Chaos to calm: Building a mindful workplace

Posted January 27th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Despite our increased understanding of human psychology and brain functions, workplace problems associated with employee productivity, engagement, mental health and good leadership are persistent. The fast pace of technological change has been shown to have detrimental effects on people’s ability to concentrate and focus. With decreased attention spans and a lack of focus comes anxiety and stress and for many, a feeling of overwhelm at work and in their personal lives.

Initiatives to introduce mindfulness into the workplace, holds a promise for a cost effective way to improve employee productivity and well-being, while reducing health care costs, most of which are stress related. In my work with CEOs, senior executives, business owners and professionals, mindfulness is a key part of their leadership training and coaching experience. And the results have been significant.

Mindfulness meditation has successfully been used to treat patients with a variety of physical ailments and diseases including chronic pain, stress reduction, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and anxiety. Studies have demonstrated that mindfulness mediation dampens the activity of the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, anger and the “fight or flight” response, while strengthening and developing those parts of the brain associated with attention, focus, cognition, emotional self-regulation, memory and empathy.

What constitutes mindfulness training? A key cornerstone is the practice of mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. In addition, effective mindfulness training includes strategies of thinking, emotional responses and behavioral tendencies that increase the individual’s capacities for non-judgment, acceptance, compassion, emotional control, self-awareness and self-management.

Many companies such as Raytheon, Proctor and Gamble, Google, eBay, Apple, General Mills, the U.S. Military and scores of others have implemented mindfulness meditation programs for employees and the participants have reported a positive change in work capacity, stress management, relationships, reduced absenteeism and reduced health costs.

What about mindfulness training’s application to leadership?

Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more, do more, better, faster, with spectacular results. Most leadership development programs focus on how to become better at time management, goal setting, performance measures, team schedules and complex systems. All these efforts have been shown to result in incremental success at best. That’s because they are all external strategies to address the issues that are essentially internal.

The demands of leadership can produce what is known as “power stress,” which often leaves even the best leaders physically and emotionally drained. Leaders can easily find themselves moving from an “approach” orientation, where they are emotionally open, engaged and innovative, to one of “avoidance” characterized by aversion, irritability, aggression, fear and close-mindedness.

The point here is simple. Work and personal lives that build greater, resilience, well-being, success, fulfillment and happiness are not constructed from grandiose theories or plans, but through mastering internal capacity—self-awareness, self-management, constructing meaning and becoming more mindful.

Daniel Goleman, author of Primal Leadership, and Richard Boyatzis and Ann McKee, authors of Resonant Leadership, argue that the first tasks of management have nothing to do with leading others, but in knowing deeply and managing oneself, which requires time for quiet reflection. Michael Carroll, author of The Mindful Leader, contends that being more mindful will help leaders heal toxic workplaces and reduce stress; be more resilient through difficult times and lead with wisdom and gentleness, rather than through ego and aggression.

There is no question that current times call for a new kind of leader, one who is a master of self rather than a controller of others; and it calls for a workplace where employees mindfully go about their work under less stress with greater productivity. Mindfulness can be a powerful force to accomplish both these ends.

The End of Management As We Have Known It?

Posted January 19th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Our recent economic problems going back to at least 2008 and some would argue, much further than that, have often been attributed to external events such as the market place, globalization or the rise of other economies. Few have suggested it may be the problem of competent management and even that management, as we have known it, may be obsolete.

Steve Denning, author of A Leader’s Guide To Radical Management, writing in Forbes, points out that “something has gone terribly wrong with the U.S. private sector—the supposed engine of economic growth…when the best firms have rates of return on assets or invested capital of on average just over one per cent, we have a management catastrophe on our hands.”

A study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge shows that the effectiveness of management in organizations has been steadily falling for the last 50 years. Denning cites data that shows the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 is now less than 15 years and rapidly declining. He also cites data from the Kaufmann Foundation which indicates between 1980-2005, firms older than 5 years created net zero jobs in the U.S.

Denning argues that the economy and world of business today, with the advent of globalization, the Internet, and social media has changed everything, and the result on management-driven hierarchical bureaucracies is devastating. “Now the power in the marketplace has shifted from seller to buyer,” Denning contends, “And in this new ecosystem, big lumbering bureaucracies of the 20th century are not agile enough to compete.”  And yet, management consultants, business schools and governments still don’t get it, Denning says, although a new generation of managers have realized a paradigm shift.

What is the paradigm shift? “It’s really a change in an ecosystem,” from a hierarchical bureaucracy that is internally focused on production outputs to an ecosystem that is agile, flexible and externally focused on clients, Denning argues. It’s also a change “from a world in which workers and customers are manipulated as things to a world in which workers and customers are interacted with as human beings.”  It’s a shift from a boss/manager centric world to a customer-centered world. Management guru Gary Hamel says, “Management is out of date, like the combustion engine, a technology that has stopped evolving.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong, writing in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, argue that research shows business schools are not influential on management practices in organizations. Harold Leavitt, writing in the California Management Review, says cryptically of business schools that they produce “critters with lopsided brains, icy hearts and shrunken souls.” Rakesh Khurana, Nitin Nohria and Daniel Penrice, writing in the Harvard Business Review, point out that other professionals have criteria that define it as a profession, notably a common body of knowledge, a system for certifying individuals before they can practice, and a commitment to use knowledge for the public good, and a code of ethics. The field of management has none of these characteristics and therefore cannot justifiably be called a profession.

Thomas Hout, writing in the Harvard Business Review, argues that if management is so good at predicting outcomes through analytical and scientific methods why have so few public companies performed well? “Companies that are managed the traditional way—by executives developing analytically-driven strategy and shaping the organization to meet the needs of the business as they see them—are obsolete. Management as we have know it, is too cumbersome.” Hout cites the work of Howard Sherman and Ron Schultz at the Santa Fe Center for Emergent Studies, who contend that business today moves in a nonlinear fashion, with no continuity in the flow of events, and no way to predict which products or services will succeed. Sherman and Schultz argue, in their book, Open Boundaries, business structures should be self-organized to be successful, which means managers allow employees to organize as needed, based on customer needs. This conclusion places the role of the manager in a very different light.

Mitch MCrimmon, writing in the Ivey Business School Journal, argues “in many organizations, employees know more about their work than their managers. This reality should force organizations that still cling to the old top-down style of managing to recognize that many employees today are very capable of managing themselves.” He contends management should be seen as a process, one in which everyone can engage, rather than a role. McCrimmon contends a critical area of focus in today’s organization, employee engagement “cannot become a reality until we move beyond our industrial-age definition of a manager.”

So what, if anything, should we retain as the management function? McCrimmon suggests managers in modern organizations should act more like investors, customers, coaches and partners, and abandon the outmoded directing and controlling functions. This would require recruiting people as managers with very different skills, particularly soft skills.

In my article in Psychology Today in 2010, I wrote, “In today’s world, rapid globalization, innovation, competition and fluid economies have been creative, destructive forces dismantling many of the structures associated with 100 years of corporate bureaucracies. Suddenly, scores of old established institutions disappeared, while new ones such as Google and Facebook appear overnight, with very different organizational structures. Some futurists, such as Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, authors of Wikinomics, go as far as to say that corporate hierarchies will disappear as individuals are empowered to work together in creating a new era of mass collaboration–in a new Renaissance.”

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray says that strategies for running large corporations, pioneered by men like Alfred Sloan of General Motors and popularized by scores of elite business schools, helped to fuel a century of unprecedented global prosperity. Murray suggests that management as an innovation won’t survive the 21st century.

An even bigger challenge that faces organizations is creating workplaces that motivate and inspire workers. Survey after survey show that most workers in complex and large organizations are not engaged in their work. The new kind of workplace, Murray argues, has to instill in workers the same kind of drive, creativity and innovation spirit seen in entrepreneurs, which may explain why an increasing number of Generation Y are becoming entrepreneurs.

So does that mean we need to abolish management structures and replace them with ad-hoc  teams of peers who come together to accomplish specific work and then disband? The concept of a learning organization and knowledge management may have to be re-examined as well. Traditional bureaucratic organizations focus on not sharing information, which is used as a source of power by managers. New mechanisms for sharing the “wisdom of crowds,” or as the Japanese call it, “ba,” may have to be part of rethinking management.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University argues that defining the job of managers, as a profession, has no parallel to other professions. Most other professions are trained to put their client’s interests ahead of their own. In contrast, Sutton argues the most effective managers take as much money as they can for themselves from their clients. Sutton suggests that managers would be well served to embrace the Buddhist philosophy of “do no harm.”

It may be an ideal time to re-examine the purpose and structure of management for organizations, one that better suits the times and needs of modern organizations and their customers and employees.

Want to Ace That Interview? Make Sure Your Strongest Competition Is Interviewed On a Different Day

Posted January 19th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Whether an applicant receives a high or low score may have more to do with who else was interviewed that day than the overall strength of the applicant pool, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Drawing on previous research on the gambler fallacy, Uri Simonsohn of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School hypothesized that admissions interviewers would have a difficult time seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of evaluating applicants in relation to all of the applicants who had been or would be interviewed, interviewers would only consider them in the frame of applicants interviewed on that day. This phenomenon is often referred to as “narrow bracketing.”

 Much like gamblers bet on red after the wheel stops at black four times in a row, an interviewer bets on “bad” after she interviews four “goods” in a row; the difference in this case is that the interviewer controls the wheel.

If the interviewer expected that half of the whole pool would be recommended, she would avoid recommending more than half of the applicants she interviewed in a given day.

Simonsohn and Gino analyzed ten years of data from over 9000 MBA interviews to test their hypothesis.

As predicted, interviews earlier in the day had a negative impact on the assessments for the interviews that followed — if the interviewer had already given several high scores, the next score was likely to be lower. This held true even after various applicant characteristics and interview characteristics were taken into account.

As the average score for previous applicants increased by .75 (on a 1-5 scale), the predicted score for the next applicant dropped by about .075. This drop may seem small, but the effect is meaningful. An applicant would need about 30 more points on the GMAT, 23 more months of experience, or .23 more points in the assessment of the written application to make up for the drop. And the impact of previous scores grew stronger as the interviewer progressed through the day.

“People are averse to judging too many applicants high or low on a single day, which creates a bias against people who happen to show up on days with especially strong applicants,” Simonsohn and Gino observe.

Interestingly, they found that the effect was twice as large when a rating followed a set of identical scores (e.g., 4, 4, 4), compared to a set of varied scores (e.g., 4, 3, 5) with the same average.

Simonsohn and Gino were surprised by the overall strength of their findings. “We were able to document this error with experts who have been doing the job for years, day in and day out.”

They point out that these findings are relevant to many different kinds of judgments, from evaluating job candidates to approving loan applications, even choosing contestants trying out for a reality show. And because many jobs in real life involve making these subsets of judgments, the error could be more pervasive than we realize.

So, if you want to get that job, or that loan, or make it onto that reality show, you might want to make sure the strongest contenders stay home that day.

Do the color of eyes determine who you trust?

Posted January 14th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

People view brown-eyed faces as more trustworthy than those with blue eyes, except if the blue eyes belong to a broad-faced man, according to new research.

The study was published Jan. 9 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Karel Kleisner and colleagues from Charles University in the Czech Republic.

The study’s results attempt to answer a larger question: What makes us think a person’s face looks trustworthy? The authors asked study participants to rate male and female faces for trustworthiness based on two features: eye color and face shape. A significant number of participants found brown-eyed faces more trustworthy than blue-eyed, whether the faces were male or female. More rounded male faces, with bigger mouths and larger chins, were perceived as more trustworthy than narrow ones, but the shape of a female face did not have much effect on how trustworthy it appeared to the respondents.

To test which of the two features were more important, the researchers tried a third test, presenting participants with photographs of male faces that were identical except for one difference: eye color. Here, they found that both eye colors were considered equally trustworthy.

According to the study, “We concluded that although the brown-eyed faces were perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones, it was not brown eye color per se that caused the stronger perception of trustworthiness but rather the facial features associated with brown eyes.”

Journal Reference:

Karel Kleisner, Lenka Priplatova, Peter Frost, Jaroslav Flegr. Trustworthy-Looking Face Meets Brown EyesPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e53285 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053285

Employers often more interested in hiring potential friends than best candidates

Posted January 9th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

 Employers are often more focused on hiring someone they would like to hang out with than they are on finding the person who can best do the job, suggests a study in the December issue of the American Sociological Review.

 “Of course, employers are looking for people who have the baseline of skills to effectively do the job,” said study author Lauren A. Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations and sociology at Northwestern University. “But, beyond that, employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partner. As a result, employers don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates.”

Titled, “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” the study is based on 120 interviews with professionals involved in undergraduate and graduate hiring in elite U.S. investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms as well as participant observation of a recruiting department. Rivera conducted the interviews — 40 per industry — from 2006 through 2008 and the fieldwork within the recruiting department of an elite professional service firm over nine months in 2006 and 2007.

According to the study, which Rivera said is the first systematic, empirical investigation of whether shared culture between employers and job candidates matters in hiring, evaluators at firms often valued their personal feelings of comfort, validation, and excitement over indentifying candidates with superior cognitive or technical skills. In fact, more than half of the evaluators in the study ranked cultural fit — the perceived similarity to a firm’s existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background, and self-presentation — as the most important criterion at the job interview stage.

“It is important to note that this does not mean employers are hiring unqualified people,” Rivera said. “But, my findings demonstrate that — in many respects — employers hire in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners than how one might expect employers to select new workers. When you look at the decision to date or marry someone what you think about is commonalities. Do you have a similar level of education? Did you go to a similar caliber school? Do you enjoy similar activities? Are you excited to talk to each other? Do you feel the spark? These types of things are salient at least to the employers I’ve studied.”

The study also found that the cultural similarities valued at elite professional service firms have important socioeconomic dimensions. “Evaluators are predominately white, Ivy League-educated, upper-middle or upper class men and women who tend to have more stereotypically masculine leisure pursuits and favor extracurricular activities associated with people of their background,” Rivera said. “Given that less affluent students are more likely to believe that achievement in the classroom rather than on the field or in the concert hall matters most for future success and focus their energies accordingly, the types of cultural similarities valued in elite firms’ hiring processes has the potential to create inequalities in access to elite jobs based on parental socioeconomic status.”

As for whether her findings about the importance of cultural fit in hiring practices at elite professional service firms are generalizable across other types of occupations, Rivera said they likely are to some extent. “I think that the process is generalizable, but I think the degree to which cultural similarity matters in the decision to hire varies across occupations depending on their technical demands, their degree of social demands, and how structured interviews are,” Rivera said. “So, for example, if you were hiring a neurosurgeon, I think there would be more of an emphasis on performance than cultural fit.”

In addition, Rivera said the types of cultural similarities employers value may not be the same for all occupations. “Cultivating leisure time is a hallmark of the upper-middle and upper classes, and it’s really important as a class marker and as a source of identity,” she said. “You may see different types of cultural similarities that matter in occupations that are less elite.”

L. A. Rivera. Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service FirmsAmerican Sociological Review, 2012; 77 (6): 999 DOI:10.1177/0003122412463213

Can money buy happiness? New world-wide study

Posted January 9th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Can money buy happiness?

A worldwide survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries included questions about happiness and income, and the results reveal that while life satisfaction usually rises with income, positive feelings don’t necessarily follow, researchers report.

The findings, from an analysis of data gathered in the first Gallup World Poll, appear this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“The public always wonders: Does money make you happy?” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. “This study shows that it all depends on how you define happiness, because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness,” he said. “On the other hand it’s pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.”

The Gallup World Poll conducted surveys on a wide range of subjects in a representative sample of people from 132 countries from 2005 to 2006. The poll used telephone surveys in more affluent areas, and door-to-door interviews in rural or less-developed regions.

The countries surveyed represent about 96 percent of the world’s population, the researchers report, and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe.

This “first representative sample of planet earth,” the authors wrote, “was used to explore the reasons why ‘happiness’ is associated with higher income.” The researchers were able to look at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living, whether their basic needs for food and shelter were met, what kinds of conveniences they owned and whether they felt their psychological needs were satisfied.

The surveys included a global life evaluation, which asked respondents to rate their lives on a scale that ranged from zero (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life). Participants also answered questions about positive or negative emotions experienced the previous day. And the poll asked respondents whether they felt respected, whether they had family and friends they could count on in an emergency, and how free they felt to choose their daily activities, learn new things or do “what one does best.”

Like previous studies, the new analysis found that life evaluation, or life satisfaction, rises with personal and national income. But positive feelings, which also increase somewhat as income rises, are much more strongly associated with other factors, such as feeling respected, having autonomy and social support, and working at a fulfilling job.

This is the first “happiness” study of the world to differentiate between life satisfaction, the philosophical belief that your life is going well, and the day-to-day positive or negative feelings that one experiences, Diener said.

“Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” he said. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life.”

Weiting Ng, of the Singapore Institute of Management; and James Harter and Raksha Arora, of The Gallup Organization, were co-authors on the study with Diener.

Source:Ed Diener, Weiting Ng, James Harter, Raksha Arora.Wealth and happiness across the world: Material prosperity predicts life evaluation, whereas psychosocial prosperity predicts positive feeling..Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 99 (1): 52 DOI: 10.1037/a0018066

Under Pressure: The Impact Of Stress On Decision Making

Posted January 2nd, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We are faced with making decisions all the time. Often, we carefully deliberate the pros and cons of our choices, taking into consideration past experiences in similar situations before making a final decision. However, a new study suggests that cognitive stress, such as distraction, can influence this balanced, logical approach to decision making.

Psychologists Jane Raymond and Jennifer L. O’Brien of Bangor University in the United Kingdom wanted to investigate how cognitive stress affects rational decision making. In this study, participants played a simple gambling game in which they earned money by deciding between stimuli — in this case, two pictures of different faces. Once their selection was made, it was immediately clear if they had won, lost, or broken even. Each face was always associated with the same outcome throughout this task. In the next stage of the experiment, the volunteers were shown each face individually and had to indicate whether they had seen those faces before. Sometimes volunteers were distracted during this task while other times they were not.

The results, reported in the current issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that distractions significantly impact decision making. When volunteers were not distracted, they tended to excel at recognizing faces that had been highly predictive of either winning or losing outcomes. However, when they were distracted, they only recognized faces that had been associated with winning.

The authors note that when we are stressed and need to make a decision, we are “more likely to bear in mind things that have been rewarding and to overlook information predicting negative outcomes.” In other words, these findings indicate that irrational biases, which favor previous rewards, may guide our behavior during times of stress.

Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept, and Corrupt Systems?

Posted January 2nd, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Why do we stick up for a system or institution we live in — a government, company, or marriage — even when anyone else can see it is failing miserably? Why do we resist change even when the system is corrupt or unjust? A new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, illuminates the conditions under which we’re motivated to defend the status quo — a process called “system justification.”

System justification isn’t the same as acquiescence, explains Aaron C. Kay, a psychologist at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who co-authored the paper with University of Waterloo graduate student Justin Friesen. “It’s pro-active. When someone comes to justify the status quo, they also come to see it as what should be.”

Reviewing laboratory and cross-national studies, the paper illuminates four situations that foster system justification: system threat, system dependence, system inescapability, and low personal control.

When we’re threatened we defend ourselves — and our systems. Before 9/11, for instance, President George W. Bush was sinking in the polls. But as soon as the planes hit the World Trade Center, the president’s approval ratings soared. So did support for Congress and the police. During Hurricane Katrina, America witnessed FEMA’s spectacular failure to rescue the hurricane’s victims. Yet many people blamed those victims for their fate rather than admitting the agency flunked and supporting ideas for fixing it. In times of crisis, say the authors, we want to believe the system works.

We also defend systems we rely on. In one experiment, students made to feel dependent on their university defended a school funding policy — but disapproved of the same policy if it came from the government, which they didn’t perceive as affecting them closely. However, if they felt dependent on the government, they liked the policy originating from it, but not from the school.

When we feel we can’t escape a system, we adapt. That includes feeling okay about things we might otherwise consider undesirable. The authors note one study in which participants were told that men’s salaries in their country are 20% higher than women’s. Rather than implicate an unfair system, those who felt they couldn’t emigrate chalked up the wage gap to innate differences between the sexes. “You’d think that when people are stuck with a system, they’d want to change it more,” says Kay. But in fact, the more stuck they are, the more likely are they to explain away its shortcomings. Finally, a related phenomenon: The less control people feel over their own lives, the more they endorse systems and leaders that offer a sense of order.

The research on system justification can enlighten those who are frustrated when people don’t rise up in what would seem their own best interests. Says Kay: “If you want to understand how to get social change to happen, you need to understand the conditions that make people resist change and what makes them open to acknowledging that change might be a necessity.”

Source: A. C. Kay, J. Friesen. On Social Stability and Social Change: Understanding When System Justification Does and Does Not OccurCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (6): 360 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411422059