Why picky selection is even more important when pickins are slim

Duck, duck, goose: be careful with selection

We’ve been here before. In the late 90s the demand for technical talent was so great that organizations engaged in bidding wars simply to stay in business. Dubbed the War for Talent, management experts warned about the perils of relaxing standards for the selection of talent at such time as when organizations were in the most need. For most, it was too late.

Fierce negotiations and skyrocketing compensation packages were the talent-based equivalent of surging petrol prices during the great oil embargo of the 70s. For some, no amount of money could buy the talent so desperately needed. They were stuck with what they had - and what they didn’t.

Here we go again.

With unemployment rates at historic lows, organizations once again find themselves confronted by the fool’s choice: bad (or, expensive) talent or no talent? (Ironic, isn’t it, that the same organization that matches employees’ contributions to retirement plans and maintains a succession plan for top executives with two “ready” candidates, finds itself overspent and understaffed on talent?)

From a safe distance we can see the folly of hiring at a time of dire need, just like we can see the wisdom of contributing to a compounding savings fund for future financial needs. Nevertheless, the firestorm of desperation hiring burns the fuel for future growth. I see it all the time: buying at the peak of the market and selling at the first sign of a lull.

Regardless of how we got here, we must face reality. Hires must be made. Sticking with reality, that hire is going to cost you more, now that you need them, than they would’ve when you didn’t {seem to} need them so desperately. You have a choice, pay big bucks for some body or paying big bucks for the right body. The difference between the two hangs on the rigor of your hiring practice. Do you have the skill to assess talent well? Do you have the discipline to select only the well qualified?

Selection using proper psychological assessment is like pan-seared salmon; it’s both rare and well done.

Some will claim that I’m out of touch with what really happens on the streets of Poughkeepsie. After all, I am at that “safe distance” from the action. Don’t I know about fundamental economic principles of supply and demand? Don’t I understand the lunacy of forgoing business for lack of workers?

Actually, I do. And it’s still wrong to relax hiring practices or standards – especially when desperate for employees.

Desperation is a symptom, not the cause. When an organization finds itself desperate for employees, for any reason, whether surging sales or shrinking productivity, it’s the result of poor talent management and planning. The organization isn’t ready. And when an organization isn’t ready, it’s missing out on profits. Economics 101.

You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning.

But here’s why a bad hire in bad markets (sales or labor) is worse than the same hire in kinder markets. You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning. Moreover, the damage of retaining a bad hire can be seemingly apocalyptic.

Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out.

I’ve made my case for “front end” selection, but dealing with the “back end” of desperation hiring is worse. Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out. And it creates considerable collateral damage. A bad hire is lame at best; lethal at worst. And that doesn’t include the joys of their removal.

Two large-scale studies I did in an organization comprised of multi-unit restaurants revealed convergent results. The first found that 50% of all employees that quit did so due to their "brow beating, denigrating, micro-managing boss." {My words to approximate the emotional translation} Even if this number is inflated by sore quitters taking a free jab at their boss, it still dwarfs any other reason given for quitting, including pay and promotion opportunity. The second study found that using a validated personality test successfully predicted which new hire restaurant managers became high producers (i.e., greater sales) and better leaders (i.e., well run, low employee turnover).

But there is a limitation in my research. While the results suggest that good leaders get good results and have low team defection, the story may be more truthful centering on bad leaders that get bad results and have high team defection. Either way you look at it the results are in the same ballpark. It is possible that the bad managers pull the lion's share of the results of this study, thus lending stronger support to my argument against hiring questionable talent.

At the end of the day, you have a decision to make. It would be a mistake not to have good selection.

A good mood is better than being happy

Cheerleader jumping high in the air to raise crowd's mood

Whether you’re at work designing plastic wrap that never wrinkles or at home washing dishes after the family reunion, your mood matters. I’m not talking about the obvious pleasure of a “good mood.” Your mood is WAY more powerful, more than you think.*

You probably know this. “I’m not in the mood right now.” Sound familiar? Sure it does. But I bet you’ve never heard it at work. Telling your boss that you can’t send out that customer email because you’re “not in the mood,” wouldn’t go over very well, would it?

Maybe it should.

Inspiration is more important than direction.

Creating a positive mood for your employees actually WOULD make them “work smarter, not harder.”

Inspiration is more important than direction. But which do you think there’s more of in the average workplace? Which do you do more? (If you answer, “inspiration,” ask one of your co-workers to tell you the truth.)

Excitement (i.e., inspiration) is magic. It stimulates creativity. Individuals are more than twice as innovative when they receive a good report (vs. a bad report) prior to a test of creativity. It even makes people smarter. Another study showed that by inducing excitement prior to a difficult math test, scores increased 8%. (If that sounds trivial to you, I’ll be happy to manage your money.)

Home teams have an advantage in sports. Gaming apps sell more than productivity apps. Advertisements feature smiling models and red sports-cars on the open road. (Ever wonder why there’s NEVER any traffic? It makes you anxious.)

Work.

Just the word makes you sigh. Know why? Because work causes anxiety, “I’ve got no time…” and sacks excitement, “I get to do it again?”

Warning: The following content contains explicit language and adult content. (Now I know you’ll keep reading.)

Sex sells. Need I say more?

You can open your eyes now. No joke. Open your eyes to see why approximately 87% of employees are less than engaged. (If you’re reading this while you’re at work, count yourself among the 87/100.)

Work isn’t exciting – at least not for 87% of all workers surveyed by Gallup. As a result, the biggest waste in any organization is what people don’t do that they could.

If excitement is magic, fear is poison.

Want to see someone work hard but get nothing done? (No, but I’m making a point here.) Make them scared. A study showed that by inducing fear, activity that was once fun and frequent, stops.

Fear, stress, anxiety, burnout, frustration, etc. They’re all bad and all related to lost productivity, a lack of creativity, unethical behavior and even physiological health.

Once again, you probably aren’t surprised.

So why do you over-instruct, or worse, take over when someone isn’t doing their job perfectly? (i.e., micro-manage) Why do you keep others working even when they’re on vacation? (“Smart” phones? Give me a break — literally.) These well-intended, but imposing behaviors are so prevalent they’re probably an instinct. (BTW: Telling someone to “calm down” actually makes them MORE anxious.)

If excitement is magic, fear is poison. It stifles good behavior, stimulates bad behavior and absolutely crushes creativity to dust.

Piling on the facts, the flames of fear can be lit in an instant but can take forever to put out.

In summary:

  1. Excitement improves productivity, intellect and innovation.
  2. Fear extinguishes productivity, intellect and innovation.
  3. The benefit/detriment of excitement vs. fear WILL transform an organization.

Key question:

What do you do to stimulate people’s excitement at work?

If you don’t see this as your job, it very well could mean your job. (Hope I didn’t scare you.)

  • In a related post, I describe a simple task to create positive moods.

“Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”?

"Where is the love?"

Do “Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”? This is a VERY popular question around the world with nearly as many “answers” as your “know it all” colleague. It’s a topic I’ve addressed before; the way things are going, I’ll address it again.

What’s up?

Sometimes a question is more revealing than its answer. This is one of those times.

So, rather than rushing to answer the question, I want to address it first. Specifically, I take up the question based solely on my experience in industrial/organizational psychology.

Two factors tell of its significance and a third factor implies its specific relevance to me:

It’s frequency. This may be the most frequent question I get in my work. It didn’t used to be, but lately it’s been coming up more and more, usually in group engagements.

The context. Factory floors, delivery trucks, board rooms, basically any place where people perform work is where my work is done. Do these seem like the kind of places folks would bring up a question about romantic relationships? Not to me; at least not initially.

The rise of personality. When I started in my profession, personality was just beginning to re-emerge as a credible concept after a 40 year moratorium. Today, personality is everywhere. And it’s a very large part of what I do every day. When I address a group on the topic of character assessment, I know I will get this question regarding personality’s influence in romantic relationships.

Still, I NEVER bring up the topic with my clients (who aren’t asking for romantic advice). Regardless of the connection to personality, the question seems out of place to my primary job – or at least it used to.

Why me?

Here’s why I suppose I get this question:

  1. Character (personality) counts at work.
  2. Character counts in romantic relationships.
  3. Matters that count (i.e., character) persist and influence behavior across contexts (e.g., work/non-work). Furthermore, character is my expertise. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that I become a human lightning rod for this question when talking “personality”.

Now to provide support for my logic.

Continue reading ““Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”?”

7 ways to protect your job from technology

Robotic claw grabbing businessman

The machines are coming (oh my!). But what’s new? Machines have been coming since the invention of the wheel. Over time, machines have changed the way work is done, frequently allowing fewer people to do more, or, taking “share of labor”. For the most part, the emergence of machines, and technology in general, has been incremental. It’s also focused on the most routine and arduous jobs for now. So, workers have had time to adopt new skills to stay ahead of the changing workforce demands. But the pace of machine evolution has been accelerating at a compounding rate and workers are more than beginning to get scared. Here I present seven evidence-backed ways to protect your job from technology.

Technological innovation has been changing in at least three ways:

  1. Rate: Despite misuse and interpretation, Moore’s law does model the increasing rate of change in computer capacity. Moore predicted that the technology underpinning the processing speed of computers would double every 18 months. Illustrations abound depicting his predictions of accelerated change.
Moore's law diagram
Moore’s Law – Logarithmic Plot
  1. Volatility: Disruptions, or rapid and radical developments in technology, have become more common. In essence, new technology can “go viral”, infusing and dispersing itself with surprising speed and impact. Digital cameras took film quite quickly.
  1. Magnitude: When globalization hit the scene, entire components of our workforce went away (pun intended). Call centers made the early moves with manufacturing and programing soon to follow.

Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

The Perfect Storm

Three aspects of change unnerve people:

  1. Rate – As speed increases, accuracy decreases. If you want to really “excite” someone at work, pull out a stopwatch.
  1. Volatility – People do NOT like unpredictability, and that’s what disruptions create. Note the fate of network TV when digital cable came along. What happens when a new “system” is suddenly turned on in an organization? Better have a contingency plan.
  1. Magnitude – The bigger the change, the lower the likelihood that folks can, or will, adapt. Outsourcing and globalization did not really change jobs, it gave them to someone else. This has attracted the biggest reaction so far.

Note the pattern: Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

Control and Trust are Crucial

These are the cornerstones of psychological health. When it comes right down to it, the most basic question we face has two answers: “I’m okay” and “I’m not okay”. Control and trust determine the answer for any situation. If you have neither, run! Most times you will have one or both.

So, what can you do to “weather the technological storm?” In short,

Focus on what you can control.

Here I list seven ways that you can protect your job from technology. As I write, I realize, though, that these steps are really more about protecting yourself from technology more so than your job. Either way, I hope at least one suggestion gives you an actionable idea.

  1. Seek to understand and predict where technology is going in your work. The better you can do this, the more time you have to ‘get ready’ for the change. Levy and Murnane (2004) devised a simple matrix to answer the question: “What tasks do machines do better than people?”
Protect your job from technology: Levy and Murnane's matrix showing routine vs. non-routine and manual vs. cognitive quadrants
Levy & Murnane (2004) Matrix of Automation

A) Routine jobs are easiest for machines and the first at risk:

i.  Manual routine jobs like stamping “received” on a brief are at high risk.

ii. Cognitive routine jobs like proofreading also are at high risk.

B) Non-routine jobs are more challenging for machines:

i.  Manual non-routine jobs like stocking groceries are at less risk.

ii. Cognitive non-routine jobs like writing novels are at the least risk.

Consider your job from this framework. Be prepared to move up (toward cognitive skills like solving problems) and/or right (toward non-routine skills like repairing machines).

… the likelihood {is} that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it

  1. Understand what’s really happening or likely to happen as technology enters your work.

A) Is my job being replaced by a machine, or complemented with one? Most researchers and experience point to the likelihood that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it (at least not as a first ‘move’). Learn how to work with the new technology and show that you like it. (Remember, someone with more authority than you probably brought it in).

B) If you’re highly skilled, you’re likely to be first in demand when new technology arrives. Your knowledge and expertise will be used to coach and train others. But this won’t last forever. Keep your eye out for new challenges.

C) If you’re less skilled, you will be more valuable after the technology has been around long enough for the trainers to move on. Keep the faith.

  1. If you lead others, communicate frequently about when and how technology will be used; position the resources necessary to educate and train the workforce to succeed.

A) You have control to build and support capability in the workforce.

B) How you communicate and address concerns will raise the level of trust.

  1. If you hire people, pay attention to their expertise and ability to deal with change.

A) Flexibility will be vital for all in order to adapt to our changing world.

B) Experts will be necessary to lead and embed technology changes.

  1. Consider the following job families, scientifically predicted as “least likely to be automated in the next 20 years” (Frey and Osborne, 2013). Even if you’re well into your career, there’s a good chance you can better secure your job by improving your social intelligence. (Robots aren’t good at jobs that depend on people skills – especially those requiring social intelligence).
Protect your job from technology: Frey and Osborne's table depicting bottlenecks to automation
Frey and Osborne (2013) – Bottlenecks to Automation
  1. Craft your work. As machines, or those who use them, eat their way into the social, political, educational and financial world, we consumers can exercise choice in our purchasing power. Just like some now are willing to pay a premium for products made in the USA, in the future the same will happen for “Made by hand” (and not just cigars). Seek to incorporate your personal brand in your work. The more labor-of-love, “crafted” works will stand out from the machine made stuff like the old, unvarnished desk does from the one finely polished on “Antiques Road Show”.
  1. Be nice to people. Research is clear that being liked at work (specifically, by your boss) results in better reviews (Longenecker, 1986). (If this sounds political, it is; but the same research also reveals a positive relationship between being liked and being good – seems to fit). Robots may be able to say “please” and “thank you”, and even do the job better, technically speaking. But they’ll never gain the authentic trust that you as a person uniquely can. Even as babies, we’re able to distinguish the most subtle facial expressions. Smile with your heart.

Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear.

Yes, machines and robots and artificial intelligence are coming. Worrying won’t get you anywhere. Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear. If you continue to expand and sharpen your skills, particularly those specified, above, you can relax — for a while!

My hope is that this article allays some of the ‘doomsday’ concerns raised by fear mongering media under the title: “Will a Machine take my Job?”

Psychology by Machine? Not for a While.

Psychology button on computer where "Enter" key should be

Technology can fly planes, drive cars; heck, virtually perform remote surgery (pun, not intended). Some believe that literally all jobs will eventually be performed by technology. For them, if a “machine” isn’t already doing it, just wait. (Note: This is an extreme view).

Technology is changing the world faster than ever. If you agree with Moore’s law, it will only continue to increase its impact even faster over time.

Will technology take my job?

Probably so. But don’t quit yet! If you’ve been around a few years, like I have, it’s likely that technology has already “taken” all or much of the job you had 10 years ago. You’ve simply changed to stay in front of the technological evolution.

What does science say?

A recent study looked at the rise of technology in relation to the probability of it overtaking more than 700 jobs catalogued in O*Net, a public database of jobs and the various knowledge, skills and abilities required for their performance. The researchers (Frye and Osborne, 2013) reasoned that the probability of technology overtaking a given job is closely related to the time it will take for this to occur. As such, they created a list rank ordering the probability that these 700 jobs will be overtaken by technology in 20 years.

The study is now a few years old, but seems to have already made some accurate predictions. For example, you’ve probably received a “robocall”, a task once was performed by a person.

The crux of the study is in the researchers’ identification of three key job characteristics they refer to as “bottlenecks to computerization.” The degree to which a job encompasses one or more of these “bottlenecks” predicts the probability (and time) required for technology to be able to perform that job. These three bottlenecks include: 1) Fine Perception and Manipulation, 2) Creative Intelligence and 3) Social Intelligence.

The three bottlenecks were further broken down into seven more discreet tasks. Of these seven tasks, Social Intelligence encompasses a majority of four.

The practical implication is that if your job requires you to “read” people or influence them, particularly in emotional ways, you’re likely safe from seeing a robot at your desk one morning anytime soon.

Specifically, the study predicts that social workers, therapists and teachers should have relatively long careers as far as “automation threat” is concerned. Psychologist, is also in the top 20 of the 700 jobs ranked according to the difficulty of automation.

Although this research is new, the issue isn’t. Psychological assessment has long been a topic of technological debate: Can a personality assessment alone more accurately predict behavior than an expert in psychological assessment?

Continue reading “Psychology by Machine? Not for a While.”

Throw for the Catch

Receiver making a catch

It’s fourth and goal.

Time for one play to determine the winner of the game. You drop back to pass. One receiver’s wide open. You throw a “frozen rope” spiral — right on target. You hit the receiver so hard in the chest that there’s no way they don’t make the catch.

But they don’t. And you lose. (More than the game).

You race to the “would be” receiver, now crying and laying on the ground. “What’s wrong?!” you ask, amazed that the catch wasn’t made.

“You fwew it too hawd”, your 2-year old (nearly 3) whimpers.

How would this make you feel? Good play?

So, why? WHY, do we insist on presenting, solving, doing things our way when success so clearly depends on more than just you?

Continue reading “Throw for the Catch”

How psychology affects you

Psychways | Psychology affects you (and all animals)

We are social animals living in a psychological world.

This simple reality has enormous consequences for everyone, everywhere. Here I explain two really big ways regarding how psychology affects you.

Implications of being Social:

Human beings are not only social, but the MOST social of all animals. As such, and just like all social animals, we need to relate to others for two purposes:

  • To get along
  • To get ahead

{There is a third reason, but I am committed to maintaining a PG-13 rating for these posts.}

Sometimes the implications of these social needs are clear. For example, teams – whether in the workplace or on the sports field – understand that the team members need to get along with each other in order to get ahead of (or beat) the competition.

But it isn’t always this clear or simple. Inevitably, even within a team, there is competition among members to establish rank or get ahead.

A lot of what I do in the workplace is to work with individuals and teams so that they better manage the sometimes difficult choice regarding when to agree, and get along, versus when to take action to get ahead. One bad call here can really set you back.

Implications of a Psychological World:

The second reality of our being is that we live in a psychological world. Everything we know is the product of our psychological processes (i.e. sensation, perception, reasoning, emotion). The real interesting fact (at least to me), is that our psychological processes aren’t perfect. We don’t know exactly what the “real world” is like.

This isn’t a complicated metaphysical issue. The fact that our senses are imperfect can readily be illustrated by the fact that two or more people do not experience the same ‘thing’ the same way. Regardless of right or wrong, there’s something going on via our psychological processes that results in these differences like the one so publicly debated regarding the “beige dress, blue dress” photo. See for yourself.

For better or worse, our human perception system is not perfectly reliable. What we see may not be what we get, but it definitely is what we make of it.

This is another frequent reason I am asked to help out in work environments. No, not to sort out whether a dress is blue or beige, but to deal with the fact that differences in perception, attitude and ultimately behavior can cause real problems. How often do we hear another public figure explaining, “that isn’t what I meant”? One thing is said or done and many different interpretations arise. On a lighter note, sometimes individuals become so engrossed in debate that they actually wind up disagreeing in style/tone, but agreeing in content/fact. This is where the term, “violent agreement” gets its meaning.

Two x Two equals Anything:

The fact that we are social animals, driven by needs to be with and/or dominate others, combined with the fact that our perception systems are unreliable, results in a very complex world at work – or anywhere.

Just these two factors could keep me busy till I “hang my hat.” The potential results that arise from different, sometimes opposing social motives combined with imperfect processing systems are innumerable. I’ve shared just a couple examples here to illustrate the pervasive and extraordinary power of psychology at work.

This, and other posts in my blog (esp. What is bias?, How about a little science with that intuition?), are dedicated to exploring the real and powerful impact of psychology at work, and also at play (non work). The intent is to help readers become more aware of the ever-present, psychology-based issues in all of our worlds and to offer advise on how to handle them.

 

Ready or Prepared? Which would you rather be?

This may sound like another corny, semantically twisted question. It’s not and I’ll show you why.

Before I do this, I need to justify the legitimacy of even posing this seemingly convoluted question.

The Power of Choice

Team building games aside, most people really do think ‘within the box’. Traditional education systems and work environments offer more frequent and obvious rewards to folks who solve problems as presented, rather than in a completely unrelated way. By this I mean that most tend to address open issues (note, “open”) with convergent problem solving skills so as to “close” the issue. We work within the information given/available to converge on the correct answer.

This fact is why people, when given a choice between a closed set of options, will almost always pick one. It’s the customary and obvious thing to do. Work with what you have, multiple choice, “I get it”. Sure, we all do.

When I pose the question, “Would you rather be ready, or prepared?”, most of the time people really do choose one or the other – corny as the question may sound.

Sidebar: If you’re a little bit devilish, you can test the power of {closed} choice yourself. On Halloween, offer one goblin, your “subject”, one of two unsavory options, e.g., a carrot or a stick of celery. With 90% certainty, I can guarantee the poor goblin will choose between the two. (Before their escort invites their self into your home, grab the candy bowl).

That’s what we do. We choose from what’s offered.

But there’s more….

Continue reading “Ready or Prepared? Which would you rather be?”

Psychology at Work: Who cares?

Psychology Tips for Work

We are social animals in a psychological world.

This is true — even if you know someone who is more than a little introverted, or think that psychology is only for crazy people. This simple fact is at the crux of just about all, if not everything, we do. From teamwork and individual advancement to differences in judgment, we all are influenced by both of these realities every day, every where.

Psychology.  As Descartes put it so clearly, Cogito ergo sum (translation: “I think, therefore I am”). We are a thinking being — and more. That’s why psychology types use the word “cognition” so much.  The point is if you’re reading this, ‘cogs’ are turning in your head and you’re using, and even beholden to, the ‘stuff’ of psychology.

Social Animals.  We all depend on, appreciate, or want to be with someone — even if it’s to start a fight. Absent people, you’re literally – and figuratively – casting a mere shadow of yourself. If you think you might be a vegetable, this post’s not for you.

Bottom line: Anyone who’s dealt with a few children will agree, people are animals. (And no, we don’t grow out of it).

Even if you agree that the first line of this post is true, you may still puff, “Who cares?”

You, especially, should.

The ability to manage these truths could be the difference between believing (deliberate use versus “being”) ‘wrong’ or ‘right,’ success or failure, and even life or death.

Continue reading “Psychology at Work: Who cares?”

When Psychology Talks, Money Listens

Today global HR and risk management consulting firm, Towers Watson, announced the purchase of Saville Consulting (a psychology-based assessment firm) for £42 million. This is clearly a justification that psychology makes money — and not just at wholesale.

In the wake of similar acquisitions, firms delivering good psychometric assessment at work have now been just about totally gobbled up by the much larger HR conglomerates.

Read about it here.

It didn’t used to be this way. Continue reading “When Psychology Talks, Money Listens”