Tag Archives: Industrial & Organizational Psychology

7 Reasons Why Employees Leave

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined seven reasons why workers quit or leave their jobs:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

Branham asserts that there are two distinct periods when an employee thinks about leaving. The first period is the time between his or her first thoughts of leaving and the subsequent decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between his/her decision to leave and actually leaving.

Branham shares three tips that leaders can do to avoid losing employees:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Place the leader’s trust and confidence in the work force.

Reference

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

The Gender Pay Gap

Jumping Out Of College and Into the Pay Gap

As soon as people enter the workforce, salary figures indicate an initial gap in pay between men and women. The Harvard Business Review reports that a year after graduating from college, “the average woman earns 80% of what a man earns; however, after controlling for industry, type of job, prior experience, and other characteristics, this gap closes to 95%.” The AAUW, which derived these figures assert that the unexplained 5% gap indicates bias.

Clarifying the Numbers

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik states that one of the most common claims about the gender pay gap is that “women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men do.” However, Casey Mulligan, an economist at the University of Chicago maintains that “the gender gap would be less than 10 percentage points if you had better data and could make all the reasonable adjustments.”

Still, no matter how one looks at the numbers, there’s no denying that there IS a gap between the salaries of women and men.

Career Detours: Women Who Off-Ramp

Perhaps the most eye-opening piece of all is the data on women who leave the workforce. According to the HBR article (which cited data from the Center for Work-Life Policy), 31% of highly qualified women leave the workforce voluntarily for an average of 2.7 years. When three-quarters of these women do return (about 73% later go back to work), only 40% find full-time jobs. The author concludes that “[t]aking time out – for any reason – is costly (for women).” Finally, citing research by the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP), the HBR article shows that women who off-ramp lose an average of 18% of their future earning power.

References

“Harvard Business Review;” Investigating the Pay Gap; Sarah Green; April 2010; http://hbr.org/web/extras/pay-gap/2-slide; http://hbr.org/web/extras/pay-gap/9-slide

“Wall Street Journal;” Calculating Pay Inequity; Carl Bialik; April 2010; http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/calculating-pay-inequity-919/

High-Performing Organizations

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has a nice article on what separates high performing organizations from low performing ones. i4cp’s research consistently indicates that companies that excel in the following five domains are typically high performers:

Note: Each point starts with i4cp’s research & wording, followed by my comments & analysis in italics.

1. Strategy

High-performing organizations have strategies that are more consistent, clearly communicated and well thought out. They are more likely than other companies to say that their philosophies are consistent with their strategies and their performance measurements mirror their strategies.

I’ve discussed before about John Kotter’s 8-Stage Change Process, one of which is developing a vision and strategy for your organization.

2. Leadership

High-performing organizations have leadership that is clear, fair and talent-oriented. Those leaders are more likely to promote the best people for the job, to make sure performance expectations are well known and consistent with the strategy, and to be committed to developing their people.

Gary Yukl (2010) in “Leadership in Organizations” shares 10 essences of effective leadership. Among these, Dr. Yukl says some effective leadership functions include developing and empowering people, promoting social justice and morality (the idea of fairness & compassion), and creating alignment on objectives and strategies.

3. Talent

There is a commitment to the right talent within the organization, and while employees are treated as unique individuals, the organization takes a holistic approach to managing and making decisions based on data-driven information. This begins with a strategic approach to workforce planning. It entails looking at the organization from an outside-in perspective that identifies the business model components and areas that drive value and then determines what the organization needs.

It’s not surprising research has found that staffing practices are related to organizational performance (Landy & Conte, 2007).

4. Culture

The culture is strong in all the right ways, and employees are more likely to think the organization is a good place to work. Employees not only adapt well to change, they embrace it. High performers also emphasize a readiness to meet new challenges and are committed to innovation.

In “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance,” I talked about the culture within an organization. Organizational culture has a strong impact on employees, and in some cases the leaders.

In fact, with older, more established organizations, the organizational culture affects the leadership team rather than the other way around (Yukl, 2010).

5. Market

High-performing organizations have a strong market focus and go above and beyond for their customers. They are organized internally around what’s best for the customer, they think hard about customers’ future and long-term needs, and their strategy is based on customer data. And they are more likely to see customer information as the most important factor for developing new products and services.

In an earlier post titled “3 Tips on Leadership,” I shared sage advice from leadership expert, Warren Bennis. Dr. Bennis says that leaders need to have contextual intelligence. That is, they need to understand their own organization (from the inside out) as well as the larger business industry.

References

Bielaszka-DuVernay, C. (2009, April 13). Avoid mistakes that plague new leaders: An interview with Warren Bennis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://hbr.org

Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). New i4cp Study: The Five Domains of High-Performance Organizations. Retrieved from http://www.pr.com/press-release/206443

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Oakes, K. (2010, January 29). The Five Domains of High Performance. Retrieved from http://www.totalpicture.com/shows/trendwatcher/kevin-oakes-high-performance.html

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

Evidence-Based Training: Debunking the Myth of Learning Styles

In “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals,” Ruth Clark (2010) states that one of the biggest myths perpetuated by training professionals is accommodating different learning styles.

“The learning style myth leads to some very unproductive training approaches that are counter to modern evidence of what works…The time and energy spent perpetuating the various learning style myths can be more wisely invested in supporting individual differences that are proven to make a difference—namely, prior knowledge of the learner.” (Clark, 2010, p. 10)

In her book, Dr. Clark cites a research study (by Kratzig and Arbuthnott) conducted with college students about learning styles. A group of college students were asked to do 3 things: (1) Rate their own learning style as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic; (2) Each student took a learning style test that puts them into the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic category; and (3) Each student was administered three tests to measure visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory.

If the idea about learning style were true, we would expect someone who considers himself a visual learner to score higher on the visual part of the learning style test and have better visual recall.

“However, when all of the measures were compared, there were absolutely no relationships! A person who rated themselves an auditory learner was just as likely to score higher on the kinesthetic scale of the learning style test and show best memory for visual data. The research team concluded that ‘in contrast to learning style theory, it appears that people are able to learn effectively using all three sensory modalities’ (Kratzig & Arbuthnott 2006, 241)” (Clark, 2010, p.11).

Another example she provides is in explaining how something works. We normally think that a video or animated cartoon would be the best way to show how something works, but Dr. Clark says we would be wrong. Instead, according Dr. Clark, evidence shows that “when teaching how things work, a series of still visuals can be as good as or better than animations for learning (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Dr. Clark explains that the reason for this is because animation overloads our brains because there’s just too much visual information for us to process. “[But] a series of still visuals…can be reviewed and revisited at the learner’s preferred pace” (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Fad or Fact: Individuals with visual learning styles learn best from lessons with graphics.

FAD. There is no evidence for the prevalent myth of learning styles such as visual learners and auditory learners. Perpetuating this myth detracts resources from more productive proven training methods.

Source: “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals” (Clark, 2010, p. 22)

Wow! I love solid evidence to dispel the misconceptions we sometimes hold onto. As a trainer, I’m thankful for Dr. Clark’s evidence-based research.

References

Clark, R.C. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Ketter, P. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: Toward a Professional Level of Practice. T+D, 64(4), 54-58.

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.

Working Preferences of Americans by Gender

Gallup asked American adults this question,

“If you were free to do either, would you prefer to have a job outside the home, or would you prefer to stay at home and take care of the house and family?”

U.S. Adults Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 63 34 1 2
2007 Aug 13-16 58 37 3 2
2005 Aug 8-11 54 41 4 1
2003 Jun 12-18 58 38 3 1
2002 Jun 3-9 59 36 4 1
2001 Jun 11-17 62 35 2 1

Even more telling is when it’s broken down by gender…

Men Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 74 23 * 3
2007 Aug 13-16 68 29 1 2
2005 Aug 8-11 68 27 3 2
2003 Jun 12-18 73 24 3 *
2002 Jun 3-9 72 24 3 1
2001 Jun 11-17 73 24 2 1

Notice the difference between the men’s preference to work outside the home versus the women’s preference…

Women Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 52 45 1 2
2007 Aug 13-16 50 45 4 1
2005 Aug 8-11 42 53 4 1
2003 Jun 12-18 45 51 3 1
2002 Jun 3-9 47 48 4 1
2001 Jun 11-17 53 45 2 *

I wonder what this says about men and women and about our society in general?

In their book, “Social Psychology,” Kassin, Fein, and Markus (2008) maintain that,

“Beliefs about males and females are so deeply ingrained that they influence the behavior of adults literally the moment a baby is born” (pp. 154-155).

In other words, what society says about boys and girls, men and women and the corresponding roles we occupy in our society has a significant and powerful impact on our thinking and actions – almost from the moment we enter this world.

When asked to describe a typical man and woman, “males are said to be more adventurous assertive, aggressive, independent, and task-oriented; females are thought to be more sensitive, gentle, dependent, emotional, and people-oriented” (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2008, p. 154). What’s amazing is that these descriptions of men and women were shared by 2,800 college student from 30 countries, confirming the universal significance of gender stereotypes (Kassin et al., 2008).

Children learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and other adults and carry these stereotypes with them into adulthood. Thus, it isn’t surprising to find the discrepancy between men’s and women’s responses to working outside the home.

References

Gallup, Inc. Work and Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1720/Work-Work-Place.aspx

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

Career Well-Being

In their upcoming book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Available May 4, 2010), Rath and Harter (2010) offer this interesting piece of information about career and its impact on our well-being.

It’s quite astonishing that people recover faster from the death of a spouse than from prolonged unemployment.

Although career well-being is discussed, it is just one of five elements covered.

The Five Essential Elements

  • Career Wellbeing
  • Social Wellbeing
  • Financial Wellbeing
  • Physical Wellbeing
  • Community Wellbeing

This is one book I’m really looking forward to reading.

The Rising Underemployment Rate and its Emotional Impact

In a previous post called The Cost of Unemployment, I wrote about the toll, on health and well-being, that unemployment had on people.

One aspect of unemployment that rarely gets mentioned is underemployment. Gallup defines underemployment as people who are “unemployed or working part-time but wanting full-time work” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 3). According to the latest Gallup poll, the underemployment rate is at a staggering 20% as of March 15, 2010, compared to the 9.7% unemployment rate reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Underemployed Americans are 2x more likely to have been told that they suffer from depression (21% vs. 12% employed Americans)(Marlar, 2010, para. 5).

These findings, both the rate of underemployment and the well-being index score, “underscore why Americans say the most important problem facing the nation today is jobs and unemployment” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 2).

Interestingly, the Gallup data indicates that a decline in the U.S. unemployment rate might be attributed to an increase in the unemployed taking on part-time work and adding to the underemployment rate.

“It is also often suggested that a growth in part-time jobs may indicate future growth in full-time work — that companies hire part-time workers before committing to hiring new full-time employees. While this is sometimes the case, it may not be so at this point in the U.S. economy: Gallup data show that one in three part-time employees who are wanting full-time work are currently “hopeful” about finding a full-time job in the next 30 days — not much of an endorsement of the idea that today’s new part-time work will progress to full-time jobs” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 8).

References

Jacobe, D. (2010, March 19). Underemployment hits 20% in mid-March. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/126821/Underemployment-Hits-20-Mid-March.aspx

Marlar, J. (2010, March 9). The emotional cost of underemployment. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/126518/Emotional-Cost-Underemployment.aspx

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov

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.

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

The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy

A female Navy captain was recently stripped of her command of the U.S.S. Cowpens following repeated complaints of “cruelty and maltreatment” of the 400-member crew on her ship (Thompson, 2010). She was found guilty of violating Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice “cruelty and maltreatment” and Article 133 “conduct unbecoming an officer” (Ewing, 2010).

The Navy inspector general’s (IG) report found that the captain “repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault.” Those who knew the captain (i.e., those who worked under her) said that the IG report resulted because of the toxic work environment aboard the ship (Thompson, 2010).

The female captain “create[d] an environment of fear and hostility [and] frequently humiliate[d] and belittle[d] watch standers by screaming at them with profanities in front of the Combat Information Center and bridge-watch teams…” one crew member recounted (Thompson, 2010).

It was also reported that she ordered a “well-respected master chief to go in ‘time out’ —standing in the ship’s key control room doing nothing— ‘in front of other watch standers of all ranks.'” (Thompson, 2010).

She also told two fellow Navy officers, “You two are f______ unbelievable. I would fire you if I could, but I can’t.” Even though cursing does occur, “to have them repeatedly brandished like clubs against subordinates — especially in front of more junior crew members — is unusual” (Thompson, 2010).

“The evidence shows” that the female captain violated Navy regulations “by demeaning, humiliating, publicly belittling and verbally assaulting…subordinates while in command of Cowpens,” the report concluded. Her actions “exceeded the firm methods needed to succeed or even thrive” and her “harsh language and profanity were rarely followed with any instruction.” Her repeated criticism of her officers, often in front of lower-ranking crew members, humiliated subordinates and corroded morale, “contrary to the best interests of the ship and the Navy” (Thompson, 2010).

One gunnery officer, who served under her aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill from 2002 to 2004, said “She would throw coffee cups at officers — ceramic, not foam….spit in one officer’s face, throw binders and paperwork at people, slam doors” (Thompson, 2010).

A retired Navy commander (who served under her when she was second in command on the destroyer U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur in 1997-98) recalls, “When I think of [her], even 12 years later, I shake…She was so intimidating even to me, a 6-foot-4 guy” (Thompson, 2010).

Pearson & Porath (2009) found that targets of workplace incivility “struggle to concentrate when treated badly. They’ll lose focus trying to understand the incivility and how to respond…[T]he emotional impact…further distracts and short circuits their ability to be effective. Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (p. 155).

Similarly, a study by Miner, Glomb, & Hulin found negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions (Sutton, 2007, p. 31). Thus, it’s not surprising to conclude that…

“[N]asty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts” (Sutton, 2007, p. 31).

References

Ewing, P. (2010, January 16). Cruiser CO relieved for ‘cruelty’. Navy Times. Retrieved http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/01/ap_cowpens_cofired_011310/

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Thompson, M. (2010, March 3). The rise and fall of a female Captain Bligh. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com

Leadership Lessons from the Titanic

“Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.” –A steward on the Titanic

In a discussion about stubborn leaders, I thought about the story of the sinking of the Titanic. Through research, I came across an article by Phil Landesberg called, “Back to the Future – Titanic Lessons in Leadership” (2001).

Titanic’s arrival was a modern marvel. It was “a grand combination of modern technology and luxury built to tame the capriciousness of nature” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 53). With the latest technological and design ingenuity, along with its massive size (the largest moving object at the time), newspapers proclaimed it to be “unsinkable.”

But, the Harland & Wolff Shipyard (builder of the Titanic) and the White Star Line (operator of the Titanic) knew that there were some scenarios that could sink the ship. But, in order to attract customers, both the ship’s maker and its operator went along with the marketing of the Titanic’s unsinkability.

Chosen to navigate the Titanic was a charismatic captain named Captain E. J. Smith, nicknamed “the millionaire’s captain.” Part of his job was to “cater to the expectations of wealthy and influential passengers” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

For the most part, (from the time it set sail on April 10, 1912 to about an hour prior to it colliding with an iceberg) the Titanic’s voyage was pleasant, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe that was the reason for Captain Smith’s cancellation of a lifeboat drill planned for Sunday April 14th.

Ironically, what made for a romantic setting—calm seas and a moonless night—signaled potential dangers as those conditions made spotting icebergs difficult. However, rather than staying to pilot the ship, Captain Smith instead went to a dinner hosted in his honor. He gave instructions to keep the Titanic on course and maintain speed unless visibility became a factor.

“Less than an hour before Titanic was to collide with an iceberg, Californian’s wireless operator, Cyril Evans, tried to pass along a message from her captain warning that Californian was surrounded by ice and stopped. On board Titanic, Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators working for Marconi Company onboard to relay commercial messages) was busily sending commercial messages, and replied, ‘Shut up, shut up, I’m busy….’ Ten minutes before the collision, Evans, noting that Phillips was still busy with commercial messages, shut down his equipment and retired to his cabin” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

Although a large iceberg was spotted by a lookout on the Titanic, its speed and proximity “meant that the efforts of the officer in charge to avoid a collision were doomed to failure. Titanic struck the iceberg on her starboard side, sustaining damage along a 300-foot section of her hull in a mere 10 seconds. Titanic’s design allowed her to take on water in two compartments and remain afloat, but more than four compartments were breached during the collision. Upon assessing the damage, Andrews (one of Titanic’s designer who was onboard) estimated that Titanic would sink in an hour or two” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54-55).

In an atmosphere of confusion and chaos, women and children were loaded onto lifeboats (per Captain Smith’s order). Unfortunately, without an understanding of and experience with lifeboat procedures, “the lifeboats were only partially loaded before being lowered to the sea. Designed to carry up to 65 passengers, some left with only a dozen people on board. As the lifeboats rowed away from Titanic to avoid being sucked down when she sunk, hundreds of passengers were left screaming and thrashing about in freezing water” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 55).

By early morning on April 15th, only 705 people were still alive, while 1,517 died.

LEADERSHIP LESSONS

#1 Never Make Assumptions

Captain Smith and many other leaders affiliated to the Titanic assumed that it could never sink.

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” -Captain R. J. Smith, R.M.S. Titanic

#2 Watch for the Calm before the Storm

The quiet seas and a moonless sky made it hard to spot icebergs, making it deceiving that things were ok.

#3 Heed Warnings

There were attempts to warn the Titanic from another ship (the Californian’s Cyril Evans). But those messages were dismissed because Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators) was busy sending commercial messages.

#4 Stop Finding the Blame

“[I]f we look for culprits when something goes wrong, we’ll find them. However, holding individuals accountable for results can prevent learning how to improve performance or prevent a problem from recurring” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

#5 Manage the System to Find a Solution

The Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic revealed that Marconi wireless operators (like Jack Phillips who was onboard the Titanic to relay commercial messages) often would refuse “to communicate with wireless operators of ships (such as the Frankfurt) known to use competitor’s equipment. Frankfurt was the first ship to answer Titanic’s distress call and the operator went to consult his captain. When he returned, Phillips, on board Titanic, rudely refused to answer the question posed by Frankfurt’s captain, “What is the matter?” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

The lack of cooperation and collaboration was evident in Landesberg’s (2001) account:

“While there seemed to be a ship relatively close by, the nearest ship responding to Titanic’s SOS distress signal was Carpathia, and she was more than four hours away” (p. 55).

“Leaders must look to cooperate (even while they compete) to improve the systems in which they operate, for the good of all…Had the aim of providing passenger safety been clear to everyone (i.e., Titanic’s officers and crew–including wireless operators and Californian’s officers and crew) there would have been far less confusion, more cooperation, and less loss of life on the evening of April 14, 1912.” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56-57).

Reference

Landesberg, P. (2001). Back to the Future—Titanic Lessons in Leadership. Journal for Quality & Participation, 24(4), 53-57.

The Importance of Work

“If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” (NRC, 1999, p. 50)

Year % of Americans Who Said They Would Continue to Work
1973 69.1
1974 64.8
1976 69.0
1977 70.0
1980 76.9
1982 72.3
1984 76.0
1985 69.5
1987 75.4
1988 71.0
1989 72.2
1990 72.7
1991 66.9
1993 69.0
1994 65.8
1996 68.0

These data confirm that “Americans are highly committed to work as a central activity in their lives” (NRC, 1999, p. 51).

Reference

National Research Council. (1999). The changing nature of work: Implications for occupational analysis. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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/

3 Leadership Tips from Warren Bennis

“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” -Warren G. Bennis

In an interview with Harvard Business Review’s Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay (2009), Warren Bennis* (at right in above photo) shared three tips for how leaders and aspiring leaders can be successful:

1) Delegation: “Learning to delegate is difficult. It’s tempting for all of us, especially ambitious business professionals, to believe that unless we do something ourselves, it won’t be done right.

“What new leaders need to understand is that by not delegating, they’re disrespecting not only others but themselves. They’re not using themselves to their best advantage, and they’re demonstrating that they haven’t learned one of the key truths about leadership, which is that the only way to make your weaknesses irrelevant is to respect others’ strengths and use them.”

2) Attentiveness: “[E]ven if a leader has surrounded herself with trusted advisers who give her straight talk, she still needs to cultivate attentiveness. That means whenever an issue or crisis arises, asking herself, What have I done to create this situation? What did I contribute to this mess?

“The goal is not to blame but to understand. Accepting failure is pretty easy; to understand it is the hard part.”

3) Contextual Intelligence: “Get the business literacy down pat. Just as a musician has to master the scales before he can become a master, so a leader has to gain a command of the basics to break free of the grid of technique and become an eminence.

“It also means knowing the whole industry: what it’s about, what makes one an expert in that particular space.

“Finally, it requires knowing your company inside and out: the products, how customers see you, the culture — and what employees particularly value about it….If you want to lead people, you have to enter their world.”

*Dr. Warren Bennis is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership. His best selling book On Becoming A Leader has been named one of the 100 best business books of all times and considered the top leadership book. He has served as an adviser to five U.S. presidents.

Reference

Bielaszka-DuVernay, C. (2009, April 13). Avoid mistakes that plague new leaders: An interview with Warren Bennis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://hbr.org