‘Everyone’ is on FaceBook and that allows us to express our views by clicking LIKE when we feel like it. Is this a useful approach in the future for workplace surveys?
I follow the blog of Scott Adams. Scott is the creator of the workplace-lampooning cartoon ‘Dilbert.’ Recently he mooted that online social networking could be a great tool to bring neighbours closer together. Technology for decades has helped society retreat into our cocoon homes with food deliveries arranged via cellphone, home theatres and a microwave in every room. Then the onslaught of the internet arrived and people could be more connected than ever without ever having to actually connect at all. Kids no longer played outside in treehouses like we constantly lie to them about having done so ourselves as children. Adams felt that there was the potential for the tide to turn and for social networking tools to stimulate and reinforce connectivity amongst neighbours who never ventured out to borrow a cup of sugar (or maybe these days, a cup of phenylalanine.)
Sure enough, such services already exist to share resources like babysitters and extension ladders or encourage carpooling. People can opt in to go halvsies on housewashing or attend social events. Ubiquitous networks like FaceBook even have a rudimentary ability to connect people who could simply look out their window but mostly don’t. FaceBook also has those little LIKE buttons to click and many express a desire for there to be a DISLIKE option. That says a lot about people and that there isn’t a DISLIKE is a laudably non-evil aspect of FaceBook.
One of the themes of this month’s issue of Employment Today is workplace surveys. Is there an opportunity to combine the network neighbourhood idea and the FaceBook LIKE / DISLIKE concept with the intent of workplace surveys?
Workplaces (big ones) survey lots of things. Workers tick boxes. Graphs are constructed and pinned to noticeboards. Other things might happen as well but they’re not always as noticeable. Action steps get added to action plans for someone to do something at a later time. There is a substantial disconnect between those surveyed and anything that may or may not happen as a result of the information that gets collected. Even assuming the information is worth anything. Not so big workplaces tend to have one person ask another individual a direct question face to face, respond to the answer given and move on with their lives. Most people work in not so big workplaces.
Time lag is just one of the limitations of traditional workplace surveys. Often people don’t return them at all, thus skewing results and the cloak of anonymity can allow the disengaged to vent non-specific and unconstructive fury. I love watching debates about response scales, “Never give them an option to sit on the fence.” If not the best response scale, then certainly my favourite, had 7 points. Each point had a smiley face which waxed and waned the degree of smile depending on which end of the scale you were looking at. Charming! I say though, if you’ve got seven points and that much imagination as a survey drafter, then use the seven dwarves. I’m sure at least six of them are relevant to workplace cultures. “Dammit Williams, how’s the troops’ morale this quarter?” “Well sir, Sales are happy, Accounts receivable are grumpy and most everyone in Marketing is dopey.”
(If you’re in the mining industry, maybe don’t try the dwarf model.)
I haven’t seen a paper-based survey for a while. Most are online with links being sent out by email and responses followed up automatically. Response rates are better. (The results always get printed out though, don’t they?) Could a canny intrapreneur create an internal workplace equivalent of FaceBook? (WorkBookTM?) Given the amount of time people at work are supposedly on there anyway, it might get a rapid uptake. Trending topics of actual workplace relevance could be captured and assessed in realtime, replacing the need for cumbersome and generalised surveys. Is everyone digging the new deodorant scent in the toilets? The new courier service – how’s that working out? Will the proposed accommodation changes enhance your productivity or simply impede your work-avoiding prolonged toilet stops where you’ve developed an unnatural addiction to the new deodorant scent?
I know LIKE / DISLIKE is all a bit simplified and binary and not like real life at all. Real life is much more fifty shades of grey. Well, seven shades anyway.
You could probably take the WorkBookTM concept a bit far, I suppose. Bosses probably shouldn’t have a list of their favourites, it’s generally unwise to gift a co-worker a sheep and poking at work is never appropriate.
I used to work in local Government. When I started, there was a ‘Rubbish’ department. It became ‘Refuse and Recycling.’ Last I heard, it had become ‘Waste Minimisation.’ These aren’t just superficial labels, they represent a shift in thinking. A similar shift has occurred when it comes to wellness at work. It’s gone from ambulances at the bottom of cliffs (sometimes literally) to prevention and a broadening of scope from the merely physical and work-related.
I’ve worked with organisations that offer subsidised gym memberships, 10,000 Step programmes and reward-point-scoring health insurance schemes. In-house Occupational Therapists teach posture and micro-pausing to the masses, ergonomic furniture is installed while Sven the masseuse takes your shoulder massage booking. I actually saw one company intranet’s homepage announcing the boss was paying for a diet specialist to come in and speak, although this was right next to an advert for the social club’s fish ‘n’ chip evening. I love those situations, like my local supermarket which had a sale bin of toothpaste right next to a sale bin of chocolate bars – 5-for-$4! An aisle of value but also an aisle of irony.
My point here is that even if you’re not an employer that doles out massages and gym memberships, your workplace has a tremendous capacity to affect your people’s physical and mental health one way or the other. That some employers make efforts to bolster worker wellness isn’t altruistic. They reap the benefits of attendance, attitude, engagement, productivity and more. A study published in the U.S. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that for every dollar a worker’s illness cost, the average impact on their employer’s productivity was $2.30. So, for example, preventing staff illnesses causing $10,000 of medical costs could enhance your bottom line by $23,000.
I read a book last Christmas called ‘The Blue Zone. Lessons for living longer from those who’ve lived the longest’ by Dan Buettner. He and his team have studied the four little pockets of humanity where they have a ridiculously long length and quality of life. (None are in New Zealand. They’re in Sardinia, Costa Rica, Japan and California.) There’s a quick online quiz, after which it tells you how long they reckon you’ll live if you keep going the way you’re going and how long you could live if you take their advice. Take the test but do it with friends. (Ironically, doing it with friends is part of their advice.)
I need to get a pet and at least one more friend at ‘organ-donor’ level. Otherwise, I’m pretty sweet. You might be pleasantly surprised at their alcohol and exercise advice. Having a reason to live is important and, for some, work can provide that. Friendship is generally good for your health but there are different levels of friend. I think we all know that. We might not have it written down but we have a ‘friend matrix’ somewhere. When you’re a kid, you need a friend with an X-Box. When you leave home, you need a friend with a van to help you move. When you’re my age, you need a friend with a spare (functional) kidney.
In 2007, Gallup research found that “having a best friend at work” increased the likelihood of someone being engaged at work by 700%. Sarah Burgard from the University of Michigan has shown that job insecurity (fear) causes more illness than actually losing a job. Disconnected employees are more likely to get sick and more likely to miss work. A study by the Confederation of British Industry estimated that fifteen percent of illness days taken were not due to actual illnesses.
A recent episode of TV’s ‘The Biggest Loser’ was filmed in New Zealand. I presume New Zealand paid for this because it seemed that the phrase, “In New Zealand” had to be said at least every ninety seconds. “I’m eating an apple IN NEW ZEALAND.” “I never thought I’d be doing push-ups IN NEW ZEALAND.”
There is a lot of time on screen of exercise, dieting and dramatic weigh-ins which probably makes for good TV but is unlikely to lead to ongoing long-term wellness-supportive lifestyle changes. What does help are social proof, goals, regular non-judgemental behaviour-based feedback and a sense of purpose. Not surprisingly (hopefully), these things are also powerful drivers of workplace behaviours that support not only wellness but productivity and profitability.
An obese person sat next to me on the plane recently. Despite he and I both paying for one seat, he was taking up a good third of my space. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me IN NEW ZEALAND.
I like hearing about people who are looking for a place to live near their work. That’s just so… optimistic. Another symptom of optimism is New Year’s resolutions. It’s March and after three months is a pretty good time to step back and see how we’re tracking towards success with our New Year’s resolutions. (The other two best times are after an entire year and on January 2nd.) This annual process for many of us in our personal lives is curiously analogous to the more formal goal setting processes that occur in our workplaces. In our workplaces, we’re trying to increase sales by 3% or decrease costs by 5% or reduce staff turnover by half, whereas our personal goals might be to lose 10 kilograms. You don’t often see an employer come up with that kind of workplace weightloss goal. (Unless the goal is for the department to lose 95 kilograms and we call those kilograms ‘Barry.’)
What I like about New Year’s resolutions and workplace goal setting is that, regardless of how successful they turn out to be, they are, at the very least, an attempt to be proactive and take some degree of control rather than bounce around the random pinball machine that is the modern international economy. This perception of control or influence over our own futures is a fundamental human need. And I’m assuming that for most of you, most of your employees are some pretty fundamental humans.
Your human brain receives over eleven thousand signals from your senses every day. Of those, you’ll consciously process only about forty of them. The rest get dealt with by our good old and efficient subconscious. Our primal instincts prefer ‘same old same old.’ Sameness isn’t threatening. New things could be threatening. From a rational perspective, change, progress and innovation have no doubt been fantastic for the collective society but nevertheless the first thing our individual subconscious brains instinctively care about is not dying. It is old fashioned and emotional that way. Changes, which could contain potential threats, stimulate a physiological stress response, even if your suggested departmental reorganisation isn’t literally life-threatening. It takes time for us mere humans to work through and determine that the change may not only be unthreatening but potentially advantageous. Unfortunately while we’re still slaves to the feelings of stress caused by the emotional response to a perceived threat, the rational bits of our brain play second fiddle. This is normally occurring at the same time that leaders are explaining rationally why the change is happening. Sound familiar?
There’s the old and feeble joke that change is inevitable except from Council carpark payment machines. Change is constant and the pace of change is increasing. Look it up using your smartphone which was superseded about six weeks after you bought it. If change is perceived as external and happening to us then that contributes to a sense of powerlessness which increases feelings of helplessness and pessimism. Hardly conducive to a cooperative or productive workplace environment.
So often, leaders with change projects focus on the tasks – get prices, evaluate vendors, install hardware – and the steps that are people-oriented still tend to be about tasks – training for example. Early and often, these leaders of change need to plan and implement steps to help people deal with the natural cycle of emotional reaction to the prospect of change. Too many times I’ve asked managers how they’re dealing with how people are reacting to the change process and been answered, “Communication.” I ask how that’s going and get answered, “Its done,” accompanied by a wave of a printout of an email or three. One-way linear broadcast communication is not dealing with people’s emotional reaction to change and it never will be.
Nikolas Westerhoff’s recent article in ‘Scientific American’ cited research that shows that older people find it harder to change and deal with change due to brain chemistry. That’s disturbing but not as disturbing as them defining “older” as “over thirty.” Young people may be able to handle change but if you’ve ever witnessed them at a cash register, they struggle to make change. (OK, enough old-man defensiveness. Sorry kids.)
Another key step for leaders of change is to create a shared sense of urgency. Getting back to our New Year’s resolutions, losing weight because you ‘should’ is vague, unmotivating and unlikely to drive anyone to success. Losing weight to fit into a wedding dress by June (for some) could generate a sense of urgency. (Yes I am a guy and if I want to fit into a wedding dress, that’s my business. Don’t judge me – I’m over 30!)
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Executive Leasing: Executive, former lease model, one previous careful owner, normal wear and tear, seeks new home…
Executive leasing – What, who, when, how and sometimes why? I leased a car once. I think it was because there were tax advantages or because it was better to treat it as operational expenditure rather than capital or maybe it was because the dashboard navigation computer’s voice was Scarlett Johansson. Do we make executive leasing decisions the same way? That new manager you contracted for accounts payable with the MBA – not only has he improved productivity and slashed costs but he’s also got the voice of Scarlett Johansson! Double-plus whammy right there. No?
I suppose one of the foundation beliefs underlying the desirability of executive leasing is that management is management is management and it doesn’t really matter if what you’re managing is insurance sales, museum curating or nuclear power generation. If you screw up nuclear power generation then your workplace may end up as a museum (in 140 years) and you’ll certainly need insurance so maybe there are benefits to overlapping knowledge there. You can delegate specific technical tasks to experts and focus on those universal people leadership thingies that you’ve convinced multiple people that you’re an expert in. Or you might be a practitioner of some acronymmed discipline that applies in any industry like HR, PR or BS. (And if you cannot distinguish between HR, PR and BS, then perhaps you really are management material.)
I recently MC’d a series of award shows for the Dairy Industry. At black tie dinners, dairy trainees, farm managers and sharemilkers in full black tie regalia received well deserved acclaim for jobs well done and single-handedly saving our nation’s economy. (The Swandri company really need to come out with a tuxedo. Give me a call. I can hook you up with a market.)
I am a townie and must admit if there are two words I don’t want to see together in a sentence I hear at my house, those two words are “milk solids.” (Unlike dairy farmers who might see the words “milk solids” but hear the words “white gold,” which appropriately enough was the theme of their events.) My point is that every industry and workplace has its own very specific jargon and psyche. I’m not rejecting the concept of executives flitting about the place but one of the disadvantages is that they need to get up to speed with the language of where they’ve arrived at. Or maybe this is an advantage? I’d think about it some more but I’m not feeling too well as I can’t get “milk solids” out of my mind.
I read an article on cracked.com about some non-English words that the English language desperately needs. Some cultures just have a different view of the world and their language and vocabulary has developed some insights from which we could benefit. That’s as true of workplace cultures as it is of languages. A definite benefit of executive leasing is the short-term lesser-risk injection of fresh perspective, processes and ideas, challenging the status quo and sacred cows.
Sure your leased executives aren’t going to add value instantly with great words like the Georgian “Shemomedjamo,” meaning to eat beyond the point of being completely full just because you can, or the Tibetan “Gadrii Nombor Shulen Jongu,” meaning giving an answer unrelated to the question. Frankly, in today’s business world, if you can master Gadrii Nombor Shulen Jongu, then you are destined for a salary package that will enable you and your family to shemomedjamo to your heart’s content. (And by “content,” I mean “demise.)
What’s that right on the tip of your tongue – that’s right – bacon! And also on the tip of your tongue is a question – how else is executive leasing like leasing a car?
That car I said I leased – on returning it, the dealer inspected it because they were going to re-sell it. It needed to be in ‘reasonable’ condition for a three year old vehicle. At some point I, or one of my ‘friends,’ had opened a door onto a slope in such a way that a tiny corner of the driver’s door had been snapped off. I’d never noticed it but the inspector did notice it like it was a $1000 noticeable thing. If I’m milking this analogy of executive leasing compared to car leasing, then there should definitely be an end-of-lease inspection and the poor old executive should be returned in a reasonable condition. Who knows what might have snapped during their employment with you?
The oldest do-it-yourself cliché in the world is, “Measure twice, cut once.” This is axiomatic wisdom when applied to pieces of wood. It’s not a bad approach to people either, although the “cutting” bit might be a tad dodgy from a health and safety perspective. Try before you buy or, at the very least, test before you hire. But in the same way that you’re less of a man if you have to get a tradesman in*, are you less of an employer if you don’t do-it-yourself? I’m here to help. (Editor’s note – No, he isn’t.)
In his book ‘Quirkology’, Professor Richard Wiseman throws down a quick and dirty psych test to determine the inherent honesty of the character of the person with whom you’re dealing. Me, I used it on my kids. They say there’s a correlation between dishonesty at a young age and success in later life. I’m kind of pinning my hopes on that one.
Anyways, pick your victim. Don’t give away in advance the purpose of this ‘psychological profiling technique.’ Ask them to imagine that the index finger on their dominant hand is a pen and they are to write an uppercase letter Q with that pen on their own forehead. Observe them doing this. Maybe get an independent third party to observe and verify. As you’re observing how they write their Q, pay particular attention to how they apply the ligature – the squiggly bit that distinguishes a Q from an O. (Does the letter O have ligature-envy?)
The trick in the tail is if they have written their Q so it’s correct from their own point of view or from the point of view of someone looking at them? (I once trained a man in customer service who had self-tattooed on his own forehead the phrase ‘Justice Sucks.’ The S’s were backwards. Maybe his protest was valid but the backward S’s made me feel less supportive of him, although his customer skills were impeccable.) Those writing their Q’s from their own point of view are alleged to be inherently more honest.
When I’m speaking or training, I generally tell people about these inner-soul-revealing techniques as a means of getting a cheap chuckle at someone else’s expense. ie the best kind! (This column is called ‘Last Laugh’, it’s not called ‘The Professional Opinion Of A Qualified Expert.’) I also use them as a warning to business people to treat every supposed profiling technique with a healthy degree of scepticism. One such giggle inducing technique which is sufficiently and disturbingly plausible in a large group is as follows.
Lay your dominant hand flat on a surface. Observe the relative lengths of your index and ring fingers. The longer your ring finger is in relation to your index finger in this experiment / joke reflects how much testosterone you were exposed to in utero and therefore how it subsequently affected your physiological development. (It adds to the gravitas of the set-up if you use words like “physiological” and “in utero”. It’s even better if you can pronounce the italics of “in utero.”)
Again, don’t give away the point until the people you’re ‘testing’ have revealed their finger gap ratio.
If you’re a female and you have a high ratio, you probably find yourself better at Olympic throwing sports than females with average ratios. If you’re a male with a low ratio, then please do refer to the owner’s manual of your red convertible sportscar or ask your girlfriend to do it after she’s finished updating her One Direction fansite.
Okay so now you’ve got a couple of ice breaker activities for your next dinner party or after-work gathering which is about as much credence as I’d really give these games as psychometric profiling techniques. I’m always a bit wary of more formal processes too. I’m sure they’re valid as part of a portfolio of recruitment, selection and placement tools, not just for screening applicants but for determining best fit and approach once hired. I’ve been in groups where everyone’s read their results and lots of people have declared, “Oh my God, that is so me,” or words to that effect. Mind you, try reading your horoscope today and see how that also eerily accurately applies to you.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the consultants to whom you pay tens of thousands of dollars are in any way as shonky as me on stage but I am probably slightly cheaper and I tell you in advance that my techniques are a joke.
*The references to “man” and “tradesman” are deliberately sexist for the joke to work. I’m really sorry. I would’ve rewritten it but I was distracted by the massive gap between my ring and index fingers.
Conflict is inherent in human interaction so people must love it, right? Xbox is hugely popular but there is no game called ‘Gears Of War: Conflict Resolution.’
Solomon Asch is a great name for an Xbox villain but it’s also the name of a psychologist who ran a now-famous 1951 study on social conformity. (If you’re visualising this as you read, do so in the grainy black and white newsreel style of the day.) Groups of participants were seated at a table while a moustached man in a lab coat with a clipboard told them they were part of a programme of assessing visual judgements. All but one of the participants were in on the scam and it was that one person per session who was the actual subject of the experiment.
Each group was shown two large cards at once. On one card was a single vertical line. On the other card were three different vertical lines labelled a, b and c. Each person was asked to say out loud which of a, b or c was the same length as the first line on the other card. The process was repeated again and again. For the first two rounds, the researcher’s confederates gave the right, and obviously right, answers and so too did the subject. From the third round onwards, the confederates gave the same wrong, and obviously wrong, answer. The subject, who was in the middle of the group, got to hear the incorrect answers being spoken before and after it was his turn.
Initially, most subjects stuck to their guns but it didn’t take more than a couple of rounds for most people to scrunch up their faces, weave their eyes back and forth and go with the group. There were eighteen sessions and three quarters of people conformed at least once. One third went along every time.
I don’t know if would’ve influenced the science but all the participants were men. They were student volunteers and maybe there weren’t many women at university in 1951 or maybe women had better things to do with their time? (Insert your own joke here about women lying about the length of things.)
The thing about experiments like this is that, if they prove anything at all, they prove it about most people and I’m sure you are not most people. However most people are most people and they’re the ones you’re employing, leading, developing and depending on for your success. Thinking about your workplace, how conformist are your people? What innovations aren’t happening? What sacred cows aren’t being challenged? What problems aren’t being solved? All because of too much of what seems to be an overly human trait of conflict avoidance.
One of the themes of this month’s issue is conflict resolution. Some people, perhaps even most people, see conflict as a problem that needs to be prevented, avoided or minimised. I see it as a tool to be managed. By definition, ‘resolution’ does not mean prevention, avoidance, minimising or even ending. It means the act of resolving or determining upon a course of action. We need to acknowledge the conflict and choose to deliberately do something about it. I call this, “Going ugly early.”
A lack of conflict may seem like a great idea but it’s more likely a symptom of organisational avoidance problems. It’s an unrealistic fantasy to have a conflict-free workplace.
Often though, the conflict on balance becomes destructive or unsustainable. Then someone needs to intervene.
One of the critical ingredients in anyone’s skill acquisition, personal development and long-term success is heightened self awareness – metacognition or our ability to think about the way we think. Nowhere is this more evident than how different people view and handle workplace conflict and conflict resolution. There are a number of different models simplifying conflict styles. “I’m an avoider. You’re a competitor. She’s an accommodator.” The key first step is to realise that, whatever the label de jour, when it comes to conflict you have a default preference style and others may differ. Become self aware, then look for clues in others. Only then can you tweak, test, evaluate and re-tweak an approach. Modelling and teaching this behaviour flows through into non-conflict communication, accelerating understanding of, and effective interaction with, others. It allows innovations, third ways and the emperor with new clothes finding out he’s naked.
When it comes to conflict, two wrongs don’t make a right (in the same way that two positives can’t make a negative. Yeah, right.)
This article talks about the impact of employees chatting, gossiping and asking questions about work stuff “around the water cooler.” The grapevine, or call it what you will, is a natural human communication system that occurs whether you like it, want it or not. Trying to tame it is tough and, unless there are legal, morale or safety reasons, maybe you shouldn’t. Trying to leverage it or manipulate it for your own ends? Good luck. Laws of unintended consequences come into play there.
But you should always be aware and have an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse (and a nose to the wheel and a shoulder top the grindstone… Just one shoulder though or you’ll stuff your back.) If issues crop up, you can nip them in the bud. Better to deal with a pimple than a volcano, I always say.
The article rightly reckons that by delving into water-cooler chat, you can pick up the consistently asked questions and that’d be good to know. Questions indicate uncertainty and I believe a critical role of workplace leadership is to minimise uncertainty. The article cites some examples:
1. Are the top leaders at my organisation are committed to making it a great place to work.
2. Is there is trust in the leadership of the company where I work.
3. Can I believe this company will be successful in the future.
4. Do the top leaders at the company where I work really value people.
5. Do I know how I fit into the organisation’s future plans.
6. Are career development and growth opportunities are available to me at this organisation.
And of course, the most pressing question of all – who is going to swap out the empty water cooler!?
There was a classic longitudinal study conducted by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel. It involved pre-school children and marshmallows. Individual children in a room were offered a marshmallow but, if they waited until the researcher returned after a short (but unspecified) time out of the room, they would get TWO marshmallows. The kids consistently responded in one of three ways: They took the one marshmallow instantly; they waited until the researcher returned and got their two marshmallows; or they waited as long as they could but ended up succumbing to the solo marshmallow on offer. Crudely, the kids were either ‘grabbers’ or ‘deferrers.’
Hey that’s interesting but so what? Mischel continued to follow the progress of the kids for the next forty years. On every measure of success, the deffering children went on to do better than the grabbing children – financially, academically, relationships, health, happiness. Deferred gratification is an aspect of impulse control which Daniel Goleman identified as a pillar of emotional intelligence. Maybe you started out thinking about whether your own kids are grabbers or deferrers but now you’re thinking back to your own childhood… How you doin’!?
Mischel studied individuals, not societies or nations, but I have a nagging and a gnawing that we kiwis are a nation of grabbers and that’s reflected in our diminished and diminishing returns.
This concept of deferred gratification has its largest observable tangible manifestation in retirement savings. You have to wait a very long time for your marshmallows. (If you’ve lost your teeth, you’ll still be able to eat marshmallows!)
It’s not just grassroots kiwis having problems with their long-term financial behaviour. A UK study showed that of employees eligible for schemes entirely funded by employers (ie free money), where the only onus on the employee was that they proactively acted to enrol, only 51% enrolled. Wow. In their book ‘Nudge’, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein write about their own employer’s retirement savings scheme at the University of Chicago. Bear in mind that all these people are professors and such. (There may even have been rocket scientists.) Some two-thirds of academics approaching retirement still had their mothers as the primary beneficiary of their insurance. Before we laugh at the mad professors, go look up how many kiwisavers never shift from those default providers!
It has been suggested that a seventh default provider be set up to be managed by the ‘Guardians of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.’ Guardians? I think this group sounds like it includes Green Lantern, Thor and Iron Man (though, hopefully, not Captain America.)
Is it laziness or human nature? I just visited the ‘Sorted’ website. It asked me for my year of birth via a drop down menu that defaulted to 1910! It took me four clicks to get to 1966. (Hey, that’s a lot of work for my forty-five-year-old wrists.) Maybe the default should be the average year of birth of those who visit their site? I’m guessing those born in 1910 aren’t surfing the web for superannuation options. Frankly, at that age, I don’t think I want to know what they are looking for on the internet.
Politicians can, and will, continue to tinker with schemes. We can blame them for that but New Zealand is a representative democracy and when it comes to mucking around and not collecting nuts like good little squirrels, it’s sad to say that they probably are accurately representing us. They’re grabbers and so are we. So, tinkering with entitlement ages and employer contribution levels that get traded off with lower wage rises and so on isn’t ever going to provide a long-term meaningful solution. Never. It requires a societal attitudinal change and, as Mischel proved, it all starts with the children. (Oh God, won’t someone please think of the children!) You remember the children, the ones who as adults won’t be able to afford houses, yet we’re relying on them to fund both our debts and our retirement income through their taxes.
The good news is that being a grabber or a deferrer isn’t something you’re born and stuck with (like your height or being from Hamilton.) Mischel with Albert Bandura proved that deferring was a set of learnable skills. Will power, it seems, is skill power. So, let’s set up the schools to teach and model delayed gratification behaviours for the sake of the future of our country’s very existence. After all, if there’s anyone who has extensive experience of not getting what they want for prolonged periods of time, its teachers!
Which company culture is best for productivity and getting the best out of your people – blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance? Are those really the only choices? Sounds a bit loaded to me, like, “What do you want for Christmas – a piece of coal, a pair of socks or a pony?” Coal and socks might seem old-fashioned but they’re functional and damn handy in the right circumstances. A pony might seem like the obvious choice but ponies aren’t for everyone, they require ongoing investment and often they’ll give you another gift for which you’ll require a shovel.
A recent article in The Economist about corporate culture contrasted the view from the top versus the view from the bottom. Bosses disproportionately perceive their organisations to be self-governing, awash with inspiration and driven by values rather than profits. The study was commissioned by Dov Seidman, author of the book ‘How.’ The basic thrust of this book and surrounding consulting empire is that it’s not what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged. (I cannot prevent myself at this point stressing that the foreword to the book is by one President Bill Clinton which, albeit in an unintentionally ironic way, goes a long way to proving that it really isn’t what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged.)
Seidman talks about the different categories of company culture – from the command-and-control military style of ‘Blind Obedience’ to the less-bad ‘Informed Acquiescence’ with its rules and carrots and sticks to the sleek and shiny ‘Values-Based Self Governance’ resplendent with missions and inspiration. I see his argument visually as that classic ‘Evolution Of Man’ poster with Neanderthals evolving to the modern whatever we are. (Hint: Command-and-control leaders are supposed to be the Neanderthals in this picture.)
Of those surveyed, 43% felt their company was in the ‘Blind Obedience’ category, 54% felt their company was in the ‘Informed Acquiescence’ category and a mere 3% had achieved the supposed ‘Self Governance’ nirvana. I did the maths. That adds up to 100% which means those surveyed were only given three mutually exclusive choices. Are they really mutually exclusive? Wouldn’t it be more useful and realistic if they could co-exist in a managed way?
I’m always a bit wary of surveys that end up in articles. Time Magazine reported one recently declaring that 78% of burglars regularly use social media to choose and / or plan their crimes. So when you ‘check-in’ via FaceBook to that out-of-town resort hotel, you’re declaring to the world that you’re not home and your high definition everythings are unattended. Who are these burglars that they’re surveying!? And even if it did satisfy all the criteria supposedly reputable survey companies say are necessary, maybe the burglars being surveyed have their own motives other than the noble truth? Maybe employees might too? (85% of my friends think I’m being cynical about surveys.)
Are these cultures really mutually exclusive and is one better than the others? The answers are, “No” and, “It depends.”
In his book ‘Drive’, Dan Pink writes about the uses and limitations of extrinsic motivations (carrots and sticks.) He says that they have their place and can be very effective in simple, mechanical, programmed or scripted task-oriented roles. Studies repeatedly show positive correlation in those type of activities between incentives and improved performance. You reinforce the behaviours that you think you want and you get more of them but that is not a universal truth. If a task calls for “even rudimentary cognitive skill”, larger rewards lead to poorer performance. Thinking tasks require thinking people and they are internally motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Carrots and sticks don’t work for those people in those roles.
We need to nurture a culture for these people that allows a range of self-direction, develops them beyond their immediate work itself and plays to people’s inherent need to feel like they’re part of something bigger. Chances are, you have people like this in your workplace as well as those with routine task-oriented roles. The same culture won’t work for both groups. So it seems company cultures are like pants – one size does not fit all and you really can’t operate professionally without them.
Different people in different situations requiring different results at different times need different approaches. Crazy stuff but doesn’t it match your experience of reality in managing people? Fitting the right aspects of culture to the right person at the right time is a major driver of employee engagement.
Engaged employees shine out like diamonds. Karen was one such diamond. I met Karen at the supermarket where she worked as a checkout operator. It wasn’t my usual store but I was running a workshop nearby and popped in afterwards to buy some ingredients for dinner. I plonked them on the conveyor as Karen cheerfully greeted me. She looked at me, looked at my choice of groceries and asked, “Chilli for dinner tonight is it sir?” Before I had time to feel judged that chilli was all she felt I was capable of making, she added, “I always add cloves to mine.” It wasn’t busy so I explained to Karen who I was, what I did and asked her about her choice of conversation topic. She wasn’t on commission from the multinational clove corporations. She didn’t have a command-and-control manager dictating that she must try and upsell cloves. (“Do you want cloves with that?”) In a role that has precious little opportunity for discretion, she exercised discretion and was encouraged to do so. For her, it made the day go faster and amped up ever-so-slightly her job satisfaction. That radiated through to my perception of improved customer service. And, in a little but repeated way, she improved the quality of my life. (Try cloves in your chilli. Seriously, try it.)
I was speaking at a conference of dairy farmers about motivation. (Motivating their people not their cows, although, in this country, if I can develop that methodology, I’ll make a fortune!) Afterwards, one farmer came up to me (let’s call him ‘Barry’) to talk about one particular employee of his. The employee wasn’t a non-performer as such but frustrated Barry due to not improving and not making any effort to move towards achieving the potential Barry felt he had. It may or may not be relevant but the employee’s nickname was ‘Sleepy.’ We discussed the various ideas Barry had tried to little or short-term effect. Barry did say that carrots had worked but the impact had worn off. ‘Self Governance’ wasn’t going to work with a ‘Sleepy’ either, at least not by itself. What then? Perhaps a combination.
The group with the best perspective when talking about views from the top and bottom are those in the middle. I’m currently running a year-long development programme for a group of supervisors who are straddling that middle ground. They occupy that dynamic ‘meat-in-the-sandwich’ zone. I asked this group on their views. They’re a diverse bunch culturally and demographically with a range of supervisory experience (including zero.) Their responses were almost entirely questions – requests for more information. Who is this person we’re talking about? What’s the situation? What are our objectives right now and in the future? Smart people ask good questions. If I had to sum up their responses, I’d say, “It depends.”
I recently MC’d a health and safety conference. One of the speakers was Dr Rod Gutierrez, Principal Psychologist at DuPont. He told me about some research that had been conducted on people entering elevators. (He didn’t tell me why they conducted the research. I regret not asking.) People were covertly filmed entering a standard elevator, not one of those double-doored hospital elevators. Like most people I imagine, when you enter an elevator, you turn, press the button for your floor then stay facing the door you entered through. This proved true of all people – if the elevator was empty. They tested two other scenarios – one with a single occupant already there facing the back of the elevator and one with two occupants already there facing the back of the elevator. With the single weirdo facing the wrong way, most people regarded them strangely and faced the usual way. BUT with two weirdos facing the wrong way, over 80% of elevator entrants joined them in facing the wrong way.
Humans are social norming creatures and it’s likely many of your employees are human. The way things are done around here are the way things are done around here. If you’re a leader in a company that sells goods and services, no doubt you’ve got a marketing person or department that knows all about the value of ‘social proof’ in convincing and influencing customers out there in the market. Social Proof is evidence that others like us (or those we would like to be like) have already taken the road or bought the steak knives we’re considering, including the increasingly pervasive online video testimonials and LinkedIn ‘recommendations.’ The same principles apply to convincing and influencing inside the organisation. My advice to my farmer friend is going to be to try some social proof – to find someone who has been in Sleepy’s slippers, gone on to success, and to buddy them up with Sleepy. Let’s see what happens in combination with some of those carrots that worked in the past. Just don’t pick anyone nicknamed Grumpy…