Category Archives: corporate culture

Men, Women, Competition and Cooperation

Common stereotypes may tell us that men are more competitive and women are more cooperative, but researchers at Aalto University in Finland recently studied the physiological responses to both competitive and cooperative play in order to investigate respondents’ emotions to see how males and females are motivated to behave in these situations.

So, what did the researchers find?

While males did enjoy competition more than cooperation, females enjoyed both competition and cooperation equally.

(The results of the research were published in an article in the international science journal PLOS ONE.)

“Although there is a lot of research on gender differences, nobody has studied the emotions – the physiological mechanism that steers our behavior – of competitive and cooperative activities in males and females before. This gives a better insight into why people behave the way they do. You may unconsciously give false information about your motivations, but your body doesn’t lie,” said researcher Matias Kivikangas.

Kivikangas also said the results suggest that parts of the common stereotypes are untrue, at least in that women are not enjoying cooperation any more than competition.

And, he added, “it seems that the fact that men do enjoy competition more than cooperation might actually be a consequence from gender expectations rather than innate differences.”

According to the press release announcing the findings, the two studies employed cooperative and competitive digital games to test the responses. While this makes the responses more natural than a contrived experimental procedure, the intrinsically motivated nature of the activity limits the generalizability of the results.

‘Neither males or females experienced notable differences in negative emotions, indicating that only positive emotions are relevant in motivating competitive behavior. However, separate studies with other activities should be carried out as well, because I’d suspect that competition that the individual has not chosen themselves might elicit different emotional reactions’, Kivikangas added.

The implications of this study could indeed have some far-reaching  consequences in the workplace, especially in terms of how work groups are organized (i.e. competition-based vs. collaboration-based).

But for this admittedly male writer, the findings only confirm what I already learned from my childhood experiences playing (and losing) board games with my mom and sister: Women can be just as competitive — if not moreseo than — men.

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About to be Asked for a Raise? Feed the Source

A paper is being presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Philadelphia, which ends tomorrow, that I thought you might find interesting.

167422861 -- crazy hungryIt seems, according to researchers Emily Zitek of Cornell University and Alexander Jordan of Dartmouth College, the hungrier an employee is, the more entitled he or she feels and the more effective he or she can be in asking for a raise.

Their study, I Need Food and I Deserve a Raise, based on two experiments involving about 270 college students, finds that “hunger leads people to feel more entitled,” according to the report. “Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled,” it states. (Here’s the AOM press release about the study.)

The paper, according to the release, “defines psychological entitlement as ‘the feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are,’ and explains that ‘entitled individuals pay attention to themselves and the special treatment that they should receive over other things.”

While research “has tended to focus mainly on social and cognitive causes of increased entitlement, such as recalling an unfair event,” the report states, “the authors posit that it can also be driven ‘by amplified levels of a basic physiological drive — hunger — which may cause people to turn their focus inward and place their needs above those of others.’ ”

The authors’ advice? Feed them. It’ll help you in the raise discussion and can smooth some other workplace rough edges as well.

As the AOM report puts it:

… for the edification of bosses, the researchers observe that ‘entitlement can cause big problems in the workplace, so managers might want to provide food to employees or wait to schedule potentially contentious meetings until after lunch.’ They go on to note that, ‘although certainly due to a host of factors, organizations with readily available food, such as Google, are also known for having unentitled, grateful and satisfied [digestively and otherwise] employees.”

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A Collective Approach to Time Management

time and teamsHow can you get a team to manage its time more efficiently and productively? Give them a time-off goal.

That’s according to Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow, who writes in the June edition of Harvard Business Review (subscription required) about her work introducing time-based interventions at various companies in a range of industries, from consulting to pharmaceuticals. Given the modern workplace’s emphasis on connectivity and collaboration, she writes, the problem isn’t how individual employees manage their time — instead, it’s how employees manage their collective time in working together to get the job done. Often, Perlow writes, teams will — in the course of their work — stick to tried-and-true processes that are inefficient, simply because, well, that’s the way things have always been done.

Perlow cites the example of a large pharmaceutical firm she was advising, in which an “overly collaborative culture” resulted in constant meetings throughout the workday that got in the way of employees getting their work done during regular hours and necessitated them having to take it home or work weekends. The team Perlow was studying at this company decided to rally around the time-off goal of one meeting-free day a week. During that day, the team members worked from home and conference calls and other virtual meetings were banned. The day was a success: saved from constant interruptions as well as commuting time, the team members dubbed it their Enhanced Productivity Day.

The EPD was also effective in that it served as a “forcing mechanism” in getting the team to rethink its need for meetings and their duration, Perlow writes. As a result, meetings became smaller, shorter, more focused and less frequent — and, as the EPD concept spread to other teams in the company, managers reported that employees were more focused and producing higher-quality work.

Team time management can mitigate the problem of overworked and overstressed employees, Perlow writes:

To help workers manage their time, we should stop telling individuals to change themselves and start empowering them to act together to change the way they work. Small steps can make a big difference. By rallying around a modest time-off goal, teams can develop a new capability: managing their time as a team.


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Turning Employee Cynicism into Trust

Employee trust. It’s a subject most of us steer clear of around here. Too hard to define. Too hard to measure. Impossible to teach or train.

78459275 -- smug businessmanBut Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard has taken a stab at breaking down that nebulous force called trust, and its nebulous nemesis, cynicism. In his new book, The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, he offers 10 strategic steps toward reconfiguring the latter around the former. Here is the recent release, via the Alister & Paine website, about his book, and those steps.

I like some of his comments, including this one:

Mocking irony, snark and cynicism are very much in vogue, but they are also toxic to your company’s culture. Once cynicism gets a foothold in your culture, it spreads — just like an ill-advised tweet or blog post. You need to proactively fight it.”

And this:

Cynicism is the defense mechanism of people who feel unsafe and powerless. It’s an expression of the uncertainty that comes from working in an environment where ethics are lax, employees don’t feel valued and information is withheld. When it thrives in an organization, it signals a lack of employee trust — a problem that’s gotten significantly worse over the last generation.”

And just for the record, here are the steps in as much of a nutshell as this posting will allow:

1) Know that trust has two dimensions, external and internal. External is between an organization and its customers; internal is between employees, managers and top-level management, and it’s here where Karlgaard says you should start. If employees “don’t feel that they can trust your company with their careers,” he says, “you’re in trouble.”

2) Get clear on what a culture of trust and earnestness looks like.  Hold a company-wide trust summit where everyone can share their opinions about trust within your company. In addition, Karlgaard says, “identify the ways cynicism manifests — for instance, through snarky comments, manipulating customers, talking behind co-workers’ backs and so forth.”

3) Then, get the “rules” in writing. Put the results of your trust summit in writing and ask all employees to sign the document. Creating an official “standards of behavior” document helps too. I happen to know some companies are doing this now — documenting desired behaviors, then hiring and managing for them — including Starbucks, which I recently wrote about in this HRE feature.

4) Let only “Boy Scouts” and “Girl Scouts” lead. The key here is to hire and promote leaders who truly do live the values your company espouses.

5) Never lie or hide the truth. Even in the case of very bad news, tell them anyway. ” … [P]eople should never feel they’re being kept in the dark,” says Karlgaard. “Transparency and trust must co-exist.”

6) Show employees that you care. When people don’t believe their leaders care about them, not just as workers but as human beings, trust can’t thrive.

7) Aspire to predictability. “[E]mbrace innovation to your heart’s content in areas such as product development and marketing campaigns,” he says. “Just don’t be unpredictable in your behavior, priorities and values.”

8) Make it safe to speak up. Bottom line, there’s no such thing as a dumb idea and when your employees make honest mistakes, let them admit to them without being scolded and belittled. “Either trust rules your organization, or fear rules it — you have to choose,” says Karlgaard.

9) Celebrate grit and gumption. Basically, reward, reward, reward. Or, as he puts it, “notice and celebrate the behaviors you want more of … . Engagement and cynicism can’t co-exist in the same moment.”

10) Lastly, constantly drive home the “meaning” of the work people do. I know we’ve all been hearing this, probably too much, that each employee needs to understand his or her link — his or her line of sight — to the top, to the whole organization. What I like about Karlgaard is his focus on the actual narrative; the story about your business that you need to be infusing into your entire workforce. He calls it your “true north.”

“My point?” he asks. “Figure out what meaningful things your company provides customers, whether that’s peace of mind, easier lives, reliable support or something else, and look for ways to convey that purpose at your company.

“It’s hard to be cynical about your work and your customers,” he adds, “when you actually do believe in what you’re doing.”

Again, maybe stuff you’ve heard, but not quite like this:

 The next time you’re considering how to make your organization a better place to work, think beyond an in-house masseuse, climbing walls, and free fresh-baked cookies. While employees will certainly appreciate ‘fun’ perks like these, they don’t mean anything if your culture isn’t grounded in trust.”


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Want This Job? Audition For It

auditionThis month’s edition of the Harvard Business Review (subscription required) includes a profile of the hiring process at Automattic, a tech firm that’s behind the free, open-source software platform WordPress. Founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg wasn’t happy with the traditional recruiting process (resume screening, in-person interviews, taking candidates out to lunch, etc.) his company was using, he writes:

As we considered the situation, it became clear that we were being influenced by aspects of an interview — such as someone’s manner of speaking or behavior in a restaurant — that have no bearing on how a candidate will actually perform. Some people are amazing interviewees and charm everyone they talk to. But if the job isn’t going to involve charming others, their interview skills don’t predict how well they’ll do as employees. Just like work, interviews can be “performed” without real productivity.

The more he and his team thought about it, Mullenweg writes, the more they recognized that there’s no substitute for actually working alongside someone in the trenches. Thus began Automattic’s “auditions” for job candidates, in which those who’ve made it through the firm’s resume-screening process (which it retained) work for the firm on a contract basis for three to eight weeks, 10 to 20 hours per week, performing real tasks alongside the folks they’d be working with if they’re hired. Candidates (regardless of the position they’re auditioning for) are paid $25 per hour and, thanks to the firm’s highly flexible work arrangement, can work nights or weekends so they don’t have to quit their existing jobs during the audition period.

The tasks candidates perform depends on the jobs they’re auditioning for: a customer-service candidate would interact with customers, an engineer would write code and a business-development candidate might run the numbers on a business proposal. The goal, Mullenweg writes, is to assess whether having the person work at Automattic would be a mutually beneficial relationship: The company can evaluate the candidate while the candidate evaluates Automattic.

Candidates are provided with feedback during the audition, Mullenweg writes — in some cases, if it becomes clear things aren’t working out, the company calls an end to the process as quickly as possible “out of respect for everyone’s time.” The auditions require a substantial investment of time from Automattic employees as well as candidates, he notes — in the engineering department, for example, four engineers oversee auditions for their department. The final step in the process is an interview with Mullenweg. Ninety five percent of the people who make it to that stage end up getting hired, he writes.

The extra scrutiny afforded by the auditioning process is important for Automattic because — unlike many software companies — the firm wants employees who will build long-term careers there and it needs to ensure employees will be able to handle its flexible-hours, limited-supervision work culture. About 40 percent of audition candidates are hired by the company, writes Mullenweg. The process has proven successful so far, he says: Of the 101 people hired last year, only two ended up not working out.

Although auditioning may not be ideal for every company, Mullenweg writes, it could be useful as an augmentation to a firm’s existing hiring process. It’s worth considering because so much is at stake, he writes:

Nothing you do for your company has as much impact as putting the right people around the table. The aphorism is true: You can’t manage your way out of a bad team.

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Innovation Central

One of the most dynamic sessions at this year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference was the “Ideas and Innovators” session, in which experts from a variety of fields give five-minute presentations summarizing their thoughts on what HR leaders should do differently with regard to benefits.

Here’s a sampling of what some of them had to say: Lindsey Pollak, a millennial workplace expert and spokeswoman for The Hartford insurance company, called on companies to encourage mentoring between baby boomers and millennials. “Ninety percent of the millennials we surveyed said they appreciated guidance from boomers,” she said. “Millennials are digital natives, so they can mentor boomers in the use of technology.”

Millennials want the ability to customize their benefits, she said: “Millennials weren’t given teddy bears as kids; they were taken to Build-a-Bear workshops — they’re used to having things tailored for them.”

The same Hartford survey found that 70 percent of millennials consider themselves leaders, whether in their families, workplaces and communities. Companies can harness this leadership spirit for health and wellness, said Pollak — yet must keep in mind that millennials have also proven to be slow to sign up for benefits such as disability insurance. “Millennials aren’t taking advantage of these benefits — you must reach them on this.”

Brian Poger, founder and CEO of consulting firm Benefitter, urged employers to consider getting out of the business of providing health benefits (perhaps an odd thing to hear at a conference devoted to employee benefits). “Most employee raises are being absorbed by rising healthcare costs,” he said. “Why not offer cash instead of health benefits?”

Poger cited a McKinsey survey that found 85 percent of employees would stay with their employer even if they stopped offering health benefits. Many employers are charging signficantly higher premiums for spousal and family coverage or dropping it altogether, he said, which can be a major hardship for families earning the U.S. median household income of $51,000 a year. “Giving employees cash to purchase a family policy on the exchanges may be a better deal for them,” he said.

Lexie Dendrinelis, health promotion and wellness leader at manufacturing firm Barry-Wehmiller Cos., discussed how her company has made leadership and culture — rather than exercise and eating well — the centerpiece of health and wellness. “People can’t focus on their personal health if they’re stressed out about an unsafe workplace,” she said. “Building trustworthy leaders and cultures is the best intervention.”

At Barry-Wehmiller, the company has committed to building a “caring culture” where “we are committed to sending our friends home safe, well and fulfilled.” The company uses incentives and rewards to highlight positive behaviors and takes a “holistic approach” to caring for its employees and families, said Dendrinelis. “We are looking at creating a thriving culture that will bring down healthcare costs.”


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Putting Talent at the Top of Your Company’s Agenda

The latest post from HR guru Ed Lawler, titled What Should HR Leaders Focus On in 2014, cites talent management and talent development as the top concerns — specifically, the managerial and technical roles that are “difference makers,” he writes. Lawler, distinguished professor of business at the University of Southern California and founder/director of its Center for Effective Organizations, writes that focusing on talent “is a great way to get the HR function into a broader discussion about what is next for the organization and what the business strategy should be. ”

He elaborates further:

The most important thing that HR should focus on in talent management is assessing the skills the organization needs to implement its strategy and the plan for recruiting and managing that critical talent. It is important to understand what the organization can do to add the right talent: Whether it is best recruited or internally developed, and whether it is even possible to develop the right talent in order to implement the business strategy. … Often, the reasons why business strategies fail is that they mistakenly assume that the organization can get the right talent in order to perform the way the strategy calls for. All too often organizations cannot attract or develop it, and as a result, the strategy is not feasible.”

Lawler goes on to cite Google as a good example of a company that’s done an “exceptional” job of recruiting and managing people who have critical knowledge skills, noting the tech firm’s practice of letting its people set aside certain times of the week to devote specifically to projects that interest them. This has proved not only to be a great way for Google to come up with new business ideas, he writes, but to also develop and attract the critical talent it needs. (We’ve been reporting on Google’s talent-development processes for a while here at HRE; here is a recent story on how it strengthened its corporate culture and here’s a piece on its recognition-and-rewards strategy.)

Of course, not all business leaders are sold on the importance of talent, writes Lawler. Some think they can get by without top talent while others—lacking a background in talent management—may see functions such as engineering and finance as far more important to the business strategy than recruiting and developing talent, he notes. HR’s challenge is to show that link between talent and the business strategy, he concludes. I can’t help but think that last week’s announcement by the Conference Board that CEOs consider human capital the No. 1 challenge for 2014 should give HR leaders a bit of a boost in this department.

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Titles? Who Needs Titles?

no titlesA lot of companies pay lip service to the idea of “flattening the organization,” but Zappos really walks the walk.

Never known for embracing the whole corporate hierarchy thing, Zappos recently took a big, bold step toward completely eliminating pecking orders at the Las Vegas, Nev.-based online shoe and clothing shop.

As you may have read, the company’s leadership has announced to employees that concepts such as “traditional” managers and internal job titles are a thing of the past at Zappos.

The company is adopting a governance system known as a holacracy, which, instead of relying on a strict hierarchical structure, essentially distributes authority among autonomous, self-organizing teams.

As a recent Washington Post article points out, the holacracy model already has a few high-profile proponents. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, for instance, has implemented the system at his new company, Medium. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has done the same at non-profit organization Conscious Capitalism Inc.

But, as the Post piece points out, Zappos is “by far the largest company to adopt the idea.” So it seems appropriate to ask: Will other large organizations follow suit?

We may indeed see more companies taking a similar approach, but not likely in big numbers, says Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

“In some ways, this is old wine in new bottles,” says Ulrich. “In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, many were captivated by Japanese management [approaches], which lauded the same structure.”

For organizations such as Zappos that “move away from the charismatic single leader to collective leadership,” it’s important to remember that employees will still need clear direction, governance, relationships and learning opportunities to succeed, he adds.

“Teams—regardless of what they are called—will have to deal with issues of who to hire, how to define goals, how to hold people accountable for the goals, and how to have consequences for good and bad performance,” says Ulrich. “It will take an incredibly strong and mature team to make this happen.”

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At AAG, the Votes are In ….

It’s often been said that the early days of a merger (including the days leading up to closing the deal) are extremely critical, especially when the cultures of the two organizations have little in common.

img_aa_newamerican2No doubt more than a few major airlines have learned this lesson the hard way, including US Airways when it joined forces with America West. So it’s not a huge surprise then to see one of the first steps taken by new American Airlines Group’s Doug Parker (who now heads the combined US Airways and American Airlines) was to seek the input of the airline’s 60,000 workers in selecting a new logo.

As a story posted yesterday by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) points out …

Workers were invited to vote on the so-called livery as part of the new American Chief Executive Doug Parker’s effort to woo his new employees. They narrowly voted to jettison the carrier’s old AA logo and stick with new branding unveiled last year just before the merger agreement that created the world’s largest carrier.”

Roughly 52 percent of the employees reportedly voted for the new design, which would be limited to the tail. “Announcing the vote, Mr. Parker said the fuselage design with the new American logo … would have to stay because the company had already put that logo in too many places,” according to the Journal story.

Whether you’re a fan of the new logo or not (I’ve yet to reach an opinion one way or the other), you have to credit Parker for taking this modest step of bringing employees together in choosing the new logo. True, there are a lot more pressing issues facing the combined entity than selecting a logo. But it does send a simple yet subtle message that we’re all in this together.

As my colleague Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine noted in a story posted last March on our website, the merger between US Airways and American Airlines will be, if nothing else, a combination of two very different corporate cultures. (The deal finally closed in early December)

In the words of executive-search consultant Kurt Weyerhauser, “the cultures at American Airlines and US Airways might be considered almost diametrically opposed to one another.”

So with the logo votes now tallied, AAG’s HR leaders obviously have their work cut out for them in the months ahead. A few years from now, it should be interesting to look back and see if some of the lessons of the past were learned and applied to this latest merger. (As a regular US Airways customer—being based near Philadelphia, one of the airline’s hubs, it’s hard not to be—my fingers are crossed that turns out to be the case.)

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Whether to Treat Them Like They Own the Place …

Came across an intriguing conundrum on BLR’s HR Daily Advisor site: whether it’s wise to treat employees like they own their company or not.

144339020 -- trading keysThe piece by Dan Oswald, BLR’s CEO, makes cases for both. One suggests that inspiring this kind of ownership culture, where employees treat company reputation and resources as their own, can also engender abuses of, say, the organization’s travel expenses. Especially if certain employees are used to spending their own money on luxuries.

The lesson here, writes Oswald, is that “if you have someone with a real sense of entitlement, you might not want him thinking like an owner. It can be really expensive.”

On the other hand, employees — especially highly talented ones — taking ownership of their organization can be extremely beneficial to innovation, productivity, customer service, operations improvements, recruiting, you name it.

“That’s why Facebook uses the following motto with new hires: ‘This is now your company,’ ” writes Oswald. “That simple statement is plastered on all of Facebook’s onboarding materials, and it’s the first thing new employees see when they walk in the company’s training center. It’s a company goal to have every single employee carry a sense of ownership — not just in the individual jobs, but within the company as a whole.”

I happen to know Starbucks’ approach is a similar one, based on a feature I’m currently working on. At that company, instilling “coffee passion” and company knowledge in every barista is a well-thought-out leadership and talent-management approach. It includes store walk-throughs for new hires, followed by debriefings about what they liked and didn’t like; encouragement to strike up real conversations with customers about the coffee they’re drinking and the company’s ideals and philosophies; coffee-tasting rituals between managers and new hires; invitations to every employee to submit ideas to improve any and all company systems; and even a strong urging from the top down to look for other potential Starbucks recruits in their conversations with customers and friends.

So how do you create such a culture? Oswald has a few suggestions:

First, you  need to hire the right type of person. You need to hire people who think this way when they walk in the door. In fact, at Facebook, they talk about hiring  for the culture, not the skill set. Their rationale? Skills can be taught, but  mind-set can’t.

Second, you need to train and reinforce the ‘ownership’ mentality  at every level in the organization. That means you provide your people with the  information and opportunities that will allow them to act like owners. You  can’t expect people to act like an owner if they don’t have the information or  the freedom to do so in a meaningful way.

Finally, you must recognize and reward the people who think this  way. When people make a contribution because of their ‘ownership mind-set,’  make sure you let others know that you appreciate and respect that type of  thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could say,  ‘He acts like he owns the  place!’ and ‘She acts like she owns the place!’ about every one of your employees and mean it in the best [as opposed to the worst] way possible?

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