feelings of embarrassment and shame, and avoid social situations and entertainment requiring money” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 540).

Coping with job loss or the danger of losing one’s job is a major source of stress (Riggio, 2013). Landy & Conte (2013) explained that because a worker may continue to have strong affective, continuance, or normative commitments to the organization, a job loss can be devastating. “[R]esearch has consistently found job loss to be among the 10 most stressful events in a person’s life” (Levy, 2017, p. 383).

Mental, Physical, & Psychological Costs of Job Loss

The effects of job loss include (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • Poor psychological health
  • Depression, insomnia, irritability, lack of confidence, inability to concentrate, and general anxiety

The reasons for these effects on one’s psyche are (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • loss of job reduces income and daily variety
  • loss of job suspends the typical goal setting guiding day-to-day activities
  • loss of job results in fewer decisions to be made because there’s little to decide about
  • decisions that are made tend to be trivial (when to get up, when to look for work, etc.)
  • because of loss of job, new skills are not developed and current skills begin to atrophy
  • as a result of loss of job, social relations are radically changed

Emotional and Financial Cost of Job Loss

In a New York Times article about the emotional and financial toll of being unemployed, Luo and Thee-Brenan (2009), shared a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults (708 unemployed adults between Dec. 5 to Dec. 10, 2009). Here’s what they found about unemployed Americans:

EMOTIONALLY

  • 69% are more stressed.
  • 55% have had trouble sleeping.
  • 48% have experienced emotional or mental health issues (e.g., anxiety or depression).
  • 46% have felt ashamed or embarrassed about being unemployed.

FINANCIALLY

  • 53% have borrowed money from family members or friends since losing their jobs.
  • 54% have reduced visits to doctor or medical treatments.
  • 47% is without health care coverage.

The Psychological Effects of Unemployment

“[U]nemployment is psychologically devastating based upon a loss of discretionary control. . . The act of choosing is severely restricted by unemployment. Attempting to solve problems with limited resources frequently means that the quality of the solution is poorer, which can engender a sense of failure and lowered self-esteem. Thus the loss of financial resources limits choices, thereby enhancing feelings of limited control over one’s life. In turn, lowered psychological health follows from this condition” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 373).

Hidden Costs of Downsizing

Many organizations believe that cutting costs via downsizing/workforce reduction (eliminating or combining related or redundant positions in order to improve cost & efficiency) is a viable option.

“Corporate downsizing has become a conventional response by contemporary organizations that find themselves burdened with economic inefficiencies. For most organizations the single biggest expense is the salaries and benefits paid to their employees. By eliminating jobs, they reduce payroll costs. By eliminating many jobs (4,000 – 10,000 jobs in some very large companies), they can save vast sums of money. But then comes the problem of getting all the work accomplished by the people who remain. Consequences of restructuring the organization may include greater use of computerization or automation of work, less oversight by supervisory/managerial personnel, greater use of overtime among hourly paid workers, and longer workweeks among salaried employees. . . Although downsizing has forced organizations to operate with greater efficiency, some organizations are discovering they cannot reclaim the productive output they had achieved with a larger workforce. In short, the loss of jobs did not strengthen their economic position but instead weakened it.” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 271).

“[D]ownsizing has negative impacts on employee morale and health, workgroup creativity and communication, and workforce quality” (Heneman & Judge, 2005, pp. 703-704).

Some hidden costs of downsizing include (Snell & Bohlander, 2013, p. 17):

  • Severance and rehiring costs
  • Accrued vacation and sick day payouts
  • Pension and benefit payouts
  • Potential lawsuits from aggrieved workers
  • The loss of institutional memory and trust in management
  • A lack of staffers when the economy rebounds
  • Survivors who are risk averse, paranoid, and focused on corporate politics

Costs of Layoffs to Companies

Layoffs are more costly than many organizations realize (Cascio & Boudreau, 2011). In tracking the performance of organizations that downsized versus those that did not downsize, Cascio (2009) discovered that, “As a group, the downsizers never outperform the nondownsizers. Companies that simply reduce headcounts, without making other changes, rarely achieve the long-term success they desire” (p. 1).

In fact, direct costs of laying off highly paid tech employees in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., were about $100,000 per layoff (Cascio, 2009, p. 12).

Companies lay off employees expecting that they would reap the economic benefits as a result of cutting costs (of not having to pay employee salaries & benefits). However, “many of the anticipated benefits of employment downsizing do not materialize” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

While it’s true that, with downsizing, companies have a smaller payroll, Cascio contends (2009) that downsized organizations might also lose business (from a reduced salesforce), develop fewer new products (because they are less research & development staff), and experienced reduced productivity (when high-performing employees leave due to lost of or low morale).

“[L]arge layoffs tend to result in a substantial decline in employee morale and commitment and a significant increase in stress. And for the bottom line, research indicates that companies with very deep layoffs underperform the market by as much as eight percent over the ensuing three years” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

When Downsizing is The Answer

Cascio notes that downsizing “can be an appropriate tool in some cases” (2009, p. 2) and that it makes sense when it’s “part of a broader workforce strategy designed to align closely with the overall strategy of the business” (2009, p. 2).

“For example, a new business strategy that pursues different products or services and new types of customers may motivate firms to lay off employees with obsolete skill sets and hire new employees with the skills to implement the revised business strategy. In this case and some others, downsizing does make sense” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

Alternatives to Downsizing

When senior leaders in the organization believe the downturn in business is permanent, instead of downsizing, Cascio (2009) suggests retraining employees to develop new lines of business. If the leaders believe the downturn in business is temporary, there are many options to cut costs (see the graphic, “Alternatives to Employment Downsizing for Temporary Downturns”). For example, popular cost-saving strategies include: Freezing or reducing hiring; Cutting travel and entertainment; Reducing pay or raises; Scaling back employee events; Conducting targeted layoffs, and so on (Cascio, 2009).

Takeaway: As professor Paul M. Muchinsky wrote (2006, p. 374), “Work provides a sense of meaning and purpose to life, and the removal of that purpose lowers the quality of life.” Downsizing is not a cost-cutting cure-all and it does not guarantee that short-term savings will surpass long-term costs. Downsizing is sometimes necessary, but it is important that organizational leaders understand and consider the short- and long-term costs, as well as the many alternatives to downsizing that are available (Cascio, 2009).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cascio, W. F. (2009). Employment Downsizing and Its Alternatives: Strategies for Long-Term Success. Alexandria, VA: SHRM Foundation.

Cascio, W. F. (2016). Managing Human Resources: Productivity, quality of Work Life, Profits (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Cascio, W. F., & Boudreau, J. (2011). Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Heneman, H. G., III, & Judge, T. A. (2005). Staffing organizations (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2013). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Luo, M. & Thee-Brenan, M. (2009, December 14). Poll reveals trauma of joblessness in U.S. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/us/15poll.html

Muchinsky, P. M. (2006). Psychology applied to work (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Newsweek. (2010, February 4). The Case Against Layoffs: They Often Backfire. http://www.newsweek.com/case-against-layoffs-they-often-backfire-75039

Riggio, R. E. (2013). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Snell, S., & Bohlander, G. (2013). Managing Human Resources (16th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

The Three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to Overcoming Failure

SEE: See mistakes as learning opportunities and see yourself not as a victim

One of my former college students shared this: “I have always seen every mistake I make as a learning opportunity in my life which provides me with less stress over the situation as well as allows my future choices to be based on more information, and gives me more options for my ultimate success.”

I think this is such a great approach to life! Some people live their lives with regret. They always look back and wonder what if they had done it differently and always ask “what if?” This student’s attitude, instead, is to learn from the mistakes she’s made and use those as teaching tools to help guide her future decision-making. I love that! Because no matter how hard we try, we can’t change our past, but we can decide what our future will be like by the choices we make today!

SURROUND: Surround yourself with positive people, positive thoughts, and positive things

Another former student shared, “Life is not easy, but a positive attitude, healthy mind and body can help all of us overcome anything.” This is spot on! At one time or another we have all had negative thoughts or felt hopeless because of the curve balls life throws at us. I think the times when I have truly “failed” were those in which I gave up mentally and told myself ok I can’t do this. From those life lessons, I learned to continually surround myself with positive people (like people who lift others up), to think positive thoughts (like being grateful), and do positive things (like being kind or helping others). Individually and collectively these things help to improve my outlook on life and direct me in a positive path toward a brighter future.

SET: Set small, bite-size goals

Early on in my academic studies, I set myself up to fail by having generic long-term goals (e.g., when I finish my Master’s I’m going to buy a new car). Success was never within reach and failure was almost always a certainty because I neglected to do what I call the daily grunt work (things like studying for my tests or doing my homework or making sure that I worked on my final paper). Because I didn’t do the “smaller” things consistently (i.e. work hard each day or each week), I spent an extra year to year-and-a-half in my Master’s program. Ouch! Painful life lesson learned the hard way!

For my PhD program, I was very mindful that, in addition to setting BIG goals (like getting my PhD), I also set SMALLER goals (the steps I need to reach my BIG goal), and I would break the smaller goals into even smaller ones (I call them “bite-size goals” – tiny, incremental steps needed to reach my small goal and eventually my BIG goal). That way, each time I reached one of these bite-size goals, I would pat myself on the back for a job well done. These tiny, gradual steps helped me stay focus and kept me on track all the way until I finished my program and completed my dissertation and defense.

So does this mean that I will never fail again? Heck no! In fact, I plan on failing. I expect to fail because I’m human. But the next time I fail, I will use the three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to help me overcome my failure and press on.

Takeaway: Failure is not fatal and it’s never final. Everybody fails. It’s just part of living a human life. The key is to get back up! Own your mistakes and learn from them so you don’t repeat them over and over. Surround yourself with positive people, think positive thoughts, and do positive things. Finally, set small, bite-size goals. Remember, you can’t change your past, but you can determine what your future will look like by the choices and actions you make today!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Book Review: Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) by Wayne Cascio and Herman Aguinis

NOTE: I am reviewing this I/O psychology textbook from a reader’s perspective (i.e., the student’s/learner’s point of view) and not from an instructor’s perspective.

Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) is the newest edition of the Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management textbook by Wayne Cascio and Herman Aguinis. The title has changed with “Talent Management” replacing “Human Resource Management.” But make no mistake, this is an I/O psychology textbook written by two authors with PhDs in industrial and organizational psychology.

Like the 7th edition (published in 2011), Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) maintains the same 18-chapter layout and continues to be written and designed for an academic/graduate-level audience. The textbook is very “academic” and “technical” — much more so than any of the other I/O psychology textbooks I have reviewed.

As a matter of fact, the authors wrote this in the book’s preface:

“In writing this book, we make two assumptions about our readers: (1) They are familiar with the general problems of HRM or I/O psychology, and (2) they have some background in fundamental statistics—at least enough to understand statistical procedures on a conceptual level, and preferably enough to compute and interpret tests of statistical significance [italics added]. As in earlier editions, our goals are (a) to challenge the field to advance rather than simply to document past practice, (b) to present a model toward which professionals should aim, and (c) to present scientific procedure and fundamental theory so that the serious student can develop a solid foundation on which to build a broad base of knowledge” (2019, p. xxviii).

Depending on your reading preference, you may either appreciate the technical writing style and scientific details of this textbook (i.e., contents are presented in a very theoretical, statistical, and psychometric nature) or not care much for it. Please understand that this is not a reflection on the substance and quality of the book itself, but it is important to point out.

I examined five topics: (1) the 80 percent rule or four-fifths rule used to determine adverse impact in employee selection [Ch. 8]; (2) recruitment [Ch. 11]; (3) cognitive ability tests in personnel selection [Ch. 13]; (4) job analysis [Ch. 9]; and (5) performance appraisal and management [Ch. 5].

The first topic, well-covered in many I/O psychology textbooks, is adverse impact and the 80 percent rule (or four-fifths rule) used to make an adverse impact determination in employee selection.

The explanation for the 80 percent rule was difficult to follow and the book did not clearly explain what the 80 percent rule actually is. Here’s the explanation (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, 181):

“[A]ssume that the applicant pool consists of 300 ethnic minorities and 500 nonminorities. Further, assume that 30 minorities are hired, for a selection ratio of SR1 = 30/300 = 10, and that 100 nonminorities are hired, for a selection ratio of SR2 = 100/500 = 20. The adverse impact ratio is SR1/SR2 = .10/.20 = .50, which is substantially smaller than the suggested .80 ratio.”

At the beginning of the book, the authors provided this confusing definition of adverse impact:

“Adverse impact (unintentional) discrimination occurs when identical standards or procedures are applied to everyone, even though they lead to a substantial difference in employment outcomes (e.g., selection, promotion, and layoffs) for the members of a particular group and they are unrelated to success on a job” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 19).

Later, in Chapter 8 (Fairness in Employment Decisions), the book provides another definition:

“[A]dverse impact means that members of one group are selected at substantially greater rates than members of another group” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 181).

The authors then spend the next few pages showing readers how to assess “differential validity,” without ever clearly explaining what it is. I know this goes back to one of the assumptions of this book about its readers, which is that they have a “background in fundamental statistics—at least enough to understand statistical procedures on a conceptual level.

In comparison, when I looked in the Aamodt (2013) I/O psychology textbook, only half a page was devoted to differential validity and the author explained the concept in one sentence!

In Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.), the authors zoomed in on differential validity (a test of fairness), and went into extreme details. Unfortunately, by going so deep into the minutiae of equations, sample size, confidence interval, and statistical power, rather than covering fairness in employment decisions more broadly, readers are left asking, “So what is the 80 percent rule in determining adverse impact, and what are all the statistics about?”

I actually found a nice explanation — in another I/O psychology textbook:

“The 80 percent rule is crude and can be affected substantially by sample sizes. With small sample sizes, a difference of one or two people might swing the conclusion from one of adverse impact to one of no adverse impact, or vice versa. As a result, most cases also include a determination of whether the challenged practice had a statistically significant impact on the plaintiff group. If the difference between the majority and minority groups is likely to
occur only 5 times out of 100 as a result of chance alone . . . then one could claim that adverse impact had been demonstrated” (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 270).

The second topic is recruitment.

“Whenever human resources must be expanded or replenished, a recruiting system of some kind must be established. Advances in technology, coupled with the growing intensity of competition in domestic and international markets, have made recruitment a top priority as organizations struggle continually to gain competitive advantage through people” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 256).

“Organizations recruit periodically in order to add to, maintain, or readjust their total workforces in accordance with HR requirements” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 257).

“Recruitment is not a ‘one-shot’ activity. It is important to recognize three contextual/environmental features that affect all recruitment efforts: (a) Characteristics of the firm—the value of its ‘brand’ and its ‘personality’ (make the effort to learn how customers and the public perceive it); (b) Characteristics of the vacancy itself (is it mission critical?)—these affect not only the resources expended on the search but also the labor markets from which to recruit; and (c) Characteristics of the labor markets in which an organization recruits (tight versus loose)” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 275).

“Three sequential stages characterize recruitment efforts: generating a pool of viable candidates, maintaining the status (or interest) of viable candidates, and ‘getting to yes’ after making a job offer (postoffer closure)” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 275).

Overall, I like Cascio and Aguinis’ coverage of recruitment.

The third topic is cognitive ability tests in personnel selection. Cognitive ability tests was placed in Ch. 13 “Managerial Selection Methods.” This is odd because cognitive ability tests are administered to prospective employees at any role or level in an organization, not just those in managerial roles.

The authors explained that, “although the emphasis of this chapter is managerial selection, many of the instruments of prediction described (most notably cognitive ability tests and personality inventories) are also useful for selecting employees at lower organizational levels” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 312).

“General cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of job performance” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 314). In fact, among researchers, there’s considerable agreement regarding the validity of cognitive ability tests. Although general cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of job performance, use of cognitive ability tests are also likely to lead to adverse impact (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).

It is recommended that cognitive ability tests be combined with other instruments, such as structured interviews, biodata, and personality inventories (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).

Despite it being awkwardly placed under a chapter titled, “Managerial Selection Methods,” Cascio and Aguinis did a good job in their coverage of cognitive ability tests.

The fourth topic is job analysis (the book used work analysis instead of job analysis). Curiously, in the 7th edition of the book, Cascio and Aguinis used “job analysis.” The authors defined “work analysis” as follows:

“Work analysis is a broad term that refers to any systematic process for gathering, documenting, and analyzing three features of work: (1) its content (tasks, responsibilities, or outputs); (2) worker attributes related to its performance (knowledge, skills, abilities, or other personal characteristics, or KSAOs); and (3) the context in which work is performed (e.g., physical and psychological conditions)” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 210).

I much prefer the definitions by Riggio or Levy:

“Job analysis is the systematic study of the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of a job and the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform it” (Riggio, 2018, p. 65).

“Job analysis is the process of defining a job in terms of its component tasks or duties and the knowledge or skills required to perform them” (Levy, 2017, p. 73).

“It is difficult to overstate the importance of job or work analysis to employment research and practice. . . [W]e see the tools and techniques developed under ‘job or work analysis’ as applicable to changing structures of work, and the use of either term is not meant to convey a focus on rigidly prescribed jobs. If conducted thoroughly and competently, job or work analysis provides a deeper understanding of individual jobs and their behavioral requirements and, therefore, creates a firm basis on which to make employment decisions” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 210).

No single type of job analysis data can support all talent management activities (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019). “When collecting work-related information, a variety of choices confront the analyst. Begin by defining clearly the purpose for collecting such information. Since the many methods for collecting such data have offsetting advantages and disadvantages, choose multiple methods that best suit the purpose identified” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 234).

As a whole, Cascio and Aguinis did a fine job discussing job/work analysis.

The fifth and final topic is performance appraisal and management.

One of the highlights of Applied Psychology in Talent Management is its outstanding coverage of performance management.

Performance management is the ongoing process of identifying, measuring, and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the organization’s strategic goals (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019). It is not a one-time event that takes place during the annual performance-review period. Rather, performance is assessed at regular intervals, and feedback is provided so that performance is improved on an ongoing basis. Performance appraisal is the systematic description of job-relevant strengths and weaknesses within and between employees or groups. It is a critical component of all performance management systems (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).

“Performance management has both technical and interpersonal components. Focusing on the measurement and technical issues to the exclusion of interpersonal and emotional ones is likely to lead to a system that does not produce the intended positive results of improving performance and aligning individual and team performance with organizational goals” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 117).

“Good performance management systems are congruent with the organization’s strategic goals; they are thorough, practical, meaningful, and specific; they discriminate between good and poor performance; and they are reliable and valid, inclusive, and fair and acceptable (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 117).

360-degree feedback systems broaden the base of appraisals by including input from self, peers, subordinates, and even clients. There are four advantages to 360-degree feedback systems: (1) 360-degree feedback result in improved reliability of information on an employee’s performance because it comes from multiple sources; (2) 360-degree feedback takes into consideration a wider range of information about performance; (3) 360-degree feedback often include information about task performance as well as contextual performance and even counterproductive work behaviors; and (4) 360-degree feedback can decrease biases since it comes from multiple sources (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).

“There is no such thing as a ‘silver bullet’ in measuring the complex construct of performance, so consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of each measurement approach in a given organizational context” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 117).

What I like: I like the “Evidence-Based Implications For Practice” section at the end of each chapter. There is a lot of great information in this textbook, but you must spend time looking for and carefully study the information because it is very, very easy to miss.

One chapter that I did not review, but appreciate is Ch. 10 Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP). SWP is “an effort to anticipate future business and environmental demands on an organization and to meet the talent requirements dictated by these conditions” (Cascio & Aguinis, 2019, p. 237).

SWP systems include several interrelated activities: Talent inventories to assess current resources (skills, abilities, promotional potential, assignment histories, etc.); and Workforce forecasts to predict future HR requirements (numbers, skills mix, internal vs. external labor supply). Combined, talent inventories and workforce forecasts help identify workforce needs that provide operational meaning and direction for action plans in many different areas (including recruitment, selection, training, placement, transfer, promotion, development, and compensation). Finally, control and evaluation to provide feedback to the workforce planning system and monitor the degree of attainment of HR goals and objectives (Cascio & Aguinis, 2011, 2019).

What I didn’t like: I have two major gripes about Applied Psychology in Talent Management. The first and biggest gripe is the verbose writing style. The authors took an inordinately long time to explain even basic concepts and somehow manages, in the end, to still confuse this reader. Simple explanations or definitions sound as though a lawyer had written them.

My second gripe, related to the first, about Applied Psychology in Talent Management is its tendency to delve too often and too deep into elaborate, scientific explanations for every single topic, which can cause readers to have trouble seeing the forest for the trees. The book often took readers so deep into tiny details of a topic that it failed to help readers see the bigger picture.

A great example illustrating this is the book’s in-depth coverage of utility analysis. Cascio and Aguinis (2019) devoted half of Ch. 14 and several pages in Ch. 16 delving into the complex details (including formulas and equations) of utility analysis. Despite the intense coverage, I was still unsure (1) what utility analysis is, and (2) why it’s important/applicable to I/O psychology.

In the Landy and Conte textbook, on one page and in 4 sentences, I found the answers to my questions of what utility analysis is and why it’s applicable (or not) to I/O psychology:

Utility analysis is a “technique that assesses the economic return on investment of human resource interventions such as staffing and training” (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 300).

“Utility analysis uses accounting procedures to measure the costs and benefits of training programs (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 300).

“A utility analysis can provide training evaluators and organizational decision makers with an overall dollar value of the training program” (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 300).

And here’s why most of the I/O psychology textbooks only briefly mention utility analysis: “To perform utility analysis, training evaluators use complex formulas that are beyond the scope of this book” (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 300).

Furthermore, Cascio and Aguinis’ decision to devote an exorbitant amount of time and attention to covering utility analysis while completely ignoring and neglecting coverage of motivation is a huge misstep. Why? Motivation is one of the most widely researched and thoroughly explored topics in I/O psychology (Levy, 2017; Riggio, 2018). Every I/O psychology textbook I examined — seven in all [Aamodt, 2013; Landy & Conte, 2013; Levy, 2017; Muchinsky, 2006; Riggio, 2018; Spector, 2017; Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016] — had a chapter dedicated to motivation.

Finally, another glaring omission is the lack of a glossary or at least definitions of terms on the side of the page. I have never seen an I/O psychology textbook not include either a glossary or definitions of terms on the side of the page, until now. Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) had neither.

Takeaway: Without question, Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) is a useful industrial/organizational psychology resource to have. However, be warned, the book’s contents and writing style are geared toward a decidedly academic audience.

The book is not fun to read, but it is helpful when you’re doing research. To be fair, the publisher’s website did state that this textbook takes “a rigorous, evidence-based approach” and the authors did write that one of the assumptions of this book is that readers possess a decent grasp of statistics.

My two biggest criticisms of this book are: (1) that it is too verbose (when simple, clear, and direct are more effective), and (2) that it often takes readers so deep into tiny, irrelevant details of a topic that it fails to help readers see the bigger picture.

Because the book follows the traditional academic writing style, it is “heavy” and makes reading and locating information difficult and tiring. If the goal of a textbook is to get students interested in a subject, doesn’t it make sense to use a writing style that is readable and not long-winded?

I/O psychology textbooks contain identical or very similar information (e.g., training and development, job analysis, employee selection, performance management, etc.), but the manner in which the material is presented can make the choice to go with one textbook over another an easy and obvious one.

For the reasons stated above, when I want to learn about any I/O psychology topic, my first choice is to turn to Paul Levy’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding The Workplace or Ronald Riggio’s Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology because of the extremely readable writing style of either textbook. If I need to conduct further research, I would then turn to more research-intensive, academically-written resources like the Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) book for a deeper dive. There’s no doubt in my mind that Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) is a useful tool to have in my I/O psychology toolbox. It’s just not my favorite or preferred tool.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2013). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2011). Applied psychology in human resources management (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2019). Applied psychology in talent management (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2013). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Muchinsky, P. M. (2006). Psychology applied to work (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Spector, P. E. (2017). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and work: Perspectives on industrial and organizational psychology. New York: Routledge.

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Applied Psychology in Talent Management (8th ed.) as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

An “Action Bias” Can Be Counterproductive

In a Wall Street Journal article, Staats (2018) writes, “we have an action bias: We would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing.”

In a 2007 study, researchers analyzed 286 professional soccer penalty kicks. They discovered that goalkeepers almost always jump right or left because the norm is to jump — a preference for action (”action bias”). The goalkeepers jumped to the left 49.3% of the time, to the right 44.4% of the time, but stayed in the center only 6.3% of the time. Analysis revealed that the kicks went to the left 32.2%, to the right 39.2% and to the center 28.7% of the time. This means that the goalkeepers were much more likely to stop a kick if they had just stayed put.

In 93.7% of the kicks, the goalkeepers elected to jump to the right or left. When goalkeepers stayed in the center, they had a 33.3% chance of stopping a penalty kick, whereas they had 14.2% chance if they jumped to the left or 12.6% chance if they jumped to the right. Even though it would have been better (based on the current distribution of kicks in the study) for the goalkeepers to stay in the center, they almost always jumped to one of the sides (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

When the researchers asked why, the goalkeepers responded that they would regret allowing a goal more if they remained in the center than if they dived to the right or left. Put it another way, the goalkeepers wanted to be seen to be doing something, even if that something was wrong (Staats, 2018).

“[G]oalkeepers feel worse about a goal being scored following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping), which can lead them to jump to the sides more often than is optimal” (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

There are two important lessons to learn from this that can be applied to the workplace. The first lesson is from FYI: For Your Improvement, a guide for coaching and development. In it, Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) remind us about being overly action-oriented, and that one consequence of overusing or over relying on an action-oriented mentality is that we tend to push for solutions without doing an adequate analysis.

The second lesson is about exercising good impulse control. The ability to think before you act, being deliberate, and surveying a situation is part of impulse control (the ability to resist or delay the impulse to act), an important factor in the Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence (Bar-On, 2006; Multi-Health Systems, 2011). Individuals who lack or are low in impulse control will often act now and think later. They tend to be overactive, impatient, and leap before they look.

Impulse control is one of the more difficult emotional intelligence skills to develop as a teenager or adult if you don’t develop it earlier on in life. This is because surrendering to our impulses is often reinforced in the short term by getting something we want, feeling a release of tension, or some other benefit (Kanoy, 2013).

“Individuals with effective impulse control, by contrast, have the capacity to think first rather than responding reflexively. It allows them mental space for weighing alternatives and assessing options so that their actions and expressions are reasoned and well considered. This leads to wise decision-making and responsible behavior” (Stein & Book, 2006, p. 206-207).

In her LinkedIn Learning video titled, “Transitioning from Manager to Leader,” Sara Canaday (a leadership speaker and executive coach), said:

“Leaders think carefully about the impact of their decisions on the company, the bottom line, the customers, the employees, even the competitors. What’s the immediate impact? What are the long-term implications and consequences? Leaders are decisive and courageous in their decision-making but they also know when to strategically pause if a delay provides an advantage. Sometimes, there’s genius in waiting [emphasis added]. For new information, for a competitor’s announcement, for a technological advance, that pause could prove to be priceless.”

Takeaway: There are times when it is absolutely critical to slow down—even stop—and understand the situation. When you do that, you’ll learn sometimes the smartest move is to actually not move at all.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O. H., Ritov, I., Keidar-Levin, Y., & Schein, G. (2007). Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(5), 606-621.

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Kanoy, K. (2013). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Multi-Health Systems. (2011). EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 User’s Handbook. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.

Staats, B. R. (2018, July 6). Don’t Just Dive Into Action: Stop to Think First. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-just-dive-into-action-stop-to-think-first-1530888843

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2006). The EQ Edge: Emotional intelligence and your success. Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Self-Actualization: Realizing Your Potential

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” -John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

When I read these lines by John Greenleaf Whittier, I imagine the sorrow and regret that he must have felt about what might have been. Even though the lines are part of Whittier’s poem about love (titled “Maud Muller”), the overarching theme of regret can be applicable to any areas of life.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian woman who spent many years working in palliative care. Her patients were those who had returned home to die. Bronnie was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. She shared what she learned about their regrets in a 2009 blog post, which was later turned into a book. The most common regret of her dying patients was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

“When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made” (Ware, 2009).

“Of all of the regrets and lessons shared with me as I sat beside their beds, the regrets of not having lived a life true to themselves was the most common one of all. It was also the one that caused the most frustration, as the client’s realisation came too late” (Ware, 2012, p. 39).

The concept of self-actualization is not new. Abraham Maslow, although he did not coin the term (that honor belongs to Kurt Goldstein), introduced to the public and made famous the notion of our human need for self-actualization. Maslow described self-actualization as follows:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualization” (Maslow, 1954, p. 46).

“[Self-actualization] refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” (Maslow, 1954, p. 46).

Self-actualization is the willingness to persistently try to improve oneself and engage in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful objectives that lead to a rich and enjoyable life (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

“Self-actualization is the process of striving to actualize one’s potential capacity, abilities and talents. It requires the ability and drive to set and achieve goals, and it is characterized by being involved in and feeling committed to various interests and pursuits. Self-actualization is thought to be a life-long effort leading to an enriched and meaningful life. It is not merely performance but an attempt to do one’s best” (Bar-On, 2006, p. 20).

“Self-actualization is affiliated with feelings of self-satisfaction. Individuals with healthy self-actualization are pleased with their place on life’s highway with respect to their personal, occupational, and financial destinations” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 76).

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger talked about the importance of self-development:

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000, p. 322).

Individuals who are skilled in self-development (1) commit to and actively work to continuously improve him/herself, (2) understand that different situations and levels may require different skills and approaches, (3) work to deploy strengths, and (4) work on compensating for weakness and limits (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000).

Jim Rohn wrote (1997, p. 263-264): “All life forms inherently strive toward their maximum potential except human beings. Why wouldn’t we strive to become all we can be, to fulfill our potentials? Because we have been given the dignity of choice. It makes us different than alligators and trees and birds. The dignity of choice makes us different than all other life forms. And here’s the choice: to become part of what we could be, enough to get by; or to become all that we can be. My best advice for you is to choose the ‘all.’”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Rohn, J. (1997). Leading an Inspired Life. Niles, IL: Nightingale-Conant Corporation.

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2011). The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (3rd ed.). Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Ware, B. (2009). Regrets of the Dying. https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/

Ware, B. (2012). The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Self-Regard: Warts & All

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional intelligence and the Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence. According to the Bar-On model, “emotional-social intelligence is a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands” (Bar-On, 2006, p. 14).

One particular factor of the Bar-On model, self-regard, has piqued my interest as I observe and reflect on human behaviors and interact with working professionals and other adults.

Self-regard is respecting oneself while understanding and accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses. Self-regard is often associated with feelings of inner strength and self-confidence (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

“Self-regard is the ability to respect and accept yourself—essentially liking the way you are. To have healthy self-regard is to appreciate your perceived positive aspects and possibilities, as well as to accept your negative aspects and limitations and still feel good about yourself . . . This conceptual component of emotional intelligence is associated with general feelings of security, inner strength, self-assuredness, self-confidence, and self-adequacy” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 68).

In The EQ Difference, Lynn (2005) describes different voices that are part of our internal dialogue. The ones that I believe apply to today’s post are the victim voice (you’re a victim, it’s never your fault), the failure voice (you’re a failure), the self-doubt voice (“a future-focused pessimist waiting to kill your tomorrow” [p. 64]), the famine voice (there never is & never will be enough), the comparison voice (compares everything with what others have), the envy voice (being jealous you don’t have what others have), and the bad luck voice (everyone else gets good luck, except you).

If you struggle with self-regard (i.e., feelings of inner strength and self-confidence), you may notice that a number of these internal “voices,” not only appear but, dominate your mind.

We all, to some extent and on some level, have one or more of these internal dialogues going on in our mind. The difference is that individuals with well-developed self-regard know their strengths and weaknesses, and still like themselves, warts and all [an expression meaning including qualities or features that aren’t attractive or appealing] (Stein & Book, 2011). And, by doing so, they’ve learned to quiet the sometimes noisy voices in their heads.

“Because individuals with healthy self-regard know their strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves, they have no trouble openly and appropriately acknowledging when they have made mistakes, are wrong, or don’t know all the answers. Feeling sure of oneself is dependent upon self-respect and self-esteem, which are based on a fairly well-developed sense of identity. People with good self-regard feel fulfilled and satisfied with themselves” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 68).

What about self-regard and leadership? Individuals with low self-regard tend to doubt their own abilities and second guess their decisions, and this doubt holds them back from effectively and confidently leading a team (Multi-Health Systems, 2014).

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger talked about the importance of self-knowledge and why knowing yourself is vital to success in work and in life:

“Deploying yourself against life and work is greatly helped by really knowing what you’re good, average and bad at, what you’re untested in, and what you overdo or overuse. Known weaknesses don’t get you in as much trouble as blind spots. You can loop around and compensate for a known weakness. A blind spot is the worst thing you can have. You can really get into performance or career trouble with a blind spot, because you don’t know or are unwilling to admit you’re not good at it” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000, p. 328).

When you like yourself—warts and all—and hold yourself in high self-regard, you know your strengths, weaknesses, and limits. You seek feedback and are able to learn from mistakes. You’re open to criticisms, receptive to discussing your shortcomings, and are not defensive (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000).

People with high self-regard, those with inner strength and self-confidence, don’t (1) blame others for their own mistakes, (2) go out of their way to hurt or discredit people, (3) feel the need to put others down to feel better about themself, or (4) inflate themselves or act like a know-it-all in order to prove their worth.

“The real champions in life are so humble and gracious. They just continue doing what they do without all the posturing. If you’ve got the real thing, you don’t have to flaunt a loud imitation.” -Denis Waitley

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2014). EQ 360 Leadership Report. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2011). The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (3rd ed.). Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Book Review – Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Paul E. Levy

Note: I initially received the textbook in an ebook format, accessible via the VitalSource website or VitalSource Bookshelf software program that you download and install. The VitalSource Bookshelf ebook platform (website and software program) was so frustrating and clumsy to use that I almost didn’t review this book. Luckily, the program manager for psychology at Macmillan Learning (publisher of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace [5th ed.]) sent me a hard/print copy. Indeed, there’s evidence supporting the use of print over digital textbooks (Alexander & Singer, 2017; Baron, 2016; Crum, 2015).

Book Review of the hard copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.):

Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) is the fifth edition of Dr. Paul E. Levy’s I/O psychology textbook. Professor Levy explained that the fifth edition is a “substantial revision with some major in-chapter structural changes and significant content-related updates, adjustments, and additions” (2017, p. xv).

Dr. Levy wrote that he “held fast to the same overriding principles in the design and writing of the fifth edition—to develop interesting, reader-friendly, current, research-based coverage of I/O psychology” (2017, p. xv).

I examined five topics: (1) training and development [Ch. 8]; (2) the 80 percent rule or four-fifths rule used to determine adverse impact in employee selection [Ch. 7]; (3) predictors used to make employee selections [Ch. 6]; (4) job analysis [Ch. 3], and (5) motivation [Ch. 9].

The first topic is training and development. Training and development is my passion and an area I’m always interested in, especially as it relates to I/O psychology and any evidence-based resources (journal articles, research studies, etc.). I really like Levy’s explanation of transfer of training: “Transfer of training is the extent to which the material, skills, or procedures learned in training are taken back to the job and used by the employee in some regular fashion. From the organization’s perspective, this principle is integral to the success of the training program” (Levy, 2017, p. 254). This is a fantastic explanation of a key component of training!

I was also pleased with the sections on training delivery and training evaluation. I was happy to see that professor Levy included a discussion about orientation training or onboarding in this chapter, under the training delivery section. “The socialization process for new employees can be very important in that it determines their first impression of the organization, supervisors, and coworkers. This is also the time when new employees learn the formal and informal rules, procedures, and expectations of the organization or work group” (Levy, 2017, p. 263).

I was delighted to find the topic of coaching also included. Levy explained that although “coaching is not considered as a training technique in many classic treatments of organizational training. [He is] discussing it in this chapter because its focus is on developing employees and helping them to get better at their jobs, which is, in large part, what training is all about. When [Levy] talk[s] to I/O practitioners about the really big issues in their organizations, [he] invariably find[s] that coaching is one of the first things they mention” (Levy, 2017, p. 264).

Another surprising gem was the mention of corporate universities. “As organizations continue to become more focused on continuous learning and the management of knowledge within the company, corporate universities should grow in importance” (Levy, 2017, p. 267).

The second topic is the 80 percent rule (or four-fifths rule) used to make an adverse impact determination in employee selection. Levy does an exceptional job explaining and covering the four-fifths rule:

“To appreciate the intricacies of employment law as it applies to I/O psychology, you need to understand adverse impact. This concept, defined in the Guidelines as the ‘80% rule of thumb,’ is the common practical operationalization of discrimination according to the courts. A selection procedure is said to exhibit adverse impact (i.e., to discriminate) against a group if the selection rate (i.e., the percentage of applicants hired) for that group is less than 80% of the selection rate for the group with the highest selection rate” (Levy, 2017, p. 223).

Professor Levy followed this great overview by explaining the 80% rule using a table showing two cases, one in which there is no adverse impact and one in which adverse impact is present. No other I/O psychology textbooks (I looked at five) provided as great an overview of adverse impact and explained the absence or presence of adverse impact using numbers and percentages in a table as well and as clearly and effectively as the Levy textbook! Only one of the textbooks, out of the five I looked at, used a table with two cases and numbers and percentages, but it was not as easy to comprehend as professor Levy’s textbook. Dr. Levy also outlined the role the four-fifths rule plays in an employment discrimination case.

At the end of Ch. 7, in a section called “Taking It to the Field,” Levy presents the readers with a scenario that requires them to recall what they’ve learned about the four-fifths rule in determining adverse impact in employee selection. This careful, and yet succinctly clear, treatment of such a critical topic in I/O psychology is to be applauded. Absolutely outstanding!

The third topic is predictors (Ch. 6) used to make employee selections. I love that Levy used the title “predictors” for the chapter. As he explained:

“Predictors are of great importance because we place so much trust in their ability to model criteria. Just as faulty criteria can result in bad organizational decisions such as firing or promoting the wrong employee, faulty predictors can result in hiring the wrong person or not hiring the right person” (Levy, 2017, p. 168).

I like that Dr. Levy divided the chapter into two major subheadings: Testing Formats (under which are Computer Adaptive Testing; Speed Versus Power Tests; Individual Versus Group Tests; Paper-and-Pencil Versus Performance Tests) and Predictors (under which are Cognitive Ability; Psychomotor Tests; Personality Tests; Integrity Tests; Work Samples; Assessment Centers).

Professor Levy did a great job discussing the importance of validity coefficient to employee selection. Validity coefficient (r) is an index of the relationship between a predictor and a criterion. Researchers and practitioners use it as evidence that a test is a good predictor of job performance (Levy, 2017).

In Table 6.5 on p. 195, Levy provides a fantastic table showing the validity coefficients for common predictors for employee selection. In that table, we can see how the different types of predictors (e.g., general cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, personality test, etc.) rank in predicting job performance. For instance, we can see right away that structured interviews are extremely effective (r=0.71) compared to unstructured interviews (r=0.20) and even cognitive ability (r=0.53 and r=0.48). We can also see that predictors such as work samples, personality tests, and emotional intelligence tests are better at predicting job performance than unstructured interviews.

The fourth topic is job analysis or “the process of defining a job in terms of its component tasks or duties and the knowledge or skills required to perform them” (Levy, 2017, p. 73).

“Although job analysis tends to receive little empirical attention, it is among the most important areas of I/O psychology, providing the foundation on which all other HR processes are built” (Levy, 2017, p. 95).

Professor Levy explained that job analysis experts categorize job analysis methods as either task-oriented or worker-oriented. “Task-oriented techniques focus on describing the various tasks that are performed on the job. Worker-oriented techniques examine broad human behaviors involved in work activities” (Levy, 2017, p. 74). Levy pointed out that “one approach is not necessarily better than the other; as a job analyst, you can choose a hybrid approach or any combination of pieces from different job-analytic techniques” (Levy, 2017, p. 74).

Levy did a nice job covering job analysis and I appreciated the outstanding figures and diagrams that provided a great visual and bird’s-eye view so readers can have a better understanding of the topic. For instance, in Figure 3.1 (p. 73), Levy provided a clear and easy-to-understand diagram showing that job analysis is comprised of job evaluation, job description, and job specifications, and how job analysis is related to other human resources functions (e.g., compensation, training, performance appraisal, selection, etc.). Another great diagram is the O*NET Content Model (Fig. 3.5, p. 79), which actually looks cleaner and better than the original O*NET Content Model found on the O*NET website!

The fifth (and final) topic is motivation, one of the most thoroughly explored topics in I/O psychology (Levy, 2017). I really like how Dr. Levy shares his own experience about what he tells companies or senior leaders when they ask him for tips to motivate their workers:

“As an I/O psychologist, I am often asked by organizational managers and executives about what can be done to improve the motivation of their workforce. One theme that I have emphasized throughout this book is the complexity of human behavior at work. This complexity explains why we need to use multiple tests (i.e., a selection battery) for employee selection and why we are fortunate if our battery accounts for 30% of the variance in performance. It also explains why even the most skilled and competent professionals are not always the best performers. Ability is an important predictor of individual performance, but so is motivation. The brightest and most skilled workers in the world will not be successful if they are not motivated to be successful” (Levy, 2017, p. 283).

Levy provided a great definition of work motivation: “A force that drives people to behave in a way that energizes, directs, and sustains their work behavior” (Levy, 2017, p. 283). I also like how professor Levy explained that motivation is an abstract concept: “Motivation is an abstract internal concept that cannot be seen, touched, or measured directly. We infer motivation from employees’ behaviors; we operationalize it by measuring behavior choice, intensity, and persistence” (Levy, 2017, p. 283). In the “Taking It to the Field” section for Ch. 9 [Motivation], Levy asks readers to apply what they’ve learned about theories of motivation in responding to an email inquiry from a client.

What I Really Like:

There are I/O Today boxes, one for each chapter in the book, that I really enjoy. The I/O Today boxes “present cutting-edge practices, current controversies, and developing theories that practitioners and researchers are grappling with now and that will continue to influence the field in the coming years” (Levy, 2017, p. xviii).

Here are the titles of all I/O Today boxes: Scientist/Practitioner Gap; Big Data; Future of Job Analysis; Performance & Disability; Technology, Performance Measurement, & Privacy; Remote Assessment for Selection; Religion in the Workplace; Gamification in Job Training; Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE); Relationship Between Unions & Job Satisfaction; PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and STSD [secondary traumatic stress disorder]; Age Diversity in Teams; Romance of Leadership; and Holacracy.

I found these boxes/sections to be very refreshing since the general public and students don’t always see the connection between how psychology is applied in the workplace and/or what connection this has with the real workplace.

For instance, in the I/O Today box/section on Big Data, Levy wrote: “One of the most important developments in I/O psychology in the past decade has been the emergence of something known as ‘Big Data,’ which refers to massive data sets (potentially millions or even billions of data points) that are rapidly accumulated and contain information on a wide assortment of variables” (Levy, 2017, p. 65).

“[B]ecause this field is so new, most graduate programs have not had time to adapt their training to help students learn how to work with Big Data. Because these data sets are so large, conventional statistical packages such as SPSS, SAS, or Excel are unable to handle the calculations. Students need to focus more heavily on programming languages such as Python and Javascript, and must think more strategically about how to present data in a way that makes sense to a lay audience” (Levy, 2017, p. 65-66).

Another interesting I/O Today box/section is titled, “Gamification in Job Training.” Professor Levy wrote: “gamification refers to the use of gaming mechanics (such as virtual worlds, leaderboards, and unlocking achievements) to train employees, and it represents an exciting new trend within the training realm. Arguably, this technique appeals to computer savvy workers and can help to motivate employees to complete training and hone their skills. Gamification as a concept is not new; for decades, academic and military institutions have often found ways to incorporate game components such as badges, achievements, and points to encourage certain learning behaviors” (Levy, 2017, p. 260).

“Gamification holds many potential benefits for employers and employees by making learning and practicing fun, but trainers must be thoughtful about when gamification is appropriate and how best to implement it” (Levy, 2017, p. 260).

Levy poses two or three thought-provoking discussion questions to engage students/learners at the bottom of each I/O Today section. He also provides references and suggestions for additional readings on the topic. These I/O Today sections are relevant, practical, and bring I/O psychology to life. Well done!

Another feature I really like is the Taking It to the Field section which follows the Summary section at the end of each chapter. These are detailed scenarios or consulting situations that require the reader/learner to analyze, evaluate, and solve a realistic I/O problem. For instance, the Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 3 is on job analysis. Levy provided some great tips for writing effective worker-oriented job descriptions and for designing possible interview questions. In the Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 7, Levy asked readers to imagine that they are responding to an email inquiry about the legality of a hiring process. More specifically, in composing their email response, they would need to recall what they had learned about the use of the four-fifths rule to determine adverse impact in employee selection. In another Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 13, readers are asked to address gender and leadership in an email inquiry from a female founder of a company which is experiencing a higher level of turnover as well as complaints from exit interviews about the lack of leadership. These scenarios are a wonderful way to engage students and get them to imagine a real-world application!

Summary: The print copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Paul E. Levy is a terrific I/O psychology textbook. The fifth edition lives up to Dr. Levy’s goal of producing a textbook that engages, excites, and instructs. The student-friendly writing style combined with fantastic charts and graphics make this book accessible and engaging. The I/O Today and Taking It to the Field sections are outstanding. They present cutting-edge practices (I/O Today) and really engage readers in analyzing, evaluating, and problem-solving realistic I/O scenarios (Taking It to the Field), helping to bring I/O psychology to real life! Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) is an excellent and important resource in the field of I/O psychology and I highly recommend it.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Alexander, P. A., & Singer, L. M. (2017, October 15). A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens. http://www.businessinsider.com/students-learning-education-print-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10

Baron, N. (2016, July 20). Do students lose depth in digital reading? https://theconversation.com/do-students-lose-depth-in-digital-reading-61897

Crum, M. (2015, February 27). Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 Studies Show Why Print Is Better. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/27/print-ebooks-studies_n_6762674.html

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Book Review: Straight Talk for Startups by Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman

NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the authors throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the authors’ words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting their intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of the authors’ work/writing.

In Straight Talk for Startups, venture capitalist Randy Komisar and finance executive Jantoon Reigersman shared the “secrets” they’ve gathered “from decades of being on both sides of the table—originally as entrepreneurs looking for advice and more recently as mentors” (p. xix). As they caution, “You must be fluent in all issues facing entrepreneurs if you hope to win” (p. xx).

From the publisher’s website for the book: Komisar and Reigersman walk budding entrepreneurs through 100 essential rules—from pitching your idea to selecting investors to managing your board to deciding how and when to achieve liquidity. Culled from their own decades of experience, as well as the experiences of their many successful colleagues and friends, the rules are organized under broad topics, from “Mastering the Fundamentals” and “Selecting the Right Investors,” to “The Ideal Fundraise,” “Building and Managing Effective Boards,” and “Achieving Liquidity.”

“From the outside, starting a company looks easy. Just wake up with an idea, tell your friends, and convince one or two people to partner up; take your pick of top-tier venture capital investors, build a product, get swarmed by offers, and sell to the highest bidder. But we know it isn’t really like that” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 269-270).

The Review: It’s actually the last sentence describing the book (for those “curious about what makes high-potential ventures tick”) that got my attention and piqued my interest. You see, I do not run, work for or have any plans for creating a startup. The closest I’ve ever come to a startup is watching entrepreneurs on TV’s Shark Tank, a reality TV show about entrepreneurship in America; the “Sharks” – tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons – invest in the best businesses and products that America has to offer.

I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who’s simply curious about how startups work.

Investopedia.com (2018) has succint and clear definitions for entrepreneur and startup.

Here’s the verbatim definition of startup from Investopedia.com: A startup is a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. Due to limited revenue or high costs, most of these small-scale operations are not sustainable in the long term without additional funding from venture capitalists.

Because Straight Talk for Startups is written as a list, it doesn’t “flow” like when reading a standard/usual business book. And since it uses a list (100 insider rules), it’s only fitting that I select a handful (one or two from each of the five parts that the book is divided into), and quote and talk about them below.

Part 1: Mastering the Fundamentals
Rule #5 (p. 13): Most failures result from poor execution, not unsuccessful innovation.

“Timimg is critical. If you are right about the market but wrong about the timing, you will fail just the same” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 13).

Komisar and Reigersman said that Steve Jobs’ underappreciated strength was his “unnancy ability to never ship a product before its time” (p. 14). They talked about how Jobs killed off the Newton project (which had been struggling for years), but kept the talented people working in the area and redirected them to target digital music, eventually leading to the iPod.

“It was a decade later that Apple introduced the iPhone, a quantum leap from the Newton. The technology and batteries were finally cost-effective, the market had been primed to carry [Apple’s] entertainment in their pocket, and, by adding a cellular radio and a clever touch interface, Jobs finally had what he needed to deliver on the promise of a connected online communicator” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 14).

Rule #18 (p. 45): Know your financial numbers and their interdependencies by heart. You might think that these rules are generic advice, but you would be wrong. Rule #18 offers a prime example of the detail-oriented wisdom shared. The authors offered a quick primer on how the financial numbers (e.g., income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, working capital schedule, debt & cash schedule) work together.

Komisar and Reigersman (2018) said that as an entrepreneur, you need “to be able to drill down into the components of each element [in the financial numbers] so you understand, for instance, why revenues have increased rapidly (more customers) but your operating margins have shrunk (discounts to accelerate sales, customers not as profitable as expected, etc.)” (p. 49).

Part 2: Selecting the Right Investors
Rule #31 (p. 80): Avoid venture capital unless you absolutely need it.

“Remember: venture capital comes at a price, in the form of a meaningful percentage of your company. . . So you have to be prepared to part with a significant portion of your company to even attract a good venture capitalist” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 80).

“Venture capitalists will impose certain controls on what you can and cannot do without their approval, such as sell the company or issue new shares” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 81).

Part 3: The Ideal Fundraise
Rule #42 (p. 110): Raise capital in stages as you remove risk.

Raise money in stages because “if you raise more money than you need in an attempt to remove the leap-of-faith risks too early, you will pay a big price. Given everything that you still have to prove and accomplish, on a risk-adjusted basis, your valuation will be too low to provide you and your team with a compelling upside after you absorb all the dilution a ‘one-and-done’ round would entail. Simply stated, you are too risky at the start to raise all the capital you need at an attractive price” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 110).

Part 4: Building & Managing Effective Boards
Rule #65 (p. 175): Your board should be operational rather than administrative.

“You want businesspeople, not bureaucrats. You want a board of strategic thinkers with strong operating backgrounds, who are willing to work hard to make your venture a success. . . They need to be informed, available, knowledgeable, and engaged” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 175).

Part 5: Achieving Liquidity
Rule #87 (p. 231): Investors’ and management’s interests in liquidity often conflict.

“Investors may argue against the sale of a venture below a certain price—even when it would provide a resctable outcome for all. They [the investors] expect a larger multiple and return on their investment and are willing to roll the dice to get more” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 231).

At the end of the book, in the Epilogue, Komisar and Reigersman shared their “Cardinal Rule” which is “Always Ask Why?”

“Know why this venture is important to you. Why it should be important to others. And, given the low probability of success for any venture, why it is nevertheless worth failing at. Of course you don’t want to fail; success is always preferable to failure. But if you fail, will you feel you wasted your time, or that you fought the good fight?” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 271-272).

I love this part:

“You don’t just dream up a company; you sweat the details and manage operations. You watch every nickel and are strategic about whom you raise it from. You lead through good times and bad. You assemble trusted advisers, coaches, and boards to keep you on track. You don’t dream it; you work it—hard” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 270).

Summary: Reading about what it takes to start and run a company, in particular the know-how and experience needed to get the job done, and gleaning from the sage advice distilled in the 100 rules, was an extraordinarily informative experience. Based on the wisdom shared by Komisar and Reigersman, anyone—not only entrepreneurs—can benefit from the tips and guidance in the rules from Straight Talk for Startups. Even if you’re not an entrepreneur or know anything about startups, if you’re just curious about what makes a startup venture work, then I think you’ll find Straight Talk for Startups to be a fascinating read.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Investopedia.com. (2018). Entrepreneur. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/entrepreneur.asp

Investopedia.com. (2018). Startup. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/startup.asp

Komisar, R., & Reigersman, J. (2018). Straight Talk for Startups. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Disclosure: I received Straight Talk for Startups as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Why Organizations Need More Star Followers and Less Yes People

Many of us miss a key point about the importance of followership. Indeed, most people hold a negative view of followership (Kelley, 2008). They can’t imagine anything good or positive that might come from the role of a follower.

However, conversations about leadership must include followership “because leaders neither exist nor act in a vacuum without followers” (Kelley, 2008, p. 5). To me, there can be no leader if there are no followers, and people will not follow you if you lack the ability to influence them to work toward a goal.

Robert E. Kelley (2008), who is credited with pioneering the concept of followership, describes five styles of followership:

1) The sheep: they’re passive and look to the leader to guide & motivate them.
2) The yes-people: they’re positive and always on the leader’s side; but also look to the leader for direction & vision.
3) The alienated: they think for themselves, but are negative; skeptical/cynical; they view themselves as mavericks.
4) The pragmatics: they’re fence straddlers; they take a wait-and-see approach; they will go where the momentum is heading.
5) The star followers: they think independently; are active & positive. They do not accept the leader’s decision without evaluating it for themselves first. If they agree with the leader, the star followers will throw their full support behind the decision. If they disagree with the leader, star followers will offer constructive options/alternatives. They are often referred to as the go-to person or the leader’s right-hand person.

Kelley (2008) wrote that one question he asks of executives is, “If you could have an ideal mix of the five followership styles in your organization, what percentage of each style would you prefer?” He’s often amazed at how leaders say they want all yes-people.

“Their reasons are that (1) yes-people are “doers” who are willing to do the grunt work and who get the job done with little fuss; (2) yes-people have limited aspirations and will neither pressure the leader for promotions nor quit for better jobs elsewhere; and (3) yes-people are loyal and dependable” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

Kelley said it is rare to find leaders who prefer all “star followers.”

“Most executives fear that they can neither keep star followers challenged by the job nor satisfied with their role in the organization. They believe that star followers will grow bored and disillusioned, seeking greener pastures and leading to high turnover” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

Ironically, it is the star followers who help the organization perform better and more efficiently. In fact, we can make a very strong case that, “organizations with more star followers perform better because the star followers need not depend on the leader for direction or motivation. This reduces the transaction costs that hinder organizational success” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Reference

Kelley, R. E. (2008). Rethinking Followership. In R. E. Riggio, I. Chaleff, & J. Lipman-Blumen (Eds.), The art of followership (pp. 5-15). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

GROW Coaching Model: The Fascinating Backstory

One of the most popular coaching models in the world is the G.R.O.W. Model (Whitmore, 2017). GROW is one of the earliest (perhaps even the original) business coaching models.

THE INNER GAME and THE BIRTH OF MODERN COACHING

Tim Gallwey and his Inner Game method are credited for giving birth to modern-day coaching (Whitmore, 2017). Gallwey’s Inner Game approach was extremely influential to the developers of the GROW Model. In fact, according to the late Sir John Whitmore, “All the leading exponents of business coaching today graduated from this [Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game business (tennis & skiing training)] and have been profoundly influenced by the Gallwey school of coaching” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 15).

The Inner Game approach is simple (Gallwey, 2018): By quieting self-interference, we are more able to tap into our natural abilities with greater ease. It is about overcoming the self-imposed obstacles that prevent us from accessing our full potential.

Gallwey (2008) said we don’t reach peak performance because our Self 1 (the teller/the ego-mind) is constantly thinking, judging, worrying, fearing, regretting, and being distracted and this interferes with the natural capabilities of our Self 2 (the doer/the physical body, including brain, memory bank & nervous system). “It is the constant ‘thinking’ activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when this mind is quiet and focused. Only then can peak performance be reached” (Gallwey, 2008, p. 14).

The Inner Game is “the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance” (Gallwey, 2008, p. xvii).

“The Inner Game approach suggests that humans can not only achieve the outcomes they commit themselves to but can do so in a way that is fulfilling to them, and learn in the process. I [Tim Gallwey] call this capacity Mobility. The coach’s role is to facilitate the mobility of the client, whether individual or in a team, by increasing awareness, choice and trust. In short, this enables the client to be more conscious in thought and action while being hampered less by unconscious habits that interfere.” (https://www.coaching-at-work.com/2010/04/26/inside-out/)

JOHN WHITMORE, THE INNER GAME, and “COACHING”

John Whitmore provided some context to his relationship with Tim Gallwey, Inner Game, and the decision to use the word “coaching” rather than “Inner Game” in their coaching:

“I trained with Tim and, under license, I started the Inner Game organization in England, which in the first instance was not a business at all, it was a ski school and a tennis school, and that was all I was interested in. Very quickly, business people who came on our ski courses recognized how valuable this could be for business . . .” (Mura, 2003, p. 108).

“[Q]uite early on we recognized that there was a problem with the name, the Inner Game, because it sounded like some sort of American cult, something limited. So we wanted to use a generic term that described it more broadly, and that’s why we chose the word ‘coaching’” (Mura, 2003, p. 108).

In fact, when Whitmore and his colleagues “introduced coaching into business four decades ago, the word [coaching] was new in that context. . .” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 15-16).

THE 3 CO-DEVELOPERS OF THE ORIGINAL GROW MODEL

Many people don’t realize that three people were involved in developing the GROW model in the mid- to late-1980s: John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine (Fine, 2018).

According to the InsideOut Development [Alan Fine’s company] website (2018) and email communications between the CEO of InsideOut Development [Fine’s company] and Sir John Whitmore, Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine co-created the original G.R.O.W. Model (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

As Whitmore recalled, they were already using the GROW sequence, just not giving it a name: “Some early UK coaches, including me [John Whitmore], had been using the GROW chronological sequence for some time before it was given that name. A staff member at a client site where Graham Alexander and I [Whitmore] were working wanted a metaphorical word to represent that sequence. The staff member suggested ‘GROW’, and we adopted it” (Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013, p. 245).

In the foreword to the book, Best Practice in Performance Coaching (Wilson, 2007), Whitmore explained: “I was just the first person to publish it [the GROW Model], in my book Coaching for Performance. It [The GROW Model] originally emerged in a discussion between several coaches with whom I was working at the time, including Graham Alexander, in the McKinsey office in London . . .” (p. xi).

I asked Alan Fine via email, “Were you one of the coaches that Whitmore was talking about when he said that the GROW Model originally emerged in a discussion between himself and several coaches?”

Here is Alan Fine’s response (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018): “I would think I was I can’t imagine who else he might be referring to. I would also make a distinction between the four-step model and the labels of the steps. My memory of it is that the four-step model emerged over time during our work at McKinsey and the labels of GROW were first devised by one of McKinsey’s communication specialists.”

The Performance Consultants website, co-founded by the late Sir John Whitmore, recounted the history of the GROW Model and how McKinsey, the renowned management consultancy, played a key role in asking Whitmore and his colleagues to come up with a coaching framework — which they did (Performance Consultants, 2015):

“In 1986 the management consulting firm McKinsey became their client. Many of the programmes they ran for McKinsey included experiential coaching work on tennis courts. The coaching was so successful at improving performance and unlocking potential that McKinsey asked them to come up with an underpinning framework of coaching – a model on which to hang what was happening on the courts and elsewhere in the programmes.

“So they videoed themselves and their colleagues coaching, they invited neurolinguistic programming (NLP) experts to look at what they did, they debriefed to try to discover what was happening and whether there was a model that played out in their unconscious competence. And yes, there was – whether on the tennis court or in a business setting.

“The acronym GROW came out of the four key stages they identified: Goal, Reality, Options, Will. They bounced it and a few other ideas off an internal communications person at McKinsey who said GROW would fly well, and liked it because it was simple and because it was actions and outcome focused.”

FYI: This story also appears in the 5th edition of Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance (2017) book on pages 97-98.

VARIATIONS OF THE GROW MODEL

According to Fine, shortly after he, Whitmore, and Alexander developed the GROW Model, they all went their separate ways, each utilizing his own approach to the GROW Model. For all major iterations of the G.R.O.W. Model, the first three letters are the same: “G” is the “Goal” the individual seeks to achieve; “R” is the “Realities” a person should consider in the context of the decision process; and “O” is the “Options” open to the decision maker (Fine, 2018). Only the last letter, “W”, is interpreted differently. John Whitmore defined it as “Will” (Whitmore, 2017), Graham Alexander defined it as “Wrap-up” (Alexander & Renshaw, 2005), although he also used “Wrap-up/way forward” (Alexander, 2006), and Alan Fine defined it as “Way Forward” (Fine, 2010).

As explained on the InsideOut Development (Fine’s company) website: “The Way Forward makes the decision process something tangible and actionable, where it becomes very clear to the person making the decision what should happen next,” Fine says. “In the absence of motivating clarity,” he argues, “people simply don’t take action.”

OUT OF THE STRUGGLE CAME “GROW”

Who would have thought that the backstory of the GROW Model included McKinsey, the management consulting firm? Just as interesting was that Whitmore and his colleagues tried to fit their model into McKinsey’s 7S Framework and, initially, called their early work the “7S Coaching Model” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97). But this proved “tortuous” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97). “In the end, [they] came up with the acronym GROW for the four key stages [they] identified” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97).

CONFIRMING THE 3 CO-DEVELOPERS of GROW

Alan Fine, on his website, wrote that the GROW Model “was the result of the collaborative efforts of all three individuals,” meaning Fine, Whitmore, and Alexander. After contacting Alan Fine via email, I was able to confirm this after he forwarded me email communication in 2009 between John Whitmore and the InsideOut Development CEO acknowledging that the G.R.O.W. Model was, indeed, jointly developed by John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

Whereas Alan Fine credited and mentioned both John Whitmore and Graham Alexander in his book (You Already Know How to Be Great) and on his website, neither John Whitmore nor Graham Alexander mentioned Alan Fine in any of their writings or interviews (that I could find). Whitmore and Alexander acknowledged one another as co-developers but, curiously, they never mentioned Alan Fine, even though, according to Fine, the three of them worked together for three years. As Fine explained, “The three [Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine] worked together for three years in the early 1980s before co-developing the G.R.O.W. Model.”

It was challenging to investigate the backstory of how the GROW Model came to be developed. I was very curious after reading about the history of the GROW Model on Alan Fine company’s website and learning about Fine’s claim of being one of the three co-developers. But I could not find anything from either Whitmore or Alexander to confirm this. So I reached out to Alan Fine via email and received his response about two weeks later (which included email messages from the CEO of Fine’s company to the CEO of John Whitmore’s company, and John Whitmore’s reply). In his email response (dated July 14, 2009) to Kim Capps, CEO of InsideOut Development, Sir John Whitmore wrote (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018):

“I have no disagreement with the historical circumstances as now described in the first two paragraphs [of InsideOut Development’s History and Intellectual Property Rights (Related to the G.R.O.W. Model)”*].

*Note: InsideOut had emailed a GROW Model description to Whitmore’s company which stated that “The original G.R.O.W. model was created over twenty years ago in the UK by three individuals–John Whitmore, and Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine . . . The model was the result of the collaborative efforts of all three individuals, resulting in each having joint interest in the work . . . There was an informal understanding between the three of them that each would have equal ability to work with the original model but that no single person would claim any more credit or ownership of the basic original model than the others.”

This explanation from Fine’s website sums it up well:

“The three [Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine] parted ways with an understanding between them that each would have equal ability to work with the original model, but that no one would claim any more credit or ownership of the original model than the others. Because of that understanding, the three individuals were less aggressive, individually and collectively, than they could have been in protecting their early work.”

CURIOUSLY

John Whitmore’s book, Coaching for Performance (where he outlined the GROW Model) has now been published five times [1st ed. 1992; 2nd ed. 1996; 3rd ed. 2002; 4th ed. 2009; 5th ed. 2017]. However, he never mentioned Graham Alexander or Alan Fine as co-developers of the GROW Model. On the Acknowledgement page in the first, second, and third editions of the book, Whitmore did mention them, but by name only, never crediting them as co-developers of the GROW Model. And, in the fourth and fifth editions, there is no mention whatsoever of either Graham Alexander or Alan Fine.

THE MCKINSEY COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST

The most interesting piece of information I discovered in my research on the history of the GROW Model was that although Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine had been using their four-step sequence for some time, the actual label (“GROW”) to their model came about through their work with McKinsey, and more precisely, a McKinsey communications specialist (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018; Performance Consultants, 2015; Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013).

“Some early UK coaches, including me [John Whitmore], had been using the GROW chronological sequence for some time before it was given that name. A staff member at a client site [McKinsey] where Graham Alexander and I [Whitmore] were working wanted a metaphorical word to represent that sequence. The staff member suggested ‘GROW’, and we adopted it” (Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013, p. 245).

“[T]he labels of GROW were first devised by one of McKinsey’s communication specialists” (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Alexander, G. (2006). Behavioural coaching — the GROW model. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: The industry guide (2nd ed., pp. 83-93). London: Kogan Page.

Alexander, G., & Renshaw, B. (2005). SuperCoaching: The Missing Ingredient for High Performance. London, UK: Random House.

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. New York: Penguin Group.

Fine, A. (2018). IP GROW Model InsideOut Development. https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/ip-grow-model/

Fine, A. (2018). What is the GROW Model. InsideOut Development. https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/what-is-the-grow-model/

Gallwey, W. T. (2018). About Tim Gallwey. http://theinnergame.com/about-tim-gallwey/

Gallwey, W. T. (2008). The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance. New York: Random House Trade Paperback.

Mura, A. (2003). Coaching for Performance: A Conversation with Sir John Whitmore Interview Conducted by Agnes Mura. International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 1(4), 107-116.

Performance Consultants (2015). The GROW Model. https://www.performanceconsultants.com/grow-model

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership (5th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Whitmore, J., Kauffman, C., & David, S. A. (2013). GROW Grows Up: From Winning the Game to Pursuing Transpersonal Goals. In S. David, D. Clutterbuck, and D. Megginson (Eds.), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring (pp. 245-260). Farnham, Surrey: Gower Publishing.

Wilson, C. (2007). Best Practice in Performance Coaching: A Handbook for Leaders, Coaches, HR Professionals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page.

The G.R.O.W. Model In Business Coaching – Simple, Concise, and Powerful


Business coaching is enhancing a client’s (person in a business) awareness and behavior in order to achieve business objectives for both client and organization (WABC, Business Coaching Definition). In my quest for a capable business coaching model (business coaching includes leadership coaching and executive coaching), I have spent several years looking at many coaching models. Some models are overly complex while others are very basic.

Sir John Whitmore wrote (2009): “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (p. 10).

“[T]here are no quick fixes in business, and good coaching is a skill, an art perhaps, that requires a depth of understanding and plenty of practice if it is to deliver its astonishing potential” (Whitmore, 2009, p. 2).

I began looking at coaching models during my industrial and organizational psychology doctoral program and came across many books on coaching. After years of searching and seeing what made sense, I eventually returned (very much to my surprise) to the original, wildly popular and widely used, G.R.O.W. coaching model.

John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine all worked together and, in the mid- to late-1980, they co-developed the G.R.O.W. Model (Fine, 2018). Shortly after, the three went their separate ways, each one using his own approach to/version of the G.R.O.W. Model.

For all major iterations of the G.R.O.W. Model, the first three letters are the same: “G” is the “Goal” the individual seeks to achieve; “R” is the “Realities” a person should consider in the context of the decision process; and “O” is the “Options” open to the decision maker (Fine, 2018). It is only the last letter, “W”, that has been interpreted differently. John Whitmore defined it as “Will” (Whitmore, 2009), Graham Alexander defined it as “Wrap-up” (Alexander & Renshaw, 2005), although he also used “Wrap-up/way forward” (Alexander, 2006), and Alan Fine defined it as “Way Forward” (Fine, 2010).

G.R.O.W. (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward) is a simple 4-step process. The coach helps the coachee (person being coached) articulate a concise goal (Goal). Next, the coachee describes his current situation (Reality). This is followed by brainstorming options (Options) and next steps. Finally, the coachee identifies and selects one or more options to use in an action plan (Way Forward).

Throughout my years-long coaching model vetting process, two questions I asked were: (1) Will this model be easy enough for me to use when coaching clients? (2) Will I be able to use this model to teach leaders so they can use it to coach their employees?

For me, the desire to address both question #1 (Is this model easy enough to use when coaching clients?) and question #2 (Can I use this model to teach leaders, so they can use it to coach their employees?) were paramount in my decision. Many coaching models sufficiently answer question #1. That is, most of the models are easy enough to use to coach others, whether the model uses a 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, or 7-step process. However, where many coaching models disappoint is in trying to answer question #2. When I pose the question — Can I use this model to teach leaders a simple process so they can use it to coach their employees? — many models could not deliver.

I also considered a third question: Does the coaching model follow a traditional coaching process that takes 6 – 12 sessions to complete or a rapid process that can be done in one or two coaching sessions? Indeed, it is the answer to this third question that made me completely rethink “coaching.” In order to adapt to the demands of an increasingly busy workplace and workforce, I needed a coaching model and process that could be delivered on-the-spot — in one or two conversations or meetings.

John Whitmore’s G.R.O.W. (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) contains 8 to 13 questions for each of the step in the model (Whitmore, 2012). But I prefer Alan Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model [covered in his book, You Already Know How to Be Great (2010)], which has 3 to 6 questions for each step. I also like the questions assigned to each of the G.R.O.W. steps in the Fine version.

I used Alan Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model to coach a new leader in two sessions (1 hour the first session, 1.5 hours the second session), plus one debriefing session (30 minutes). The coaching experience with this leader confirmed several things. First, Fine’s G.R.O.W. model is very easy to use. Second, Fine’s G.R.O.W. model can be used to teach a leader, so s/he can turn around and use it to coach his/her employees. Third, the entire process is surprisingly brief, lasting just 2.5 sessions.

Within that time frame, I was able to work with the leader to: clarify his goal for the session (Goal); describe his current situation (Reality); explore potential actions and next steps (Options); and identify a specific action as his next step (Way Forward) — demonstrating that, as a business coaching model and process, the GROW Model is very simple to use and understand (for both coach & coachee), effective yet brief, practical, and able to be delivered on demand and even as a self-coaching process (coaching yourself).

Clients answer a group of questions for each of the steps of the G.R.O.W. Model. Step #1 is Goal, Step #2 is Reality, Step #3 is Options, and Step #4 is Way Forward. The coach and coachee go through the steps and the questions that fall under each step in order, starting with Step #1. It’s important to not introduce clients to all the GROW questions at once because it can cause them to answer the questions in a cursory manner, rushing through their responses instead of really thinking about the question and allowing themselves time to process each question and formulate a response.

Although it’s recommended that you follow each of the GROW steps sequentially, starting with Step 1: Goal and ending with Step 4: Way Forward, in practice, there may be times where you have to adjust. John Whitmore explained this in his book, Coaching for Performance (2009): “[O]ne may only be able to define a vague goal until one has examined the reality in some detail. It will then be necessary to go back and define the goal much more precisely before moving forward again. Even a sharply defined initial goal may be recognized to be wrong or inappropriate once the reality is clear” (pp. 56-57).

For example, for my client, the overall goal for the session (Step #1 Goal) finally solidified in the middle of Step #2 (Reality). For this client, the topic did not become clear until after he’s had a chance to talk about what was currently happening at work and what he had tried so far. So, even though he responded to a question in Step 2, it actually made more sense to place his response in Step 1, to a question about the topic/goal of the discussion. Remember, it’s okay to be flexible and make adjustments to help clients make sense of the GROW framework. To verify, I asked my client if there was anything that did not make sense or that did not match up with what he wanted to say.

A unique question in Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model that stands out and one that I like is a question in Step #3 Options phase (“Would you like suggestions from me?”). A word of caution: If this question is not handled properly, the coach can very easily end up doling out advice and completely derail the purpose of coaching. What I like about this question is that it allows the coach an opportunity to share some suggestions and then check in to see if any of the suggestions seems interesting enough to explore further. This can be invaluable, especially when clients are at their wits’ end and no amount of open-ended questions will help to stimulate their creative ideas. In my coaching session, because of my rapport with this new leader and thanks to a previously administered personality assessment, I knew that my real contribution to him would be to offer some practical suggestions. The client told me that my suggestions were “all spot on” and that he agreed with them.

In our debriefing session, this leader stated that he likes that the GROW process is compact, simple, and straightforward and that these characteristics of GROW will help when he introduces his team to it. He especially appreciated my explanation of the GROW Model as a decision framework and said, “decision framework feels very liberating,” unlike the term “goal setting” which is becoming stale.

Finally, here’s an interesting tidbit — the G.R.O.W. framework also happens to be “one of the tools Google uses to teach [its] managers about coaching conversations” (re:Work with Google: Coach with the GROW model).

Takeaway: Overall, the G.R.O.W. Model (in particular, Alan Fine’s version) is a very capable business coaching model. From my own vetting process, it meets all three of the criteria on my list: (1) The G.R.O.W. Model is very easy to use to coach others; (2) The G.R.O.W. Model is remarkably simple and can be effectively used to teach a leader so s/he can use it to coach his/her own employees; and (3) The G.R.O.W. Model is powerful, yet concise enough that it can be completed in one or two coaching sessions.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Alexander, G. (2006). Behavioural coaching — the GROW model. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: The industry guide (2nd ed., pp. 83-93). London: Kogan Page.

Alexander, G., & Renshaw, B. (2005). SuperCoaching: The Missing Ingredient for High Performance. London, UK: Random House.

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. New York: Penguin Group.

Fine, A. (2018). What is the GROW Model. InsideOut Development. https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/what-is-the-grow-model/

re:Work with Google. (2018). Coach with the GROW model. https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/managers-coach-managers-to-coach/steps/coach-with-the-grow-model/

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Whitmore, J. (2012). The GROW Model. Performance Consultants International. https://www.performanceconsultants.com/wp-content/uploads/GROW-Model-Guide.pdf

Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) (2018). Business Coaching Definition. https://www.wabccoaches.com/includes/popups/definition.html

Book Review – Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results

Servant Leadership in Action is a collection of 42 essays (ranging from 2.5 pages to 8 pages) from servant leadership experts and practitioners, co-edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell. The book is organized into six parts. Part One, “Fundamentals of Servant Leadership,” describes basic aspects of servant leadership. Part Two, “Elements of Servant Leadership,” highlights some of the different points of view of servant leaders. Part Three, “Lessons in Servant Leadership,” focuses on what people have learned on a personal level from observing servant leadership in action. Part Four, “Exemplars of Servant Leadership,” features people who have been identified as classic servant leaders. Part Five, “Putting Servant Leadership to Work,” offers firsthand accounts of people who have made servant leadership come alive in their organizations. Part Six, “Servant Leadership Turnarounds,” illustrates how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations.

I wasn’t sure if this would be the kind of book I would enjoy or find value in because it’s a collection of essays. But the topic of servant leadership has been top of mind for me for the past few years, so I thought I’d give this book a chance and hopefully glean some useful information about servant leadership and its application to the workplace.

Even though Robert Greenleaf (1904–1990) is credited with launching the modern servant leadership movement in 1970, the idea behind servant leadership is very old. Valeri (2007), in his doctoral dissertation, wrote that the origins of servant leadership can be traced back at least 2500 years ago, starting in ancient Greece and Rome. Robert Greenleaf was the person who coined the term “servant leadership” and articulated it for modern time (Greenleaf.org, 2016; Keith, 2018; Spears, 1998).

Greenleaf’s thinking was inspired by and made clear in the 1960s thanks to a short novel called Journey to the East by Herman Hesse. It’s a story about Leo, a servant who accompanied a group of people on a spiritual quest. Everything was fine until Leo disappears, which then led to the group falling apart and the journey abandoned. The people in the group learned that they couldn’t make it without the servant. After years of searching, the story’s narrator finally locates Leo and finds out that Leo, whom everyone had thought to be a servant, was, in fact, the head of the religious order that sponsored the original journey (Spears, 1998).

“After reading this story, Greenleaf concluded that the central meaning of it was that the great leader is first experienced as a servant to others, and that this simple fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others” (Spears, 1998, p. 4).

I thought a background explanation about servant leadership from Blanchard in the first essay (“What Is Servant Leadership?”) is important:

“When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused . . . The problem is that these folks don’t understand leadership—much less servant leadership. They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two parts to servant leadership: a visionary/direction, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership; and an implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership.” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 7).

“Once people are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the second aspect of servant leadership. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the established goals? Implementation is where the servant aspect of servant leadership comes into play” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 9-10).

I am not a huge fan of edited books because the ones I’ve come across do not gel well together. Edited books can be messy and difficult to read when different authors and writing styles are thrown together with no editorial oversight to ensure consistency in tone and/or message. I was pleased to see that this didn’t happen with Servant Leadership in Action. The editing was well done and reading the chapters, written by different authors, felt seamless, almost as if written by the same person. This is no easy feat to achieve and I commend Blanchard and Broadwell for the great job co-editing this book.

The essays by Colleen Barrett (president emeritus, Southwest Airlines), Cheryl Bachelder (former CEO, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen), Dave Ramsey (a money management expert & author), Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (CEO, Lead Like Jesus), and Jon Gordon (author) were all enjoyable and instructive. I also liked and found great value in Rico Maranto’s essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”) about how top leaders can make servant leadership come alive.

In her essay, “Treat Your People as Family,” Colleen Barrett wrote about the incredible impact that servant leadership had on the 40+ years of success at Southwest Airlines. Admittedly, she shared that they didn’t know until much later on that it was called that. “But while our recognition of the term Servant Leadership might have come late, for over four decades Herb and I have said that our purpose in life as Senior Leaders with Southwest Airlines is to support our People. To us, that means treating People as family” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 183).

Colleen recalled a fabulous story that one of Southwest’s new leaders told her about his best example of a servant’s heart, which he saw Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest Airlines) model.

“He watched Herb talk to a Mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—even though there were literally hundreds of People circling Herb for his attention. Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear to this new Leader that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him. That had a profound impact on this Leader, and he remembers it to this day. He has been with us more than twenty years now” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 187).

In Cheryl Bachelder’s “Serve the People” essay, she shared about the transformation at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, from a struggling brand and company to a prosperous enterprise. I really like what Cheryl wrote:

“When this story began, we didn’t know it would be servant leadership that drove success. We didn’t have a plaque in the office that stated our purpose and principles. What we did have was a team of leaders who were willing to focus their passion and ambition on the success of the people and the enterprise before their own interests” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

From 2007 to 2016, under Bachelder’s leadership, Popeyes flourished, “with restaurant sales, profits, and unit growth rates that were the envy of its competitors” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

In his essay (“Leading is Serving”), Dave Ramsey shared the lesson he taught his teenage son about the heavy responsibility of being a servant leader. Ramsey explained to his son (as they were walking toward Dave Ramsey’s company’s picnic) that as president and CEO of the company, he bears the responsibility to not just the employees of his company (the adults) but also to those employees’ children (the 97 kids seen running around the picnic): “Those kids’ parents make a living, have a future, and those kids have a future partly because of how I act. If I misbehave in my personal life, if I fail in areas of integrity, if I screw up, it will mess up a ton of lives. As a servant leader, I understand that I am at least partially responsible for those little kids” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Ramsey took it a step further. He told his son that, even as a teenager, the son also bore the responsibility of being a servant leader, that “if he went out and acted crazy, he could impact those kids’ lives” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197) too. For instance, if the son were to get drunk, drive, and kill someone, the family would get sued and some of the employees working for his dad’s company might have to be let go. “As my son, he gets to enjoy the benefits of our success, but he also shares in the responsibility of servant leadership. He needed to know, even as a teenager, that the decisions he makes and the actions he takes have an impact” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Some of the essays really touched me. One such essay was by Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (“A Lesson From My Father”) about how her father, a pastor, taught her, when she was eight years old, “the simple act of caring for someone and how serving people changes everything—literally” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 117). She recounted the many Saturday morning visits to the home of “a crotchety old man” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) whose “wrinkles met in odd places around his face” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) and how you can serve and meet people where they’re at. The simple and consistent act of visiting this grumpy old man every Saturday morning eventually led him to change his crabby ways — smiling a lot more and hugging them, and eventually introducing both Phyllis and her father to others as his “good friends.” The essay was about how this old man came to accept Jesus, but the way Hendry told the story, through the eyes and experience of herself as an 8-year-old girl, made it very powerful and its servant leadership lesson applicable in many areas.

Jon Gordon shared an emotional story in his essay (“Little Things and Big Things”) about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer:

“Looking back, I realize she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and servant leadership were all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well . . . We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 134).

Finally, in his essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”), Rico Maranto (Servant Leadership Evangelist at Waste Connections) wrote about how senior leaders at Waste Connections made servant leadership come alive by: (1) introducing a vision, purpose, and values, (2) conducting servant leadership training, (3) distributing a servant leader newsletter, (4) distributing a servant leader survey, (5) creating a Servant Leader Playbook, (6) creating servant leadership awards, (7) getting self-serving leaders off the bus, and (8) hiring for character.

Rico shared a great story and perfect example of what it is to live a servant leadership mentality and culture:

“One of the company’s division vice presidents (DVPs) had been recognized two consecutive years at the annual managers’ meeting and seemed to build good relationships with his employees. He achieved impressive results and spoke like a servant leader when talking with senior leadership. Everyone thought he was a good servant leader—everyone but his employees. In their servant leader surveys, they described a very different manager—one who was egotistical and hypocritical” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

When that division vice president’s true character came to light, Rico recounted that Ron Mittelstaedt, CEO and Founder of Waste Connections, said this:

“Servant leadership isn’t about worrying up; it’s about worrying down. It’s not about what your boss thinks of you; it’s about what your people think of their boss. If we have a cancer in our culture, we have to cut it out” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

What I Did Not Like: In a few of the essays, I was unconvinced that the authors effectively or at least cogently tied their thoughts and previous work to servant leadership in their essays. When authors toss their writings in without fully thinking through and making a strong case for how their work connects or is related to servant leadership, then their essays came across as disorganized ramblings.

Takeaway: I found Servant Leadership in Action to be an enjoyable collection of essays that kept me interested in the subject of servant leadership regardless of where I was in the book. Blanchard and Broadwell did a nice job setting up the book’s structure and dividing the essays into six parts/sections, starting with describing the basic aspects of servant leadership and ending with showing the readers how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations. The essays are interesting and varied enough that you can skip around, reading what interests you, and still learn about servant leadership. If you like reading about servant leadership and do not mind a sprinkle of religious stories, then I think you will really enjoy this book.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Blanchard, K., & Broadwell, R. (2018). Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Greenleaf.org [Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership]. (2016). Robert K. Greenleaf. Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/robert-k-greenleaf-biography/

Keith, K. M. (2018). Definition of Servant Leadership. Retrieved from toservefirst.com/definition-of-servant-leadership.html

Spears, L. C. (1998). The power of servant leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Valeri, D. P. (2007). The origins of servant leadership (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from www.greenleaf.edu/pdf/donald_valeri.pdf

Disclosure: I received Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits and Challenges

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits

When you work in close proximity to other people in an organization, it’s inevitable that friendships begin to develop. Morrison and Terry (2007) wrote that “people are motivated to make friends for the rewards they provide, be they social or more tangible and functional. Thus within the workplace too, it is reasonable to assume that some people make friends so as to enhance their own working conditions” (p. 39).

Workplace friendship involves a workplace/organizational peer that we believe we’d be friends with even if we didn’t work together, that we consider the person more than just a coworker, and that we feel that we know each other really well (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Reich & Hershcovis (2011) wrote that workplace friendships are voluntary relationships where people interact as unique individuals rather than as occupants of organizational roles (coworker or supervisor). We form and maintain workplace friendships to enhance our social support and our job success. But most of all, we make friends at work to help us satisfy our need to belong (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Workplace friendships are linked to increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, organizational commitment, and decreased intentions to turnover (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Interestingly, Morrison (2009) discovered that while women are more likely to see workplace friendships in terms of the social and emotional support in times of stress, men tend to view workplace friendships in terms of the benefits to their own career or in helping them complete a task or the job duties.

Workplace Friendships: The Challenges

Although the benefits of workplace friendships are many, there are also difficulties or challenges, including blurring of boundaries, having to devote time to the friendship, and distraction from work — all of which can cause distraction and anxiety, ultimately resulting in reduced work outputs (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Workplace friendships fail for five main reasons (Sias, Heath, Perry, Silva, & Fix, 2004):

  1. problem personality
  2. distracting life events
  3. conflicting expectations
  4. promotion
  5. betrayal

Personality and life events can end a workplace friendship when they distract employees from their work. Betrayal can certainly destroy a workplace friendship. It makes sense that after a betrayal, it can be very difficult to regain trust. In the case of promotion, it becomes much harder to maintain an equal relationship balance because now one person (the promoted individual) has formal authority over the other.

Workplace Friendships: Tricky but Worth It

Seppala and King (2017) explained there’s always the potential of workplace friendship fallout and there are “real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred.” However, given that belonging is a fundamental human need and that we spend a large part of our time at work, the workplace “is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Morrison, R. L. (2009). Are Women Tending and Befriending in the Workplace? Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Workplace Friendships and Organizational Outcomes. Sex roles, 60(1),

Morrison, R. L., & Terry, N. (2007). Too Much of a Good Thing?: Difficulties with Workplace Friendships. University of Auckland Business Review, 9(2), 33-41.

Reich, T. C., & Hershcovis, M. S. (2011). Interpersonal relationships at work. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 223-248). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seppala, E., & King, M. (2017, August). Having Work Friends Can Be Tricky, but It’s Worth It. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/having-work-friends-can-be-tricky-but-its-worth-it

Sias, P. M., Heath, R. G., Perry, T., Silva, D., & Fix, B. (2004). Narratives of workplace friendship deterioration. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(3), 321–340.

Book Review: Awaken, Align, Accelerate by MDA Leadership

Awaken, Align, Accelerate (2011) is a leadership development and coaching guide from MDA Leadership Consulting. The book harnesses “the art and science of developing leaders into a unique collection of self-assessments, development suggestions, case studies, sample leadership development plans, coaching recommendations, and cross-cultural coaching tips” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1).

MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate is a big book. But once you flip through its brawny pages and are able to easily spot valuable information on each page (thanks to the great use of colors, bullets, and charts), I think you’ll agree that the book’s hefty size is an advantage. I actually appreciate its large size.

The overall layout (i.e., visuals, colors, graphics, tables, and charts), especially the use of colors to call out specific sections/areas on each page, is praiseworthy as it really helps to visually direct your eyes to important or interesting areas. For example, the tabs are nicely colored in blue so you can easily tell which competency you’re on and, on the back page (of each blue tab/competency), you’ll notice a gray tab which is the leadership factor that encompasses the competency.

“This guide focuses attention on what it takes to develop senior leaders, those who have responsibility for multiple teams inside a function (e.g., sales, marketing, finance) or an entire business within an organization. Additionally, we’ve designed this guide to be used by managers aspiring upward or even more senior executives facing similar challenges.” -Introduction of Awaken, Align, Accelerate

According to MDA Leadership, the book is the collaborative effort of 21 authors, most with over 25 years of leadership development experience, and was reviewed by over 60 colleagues who provided valuable insight. It includes almost 2,000 development and coaching suggestions, real-life case studies, and pragmatic development tools.

The Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into six sections to match the six leadership factors of MDA’s Leadership Competency Model (Leading People, Thinking and Deciding, Achieving, Relating to People, Managing Work, and Managing Self). Each section (or factor) is further divided into a set of competencies that correspond to that particular factor. The core of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into 16 chapters, one chapter for each of the 16 competencies in MDA’s Leadership Competency Model. Each chapter includes a self-assessment, development suggestions, and coaching suggestions.

LEADING PEOPLE (leadership factor #1)

1. Leading Courageously (competency)
2. Creating Alignment (competency)
3. Team Leadership (competency)
4. Developing Leaders (competency)

THINKING AND DECIDING (leadership factor #2)

5. Strategic Thinking (competency)
6. Business Acumen (competency)
7. Critical Thinking and Judgment (competency)

ACHIEVING (leadership factor #3)

8. Drive for Results (competency)
9. Innovation and Risk-Taking (competency)

RELATING TO PEOPLE (leadership factor #4)

10. Interpersonal Effectiveness (competency)
11. Building Collaboration (competency)

MANAGING WORK (leadership factor #5)

12. Planning and Organizing (competency)
13. Managing Execution (competency)

MANAGING SELF (leadership factor #6)

14. Resilience (competency)
15. Integrity (competency)
16. Learning Orientation (competency)

For each of the 16 competencies, there’s a nice description of each competency, a graphic indicating which of the 6 leadership factors covers that specific competency, and the 5 core practices that are contained within that particular competency.

Here’s how the Leading Courageously competency looks:

Leading Courageously [definition]: Successful organizations need courageous leaders at every level who display confidence and skill in the use of leadership, power, and authority. They assume responsibility for tackling tough assignments and pursue difficult challenges. Courageous leaders are assertive and appropriately tough-minded without being insensitive. They take initiative, act with independence, and demonstrate strength of conviction in pursuing their leadership agendas. They shape the thinking of others and actively influence upwards and across the organization.

FACTOR: Leading People
COMPETENCY: Leading Courageously
CORE PRACTICE: Authority, Courage, Assertiveness, Independence, Influence

In my opinion, what makes Awaken, Align, Accelerate stand head and shoulders above the rest are the following features:

* Leadership Levels Matrix – it illustrates how leaders (front-line managers, function leaders, and senior executives) at different levels vary by core practice.

* Self-Assessment – evaluates individual development needs, strengths or excessively used core practice behaviors.

* Development Suggestions – development tips for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use.

* Coaching Suggestions – coaching tips for two different behaviors under each core practice grouped by Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.

* Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan – a real-life case study leading to a sample development plan and coaching plan.

Leadership Levels Matrix for the Business Acumen competency.

The first thing I like in Awaken, Align, Accelerate is the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix (shown above) “a chart that shows how key leadership skills play out at the manager, function leader, and senior executive levels of the pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 7). This chart/matrix illustrates how leaders at different levels (managers, function leaders, senior executives) vary by core practice. Let’s take a closer look.

For the Business Acumen competency and the Operating Models core practice, we can see “How Leaders at Different Levels Use Business Acumen” (see figure above). For front-line managers, it’s about recognizing how their areas of responsibility contribute to the bottom line. For function leaders, it’s about knowing the organization’s business model and how it operates. And for the senior executives, it’s about enhancing and evolving business models that fuel profitable growth.

As MDA Leadership explains: “Success looks different at different leadership levels [and] successful transitions to a new level [of leadership] involves developing the right skills and behaviors. . . . To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 6).

Development Suggestions (Part 1) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency

 

Development Suggestions (Part 2) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency

Similar to Korn/Ferry’s FYI book, MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate book features “Development Suggestions” (shown above) which are development tips. Development Suggestions are provided for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use. In the example shown above, we see Development Suggestions for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency.

Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice in the Team Leadership competency

Another thing I like is the Coaching Others section for each competency. Here, the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book really shines as it demonstrates how to coach others. Indeed, the Introduction page of the book states: “Developing yourself and coaching others are the central themes of this guide” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1). In the example shown above, we see Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice of the Team Leadership competency.

Finally, MDA Leadership uses an IMPACT Coaching Steps process (shown above) that is mapped to their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework. Using a pneumonic in the word IMPACT (Increase INSIGHT, MOTIVATE change, PLAN goals, ALIGN expectations, CREATE teachable moments, TRACK progress), MDA Leadership paired two coaching steps for each phase of their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.

Mapping the IMPACT Coaching Steps onto each phase of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework is a brilliant move as it ties the coaching process with MDA Leadership’s three-phase (Awaken, Align, Accelerate) model. It shows that there’s been a great deal of thought behind both the overall framework/model as well as the tactical tools and tips shared throughout the book.

MDA Leadership’s approach to leadership development is built on the interaction of three concepts (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

1. Talent Pipeline – an overarching context to understanding the leadership requirement at different levels within an organization. A talent pipeline illustrates the skills, knowledge, and values needed in leadership across levels of any organizations. To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

2. Leadership Competency Model – a model for defining the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required across different levels of leadership. Although many organizations have defined cascading leadership models, few have integrated their models with the pipeline context in as much detail as MDA Leadership presented in the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

3. Awaken, Align, Accelerate – a simple but elegant framework to help leaders develop themselves and coach others (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

The Awaken, Align, Accelerate Framework

“The Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework represents three crucial phases in a leader’s growth. Each phase is critical for meaningful and sustained development to occur. Leaders cycle through these phases each time they experience new insights, practices, and results at different levels of the talent pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 11).

  • Awaken leaders to growth opportunities and build awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Align their skills and experiences with the priorities and needs of the business.
  • Accelerate their ability to take on new responsibilities and deliver superior results.

Phase 1: Awaken Your Potential

“The Awaken phase is about helping leaders understand their impact through honest assessment. It combines taking stock of their current strengths and development opportunities as well as identifying what they want to achieve. . . . [L]eaders gain increased awareness about their leadership style, skills, and values. They also learn how their behavior affects others as well as their own performance and results. . . . The Awaken phase can give leaders a comprehensive understanding of how others perceive them and how they see themselves” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 12).

Phase 2: Align Your Goals

“The Align phase is the intersection between a leader’s personal development goals and the business agenda–what the organization needs from that leader to deliver strong results today and into the future. By understanding the business context for the leader’s development goals and aligning them with business outcomes, both the leader and the organization are positioned to deliver stronger results and achieve greater potential” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).

Phase 3: Accelerate Your Performance

“The Accelerate phase [is about] designing and deploying intentional development strategies that help enhance leadership performance on the most vital priorities. It leverages outcomes from the Awaken and Align phases, focusing development efforts on what is most critical. This phase is about executing the plan to ensure development actually happens through seeking new experiences, gaining additional knowledge, and practicing key leadership skills and behaviors. The Accelerate phase is the how and when of development” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).

Takeaway: Awaken, Align, Accelerate is an impressive body of work from consultants at MDA Leadership. No book review (including this one) can do it justice simply because of the depth and breadth of its content. This is not a book you can read and put away, especially since it’s a reference guide. Instead, you turn to it, time and time again, as a useful leadership and coaching reference. This incredible book is helpful to: (1) leaders who want to develop themselves and coach others, (2) coaches who will benefit from its suggestions and tips, and (3) human resources professionals exploring a leadership model & competencies. MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate now occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf. It’s an invaluable leadership and coaching guide. The beautiful layout of the book (great use of colors, white space, bullets, tables, and charts), the manageable set of 16 leadership competencies with clear descriptions, the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix for each competency, the Coaching Others section for each competency, and the Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan for each competency all combine to propel MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate to the top of my “Highly Recommended List” – earning my absolute highest recommendation!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

Reference

Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Disclosure: I purchased Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership on my own.

Conversation Killers: Interrupting/Monopolizing, Minimizing/Discounting, Opposing/Arguing, and Not Paying Attention

There are four types of people who destroy and neutralize a conversation dead in its track. These types can be distinct but often I find that they tend to blend together. For instance, a person who interrupts or monopolizes a conversation may also minimize or discount what the other person is saying. Or someone who enjoys arguing may also not be listening to much of the conversation since this person focuses on only one point or phrase to argue about while ignoring everything else.

1) Interrupting and/or Monopolizing

“A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.” -Celeste Headlee, 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation [TED Talk]

Another way to describe an individual who monopolizes a conversation is what’s called conversational narcissism. Conversational narcissism is a pattern of talking in which people find polite ways to shift the focus of the conversation to themselves.

Example of conversational narcissism:

A supervisor tells you she was very ill from meningitis and almost died in the hospital. You respond with: “Oh I had meningitis when I was younger and I thought I was going to die.” You shifted the attention of the conversation about the supervisor almost dying from meningitis to yourself and your story (i.e., I had meningitis too).

“If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don’t need to take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered. . . . Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.” -Celeste Headlee, 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation [TED Talk]

2) Minimizing and/or Discounting

Back when I worked as a therapist, I learned about not minimizing or discounting the feelings and thoughts of my clients. Minimizing or discounting another person sounds something like this, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. You’ll get over it.”

In the workplace, I sometimes hear one person minimizing, discounting, or dismissing what another person is saying. The person doing the minimizing, discounting, or dismissing might be the boss, a co-worker, or even a subordinate. And, when I’m not careful, I am as just as guilty as anyone else of falling into one of these conversation-killer traps.

Example of Minimizing and/or Discounting:

A woman shared that she had just been laid off. A friend, uncomfortable with seeing her friend in distress and wanting to help her feel better, replied: “You know it could have been so much worse. At least the company gave you a 4-week severance package. Many people don’t even get that. You get paid for a whole month while looking for a job. So cheer up! It’ll be fine.”

Regardless of the level or position in an organization, the outcome is that the person on the receiving end of the invalidation is left feeling unheard and frustrated.

Validation is a critical tool used often in counseling sessions. While this quote about validation was written to help guide therapists, I’ve included it here because I believe it’s instructive for everyone to understand just how important validation is: “Validation . . . simply means communicating to the [person] that his or her responses make sense, are understood, or are in a sense reasonable” (Robins & Rosenthal, 2011, p. 171).

3) Opposing and/or Arguing

This person will disagree and argue with you, usually just for the sake of arguing. He will reject or oppose anything that someone else is saying or suggesting, and no amount of evidence or data will convince him to change his mind. This type of individual will only give up reluctantly and often do so by blaming the unreliable source of where he got his information.

Adam McHugh (in his list of the 12 usual suspects of bad listening, “How to Be a Bad Listener”) describes one type of bad listener who is keen on disagreeing. These individuals listen for a word, phrase, or topic that they want to argue about. And even if they do agree with most of what someone else is saying, they will nitpick over that word, phrase, or topic that they do not agree with.

4) Not Paying Attention

One of the most egregious mistakes in a conversation is not paying attention. For instance, when you talk to someone and he’s looking around or at something else, it’s quite obvious that this person is much more interested in anything else but listening to you. It’s ironic because often I don’t think the person making this mistake (i.e., not paying attention) realizes he’s doing it (i.e., clueless to the fact that he’s not paying attention). But here’s the reality: Human beings, even children, can tell when you are not paying attention to them while they are talking.

Not paying attention includes something experts call “pseudolistening” or pretending to listen. Pseudolistening is when we pretend to listen but we’re thinking about something else. We pseudolisten when we’re not interested in what is being said or when we’re familiar with the information and so don’t need to give our undivided attention (Wood, 2016).

When you pseudolisten, you risk missing important information because you weren’t actually paying attention.

“Pseudolisteners often give themselves away when their responses reveal that they weren’t paying attention. Common indicators of pseudolistening are responses that are tangential or irrelevant to what was said” (Wood, 2016, p. 173).

Why We Need To Listen

“To be listened to is a striking experience, partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you—leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize—you feel known and understood. People open up when they know they’re really being listened to; they expand; they have more presence. They feel safer and more secure as well, and trust grows. This is why listening is so important . . .” (Whitworth, Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl, 2007, p. 31).

In the book, A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees we’re reminded that:

“Often, when we listen to someone, we’re only partially listening, because we’re thinking of our reply or judging their comments. We often miss what’s in between their words, or even a key idea” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 103).

“The key to successful listening is to remove all distractions, sit back, and focus 100% on [their] words, emotions, and body language” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 105).

“By listening and allowing [people] to feel heard, you’re giving them the confidence that their words and ideas have merit and that they can figure things out for themselves” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 105).

“Listening is more than hearing, and it is definitely more than waiting for the other person to take a breath so that you can speak again. It is the ability to temporarily forget the future and the past, and collapse your focus to a single point, a single person—here and now” (Burnison, 2013, p. 174).

Why People Interrupt/Monopolize, Minimize/Discount, Oppose/Argue or Not Pay Attention

People Interrupt/Monopolize, Minimize/Discount, Oppose/Argue or Not Pay Attention for several reasons: (1) Not caring – There are some people who simply do not care (or care very much) about other people, (2) Is impatient or in a hurry – These folks are in a rush to solve problems or to get to solutions. Impatient people provide answers, conclusions, and solutions too early in the process. (3) Monopolizing the conversation – Shifting the conversation to their own topic or what’s called “conversational narcissism.” (4) Misguided compassion – Unlike those who don’t care, people who do care may try to “help” others feel better so they skip over the validation part, thereby discounting or invalidating feelings, and go straight to offering solutions or words of consolation. (5) Fear of or discomfort with emotions or conflicts – These individuals do not know how to deal with strong emotions or conflicts and will try to avoid strong emotions and conflict when in conversation or interaction with others.

Suggestions For Improvement & Development:

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) shared a great tip in helping us to better understand others: Avoid early solution statements and extreme positions. While the answer might be obvious to you, and might make perfect sense to someone in your field, it may either mean nothing or will be jarring to people in another function. Lay out your thinking, explain the alternatives, and keep them as maybes. Then invite them to apply their perspective to it. If you fire out solutions, you’ll encourage them to reply in your terms. You’ll never learn to understand them.

Another useful advice Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) discussed is what to do when you’re viewed by others as being insensitive: Seek to understand before you seek a solution. You might be seen as someone who jumps to conclusions and solutions before others have had a chance to finish their statement of the problem. Take the time to really define the problem. Let people finish. Try not to interrupt. Don’t finish other’s sentences. Ask clarifying questions. Restate the problem in your own words to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you are struggling with being interpersonally savvy (relating to others; building & maintaining rapport), Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) offered this: Tailor your approach to fit others’ needs. Too busy to pay attention? Too quick to get into the agenda? Do you devalue others and dismiss their contributions, resulting in people feeling diminished, rejected and angry? Do you offer answers, solutions, conclusions, statements, or dictates early in the transaction? That’s the staple of people with a non-savvy style. Not listening. Instant output. Sharp reactions. Read your audience. Always select your interpersonal approach from the other person in, not from you out. Your best choice of approach will always be determined by the other person or group, not you.

A useful resource similar to Lombardo and Eichinger’s FYI book is Awaken, Align, Accelerate (2011), a leadership development and coaching guide from MDA Leadership. According to the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book, if you talk over or interrupt others or if you spend more time talking than listening and you fail to draw others out or ask ineffective or too few questions, then this is a problem that will need to be remedied (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

Takeaway: If you do not listen in a conversation, it is very easy to derail and wreck it. The first and most obvious way is by interrupting or monopolizing the conversation. A second, more subtle but just as harmful, way to kill a conversation is by minimizing, discounting, or dismissing what another person is sharing. The third way to end a conversation or turn it into a heated exchange is by arguing with or outright opposing what another person is saying. The fourth way to wreck a conversation is failure to pay attention to what the other person is saying. These conversation killers negatively affect your ability to understand another person and can also weaken or cause irreparable damage to your relationship with them.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Burnison, G. (2013). Lead. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Emerson, B., & Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees. New York: AMACOM.

Headlee, C. (2015, April). TED Talk. 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation

Headlee, C. (2017, September 21). Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel.” Retrieved from https://ideas.ted.com/why-we-should-all-stop-saying-i-know-exactly-how-you-feel/

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

McHugh, A. S. (n.d.). How to Be a Bad Listener. https://www.quietrev.com/be-a-bad-listener/

Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Robins, C. J., & Rosenthal, M. Z. (2011). Dialectical Behavior Therapy. In J. D. Herbert, & E. M. Forman (Eds.), Acceptance and Mindfulness in Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Understanding and Applying the New Therapies (pp. 164-192). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life (2nd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Wood, J. T. (2016). Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.