All posts by Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

What Customers Want

In “Serving Internal and External Customers,” Swartzlander (2004) outlined what customers want. She maintained that customers want to feel valued by the companies and/or places they conduct business with. More than anything else, customers value the way they’re treated. An American Society for Quality Control study found that less than 10% of customers leave/go elsewhere (defect) for reasons not related to the business (e.g., moving or no longer need the product); less than 10% liked a competitor’s product; and about 15% defected because they were unhappy/dissatisfied with the product. However, the study discovered that more than 65% of customers went elsewhere because of poor customer service.

As a former waiter and someone who has held various customer service jobs, I instantly look for good customer service everywhere I go. I expect good customer service when I go to a bookstore, when I go to a restaurant, when I buy groceries, etc. About two weeks ago, my wife and I went to the mall looking for an eye glasses case. My wife had misplaced her old case and since we were at the mall, we decided to stop by one of the eye glasses stores there.

In the first store we visited, the employee never even acknowledged us. He never asked us if we needed help or to let him know if there was something he could do. For that matter, he never even bothered looking up from his station! We were there for a few minutes digging through their selection of eyeglass cases. When we didn’t see anything that would fit my wife’s eyeglasses, we gladly left.

The second store we walked into was much different. Almost as soon as we entered, a customer service person looked up, smiled, and asked if he could help. We told him that we were looking for an eyeglasses case. He asked when we purchased the eyeglasses to which I replied that we bought it at another place. This gentleman, smiled and asked us to sit down. He pointed to the area where there were some cases available and then offered to clean my wife’s glasses.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find anything. But, rather than resorting to making faces or displaying other rude nonverbal behaviors, this man called downstairs to a sunglasses kiosk (one of his competitors) to ask if they still carried that small case he remembered from before. He hung up the phone, finished polishing and returned my wife’s glasses, and then told us where to go find a smaller case that would fit.

This employee displayed “positive personalization,” the positive social interaction between a service provider and the customer. Positive personalization has a positive effect on how customers perceive and evaluate the overall service quality of an establishment and in consideration about repurchases.

Swartzlander (2004) stated that personalization can range from the positive, warm feeling to the opposite – cold and impersonal. With the first store, we definitely felt the negative personalization (cold and impersonal), but with the second store our experience of positive personalization (positive, warm feeling) restored our faith that not all service professionals are bad or rude. And even though we may experience negative personalization more often than we would like, we’re always glad to come across positive personalization.

Your business customers want to be treated with respect and civility. It’s not rocket science. If your company/organization does not deliver, remember that out of every 100 customers, 65 will not come back because of poor customer service.

Reference

Swartzlander, A. (2004). Serving Internal and External Customers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Traits of Leadership

Research regarding traits related to leadership effectiveness has found about half a dozen (Yukl, 2010):

  • High energy level and stress tolerance
  • Self-confidence
  • Internal locus of control
  • Emotional stability and maturity
  • Personal integrity
  • Socialized power motivation
  • Moderately high achievement orientation
  • Low need for affiliation

Goleman (2004) maintained that “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader” (p. 82). He proposed that emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. While emotional intelligence has a genetic component, it can also be learned and increases with age.

In order to improve emotional intelligence, organizations need to help leaders break old behavioral habits and start new ones. This requires an individualized approach and takes time.

“It’s important to emphasize that building one’s emotional intelligence cannot—will not—happen without sincere desire and concerted effort. A brief seminar won’t help; nor can one buy a how-to manual. It is much harder to learn to empathize—to internalize empathy as a natural response to people—than it is to become adept at regression analysis. But it can be done” (Goleman, 2004, p. 87).

I believe that Apple, Inc.’s CEO Steve Jobs has many of the traits related to leadership effectiveness as outlined by Yukl (2010) and Goleman (2004). Whatever you call it – passion, determination, motivation, zeal – he never lost it and was able to capitalize on his vision to propel him back to the top, running Apple Computers today.

There’s a great story in the Harvard Business Review (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007) about what happened after Jobs lost his job and how he recouped and climbed back atop the leadership mountaintop.

One week after he was fired from Apple (a company he co-founded), Jobs flew to Europe, bought a bicycle and a sleeping bag and camped out under the stars in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, planning what he would do next.

After returning to California, with a renewed passion and ambition, he went on to found another computer company, NeXT, which Apple purchased in 1996. With the acquisition of NeXT by Apple, Jobs returned to Apple as its leader and simultaneously became the energy behind Pixar, the computer-graphics studio famous for producing Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monster, Inc., and recently Up.

“It is the single-minded, passionate pursuit of a heroic mission that sets leaders like Steve Jobs…apart from the general population, and it is what attracts and motivates followers to join [him]” (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007, p.84).

References

Goleman, D. (2004). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 82-91.

Sonnenfeld, J.A. & Ward, A.J. (2007). Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), p76-84.

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

In “Leading Change” (1996), Kotter outlined an 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency: Examine market and competitive realities; identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
  2. Create the Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change; get group to work together as a team
  3. Develop a Vision & Strategy: Create a vision to help direct the change effort; Develop strategies for achieving that vision
  4. Communicate the Vision: Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies; have Guiding Coalition role model the behavior expected of employees
  5. Empowering Action: Get rid of obstacles to change; change systems or structures that undermine the vision; encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins: Plan for visible performance improvements or “wins”; create those “wins”; recognize and reward employees who made “wins” possible
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change: Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision; hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the change vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
  8. Anchor New Approaches in the Corporate Culture: Create better performance via customer- and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success; develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Professor Kotter (1996) shared about a time he consulted with an intelligent and competent executive who struggled trying to implement a reorganization. Problem was many of his managers were against it. Kotter went through the 8-stage process. He asked the executive whether there was a sense of urgency (Stage #1) among the employees to change. The executive said, “Some do. But many probably do not.” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). When asked about a compelling vision and strategy to implement (Stage #3), the executive replied, I think so [about the vision]…although I’m not sure how clear it [the strategy] is” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). Finally, when Kotter inquired whether the managers understood and believed in the vision, the executive responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if many [people] either don’t understand the concept or don’t entirely believe in it [the vision]” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22).

Kotter (1996) states that when Stages #1-4 of the Kotter model are skipped it’s inevitable that one will face resistance. The executive ran into resistance because he went directly to Stage #5. Kotter states that in attempting to implement change, many will rush through the process “without ever finishing the job” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22) or they’ll skip stages and either jump to or only do Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) maintain that when employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.

Eight Reasons for Resisting Change (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Lack of good information
  3. Fear of loss of security
  4. No reasons to change
  5. Fear of loss of power
  6. Lack of resources
  7. Bad timing
  8. Habit

To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  • Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  • Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  • Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

There are 6 methods for dealing with resistance to change (and their advantages & drawbacks)*** (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005; Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979 & 2008):

Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger's 2008 article "Choosing Strategies for Change"
Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 article “Choosing Strategies for Change”

  1. Education & Communication: educate people about a change before it is implemented; help them understand the logic behind the change.
  2. Participation & Involvement: allow people to help design and implement the changes (e.g., ideas, task forces, committees).
  3. Facilitation & Support: provide help (emotional & material resources) for people having trouble adjusting to the change.
  4. Negotiation & Agreement: offers incentives to those who resist change.
  5. Manipulation & Cooptation: attempts to influence others.
  6. Explicit & Implicit Coercion: use of authority to get people to accept change.

***For additional (and quite valuable) information related to the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues, there is a Harvard Business Review article by Kotter and Schlesinger (1979 & 2008). The 2008 article, “Choosing Strategies for Change” is a reprint of the same 1979 article. For better layout and graphics, I’ve referred to the 2008 article. I believe the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues (2005) is based on or came directly from Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 article.

***In Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 HBR article (and in the 2008 HBR reprint) the six methods for dealing with resistance to change included the six approaches (e.g., education + communication, negotiation + agreement, etc.) as well as three more columns (commonly used in situations; advantages; and drawbacks). I found this to be especially useful and have posted a screenshot (above) of the graphic used in Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 HBR article. I would encourage readers to read Kotter and Schlesinger’s HBR article.

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

References

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (1979). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 57(2), 106-114.

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 86(7/8), 130-139. Also retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/07/choosing-strategies-for-change

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Elements of Corporate Cultures

In “Culture by Default or by Design?” Edmonds and Glaser (2010) talk about the challenge of describing the culture of an organization. In the article, the authors maintain that the impact of your corporate culture can spell success or disaster for the organization.

The culture of your company is its personality, it’s “how things are done around here” (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010, p. 37). Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors – both of the overall system itself and of the individual members who make up the organization.

Asking employees to describe their corporate culture is akin to asking a fish to describe what water is like. Neither the employee nor the fish can do it properly because they’re both immersed in it (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010). It’s even more challenging for new employees as they sometimes stumble onto and violate unwritten norms and rules embedded in the organization.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) assert that the function of the organizational culture is to serve both as an external and internal role to help the organization adapt. Under the external role, questions asked include, “What exactly needs to be accomplished and how do we do this?” For the internal role, the question is “How do members of the organization work together, get along, and work out conflicts?”

On the surface it may seem apparent, but it can take years to fully understand some corporate culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005). The reason is that corporate culture is highly complex and multi-layered, composed of an observable culture, the shared values, and common cultural assumptions. The observable culture is the “how we do things around here.” The shared values link employees of a company together. Finally, common cultural assumptions are those “truths” that will come up after analyzing the culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005).

Elements of Strong Corporate Cultures (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas

References

Edmonds, C. & Glaser, B. (2010). Culture by default or by design? Talent Management, 6(1), 36-39.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Six Leadership Styles

In “Developing a Leadership Style,” Alan Murray cites six styles of leadership from Daniel Goleman’s “Primal Leadership.” They are outlined below:

  1. Visionary: this is best when an organization needs a new direction. The aim is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. Leaders communicate where a group is going, but not how it will get there. This way, people free to innovate, and experiment.
  2. Coaching: this style focuses on developing others, showing them how to reach their goals and improve their level of performance. One warning is that too much hovering over an employee might, instead, be perceived as micromanagement.
  3. Affiliative: stresses importance of teamwork and connecting with others. This style is not good to use by itself because it tends to emphasize group praise allowing for poor performance to go uncorrected.
  4. Democratic: this style works best when the organizational goal is unclear and the leader needs to tap into the feedback and wisdom of the group. This style is counterproductive in times of crisis, however, when quick, decisive decisions are needed from leaders.
  5. Pacesetting: leader sets a high expectation of performance. But it must be cautioned that using it too often can result in lower employee morale because employees may feel that their work is never good enough.
  6. Commanding: while this military style is the most often used, it’s also the least effective. It leads to lower morale because there are more criticisms and less praise.

Without a strong vision of leadership, managers may display a leadership style that is too affiliative (e.g., unable or unwilling to address poor performance), too democratic (e.g., lacked ability to make decisive decisions), or too pacesetting (e.g., worked employees to death but never happy with their performance).

Reference

Murray, A. (2009). Developing a leadership style. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on January 30, 2010 from http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-develop-a-leadership-style/

Follow Your Heart

One of my all-time favorite quote is from Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. It was a speech given to the graduating class at Stanford University in June 2005. Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, the year before. Luckily, it was eradicated through surgery and he has since recovered. Below is part of his commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

What Really Motivates Employees

In an article titled, “What Really Motivates Workers” in the January-February 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amabile & Kramer (2010) invited over 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  1. recognition,
  2. incentives,
  3. interpersonal support,
  4. support for making progress, and
  5. clear goals

The #1 ranking of the managers was “recognition for good work.”

However, and this surprised me, from their multiyear study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in various settings, Amabile & Kramer (2010) discovered that the #1 motivator for employees is progress.

You read that right folks, the top motivation for workers is making progress.

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44.)

Ironically, progress was the factor ranked dead last by managers as something that motivates employees.

The researchers analyzes nearly 12,000 diary entries, along with the writer’ daily ratings of their motivation and emotions. The analysis indicated that “making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event” (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44).

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

Avoid impeding progress by changing goals unilaterally, being indecisive, or holding up resources (Amabile & Kramer, 2010).

How managers can help facilitate progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2010):

  • Clarify overall goals
  • Ensure employees’ efforts are properly supported
  • Refrain from exerting time pressure so extreme such that minor glitches are seen as crises
  • Cultivate a culture of helpfulness
  • Roll up your own sleeves and help out
  • Celebrate progress, even small ones

Reference

Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2010). What really motivates workers. Harvard Business Review, 88(1), 44-45.

Helping to Bring Credibility to Executive Coaching

The profession of coaching has grown and continues to do so such that “nearly every age, occupation, and personal passion has a coach waiting to answer the call” (p. xiii). In particular, coaching is becoming a common part of an organization’s toolkit to help rank-and-file employees on up to top executives (Whitworth et al., 2007).

Much has been heralded (especially within the past several years) about coaching and its benefits. No, I’m not talking about sports coaching, but rather coaching applied to the world of business, also known as executive coaching. Because there’s no law (in the U.S.) preventing anyone from calling him/herself a “coach” or using the word “coaching,” executive coaching can sometimes seem like the old wild west. Research indicates that within the field of coaching, one of the fastest growing areas is in business (includes executive) coaching (WABC, cited in Stout Rostron, 2009).

It’s interesting to note that many who enter the coaching profession do so without any formal psychological training (Peltier, 2010). As such, they often question the need for this type of background. A 2009 Harvard study of coaching showed that only 13% of coaches believed that psychological training was necessary and almost half didn’t think it was important at all (Kauffman & Coutu, cited by Peltier, 2010).

However, the study also observed that even though coaches are only hired to help executives with personal issues 3% of the time, these same coaches, in fact, addressed a personal issue 76% of the time in coaching!

Stout Rostron (2009) maintains that while business coaches don’t need to be psychologists, they should at a minimum receive “practical grounding or ‘literacy’ in psychological theory” (p. 25).

While researching coaching textbooks, I came across the Institute of Coaching, an organization that aims to legitimize the field and practice of coaching by promoting coaching research, education, and practice. It is “dedicated to enhancing the integrity and credibility of the field of coaching.” Stout Rostron (2009) talked about the need to create empirical evidence on executive coaching and its impact. This is why I believe the existence of the Institute of Coaching will be a tremendous boost to help build that much needed credibility in the otherwise undisciplined field of coaching.

“The Institute (housed at McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and the world’s premier psychiatric hospital) is a way to build a robust international coaching research community and to support coaching research by providing research grants and mentoring to advance the practice and profession of coaching.”

The Institute of Coaching recently launched its own membership association called the Institute of Coaching Professional Association (ICPA).

MEMBER BENEFITS

ICPA members (annual subscription fee required) have access to peer-reviewed journals, networking and educational opportunities with leaders in coaching research, coaching demonstrations, and much more. ICPA offers three levels of membership—Affiliates, Founding Members, and Founding Fellows.

All members have access to:

  • Monthly Coaching Report
  • Extensive online resources including a library of research papers, white papers on best practices and return on investment, PowerPoints on many coaching relevant topics
  • Monthly live interviews, seminars, and coaching demonstrations with coaching leaders and researchers.
  • Online journal club
  • Journal subscription to Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research & Practice
  • Discounts on IOC events and professional development seminars

SEMINARS AND INTERVIEWS

Leadership tele-seminars, podcasts, and interviews will us better understand the mindset and expectations of the business leaders. Questions include: What do corporate leaders value about coaching? What are they looking for?

COACHING DEMONSTRATIONS

Coaching demonstrations will help you see coaching skills in action and learn the answers to important coaching questions. Coaches will describe the theory and evidence-based thinking behind the interventions they offer. The goal is to use theory and research to provide much needed “legs” for the practice of coaching.

COMMENTS

For those new to the profession of coaching (especially students like me), the benefit of watching coaching demonstrations is invaluable. This is a great way to learn by watching veteran/master coaches. When I was going through my counseling program, our professors made us watch videos of master therapists/psychologists conducting sessions. It was a way to connect what we learned via books to real life scenarios.

[NOTE]: ***I am not affiliated nor am I being paid to advertise the Institute of Coaching. I am merely passing along information that I think might benefit those who seek it. Thanks.***

References

Institute of Coaching. (2010). About Us. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=aboutus

Institute of Coaching. (2010). Welcome to the Institute of Coaching Professional Association! Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=members

Institute of Coaching. (2010). Coaching Research Network. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/index.cfm?page=network

Kauffman, C., & Coutu, D. (2009). HBR research report: The realities of executive coaching.

Peltier, B. (2009). The psychology of executive coaching: Theory and application (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business coaching international: Transforming individuals and organizations. London: Karnac.

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.

Undercover Boss and Emotional Intelligence

A new reality TV show called Undercover Boss will soon hit the air. The idea is for top executives to go undercover by working as rank and file (ordinary) employees in their own organization. Each week a different executive will work undercover deep inside their company.

While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run. -Undercover Boss website

The show is set to premiere (in the US) in February 2010 after the Super Bowl (American football).

It seems that by helping executives become aware of what it’s like at the bottom of the ladder in their corporate hierarchy, that they would somehow become enlighten and change how they conduct business and/or run the organization.

Peter Senge says, “The quality of our leadership depends on the quality of our awareness.”

Among the leadership competencies identified, emotional intelligence is one quality that is important for effective leadership (Goleman, cited in Yukl, 2010).

Emotional intelligence is the extent to which a person is attuned to his or her own feelings and to the feelings of others and is able to integrate emotions and reason such that emotions are used to facilitate cognitive processes, and emotions are cognitively managed. – Gary Yukl

Emotional intelligence can help leaders solve complex problems, improve decision-making and time management, adapt to changing situations and better manage crises (Yukl, 2010).

So by working alongside ordinary workers, these CEOs will (hopefully) gain emotional insights into what life is like to work in that job for that company. They will gain skills to better understand what it’s like to “walk in their workers’ shoes.”

Reference

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Corporate Irresponsibility or Just Plain Heartless?

My wife and I enjoy volunteering to help others. While living in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands), we volunteered to help clean up the island and helped start a group to combat the stigma of mental illness.

Back during my college days at Baylor University, I would make my group do volunteer work. And though some of them didn’t like it at first, they thanked me for it later on. For almost two years, I volunteered at a food pantry center, cleaning and organizing can goods which would then be given to those who needed food.

It’s a great feeling knowing deep down that what you do (i.e. helping others without any financial reward) comes back tenfold in the form of emotional gifts of thanks or just knowing that you did the right thing.

So when I came across this story in the New York Times about a clothing store discarding brand new clothes rather than giving them away to those who could use them, it made me really sad and then mad.

According to the New York Times, “bags of garments that appear to have never been worn” were found at the back entrance of the H&M clothing store. What’s even more disturbing was that these unworn garments were “slashed most of them with box cutters or razors” to make sure that no one could wear them!

Not too far from the H&M store were trash bags (found the week before Christmas) with clothing tagged for sale in Walmart stores. These garments had “holes punched through it by a machine” to also prevent people from being able to use them.

With phrases on the H&M’s website like corporate responsibility and statements promising to donate clothes to charity, I wonder if these acts (they’ve happened before) of destroying unworn clothes rather than giving them away are indications of a disregard for the well-being of others and a general decline in our collective moral conscience.

Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008) found that there are two qualities that predict helping behaviors, empathy and moral reasoning.

Here are two questions for us to ask ourselves:

  1. Why have we forgotten or ignored the cries of our fellow men and women in need?
  2. Where is our sense of decency and compassion?

References

Dwyer, J. (2010). A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/nyregion/06about.html

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Feeling Refreshed and Back to Work

Binnewies, Sonnentag, and Mojza (2009) conducted a study involving 358 employees who worked with people with special needs (those who were mentally or physically disabled). I can say, based on experience, it’s a stressful area.

Two questionnaires were given six months apart. The researchers found that when people feel recovered (mentally and physically refreshed) during their leisure time their performance on the job increased.

“[H]ighly recovered individuals showed increased task performance after 6 months because they felt more capable of successfully accomplishing work-related tasks” (p. 252).

They clarified that feeling recovered during leisure time is about how much a person feels refreshed mentally and physically. This feeling of recovery (feeling recovered during leisure time) is positive compared to a need for recovery and mental fatigue. The need for recovery represents a negative recovery because a person is forced to rest due to work-related demands and/or work-induced fatigue.

Put simply, deciding to rest before you’re stressed and exhausted is a good thing. I think this quote from Ralph Marston perfectly summarizes today’s post:

Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.

Reference

Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., & Mojza, E.J. (2009). Feeling recovered and thinking about the good sides of one’s work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(3), 243-256.

Bad Attitudes Lead to Bad Behaviors

Back in the 1990’s I took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. It was a great experience. One thing I still don’t understand is why people get so dressed up when they fly. Think about it, you’re sitting uncomfortably in a seat designed for a child because any adult over 4 feet tall can attest, it’s pretty snug squeezing yourself into the seat, sometimes in between two other passengers. And let’s be honest, airline seats aren’t the cleanest. Then there’s the whole going to the restroom bit.

For all these reasons and more, I almost always wear the most comfortable clothes I have. On most days, this means t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of sandals.

On the flight from Cancun back to Houston (and then Dallas), I was lucky enough to be bumped up to first class. I forgot why, but I think the airline made some type of mistake. No worries, I was excited to be able to stretch my legs and not be packed in with the other passengers back in coach class.

Anyone who’s ever been on vacation as a tourist understands that you end up buying and wearing clothes you’ll never, ever wear again. But, at the time, it’s fun. While in Cancun, I got myself one of those cool (at least I thought so) ponchos that had “Cancun, Mexico” printed on it.

Thus, my traveling outfit that day consisted of my Cancun poncho, shorts, and sandals. I looked like a cross between the guy from the movie Sixteen Candles (the one that said “Automobile?”) and a Mexican cowboy. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I could have been nominated to be on a “make-over” TV show. I still laugh when I think back to what I was wearing that day.

But what happened once I got on the plane wasn’t so funny.

I was like a kid in a candy store. I still couldn’t believe my good fortune to be placed in first (or business) class. Proudly sporting my Cancun poncho and in my comfortable shorts and sandals, I headed to my seat and proceeded to sit down.

Still standing over my seat and just as I was about to sit down, a flight attendant came rushing down the aisle towards me and in a strong tone said, “Sir, you can’t sit here!”

I don’t remember if I was surprised or offended or both, but I smiled and responded, “Ma’am, I’m suppose to be here. This is my seat” and showed her my boarding ticket with my seat assignment.

The great thing about being bumped up to first class is that no one knows about it. So this flight attendant had no idea if I paid for my seat or if I got placed there as a free upgrade. But, that shouldn’t have mattered.

Clearly surprised, the flight attendant nodded, mumbling and stumbling over her words, apologized, and left.

Why did she apologize? Because she took one look and formed an attitude (an impression) about me and my place on the plane, which was clearly not in first class. We all do this. We see people (their appearances) and form opinions about them. Our bad attitudes will lead to our bad behaviors.

In their classic textbook titled “Social Psychology,” Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008) found that when attitudes (our positive, negative, or mixed reaction to a person, object, or idea) are strong and specific they determine our actions. We vote based on our political opinions, we based our buying decisions on attitudes about the products, and racism is rooted in our negative feelings about a person based on their membership in certain groups.

Attitudes are important determinants of behavior. – Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008, p. 189)

Our bad attitudes lead, not only to our bad behaviors, they also hurt our organizations in at least two important ways:

  1. Lost of revenue, and
  2. Damage to corporate image

In my case with the flight attendant, forming negative attitudes about others based on their appearances can be embarrassing (at best). But at the other end of the spectrum, you can offend customers so much that you lose them as valuable clients (or fail to maintain those customers who are loyal), and they’ll tell others about how poorly you treated them.

Suppose I wasn’t some college kid, but ran my own business or was CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) for a company. And the actions of this flight attendant offended me so much that not only did the airline lose me as a valued member, but I wrote a complaint letter about the incident to the airline president. What’s more, suppose I had told all my family members and friends about what happened. That didn’t happen, but let’s suppose it did.

This next story actually did happen several years ago during a car buying experience. We were so turned off by the car salesman’s condescending attitude (“Can you pay for this car?”) that we actually walked out during the negotiation process and purchased a car from a competitor. And the answer to his question was “yes” we could afford to pay, and gladly did so – to his competition.

How many of us have ever chosen to avoid dining at restaurants with a rude wait staff? How many of us have ever done business with a company because we liked the people working there and how they treated us, even if they weren’t the cheapest? I have and I bet you have too.

How to Change Attitudes

Persuasion by Communication (Change as a Result of Others)

  1. Our attitudes change based on the merits of the source (i.e., influenced by the strength & quality of the arguments).
  2. Our attitudes change based on superficial cues (e.g., if the person has a good reputation, speaks or writes well, we tend to believe and accept his/her message).

Persuasion by Our Own Actions (Change from Within Ourselves)

Sometimes when our actions deviate so far from our character and convictions (called cognitive dissonance), it causes us to want to change our attitudes.

I’ll take the cognitive dissonance example and relate it to the world of business. When leaders, managers, and/or employees act badly (behaviors) toward customers, it’s crucial to get to the root cause by examining both the individual’s and the organization’s attitudes (thinking).

When bad behaviors (toward customers and even one another) deviate so far from your corporate mission & culture, ask yourself:

Isn’t it time the entire company change its corporate attitude?

Reference

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Poor Customer Service Hurts Your Business

One thing I always notice is how often quality is sacrificed for speed. At the local supermarket near where I live in north Dallas, they have a “self-checkout” lane that can accommodate up to six customers. For those who have never had the pleasure (I’m being sarcastic here) of using one of these “self-checkout” lanes, let me fill you in on what you are not missing out on.

Apparently, in the quest to improve customer service (and cut cost), grocery chains and even Wal-mart have created lanes that allow customers to scan their own items. In essence, the customer now becomes the unpaid employee.

The idea is fine, that is let the customer do the work while reducing the cost to hire an employee because by doing the work the customer is in control.

This is not very smart. First, your customers should never perform duties meant for employees. This is not elitist, it’s simply the idea that when I go into a store to buy a product, I should not also be forced to work as an unpaid employee.

Second (and my biggest complaint) is that the customer is not trained to perform tasks that paid employees can do. Let’s go back to the “self-checkout” lane. Maybe it’s just that I always have bad luck because these “self-checkout” lanes never work right. At first my wife thought that I didn’t know how to use them. And while it’s true that my wife is right about lots of things, it turns out that she also has trouble with “self-checkout” lanes herself.

Why?

The first problem is the annoying automated voice that speaks when it senses any item being removed from the bagging compartment without permission. Makes you feel like a second grader doesn’t it? For some reason, this bagging compartment police prevents you from scanning your next item until you put back what you took out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to know when things are removed or placed back and will keep repeating the same message.

So, after slowing down the process (with people staring and waiting impatiently behind you), I’ll look around for some assistance (there’s always one person standing there, I think, to supervise). The “paid” employee then walks over, punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee.

The second problem is that when you have an item that isn’t listed, you have to find it on the touchpad. But it isn’t always simple to find because there are different varieties of tomatoes, etc.

So, again, after slowing down the process, I’ll look around for some assistance and the “paid” employee then walks over (again), punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee. You get the idea.

Call it bad luck because this insane scenario seems to happen to me 9 out of 10 times I’m in these “self-checkout” lanes. It’s rarely ever faster, and instead creates more problems and ends up wasting time (mine and the “paid” employee).

In Harvard Business Review’s “What service customers really want,” Dougherty and Murthy (2009) point out that customers are no longer putting up with “rushed and inconvenient” service that’s become commonplace in today’s business. Customers want a great experience when they come into a business establishment, whether it’s selling groceries or dry cleaning clothes. Businesses that understand this will gain customer loyalty.

In their research, Dougherty and Murthy (2009) discovered that when customers contact businesses for service (i.e., calling customer service), they want two things.

First, is the employee helping me (frontline employee) knowledgeable?

Second, will the issues I have be resolved on the first call?

Regrettably, many service centers (call centers) continue to track and measure time on hold and minutes per call just as they have done so for decades! The irony is that when companies do this, the message to the employees is to hurry up, resulting in a rushed job – exactly the kind of experiences customers hate.

On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

Companies need to allow for some flexibility. Give your employees some latitude “to meet individual customers’ needs and provide positive, satisfying experiences.” Managers should check whether the customers’ problems were resolved during first contact, find out what the true problem is (if the issue isn’t resolved in one call), and then make the change needed.

Some companies are arrogant enough to believe that irritated, pissed off customers will forgive them and come back for more. But “research indicates that, on the contrary, alienated customers often disappear without the slightest warning.”

Bottom line: Never sacrifice quality for speed. Your customers will become irritated and disappear and your business won’t have the “customer” in customer service to worry about anymore.

Reference

Dougherty, D. & Murthy, A. (2009). What service customers really want. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 1, 2010 from http://hbr.org/2009/09/what-service-customers-really-want/ar/1

Welcoming a Fresh Start

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Here in the U.S., we think of ending the old year and starting the new one with a New Year’s Eve celebration. But in Japan, the tradition is very different.

My wife told me that in Japan, the tradition of welcoming the new year is drastically more peaceful and zen-like compared to the U.S.

For Japanese, the tradition is called 大掃除 “oosouji” meaning a big cleaning. During this cleanup time (which lasts until the end of the year), Japanese clean their homes and cars.

New Year is the biggest and most important holiday in Japan. It’s a way to start over, a fresh start. Japanese believe that New Year’s day represents how the rest of the year will be like. Thus, the day should be stress-free and everything should be clean.

Unlike the festive traditions involving fireworks and loud parties, Japanese enjoy a zen-like moment of peace. Monks in temples ring large bells (Joya-no-kane) 108 times throughout Japan signaling the end of the old year and the start of the new one. The bells are rung 108 times because, according to Buddhism, humans have 108 problem desires and by hearing the bells 108 times, we can rid ourselves of all these desires at the end of the year.

While waiting for the arrival of the new year, Japanese eat 年越し蕎麦 (としこしそば or toshikoshi soba), which means “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles”. Toshikoshi soba (or buckwheat noodles) dates back to around the Edo period (17-19th century) and are believed to symbolize longevity.

Having spent a good portion of my life here in the U.S., I’m used to the loud fireworks and parties. However, I am starting a new tradition — a cleansing of the old and a more peaceful and zen-like beginning to the new.

I wish you a fresh start in the new year.

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

Reference

Itoh, M. (2008). Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year. Retrieved from http://www.justhungry.com/2003/12/toshikoshi_soba.html

Leadership, Psychological Well-Being, and Meaningful Work

We hear often about leadership having an impact on employees. Many blogs and articles online talk about it without properly citing data to back it up. Well, I located a research-based article that offered support for the positive impact of leadership on employee well-being. Because this blog covers employee well-being, meaningful work, and leadership, I felt this topic was captured well in this research article by Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, & McKee (2007).

The researchers conducted two studies, one involving employees of a long-term care facility and the other study involving funeral directors and dental hygienists.

In Study #1, the researchers sent surveys to 319 employees of a long-term care facility in a midsized Canadian city measuring transformational leadership, meaningful work, and psychological well-being.

Here’s how the researchers defined the terms in Study #1:

Transformational leadership is seen as leadership that communicates a vision, develops staff, provides support, empowers staff, is innovative, leads by example, and is charismatic.

Meaningful work

From Workplace Spirituality scale: included items such as “I see a connection between my work and the larger social good of my community” and “The work I do is connected to what I think is important in my life.”

Psychological well-being

From Positive Affective Well-Being scale: looks at how the employee felt in the last 6 months (e.g., motivated, cheerful, enthusiastic, lively, joyful, and energetic).

In Study #2, the researchers sent surveys to 95 funeral directors and 51 dental hygienists.

This time, the researchers defined the terms in this manner:

Transformational leadership

From the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire: Four dimensions of transformational leadership—idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

Meaningful work

“The work I do in this job is fulfilling,” “The work I do in this job is rewarding,” “I do not achieve important outcomes from the work I do in this job”, and “I am able to achieve important outcomes from the work I do in this job.”

Psychological well-being

From General Health Questionnaire: “Been able to concentrate on whatever you are doing?” and “Been able to enjoy your day to day activities?”

Although not earth-shattering, results of the studies offered data to support often hearsay or anecdotal evidence about the relationship and/or positive impact of transformational leadership on well-being.

Based on results of the two studies, the researchers concluded that “transformational leadership of supervisors exerted a positive influence on the psychological well-being of workers” (Arnold et al., 2007, p. 200). Believing and viewing the work as meaningful seems to play a role in explaining this positive relationship.

Sound Bite: “[L]eaders can transform followers’ beliefs to enhance well-being” (Arnold et al., 2007, p. 202).

Reference

Arnold, K., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E., & McKee, M. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193-203.