Category Archives: Business

Workplace Bullying: It’s Not Employee Dissatisfaction and Why It’s Different from Schoolyard Bullying

stop bullying

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This post is in response to an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Bully” that was posted on HCOnline, Australia’s online magazine for senior human resource professionals and corporate decision-makers.

In the article, the author said:

“[D]espite the best intentions of the [anti-bullying] legislation [in Australia], employers are faced with the prospect of an avalanche of complaints based on perceptions. Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.”

The author then proceeded to offer a case to illustrate why a dissatisfied employee led to the incorrect labeling of a manager as a “bully.”

“When we met with the employee, one of the first things he said when explaining the situation was ‘bullying is a too strong a word.’ He (the employee) went on to recount a conflict scenario that involved differing views about a project recommendation he had made, and described feeling intimidated and threatened. His complaint referred to the situation as bullying. When we met with his manager, she was distressed and felt pressured by the allegation. She was confused as to why she had been accused. She felt she had supported the employee, who she perceived him as being ‘difficult’ and requiring her intervention. The experience demonstrates the dangers of bullying becoming a catchall term for interpersonal issues.”

First, labeling someone in the workplace as a bully can have significant consequences (for both the instigator and the victim) so it is prudent to exercise care and caution before initiating claims of bullying.

Second, it should not matter if an employee uses the word(s) “bully” or “bullying” or not. As the author acknowledged, the employee, when recounting what happened, indicated that he felt “intimidated and threatened.” In others words, he felt that he was not able to defend/protect himself. Put it another way, people in positions of power may not realize or care that their higher/greater power within the company can engender bullying behaviors.

Third, something that was not mentioned in the article but is critically important to point out is that there is an important difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying. While both forms involve victimizing another person and using power to do so, school bullies (sometimes cheered on by other students) do not have the support of teachers and school administrators. In contrast, workplace bullies, who often hold positions of authority, do have the support of peers, HR, and even upper management (Namie & Namie, 2009).

When targets (who participated in the 2003 Workplace Bullying Institute survey) were asked if they reported the bullying behaviors to others at work and what happened after that, here are the results (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93):

The results below summarize who knew about the bullying and what they did in terms of helping or hurting.

WBI 2003 survey

“It is clear that workplace “insiders”—co-workers, the bully’s boss, and HR—were destructive, not supportive” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93).

Namie and Namie (2009) said it well: “[T]he child Target must have the help and support of third-party adults to reverse the conflict. Bullied adults have the primary responsibility for righting the wrong themselves, for engineering a solution” (p. 15).

Fourth, I strongly disagree with the author that “The proliferation of anti-bullying awareness campaigns has led to workplace conflicts too readily being labeled as bullying” or that “Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.” These statements are a disservice to people who have been or are currently victims of workplace bullying. And, these types of statements continue to perpetuate the myth that victims of bullying are too soft, complain too much, or just don’t have the backbone to stand up. This, in my opinion, minimizes the seriousness of workplace bullying.

I do not agree that “anti-bullying awareness campaigns [have] led to workplace conflicts being labelled as bullying.” In fact, the two constructs (“workplace conflicts” and “workplace bullying”) sometimes get confused (as is the case in the author’s HCOnline article).

Conflicts – perceived differences between one person and another about interests, beliefs or values that matter to them (De Dreu, Van Dierendonck, & De Best-Waldhober, 2003).

Bullying – “situations where a worker or supervisor is systematically mistreated and victimized by fellow workers or supervisors through repeated negative acts like insulting remarks and ridicule, verbal abuse, offensive teasing, isolation, and social exclusion, or the constant degrading of one’s work and efforts” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994, p. 381).

Results from the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey indicated that,

“37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work—13 percent said it was either happening now or had happened within a year of the polling, and 24 percent said they were not now being bullied but had been bullied in the past. Adding the 12 percent who witnessed bullying but never experienced it directly, nearly half (49 percent) of adult Americans are affected by it” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 4).

A follow-up 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed,

“35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it.”

Thus, when we step back and examine these statistics on workplace bullying and the difference between the concept of conflict and bullying, as defined above, we can see that bullying is not just “employee dissatisfaction” as the author suggested.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

De Dreu, C. K. W., Van Dierendonck, D., & De Best-Waldhober, M. (2003). Conflict at work and individual well-being. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 495-515). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Einarsen, S., Raknes, B. I., & Matthiesen, S. B. (1994). Bullying and harassment at work and their relationships to work environment quality: An exploratory study. European Work and Organizational Psychologist, 4(4), 381-401.

Namie, G., & Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s Identity Crisis and How to Fix It

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2017]

Recently, I’ve been struck by how stuck people and even organizations are in defining who they are and determining where they’re going. In particular, I have been very interested in following the struggles of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), to define and distinguish itself in an ever-crowded space.

I examined four I-O psychology textbooks hoping to find a simple, clear definition of what exactly industrial and organizational psychology is:

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is “the branch of psychology that is concerned with the study of behavior in work settings and the application of psychology principles to change work behavior” (Riggio, 2013, p. 2).

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is “the application of psychological principles, theory, and research to the work setting” (Landy & Conte, 2013, p. 7).

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is “the application of psychological principles and theories to the workplace” (Levy, 2010, p. 2).

Industrial/organizational psychology is “a branch of psychology that applies the principles of psychology to the workplace” (Aamodt, 2013, p. 2).

On its website, SIOP originally said (as of July 2013), “Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is the scientific study of the workplace.” This is a very poor definition, one that does not align well with the definitions from the I-O psychology textbooks I shared above.

Admittedly, I do not claim to know or understanding everything about SIOP or I-O psychology so I’ll stick to sharing my perspective about how SIOP’s lack of a sense of identity has negatively impacted its present and future course of action.

In discussions and conversations on various industrial and organizational psychology LinkedIn groups, it is clear that many people, within I-O and many more outside of it, cannot define or explain, succinctly, what it is. I am amazed that a group of highly educated people have struggled for so long, and continues to struggle, to define to themselves and explain to others about their profession.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest challenges facing the field of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology. In fact, very early on in its history, I-O psychology was actually referred to by other names, such as economic psychology, business psychology, and employment psychology (Koppes & Pickren, 2007).

According to Koppes and Pickren (2007), the term industrial psychology was rarely used before World War I. As a matter of fact, APA’s Division 14 was called Industrial and Business Psychology when it was formed in 1945. The word business was dropped from the division name, and Industrial and Business Psychology became Industrial Psychology in 1962. In 1973, the division added organizational to the name and became known as Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Koppes & Pickren, 2007). With all these identities and changes, it’s no wonder I-O psychologists and everyone else are confused.

According to Highhouse (2007), the I-O label survived a name change vote in 2004 (but the initiative started in 2002). More recently, in late 2009, there was yet another push for a name change. But SIOP’s membership chose to keep “Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology” (SIOP) by a very narrow margin (515 ballots against the name change to 500 ballots for changing the name to The Society for Organizational Psychology). Fifteen votes difference!

Come on folks, just pick a name and stick with it! THREE name changes and TWO attempts at name changes within a 68 year span would make anyone’s head spin.

SIOP “hired a professional marketing agency to aid them in developing SIOP’s brand and making that brand known to the public” (Latham, 2009). Sadly, its history of numerous name changes and the latest, closely contested fight to again change its name are indicative of an organization and profession struggling to find itself, its brand, and its overall sense of identity.

It appears that efforts to develop SIOP’s brand have yielded dismal results, as two recent surveys [one sent to business professionals (in March 2012) and the other to HR professionals (in July 2012) asking them to indicate their familiarity with professional organizations] suggested that among the professional organizations (e.g., Academy of Management [AOM], American Society for Training and Development [ASTD], Society of Human Resources Management [SHRM], etc.), Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) ranked dead last among business professionals!

I contend that when APA Division 14 renamed itself in 1962, rather than dropping the word business, it should have instead dropped the word industrial. Thus, the field of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology (in the United States) might be widely known today as business psychology. I believe that had this been done the field of I-O psychology would have been much better defined, to those in and those outside of the field (e.g., the general public and business community). Unfortunately, that was not the case and 68 years after it was first established as Division 14, SIOP and the larger field of I-O psychology continue to struggle with its identity.

To make my case, I point the reader to Hugo Münsterberg, one of the fathers of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology. In his book Business Psychology, Hugo Münsterberg (1918) talked about business psychology — what it means and its relevance to the world of business. He said business psychology is about “bring[ing] together those results of modern psychological thinking which are significant for the work of the business man” (p. v).

“Business psychology means a psychology in which the chief emphasis is laid on those mental functions which are significant for business life and in which so far as possible the other aspects of psychology are omitted. If anyone were to try to present business psychology without going into the study of the foundations, principles, and laws of psychology in general, he would offer useless and misleading material. . . . Business psychology is psychology, or it is nothing at all” (Münsterberg, 1918, p. 8).

Wheeler (2013) said, “The right name is timeless, tireless, easy to say and remember; it stands for something, and facilitates brand extensions. Its sound has rhythm. It looks great in the text of an email and in the logo. A well-chosen name is an essential brand asset . . . . The wrong name for a company, product, or service can hinder marketing efforts . . . because people cannot pronounce it or remember it” (p. 22).

In my opinion, the group(s) of individuals who collectively decided to adopt an increasingly more convoluted and difficult-to-remember name* for the field of I-O psychology ensured one thing — that the overall profession (and the legions of business psychologists who make up the profession) would struggle with its sense of identity.

*From Industrial and Business Psychology in 1945 Industrial Psychology in 1962 Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1973.

I’m certainly not advocating another push for a name change. However, I think it is critical to understand FOUR things:

(1) how the name has changed since its inception (i.e., understand the history),
(2) why there continues to be discontent about the name and the push to change it (i.e., study the current situation),
(3) the importance of defining the overall profession within this context (i.e., use history and context to dictate course of action), and
(4) where to go from here (i.e., set achievable, realistic, agreed-upon goals and objectives).

“The right name captures the imagination and connects with the people you want to reach” -Danny Altman (as quoted on p. 22 in Designing brand identity [4th ed.])

Constantly bickering over what to call yourself (or your organization), being indecisive and falling into the trap of analysis paralysis, failing to unite the SIOP membership, and not setting and acting on a strategic course of action have all negatively contributed to the stagnation of SIOP.

Philip Durbrow, Chairman and CEO of Marshall Strategy said this (on p. 142 in Designing brand identity [4th ed.]): “If you wish to make a meaningful statement, a name change is not enough. The name should represent a unique, beneficial, and sustainable story that resonates with customers, investors, and employees.”

What unique and sustainable story can business psychologists (I-O psychologists) share that will resonate within the field as well as outside with others? Find or create that story, own it, and then passionately share it with others.

[Added 03/2017]: SIOP featured a great and spot-on article (Spring 2017) titled, “Has Industrial-Organizational Psychology Lost Its Way?” on its website. In the article, Ones, Kaiser, Chamorro-Premuzic, and Svensson (2017) stated that the field of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology, while “more relevant than ever” is at risk of being marginalized.

“We see the field losing its way, in danger of becoming less relevant and giving up ground to other professions with less expertise about people at work—but perhaps better marketing savvy and business acumen.” -Ones, Kaiser, Chamorro-Premuzic, and Svensson (2017)

The troubling trends that the authors see I-O psychology heading includes: overemphasizing theory; being fixated on trivial methodological minutiae; and emphasizing academic publication but ignoring practical applications. The result is that the field of I-O psychology is “losing real-world influence to other fields.”

The authors wrote that fields such as marketing, behavioral economics, and neuroscience are gaining more attention and respect because they’re able to sell themselves and their products and services better.

“The insular, academic thinking that dominates the [I-O psychology] discipline creates hostility and antipathy toward practice and the applied world that keeps it on the periphery—when it could be center stage in a leadership role.”

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

References

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

Highhouse, S. (2007). Where Did This Name Come From Anyway? A Brief History of the I-O Label. Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/tip/july07/sheridan%20pdfs/451_053to056.pdf

Koppes, L L. (n.d.). A Brief History of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. – A Division of the APA. Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/History/historynew.aspx

Koppes. L. L., & Pickren, W. (2007). Industrial and organizational psychology: An evolving science and practice. In L. L. Koppes (Ed)., Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 3-35). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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

Latham, G. (2009). A Message From Your President: Bridging the Scientist–Practitioner Gap. Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/tip/jan09/01latham.aspx

Levy, P. E. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Münsterberg, H. (1918). Business psychology. Chicago: LaSalle Extension University.

Ones, D. S., Kaiser, R. B., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Svensson, C. (2017). Has Industrial-Organizational Psychology Lost Its Way? Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/tip/april17/lostio.aspx

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

Wheeler, A. (2013). Designing brand identity: An essential guide for the whole branding team (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Leadership and Management: Are They Different?

Businesswoman in conference room

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Northouse (2013) wrote that leadership and management are similar in many ways. Both involve influencing, achieving goals, and working with people. However, while they may share some similarities, there are distinct and important differences. Northouse said the study of leadership goes as far back as the times of Aristotle, while the concept of management came about “around the turn of the 20th century with the advent of our industrialized society” (2013, p. 12).

In this article, I will first include quotes in support of the notion that leadership and management are similar. I will then follow with quotes and passages in support of the notion that leadership and management are different.

Manager And Leader – One And The Same

Mintzberg (1990) defined a manager and a leader as one and the same. Mintzberg considered a manager “the person in charge of the organization or one of its subunits” (1990, p. 164). In his HBR article (which originally appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1975), he referred to CEOs as managers. Managers include “foremen, factory supervisors, staff managers, field sales managers, hospital administrators, presidents of companies and nations…” (p. 164). Mintzberg maintained that managers are vested with authority over an organizational unit and from this authority comes status, which then leads to interpersonal relations and access to information. And, it is information that allows a manager to make decisions and develop strategies.

Manager And Leader – Not Synonymous

“Leaders manage and managers lead, but the two activities are not synonymous . . . [M]anagement functions can potentially provide leadership; [L]eadership activities can contribute to managing. Nevertheless, some managers do not lead, and some leaders do not manage” (Bass, 1990, p. 383).

“Leadership is path-finding; management is path-following. Leaders do the right things; managers do things right. Leaders develop; managers maintain. Leaders ask what and why; managers ask how and when. Leaders originate; managers imitate. Leaders challenge the status quo; managers accept it . . . Leadership is concerned with constructive or adaptive change, establishing and changing direction, aligning people, and inspiring and motivating people . . . They set the direction for organizations. They articulate a collective vision . . . They sacrifice and take risks to further the vision” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

“Managers plan, organize, and arrange systems of administration and control. They hold positions of formal authority. Their position provides them with reward, disciplinary, or coercive power to influence and obtain compliance from subordinates. The subordinates follow directions from the manager and accept the manager’s authority as long as the manager has the legitimate power to maintain compliance—or the subordinates follow out of habit or deference to other powers of the leader. Management is concerned with consistency and order, details, timetables, and the marshaling of resources to achieve results. It plans, budgets, and allocates staff to fulfill plans” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

Good Leader ≠ Good Manager, Good Manager ≠ Good Leader

Here’s an example that illustrates the difference:

A good leader (e.g., CEO of a software company) may not be someone technically proficient in guiding a software developer through a complex job. That job belongs to a competent manager. And, a good manager may be good at managing the day-to-day duties in the factory or office, but lacks the vision required of a great leader to strategically guide an organization.

Different Concepts That Overlap

Northouse (2013) said:

“Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals, they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a group of individuals toward goal attainment.” (p. 14)

References

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Mintzberg, H. (1990). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), 163-176.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Organizational Diversity Initiatives

diversity business employees

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Diversity initiatives usually sound great on paper and on an organization’s website. However, upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that there often exists a huge gap between rhetoric and practice.

Jayne and Dipboye (2004) stated that simply having a diverse workforce “does not . . . produce the positive outcomes that are often claimed” (pp. 411-412). Increasing diversity, in and of itself, will not improve the talent pool. It will not build commitment, improve motivation, or reduce conflict. Nor will it increase group or organizational performance.

One of the first challenge in managing a diversity initiative is to understand that the concept of diversity is difficult to operationalize, with different organizations defining the term “diversity” differently (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).

Second, a diversity “training” program on its own is not a panacea. A company with only a diversity training program should never think of itself as having a diversity initiative. For example, in reviewing the components of a diversity initiative at one organization (I’ll called it Company DIYDI for “Do It Yourself Diversity Initiative”), it became evident that the diversity training program was just one part of a much larger, more comprehensive diversity initiative. The other pieces of a diversity initiative, in addition to training, MUST also include: recruiting, retention, development, external partnership, communication, and staffing and infrastructure (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).

Due to the absence of many of the parts listed above, the diversity initiative at Company DIYDI was ineffective. Unfortunately, the diversity programs that were in place played a very minor role in shaping the diversity initiatives at this particular organization. Among some of the major omissions, there were no leadership development programs, no community outreach, and no employee benefits with a diversity component integrated into the larger framework. For instance, at Company DIYDI there were no domestic partner benefits for employees.

To succeed in properly instituting a diversity initiative, it is essential to integrate diversity priorities with the overall mission of the organization. For instance, to achieve diversity success for a college or university, Wade-Golden and Matlock (2007) suggested creating a well-crafted, well-articulated and integrated strategic plan that engages each level of the institution and one that reflects a commitment to action.

When there is a lack of consistency between what’s written or advertised at the organizational level from the reality of what employees (and/or students if it’s at a university) perceive, feel, and/or experience, tensions (sometimes subtle and other times more visible and vocal) can surface.

Jayne and Dipboye (2004) listed some steps that organizations can take to manage diversity more effectively:

  1. There must be commitment and accountability from upper management.
  2. A comprehensive needs assessment must be conducted.
  3. Tie the diversity strategy to business results in a realistic way.
  4. Emphasize team-building and group process training.
  5. Set up metrics and evaluate the effectiveness of diversity initiatives.

Takeaway: Effective organizational diversity initiatives are difficult, comprehensive, and time-consuming. There’s no doubt that it is a challenging, laborious undertaking. However, if it is done correctly, organizations and its employees will benefit.

Steve Nguyen

References

Jayne, M. E. A., & Dipboye, R. L. (2004). Leveraging diversity to improve business performance: Research findings and recommendations for organizations. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 409-424.

Wade-Golden, K., & Matlock, J. (2007). Ten Core Ingredients for Fostering Campus Diversity Success. Diversity Factor, 15(1), 41-48.

Keeping Your Clients Informed and Providing A Timely Response Are Essential To Great Customer Service

customer-service

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I have written before about customer service on this blog (e.g., poor customer service hurts your business and customers leave you because of poor customer service).

In this post, I want to talk about the importance of providing timely responses to customer questions/inquiries and keeping your clients informed, and how failure to do either one or both will hurt your business.

Two instances come to mind when I think about consultants who lost clients because they either ignored their clients’ emails or neglected to keep their clients updated about the status of a project.

The first example involved a skilled consultant who was hired to provide technical services for a client. Although highly talented, the consultant neglected answering client emails, a key to maintaining good relationship with the customer. Multiple questions from one client went unanswered, and by the time this consultant responded, the client either had already come up with a solution or the opportunity to address the issue had already passed.

The second example involved another experienced consultant who failed to keep clients informed about problems or issues that might delay delivery of services. After the first missed deadline, inquiries from a client were met with excuses for why the deadline was missed, and instead of taking ownership and responsibility for the missed deadline, the consultant blamed others for the delay.

In both examples, highly skilled consultants lost clients.

A health professional once told me that in health care, providers will sometimes make a mistake because, let’s face it, no one is perfect and as hard as professionals try, they’re still human and can and do mess up. However, this health professional told me that he learned a very important lesson in running his own healthcare practice. He said if you have a great relationship with your clients, even if you screw up, you’ll have a much better chance of retaining your client than if you have a shoddy relationship. He told me that even if you are highly skilled, if your relationship with your clients are second-rate, the chances of losing them are much greater than if you are moderately skilled but provide excellent customer service.

“Many times . . . consumers do not complain . . . but instead take actions such as switching brands [or companies] or engaging in negative word of mouth (WOM)” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 636).

Take-Away: No matter how skilled or good you are at your job, if you provide a service to customers (whatever that service might be), be sure to remember that you need to also provide exceptional or first-rate customer service, which includes providing timely responses to customer questions/inquiries and keeping your clients informed. Failure to do so can result in lost business (or clients) or damage to your reputation, or both.

Reference

Hawkins, D. I., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2010). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Strategic Leaders-Challenges, Organizational Abilities & Individual Characteristics

compass

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I’ve written before about the challenges of successfully executing strategy. In this post, I’ll clarify the difference between leadership and strategic leadership. I’ll also discuss what constitutes strategic leadership, a major controversy surrounding strategic leadership, five challenges of strategy execution, and nine factors of strategic leadership.

Strategic leadership is different from leadership. Whereas leadership refers to leaders at any level within an organization, strategic leadership talks about leaders at the top of the organization (Vera & Crossan, 2004). Another important distinction is that leadership studies focus on the micro levels (relationship between leaders and followers, trait and style of leaders, individualized leadership models, etc.), while strategic leadership focuses on the macro level of executive work (e.g., instead of looking at leader-follower relationship, the macro view looks at how the dominant coalition of the company influences the strategic process of the organization)(Vera & Crossan, 2004).

According to Yukl (2010), a major controversy surrounding strategic leadership research is the level of impact CEOs have on the effectiveness of their companies. Critics maintain that CEOs exert little influence due to limitations imposed on them by stakeholders, corporate culture, lack of resources, strong competitors, and unsympathetic economic conditions. These opponents assert that industry performance and economic conditions play an even greater role on a company’s effectiveness and success than CEOs.

There are FIVE challenges of strategy execution (Franken, Edwards, & Lambert, 2009):

  1. Relentless pressure from shareholders for greater profits. This forces top business leaders to redefine their strategy more often.
  2. Increased complexity of organizations. For example, the activities it requires to create products and services span various functional, organization, and even geographical boundaries.
  3. Balancing demands of executing complex change programs with business performance. In particular, in cases where management is tied to rewards based on performance, it can be difficult to get buy-in into creating strategic plans for the future.
  4. Low levels of involvement of managers at the beginning stages of strategic execution.
  5. Difficulty securing the required resources to execute the strategy. As a result of the large number of concurrent change programs, many of the company’s resources will already be allocated and even if they are available, managers will aggressively compete for them.

Yukl (2010), however, insists that the research shows, despite these constraints, CEOs and top executives can still have “a moderately strong influence on the effectiveness of an organization” (p. 401).

Davies & Davies (2004) proposed 9 FACTORS of STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP. They include organizational and individual abilities.

Strategic leaders need to have FIVE organizational abilities:

  1. Be strategically orientated – link long-range visions and concepts to daily work.
  2. Translate strategy into action – identify projects that need to be undertaken to move the company from where it’s at to where it wants to go.
  3. Align people and organizations – aligning individuals to a future company state or position.
  4. Determine effective intervention points – knowing both what to do strategically and exactly when to intervene and change direction.
  5. Develop strategic competencies – in the example of a school, rather than delivering curriculum innovation, it is the fundamental understanding of teaching and learning.

Strategic leaders need to have FOUR individual abilities:

  1. Dissatisfaction or restlessness with the present – seeing where you want to be (vision), while dealing with your current reality; being able to envision the strategic leap that the organization wants to make.
  2. Absorptive capacity – recognizing new information, analyze it, and applying it to new outcomes.
  3. Adaptive capacity – ability to change and learn, having the cognitive flexibility linked to a mindset that welcomes and embraces change.
  4. Leadership wisdom – taking the right action at the right time; coming up with ideas, deciding whether ideas are good or not, making ideas functional and convincing others of its value, balancing effects of ideas on yourself, others and institutions.

Steve Nguyen

References

Davies, B. J. & Davies, B. (2004). Strategic leadership. School Leadership & Management, 24(1), 29-38.

Franken, A., Edwards, C., & Lambert, R. (2009). Executing strategic change: Understanding the critical management elements that lead to success. California Management Review, 51(3), 49-72.

Vera, D. & Crossan, M. (2004). Strategic leadership and organizational learning. Academy of Management, 29(2), 222-240.

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

Snakes in Suits? Maybe Not — Psychopathy According to DSM-IV TR

snake

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I thought I would repost my comments to a discussion question in the SIOP (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) group on LinkedIn about the notion of “corporate psychopaths” (made famous by the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work [Babiak & Hare, 2006]).

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (p. xiv):

“The premise of this book is that psychopaths do work in modern organizations; they often are successful by most standard measures of career success; and their destructive personality characteristics are invisible to most of the people with whom they interact. They are able to circumvent and sometimes hijack succession planning and performance management systems in order to give legitimacy to their behaviors. They take advantage of communication weaknesses, organizational systems and processes, interpersonal conflicts, and general stressors that plague all companies. They abuse coworkers and, by lowering morale and stirring up conflict, the company itself. Some may even steal and defraud.”

As a former mental health counselor, I am very cautious about buying into this notion of “corporate psychopaths.” Technically, psychopathy is not mentioned in the DSM-IV-TR as a diagnosis. It actually falls under “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (301.7).

For information sake (not trying to diagnose), the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder requires that a person must have (1) a history of conduct disorder symptoms as a juvenile, AND (2) antisocial symptoms as an adult. It’s important to note that the DSM-IV explains the pattern of those who engage in antisocial behavior “continues into adulthood” (DSM-IV TR, p. 702). In other words, their problematic behavior started before they were 18 and continued into adulthood.

The DSM-IV said the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is about 3% in males and 1% in females (DSM-IV TR, p. 704).

Another important note is that generally a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder is not warranted if the person also has a substance abuse problem.

Based on the criteria listed above, many of those who would be described or classified as “corporate psychopaths” in the book “Snakes in Suits” might actually not be psychopaths.

This is why I am very skeptical about this idea of “corporate psychopaths.”

Indeed, the authors of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (pp. xiv-xv) warned:

We consider it important to caution the reader that, although the topic of this book is psychopathy in the workplace, not everyone described herein is a psychopath [and that] reader[s] should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is portrayed in this book.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Half-Truths and Omission of Facts in Selling

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Photo Credit: Flickr

My first job was working for a sporting goods store in a mall. I was really excited because it was a well-known company and had a sister company selling athletic shoes and clothing. But my manager was a guy much more concerned with making a sale than building a quality sales team or creating customer loyalty.

One incident still stands out in my mind to this day. A teenager and his mother came into the store looking for a new backpack since the seams were coming apart. I asked him the brand of his backpack, and when he told me, I shared with him and his mom that he did not need to buy a new backpack. Instead, all he needed to do was write to that company and ask them to repair or replace the backpack since it has a lifetime warranty on it. I told them that I had done this and that company honored their lifetime warranty and repaired my backpack just several months before.

My manager smiled, but as soon as they left, he berated me for losing a sale. When I tried to explain why I did what I did, he dismissed my reasons and told me that I did not have to tell them the whole truth, and that I should have left out the lifetime warranty part so they would have to buy a new backpack from our store.

I shared this piece of information with them for two reasons. First, it was the right thing to do. Rather than leaving out important information (e.g., they did not need to buy a new backpack) or tell some half-truths I felt it was best to help them save money. Second, by saving customers money, I established trust and built an honest relationship with a potential repeat customer or have that customer share via word of mouth how helpful I was to their friends and family. In fact, the mother was especially thankful and kept thanking me as she was leaving our store.

BUSINESS LESSON: What that sporting goods store manager failed to understand was that a sale was not lost, but rather a customer was gained. And in the eyes and minds of those two customers, I had earn their trust and respect. What’s more, they might be returning to the store because I had taken good care of them. They might even tell other people about their positive experience with me and refer other customers my way. Making a quick buck by deceiving customers with half-truths and leaving out important facts is what a manager with a short-term, self-serving mentality does. However, a great long-range mentality manager knows that business sales depends greatly on establishing and maintaining relationships with customers, and this is achieved by earning their trust.

How Expertise can Strengthen or Dilute your Credibility

trust

Photo Credit: Flickr

Japanese television offers a wide selection of variety shows. Unlike those in the U.S., Japanese variety shows will invite a group of “talents” (although I’m still not sure what many of their talents are, other than smiling and tasting different foods). The thing that immediately got my attention about all of these variety shows was the repeated use of talents (actors or comedians) to comment on any issues, whether the person was qualified to do so or not.

It is simply baffling to me how a group of people, with no discernible expertise on a subject matter will comment on just about anything. The subjects can vary from management to mental health to melting snow, and believe it or not, a group of people will comment on it. Last week, I saw five people on one variety show standing around commenting on different shapes of snow.

In another week, a young man (one of the “talents”) was on a talk show embedded inside a joint infomercial and a soap opera (I’m not joking). The young man shared that he was concerned about his melancholy outlook on life and his tendency to be negative. Another “talent” (I think he’s a former teacher) proceeded to play armchair therapist by asking the guy to read aloud from Romeo and Juliet.

Ok, so what does all of this nonsense have to do with psychology and workplace behaviors? Two things: expertise and credibility.

I realize I’m making a huge leap from talking about Japanese variety shows to the business environment, so please bear with me. But, the more I watched these “talents” the more I kept thinking about expertise and credibility. Because these “talents” do not have the expertise to offer anything of substantive value (that I could not otherwise get by simply asking my next door neighbors for their opinions), they (at least in my eyes) end up diminishing their own brand and/or jeopardizing their own credibility.

In Business Leadership (2003), Kouzes and Posner said credibility is one admired characteristics of a leader:

“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 262).

“The qualities of being honest, inspiring, and competent compose what communications researchers refer to as source credibility. In assessing the believability of a source of information—whether it is the president of the company, the president of the country, a sales person, or a TV newscaster— researchers typically use the three criteria of trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism. Those who rate highly in these areas are considered to be credible sources of information” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 261).

Kouzes and Posner (2003) said your credibility must be earned over time. It’s not something that’s bestowed upon you when you get a new title or job. What’s more, credibility can affect the workplace.

“Credibility has a significantly positive outcome on individual and organizational performance” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 266).

In The Leadership Challenge (2007), Kouzes and Posner explained in greater details about why credibility matters. They wrote (pp. 38-39):

“Using a behavioral measure of credibility, we asked organization members to think about the extent to which their immediate manager exhibited credibility-enhancing behaviors. In our studies we found that when people perceive their immediate manager to have high credibility, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Be proud to tell others they’re part of the organization
  • Feel a strong sense of team spirit
  • See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
  • Feel attached and committed to the organization
  • Have a sense of ownership of the organization

When people perceive their manager to have low credibility, however, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Produce only if they’re watched carefully
  • Be motivated primarily by money
  • Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
  • Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
  • Feel unsupported and unappreciated

“Credibility makes a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 39).

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Leadership is a relationship. In J. M. Kouzes (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 251-267). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Silly Job Titles Are Not Funny

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Forbes has a funny post about the silly job titles that some top executives hold (e.g., Chief Listening Officer [at Kodak]). Please understand I’m not commenting on the skills and competencies of the individuals who hold these titles, only in the silliness of the titles themselves.

The Forbes article quoted Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, in saying: “It is all corporate Kindergarten playtime title-making . . . It’s a puppet show.” According to Stevens, having “Chief” in the title is merely for show. “These people have absolutely no power . . . Most of these vanity titles don’t even report to the CEO.”

Here’s the bottom line: “The only C’s with ‘real’ power are the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and, occasionally, Chief Operating Officer” (Forbes).

Similarly, Josh Dreller wrote in a blog post about the most meaningless job titles on LinkedIn. As his post showed, title inflation is not unique to top executives. Instead, it’s an epidemic that is spreading to every level, in every company. On LinkedIn, Josh came across various silly titles, such as “Senior Road Warrior Marketing Intern”, “The Social Media Badass”, “Chief Thought Provoker”, “Chief People Herder”, and “Digital Marketing Magician.”

I love what Robbin Block (an author and a radio host who commented on Josh’s post) said:

“It’s getting ridiculous to the extreme. A label can be useful, but not if it’s completely fabricated . . . Titles actually used to mean something and indicated a person’s expertise and experience.”

Although Robbin was referring to marketing titles, I think this is certainly applicable in every industry.

All silliness aside, a job title is important for several reasons. I/O psychology professor Michael Aamodt (2010) explained that an accurate job title does the following:

  • It describes the nature of the job.
  • It aids in employee selection and recruitment (by indicating the nature of the job, thus helping an organization match potential applicants with the requirements for the job).
  • It provides employees with some form of identity.
  • It affects perceptions of the status and worth of a job.

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

References

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

Dreller, J. (2012, August). The most meaningless (and hilarious) job titles on LinkedIn. Retrieved from http://www.imediaconnection.com/articles/ported-articles/red-dot-articles/2012/aug/the-most-meaningless-and-hilarious-job-titles-on-linkedin/

Goudreau, J. (2012, January 10). C Is For Silly: The New C-Suite Titles. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/01/10/c-is-for-silly-the-new-c-suite-titles/

Analysis Paralysis-A Self-Imposed Bottleneck

In a conversation about how, in one organization, management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it, a professor inquired: “What purpose might it serve for an organization to be in possession of possible solutions yet choose not to implement them?”

What a great question.

Robert Sutton (2010) contended that what separates good bosses from bad ones is that good bosses find ways to link talking to doing, and that bad bosses are oblivious and often don’t even realize that they “routinely stifle and misdirect action” (p. 130).

Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but with regard to why organizations that are in possession of possible solutions but choose not to implement them, I think sometimes managers and/or organizations fall prey to “analysis paralysis” where there’s a tendency to over analyze everything and which can result in the crippling or stifling of timely actions.

The Ultimate Business Dictionary (2003) defines analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) in this manner :

Paralysis by analysis is “the inability of managers to make decisions as a result of a preoccupation with attending meetings, writing reports, and collecting statistics and analyses” (p. 235).

The obsession with studying a problem and analyzing an issue to death is akin to creating a self-imposed bottleneck. The obstruction/congestion is your own doing.

References

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best…and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

(2003). The Ultimate Business Dictionary: Defining the World of Work. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Japanese Business Practices, Start-Ups, and Innovation

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

A recent New York Times’ article observed that Japanese tech giants, like Sony and Panasonic, are incurring huge losses and are “being overtaken by nimbler, cheaper overseas rivals” (Tabuchi, 2012). The article further said these aging Japanese tech giants cannot be relied upon to drive innovation, and that Japanese tech entrepreneurs and their start-ups might just be what’s needed to help infuse fervor into a country in much need of an innovation transfusion.

However, even while Japan’s sluggish economy and its aging population have contributed to Japan falling to #25 in a recent global innovation ranking, Japanese start-ups continue to struggle because of the risk-averse nature of Japanese society.

According to professor Parissa Haghirian (formerly with Sophia University, now at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich), among the biggest differences between Japanese versus Western business practices are lifetime employment and seniority-based pay and promotion (Haghirian, 2009).

“Lifetime employment refers to the preference of Japanese corporations to hire their employees after their graduation from university and then keep them in the company for most of their length of their careers. Lifetime employment is not a legal requirement for Japanese companies, but a custom that developed after World War II. The strict Japanese labor laws, which make it very difficult to lay personnel off, supported the establishment of this system” (Haghirian, 2009, p. 955).

There are some distinct advantages of lifetime employment. First, organizations can invest in the training and development of their employees over a long period of time. Second, there’s more job security and thus increased employee loyalty and motivation.

Related to lifetime employment is another Japanese business practice of seniority-based pay and promotion. Haghirian (2009) explained that because traditional Japanese companies tend to be hierarchical, employees’ career opportunities are tied to their length of employment with an organization.

I wonder if these Japanese business practices (e.g., lifetime employment and seniority-based pay and promotion), which seems so ingrained in the culture here, might be contributing to the current struggle of Japanese tech giants to remain relevant in today’s globally competitive technology market.

“Japanese society continues to venerate lifetime company loyalty, while penalizing risk-taking and failure. The government has created a cumbersome web of regulations that hampers new entrants. And risk-taking is absent not just among would-be entrepreneurs, but also among investors, who still favor propping up old companies rather than fostering new ones” (Tabuchi, 2012).

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

References

Haghirian, P. (2009). Japan. In C. Wankel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of business in today’s world (pp. 952-957). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tabuchi, H. (2012, October 3). Japan’s New Tech Generation. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/04/technology/a-new-tech-generation-defies-the-odds-in-japan.html

Good Liars: Their Characteristics and Why They are So Hard to Detect

Liar | Credit: Jacopo Comanducci

[NOTE: This post was updated December 2017]

Politicians and car salesmen are notorious for being dishonest. But what’s often overlooked are skilled liars who might be a coworker, a supervisor, a top executive, a family member, or even a neighbor. It isn’t until a major scandal, like the ones involving Ponzi schemers Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, that people take note that lying is more pervasive and much more difficult to detect than we think.

The scandal in 2009 involved CEO Allen Stanford and other top executives of Stanford Financial Group. They were charged and convicted of fraud for scheming investors (for more than two decades). Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

The NY Times article said: “Prosecutors argued that Mr. Stanford had consistently lied to investors, promoting safe investments for money that he channeled into a luxurious lifestyle, a Swiss bank account and various business deals that almost never succeeded.” It also stated that Stanford was convicted “of running an international scheme over more than two decades in which he offered fraudulent high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.”

And, even as he made his final statement in court, Stanford continued to lie by saying: “I’m up here to tell you from my heart I didn’t run a Ponzi scheme.” The federal prosecutor called his statement “obscene” and said this: “This is a man utterly without remorse . . . from beginning to end, he treated all of his victims as roadkill.”

But a scandal in late 2008 is perhaps even more outrageous and infamous. It involved Bernie Madoff, wherein he lied, stole and laundered money, and deceived thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. Even more incredible was that the scheme lasted for two or even three decades! Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme.

An article in Scientific American led me to a book by professor Aldert Vrij called “Detecting Lies and Deceit” (Vrij, 2008). Professor Vrij defines deception or lying as:

“a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (Vrij, 2008, p. 15).

Dr. Vrij identified three different categories that make detection of lying challenging: (1) a lack of motivation to detect lies; (2) difficulties associated with lie detection; and (3) common errors made by lie detectors. I want to focus on “good liars” (identified on pp. 378-381), one of the seven reasons listed under “difficulties associated with lie detection.”

“Good liars are those people: (i) whose natural behaviour disarms suspicion; (ii) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; and (iii) who do not experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or duping delight when they are lying” (Vrij, 2008, p. 378).

CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD LIARS

There are 8 Characteristics of Good Liars (Vrij, 2008, p. 378-379):

(1) Being natural performers: “Directed gaze to a conversation partner, smiling, head nodding, leaning forward, direct body orientation, posture mirroring, uncrossed arms, articulate gesturing, moderate speaking rates, a lack of ums and ers, and vocal variety” are often associated with being honest and likable.

(2) Being well prepared: “Good liars therefore say as little as possible or say things that are impossible for others to verify. The less verifiable information is given, the less opportunity it provides for the lie detector to check.” The better the preparation (and the more believable the lie), the easier it is for good liars to lie effectively.

(3) Being original: People who are especially good at lying are mentally creative and original. They’re able to offer a convincing and credible answer in almost any situation.

(4) Rapid thinking: Good liars are quick to respond to a question because waiting too long to answer would arouse suspicion. Thus, being able to think quickly is an important characteristic.

(5) Being eloquent: Being eloquent, in the context of being a good liar, means that you provide a long-winded, intentionally vague response to avoid answering the question. Good liars might even say something that, on the surface, sounds plausible, but actually does not answer the question. Just imagine a skilled politician dodging a question and you get the idea.

(6) Good memory: Good liars must have a good memory or else they risk getting caught in their web of lies. They have to be able to recall what they’ve previously said so they can repeat theta same information without contradicting themselves.

(7) Not experiencing guilt, fear, or delight: “Deceiving others is made easier if the liar does not experience feelings of guilt, fear or delight, because in that case there will not be any emotional behaviour that needs to be suppressed.”

(8) Good at acting: If a person is not a “natural performer” (the first characteristic listed) or they are not especially skilled at masking their guilt, fear, or delight when lying (the seventh characteristic listed), then being a good actor is a must. Good liars are masters with excellent decoding skills. They can adapt to quickly to disarm suspicion.

SPOTTING LIARS DIFFICULT DUE TO LIE DETECTION MISTAKES

Under “Common Errors Made by Lie Detectors”, Dr Vrij explained that, in addition to lie detection being difficult, those who play the role of lie detectors also make SEVEN mistakes. I’ll just mention five mistakes below.

(1) Examining the Wrong Cues: Lie detectors (referring to people whose job is to spot liars, such as police detectives) might look at the wrong cues. For instance, one police manual says that liars tend to look away and make grooming gestures. But a lie detection study, Dr. Vrij found that the more police officers endorsed the lie cues promoted in that police manual, the worse they were at detecting suspects who lied and suspects who told the truth.

(2) Neglect of Interpersonal Differences: There are large differences when it comes to people’s behavior, speech, and physiological responses. “The result is that people whose natural behaviour looks suspicious (e.g., people who naturally avert their gaze or fidget a lot) are in a disadvantageous position, because they run the risk of being falsely accused of lying . . . Introverted and socially anxious people in particular run such a risk” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(3) Neglect of Intrapersonal Differences: “Not only do different people respond differently in the same situation (interpersonal differences), the same person also responds differently in different situations (intrapersonal differences). Neglecting or underestimating those intrapersonal differences is another error that lie catchers make. The failure to control adequately for intrapersonal differences is one of the main criticisms of concern-based polygraph tests” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(4) Use of Heuristics: Following general decision rules (heuristics) can easily lead to mistakes and biases. For example, facial appearance heuristic is the “tendency to judge people with attractive faces or baby-faced appearances as honest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385). And the fundamental attribution error which occurs when we form impressions of others and then overestimate their character factors while underestimating situational factors. Thus, if we believe someone to be trustworthy, we will judge that person a telling the truth in any given situation. On the other hand, if we think someone is untrustworthy, we’ll tend to judge that individual as dishonest in any given situation. “Obviously, trustworthy people are not honest all of the time and untrustworthy people are not always dishonest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385).

(5) Overestimating the Accuracy of Lie Detection Tools: We tend to overestimate the accuracy of lie detection tools. However, despite the belief that polygraphs or fMRI brain scans are effective, Dr. Vrij argued that “every single lie detection tool used to date is far from accurate and prone to errors” (p. 386).

Polygraphs measure finger sweating, blood pressure, and respiration. Dr. Vrij explained that one of the most frequently used polygraph test today is the Comparison Question Test (CQT), also referred to as the Control Question Test. I would recommend reading Ch. 11 “Physiological Lie Detection: The Concern Approach” of his book for a detailed explanation about the CQT and the criticisms of the CQT. Professor Vrij (pp. 304-305 citing Iacono [2000]) contended there are three reasons why the CQT is controversial: (i) there is no consensus amongst scientists that there exists an adequate theoretical foundation for its application; (ii) the polygraph profession operates outside the scientific environment and is practiced most by law enforcement officials trained at freestanding polygraph schools that are unrelated to universities; and (iii) polygraph tests can have profound consequences for individuals subjected to them. [***It is not the intent of this post to argue for or against the merits of the CQT because I do not possess expertise in this area. However, the criticisms about the CQT are worth noting.]

According to Dr. Vrij, when we try to deceive others, we activate higher centers of the brain. fMRI scans (when used to detect deception or lying) are supposed to reveal this. However, “different people tested in the same situation revealed different patterns of brain structure and area activity when they lied (interpersonal differences) and the same person shows different patterns of brain structure and area activity when he or she lies in different situations (intrapersonal differences)” (Vrij, 2008, p. 371). Therefore, Dr. Vrij argued, fMRI scans aren’t much different from the traditional polygraph lie detectors.

“So far, research has not yet shown that the fMRI technique does produce more accurate results than traditional polygraph testing, and I therefore do not recommend using such scans in real-life settings for lie detection purposes” (Vrij, 2008, p. 372).

The sad reality is that there are very skilled liars who are able to effectively lie for years or, in the case of Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, even decades before they’re caught. And, I suspect, there are many other good liars who have never been and probably will never be caught.

A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.

Bottom line: Good liars (those with natural behavior that disarms suspicion, who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie, and who do not experience fear, guilt, or delight when they are lying) can be hard to spot because they’re very skilled at the art of lying. Even polygraphs and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning techniques will not adequately identify those who are good at lying because these lie detection methods have important limitations.

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

References

Bering, J. (July, 2011). 18 Attributes of Highly Effective Liars. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2011/07/07/18-attributes-of-highly-effective-liars/

Bernard, S. (February, 2009). Baylor alum accused of money fraud. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=56377

Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19, 1727–1732.

Healy, J. (June, 2009). Madoff Is Sentenced to 150 Years for Ponzi Scheme. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/business/30madoff.html

Henriques, D. B., & Healy, J. (March, 2009). Madoff Goes to Jail After Guilty Pleas. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/13madoff.html

Iacono, W. G. (2000). The detection of deception. In J. T. Cacioppo, L. G. Tassinary, & G. G. Berntson (Eds.), Handbook of psychophysiology, 2nd edition (pp. 772–793). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, C. (June, 2012). Stanford Sentenced to 110-Year Term in $7 Billion Ponzi Case. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/15/business/stanford-sentenced-to-110-years-in-jail-in-fraud-case.html

NY Times. Bernard L. Madoff. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/bernard_l_madoff/index.html

NY Times. Robert Allen Stanford. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/robert_allen_stanford/index.html

Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (2nd ed.). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Consumer Behavior and Importance of Context

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2016]

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review talks about how J.C. Penney’s switch to the Fair and Square Everyday Low Pricing Strategy failed. The idea was to get rid of discounts and there won’t be any need to promote sales because, well, every day is a sale with low pricing. Sounds reasonable. The campaign was spearheaded by new CEO, Ron Johnson, who was formerly head of Apple’s retail store division.

The Fair and Square Everyday Low Pricing Strategy even features Ellen DeGeneres in funny TV commercials. One commercial had Ellen complaining about the cost of a hat. Another one showed her having a hard time trying to return a toga. And in another TV ad, Ellen is wondering why she has to wake up so early to get to a sale. I like Ellen and the TV commercials are funny. But I had a bad feeling that consumers would not connect with the ads, and it seems I was right.

According to the Harvard Business Review article (2012), J.C. Penney’s same store sales dropped by 18.9%, store visits decreased by 10%, and the average spend was down by 5% for the first quarter under this new pricing strategy. J.C. Penney lost $163 million (compared to earning $64 million in the first quarter of 2011) and its stock was $43 per share after the new pricing strategy was first announced in January 2012, now trades below $30.

In the HBR article, Mohammed (2012) said that during an investor conference call in mid-May, CEO Johnson maintained that the problem is that customers just don’t know about J.C. Penney’s new pricing strategy. Not only is this an understatement, it also underscores an important misunderstanding. Even if customers do understand, I don’t believe they would buy into that strategy. In other words, just because I understand what a company is attempting to do to market its product, it does not mean that I will go out and spend money for it.

Mohammed added, “Shifting from offering 590 promotions annually to a trimmed down Everyday Low Price Strategy, as J.C. Penney did, is a big change to communicate to shoppers.”

Philip Graves, in his book “Consumerology,” talks about the significance of considering the consumer in context. He writes:

“If you want to know why someone does or doesn’t buy, you have to understand how the environment shapes behavior. Divorcing the quest for understanding from the context in which it takes place is a recipe for leading yourself astray. To maximize sales or the impact of communication, the environment has to be right” (Graves, 2010, p. 53).

Thus, without taking into account the context, corporate advertising decisions can lead to products that are not well-received by consumers or marketing decisions that are off the mark. In the case of J.C. Penney, the product is J.C. Penney itself or its stores, since Penney is a retailer that sells merchandise and services to consumers through its department stores and online.

Here’s an example,

“When McDonald’s developed the Arch Deluxe burger in the mid-1990s, the company was confident that it had a winning product that would appeal to adult consumers. In the context of its market research the product performed very well, but in the context of a McDonald’s restaurant, complete with “Happy Meals,” Ronald McDonald, and other child-associated cues, the reaction was very different. Ironically, the advertising concept, which featured Ronald McDonald taking part in more grown-up activities, probably reinforced the contradictory associations customers were battling with” (Graves, 2010, p. 59).

So why didn’t market research work, and why didn’t it translate into real-world success?

“McDonald’s developed its “Burger with the Grown-up Taste” from its Oak Brook headquarters in a direct move to appeal more to adults. Away from the plastic seating, bright primary colors, and menus of familiar, child-friendly alternatives, respondents rated the product highly for taste, freshness, and satisfaction. Despite more than $200 million of expenditure, at least $100 million of which was spent promoting this product that research had shown was so appealing, it failed and was withdrawn” (Graves, 2010, pp. 59-60).

J.C. Penney’s Fair and Square Everyday Low Pricing Strategy failed because it did not consider context. Doing a sudden U-turn from offering 590 promotions annually to an Everyday Low Price Strategy is drastic. As a consumer, when I think about department stores and shopping for clothing or other items, I want a “good deal” and I look for “deals.” My brain has become accustomed to seeking out deals, sales, and bargains. There’s also something about finding a deal or catching a good “sale.” J.C. Penney executives are learning this too late, as the new CEO admitted, “We did not realize how deep some of the customers were into [coupons]” (Bhasin, 2012).

The lesson is this: Human behavior is strongly influenced by the environment. It is crucial to consider the context that people are in. “The context can determine not just how the person behaves, but how differently they act from the way they might have expected to, and, in most cases, how they would like to tell themselves they would” (p. 60).

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

References

Bhasin, K. (May, 2012). JCPenney Execs Admit They Didn’t Realize How Much Customers Were Into Coupons. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/jcpenney-didnt-realize-how-much-customers-were-into-coupons-2012-5

Forbes. JC Penney. http://www.forbes.com/companies/jc-penney/

Graves, P. (2010). Consumer.ology: The market research myth, the truth about consumers and the psychology of shopping. Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Mohammed, R. (May, 2012). J.C. Penney: Ditch the Risky Pricing Strategy. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/05/jc_penney_ditch_the_risky_pric.html

The Huffington Post – Ellen DeGeneres’ JCPenney Ads Debut During The Oscars
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/ellen-degeneres-jcpenney-commercials_n_1304578.html

Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2016]

“Having an organizational culture that emphasizes ethical behavior can cut down on misbehavior of organizations. Research shows that whether an organization develops a culture that emphasizes doing the right thing even when it is costly comes down to whether leaders, starting with the CEO, consider the ethical consequences of their actions. Leaders with a moral compass set the tone when it comes to ethical dilemmas” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 385).

Robbins and Judge (2009) offer a nice list of what management can do to create a more ethical organizational culture. They suggest a combination of the following practices:

  1. Be a role model and be visible. Your employees look to the behavior of top management as a model of what’s acceptable behavior in the workplace. When senior management is observed (by subordinates) to take the ethical high road, it sends a positive message for all employees.
  2. Communicate ethical expectations. Ethical ambiguities can be reduced by creating and disseminating an organizational code of ethics. It should state the organization’s primary values and the ethical rules that employees are expected to follow. Remember, however, that a code of ethics is worthless if top management fails to model ethical behaviors.
  3. Offer ethics training. Set up seminars, workshops, and similar ethical training programs. Use these training sessions to reinforce the organization’s standards of conduct, to clarify what practices are and are not permissible, and to address possible ethical dilemmas.
  4. Visibly reward ethical acts and punish unethical ones. Performance appraisals of managers should include a point-by-point evaluation of how his or her decisions measure up against the organization’s code of ethics. Appraisals must include the means taken to achieve goals as well as the ends themselves. People who act ethically should be visibly rewarded for their behavior. Just as importantly, unethical acts should be punished.
  5. Provide protective mechanisms. The organization needs to provide formal mechanisms so that employees can discuss ethical dilemmas and report unethical behavior without fear of reprimand. This might include creation of ethical counselors, ombudsmen, or ethical officers.

A good case study of an unethical organizational culture is the now defunct Enron. Sims and Brinkmann (2003) described Enron’s ethics as “the ultimate contradiction between words and deeds, between a deceiving glossy facade and a rotten structure behind” (p. 243). Enron executives created an organizational culture that valued profits (the bottom line) over ethical behavior and doing what’s right.

“A business perceived to lack integrity or to operate in an unethical, immoral, or irresponsible manner soon loses the support of customers, suppliers and the community at large*” (Tozer, 2012, p. 476).

*In addition to losing customers, suppliers and the community, I would also include losing the support of employees and managers.

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

References

Robbins, S.P., & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sims, R.R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron ethics (or: Culture matters more than codes). Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 243-256.

Tozer, J. (2012). Leading through leaders: Driving strategy, execution and change. London, UK: KoganPage.

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