Tag Archives: Business

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.

The Changing Consumer Behavior in Japan

Unlike consumers in the U.S. and Europe, consumers in Japan are particularly selective and prefer to pay for premium goods and services. This was evident when I visited my wife’s family in Tokyo on several occasions.

Touring the local supermarkets and outdoor fruit stands, I came across the most amazing displays of fruits I had ever seen. But, these highly prized fruits did indeed cost a premium. For instance, I saw cantaloupes (in photo above) for ¥4,000 (Japanese yen) or $44.20 (USD; exchange rate on 3/21/2010) each in Tokyo, Japan compared to $1.50 each at the local supermarket here in Dallas, TX. While I don’t claim to understand why fruits cost so much in Tokyo, I do know this much — those cantaloupes (noticed how each was individually wrapped and showcased in its own box) were the best-looking, highest-quality cantaloupes I have ever seen!

That photo of the cantaloupes was taken in July of 2007 and I would venture to guess that fruit prices haven’t changed too much since then.

Though fruits, like those gorgeous cantaloupes, may still command premium prices and Japanese consumers willing to pay for them, it appears that in other areas, consumers in Japan—who had previously ignored discount and online stores—are now flocking to them (Salsberg, 2010).

A change in consumer attitudes and behavior has arrived and, it seems, is here to stay. This change “stems not just from the recent downturn but also from deep-seated factors ranging from the digital revolution to the emergence of a less materialistic younger generation” (Salsberg, 2010, para. 2).

Salsberg (2010) stated that three factors helped led to this new consumer trend. First (like elsewhere in the world), the economic downturn. The Japanese economy has been weak for almost two decades. A recent J. Walter Thompson AnxietyIndex suggested that “90 percent of Japanese consumers feel anxious or nervous, the highest rate of any country in the world” (Salsberg, 2010, para. 14).

japanese-economy

“A Gallup Poll conducted in early December 2008 shows just 5% of Japanese rated economic conditions as ‘good’ [and] the percentage of Japanese reporting that economic conditions were getting worse climbed every quarter in 2008, finishing the year at 90%” (Bogart, 2009).

A second factor is that a new generation of Japanese (those in their 20’s) has emerged with very different attitudes. Nicknamed hodo-hodo zoku, or “so-so folks”, many avoid corporate life and material possession. “As the CEO of a leading sports-apparel company in Japan recently said, ‘For the first time, we have a generation of consumers that aren’t at all persuaded by what the professional athletes are wearing. We need a fundamental rethink of how to approach this next generation’” (Salsberg, 2010, para. 16).

The third and final factor contributing to this new trend in consumer behavior is government regulatory actions. For example, the Japanese government reduced freeway toll on weekends which provided more incentives to travel to discount stores outside Tokyo (Salsberg, 2010). On the health prevention front, “regulations [has permitted] the wide sale of over-the-counter drugs…[and]…the Japanese government has also pushed to increase awareness of and access to health remedies, in part to address the challenge of paying to treat these conditions [such as diabetes and high blood pressure]” (Salsberg, 2010, para. 18).

Consumer behavior looks at the processes involved when individuals or groups choose, buy, use, or dispose of products, services, ideas or experiences to satisfy needs and desires (Solomon, 2004). Consumer behavior includes characteristics such as social class and income.

Naturally, the economic situation affecting shoppers in the U.S., Europe, and now Japan play a critical role in altering consumer behavior. When the economy combines with other contributing factors, as in the case of the Japanese consumers, consumer behavior responds accordingly.

References

Bogart, P. (2009, April 27). Japan’s stimulus aims to reverse economic negativity. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/117877/Japan-Stimulus-Aims-Reverse-Economic-Negativity.aspx

Salsberg, B. (2010, March). The new Japanese consumer. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/The_new_Japanese_consumer_2548

Solomon, M.R. (2004). Consumer behavior: Buying, having and being (6th ed.). New Jersey: 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.

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