Category Archives: Training & Development

Divisive Leadership and Uncivil Followership

Here at WorkplacePsychology.Net, I don’t take political sides. What I am interested in is examining effective leadership. The Center for Creative Leadership’s Bill Adams recently wrote a piece called “Crisis in Leadership: The Healthcare Bill.” It’s a well-written and balanced perspective on leadership in Washington.

The Center for Creative Leadership describes leadership using the acronym DAC, direction, alignment and commitment. Effective leaders are able to set the direction, create alignment, and secure commitment from their followers.

Back in February, I wrote about “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance” (it is one of the most visited posts on WorkplacePsychology.Net). In that post, I shared professor John Kotter’s 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change. I also cited Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) tips for overcoming resistance to change.

Like many Americans, I have been following the healthcare debate and (unfortunately) all the uncivil debates and actions (from both sides and from angry politicians and passionate Americans). Though there was much talk about gathering support, the healthcare vote became very one-sided as its passage included not one Republican vote in Congress.

From a leadership perspective, I wish leaders in Washington had followed Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn’s (2005) advice in gaining alignment and overcoming resistance. To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

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

I believe the two biggest obstacles which contributed to and exacerbated the strong disagreements and hostilities are compatibility and complexity. Somehow, I think the leaders in Washington forgot these little gems of leadership.

By strong-arming the healthcare bill through Congress using solely Democratic votes, the leaders have failed to see that this was not an effective solution in getting buy-in from the general followership. With the healthcare debate still ongoing (albeit very heated, discourteous, and even violent), the leaders decided to bypass the compatibility step in overcoming resistance.

The other piece that certainly did not help was the complexity of the healthcare bill, which totaled nearly 2000 pages. I highly doubt that anyone sat through and read it cover to cover. By the time a 2000-pages document gets translated and explained, something is bound to get lost in the translation. Politicians talk politics and sugarcoat or conveniently skip important facts and details. Special interest groups have their agendas, and so on. Throughout this maze of complexity, few have been able to (1) clearly explain what the healthcare bill is and (2) how the average American can use it (due to the many caveats).

What is equally alarming is that people upset over the healthcare bill’s passage have taken such extreme and sometimes violent displays of dissatisfaction, while those responsible for its passage turn a blind eye.

My hope for all Americans (those for, against, and indifferent to the healthcare bill) is to honor one another even as we disagree. When members in Congress yell out “you lie” to a sitting American President and another shouting “baby killer” while a fellow Congressman is talking, we have sadly forgotten the civility & decorum that is required and expected of all adults. It is sad (at least to me) that adults need to be reminded to practice polite & courteous behaviors.

When I worked as a behavior specialist in the school system, I certainly expected discourteous and rude behaviors from children. But, when I see adults (leaders and role models) behave worse than children, it makes me ashamed to call myself a “grown-up.”

Reference

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

Adopting a Child’s Perspective Helps Adults Regain our Inborn Talents

My niece is so adorable and creative. She can turn something as simple as a blank sheet of paper and transform it into a game of checking into a plush hotel with concierge service. Kids are amazing because they see the world not as it is but what it can be. Unlike adults, children have a natural gift of creativity and imagination.

The 1988 movie “Big” (starring Tom Hanks) is a story of a 12-year old boy named Josh who got his wish to be “big.” He wakes up the next day to find that while his physical body had grown and aged to that of a man, he was still the same 12-year old kid on the inside.

The heart-warming story follows Josh as he finds work at a toy company. Unlike the other executives and managers who conduct market research into what kids like about toys, Josh actually plays with them. In a meeting on bringing a toy robot to market, a manager stated that research with children of a certain demographic indicated that the toy robot would be successful. As the manager is showing how the robot works (it’s a robot that transforms into a house), Josh raised his hand to ask,

“What’s so fun about that?”

Imagine if we could bring the candid outlook of kids into the workplace as Tom Hanks’ character did in the movie! Instead, we conduct research and analyze things so much (e.g., SWOT analysis) that we sometimes miss the golden opportunity to act.

Arnold Lazarus, a psychologist who founded multimodal therapy, shared a story of a friend who (by profession, a dentist) was “an absolute natural when it came to understanding people and showing genuine warmth, wisdom, and empathy” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). The dentist friend was so good that many people confided in him with their troubles.

Due to his natural talents, this dentist friend decided to pursue training in psychology and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in social and clinical psychology. Ironically, Lazarus observed that “as my friend learned more and more psychology, as he took more and more readings and courses in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, it seemed to me that his natural skills eroded” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Shortly after Lazarus’ mother died, Lazarus opened his heart to this friend, someone who Lazarus had previously considered a “naturally great therapist” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352). But, instead of the natural warmth, support, and understanding that the—former dentist now psychologist—friend once exhibited, this now trained psychologist responded to Lazarus’ sorrows with psychological clichés and labels (Lazarus, 1990).

“The formal psychology and psychotherapy courses he had received were tantamount to taking a can of spray-paint to an artistic masterpiece” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

What happened to the dentist-turned-psychologist friend made Lazarus question, “whether formal training causes most of us to undergo a similar truncation of our helpful inborn capacities” (Lazarus, 1990, p. 352).

Now don’t get me wrong, education, training, and experience are great, but…

Has “growing up” and being indoctrinated with formal knowledge and training hindered our natural-born skills of creativity, curiosity, and common sense to be a better worker or leader?

Reference

Lazarus, A. (1990). Can psychotherapists transcend the shackles of their training and superstitions? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46(3), 351-358. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(199005)46:3<351::AID-JCLP2270460316>3.0.CO;2-V

Leading in a Crisis

“A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.” -English proverb

The recent earthquake in Chile is a grim reminder of what it takes to lead in a crisis. Unlike the situation in Haiti, Chile has both a functioning government and the infrastructure in place to respond to the disaster. However, the Chilean response has not been fast enough (MSNBC, 2010). Chilean leaders are immobilized from not knowing what to do and their actions in disarray.

In Chile, survivors said they had little warning about the coming tsunami. Furthermore, they’re angry that the government’s response, in providing aid and support, has been slow. Looting has resulted as people desperate for food and supplies say they’re not getting any help (MSNBC, 2010).

In “7 Lessons for Leading in a Crisis” (2009), Bill George said that a crisis is like being at war. Crises test a leader’s ability to lead an organization through and out of a crisis. “There is nothing quite like a crisis to test your leadership. It will make or break you as a leader. Crises have brought down many leaders and their organizations with them…” (George, 2009, p. 1).

George (2009) maintained that leaders who are never tested (i.e. have never gone through a crisis) may be unable to handle crisis situations. Instead, under such emergencies, these untested leaders may buckle under pressure or freeze.

This is akin to an emergency room doctor who has just graduated from medical school and doing his internship. Although he may have learned what to do via textbooks, he has never been in a real crisis situation before.

From my experience conducting crisis management workshops, I have seen this first-hand. During the didactic (teaching/lecturing) portion, professionals will appear to be learning the required skills about what to do in a school or classroom emergency (e.g., when a student becomes violent). In simulated exercises, they’ll seem a bit less skilled. And in the final phase of the training, in testing (applying knowledge to simulated scenarios), they are the least proficient.

Finally, after these workshops and without a chance to apply what they’ve learned, their skills level decrease and sometimes disappear altogether.

My recommendation, based on my experience teaching crisis management, is to practice, practice, practice for emergencies. Just as police SWAT teams practice, just like firefighters practice, just like nurses and doctors practice to stay sharp during emergencies, so too should organizational leaders practice. They need to develop an emergency plan, get stakeholders involved, practice and then practice some more.

References

George, B. (2009). 7 lessons for leading in a crisis. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

MSNBC (2010, March). Lots of anger, some aid, in disaster zone. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35657707/ns/world_news-chile_earthquake/

What Customers Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

What Really Motivates Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

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

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

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

Reference

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

Helping to Bring Credibility to Executive Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEMBER BENEFITS

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

All members have access to:

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

SEMINARS AND INTERVIEWS

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

COACHING DEMONSTRATIONS

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

COMMENTS

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Undercover Boss and Emotional Intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Bad Attitudes Lead to Bad Behaviors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Change Attitudes

Persuasion by Communication (Change as a Result of Others)

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

Persuasion by Our Own Actions (Change from Within Ourselves)

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Poor Customer Service Hurts Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Being Attractive Helps Get You Hired

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2017]

When making decisions about whether or not to hire prospective job applicants, interviewers are influenced by an applicant’s attractiveness (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Watkins & Johnston, 2000; Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005). There is a great deal of evidence that being good-looking positively impacts the hiring decisions of employers (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Watkins & Johnston). This is known as the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972).

Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008, citing Hosoda, Stone-Romero, & Coats, 2003) found that as a society, we tend to favor those who are good-looking. And while this isn’t fair, research has found it to be true (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).

“Research shows that not only are good-looking applicants more likely to be hired, but they are likely to be hired at a higher starting salary. Attractiveness makes a difference with promotions, too. People ascribe more positive characteristics to attractive people” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 124).

Whether researchers studied business school students or real-life HR professionals, the results were almost identical. The majority of the candidates hired were more attractive (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005). “[A]ttractive applicants are preferred over less attractive applicants” (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005, p. 571). While not surprising that attractive applicants tend to be hired more than less attractive applicants, what is surprising is that attractive applicants are also offered higher starting salaries compared to those considered less attractive (Toledano, 2013).

There is research suggesting that experienced managers do not seem to fall prey to this attractiveness/beautyism bias compared to managers who are not as experienced (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005).

However, this quote from a Cornell HR Review article is quite clear:

“In short, attractive individuals will receive more job offers, better advancement opportunities, and higher salaries than their less attractive peers—despite numerous findings that they are no more intelligent or capable” (Toledano, 2013, para. 5).

So, given this unfair reality, what are applicants (who aren’t as attractive) to do? Jawahar & Mattsson (2005) assert that because good-looking people are believed to have better social skills, the bias against those who aren’t as good-looking might have more to do with the belief that the “less attractive” are less socially skilled. The researchers recommended that people who aren’t good-looking can help themselves by “demonstrating their social skills and directing the interviewer’s attention to other strengths” (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005, p. 572).

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

References

Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is what is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.

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.

Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology, 56, 431-462.

Jawahar, I. M., & Mattsson, J. (2005). Sexism and beautyism effects in selection as a function of self-monitoring level of decision maker. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 563-573.

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

Shahani-Denning, C. (2003). Physical attractiveness bias in hiring: What is beautiful is good. Hofstra Horizons, Spring 2003, 15-18. Retrieved from http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/orsp_shahani-denning_spring03.pdf

Toledano, E. (2013, February 14). May the Best (Looking) Man Win: the Unconscious Role of Attractiveness in Employment Decisions. Cornell HR Review. Retrieved from http://www.cornellhrreview.org/may-the-best-looking-man-win-the-unconscious-role-of-attractiveness-in-employment-decisions/

Watkins, L. M., & Johnston, L. (2000). Screening job applicants: The impact of physical attractiveness and application quality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 8, 76-84.

People with a Situational Value System

rude-customers

“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person” (Barry, 1998, p. 185).

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2015]

Many years ago, while waiting for a show at a nice hotel in Dallas, my wife and I were standing in line to order some coffee. As we were in line waiting (we were second in line) at a busy one-person coffee stand, the woman waiting behind us (she was third in line) yelled out, “Can I go ahead and pay for this?” It didn’t matter to her that two other people (the first lady in line and us) were ahead of her in this ordering process.

I forgot what this was. It might have been a bottle of water or something small. But pretty much everyone else waiting patiently in line was ordering something small. After she interrupted and cut in line, she made some disparaging remarks about the single employee working there.

My wife and I both used to work as a waiter (me) and waitstaff trainer (wife) and thus we’re especially sensitive to and aware of how we and others treat waiters, waitresses, or anyone in a people service profession (e.g., hotel maids, bellmen, etc.). When I see behaviors like this woman’s, it brings me back to the time, more than 20 years ago, when I worked as a waiter for a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

I didn’t know it at first but was quickly informed by the other waitstaff that I was waiting on a baseball celebrity and his family. “Ok, not a big deal,” I thought. I’ll just make sure that I’m at my best and take care of them as I always do with all of my customers.

Because the family was busy visiting and chatting loudly, I stepped back to give them time to decide what they wanted to order. Not long afterwards, the wife snapped her fingers at me (like a rich person does when she beckons her servants). After the family ordered, she dismissed me, like “I’m done with you now leave my sight” type of attitude.

William H. Swanson, Chairman and Former CEO of Raytheon, cautioned:

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with . . . Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.” [Cited in USA Today “CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character”]

I think this advice should be taken very seriously, especially by those in a supervisory or management role. In a USA Today article, Siki Giunta (CEO of Managed Objects, but who previously worked as a bartender) summed this up well when she said this type of situational behavior is a good predictor of a person’s character because it’s not something you can learn or unlearn easily but instead it shows how you were raised.

The woman who cut in line to place her order felt that she was special and deserved special treatment and gave herself permission to cut in front of others and then displayed contempt by mumbling unkind comments about the person preparing the coffee.

Takeaway: Whether it’s ordering coffee on a Saturday night or interacting with employees at work on a Monday morning, each of us—whether you’re a CEO, manager, or employee—needs to treat everyone, both in and outside the office (regardless of their status or title in the social or corporate ladder) with kindness, dignity, and respect.

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

References

Barry, D. (1998). Dave Barry Turns 50. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group.

Jones, D. (2006, April 17). CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-04-14-ceos-waiter-rule_x.htm