When I teach students in my undergraduate psychology course about culture, I always start with helping them learn about their own. Many times students who are members of a majority group will have difficulty identifying what aspects of their routine, clothing, and diet represent their culture. Turn the tables and assign them an “exotic” culture to research and they easily spot the cultural indicators. Culture is invisible, at least our own often is. We are so steeped in our culture we hardly notice it other than to observe when something different intersects with it.
The same is true for corporate cultures, which is today’s hip way of referring to human resources, physical plant, and corporate governance procedures. Culture is now currency in many sectors, with conferences, webinars, and initiatives all focused on defining, spreading, or improving the invisible essence of a company. In some ways these efforts are about branding, but the branding effort is internal rather than external. Savvy businesses in the day of social media are furthering the internal branding effort, the Culture effort, into a strategy to engage external audiences more deeply than pure marketing or product might do. The most successful Culture practices are translating to the outside observer as authentic, organic, and participatory atmosphere within the organization.
The Circus Hotel and Apartments is a series of hostel, hotel, and flats designed to immerse the traveler into the life of Berlin, Germany. Rather than a box with a bed, the hotel aimed to create a community of travelers that would learn and support each other, while becoming a meaningful, if temporary, part of the community in which it operates. Resources are used to spread this message to workers and to patrons. A hotel magazine connects the traveler to staff, who are columnists, featured guests, and contributors. Add to this a set of policies around uniforms, customer responsiveness, and community participation and the experience for the visitor is one of belonging, even if they have never been. And, it works, the Circus has been able to grow and expand despite economic challenges, they are committed to a living wage for their staff, and place an emphasis on sustainability. They have staff that are committed to their vision and the community. And under the hood, the imperfections that exist are part of the tapestry that makes up their Culture.
How do you take these lessons into your own organization? My students always struggle at first when labeling their cultural indicators, how would your employees and leadership team fare when asked this of your organization? How about if you turn the tables and frame it as a question about the competition’s culture, or a client partner’s culture? Often this is easier and may be a starting point for your organization to conduct a Cultural inventory of its people and practices. Once there is widespread recognition of what your organizational culture really is, you can begin to enhance or message the culture more easily.
What is the value of identifying Culture within an organization? It can lead to some high profile industry wide notice, which in turn can lead to talent finding you rather than you hunting talent. These certainly are great benefits, but an additional, and I think more important one, is that knowing culture allows you to better understand the transitions and challenges that will arise in the organization. By knowing that your organization is shaped by a leadership vision of independence and autonomy, you can predict that growth, which will bring with it additional regulatory demands, will likely be difficult for staff. Using culture to frame the challenge and the opportunities it presents will assist in shaping a productive response to the change.
A word of caution. Remember that earlier point that effective organizational culture is often organic and authentic? Sometimes cultural pride can transform our replication efforts into repetition or sloganeering. Avoid treating your organizational culture as an object to be manipulated or messaged or you will devour whatever amount of commitment your employees and stakeholders have provided. “Cultural Evangelists” are trendy now, a designated staff person that is in charge of programming and spreading the message about your corporate culture, and in charge of alerting leadership to problems within the cultural fabric of the company. But the real staying power of spreading your culture lies in the people and the positions you already have. Empower them with ownership of the environment they share, and allow authentic expressions of support, and you won’t need an “evangelist” to spread the word; you’ll have missionaries in spades.
A post I hope you won’t need but should know anyway: Getting through tragic events with your workers
We are all still reeling after not one-but two- mass shootings in the space of a week. While the communities of Oak Creek and Sandy Hook are working to piece back together the feeling of normalcy that will never fully return, you might be in a position to ask “what if” regarding your community and your company. This is a post I hope and pray you never need to read or recall. At the same time I am a realist and whether the event is something like a mass shooting or an unexpected car accident that affects a department, the chances are high that you will face unexpected events that affect the company. Here are some tips that might help you care for your employees and assist them, and yourself, in returning- however tentatively- to typical operations. For this conversation I am breaking the advice down into “before”, “immediately after” and “longer term”.
Have a Call Tree in place: No matter your size company, there should be in place a system that allows you to easily touch base with employees during times of emergencies. Likewise, you should know information about your employees that alerts you to check on them if their partner’s business or children’s school has been effected by an event. There should be people who know and have relationships with every member of your staff and ideally you will develop a culture where these relationships are not entirely restricted to certain departments. As in investing, the adage in relationship and social capital is diversify, diversify, diversify. If you can’t say this about your organization now is the time to invest in cross-relationship processes.
Connect with the Community
Does your organization know clergy from surrounding churches? Does your company know local massage and wholistic health training programs? If not, reach out now as connecting with them after an event may mean your employees have easy access to spiritual and physical rejuvenation when they need it most.
Open dialogue within the company
Communication is key, and of course communication can feed rumors. If you have the ability to speak with the employees affected you should ask them what information you can share company wide, how they might like people to reach out to their families in the next few days, and whether and what information your company is at liberty to share with clients or customers. If you can’t speak directly with the employees affected it is best to confirm within the company that the company is aware and reaching out. There should be a contact designated who can field inquiries from employees and you might establish a mechanism for comments and support to be offered that doesn’t burden the family or employees affected.
Offer tangible short term supports
Homemade meals delivered, a housekeeper or laundry service, a short term stay at a local hotel or car rental for out of town family, a nanny service to allow parents to deal with paperwork and legal matters without distraction, a weekend away to a local resort for the family effected. All of these are incredibly gracious gestures that can help a struggling family enormously as they try to move forward with their lives. The message conveyed should not be one of ‘let’s throw some money at it” but rather “hey, you have a lot to focus on right now, let me help”. While some of these offers may be dismissed, any or all of them can make a meaningful difference when someone is in crisis.
Support the supporters
Pay attention to who on your staff is lending a helping hand, fielding information calls, or contacting next of kin. These folks are likely doing ok when they are doing the tasks that need to be done, but their own personal needs can easily slip under the radar. Offer a dinner out for them or some movie passes. It will be a good reminder that their own personal lives are also worth attending to and may be just the recharge they need to continue to be helpful to others.
Allow people to return to normal, even if you can’t imagine how you would
Within reason allow your employees most affected by the incident to return to their duties as they wish to. Obviously if there is some sensitive or precision duty assigned to that individual a cooling off period might be in order. If you feel a reason to suspect someone’s professional ability folllowing a loss or traumatic incident, allow them to perform less central activities first as a way of assessing how they are handling those aspects. In general, work can be a wonderful and meaningful way of coping with loss. Denying access to the worker role can be damaging for the worker and their colleagues. There is a wide range of normal responses and work is one point on the spectrum of normal.
Be genuine, speak as a person, and if in doubt just listen.
It can be so unsettling to feel you have no idea what to say. That’s ok, accept that there really are no words that can fix the wrong that has happened. It IS unimaginable, it IS unfair, and it ISN’T right. Those are not platitudes, that are just true. Beyond that you will need to rely on your relationship with the employees to know what to say next. If there is something personal you can offer than do it, otherwise just be a presence and ask what they need right now as a worker and as person. Listen to what they say. Do what you can.
Facilitate long term supports
Therapy, housing help, locating a vehicle. There are so many ways that people can use support long after an event occurs. Have a system in place that reminds someone in your organization to check on the needs of those affected 6 weeks after the incident. If another short stay at a hotel is needed, offer that, as it may be helping far-away family be available to offer extra support. If the temporary housing has led to other challenges you might be able to facilitate a better solution. Now that time has passed their may be greater clarity about the needs at stake.
It’s natural to feel unprepared to respond to such events when they effect our employees. But if you think very practically about the needs we all share: food, shelter, safety, and support you can identify very reasonable and meaningful ways to support your employees through the unimaginable.
It’s 11pm, the client presentation is at 10am tomorrow, and your team is still stuck on which target to lead with. There are clear pros and cons to both strategies, and the stakes for missing the mark are high as you close out the quarter. What is the best course of action for you to advise at this point? A)Play a quick game of chess to see what percolates B)Call a loved one and check in with how they are doing C) Watch the nightly news and reconvene in an hour or D)complete a tangles puzzle and get together in the morning?
If you answered D because you think creativity requires stimulation you are wrong, but you selected the best answer anyway! Turns out that having a break from problem solving actually increases performance, but what you spend the break doing matters. How so? Recent research supports the use of “mind wandering” tasks to promote creative problem solving. While A-C represent mental breaks, none of them could be described as mind wandering. The game of chess requires mental engagement and focus to be done well, the family call opens doors to emotional conflict and this can interfere with creativity, while the nightly news combines these scenarios in that there may be emotional and personally relevant information to process from the news report while at the same time those things that are not particularly personal may require a greater degree of cognitive engagement to understand. It is only answer option D that provides a target for mental effort in the form of a low stakes puzzle without the risk of emotional engagement. The combination appears to be powerful in leaving our minds open for problem solving below our conscious awareness. Baird and his colleagues at UC Santa Barbara investigated this in a college sample provided the “unusual use” task. If you have ever attended a creative kids program you have probably completed this familiar task: name as many uses as possible for the following item… Participant’s in their research were provided this task and then given one of four experimental conditions. One group engaged in a series of arithmetic calculations, one group went from this task immediately into the task again, one group was allowed to rest, and one group engaged in an undemanding task. It was the final group, those that engaged in an undemanding task, that had the most responses in the second round of the UUT procedure.
What does this mean for you? If you can’t set up a home laboratory for yourself to perform undemanding tasks how can you improve your own problem solving abilities? Turns out Baird and his colleagues identified an important component of the undemanding task that might be more easily replicated at home: the degree to which your mind wanders during the task is the key to increasing creative performance following the task.
So, whether its tangles, word find, Sudoku, or mandalas you can increase your creative output by taking a break and performing an activity that is low in cognitive effort but more engaging then simply resting. Find your mind wandering and that’s an indication that you are on your way to creative solutions.
Baird, Smallwood, Mrazek, Kam, Franklin & Schooler (2012) Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative IncubationPsychological Science 0956797612446024, first published on August 31, 2012 doi:10.1177/0956797612446024
It has been many years since I have had to listen to detailed stories of trauma. In my research and clinical practice things have moved along in such a way as to remove me from much of the crisis and direct service work into a greater level of administration and management. So when I attended a conference recently wherein I learned some innovative ways of working with staff who have high rates of burnout I had an experience that reminded me the power of having skills, even when you don’t need them in your everyday work.
Having signed up for all the organizational related topics I was a bit unprepared for the impact of the video used to demonstrate a realistic job preview (RJP) for a child protection worker position. For the rest of the day, as I learned about how to use content mapping to evaluate mission oriented training I couldn’t stop thinking of some of the troubling details of child abuse shared during the RJP video. I was having trouble staying in the moment, distancing from negative emotion, being patient with myself as I processed the emotion that needed to be processed. After all, the details were true, had really happened to real children, and could not be ignored. In short, I was having a hard time using the techniques I had advocated others use for the past decade and a half.
While I was busy learning new techniques in RJP and content mapping what I really needed was a refresh in mindfulness and emotion regulation training. And eventually with time, perspective, lots of exercise (which resulted in this stunning Triathalon Finish!), I was able to get the desired perspective I needed. It didn’t happen within the day of the conference, and it did take up more space in my head than I wanted it to for more time than I wanted it to. What it didn’t do is paralyze me, make me unable to tolerate reminders, or continue finding joy in the simple things. And this is the point, isn’t it, of learning skills throughout our careers? We may not utilize all the skills in our day to day, and we might not acquire them for our own benefit. We may have learned them intending only to share or train others in them and yet, when we need them, there they can be found. Ready, able to be accesed, and resulting in tangible differences in our ability to do the main tasks of our role.
It is worth taking stock of the skills we have picked up along the way and to determine whether we have empowered those we lead with similar tools. We may not see them using the tools in their day to day, but when most needed they could be there ready and waiting.
Besides the links above, you may want to read up on RJP. If you need help with these, or other talent development needs, let us know: email@example.com
*Effects of Realistic Job Previews on Multiple Organizational Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis Jean M. PhillipsThe Academy of Management Journal
Vol. 41, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 673-690
The goal to expand US exports has apparently been successful and you might be finding it is time to allocate some human resources within your organization to establishing a presence in the communities that are emerging markets for your company. Whether the distance is great or small there are likely to be challenges for the organization that are both practical and philosophical. If you have to schedule a phone call, whose time table should you use if there are time differences? How much does it matter what experience an employee has with a new cultural environment? What role does the organization have in preparing an employee for a relocation?
These issues are not the exclusive concern of well established institutions, although they tend to have some successful models worth noting. Rather, these are concerns relevant to even the smallest start up operation if there is a plan to do business with those who differ in location, background, language spoken, or country. And, really, isn’t that all start up operations? The goal of every business is growth and by now we are aware the growth often won’t be confined by national borders or boundaries. If you are about to send a salesperson or plant manager out into the wider world what can you do to prepare them and your organization for this challenge?
1)Where is “over there” (place)? Where is “back there”?
For some companies expansion will mean travel to Europe, Latin America, the Middle and Far East. For others it may be a trip within North America. The length of time for an employee stay and the depth of your organization’s presence (office, relocation packages vs. long term hotel) may vary. What you may ask of your employees in this context is likely to vary as well based on the task and role demands. A salesperson may be charged with a very different set of demands than a branch manager. Knowing and understanding not only where they are heading, but what is unique about the place they are departing from is essential to being effective in these environments.
2)Identify if they are checking in, visiting or staying.
Visitors, no matter how frequent, will be perceived differently from residents (no matter how brief the move). Callers will be seen again as entirely different from these other categories. If you intend for a team of implementers who are operating abroad while responding to a manager operating within your home base you will need to be mindful of what role status you want your manager to have. Is it right to be managed by remote, do you benefit from the investment of on the ground face to face time? What gets lost without this investment?
If an employee is ‘staying’ there are multiple considerations to prepare. One will be how communication will be managed between the host and the home base stations. Understanding and building into the process a format and rhythm to communication channels can help alleviate the frustration and alienation that can beset those who are working abroad. Another concern will be preparing the employee for cultural exchange. While the agenda of the company will be measured in sales, or productivity, or other tangibles there will need to also be respect for the non-tangible exchange that will occur as well. Sharing insights into the “American” or “Texan” or “East Coast” way of doing things is a valuable exchange that will contribute to the bond the host country employees, customers, or partners will feel towards your employee and your company. A simple strategy to use in preparing a traveling employee is to have them think about what items represent your company culture well and to find ways to share these with the host community while sharing the host community artifacts with the company. If nothing else it becomes a point of commonality with which to begin conversations between the host and home bases. Of course, you will also need to know how such items are received in the host environment. Bringing pork rinds to a mostly Muslim or Jewish community isn’t likely to engender warm feelings no matter how well that represents your corporate culture.
3) identify the main values of the host location.
The host location may place an emphasis on efficiency, directness, and self effacement (see Globe Project’s leadership reports on Germany) or may prefer warmth, relationship, and trust as priorities in exchanges. This type of knowledge can be deciphered from the communication history with members of the host location, from studying history and culture relevant to the location, and from research on cross cultural differences. Using this knowledge will assist the employee in developing an approach to their interactions that will likely be more effective at obtaining the long term goal of organizational growth, impact, and success.
Cultural competence is a process and a company has a choice to make the investment in the process. Doing so is an excellent investment. Training and coaching can assist, as can a detailed organizational plan. We can offer guidance if you find yourself in need.
A colleague of mine was recently given feedback about their job performance and was informed that they “care too much”. Doesn’t really seem like much of a criticism; and if anything seems more like an indication of the low standards their workplace has for committment. Following this feedback my colleague went on a pre-planned long weekend and played with animals, visited good friends, ran a few road races and came back to work with a bit of perspective.
Is job involvement such a bad thing? Can there be such a thing as too much? A recentreview of the available information regarding job detachment- one’s ability to leave work at work and to mentally disengage with work while away from it- suggest that there are individual and institutional benefits for employees (and employers) who can successfully disengage from their work.
Individual benefits for the employee range from decreased psychological distress, less burnout, and greater job satisfaction once back at work. Institutional benefits for employers whose staff can become disengaged include increased worker proactive behavior – when a worker can forsee a challenge and preemptively engage in problem solving. Not surprisingly Sonnentag et al.’s review also highlights the u-shaped Yerkes-Dowdson phenomenon: too much disengagement and your likely to not care enough about work at all; too little and the benefits won’t translate.
A lot of disruptive companies will tout the 24/7 work ethic their employees have in their work. This ethic seems to translate into availability and commitment that other organizations can’t carry. Sonnentag’s findings suggest that not encouraging true breaks from work, wether it be overnight, over a weekend, or during a work day, will only hurt employee satisfaction, prodcutivity, and retention over the long haul. Is there anyway to have it both ways; an engaged and committed workforce that unplug fully so as to restore themselves in time for the next round?
Turns out there are some ways to cultivate this seemingly impossible contrast.
Not surprisingly culture matters; explicit messages about the expectations of employee off duty time and peer support for disconnection after hours can assist employees in setting more clear boundaries between work and play.
Absorbing activities can be fostered within the work enviroment or encouraged out of office. If you want to be sure your staff stops checking their emails or messages encourage them to engage in some physically or creatively demanding task on regular bases. A pick up game of basketball, a yoga class, an art collaborative can all be useful tools to signal the appropriateness of turning off periodically.
Once upon a time there was a debate about the burden vs. benefit of having workers who also juggled other roles (moonlighting, volunteer, parenting). Sonnentag’s review suggests that while work pressures can bleed over into other roles there is a value for the worker in assuming other roles as this may allow them to more clearly disconnect and return more engaged and effective.
If you are wondering how you might give yourself the psychological permission necessary to reap the benefits of job detachment for yourself you might try some strategies that have worked for others.
Disengage the smartphone. Putting it aside is not enough; find a space to place it far from view for at least an (awake) hour each day. Giving yourself the evening off is even better, as Sonnentag details in her review. And if you can’t disconnect every evening be sure to build in permissible off duty time slots into the week. Research shows your likely to be engaged and effective if you allow the downtime.
Immerse yourself in an engaging environment (Sonnentag calls it “fascination” inducing wherein effortless attention is possible). Wide open spaces or creatively rich environments facilitate detachment by drawing your attention to the present moment. It may be helpful to place cues in the areas where you are most likely to be drawn back into work mode that will help anchor your attention where you need it to be for a break.
A real trick? When you are feeling most pressured and overworked may be the most essential time to engage in these activities. If you are finding yourself over scheduled and drained it may pay unexpected dividends if you visit the museum or go for a hike in the midst of these times. The time away will recharge your focus in meaningful ways and may make it possible for you to execute priorities upon your return.
Seems like a good time to take my own advice and immerse myself into some long awaited Mad Men premier!
Sonnentag, S. (2012) Psychological detachment from work during leisure time: The benefits of mentally disengaging from work.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(2), p114-118.
I had breakfast yesterday with a woman that had been a neighbor when I was in high school. It was a particularly challenging time in my life and hers was one place that I could count on a friendly face, encouragement, and a break from the stress. Our lives went separate ways and we lost touch until she began searching for me online and tracked me down after a few email exchanges. There we were, enjoying each other in the present and sharing stories about the various paths our lives had taken. It got me thinking what it was about our earlier relationship that set the stage for such genuine enjoyment of each other even though our day to day contact had been limited when we were neighbors. And what of technology, and the role that played in allowing us to once again enjoy interactions with eachother? One theory, that of High Quality Connections, might explain the ways small relationship exchanges can yield such lasting and memorable connections.
High Quality Relationships (HQR, 2011) are connections we make with others that build us up, make us feel positively, and help us feel supported in our environments. There is an entire field of study devoted to understanding how to create organizational environments that facilitate such dyadic experiences. Stephens, Heaphy, and Dutton (2011) outline the various elements central to HQR. ”Other-awareness” is a term that refers to being aware of another person’s feelings, attitudes, and perceptions. Developing other awareness may allow an individual an advantage in their daily encounters; if you understand how others are feeling you are more likely to know when is the right time to offer support and when is the right time to seek support. The author’s offer new ways we might consider respect, support, and play as tools in enriching our daily interactions. The richer the interactions the more satisfied we are likely to be in multiple areas of our life. While the authors consider this in the context of in-person interactions, there remains uncertainty in what ways social media may be used for fostering HQR. Surely a DM from a close friend mid workday connects you to them and provides a sense of play. What might these tools do to office relationships, client interactions? What to make of the expanding tools in social media, and tools to focus our attention within social media information landscapes?
The newly launched ruustr allows you to set up search criteria that could be used to alert you when someone in your preferred network expresses a need. This in turn could be used to increase your “other awareness” and your knowledge of opportunities that present to engage in HQ interactions. At the end of the day social media tools don’t have to represent alienating factors in our relationships but could be used to heighten our engagement in the three factors that most influence HQR:
“The focus on respectful engagement, task enabling and playing shows us that small moves matter for building connection and that modes of interacting can transform people’s understandings of how they relate to others.” (Stephens, Heaphy, & Dutton., (2011), p17)
Respect, support, and playfulness create lasting and measurable impacts; we can use technology to deepen these connections. Doing so creates chances for even small exchanges to offer important and valuable connections. These simple but powerful ideas are worth cultivating for the chance they provide for us to share time and space with others. And the experience reminds me the powerful impact we can have when we just share a little of our time with others.
“The next sound I hear will result in you loosing your new toy.”
“That is it, your toy is mine for the rest of the day.”
And this was a great afternoon!
What might this exchange that is probably verbatim from a grownup (who shall remain nameless) in my home represent? How might we apply these lessons to managing people? Relationships matter. This might seem brainless but there is deeper and deeper neuroscience to support this conclusion, and what is true for a three year old is equally relevant for a 30 or 60 year old team member. Humans learn and grow only in relationship with others. The literature on attachment in children and learning outcomes is very clear, from early studies we know that learning occurs in the context of relationship. Not sure?
What was the last thing you learned completely outside the context of a relationship? Maybe you read something online and self tutored your way to a solution? Not so fast, reading ability eminates from a complex interaction that began when you learned to read. Whether it is phoneme recognition or a whole word approach you mastered your reading skills in connection with another person. You may have found the topic you recently read because of a friend’s recommendation (and sites like Social Reader are banking on this type of sharing) but the chances are very good that whatever you read recently you did because of relationships you value.
In the workplace there has been an approach to understanding this reciprocal interaction within relationships between a worker and a manager or peer: Relational Cultural Theory (RCT). This approach has been used to frame the interactions between individuals as opportunities for growth, not only of the subordinately positioned individual but also for the individual in the higher status position. RCT argues that benefits and learning occur for both parties when genuine relationship is experienced and nurtured. Genuine relationship requires authenticity by both parties. Without it, the real growth can not occur.
Consider a time when a close friend, in anger and frustration, has called you out for some disappointing behavior. Probably the experience was painful, and probably you became defensive. But if you compare this reaction on your part to how you felt when a near stranger, or a person who holds themselves aloof from you, critiqued your performance there is a strong likliehood that you were more able to take in the criticism from the close friend than you were the stranger. Authenticity is being honest about our feelings and vulnerable towards others. We tend to believe that this requires being nice or gentle but real relationship, and real learning, actually happens after a bump in the road. Smooth sailing in a relationship may seem like a goal but actual learning happens after interruptions in our relationships. These “ruptures”, as they are referred to in RCT, lead to opportunities to either abandon or repair a valued connection. If the relationship connection is repaired then the relationship will increase in relevance and importance to us. We will begin to internalize and consolidate information more quickly and deeply than we might otherwise do. In other words, when we seek to reconnect after a break in our relationship we are deepening not only the relationship but also our knowledge.
Doing this within work environments can benefit from reflective processes that support and equip leaders to recognize the value of relationship not only for what outputs it can leverage but for the processes it enables in and of itself. There have been a variety of ways in which RCT has been studied to examine mentorship, management, and performance improvement. If your leaders are showing genuine interest in others, spending time sharing stories about the weekend and using this to segue into ways in which follow ups might be executed more efficiently, chances are there are going to be tangible benefits for your organization. There might also be some fall out, as those being led feel slighted or cast aside in the rush of organizational growth. Use these tensions wisely, and authentically, and RCT argues it is possible to not only improve individual performance but to improve organizational functioning. Miss these cues and squander opportunities for repair and the investments into carefully nurtured relationship will never be recouped. Looking for advice on how to use the science of attachment and learning in your organization? I’d love to connect further, but first I have a toy I need to return.
Want to read more:
Dutton, J. (Ed.), & Ragins, B. (Ed.). (2007). Exploring positive relationships at work: Building a theoretical and research foundation. Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
We find ourselves half way through Q1 and for some organizations this means the 2011 bonuses have finally been paid out, while employees are hard at work realizing their targets for Q1 bonus opportunities. Some may find rancor among the ranks or perceive a slip in morale, good citizenship (OCB), or job involvement behaviors. Is it the February slump, or is there perhaps something deeper that might explain the observations?
A few years ago I attended a conference and the keynote speaker, Renée Baillargeon, an eminent psychologist discussed the ways in which children develop knowledge about their social world at much earlier ages than we have believed possible. Piagetian theory often placed a child’s ability to engage in complex social processing as not possible until well into the preschool ages. In fact, what Baillargeon’s work pointed out was that an infant’s capacity to process and predict social behaviors occurred much earlier and were delayed only due to our capacity to measure and assess them. Rather than assessing verbal answers she has developed a method which measures eye gaze and since this can be reliably measured in infants as young as 18 months there are now indications that social-moral reasoning is happening earlier than previously observed.
Recently she and her colleague’s published their results in Psychological Bulletin and have explored the question of whether infants have a sense of fairness. Their work suggests that the idea of what is fair, who has been wronged, and whether our responses are congruent to the event are directing our behavior and motivations from the earliest of ages. It gets me thinking about the implications when bonuses or other rewards are distributed throughout an organization.
In their research Sloane, Baillargeon, and Premack (2012) examined how infants responded when puppets that were asked to “clean up these toys” were rewarded for their working or slacking behavior. In many workplaces similar conditions exisit; a reward is offered to those who “clean up” and subsequently effort is then expended on cleaning up in order to attain the reward. We are pretty tolerant that all who expend effort should enjoy the reward, but we tend to bristle when someone we perceive to have not genuinely engaged in the task also enjoys the reward. I can recall when a client was discussing a decision she made in awarding bonuses. In her estimation the member of the team that was not present during that quarter due to a leave should not enjoy the bonus enjoyed by the rest of the team that was present all quarter. She was a bit puzzled however when that same employee gave notice a few weeks later, and in her exit interview indicated that being denied a bonus that the rest of the team enjoyed was a factor.
We have terms to explain these differences in perception when it comes to organizational decisions and justice. Those who argue that the worker was rightfully withheld a bonus since she technically did not work that quarter subscribe to an equality justice ethos; you are rewarded directly commensurate to the work you put in. The worker however appears to have subscribed to an interactional justice ethos; you are rewarded based on the interpersonal and procedural distributions you have influenced. The case might be argued that although she was absent during the quarter she was still responsible for some of the deals that had closed that quarter, she was still being cited as a member of the team to existing and potential clients and so her team benefited from their affiliation with her despite her absence, and she had not behaved in a manner to detract from the team or withheld support of her team despite her physical absence.
When the infants watched the two puppet giraffes either get a sticker for working or get a sticker despite slacking, Sloane et al (2012) report that the 21 month olds looked longest/perceived the greatest injustice when the reward was announced before the task began, and was then distributed evenly to both the worker and the slacker puppet. If no reward had been announced, but a directive to clean up was provided and then the giraffes, worker and slacker both, were given a sticker, the infants did not see as large an unfairness.
Might this guide us in managing Q2 bonus opportunities? If you find yourself managing fall out from 2011 bonuses or bracing for Q1 disputes think about whether you have systems in place to ensure that workers, not slackers, are being rewarded. If such systems are not realistic for current circumstances consider whether pre-announcing awards is such a wise idea. It may be better to promote organizational commitment to simply award “the stickers” without pinning it on certain efforts. Not your idea of a bonus? Call it something else, it will likely encourage the OCB you seek, incentivize those motivated by external inputs, and not detract from those whose contributions are significant but less visible. And most importantly, if you are thinking you will help yourself to your 21 month old’s valentine candy and think she won’t mind a bit, think again! Those kiddos are socially savvy!
It was an inspiring day. There were presenations about why culture matters, suggestions on how to message culture across an organization, and even opportunities to bring forward the culture-related-challenges of our own organizations for feedback and insight from the attendees. And the attendees! A great combination of experienced business execs, relationship focused human resource managers, and a few organizational consultants made for impassioned and informed dialogue.
While there were several topics that warranted digging deeper, it wasn’t any of the presentations that have left me with a “aha” feeling. No, what has me doing that throughout the evening after the event is an exchange I witnessed as the conference was winding down. The day had been filled with moments of real leaders sharing experiences that had moved they or their organizations from middle of the road to break out. It was hard to sit in the audience and not ponder ways in which oneself or ones organization might be improved upon. At the end of the day a woman approached a table where I had been speaking briefly with two men who had participated in the program as speakers. She was radiant, presenting a mixture of pride and excitement along with some hesitation. After excusing herself she shared that she had been deeply inspired by the talks and that she was spending more and more time thinking about a dream she had been working to create for sometime. She started to share details of her idea, the ways in which this vision intersected several passions she had long held, thoughts she had to expand and extend the idea from a small launch to a comprehensive system of products and experiences. She had clearly already spent a great deal of time working towards making the idea a reality but she had not pursued it as a singular passion. She was sharing this with two people who had significant contacts and experience in some of the ventures she described.
The entire conference had been focused on social capital within organizations and ways we might leverage even single areas of commonality to deepen and intensify relationships. Here was a living opportunity to test what had been presented all day. When one of the speakers asked the woman if she wanted the opportunity to lead a new division within his company, spend her time fully devoted to the idea she was sharing, develop it and have equity stake in the results, what do you think happened? What would you do if someone offered you a chance to devote yourself full time to a dream you had nurtured for years? What if you had recently started a new “job”? Would that sway you in one direction or another?
The two speakers watched as the woman stepped back, continued her passionate description of her idea, and exchanged business cards. She had not actually introduced herself but was promising to send an email. Even though she was being invited on the spot to sit with a supportive VC she let the opportunity slip away. She completely missed the magic of the moment. And the two speakers, who had spent their days encouraging organizations to follow their passions and instincts and to create spaces for their employees to do the same, saw the vision slip away as well. Maybe she will follow up, maybe send a congratulatory email and thank them for their time. She might be the person that comes to mind for them in a month or so when an opportunity to combine social philanthropy intersects with her product idea. But chances are they won’t, because what will stay fresh in their minds is the way in which she missed the open door. Its hard to believe that someone who has spent years on a dream would miss the fairy godmother when she came knocking.
What lessons can I pull from her experience that might make a difference if a knock should happen in my life?
1)Say who you are and what you are about-She had the attention of her audience just by being genuine and sincere but she never said her own name so follow up would be hard to do!
2) Listen, listen, listen- Passion is infectious but if you are trying to connect with someone else around an idea you might want to actually hear what they have to say. It really might be encouraging rather than dismissive and you can’t assume you know what others think (she did a lot of this “I know, its crazy, but it is sooo much more than what I am saying”- Uh, no, actually they seem really receptive and interested, maybe you can let them speak now!).
3) Be present- Several times she was offered the chance to grab a quite corner and share her ideas, talk through ways she could make them real right now, and set up additional times for further discussion. For whatever reason she did not do this. Maybe it was another appointment, a call she needed to make, fear that she wasn’t being taken seriously, or fear that her idea was not going to be her own. Whatever the reason, she missed out on the gift that her presence in the present might have revealed. A theme of the day had been “may I serve” and the not-so-subtle example of Jesus Christ’s ministry resonated throughout the sessions. His followers were not inspired by him because he commanded a full days agenda or because he ran from one meeting or obligation to another. No, they were inspired by him because he was fully present to them and their needs when they needed it. His example is to take the person in front of you and be there with them, totally and completely. The woman at the conference could not believe that either of the speakers would be willing to do that for her, and she wasn’t willing to risk that to be present to them.
I would never say great things won’t come for the woman I met, and I can’t say that she made a wrong choice. I can say that if you want to realize your passions it won’t happen in isolation and that cultivating social capital takes risk and follow through. Speaking, listening, and doing the next best thing in this moment go a lot further than trying to make the plan perfect in your own mind before taking any action.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014