Do you perform better at tasks you find both interesting and meaningful? You are not alone. Recounting her research in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1tWZtQh) Paula A. O’Keefe, assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, describes an experiment where she and a colleague asked a group of undergraduates to work on word puzzles. “Before they began, we had them tell us how exciting and enjoyable they thought the task would be. Then they read a statement that framed the task as either personally valuable or of neutral value.”
Those who read the first statement, and who also thought the task would be enjoyable, solved the most problems. It wasn’t simply because their interest made them want to work longer. Their engagement was more efficient because they were focused and “in the zone.” A follow-up study showed that this group was also the least “mentally exhausted”(as measured by their ability to squeeze a hand-grip after the task was done). By contrast, those who were uninterested in the task not only performed worse, but also were mentally fatigued.
The lesson: liking our work matters! Leaders of any sort (managers, teachers, parents) should do all they can to frame work in a meaningful context—not only in terms of its immediate end but also its broader impact. Why is this work significant? What part does it play in achieving a greater goal? And—because related research shows that social engagement can foster interest—whom will it help?
We want to hear. Does your performance improve when you enjoy what you do? How do you motivate others to see work as interesting and meaningful? Join the conversation: click "comments" below.
Image Credit: Sebastaan ter Burg https://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/
The pernicious effects of a bullying boss can replicate like a virus, says a new study in The Journal of Social Psychology (http://bit.ly/1C1qlQh). Abusive bosses not only demoralize employees in their direct line of fire, but also demoralize the co-workers of those they mistreat.
The study, which examined 233 workers, looked at the effects of second-hand or “vicarious” abuse--the impact of simply hearing rumors about how badly a boss treated a colleague. Results revealed that both personally experienced and vicarious abuse had negative impacts. Second-hand abuse, like firsthand, lowers employees’ effectiveness as well as their opinion of the organization as a whole. “When vicarious abusive supervision is present,” the authors write, “employees realize that the organization is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if they are not experiencing it directly.” What leaders permit, they promote.
We agree with the study’s authors, who recommend that managers take a close look at the impact of their styles and the ripple effects of those styles throughout their organizations. Toxicity starts at the top, but then—unfortunately—takes on a life of its own.
We want to hear. Have you been impacted by abusive firsthand or “second-hand” supervision? How does it affect you and your organization’s culture? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We recently blogged about the abysmal rates of successful change initiatives in organizations (70 percent fail!), and mentioned that one reason is unwritten rules that discourage change. Another reason is that change programs are often linked to an incentive that actually doesn’t incentivize very well: Money.
In “The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management”, (http://bit.ly/1woQGIJ). McKinsey & Co.’s Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken note that while many leaders attempt to link change programs to employee compensation, this type of motivation can be expensive, impractical, and not all that effective. More effective by far are small, unexpected rewards. For example, Gordon M. Bethune, who turned around Continental Airlines, sent a surprise $65 check to every employee when the airline made it to the top 5 for on-time flights. John McFarlane of ANZ Bank sent a bottle of champagne to every employee for Christmas with a card thanking them for their work on the company’s “Perform, Grow and Breakout” change program.
Why are small, unanticipated rewards more effective? Because employees perceive them as a “social exchange” versus a “market exchange.” A social exchange has the feel of a personal “thank you”—like bringing a bottle of wine to your dinner hosts, as opposed to a business transaction—like asking for the bill in a restaurant. In short, as we have long said, unanticipated rewards are invaluable because people work best when they feel personally recognized and appreciated!
Please share your experience. What was the last time you got an unexpected reward at work? How did it make you feel and how did it impact your performance? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
About 70% of changes in all organizations fail, says research from McKinsey and Company (http://bit.ly/1woQGIJ). Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, cites one of the key reasons: Many organizational cultures function with two opposing sets of rules.
The “official” rules—often appearing on company websites and employee handbooks—are the ones where the organization claims to value innovation, teamwork, inclusiveness, and open communication. The “unofficial” rules—often learned the hard way by those who follow the first set and find themselves in the proverbial doghouse—are change-blockers. They reward conformity, competitiveness, even secrecy. (http://bit.ly/1BS1ijE)
We have, unfortunately, witnessed this too many times. Successful change is enabled by a climate of engagement and dialogue in which new ideas and creative collaboration are encouraged—and not just espoused. Leaders who genuinely want to facilitate change in a world where change is critical to survival must courageously assess whether counter-productive rules exist, and do all in their power to align their organization’s aspirational goals with its real ones.
We want to hear. Can you give us an example of any unwritten rules you have run up against, and how those rules had an impact on organizational change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In our last Communication Capsule, we mentioned the benefits of kicking off brainstorming sessions with two minutes of silent writing before sharing ideas with the group, round-robin style, with no evaluation. This can lead to fresher, more creative ideas—but that won’t help your group if you or your colleagues tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the new.
As Judith Glaser, who studies “conversational intelligence” notes—and as history has shown repeatedly—truly original ideas are often met with spontaneous rejection, precisely because they are alien to our current culture. (The founder of FedEx got a “C” for an academic paper outlining his idea for an overnight delivery service.) And rejection may mean that the idea’s creator feels rejected, and unlikely to contribute another new idea soon.
Step 3 of our brainstorming protocol is key: Instead of attacking and rejecting, all team members (again, silently and in writing) prioritize their top three actions— those they believe are most significant and doable. When each team member advocates for their top choices in round robin, input is shared by all—not just the first and the loudest. And the group focus remains on selecting the most positive solution—not rejecting the weirdest.
Please share your experience. Have you ever had an idea rejected because it was “too original?” How do you encourage colleagues to be more creative? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum
Brainstorming meetings are a widespread practice, but brainstorming may actually be counterproductive when it turns into a blurt-fest, with early—and often least creative ideas—given an inordinate amount of attention.
"Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation," says Loran Nordgren, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, in a recent Fast Company article. Her studies show that groups in which individuals write first and share ideas in an organized manner afterward generate 20 percent more ideas than “shout it out” forums.
We are not surprised! For years we have taught a collaborative protocol for brainstorming in which the first step is silence. For two minutes, team participants reflect on the question in writing, unconstrained by convention. Phase 2 involves round robin input where each group member shares one idea at a time until all ideas are recorded in the group memory (on flip chart paper). The key in this step: No evaluation! Initiating brainstorming with these two phases eliminates disproportionate influence of early ideas—and brings the quietest voices into the meeting.
We want to hear: What have been your brainstorming experiences? Were the meetings more or less productive when speaking or writing came first? Please share your responses here.
When we find ourselves in conflict with a co-worker we tend to attribute it to personality differences. Even if we don’t know the other person very well, we may jump to conclusions based on limited exposure, perhaps stereotyping them as a “micromanager”, or “competitive.” But although it’s cognitively efficient to categorize, labeling is toxic in conflict resolution.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, organizational consultant Ben Dattner points out that management and corporate culture may inadvertently create conflict between individuals. For instance, roles and levels of authority may not be well defined, or individuals’ interests may be truly opposed because they have been given incentives to compete rather than collaborate.
To assess whether a conflict is situational, start by asking yourself, “What conflicts might be experienced by any two people in the roles we have?” Then ask your colleague the same question. You may find common ground and can jointly approach those in leadership to reconsider the dynamics that are generating the conflict.
Please share your experience. Have you ever found yourself in conflict with a colleague because of a situational circumstance? What did you do about it? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Are anti-bullying policies stopping workplace bullying? Not according to a survey recently conducted by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they had experienced workplace bullying, and indicated that most of the alleged bullies had been in their positions for over a year (89%), or over five years (54%). Only 6% said their companies’ anti-bullying policies prevented bullying.
The sad truth is that many who feel bullied don’t do anything about it. They try to avoid the problem, but the unintended consequence of avoidance is perpetuation. “Silence is not golden. Silence is permission,” says Maxfield.
We agree: What we permit, we promote. So it’s important to know your workplace policies and document incidents of bullying (e.g. browbeating, intimidation, sabotaging). Perhaps most effective of all—if you do not feel at risk doing so—is addressing (in private) the person you believe is abusing power. If you choose to do this, try our models for raising issues and responding to criticism. Then ask what you can do to improve communication going forward so that the pattern doesn’t repeat.
We want to hear: Are you aware of workplace bullying and, if so, do you and those around you tend to confront or avoid the problem? If you have addressed the situation, what has been the outcome? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Are team-building exercises fun, or something many employees feel “subjected to?” A recent NPR story chronicled some true—and truly disastrous—“weekend warrior” tales reminiscent of scenes from the classic NBC sitcom, The Office. Employees recounted everything from paintballing mishaps (don’t splatter your supervisor in a “sensitive area”) to being pelted with ricocheting Sacagawea gold dollar coins flying out of a demolished donkey piñata.
What interested us as much as the story were the 100-plus comments posted in response, the majority of which seemed to be by listeners who could certainly relate. Some cited corporate “narcissism” as underlying such debacles, and many lamented the large amount of money spent on the Rambo-esque functions.
We believe that real team-building should be a result of learning and using creative, cooperative ways to solve problems and make decisions. Then the team is able to build its “teamness” by doing great work—no safety goggles or helmets required.
Share your experience. Have you engaged in team-building exercises? How did it go? How do you think teams come to do great work? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In what Politico calls “The knock down drag-out fight that led to a VA deal,” Congress, on the verge of its August recess, finally approved a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The deal emerged after leaders of a conference committee—Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)—publicly battled it out over differences on how to pay for the bill.
But the “grenades” that were hurled turned out to be largely cathartic. Two days after the worst of the slug-fest, Sanders informed lawmakers a deal was at hand after a final call with Miller during which the two went over a checklist of priorities and agreed on details.
We've been working with Congress for the past ten years and while we don't recommend the bare knuckles rhetoric that produced the VA funding bill, it's hard to argue with success. Of course, it didn't hurt that the failure of Congress to pass this bill before leaving for summer recess would have resulted in a firestorm from veterans and their many supporters. Neither did it hurt that congress is at a 12% approval rating while veterans are at 74%. Still, anything beats silence and stonewalling: No problem that required consensus ever got solved by avoidance!
We want to hear: Can you recall a time when mixing it up with an adversary proved a necessary prelude to resolving a contentious issue? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Employee engagement (i.e. enthusiastic involvement) correlates highly with increased individual and organizational productivity. Yet only 30 percent of Americans feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 Gallup report.
To understand what influences engagement, consultant Tony Schwarz and Georgetown business professor Christine Porath partnered with the Harvard Business Review to survey over 20,000 employees across a range of industries. The result: Engagement rises when four core needs are met: physical (via opportunities to renew and recharge at work); emotional, (by feeling valued and appreciated); mental (being enabled to focus on their most important tasks); and spiritual (by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work).
Here’s our thought on one way to immediately raise that low 30% engagement metric: Everyone within an organization—whether or not in a formal leadership role—can have an impact on corporate culture by communicating appreciation to those around them. It only takes a moment to sincerely let others know they are valued, and the rewards will be immense, not just on a company-wide level but also on a personal one.
We want to hear. Are you in the habit of letting co-workers know they are appreciated and valued? What happens when you do this? What has been your experience when someone at work directly recognizes something you have done? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, and Mary Davis Holt, partners at a consulting firm focused on women’s leadership development and authors of Break Your Own Rules offer evidence that female executives, “report feeling alone, unsupported, outside their comfort zones, and unable to advocate forcefully for their perspectives in many high-level meetings.” This is particularly troubling in light of research offered by social psychologist and Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld that the more one speaks in a group the more status one is perceived to have.
Of course, not all women feel disenfranchised in meetings and many men can feel that way too. We contend it’s easier for anyone to speak up when they have a game plan for doing so. That’s why we suggest P.R.E.S.:
· Begin your statement with your main POINT.
· Substantiate the point with a REASON.
· Offer an EXAMPLE.
· Now SUMMARIZE.
Keep our P.R.E.S. model in mind as a way to contribute articulately and persuasively at meetings.
We want to hear: Do you ever feel reluctant to speak up in meetings, and if so, why? How does our PRES model work for you? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We recently wrote about Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s research on “power poses” and how striking an expansive pose before a high stakes interview or presentation can boost confidence. (Stand with your limbs stretched out from your body, hold your head high, and it’s hard to feel insecure!) Now we’d like to take this concept a step further.
In a recent talk on body/mind alignment and its importance in conveying our messages, Stanford professor and social psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld cited research showing that in group settings (like meetings), those with high status assume more expansive body postures than those with lower status.
On a subliminal level, people decide in microseconds who is—and isn’t—worth paying attention to. If you want your words to resonate, align them with your body posture. A few subtle changes can make all the difference. Moving your elbows away from your body or draping an arm across a chair can increase your perceived status, while contracting your limbs, bowing you head, or turning one foot inward can lower it. When verbal and non-verbal messages align, our impact is greater.
Share your experience: Have you equated higher status with expansive body postures when you observe work colleagues? What happens when you try altering your own non-verbal body posture? Join the conversation and click "comments" below.
Negative conversations nag at us—for chemical reasons. The cortisol (stress hormone) they produce can stay in our system for over 26 hours, keep us on edge, and color the way we react to further communication. Positive conversations produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin, but this metabolizes much faster than cortisol, so the effect doesn’t linger as long.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, consultant Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence and biochemist Richard D. Glaser (we have no relation to either) cited their survey research asking managers how often they engaged in positive conversational behavior (e.g. showing concern for others, and painting a picture of mutual success) versus negative (e.g. mistrusting others’ intentions and just pretending to listen).Those surveyed contended that they engaged in more of the positive, though 85% admitted to “sometimes” engaging in the negative.
As the authors point out, “when leaders exhibit both types of behaviors it creates dissonance or uncertainty in followers’ brains, spurring cortisol production and reducing C-IQ (conversational intelligence).” Nobody’s perfect, but leaders should be mindful of the power of chemistry. Take an extra moment before you speak: try to quiet negative impulses and communicate your best intentions. The positive, productive reaction you unleash, cognitively and chemically, will be your reward.
Share your experience: Do you notice lingering positive effects when you communicate in positive ways, and vice versa? What are you doing to shift the balance toward the positive? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question on our forum: Community of Practice Forum.
Not everyone we work with will be our best friends, and some may prove challenging to get along with; still, we often must rely on our co-workers for our own efforts to succeed. If a relationship at work proves troublesome, our natural inclination is avoidance. But this can be self-defeating.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark, strategy consultant and Adjunct Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, advises acknowledging your own role in the tension, mentally pressing a “reset” button, and changing the relationship dynamic by avoiding past patterns.
We completely agree. We have long said that while we cannot change another other person, we can always change the way we react to that person. The first step is taking accountability for your part in the tension. Be observant as to how your reactions could be making a tense situation worse. Understand yourself and you will gain insight into the dynamic. Change your behavior and change the dynamic. You may not gain a BFF, but you can gain respect and cooperation
Please share your experience: What has worked for you in repairing damaged relationships at work? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.