Category Archives: Business

Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey
Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey

In 2011, I wrote an article about the true cost of job stress. In that article, I cited Dr. Rebecca Goldin (a Professor at George Mason University and Director of STATS.org) throughout and shared Dr. Goldin’s observations about the American Institute of Stress’ baseless claim of the $300 billion price tag of stress on the U.S. economy.

Today’s 2016 article is a supplement to the 2011 article, and includes additional information and supporting references.

First, the original URL link to Dr. Goldin’s “Counting the Costs of Stress” article on the stats.org website is no longer valid. I’ve reached out to Dr. Goldin to see if her article is posted elsewhere but did not hear back from her. Luckily, I had saved a PDF copy of the article and have posted it to my own website. Citations to Dr. Goldin’s 2004 article will now to point to a PDF of the article [hosted on my own website] rather than to an invalid URL on the stats.org website.

Second, I’ve located a copy of Dr. Paul Rosch’s 2001 newsletter in which he explained his rationale for how he arrived at the $300 billion price tag. According to Dr. Rosch (2001), via the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

Rosch also wrote in the International Stress Management Association newsletter (2001): “Job stress is estimated to cost American industry $300 billion a year from absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers compensation awards and other legal expenses, direct medical and insurance costs, etc.”

In his 2001 Health and Stress newsletter, Dr. Rosch wrote [emphasis added for readability]:

Job stress is estimated to cost American industry in excess of $300 billion a year. When [Dr. Rosch] started writing about this subject over twenty years ago the price tag for job stress was pegged at $150 billion annually and ten years ago it was claimed to be $200 billion. The $300 billion figure posted on our [American Institute of Stress] website has attracted a large number of inquiries over the past several years, particularly from reporters. Most people want to know if this is based on a formula or series of calculations with scientific underpinnings that have statistical significance as opposed to a personal estimate that was picked out of thin air. The answer is as follows: In 1979, Albrecht postulated an annual 4 percent rate of absenteeism and a 5 percent turnover rate in a company with 1000 employees. He assumed that 2 percent of all absences and turnovers were due to stress and that it would cost $1000 for recruitment and training for each turnover. In addition, there would be a 5 percent need for overstaffing to compensate for associated problems. Based on these figures, which were considered to be quite conservative at the time, he estimated that the hidden costs of stress to U.S.companies were $150 billion annually. That was over two decades ago and absenteeism and turnover rates have now almost doubled as have their expenses.”

Rosch added that Albrecht’s calculations did not include the cost of accidents, diminished productivity, direct health insurance, medical, legal and workers compensation costs.

It’s important to point out that Rosch incorrectly explained in his newsletter that Albrecht used a company with 1,000 employees. It was actually 2,000 people (1986, p. 128).

Third, let’s take a deeper dive into how Dr. Karl Albrecht came up with the $150 billion price tag for stress. This passage from Albrecht’s book (1986 [paperback edition]) is especially worth noting:

“Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation. That’s what I [Albrecht] have done (brazenly) in this section. As an intellectual challenge . . . let’s make some crude assumptions about stress effects in a hypothetical business organization and see what the bottom line impact might be” (p. 128).

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

Size: 2,000 people
Sales: $60 million/year
Profit: 5% = $3 million/year
Avg. salary (gross avg. for all employees): $6.00/hour
Personnel cost (salary + overhead costs): $100/person-day
Absentee rate (excluding vacation): 4% = 10 days/person-year
Turnover rate (assume stable workforce size): 5% = 100 people/year
Turnover cost (advertising, hiring, processing, etc.) $1,000/person

Albrecht explained that he took a conservative estimate in determining absenteeism (4%), turnover (5%), and personnel costs ($100/person-day).

For the 4% absenteeism rate, Albrecht speculated that 2% came from unavoidable disabilities and 2% came from stress. “In this 2% figure we include any genuine illness that is stress-induced as well as effects of life stress that may originate outside the job [emphasis added]” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

For the 5% turnover rate, Albrecht speculated that 3% was the result of retirement and voluntary (i.e. quitting) and involuntary turnover (i.e. fired). The other 2% turnover is assumed to arise from stress-related causes which includes “life stress originating outside the job [emphasis added] that interferes with the person’s ability or inclination to remain on the job” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

Albrecht also added an overstaffing ratio (5%). “5% of the work force (sic), or 100 people, are on the payroll because of the reduced performance of the others” 1986, p. 131). He justified this overstaffing ratio in this manner: “if a large proportion of people experience stress levels that degrade their performance capabilities, then we will need more people to get a given amount of work done — and to achieve a given level of sales and profits in our hypothetical company — than we otherwise would” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 131).

And if that weren’t enough, Albrecht tacked on the cost of antisocial acts (“theft, sabotage, deliberate waste or breakage, ‘invisible’ slow downs, and the like”) [Albrecht, 1986, p. 131]. For these antisocial acts (e.g., theft of a machine and “temper tantrum that results in a broken window or a damaged typewriter” (p. 131), Albrecht admitted that “we have no way of knowing which of these costs are stress-linked and which are simply isolated events [emphasis added]” (1986, p. 131).

The result looks like this for stress-linked personnel costs according to Albrecht:

Stress-linked absenteeism: $1 million/year
Stress-linked turnover: $40,000/year
Performance degradation (overstaffing cost): $2.5 million/year
Antisocial acts: $20,000/year
TOTAL $3,560,000/year

Even though Rosch might not have come up with the $300 billion price tag “out of thin air,” the source (Albrecht’s book) from which he based his calculations is quite unconvincing. In fact, Albrecht even admitted as much. Despite his own initial warning to not guess or speculate a dollar amount on the cost of stress, Albrecht marched right into speculation and guesswork.

Albrecht’s original estimate/guesstimate of cost of stress on organizations (1979) was derived from taking a hypothetical firm and extrapolating the cost of stress per person for that firm to 80 million U.S. workers: $1,780 (total stress cost divided by number of employees) x 80 million = $142.4 billion (“a national cost figure for stress-induced loss of effectiveness and efficiency approaching $150 billion no longer seems unbelievable” [Albrecht, 1986, pp. 132-133]).

So Rosch cited Albrecht’s $150 billion price tag from 1979, then modified that original amount (sometime around 2001) by doubling the $150 billion to $300 billion, and (almost) everyone (the general public, the media, writers/authors, professors, and researchers) jumped onboard and accepted it as a certainty.

The undeniable truth is this: Two men made up those numbers ($150 billion & $300 billion) in an attempt to guesstimate the cost of stress. Albrecht, the first man in 1979, “brazenly” made lots of “crude assumptions” and came up with an arbitrary number as an “intellectual challenge.” Roughly two decades later, Rosch, the second man, then based his calculations off the “crude assumptions” of the first (Albrecht). Thus, whatever number Rosch arrived at is pointless because it does not have anything to stand on. Albrecht offered sage advice in his book: “Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation.” Unfortunately, no one, including Albrecht himself, followed that nugget of wisdom.

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

References

The American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

Albrecht, K. (1979). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Albrecht, K. (1986). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. STATS.org.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA-USA). (2001) Newsletter. Vol. 3. Issue 1. [PDF]

Rosch, P. J. (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 1-8.

Giving Feedback Is Easy, Much Harder to Accept, Learn From, and Apply It

Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions
Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions

About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in a counseling psychology Master’s program. It was quite good and I learned a lot back then and continue to use many of the counseling/coaching skills today in the corporate world.

As part of the program, we were required to conduct counseling sessions with real clients and film these sessions (after securing the client’s permission) so that our classmates and professors could review these sessions and offer their feedback.

One day, during a feedback session about my counseling skills (again, where my peers and professor watched a video of my counseling session with a client and provided their feedback), I listened to them go on and on about what I was not doing right, what I had missed, or that my timing to talk was off, etc.

It is always hard to hear others criticize your work/performance but, by this time in the program, we had done this many times already so I was fine with receiving feedback, even tough feedback.

This went on for some time (at least it felt that way) and I tried to be patient, thinking and hoping that my professor would cut them off because, after a while, it started to sound the same (that is, they started repeating what someone else had shared). Unfortunately, my professor did not jump in and the “feedback” turned personal and became attacks on my character. It was very surreal because I could not believe that this was actually happening to me (a counselor-in-training) and the sources of the attacks were my peers (other counselors-in-training) and then having a professor (who was also a practicing psychologist) just sit there and do nothing made the entire experience feel like a bad dream.

I finally stopped them and told everyone that while I love and appreciate their feedback, because that’s how I learn, and although I try to always be open to feedback about my performance, when it turns into personal jabs, then that crosses the line and that’s where I have a problem. I told the professor that I was disappointed that she just sat there and did nothing while my classmates were attacking me (as a person) and not redirect them to focus on my actions (as a counselor).

Next, I offered my own feedback to my peers and professor about how they completely missed the cultural perspective in evaluating my performance and that their perspectives and opinions about when to interrupt a client while the client was talking (in order to offer the suggested counseling response) and how to come across as “professional” failed to account for a cultural dimension (both the client’s and the counselor’s), one in which age and experience (or lack of one) both play an important role in how and how often one offers feedback.

You would have thought that that might have been the end of it, but the attacks began again, with the professor sitting idly by not knowing what to do or not wanting to intervene. Again, I told the group that it felt like this was a character attack because they were criticizing my personality/character (or what they believed they “knew” about me) and not my actions in providing the talk therapy.

My counseling classmates and professor were very fast to give out all sorts of feedback (ideas, tips, suggestions), but when it was given back to them, they weren’t just slow to accept it, they dismissed it entirely.

In his book, “The Complete New Manager,” John Zenger shared that inside our minds is a picture of how we view ourselves. This mental self-portrait consists of our behaviors, values, and self-image.

“In most cases, leaders with a fatal flaw are totally unaware of that flaw. For example, people who immediately reject others’ ideas would probably describe themselves as having such extensive experience that they know what ideas will succeed and fail. These individuals don’t know they are perceived as rejecting everyone else’s ideas” (Zenger, 2010, p. 167).

Zenger explained that feedback that these leaders receive (from team discussions, 360-degree appraisals, or coaching sessions) convey messages which are contrary to how they view themselves.

When faced with this situation, these leaders have three choices:

(1) Deny the information – It’s very easy to dismiss feedback from one or two sources, but when you receive feedback from multiple, reliable sources then it can be much harder to ignore.

(2) Change their self-concept – Leaders admit to themselves that they do not know everything and that their own ideas are not the only good ones.

(3) Change their behavior – Feedback is most powerful when it is actually applied to altering behavior. 

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) the single best predictor of who will advance up the corporate ladder and do well once there is — learning agility. Eichinger et al. said we demonstrate learning agility when we’re able to reflect on our experiences and be disciplined enough to change our behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to predict leadership is to use a combination of cognitive ability (i.e., IQ), personality, simulation, role play, learning agility, and multi-rater assessment (i.e., 360-degree assessment). But if you only had one choice, use learning agility (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Learning agility is the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviors based on those reflections. Learning agility requires self-confidence to honestly examine oneself, self-awareness to seek feedback and suggestions, and self-discipline to engage in new behaviors” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 495).

Takeaways: (1) It is essential that you take an honest look inside yourself. Be self-aware and brave enough to ask for feedback. And most of all, learn from and apply the feedback to improving yourself and your behaviors. (2) It can be very easy, especially for extroverts and people who love to talk, to give feedback to others, but those who tend to be quick to give feedback are sometimes slow to accept and apply feedback themselves.

“Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” —African proverb

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

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Zenger, J. H. (2010). The complete new manager: Essential tips and techniques for managers. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Are You Depressed Because of Your Job or Are You Depressed Regardless?

Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images
Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images

A Careers Reporter for Business Insider contacted me about signs that a person’s job is making him/her depressed. I’ve been wanting to write about mental illness and the workplace but just never got around to doing it and was happy that this gave me a chance to do so.

Here is what I wrote back:

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.) defines depression as follows:

“Depression: a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”

According to “Mental Illness in the Workplace” (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014), depression is the most prevalent type of mental illness both inside the workplace and outside of it.

Signs of depression (and I’m referring to clinical depression) include significant sadness lasting most of the day and occurring most days of the week. What’s more, many depressed people also have trouble sleeping and/or eating. They’re tired or are chronically fatigued, can’t concentrate, feel worthless, have thoughts about suicide, or have lost experiencing joy from activities that they once enjoyed (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

Other signs to look for, particularly in the workplace, are employees who look sad, angry, unmotivated, withdrawn, or who are tired with frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or decrease in performance or performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable. They may also have interpersonal relationships that are stormy or diminished (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

So how would you know if your job is making you depressed? We would want to look at workplace factors that include the following:

  • High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  • High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  • Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?

If we were to take what I just shared and put them into a list, it might look like this:

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

  1. High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  2. High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  3. Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?
  4. Being or feeling sad, angry, unmotivated, or withdrawn.
  5. Feeling tired and making frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or being less productive or demonstrating performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable.

But, and I believe this is very important, we should also phrase it this way . . .

Are You Depressed Regardless of The Job You Have? In other words, it might just be that an individual is depressed no matter what type of job he/she has. And if that’s the case (that it’s really about a person who is or might be depressed), then we would want to look for a combination of symptoms below:

  1. Significant sadness lasting most of the day, and occurring most days of the week.
  2. Difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  3. Feeling tired or is chronically fatigued.
  4. Unable or trouble concentrating.
  5. Feeling worthless.
  6. Have thoughts about suicide.
  7. Does not enjoy activities that you once enjoyed.
  8. Rocky or reduced interpersonal relationships.
  9. These problems are significantly interfering with your daily life.

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

References

Harder, H. G., Wagner, S., & Rash, J. (2014). Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management. Burlington, VT: Gower.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Listening To Music While Working Can Be Distracting

Young man working at computer with headphones on
Young man working at computer with headphones on | Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez

I’ve heard college students and even business professionals claim that listening to music while working made them more productive. While it’s true that music can lift your mood and give you a relaxed focus, it can also decrease your performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

So when can music improve performance? Annie Murphy Paul, in an article in Time.com, wrote “Music can improve performance when a well-practiced expert needs to achieve the relaxed focus necessary to execute a job he’s done many times before.” For example, surgeons often listen to music while they’re performing surgeries and they’re more effective.

The irony, however, is that while the surgeons’ preferred music helped them, the music was distracting to others who work alongside them, such as the anesthetists.

When you are doing repetitive or routine tasks (e.g., folding laundry or filing papers), listening to music can make it less boring. But when you need to perform cognitively demanding tasks, music can actually be distracting. What’s more, singing along to the music may further increase the distraction.

The message is this:

“When you need to give learning and remembering your full attention, silence is golden.” -Annie Murphy Paul

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

Link

TIME.com – Listening to Music While Working: Does It Hamper Productivity?
http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/12/does-listening-to-music-while-working-make-you-less-productive/

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

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

References

Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time” (Glass & Noonan, 2016, p. 217).

“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours,” Noonan says. “When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community.

Forbes.com lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

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

References

BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16314901

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3004788/future-coworking-and-why-it-will-give-your-business-huge-edge

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehjf45edikj/11-tips-for-being-part-o/

Glass, J. L., & Noonan, M. C. (2016). Telecommuting and Earnings Trajectories Among American Women and Men 1989–2008 [Abstract]. Social Forces, 95(1), 217–250. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sow034

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011). http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/Telework-in-the-UK_4-3-11.1-Final-Rev.pdf

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2015/08/17/three-pitfalls-of-remote-work-that-you-probably-arent-thinking-about/

Lewis, R. C. (2017, January 18). Telecommuting extends the work week, at little extra pay. Iowa Now. Retrieved from https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/01/telecommuting-extends-work-week-little-extra-pay

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from http://www.london.edu/news-and-events/news/want-to-get-promoted-stay-at-your-desk#.Vdk9PNNVikp

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/12/21/virtual-workplaces-and-telework/

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. CIO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2431521/collaboration/17-telecommuting-pet-peeves.html

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/volkswagen-silences-work-e-mail-after-hours/2011/12/23/gIQAz4HRDP_story.html

Stop Telling People You’re a “Thought Leader” Because You’re Not

Embed from Getty Images
Is Thought Leadership Old Wine In New Bottles?

There are certain words/phrases that irk me to no end — thought leader or thought leadership is one of them. I cringe every time I see the words “thought leader” or “thought leadership” on a website or by a person’s name.

David Brooks wrote a satirical, op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2013 titled, “The Thought Leader.” Describing the life of a “thought leader,” Brooks wrote:

“[The thought leader] doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. . . .Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention.”

Origin of Thought Leadership

Alexander and Badings (2012) explained in their book “#Thought Leadership Tweet” that the term “thought leaders” originated from Joel Kurtzman while he was editor for Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine. In “Thought Leaders,” Kurtzman traveled the world for two years, interviewing 10 (2 were interviewed by Glenn Rifkin, the book featured 12) leaders (e.g., executives, authors, professors) from across the globe on issues related to business strategy, growth, and HR.

Old Wine In New Bottles

Merely wrapping, repackaging, or pouring old wine into a new bottle does not make it “new wine.” It only means you’re reusing or repackaging an old or existing idea and calling it new.

If you read a thought leader’s writings today, you will rarely find references or citations to ideas he or she borrowed from. These thought leaders tend to take credit for ideas that are, in fact, not new but rather have been around for decades.

For these individuals, their notion of thought leadership is pouring old wine into a new bottle and calling it new wine. Giving themselves the label of being a thought leader and selling this idea to others adds to their pseudo credibility.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be regarded as a thought leader?

What (and Who) Is a Thought Leader?

“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.” -Liz Alexander and Craig Badings

Many consultants are calling themselves thought leaders in the hopes that others might view them as trusted advisors, experts, or even futurists. However, “‘thought leader’ is not a position you choose to adopt, it is bestowed on you by others” (Alexander and Badings, 2012, p. 14).*

*And yet, ironically, after writing that the title “thought leader” is bestowed upon us by others, Alexander and Badings then said, “individual thought leaders are in plentiful supply” but because companies struggle to establish their thought leadership, that was the reason for them [Alexander and Badings] to write a book to help organizations design and implement a thought leadership campaign (their “proven, five-stage ‘Thought Leadership BluePrint.’”).

Not Thought Leaders, Thought Regurgitators

No matter how hard people convince themselves they’re a thought leader, in all likelihood, they’re not. Most people are not thought leaders. Regurgitating old ideas and gift-wrapping them using fancy, new decorative paper (no matter how nice) does not change the fact that you have not come up with a unique and innovative idea.

I love this quote from an article by Cheryl Kim in the Financial Post.

[M]ost people talking about thought leadership have no clue what it means. And most content labeled as ‘thought leadership’ is actually missing the elements of both ‘thought’ and ‘leadership’. -Cheryl Kim

She goes on to say:

“Thought leaders are defined as such because they articulate a problem about which others haven’t spoken, or because they present a novel approach to solving it. Thought leaders change the way people think and what they do. The best thought leaders are actually trying to address a problem or issue at hand — not just talk about it.” -Cheryl Kim

In their coverage of organization development and summarizing the thinking of some OD leaders, William Rothwell and Roland Sullivan (2005) said this:

“[M]uch of contemporary thinking is not truly new and is a trendy version of previous ideas and practices rather than breakthrough in nature” (p. 178).

In his book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, Haslam (2004) quoted McGregor as saying:

“What sometimes appear to be new strategies – decentralization, management by objective, consultative supervision, ‘democratic’ leadership – are usually but old wine in new bottles” (p. 231, citing Pinder, 1984, p. 42).

Are Curators of Ideas & Synthesizers of Information Thought Leaders?

Dorie Clark, in an HBR article, cites Des Dearlove (co-founder of Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers) in explaining that some thought leaders are actually curators of ideas and synthesizers of information:

Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman [are] examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”

Some Criteria for “Thought Leadership”

Daniel Rasmus wrote a nice article in Fast Company titled, “The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership.” In it, he outlined 11 rules to create and elevate thought leadership:

  1. Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  2. Always give it away.
  3. Have a unique perspective.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Address a specific audience.
  6. Get involved.
  7. Admit what you don’t know.
  8. Make your audience feel smarter.
  9. Market thought leadership like a product.
  10. Hire thought leaders.
  11. Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders.

Takeaway: Calling yourself a thought leader doesn’t make you one, neither does having a fancy degree, certification, or job title.

“Just because you have a degree from a top university, you’re CEO of a company or you are certified to teach a certain topic doesn’t make you a thought leader.” -Denise Brosseau

“Thought Leaders move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.”Denise Brosseau

I love what Denise said about a thought leader needing to be patient while possessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to put themselves and their reputation on the line:

“[N]ot just anyone can be a thought leader. Thought leadership takes time (sometimes years); knowledge and expertise in a particular niche; a certain level of commitment and a willingness to buck the status quo or the way things have always been done.”Denise Brosseau

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

References

Alexander, L., & Badings, C. (2012). #Thought Leadership Tweet. Cupertino, CA: THINKaha.

Brooks, D. (2013, December). The thought leader. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/opinion/brooks-the-thought-leader.html

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is a Thought Leader? FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.thoughtleadershiplab.com/Resources/WhatIsaThoughtLeader

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is Thought Leadership? Retrieved from
http://blog.thoughtleadershiplab.com/what-is-thought-leadership

Haslam, S. A. (2004). Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.

Kim, C. (2014, March). Think you’re a thought leader? You’re probably wrong… but here are 3 ways to become one. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/executive/leadership/think-youre-a-thought-leader-youre-probably-wrong-but-here-are-3-ways-to-become-one

Kurtzman, J. (1998). Thought leaders: Insights on the future of business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pinder, C.C. (1984). Work motivation: Theory, issues and applications. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Rasmus, D. W. (2012, December). The golden rules for creating thoughtful thought leadership. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3003897/golden-rules-creating-thoughtful-thought-leadership

Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Manager and HR

100-Things-You-Need-to-Know

Description (from a Lominger flyer): In 100 Things, three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management provide the research behind the best people practices in an easy-to-read and easy-to-reference format. You’ll find research, discussion and a “so what” section (that tells you what best practices to follow as a result of the research) on the full range of HR people issues you deal with all the time—change management, HR effectiveness, measurement, campus recruiting, career development, feedback, selection, pay practices and more.

I shared before about how I love Half-Price Books. Recently, I discovered other sources of used books – online bookstores! I’ve been impressed by the convenience, price, and quality of the used books I ordered thus far.

Previously, I had written about Lominger’s (now a part of Korn/Ferry) book, FYI For Your Improvement (a development and coaching tool for learners, managers, mentors, coaches and feedback givers). The FYI book can be used in conjunction with 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

100 Things You Need to Know is listed at $44.95 on the Korn/Ferry website (Lominger originally sold it for $49.95), but I bought a used copy online for $4.00 (that includes shipping/handling)!

What I especially like is that the authors have sifted through, pulled together, and presented research that back up HR and people practices, and then (and this is important) translates that research into what it means for you in your HR role – that is, what should you do based on the research findings. I also love the “How sure are we at this time?” a 5-point scale in which the authors indicate how certain they are of their answer/response.

Here’s an example:

What is the relationship between being smart (having a high IQ) and the ability to manage others effectively?

Select One:

    A. There is a strong relationship; the smarter you are, the better manager you can be.

    B. There is a moderate relationship; the smarter you are, the more likely it is you can manage others well.

    C. There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

    D. There is no relationship; the level of your IQ has nothing to do with how well you can manage others.

    E. There is a negative relationship; the smarter you are the more likely it is that you won’t listen or delegate.

The correct answer is C: There is a small relationship; it helps but not much.

How sure are we at this time (based on the research evidence)?
[on a scale of Hint, Suggestive, Trending, Substantial, Solid] — Substantial*

*Substantial: Enough research has been done to feel strongly about the answer, although further research might shade the answer slightly in one direction or the other.

Next, Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich provide summaries of what they’ve found in support of the conclusion they reached. Finally, in the “So what difference do these findings make?” section, the authors share what you should do that’s in line with the research evidence and what are the best practices that can be gleaned from the research findings.

Human resource practitioners and many others will find 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR to be an incredibly useful, reputable, evidence-based, must-have resource. I wish I could get a copy for every HR, OD, and I/O consultant I know.

As Madigan and Dickson stated, citing Denise Rousseau (2007), there “remains a gap between much academic research on the workplace and I-O and HR practitioners’ day-to-day decision making and managers’ daily activities” (Madigan & Dickson, April 2008, p. 72). 100 Things You Need to Know will help bridge this gap by linking practitioners with research and providing them with guidance in performing their day-to-day activities.

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

References

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

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

Madigan, J., & Dickson, M. W. (April 2008). Good Science-Good Practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 45(4), 67-72.

Rousseau, D. M. (2007). A sticky, leveraging, and scalable strategy for high-quality connections between organizational practice and science. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 1037-1042.

Cajoling and Betraying Trust

The Oxford American Dictionary defines cajoling as “persuad[ing] someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.” It’s another way of describing how we sweet-talk others into doing our bidding.

A damaging consequence of a leader cajoling employees is losing the employees’ trust or confidence in that leader, and in his words and actions. Although they may, initially, trust the leader it often does not take long for employees to recognize that it’s simply deception designed to get them to do what that leader wanted them to do.

“Cajoling employees (i.e., using persuasive tactics) is a poor leadership approach because it’s more about getting what you want and tricking people into listening to you. It’s sleight of hand. Employees might be deceived for a while into thinking they are following you, but they’ll eventually figure it out.” -John Brandon

FYI: For Your Improvement (2nd ed.) tells us betrayal of trust is problematic when we (a) say one thing but mean or do something else, (b) are inconsistent with our words or acts, and/or (c) fail to deliver on our promises or follow through on our commitments (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

Some reasons why a business professional betrays trust include (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998):

  • Wants to avoid conflict
  • Is dishonest, underhanded, devious
  • Has trouble saying no
  • Is disorganized, has poor time management, or is forgetful

Here are two remedies to help you to not lose people’s trust:

(1) Are you conflict-averse? I knew a guy who would (and could) never say no. He was notorious for always saying yes but everyone knew that he actually meant no. Friends would invite him to come hang out with them and he would always say he’ll meet them there, but, without fail, he would never show up. After a while, his friends stopped asking because they knew his hollow promises (to meet them) were never supported by his actions (of showing up). Some people are so worried about offending others that they’ll say yes or commit to something when they actually have no intention of following through.

Here’s something those who are afraid of saying no don’t realize: People will respect you MORE if you say “NO” instead of saying yes and not mean it.

(2) Intentionally saying things to gain an advantage? Another type of betrayers of trust are folks who “know ahead of time that what [they] are saying is not really true or that [they] really don’t think that [way]” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 455). These people “say things [they] don’t mean to gain an advantage or forward a relationship or get some resources” (p. 455).

When we talk about people who say things they don’t mean just to make a sale or to gain some type of advantage, snake oil salesmen or car salesmen quickly come to mind. But, I bet we all know or work with, or for, someone who does this (i.e., say things they don’t mean or make empty promises, etc.). As the FYI book explains, individuals who habitually overpromise (to impress others) and underdeliver on those promises will “lose in the long term because others will learn to discount promises and only measure results” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, pp. 454-455).

Takeaway: In daily life and in the workplace, people trust us to do what we say we’ll do. Human beings expect and demand a certain level of trust in their interactions with one another. When that trust is severed because a person uses sleight of hand to dupe others into carrying out his/her agenda, relationships are damaged, business projects derail, and drama ensues.

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

References

Brandon, J. (2014, November 19). How to Stop Making the Most Common Leadership Mistakes | Inc.com.
http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/10-common-leadership-mistakes-and-how-to-stop-making-them.html

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

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

References

Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30. http://www.radpro.com/RPM-206full.pdf

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. http://stats.org/stories/2004/counting_costs_stress_sep23_04.htm

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness. http://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2011/10/11/s358732u66669q21.html

IBM. What is big data? http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off? http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26383058

In Chinese: Crisis Does NOT Mean Danger and Opportunity

JFK-crisis-danger-and-opportunity

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

JFK was wrong. On pinyin.info, a website about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, firmly corrects an American linguistic blunder that interprets the word “crisis” in Chinese as meaning both “danger” and “opportunity.”

“The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.” -Victor H. Mair

While this linguistic faux pas, no doubt, dates much further back, it was perhaps a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy, in Indianapolis on April 12, 1959 that is most memorable. In his speech, Kennedy incorrectly said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”

As Professor Mair explains (the three paragraphs below are taken directly from Dr. Mair’s article):

[The word] “crisis” (wēijī) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wēi and jī. . . . While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not (italics added for emphasis) signify “opportunity.”

The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary.

If one wants to find a word containing the element jī that means “opportunity” (i.e., a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement), one needs to look elsewhere than wēijī, which means precisely “crisis” (viz., a dangerous, critical moment). One might choose, for instance, zhuǎnjī (“turn” + “incipient moment” = “favorable turn; turn for the better”), liángjī (“excellent” + “incipient moment” = “opportunity” [!!]), or hǎo shíjī (“good” + “time” + “incipient moment” = “favorable opportunity”).

Takeaway: It is scary how easily we take things at face value and accept them as “truths” or “facts” without ever doing the proper research.

*For a more comprehensive discussion, please visit Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

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

Links

Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis. How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray. http://www.pinyin.info/chinese/crisis.html

John F. Kennedy Quote. http://quotationspage.com/quote/2750.html

Victor H. Mair. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/faculty/mair.htm

Introverts Are Excellent Just As They Are

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on the TED Talk website, Susan Cain: The power of introverts.

Here is a great 19-minute TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Below are excerpts from her speech.

“I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.”

“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half.”

“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.”

“Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

“When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays.”

“Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”

“Culturally we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”

Three Calls for Action:

(1) “Stop the madness for constant group work . . . I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions — you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas . . . But we need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”

(2) “Go to the wilderness . . . I’m not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”

(3) “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase and why you put it there.”

Extroverts: Take things out of your suitcase “every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy.”

Introverts: “You probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase. And that’s okay. But occasionally . . . I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

Link

TED Talk – Susan Cain: The power of introverts
http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

Ethical dilemma: An overseas distributor sanctioned over corruption

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Photo Credit: Flickr

I was recently quoted in a BBC Capital’s work ethic article titled “Treading a fine line: A case of corruption?” by Chana Schoenberger. However, some rather important details were omitted from my response to a reader’s ethical dilemma involving one company’s business relationship with an overseas distributor that was recently sanctioned over a corruption issue with another company’s products.

Offered in a Q and A format, here (in its entirety) is what I wrote:

Question:

Our company has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute. We are wary of doing business with them now, although we have no reason to believe that there is anything improper about the way they are selling our products. With a large outstanding order that is material to our worldwide sales results, we don’t want to dump them altogether. What can we do?

Answer:

This is indeed a conundrum. I can certainly understand why this issue is a difficult one to tackle. On the one hand, the “large outstanding order” indicates that the business this overseas distributor brings in is a significant contribution to your company’s overall worldwide sales. Financial gain is not something that can be quickly dismissed, especially since it plays an important part in a company’s financial health and, ultimately, its survival.

On the other hand, I got the distinct impression (based on the wording “we are wary of doing business with them”) that while financial profit is important, that there is more at stake for you and your organization.

There are two related points which you may want to consider. The first point is the possible–but very real–damage to your own company’s reputation if and/or when it is revealed that your company “has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute.” Your organization would then be guilty by association. In other words, just being associated with this overseas distributor might cause your company to also look guilty, even if there is absolutely no evidence to support this.

Apple Inc. serves as an example of what one company decided to do once it discovered that one of its supplier was involved in unethical behaviors. Apple decided to cut ties with one supplier after it discovered that the supplier was involved in using underage workers (Blagdon, 2013). And, to ensure greater transparency, Apple also posted information about supplier responsibility and how Apple would hold itself and its supplier accountable (Apple.com).

The second point is about being an ethical leader and what ethical leadership means. Let’s not forget that there is such a thing as ethical leadership and that ethical behaviors and decisions by leaders influence the ethical behaviors of employees and permeate throughout an organization. Ethical leaders can promote and model ethical behaviors in the workplace and the organization. In addition, and perhaps most relevant to your particular situation, ethical leaders can also discourage unethical behaviors by “refus[ing] to share in the benefits provided by unethical activities” (Yukl, 2010, p. 430).

Alas, I cannot make this difficult choice for you. Ultimately, the final decision is up to you and the decision-makers at your company. In the book Leadership in Organizations, professor Gary Yukl explained that there are three criteria people consider when judging whether a decision or act is ethical: (a) purpose (ends), (b) how much behavior is consistent with moral standards (means), and finally (c) what the results or consequences will be for self and others (outcomes).

I have found that rather than giving answers, sometimes it helps to ask more probing questions to get people to look deep within and come up with a decision that they can live with. My hope is that the two points I have raised and the three criteria for judging the ethics of a decision will help guide you and your company in your decision-making process. Good luck.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

References

Apple – Supplier Responsibility at Apple
http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/accountability.html

Apple – We believe in accountability — for our suppliers and for ourselves
http://www.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/accountability/

Blagdon, J. (2013, Jan 25). Apple cuts ties with supplier after audit reveals 74 cases of underage labor. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/25/3914252/apple-severs-ties-with-supplier-after-audit-reveals-74-cases-of

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

To Spread Excellence You Need Excellence To Spread

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Photo Credit: Flickr

In the book Scaling Up Excellence (which I recently reviewed), Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao said this:

“To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181).

This sentence captures something that is actually quite simple: if you don’t have some excellence, don’t try to spread something you do not have. As Sutton and Rao explained in the book, if you can’t deliver on your most basic promises, then it is pointless to try to scale up excellence. Just think about how hypocritical that is.

There’s a lesson in the Bible in which Jesus tells people to not worry about a speck in someone else’s eye, but to take it out of your own eye first. Although the lesson is about not judging others, it can also apply to not being a hypocrite and deceiving yourself.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, English Standard Version).

How many times have you been in an organization, on a team, or part of a group that was already struggling to meet just the basic expectations, but yet was attempting to start spreading excellence (e.g., initiating a training program, delivering professional development workshops, etc.)?

I was once in a meeting where an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive.

Shortly after the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she lacked.

What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but that she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

Rather than uniting the team, the hypocritical behaviors of this executive revealed itself when the executive tried to spread something that she did not possess.

Sutton and Rao said that prior to attempting to spread excellence, “the first order of business should be to drive out bad behavior” (2014, p. 239). Here’s the lesson: Don’t broadcast that you are spreading and expecting excellence when you (or your team or the organization) are not even adequate. Be excellent first, then you’ll have something to spread!

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

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.

Book Review: Scaling Up Excellence

scaling-up-excellence-book-cover

As owner of the WorkplacePsychology.Net website, which continues to get a high number of visitors daily, I am frequently asked to review books. In fact, publicists and sometimes even authors will ask me to review their books. I rarely need or want to reach out to authors. Robert I. Sutton is one of those authors for whom I make an exception. Back in December 2013, I reached out to him for an advance copy of his new book to review.

A few years earlier, I had reviewed professor Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss book and have been wondering about the type of book he would write after it. While there were a few examples borrowed from Good Boss, Bad Boss, the latest book, Scaling Up Excellence (written with Huggy Rao, also a Stanford professor) is completely different.

Simply stated, scaling is about finding pockets of excellence and building and spreading those pockets of excellence throughout an organization and beyond.

The stories and examples Sutton and Rao shared in Scaling Up Excellence were outstanding and nicely dovetailed (as Sutton is so fond of writing) with the many research studies in support of the various scaling lessons.

Among the things I found interesting and helpful were the following:

1. Scaling starts and ends with individuals—success depends on the will and skill of people at every level of an organization. (p. xv)

2. Scaling is not about more, it’s about more and better (p. xiii). Sometimes better means subtraction (p. 27, 110), and subtraction can even mean addition [like adding a load buster to direct employees’ attention to what matters most when mental demands are high and priorities collide and when it’s easy to lose or miss important information]. (p. 119-121)

3. Scaling is a ground war, not just an air war. It’s about “moving a thousand people forward a foot at a time, rather than moving one person forward by a thousand feet” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 5).

4. Watch out for the clusterfug – The terrible trio of illusion, impatience, and incompetence. Read about the story about Stanford University’s own failed IT systems upgrade in 2003. (pp. 24-26)

5. The best scaling teams know how to balance between replication and customization (what Sutton and Rao referred to in the book as the difference between Catholicism and Buddhism*).

*I personally found it really annoying and hated the use of the terms “Catholicism and Buddhism” because there was a connotation about religion, although that was not their intention.

6. Scaling is about understanding when to inject enough hierarchy, structure, and process. It’s about knowing when to add more complexity, when it’s just right, and when you need to wait a bit longer. (p. 133)

7. “To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181). If you can’t even deliver on your most basic vanilla promises to customers, then don’t even attempt scaling. Remember, adequacy before excellence. (p. 239)

8. Finally, you need to ask yourself whether scaling is a good idea. Is it feasible? Is it worth the cost to your own and your team’s mental and physical well-being? And, would you be happy “about the destination you will have reached”? (p. 271) Would you be happy in that world that you have built?

Seven Lessons for Scaling Up Without Screwing Up

Lesson #1: Start Where You Are, Not Where You Hope to Go

Start your scaling journey where you are and do the best with what you got regardless of whether you have a little (or none) or a big budget, staff, and resources at your disposal.

Lesson #2: Scale, Don’t Just Swarm

It is fine to have a kick-off event and infuse some energy and excitement into an initiative, but make sure that you are serious about enabling and encouraging people in your organization to live the scaling mindset, or else it will not spread.

Lesson #3: Use Your Mindset as a Guide, Not as the Answer

“[M]indsets are double-edged swords. You need them, but never stop asking whether the time is ripe to cast them aside” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 277).

Lesson #4: Use Constraints as Guardrails that Channel, Rather than Derail, Ingenuity and Effort

There are always constraints, but people with the will and the skill will find ways to work around these constraints and turn them into virtues.

Sutton and Rao (2014) shared a great story about how Michelangelo finished the famous statue of David by working within the constraints imposed (must finish within 2 years; how it should look; and working with a piece of marble that a previous sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, had started but never completed).

Lesson #5: Use Hierarchy to Squelch Unnecessary Friction, Instead of Creating and Spreading Hierarchy

Leaders ought to do everything they can to get rid of friction and complexity and “not burden employees with ‘rules, tools, and fools’ that make it tougher to do their jobs and waste money and talent” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 282).

Lesson #6: Work with People You Respect, Not Your Friends

“[H]ire people whom you respect and who bring new thinking to the organization; whether you like them should be secondary. . . . Diversity of style, thought, and culture can sometimes generate friction. But if it is productive friction, and if your team frames it that way, it can help build resilience . . . like allergy shots for your organization” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 285).

Lesson #7: Make Sure that Accountability Prevails and Free Riding and Other Bad Behaviors Fail

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a fantastic example of scaling up and especially about accountability. During the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel (in Mumbai, India) on November 26, 2008, employees of the hotel risked their own lives and safety to help hundreds of guests escape. While their actions were heroic, it was impressed upon them—from the initial 18-month training to the daily reinforcement at the Taj Hotel—to look out for their guests.

Sutton and Rao shared another incredible story of sawmill workers who were stealing for the thrill of it. Management, with the help of a consultant, devised a simple but brilliant library system whereby any worker could check out any equipment at any time and this idea worked! The stealing stopped because it was no longer exciting to steal and brag about it to others because the items could now be checked out for free.

Summary: Unlike, my previous experience with Good Boss, Bad Boss, reading and completing the Scaling Up Excellence book left me feeling unsettled. This is certainly not a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it reflects the complexities and the uncertainties that scaling entails. Indeed, one of the major lessons about scaling discussed in the book is that it is messy, unpredictable, and unpleasant; but the best scaling people are able to manage and even delight in it.

Reading Scaling Up Excellence is akin to the experience of enjoying a fine steak. It is wonderful, full of flavor, but also heavy. You cannot, nor should you, devour it. Instead, you savor it, making sure that you take your time to enjoy it.

When I read a book, I typically jot down a few notes here and there. However, with Scaling Up Excellence, I found that my notes added up to a total of 20 pages! There were simply too many amazing stories and examples that I felt compelled to write many of them down. In fact, I had tried to stop taking notes and just read, but upon revisiting the 85 pages where I wasn’t taking notes, I ended up “jotting down” 5 more pages of notes!

It is very clear the amount of work that went into researching and writing the Scaling Up Excellence book. Sutton and Rao have done a superb and impressive job of distilling the complex subject of scaling into mouthwatering, easily digestible morsels of goodness. Sutton’s excellent story-telling and writing style made reading Scaling Up Excellence almost like listening to him and Rao tell these stories in person. Scaling Up Excellence earns my highest recommendation. Just one warning: Do not read this book without taking notes!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.