Tag Archives: Organizational Behavior

The Many Benefits of Coaching Employees

“Coaching is helping another person reach higher levels of effectiveness by creating a dialogue that leads to awareness and action.” -Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr

“When an employee has the skills and ability to complete the task at hand, but for some reason is struggling with the confidence, focus, motivation, drive, or bandwidth to be at their best, coaching can help.” -Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr

In the classic coaching book, Coaching for Performance (2009), the late John Whitmore described numerous benefits of coaching. Included in the list are benefits to the recipient (i.e., the client/coachee) as well as benefits to the team and the larger organization (pp. 156-158):

  • Improved performance and productivity
  • Staff development
  • Improved learning
  • Improved relationships
  • Improved quality of life for individuals
  • More time for the manager
  • More creative ideas
  • Better use of people, skills, and resources
  • Faster and more effective emergency response
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability to change
  • More motivated staff
  • Culture change
  • A life skill

In the book, Coaching People (McManus, 2006), benefits to the person being coached are (pp. 5-6):

  • maximizing their individual strengths
  • overcoming personal challenges/obstacles
  • achieving new skills & competencies to become more effective
  • preparing for new work/job roles or responsibilities
  • improvement in managing themselves (e.g., better time management)
  • clarifying and working toward goals (e.g., learning about and setting SMART goals)
  • increasing their job satisfaction and motivation

Benefits to the team and organization include (McManus, 2006, p. 6):

  • improving the working relationships between manager & direct reports (i.e., employees)
  • developing & fostering more productive teams
  • using organizational resources more effectively

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

References

Emerson, B., & Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees. New York: AMACOM.

McManus, P. (2006). Coaching People: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Book Review: The Leadership Challenge, 6th Edition

“The notion that there are only a few great people who can lead others to greatness is just plain wrong. Likewise, it is wrong to suggest that leaders come only from large, or small, or already great, or new organizations, or from established economies, or from certain industries, functions, or disciplines. The truth is leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to anyone.”
—Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

This paragraph succinctly sums up the book:

“The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It’s about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about leadership that makes a positive difference in the workplace and creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xi).

The first edition of The Leadership Challenge came out in 1987. The fifth edition (2012) marked the 25th anniversary of the book and the sixth edition (2017) marks the 30th anniversary. The sixth edition has been revised to address current challenges and includes more international examples and a focus on business issues.

It is remarkable how The Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model have withstood the test of time and continue to be so well received. I think two factors play important roles in its longevity: (1) The Leadership Challenge is evidence-based, and (2) Kouzes & Posner are skilled in nicely weaving case studies of real people demonstrating the practices of exemplary leadership throughout the book that it actually reads and flows well.

At the heart of The Leadership Challenge is The Five Practices framework, which resulted from analysis of thousands of case studies and millions of survey responses (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Kouzes and Posner illustrate The Five Practices framework with hundreds of examples of real people doing real things. With each new edition of the book, the research, stories/cases, and examples of what people do when they are at their best as leaders are updated.

“The more we research and write about leadership, the more confident we become that leadership is within the grasp of everyone. The opportunities for leadership are boundless and boundaryless” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xii).

“While the context of leadership has changed dramatically over the years, the content of leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors and actions of leaders have remained essentially the same, and they are as relevant today as they were when [Kouzes and Posner] began [their] study of exemplary leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 13).

Kouzes and Posner began and continue with a very basic question, “What did you do when you were at your personal best as a leader?” The stories, behaviors, and actions that the leaders described led to the creation of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. “When leaders do their best, they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xii).

According to Kouzes and Posner, the Ten Commitments of Leadership—the essential behaviors that leaders employ to make extraordinary things happen—explain the fundamental principles that support each of The Five Practices.

  • Practice #1: Model the Way
    • Commitment 1. Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared values.
    • Commitment 2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
  • Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision
    • Commitment 3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
    • Commitment 4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
  • Practice #3: Challenge the Process
    • Commitment 5. Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
    • Commitment 6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.
  • Practice #4: Enable Others to Act
    • Commitment 7. Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
    • Commitment 8. Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
  • Practice #5: Encourage the Heart
    • Commitment 9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
    • Commitment 10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

After analyzing thousands of leadership experiences, Kouzes and Posner found, and continue to find, that “regardless of the times or settings, individuals who guide others along pioneering journeys follow surprisingly similar paths. Although each experience was unique in its individual expression, there were clearly identifiable behaviors and actions that made a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 12).

When making extraordinary things happen in organizations, leaders engage in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart).

“These leadership practices are not the private purview of the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select shining stars. Leadership is not about personality. It’s about behavior. The Five Practices are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge—the challenge of taking people and organizations to places they have never been before. It is the challenge of moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 13).

Practice #1: Model the Way
“To effectively Model the Way, you must first be clear about your own guiding principles. You must clarify values by finding your voice” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 14). However, because a leader’s values don’t exist in a vacuum, he will also need to affirm the shared values of the group.

“No one will believe you’re serious until they see you doing what you’re asking of others. You either lead by example or don’t lead at all.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

“Deeds are far more important than words when constituents want to determine how serious leaders really are about what they say. Words and deeds must be consistent” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 14).

Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders imagine an exciting and attractive future for their organizations. They envision and dream about what could be and they wholeheartedly believe in those dreams, and they’re confident in being able to make extraordinary things happen.

“Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 15). They need to make something happen, change how things are, and create something that no one has created before.

“You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 15).

Practice #3: Challenge the Process
“Challenge is the crucible for greatness. Every single personal-best leadership case involved a change from the status quo. Not one person achieved a personal best by keeping things the same” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 16).

“Leaders are pioneers willing to step out into the unknown. However, leaders aren’t the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. Innovation comes more from listening than from telling, and from constantly looking outside of yourself and your organization for new and innovative products, processes, and services” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 16).

Practice #4: Enable Others to Act
“Grand dreams don’t become significant realities through the actions of a single person. Achieving greatness requires a team effort. It requires solid trust and enduring relationships. It requires group collaboration and individual accountability” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 17).

“[C]onstituents don’t perform at their best or stick around for very long if they feel weak, dependent, or alienated. When you strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence, they are more likely to give it their all and exceed their own expectations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 18).

Practice #5: Encourage the Heart
“Being a leader requires showing appreciation for people’s contributions and creating a culture of celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 19).

“Believing in others is an extraordinarily powerful force in propelling greater performance.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

Encouraging the heart is not about being pretentious or phony in order to create a false sense of camaraderie. It is not something you can fake. “Celebrations and rituals, when done in an authentic way and from the heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through extraordinarily tough times” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 19).

The Five Practices Make a Difference

“Exemplary leader behavior makes a profoundly positive difference in people’s commitment and performance at work.”
—Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are the core leadership competencies that emerged from Kouzes & Posner’s analysis of thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experience cases.

“These five leadership practices—Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart—provide an operating system for what people are doing as leaders when they are at their best, and there’s abundant empirical evidence that these leadership practices matter. Hundreds of studies have reported that The Five Practices make a positive difference in the engagement and performance of people and organizations” Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 20).

After reviewing responses from more than three million people around the world to the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), a 360-degree instrument assessing how often leaders engage in The Five Practices, Kouzes and Posner said this:

“Those leaders who more frequently use The Five Practices are considerably more effective than their counterparts who use them less frequently” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 20).

How a leader behaves is what explains the difference in why people work hard, how committed they are, and their pride and productivity (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

Leadership Is a Relationship

“No leader has ever gotten anything extraordinary done by working solo.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

“[L]eaders don’t make extraordinary things happen all by themselves” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 28).

“Leaders mobilize others to want to struggle for shared aspirations, and this means that, fundamentally, leadership is a relationship. Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 26).

What People Look For and Want from Their Leaders

The top 4 characteristics that followers believe a leader—someone they would willingly follow—should possess are:

  1. honest,
  2. forward-looking,
  3. competent, and
  4. inspiring.

What people look for in a leader (a person who they would be willing to follow) has been remarkably consistent over time (as a matter of fact, over three decades), and does not significantly vary across countries, cultures, ethnicities, organizational functions and hierarchies, genders, levels of education, and age groups (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

Credibility Is the Foundation

“People want to follow leaders who are, more than anything, credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. Constituents must be able, above all else, to believe in their leaders. For them to willingly follow someone else, they must believe that the leader’s word can be trusted, that she is personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work, and that she has the knowledge and skill to lead” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012, p. 37).

“Constituents also must believe that their leader knows where they’re headed and has a vision for the future. An expectation that their leaders be forward-looking is what sets leaders apart from other credible individuals” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012, p. 37).

Kouzes-Posner First Law of Leadership: If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.

Kouzes-Posner Second Law of Leadership: DWYSYWDDo What You Say You Will Do.

What I Miss from the 5th Edition That Is Not in the 6th Edition:

In the 5th Edition, there’s a 1-page summary at the beginning of each of the five practices (i.e., Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart). It’s great because it served as a brief introduction to each practice AND touched on each of the two Commitments. Each practice has two Commitments of Leadership [10 Commitments total; 2 Commitments for each of the 5 Practices; each Commitment has its very own chapter].

A Brief Comparison Between The 5th and 6th Editions:

For a short comparison between the 5th and 6th editions, I chose two cases. The first case is under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter. The second case is located under the “Educate and Share Information” section in the “Strengthen Others” chapter.

The 6th edition does a nicer job integrating real world examples and comments in support of the 10 commitments.

For instance, under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter, in the story about Emily Taylor and how she made something happen, I found that the 6th edition made better use of Emily’s own words to powerfully illustrate the idea that high performers work beyond their job descriptions and recognize opportunities that others do not (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). In the 5th edition, the example Kouzes and Posner (2012) provided [under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter] and their use of that person’s words weren’t as compelling in bringing that same idea (i.e., making something happen) to life.

Similarly, under the “Educate and Share Information” section in the “Strengthen Others” chapter, the real-life example of Jeff Allison’s situation (in the 6th edition) and how he was able to strengthen others by investing in time and initiatives that developed their skills and fostered their confidence was better than the example provided in the 5th edition — again, I believe it’s because Kouzes and Posner selected better real-life examples and made better use of the actual quotes to support the concepts being discussed as well as bring them to life.

What I Really Like:

There are 13 chapters in all in the 6th edition, with 10 chapters covering the Ten Commitments of Leadership (these are essential behaviors that leaders employ to make extraordinary things happen). The Ten Commitments of Leadership also explain the fundamental principles that support each of The Five Practices (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

At the end of each of the Commitments of Leadership chapter (two chapters for each practice [10 Commitments total; 2 for each Practice]), there’s a very helpful and practical “Take Action” section that tells you “what you need to do to make this leadership practice an ongoing and natural part of your behavioral and attitudinal repertoire” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xiv).

Visually, two dramatic changes are welcomed surprises with the 6th edition of The Leadership Challenge. First, the updated charts and graphics to color really make the model and ideas more striking and appealing. Second, the 6th edition uses heavier and bright white paper to print the text on and this makes it much easier to read. I had a hard time reading the 5th edition because of the color of the paper (I’m referring to the hard copy of the book).


Summary: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model—the backbone of The Leadership Challenge book—states that leadership is an observable set of similar patterns of behavior (skills and abilities) that can be taught and learned by everyone. Three decades of research provide strong and enduring support for the model. When leaders are at their personal best, they demonstrate five core practices: they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Credibility is the foundation of every leader-follower relationship. For leaders to be viewed as credible, they need to consistently do what they say they will do (DWYSYWD). Finally, followers look for and expect four characteristics from their leaders (someone they would willingly follow): honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking. These four prerequisites for leadership have stood the test of time and geography.

The Leadership Challenge is a compelling, evidence-based, practical, and delightful masterpiece. Kouzes and Posner skillfully weave real examples and actual words of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things in their organizations throughout to support decades of empirical data. To ensure that they drive their points home, they include ten “Take Action” sections summarizing what you need to do to make each leadership practice a part of your daily repertoire. The result is an extremely robust, yet eminently practical model of leadership development. With substance (30 years’ worth of data and counting) and stories (hundreds of them) to bring the substance to life, The Leadership Challenge is a must-read for anyone interested in the study and practice of leadership. It is truly a book that should be required reading for both leaders and followers. As Kouzes and Posner aptly point out, we’re only able to see a complete picture of leadership by asking followers what they admire and look for in a leader. The Leadership Challenge earns my highest recommendation.

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

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Disclosure: I received The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.) as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Book Review: The Power of Positive Leadership

NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the author throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the author’s words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting the intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of the author’s work/writing.

I never thought I would be reading and reviewing a book by Jon Gordon. The simple reason is that I’m not a fan of books written in a fable format. In fact, I try to avoid them as I find them especially painful to read. If I wanted a fable, I would much rather read one from Aesop or the Bible. Many of Gordon’s previous books were written in a “business fable” format (e.g., The Energy Bus is a story about George who is forced to take the bus because of a flat tire and learns 10 secrets for approaching life and work; The No Complaining Rule is a story about Hope, head of Human Resources, charged with finding a solution to overcome the biggest challenge in her company’s history; and Training Camp is a story of Martin Jones, an un-drafted rookie trying to make it to the bright lights and big money of the NFL).

Gordon’s latest book, The Power of Positive Leadership, is not written in a fable format so I decided to review it. In this book, Gordon shares the lessons he’s learned about positive leadership and provides a positive leadership framework.

“Positive leadership is not about fake positivity. It is the real stuff that makes great leaders great . . . Throughout history we see it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the positive leaders who change the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 9).

Gordon says he has two goals for the book: (1) “to explain how and why positive leaders make a difference” and (2) “to provide a simple framework filled with practical ideas that will help anyone become a positive leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 5).

“Being a positive leader doesn’t just make you better; it makes everyone around you better” (Gordon, 2017, p. 1).

The Power of Positive Leadership Framework:

1. Positive Leaders Drive Positive Cultures

Southwest Airlines arrived at the decision to not charge baggage fees because charging would not reflect their culture and their goal of providing friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.

“As a positive leader, you can’t just show the way and talk about the way. You must also lead the way. You must live your culture and know that it is an extension of who you are as a leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 21)

“When you create a culture worth fighting for and invest in your people to the degree that they want to fight for your culture and for each other, your organization will have grit and strength to overcome the challenges you face and become an unstoppable and positive force” (Gordon, 2017, p. 27).

2. Positive Leaders Create and Share a Positive Vision

“A positive leader sees what’s possible and then takes the next steps to rally and unite people to create it. Every invention, project, creation, and transformation starts with an idea, an imagination, and a vision of what’s possible” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31-32).

“Positive leaders tap into the power of a vision and find a way forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31). To rally people to follow them, positive leaders have to be able to “articulate and communicate [their] vision in a simple, clear, bold, and compelling way” (Gordon, 2017, p. 32).

“The vision a positive leader creates and shares serves as a North Star that points and moves everyone in an organization in the right direction. The leader must continually point to this North Star and remind everyone that this is where we are going” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).

“A leader who shares a vision and a way forward is a dealer in hope, a believer in the impossible, a champion of what’s possible, and a coach who guides and inspires a team to keep improving, and keep moving forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).

A positive leader needs to carry a telescope and a microscope. The telescope helps the leader and his team keep their eyes on the North Star (the vision) and the big picture. The microscope helps the leader to zoom in and focus on what needs to be accomplished in the short-term to realize the vision in the telescope.

“If you only have a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you only have a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture” (Gordon, 2017, p. 34).

3. Positive Leaders Lead with Optimism, Positivity, and Belief

“Optimism, positivity, and belief are the fuel that positive leaders need to keep moving forward and drive results” (Gordon, 2017, p. 47).

“If you don’t have optimism and belief, you can’t share it. If you don’t have it, you can’t transform your team and organization with it. It starts first and foremost with you” (Gordon, 2017, p. 51).

“Every moment and every situation presents to us an opportunity to see and experience the positive or the negative. Each day we can feed the positive dog or the negative dog inside of us, and whichever one we feed, grows. So feed the positive dog” (Gordon, 2017, p. 52).

4. Positive Leaders Confront, Transform, and Remove Negativity

“Positive leadership is not just about feeding the positive, but also about weeding out the negative” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).

“One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow, and it eventually sabotages the team and organization. You must address the negativity. Confront it, transform it, or remove it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).

5. Positive Leaders Create United and Connected Teams

“Positive leaders unite instead of divide. They are able to get everyone on the bus and moving in the right direction. They are able to create unity, which is the difference between a great team and an average team. The more united and connected a team and organization is, the more they are able to accomplish together” (Gordon, 2017, p. 87).

“A team and organization that’s not connected at the top crumbles at the bottom” (Gordon, 2017, p. 88).

“You may not have the most talented people on your team, but if you are a connected team, you will outperform many talented teams who lack a close bond” (Gordon, 2017, p. 92).

6. Positive Leaders Build Great Relationships and Teams

“Positive leaders care about the people they lead. They care about their team and organization. . .Because they care, they do more, give more, encourage more, help more, guide more, mentor more, develop more, build more, and ultimately, accomplish more” (Gordon, 2017, p. 128).

Gordon shared a powerful story about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer.

“Looking back I realize that she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and positive leadership are all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well” (Gordon, 2017, p. 133-134).

“We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real positive leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Gordon, 2017, p. 134).

7. Positive Leaders Pursue Excellence

Positive leaders are always searching for ways to make things and the future better. They’re constantly “striving to improve themselves, their teams, their organizations, and the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 137).

8. Positive Leaders Lead with Purpose

“Every great organization must have a greater purpose for why they exist and every positive leader must be driven by purpose to lead others and make a greater impact” (Gordon, 2017, p. 151).

“Hard work doesn’t make us tired. A lack of purpose is what makes us tired. We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 152).

9. Positive Leaders Have Grit

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit: Grit is the ability to work for a long period of time towards a goal. It means to persevere, overcome, and continue moving forward in the face of adversity.

“Positive leaders have grit and find a way to navigate the roadblocks or run through them to move closer to their vision and goal” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).

“When we look at successful companies and organizations, we see their current success and prominence but what we don’t see is the leadership and grit that powered them through all the failure and moments of doubt, heartache, fear, and pain” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).

“Whether you are attempting to turn around a company, grow a start-up, build a winning team, or move a successful organization to the next level, you can expect it to take time and perseverance” (Gordon, 2017, p. 170).

DISLIKE:

What I do not like about this book is the tiring references to Gordon’s previous books, in particular The Energy Bus — referenced on 13 pages!

The Energy Bus — referenced 13 times; pp. 4, 15, 16, 17, 41, 42, 71, 72, 73, 80, 83, 84, 183.
The No Complaining Rule — referenced 3 times; pp. 79, 80, 81
The Shark and the Goldfish — referenced 1 time; pp. 57
The Seed — referenced 1 time; pp. 153
The Positive Dog — referenced 1 time; pp. 51
You Win In The Locker Room First — referenced 2 times; pp. 25, 108

If you found what I have just done to be annoying, imagine how I felt having to see the same book titles and words or phrases (e.g., positive dog, energy bus, shark, goldfish) mentioned ad nauseam. At times, I felt as if I were reading an advertisement about one of his other books.

Takeaway: I really wanted to like The Power of Positive Leadership book. I tried to read it with an open mind and I gave the book multiple opportunities to stay on my ‘like’ column while I was reading it. In the end, I found The Power of Positive Leadership to be an OK book. It’s a quick read, probably because it was so repetitive. What’s more, for my taste, there were just too many references to Gordon’s other books, especially The Energy Bus. If you are a fan of Jon Gordon and are familiar with his other books, then you might like The Power of Positive Leadership. There were some good stories and examples in this book. However, reading The Power of Positive Leadership is like attending a long-drawn-out pep rally. Indeed, Gordon shared lots and lots of stories about the sport coaches and athletic directors (basketball, football, baseball) he has worked with. I like the first 15-20 minutes of a pep rally, but if the pep rally goes on for too long and repeats the same materials then you have lost me. Regrettably—and yes I see the irony in giving a negative review about a book on positive leadership that I received for free—I just didn’t find enough in The Power of Positive Leadership book to warrant my recommendation.

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

Reference

Gordon, J. (2017). The Power of Positive Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Disclosure: I received The Power of Positive Leadership as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Hire Conscientious People

Businesspeople shaking hands | Credit: Minerva Studio

I found, at Half Price Books, a great little gem of a book (and for only a few dollars!) titled, The Truth About Managing People by Stephen P. Robbins. In it, professor Robbins shared a very useful and applicable tip when hiring people: When in doubt, hire conscientious people!

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines conscientiousness as: the tendency to be organized, responsible, and hardworking, construed as one end of a dimension of individual differences (conscientiousness vs. lack of direction) in the big five personality model.

According to Robbins (2008), findings from numerous research studies reveal that “only conscientiousness is related to job performance” (p. 22).

“Conscientiousness predicts job performance across a broad spectrum of jobs—from professionals to police, salespeople, and semi-skilled workers. Individuals who score high in conscientiousness are dependable, reliable, careful, thorough, able to plan, organized, hardworking, persistent, and achievement-oriented. And these attributes tend to lead to higher job performance in most occupations (Robbins, 2008, p. 22).”

Of course, this does not mean that you ignore other characteristics or that other characteristics aren’t relevant for certain jobs. It’s also not very surprising that individuals low in emotional stability will typically not get hired or, when they do, they usually don’t last very long in their jobs (Robbins, 2008).

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

References

Robbins, S. P. (2008). The Truth About Managing People (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

How To Manage A Team That Keeps Growing

Athletics carrying a crew canoe over heads | Credit: Clerkenwell

I was contacted by a freelance writer working on a blog post for the project management platform, Wrike, for my thoughts about how you manage a team that keeps growing.

Question: What are some notable differences between leaders of small teams (let’s say 10 people and under) and leaders of large teams (100 people and over)? I’m sure there are numerous differences in the way they should communicate, delegate, etc. when managing a small team compared to a large one.

Answer: I will answer this in three parts.

First, generally, effective teams have less than 9 members (West, 2008). For leaders of “large teams,” I would argue that those top leaders, in fact, manage several other subordinate people leaders (who report up to them) who lead smaller teams, and within those teams, there are people leaders who report to them and so on. When we say that a leader is leading a “large team” of 100 employees or more, that one leader actually leads a handful of subordinate leaders, who then lead other subordinate leaders. Thus, one could argue that a CEO does not directly lead 1000 employees. Instead s/he is leading a team of executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents, and those EVPs & SVPs lead several vice presidents (VPs), who then lead a team of directors, who then have managers reporting to them.

Second, there is an important distinction between leading a team versus supervising a team. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors tend to be directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, on the other hand, is more facilitative and seeking.

Third, when leading or supervising a team, there are several key things to keep in mind:

  1. The team must have a purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  2. Make sure that there aren’t too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  3. Team processes are developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).
  4. Most of all, walk the talk. Make sure that your words and actions are consistent and you’re not saying one thing and doing something else.

“It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity and support. Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds and regenerates great organizations and communities.” -Kouzes and Posner, The Truth About Leadership

Question: While team growth is a positive indicator for the business, existing/core team members can often be resistant to change the dynamic. Do you have any tips for how you can continue to grow the team without causing too much friction?

Answer: Any time change is required, expect disruption and resistance. To help a team adapt and stick to this change (i.e., adding new members), make sure (Hill, 2009): (1) They believe the change makes sense and that it’s the right course of action (that growing the team is the right thing to do), (2) The person leading the change has the respect of the team; (3) They understand and prepare for new opportunities and challenges that come from the change (of growing the team); and (4) They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.

Question: Do you have any tips for maintaining team culture even as new members are continuously added?

Answer: Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) offered some helpful tips to be mindful of in striving to maintain a strong team and organization-wide culture:

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas

Question: Any other anecdotes, statistics, or information to share?

Answer: In “The Leadership Challenge,” Kouzes and Posner (2012) said that leaders practice what they preach. Leaders model the way through their actions and they live by the values they claim.

In a meeting, an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive. After the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she clearly lacked. What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

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

References

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Reasons Why People Resist or Support Organizational Change

Change Management | Credit: annatodica
Change Management | Credit: annatodica

“Change can generate deep resistance in people and in organizations, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to implement organizational improvements.”
—Thomas Cummings & Christopher Worley

Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis (2011), in their 60-year review of quantitative studies involving change recipients’ reactions to organizational change, discovered that recipients’ reactions to organizational change involve cognitive (what they think), affective (how they feel), and behavioral (what they intend to do) reactions.

The authors developed a model of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change that include the antecedents (reasons for the reactions or variables that predict change recipients’ reactions), explicit reactions [how change recipients feel (affect), what they think (cognition), or what they intend to do (behavior) in response to the change], and change consequences of organizational change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, Figure 1, p. 4).

So what does a review of the research literature tell us about why people resist change? Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis’ 60-year review of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change reveals four reasons why people resist change: (1) Personality Traits and Coping Styles, (2) Level of Trust in Management & Organization, (3) How Change Is Implemented, and (4) Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change.

Four Reasons Why People Resist Organizational Change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011):

1. Personality Traits and Coping Styles.

  • Personality Traits – Personality traits that are linked to reactions to change include locus of control, self-efficacy, positive and negative affectivity, tolerance for ambiguity, dispositional resistance to change, dispositional cynicism, openness to experience, and neuroticism and conscientiousness (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).
  • Coping Styles – “change recipients who adopted a problem-focused coping style reported greater readiness for the organizational change, increased participation in the change process, and an overall greater contribution to it” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 27).

2. Level of Trust in Management & Organization. The most consistent and strongest relationship with change reactions is the degree to which change recipients trust management (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).

3. How Change Is Implemented (Change Process). “A participative and supportive process, with open lines of communication, and management that is perceived as competent and fair in its implementation of the change, is effective in producing positive reactions toward the change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

4. Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change. “A key determinant of whether change recipients will accept or resist change is the extent to which the change is perceived as personally beneficial or harmful. Anticipated benefit and harm constitute straightforward and sensible reasons change recipients may have for supporting or resisting a particular change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

In her Pocket Mentor book, “Managing Change,” Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill (2009) shared reasons for people’s reactions to organizational change. Dr. Hill listed nine reasons why people resist change and six reasons why people support change.

Nine Reasons Why People Resist Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They did not have any input or in planning and implementing the change effort.
  6. They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
  7. They believe in the status quo.
  8. They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.
  9. They’re afraid they don’t have the skills to do their work in new ways required by the change.

Six Reasons Why People Support Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change makes sense and that it is the right course of action.
  2. They respect the people leading the change effort.
  3. They anticipate new opportunities and challenges that come from the change.
  4. They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.
  5. They believe the change will lead to personal gain.
  6. They like and enjoy the excitement of change.

“The difficulty in mastering change lies in the fact that we can’t “program” ourselves to adjust. Human beings are complex and emotional, and some of the stress of change comes from a gap between what we want to feel and do, and what we actually feel. The gap will not go away by ignoring it, but it can be easier to take by recognizing and facing up to one’s real difficulty with change.”
—Dennis Jaffe & Cynthia Scott

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

References

Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2009). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Jaffe, D. T., & Scott, C. D. (2003). Mastering the Change Curve: Theoretical background (2nd edition). West Chester, PA: HRDQ. Retrieved from http://www.traininglocation.com/mastering-change-curve-theory.pdf

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change: A 60-year review of quantitative studies. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(4), 461-524.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero
Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero

I received an email asking if I would write about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) from an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology perspective.

Interestingly, much of the research on ROWE has been coming from the field of sociology. Two sociologists from University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly (Kelly is now at the MIT Sloan School of Management), were the original researchers invited in 2006 to observe and study ROWE as it was being implemented at Best Buy (Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, 2015).

Background of ROWE

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) was pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while they were employed at Best Buy. The seeds of ROWE began in 2001 when a leader at Best Buy corporate headquarters needed help to make Best Buy a top choice among talented people who were seeking jobs. A survey was conducted asking employees what they wanted most from work. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: trust me with my time, trust me to do my job, and I’ll deliver results, and be a happier employee too (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). In a pilot program (called Alternative Work Program) that gave employees a choice from a set of flexible schedules, Ressler observed that “if you gave people even a little control over their time they immediately began to see the benefits both at work and at home.” Employees who were in the pilot program were happier and more productive and they didn’t want it to end (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). Thompson joined in 2003 and what was learned during the pilot program began to grow and change. The program was refined and eventually came to be known as Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

Overview of ROWE

In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 155).

The idea behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivized to produce.

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, that ROWE is based on a simple idea:

“In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. . .In a ROWE, you can literally do whatever you want whenever you want as long as your work gets done. You have complete control over your life as long as your work gets done” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 3). You can go grocery shopping, take a nap, or go to the movies and never have to ask for permission or tell your boss where you’re going. As long as work gets done and you get results, then it’s your life (Ressler & Thompson, 2008).

Benefits of ROWE

The benefits of ROWE include (Correll, Kelly, O’Connor, & Williams, 2014):

  • Increased employees’ control over their work schedule and improved work–life fit
  • Reduced work-family conflict and negative work-family spillover
  • Positive effect on employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise
  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment

Things That Do Not Change under ROWE

There are some things under ROWE that do not change (Kelly & Moen, 2009):

  • Positive and negative home-to-work spillover
  • Family-to-work conflict
  • Overall assessment of health
  • Well-being scale
  • Psychosocial job demands scale
  • Job control scale (decision authority, skill discretion)
  • Job involvement scale
  • Satisfaction with coworkers
  • Satisfaction with manager
  • Work engagement scale
  • Psychological distress
  • Emotional exhaustion

ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme

ROWE is a type of flexible work arrangement. Flexible work arrangements refer to choices about the time (i.e, when; flextime or scheduling flexibility) and/or location (i.e., where; telecommuting or flexplace) that work is conducted (WorldatWork, 2005; Allen, 2013).

Ressler and Thompson (2008) point out that in a flexible work arrangement: permission is needed, there are limited options, is management controlled, requires policies/guidelines, the focus is on “time off,” and there’s high demand but low control. In a ROWE, you do not need permission, options are unlimited, it’s employee controlled, requires accountability/clear goals, the focus is on “results,” and there’s high demand but also high control.

rowe-vs-flex-work

“[N]o matter how flexible a nontraditional schedule is it’s still a schedule. Flexible schedule is an oxymoron. Which is why in a ROWE there are no schedules” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 69).

“If you get results, then anything else you do with your time is completely up to you. What work looks like in terms of where it takes place and during what hours is no longer important. You work when and how you work best. You are in complete control” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 67).

The Promise of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote, “in a ROWE you don’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork” (p. 198). You don’t have to do all-nighters or be the first in the office and the last one to leave because you are rewarded solely on delivering results. “Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198).

The Fanfare and Fizzle

In 2013, in a complete reversal from its initial enthusiastic endorsement of ROWE, Best Buy terminated the program (Wong, 2013). Under a new CEO, Best Buy cited the urgency to turn around its struggling consumer electronics retail business as the reason for ending its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program (Lee, 2013). As the company’s spokesperson explained (Lee, 2013): “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”

But Best Buy was not the only organization to try out and then later abandon ROWE. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also tried ROWE and soon discontinued the program. A 2011 evaluation of the ROWE pilot revealed that managers were uncertain as to how to evaluate their employees based on their work results. And employees also struggled because they did not understand if they were meeting their expected results (Glazer, 2013).

The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson argue that ROWE is appropriate in all workplaces but there are situations where it isn’t recommended or appropriate, such as customer service departments, or when employees are new or inexperienced and require more support, or when you’re not certain that team members will complete their tasks at the level of quality and by the deadlines agreed upon (MindTools.com, 2016). As a matter of fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements (Kelly & Moen, 2014) admit that some workers, like those in retail and service positions, must still do their work “at work.”

Despite the promise made by Ressler and Thompson that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198), there is research on telecommuting that dispute this claim.

In a previous post on the pitfalls of telecommuting, I wrote that those who telecommute (work from home or another remote location) will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less (Noonan & Glass, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that “telecommuters worked between 5 and 7 total hours more per week than nontelecommuters” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 40).

Kelly and Moen (2007) offered this thought when they first began studying ROWE: “Organizational needs—getting the work done—are still emphasized in the ROWE setting, and it is an open question whether increased control is actually beneficial when work demands are very high” (p. 497).

Michelle Conlin (2006) wrote, at the end of her Bloomberg article on ROWE, that, “Some at the company [Best Buy] complain that productivity is up only because many Best Buyers are now working longer hours.”

While a majority of employees say flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, help them to achieve a better work/life balance (Wright, 2014), evidence suggests that it’s not as rosy as one might think. For example, teleworkers reported more time-based family interference with work (FIW) than did non-teleworkers. Indeed, the ability to telecommute or work from home “may enable negative work and nonwork spillover rather than avert it” (Allen, 2013, pp. 706-707).

“The most telling problem with telecommuting as a worklife solution is its strong relationship to long work hours and the “work devotion schema.”” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time. Bolstering this interpretation, the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey reports that the majority of wired workers report telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that workers use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

Moen, Kelly, and Lam (2013) tested “A key question [regarding] whether ROWE actually reduced employees’ time strain, in terms of reducing their work-time demands and/or increasing their time control” (p. 159). The researchers found that “exposure to ROWE increased time control (time adequacy, schedule control) but did not change time demands (work hours, psychological time demands)” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 166).

“ROWE flexibility initiative did not reduce psychological time demands, probably because ROWE-type interventions do not diminish the amount, intensity, or expectations of time investments in work” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 167).

Takeaway: A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) sounds great — as a concept. However, the challenges of implementing and the realities involved in working in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) can reveal major limitations as to its appropriateness for every workplace. In fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements concede that some workers, such as those in retail and service positions, will still need to continue doing their work “at work.” What’s more, contrary to the claim that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork,” some employees working in a ROWE reported that they actually work longer hours.

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

References

Allen, T. D. (2013). The Work–Family Role Interface: A Synthesis of the Research from Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In N. W. Schmitt & S. Highhouse (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12 Industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed) (pp. 698-718). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Conlin, M. (2006, December 10). Smashing The Clock. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2006-12-10/smashing-the-clock

Correll, S. J., Kelly, E. L., O’Connor, L. T., & Williams, J. C. (2014). Redesigning, Redefining Work. Work and Occupations, 41(1), 3-17.

Flexible Work and Well-Being Center. (2015). University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications.shtml

Glazer, S. (2013, July 19). Telecommuting. CQ Researcher, 23(26), 621-644. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/

Hollon, J. (2013, March 6). Goodbye ROWE: Best Buy Ends Flex Work Program It Was Famous For. Retrieved from https://www.eremedia.com/tlnt/goodbye-rowe-best-buy-ends-flex-work-program-it-was-famous-for/

Joly, H. (2013, March 17). Best Buy CEO on leadership: A comment I made was misconstrued. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/best-buy-ceo-on-leadership-a-comment-i-made-was-misconstrued/198546011/

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2007). Rethinking the ClockWork of Work: Why Schedule Control May Pay Off at Work and at Home. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(4), 487-506.

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2009). Brief Summary of the Flexible Work & Well-Being Study. PDF posted on WorkplacePsychology.Net

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2014, January 23). Building Flexibility Into The Way We Work. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-l-kelly/building-flexibility-into_b_4241132.html

Lee, T. (2013, December 13). Best Buy ends flexible work program for its corporate employees. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/no-13-best-buy-ends-flexible-work-program-for-its-corporate-employees/195156871/

MindTools. (2016). Managing in a Results-Only Work Environment. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-results-only-environment.htm

Moen, P., & Kelly, E. L. (2007). Flexible Work and Well-Being Study: Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications_docs/FWWB_Fall07.pdf

Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., & Lam, J. (2013). Healthy work revisited: Do changes in time strain predict well-being? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 157-172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0031804

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls of Telecommuting. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2015/08/22/the-pitfalls-of-telecommuting/

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

Ressler, C., & Thompson, J. (2008). Why work sucks and how to fix it. New York: Penguin Group.

WorldatWork. (2005). Flexible Work Schedules: A Survey of Members of WorldatWork and AWLP. Retrieved from https://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=17161

Wong, V. (2013, March 7). How Best Buy Has Changed Its Tune on Flexible Work. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-07/how-best-buy-has-changed-its-tune-on-flexible-work

Wright, A. D. (2014, June 13). 10% Would Take Less Pay to Telecommute, Study Says. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/less-pay-to-telework.aspx

To Deceive Using Truthful Statements is Called Paltering

Lying | Credit: P Wei
Lying | Credit: P Wei

Deceiving Others By Using the Truth

Paltering is “an active form of deception that involves the use of truthful statements to convey a mistaken impression” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

We tend to think of lies (i.e., to mislead or deceive others) as misstating facts or actively using false statements (lying by commission) or leaving out important details (lying by omission), but there is a third, very common, type of deception called paltering. Paltering is actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

“Though the underlying motivation to deceive a target may be the same, paltering is distinct from both lying by commission and lying by omission. Unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active use of statements, and unlike lying by commission, paltering involves the use of truthful statements. Like lying by omission, paltering can involve failing to disclose relevant information, but unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active disclosure of true but misleading information: paltering enables would-be deceivers to actively influence a target’s beliefs” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

Palterers See Their Action as More Ethical Than Targets Do

What’s interesting is that palterers and those who observe individuals paltering view paltering as more ethical than the targets do. In other words, while people who palter and observers of paltering consider it more ethical than flat out lying, the recipients of that paltering don’t feel the same way. In fact, targets consider paltering to be ethically equivalent to making false statements.

“[A]lthough those who palter believe paltering to be more ethical than lying by commission, once deceptions is exposed targets judge the ethicality of the two forms of deception very similarly” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

“When detected paltering may harm reputations and trust just as much as does lying by commission” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

The Brain Adapts To Dishonesty

No matter how we deceive others (lying by commission, lying by omission, or paltering), the more we lie, the more we become desensitized to being dishonest (i.e. the less we feel bad about lying) and our small lies snowball into big ones.

A recent 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.

“Despite being small at the outset, engagement in dishonest acts may trigger a process that leads to larger acts of dishonesty further down the line” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).

The researchers pointed out that repeatedly being dishonest is not enough for dishonesty escalation. “[T]he simple act of repeated dishonesty is not enough for escalation to take place: a self-interest motive must also be present” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).

“When we lie for personal gain, our amygdala produces a negative feeling that limits the extent to which we are prepared to lie,” explains senior author Dr. Tali Sharot (UCL Experimental Psychology). “However, this response fades as we continue to lie, and the more it falls the bigger our lies become. This may lead to a ‘slippery slope’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies” (University College London, 2016).

Takeaway: Paltering (actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression) can damage and harm your reputation and trust just as much as lying by commission (misstating facts). The more you engage in being dishonest, the more your brain adapts to dishonesty — putting you on a slippery slope where small lies lead to bigger and bigger lies.

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

References

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

Rogers, T., Zeckhauser, R., Gino, F., Norton, M. I., Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000081

University College London. (2016). How lying takes our brains down a ‘slippery slope’ [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/ucl-hlt101916.php

Characteristics of a Team and Barriers to Effective Team Functioning

Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick
Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick

Back in 2010, I posted a short list titled, “Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter.” In it, I reposted the contents of what was shared on Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (it’s now defunct).

I was never happy with that original list and, after looking through the book (Leading Teams: Pocket Mentor [2006]) that was adapted by the HBR Editors and cited in the HBR Answer Exchange post, I struggled for some time with what to do.

Rather than revising that 2010 post, I think it is necessary to write a new and improved article.

First, I believe it’s important to explain just what constitutes a team versus a group:

“The distinction between a group and a team is an important one. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. A group consists of people who work together but can do their jobs without one another. A team is a group of people who cannot do their jobs, at least not effectively, without the other members of their team” (Spector, 2012, p. 303).

A team — a type of group — has several important characteristics (Unsworth & West, 2000):

  1. Team members have shared goals in relation to their work.
  2. Team members interact with each other in order to achieve shared objectives.
  3. Team members have well­-defined and interdependent roles.
  4. Team members have an organizational identity as a team with a defined organizational function.

Secondly, the HBR Answer Exchange list of common problems teams face (I’ve uploaded a PDF of the original on my website) included a few problems that I felt should not have been on the list.

In searching for problems that teams face, I discovered professor Michael West’s (2008) list of barriers to effective teamwork that I believe is better and more comprehensive. Dr. West is Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has spent most of his career conducting research into factors that determine the effectiveness of individuals and teams at work.

Seven Barriers to Effective Team Functioning (West, 2008):

1. A lack of team purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).

2. A lack of freedom and responsibility. Creating a team and failing to give them the freedom and authority to act is like teaching a person to ride a bicycle, giving them a bike, but then telling them they can ride only in the house (West, 2008).

3. Too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).

4. An individual-focused organization. “Teams are set up in many places in the organization but all of the systems are geared towards managing individuals. . .Creating team-based organizations means radically altering the structure, the support systems, and the culture” (West, 2008, p. 309).

5. Team processes are neglected rather than developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).

6. Directive instead of facilitative leaders. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors are directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, instead, is facilitative and seeking. This leader’s role is “to ensure that the team profits optimally from its shared knowledge, experience, and skill” (West, 2008, p. 309).

7. Conflict with other teams. Ironically, the more cohesive and effective a team becomes, the more competitive and partisan they tend to be in their relationships with other teams throughout an organization. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that interteam cooperation is established and reinforced (West, 2008).

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

References

Donnellon, A. (2006). Leading teams: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Nguyen, S. (2010, December 17). Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2010/12/17/eight-common-problems-teams-encounter/

Spector, P. E. (2012). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Unsworth, K. L. & West, M. A. (2000). Teams: The challenges of cooperative work. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (pp. 327-346). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly

I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?

Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?

Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.

When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.

We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.

One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).

Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?

Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).

That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.

In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).

Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).

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

References

Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734

Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.

Mann, S. (2007, February). Boredom at work. The Psychologist, 20, 90-93. Retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-2/boredom-work

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595

Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Don’t Waste Time Trying To Discredit Others

better-to-know-quote

I love this quote:

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber

In Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.), in the 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers section is the entry for “Blocked Personal Learner,” Lombardo and Eichinger discussed people who resist learning new behaviors.

Whether in my personal or professional life, when I observe myself and others around me, one of the biggest personal and professional missteps I witness is being a blocked learner. More than blocking learning, I think of it as repelling learning — like repelling it as if it were a mosquito or bug.

My own life lesson has taught me that when you think you know it all, that’s when you know the least. Ironically, the more formal education I receive, the more humble I’ve become. Truth be told, I was not always humble, just ask my wife. My Ph.D. does not (nor should it) signify that I know everything about everything, or everything about many things, or even everything about a few things. Indeed, my Ph.D. really just means that (1) I know a lot about a very specific and small area and (2) I can write fairly well and make an argument for an idea, at least well enough for three other Ph.D. professors to approve my dissertation.

“The funny thing is: The more I know, the more I know how much I really don’t know.” —Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

I once knew a young Asian physician, fresh out of medical school, who was so proud–and made sure others knew–that he was now a medical doctor that I swore he should have had “M.D.” (for medical doctor) tattooed on his forehead!

On professional networking sites, like LinkedIn, I now observe, much to my dismay, individuals going out of their way to put others down and/or intentionally trying to harm other people’s professional reputations. It’s shocking and very sad how “ugly” some people with (and sometimes even those without) advanced degrees treat others! It’s also not surprising that the individuals being targetted are quite successful in their fields.

Lombardo and Eichinger (2006) wrote that three problems for blocked learners are: (1) they are closed (unwilling) to learning new skills and methods, (2) they do not seek input from others (why would they since they think they know everything already), and (3) they are not insightful about themselves.

Two remedies Lombardo and Eichinger recommended for blocked learners:

1. Watch other people’s reaction to you. Observe the reactions of other people to the things you’re doing and saying. It’s easier to do this in the real, physical world than when you’re online. For instance, if others on professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are upset, irked by, or tired of the offenders’ relentless criticisms and put-downs, they may simply ignore or tune the offenders out or unfollow them. Thus, the offenders will never know that their behaviors turned others off.

2. Signal that you’re open to and interested in what other people have to say. Here, the blocked learners are so closed off from learning that they really don’t care how they are perceived by others. In fact, communication really becomes one-way for them. That is, the offenders use professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn) as an educational pulpit, where they view themselves as the expert, know-it-all “professors,” and their role is to teach/educate others. And, they go out of their way to point out flaws, mistakes, bogus, and/or unconvincing stories and writings of other professionals (at least according to their own views and biases). For these offenders, their way to improving yourself and the workplace is the only correct path and they are angry, even offended, that other professionals (in other fields) dare to talk about or share different ways to improving yourself and your workplace.

It’s sad to see how much time these offenders waste tracking other people’s conversations on professional networking sites and then spending time to try to jump in and discredit them. As a father to a toddler and someone lucky enough to have a full-time job, I pose this rhetorical question, “Who has time to do that?” I mean really? In my free time, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter and go the park and play on the swings. I don’t have time nor do I want to spend time trying to find people to discredit. That must be so time-consuming, wasteful, and tiresome!

I often share with my wife and friends that if we’re busy living our own lives and doing our best, we will not have time to worry about what other people are doing! When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them.

Thus, in attempting to discredit other professionals who, in the offenders’ eyes, should not be in the business of writing about or sharing personal and professional improvement tips, they (the offenders) end up discrediting themselves and revealing, for all the world to see, their bitterness and resentment of someone else’s success.

As I wrote in an earlier post titled, “Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves”: engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

Takeaway: Don’t waste your life and your precious time trying to discredit others. Your way to improving yourself and the workplace is not the only path. Be humble and open to learning from others. Focus on being your absolute best at work and at home. When you are busy living your own life and doing your best, you will not have time or energy to worry about what other people are doing.

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

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2006). Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Nguyen, S. (2016, January 1). Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2016/01/01/dont-have-to-put-others-down-to-feel-better-about-ourselves/

Why It’s Necessary To Fight Work Stress And How To Do It

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak
Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak

A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).

How to Combat Work Stress

It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).

However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.

There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).

What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).

For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).

But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).

9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).

  1. Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
  2. Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
  3. Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
  4. Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
  5. Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
  6. Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
  7. Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
  8. Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
  9. Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.

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

References

American Psychological Association (APA). Coping With Stress at Work. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx

Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., Frone, M. R. (2005). Handbook of work stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (Booklet 1, 2, 3). http://www.cgsst.com/eng/publications-sante-psychologique-travail/trousse-la-sante-psychologique-au-travail.asp

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/documents/doc115-395.pdf

Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Social Media And Its Impact On Working Professionals

Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev
Woman and social network concept | Credit: Petar Chernaev

I was contacted by a freelance journalist with the BBC for my thoughts about what social media has taken away from working professionals. I am reposting my response below (in a “Question and Answer” or “Q & A” format).

Reporter Question: What do you think social media has taken away from us? In terms of taken away from working professionals.

My Answer: One key thing I believe social media takes away (or we allow it to take away) from us is the ability to self-filter. It is too easy to post a quick one-word or one-sentence thought or vent to express our beliefs, our joys, our anger or frustrations at anything and at any given moment. The ramifications, especially as they apply to working professionals, (whether you’re an executive or a clerk) is that posting unfiltered contents online for the world to see, read, and/or hear about means that our social lives are now dangerously intertwined with our professional/business lives. And make no mistake, just because you’re “off the clock” from your paid job does not lessen the risks of getting yourself into trouble by posting things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.

Reporter Question: Are people vilified for their views? Are they held in check for their political opinions? Does this stop people really expressing themselves? Has social media muted our opinions rather than giving us a platform to express ourselves?

My Answer: I would argue that, rather than social media muting our opinions and our ability to express those opinions, it has, in fact, AMPLIFIED it to the nth degree. We have so many avenues through which we can record our views/opinions and there really are not many checkpoints to prevent us from writing/posting contents that might later prove to be extremely detrimental (personally and professionally) to ourselves and/or others.

Reporter Question: What’s the cost of all the self promotion that goes on in social media?

My Answer: The cost of not self-censoring/self-filtering is that anyone can get themselves in hot water. The other thing I see is that too much self-promotion means that sometimes, attention is paid to whoever is the loudest, flashiest self-promoter. For example, there are many brilliant industrial/organizational psychologist who are academics and who spend significant portions of their lives and careers in research and writing for academic journals. Because these professionals, by and large, are not big self-promoters, their works tend to not be recognized by the public and the news outlets. It is only when business professors, like Adam Grant or Bob Sutton, write great books that translate research into applicable business principles and practices and then have book publishers promote their works on social media that they become “known.”

Reporter Question: Are we scared to over-share? Where has this fear come from?

My Answer: I think we should all be very scared to overshare and those who aren’t scared should be very afraid. We share way too much of ourselves and our families online. People post pictures of their families and small children and talk about where their kids go to school, what their teachers’ and classmates names are, where the school is located, or that they’re on vacation hundreds or thousands of miles away, or they’ll overshare about their medical problems or surgeries. What these people have done is to freely give away important information about themselves and their loved ones to complete strangers online. This is how identity thieves and other perpetrators get your information or find out where you live and where your children attend school. I have heard about a person who posted on Facebook that she was away enjoying her vacation. Thieves broke into her home because one of the men saw her social media posting and knew that she wasn’t home.

Reporter Question: Has social media actually taken away our freedom of expression? Because we want to be liked by everyone so we self censor?

My Answer: I believe there’s actually less self-censoring because of the ubiquitous nature of social media. With our insatiable demand for short/witty/shocking infotainment-type of news bites and short video clips, there tends to be more weight/value placed on (1) being first to post anything, and (2) posting something that shocks and/or entertains. Because of this first-to-publish mentality, we can see why we’re less inclined to self-censor because we’re in such a hurry to produce something (anything) that’s funny or shocking.

Reporter Question: And if you do over-share? How are we treated? Can posting something “inappropriate” get you fired? Or worse?

My Answer: This has absolutely happened — that is, individuals posting something “inappropriate” which resulted in them getting fired from their jobs. Just Google, “posting something inappropriate and getting fired” or “employee fired over Facebook post” and see how many hits you’ll get!

I’ll end with this —

Many young adults do not support the use of social media in the hiring and firing decisions, and instead endorse a “very liberal view of the types of material that people should be able to post online without the threat of job termination” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 127).

But, regardless of how one may feel about it, the consequences are real and can negatively affect an individual’s professional life and career. In fact, it has even acquired a not-so-friendly name — “Facebook Fired” — whereby employees are terminated from their jobs because of posts by them or even of them on social media (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015).

“[T]his generation of upcoming workers (young adults) must be informed that regardless of their opinions of the fairness of these policies [i.e., using social media in hiring and firing decisions], as it currently stands, their short-term social media use could have a long-term effect on their future careers” (Drouin, O’Connor, Schmidt, & Miller, 2015, p. 128).

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

Reference

Drouin, M., O’Connor, K. W., Schmidt, G. B., & Miller, D. A. (2015). Facebook fired: Legal perspectives and young adults’ opinions on the use of social media in hiring and firing decisions. Computers in Human Behavior, 46, 123-128.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Don’t Have to Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves

Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains
Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains | Credit: vm

Throughout 2015, one consistent and recurring theme kept appearing over and over again for me. Whether in the workplace or in a social gathering, I observed that there are people who need to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.

I’m not sure what’s the root cause or causes of this behavior. It might have to do with low self-esteem, being afraid (of failing, of what others might say, etc.), the desire to self-promote, the need to one-up someone else, or a combination of all these (or none of the above). I’m not certain. What I am certain is that engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

One reason, I believe, some individuals feel the need to criticize, belittle, disparage, or denigrate another person is because of envy — of the target’s career and financial success.

Very few people get to where they are by accident or mistake. Regardless of how they were back in high school or college, they took active steps toward correcting their path and ensuring that their future states would be markedly different from their current states. Change does not happen overnight (unless you win the lottery). Therefore, from the time that these targets were viewed as “losers” (10/20/30 years ago, back in high school or college) to their current state of career & financial success today, they must have done many things right and worked hard (graduate from school, pass board exams, secure jobs and demonstrate their value to their organizations) to “earn their keep” (i.e., proved they’re worthy of the money, time, and effort their company has invested in them).

Many people today want to skip the hard work part and go straight to the success stage (whatever that might be for them). I attribute this to youth, inexperience, not enough life lessons or scars, not learning from mistakes, no insight into own weaknesses, impatience, arrogance, feeling entitled, feeling envious, and/or bad advice from their friends or confidants.

In my 20s I was hungry for success. I felt that I deserved a piece of the success pie that others seemed to enjoy. In my 30s I thought I had matured enough to earn the respect of others and therefore be given more important responsibilities and a higher place on the organization chart. I was wrong.

Through the ups and downs, the doubts and fears, and getting kicked in the teeth by painful life lessons and experiences, and with the help of good, sound advice from my wife, and my relationship with God, I finally realized that I can be successful but only if I stop feeling sorry for myself, stop playing the victim, stop blaming others or put them down, and start “owning” my situation and life, and come up with a game plan for how to go about getting the job or attaining the education or certifications I had always desired for myself.

It was only when I stopped letting others dictate the story of my life and instead started writing my own life story that I began to enjoy the “success” (for me) that I had once envied of others. The irony is that, as Shawn Achor (2010) shared in his book The Happiness Advantage, when we’re happy first (e.g., not feeling the urge to put others down), then we’re in a better position to start enjoying the success—both at work and in our personal lives—we’re hoping for and dreaming about.

Takeaway: Forget about what other people are doing with their lives. Try focusing on being happy and improving your own life by creating and mastering small, achievable goals instead. When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them. Remember, you do not need to put others down to lift yourself up.

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

Reference

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.