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    Entries in work (135)

    Tuesday
    Feb022016

    We value hard work, but we reward natural talent

    Of all the phrases used to describe a candidate or an employee, 'He/she is a hard worker' is probably one of the most valued by employers, colleagues, and the people in general. We like people that work hard. We value the effort, the grind, the grit of folks who show up, dig in, plow through - day in and day out. Some even think that 'working hard' is actually a skill akin to other technical or practical kinds of aptitudes that are often harder to find.

    After all, 'hard work', even if it is a skill, is probably one that can be 'learned' by just about everyone. In many ways you just have to decide to work hard and there it is, you are a hard worker. Doesn't exactly work that way for other skills like coding, painting, or hitting 3-point baskets.

    But as much as we value hard work,  a skill that is readily observable, some recent research suggests that we value (and reward) something more intangible much, much more - the ore opaque notion of 'natural talent.'

    Researchers Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji examined what has been called the 'naturalness bias', the tendency to choose and reward so-called 'naturally talented' people over the classic 'hard-worker' in a series of experiments that were recently described in FastCo Design. Here is an excerpt from the piece: 

    "We are likely influenced by concepts such as the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream, and ideals such as a truer meritocracy, opportunity, and social mobility that can be achieved with enough hard work and motivation," says management scholar Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London, via email. "We may subscribe to these ideas, but our preference for and fascination with naturalness still seem to emerge through our actual choices."

    Tsay’s research has documented this tendency—which Malcolm Gladwell coined as the "naturalness bias"—across creative fields. A few years back, Tsay and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji asked 103 professional musicians to rate two performers based on a written profile and clips of them playing Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka. The two performers were actually the same person, with one profile tweaked to emphasize work ethic and the other made to highlight natural talent.

    In questionnaires, study participants claimed to value effort and practice over innate ability. But when it came time to rate the "two" performers, they gave the natural higher marks on talent, likelihood of future success, and value as a musical company hire, Tsay and Banaji reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a follow-up, the researchers found that seasoned experts favored naturals even more than novice musicians did—a finding with troubling workplace implications, given that veterans tend to make hiring decisions.

    Did you catch that? Two performers, who were actually the same performer, and the one that was pitched as having some higher level of natural talent was rated more positively and favorably than the performer who was portrayed as someone whose achievements were a product of hard work. Additionally, the more experienced and 'senior' the evaluator, the more likely they were to reward the 'natural talent' over the hard worker.

    Really interesting implications for this data, particularly in the world of talent evaluation and hiring. If the 'naturalness' bias does exist in organizations, then they could be overlooking or discounting individuals that are totally qualified and capable of performing at a high level, if their history of 'hard work' is somehow diminished in value in the eyes of the talent evaluators.

    More interesting still is that while this research appears to suggest the existence of a bias towards 'natural talent', it seems like 'hard work' is much more reliable in the long run. 

    Let's toss it back to my favorite metaphor for talent and workplace comparisons - basketball.

    'Natural talent' may account for a high degree of accuracy shooting 3-point baskets. But this 'skill' also can come and go in the course of a game, season, and career - sometimes inexplicably. 

    Playing tough, solid, and aggressive defense however, is usually chalked up at least primarily to 'hard work', which tends to be much more reliable, repeatable, and predictable. 

    It can be kind of hard to 'see' natural talent in all kinds of fields. Hard work is a little easier to spot.

    Thursday
    Jan212016

    Young single people, guys in their 50s, and not much in between

    Back 159 years ago when I worked on my first major IT project team doing an an old-school ERP implementation one thing about the composition of the 25 or so person project team was pretty striking.  The team itself was sourced from a few places - regular full-time staff of the client that was funding the project, several implementation experts from the software solution provider, a few technical consultants from one of the Big 4 (I think it was still Big 6 back then) consultancies, and finally three or four independent contractors taking full advantage of the 'gig economy' before that was a thing. So about 25 or so folks, it was a pretty large project with a mix of subject matter experts, software developers, QA and testing people, and project manager types.

    But what was interesting, (and what would turn out to be not at all uncommon I would learn), was that there were almost no members of the team between the ages of say 30 and about 50, otherwise known as 'prime' working years for most folks.

    That diverse, (we had folks from at least 10 countries on the project), and large project team was almost completely devoid of people in what would be the classic working and parenting years, say about 30 to about 50. There were definitely no women in that age range on the project, and there may have been one or two men (at most), that were parents of kids they still had some level of responsibility to care for.

    One of the 'veteran' guys from the Big 6 firm that was more or less running the project summed it up for me about midway through the project.  He said something to the effect that (at least at that time), IT consulting and big enterprise technology project work was either a game for young people who have not settled down and have no spouses/kids to worry about, or older guys, (and it was almost always guys), whose kids were grown up and either moved out or at least were old enough that their Dad could get away with being on the road 200 nights a year.

    Apart from the technical skills needed to succeed on a project like that, there were also the personal stresses and demands that having the kind of job was likely to put on you and any family/friends/pets that you may have had. You were more or less on the road, traveling to the project site Monday - Friday, week after week, month after month until the project was over. At which point you'd maybe get a little bit of downtime and then start the cycle and lifestyle again with a new client/project. I did this kind of work for a long time, what made me discontinue this and move to something more stable, (and with far less travel), was becoming a parent some 15 years or so ago.

    What's the point of this trip down memory lane?

    I caught this piece, a profile of Facebook's Maxine Williams, the relatively new person in charge of diversity initiatives at the company, where the interviewer was pressing her and Facebook to try and explain their efforts in promoting a more diverse workforce, and their relative successes and failures in this regard. it is a pretty interesting piece, and I recommend giving it a read.

    But after reading it, and thinking about these issues a bit, I was reminded of that 20 year-old project team, and how the nature of the work, and the nature of how (at least back then), most people tried to live their lives, that would have made 'generational' diversity, (is that even a thing?), extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve. It would have been really tough to find very many mid-career parents willing to sign up for the demands of those jobs, so what we ended up with was a group of folks that had little to no problems with being away from home all the time. That is just how it worked out and what made sense for the workers, the client, and the project itself.

    The closing point of all this? Tip O'Neill said that 'All politics is local.' John Sumser has said that all recruiting is local. I kind of think that sometimes we need to think about that when also thinking about diversity and workforce composition in that manner as well. Not every type of job or project is going to easily lend itself to a natural, blended, and widely diverse collection of people willing , able, and capable of performing said jobs.

    If one of the goals of a consulting company that did projects like the one I described above had it as a goal to become more diverse and balanced across generations, it would have taken some pretty significant shifts in how work was organized, how client demands and expectations were managed, and how individual consultants were evaluated and rewarded. And that would have been a much a bigger set of issues than just trying to recruit or retain a few more people that were in their early 40s.  

    Maybe diversity, however you define it, is only partially, and maybe even a small part overall, of a recruiting problem, and is more influenced by how, where, and when the work gets done than by where you run your job ads or the campuses where you recruit.

    Tuesday
    Jan122016

    Reacting to a sudden change in leadership

    It's Monday night as I write this and of course just like you I am watching an NBA game and thinking about work, workplaces, and management. 

    The game in question is the Spurs vs. Nets and why this particular game is interesting (aside from it involving the always fun to watch Spurs team), is that it is the first game for the Nets following the (kind of) sudden firing of their head coach Lionel Hollins and the re-assignment/demotion of their GM Billy King on Sunday. The Nets players were certainly aware of their 10-27 record and position as one of the league's worst teams, but they would not have had much if any advance warning of the imminent sacking of their coach.From the Nets better days

    Fast forward about 36 hours and these Nets have to take the court against the Spurs, one of the NBA's elite franchises, and possessors of a 32-6 record and winners of 5 NBA titles in the last 20 or so years. But the Spurs success is not what matters for my point today, but rather how the Nets players, and by means of extension, any of us react to a sudden change in our own organizational leadership.

    The way I see it you, me, the guys playing for the Nets can react one of three possible ways to the news that the boss, the big boss, or the really, really big boss is suddenly gone, and there is a little bit of uncertainty about what is going to happen next.

    1. Panic - even though I advised yesterday that in most cases that it is probably too late to panic, some folks inevitably will. In the Nets example, the player's agent will immediately start working the phones, looking for a potential new team for the player and leak stories to the media that the former coach never really gave the player a fair chance or used him in a way that best exploited his talents. For us 'normals', that means an instant LinkedIn profile update and bending the ear of everyone who will listen that the former leader 'never liked me' or 'always had it in for me.' 

    2. Enthusiasm - Some players on the Nets will see the change in leadership as a way to get a fresh start, and to try and impress the new leaders with extra effort and diligence to their tasks. These guys are probably ones who felt like for whatever reason they were not able to be their best selves under the old regime. They will in the short term work extra hard, and spend more time talking about the potentially bright future instead of focusing on the disappointments of the past. This reaction is usual reserved for younger players who are in the early stage of their careers and don't have much time or emotional commitment with the outgoing leadership. 

    3. Insubordination - The worst of all three potential reactions, and the one that can possibly cause lingering damage, is outright insubordination. Veteran players, especially ones with long-term, guaranteed contracts could consider themselves pretty insulated from any negative consequences and out and out work against the new leadership. This is particularly dangerous because very often the new leaders need the support of the organization's most senior and influential players. But these players, and the similarly long-tenured staff at any organization, often have outsized levels of power inside the group, and any new leader is going to have to find some common ground with them in order to try and fix what needs fixing. 

    When there is a sudden, and possible unexpected change in leadership everyone in the organization immediately begins to evaluate their own position, their place in the organization, and the health of the organization overall.

    If you are a role player or a favorite of the old regime, it may indeed be time to start working your network and calling in some favors, as your days may be numbered as well. But if you were a solid worker who always thought you could do more but were never given the chance it could be your time to try and step up and fill in some of the leadership and talent vacuum.

    If you are the new leader suddenly thrust into power, you'd do well to assess the folks on the team and sort out what group they seem to be falling in with before too long. Some will be with you, some will be against you, and some will just be a mess. It is good to know who is who. 

    Either way, these kinds of quick changes in leadership force us to be at least somewhat honest about our own place in the organization, and perhaps more importantly, force us to consider if we have a future with said organization as well. 

    Complacency can be a real bastard. It sometimes takes some dramatic change to wake us up.

    Monday
    Jan112016

    It's probably too late to panic

    Do you follow the financial markets at all? If you do, then you would know that at least in the USA the first week of 2016 set the mark for the worst first week of a New Year for market performance, with most major indices down anywhere from 5 - 10% from the 2015 year-end closing. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ, the S&P 500 - pretty much all showing steep drops in the frst week of the New Year - driven lower by some combination of declining economic conditions in China, a lower and lower crude oil price, and various and sundry manifestations of 'uncertainty', which no one can define exactly, but generally spooks folks who control lots of money.

    But as we all know financial markets rise and they fall - and they rise and fall again, forever and ever as they always have. The reason why I wanted to write about this today was an almost offhand comment I heard from one of the financial commentators on CNBC i think, (I can't remember the specific person, I was in a bit of a Nyquil haze this morning), who said this when asked by the show's host about whether or not investors should 'panic' due to these highly volatile market conditions. His reply:

    "It's probably too late to panic."

    And then he went on to talk about various scenarios and strategies that he felt like would be the most successful given the current conditions. The specifics of his financial/investing advice don't really matter, the key to why what this one gentlemen said and why it stuck out to me through the Nyquil hangover was just how much sense it made in its simplicity, and how applicable it is to just about every 'crisis' at work.

    Almost always when you have enough information in order to make the conscious decision to 'panic', it is probably too late for that 'panic' to do you or anyone else any good. It's kind of like throwing gasoline on the already burning fire, and doesn't help you even start to get to solutions or at least stabilization of the situation. The right time for 'panic' is probably just before things really spiral out of control, not after. Or as is the case of financial markets, perhaps the right time to get really worried and to take defensive actions is after a 5% drop, not after a 15% drop.

    Whether it is investing, dealing with a difficult colleague, or trying to rescue a deteriorating customer (or even personal) relationship, 'panic' is probably almost never a great idea simply because most of us are not at all good at reading the signals well enough to accurately time our panic. Better of taking a few deep breaths, think about what signs we missed on the way, and then set to being as calm and rational as possible to make things better.

    Does panicking sometimes feel good? Feel like the right and only thing to do? Sure.

    Does it ever really help? 

    Probably not. 

    Unless you win the $1.5B Powerball this week, then it is perfectly fine, acceptable, and expected to panic.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Dec302015

    Best of 2015: The worst people in the workplace, ranked

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from July, possibly my favorite of the ongoing 'Ranked' series on the blog, The Worst People in the Workplace, Ranked. Try and see where you might fall on this list.

    The Worst People in the Workplace, Ranked

    You probably work. You probably work with other people. Many of those other people are terrible. Here is your incomplete, yet definitive guide to the worst of these other people.

    10. The five people in your conference room who are still meeting at 11:05 when they only booked the room until 11 - Your meeting is probably a waste of time and money. The seven of you standing around in the hallway waiting to get inside the conference room is certainly a waste of time and money.

    9. The host who is late to the Conference Call - The virtual equivalent of standing around in the hall at 11:05 because the idiots who reserved the conference room from 10 - 11 can't stop yapping. But only this time you have terrible 'hold' music to listent to.

    8. The 'I never got the email' guy - You got the email, you liar. You forgot/ignored/deleted the email. But you got the email.

    7. The 'Half day?' guy - This is the jerk who feels obligated to track the comings and goings of everyone else in the office. Anyone who drops the 'Half Day?' line at you at 5:02PM is a terrible, sad, humorless dullard.

    6. The 'Marked as urgent' emailer - If it were urgent, you would just call. It is an email, therefore it can't be urgent. Look up the word urgent sometime you jerk.

    5. The Sunday night emailer - Hey guess what? Sunday is (still) technically part of the weekend. You may feel the need to work on Sundays, but that doesn't mean the rest of us want/need/care to. Work on your own stuff on Sundays if you must, but keep the rest of us out of it until Monday morning. 

    4. The 'wears headphones all day' guy - You are at work. You are not on a LAX - JFK flight in an economy class middle seat. You want us to think that actually trying to talk to you is such a burden and will somehow ruin your 'flow'. Give it a break, it won't kill you to take off the headphones once in a while and act like a human being.

    3. The 'community candy' lady - This story is 100% true, (small details changed to protect everyone, especially me).  Think massive, Fortune 100 type tech company housed in a giant high-rise. On each floor there is a central reception desk manned by one or two people throughout the day. On said desk on Floor 29, there lied a large candy bowl with the expected assortment of treats, chocolates, twizzlers, whatever. Everyone coming and going from that floor would take a treat or two from the bowl as they walked by. No one really 'asked' if they could have a piece, it was just understood that the candy was for everybody. Then one day one of the company employees, who was wearing a visible company badge, actually asked the lady at reception if it was ok if he could take a piece of candy. And the reception lady said 'No'. for whatever reason, she refused to allow this particular employee to take a piece of the community candy. The rejected employee proceeded, (irrationally for sure), to freak out, accuse the receptionist of racism, shout a few choice and unprintable words in her direction, and knock the candy bowl and its contents to the floor. This exchange led to a series of urgent emails, executive meetings, HR interventions, written warnings and literally tens of thousands of dollars worth of managerial time to sort out. The bottom line: Community candy is terrible.

    2. War story guy - This is the guy who shows up to work every Monday in a splint, with a soft cast, with some kind of bandage over the eye, or a noticeable limp. He then has to regale you, (because you feel like you have to ask), with some crappy story about how he totally rocked it on the side of some cliff or shooting the rapids or playing on the 40+ rugby team. Hey doofus - once you hit say 35 or so, it is time to grow the hell up and quit turning up for work like it is the first day of 5th grade. And no, we don't want to see your killer Go Pro footage of that radical tumble you took on the Black Diamond slope.

    1. Nothing is good enough for my high standards guy - The standard issue office chair? Not going to work. The whiteboard that fits on the wall of each office leaving room for the door to open? Not big enough. The pens and pencils that are stocked in the office supplies drawer that are used by everyone else? Not going to cut it. Basically nothing in the way the office works is good enough for this guy who needs a special version of EVERYTHING. I am not talking about any real accommodation issues here, no, this guy just has to be different. This is often accompanied by bringing personal supplies like staplers and binders, and frequent references to former employers, something along the lines of 'When I was at ACME Company, we had the nice pens.' You know what? Go the heck back to ACME company, and take your stupid stapler with you.

    Ok, that is it...

    Who did I forget? Let me know in the comments.