Author Archives: andymcinnes

You Take The Effectiveness of Your Communication For Granted

Perhaps I should instead phrase that as a question?  Let me try that again:  

Do you take the effectiveness of your communication for granted?

People, by their very nature, are notoriously naïve when it comes to believing they have a good understanding and awareness of their communication style.  Stake my word on it, there will be shared opinions on how you communicate which will differ vastly from how you see yourself.  While you may see yourself as Martin Luther King Jr., others might not.   There are good psychological reasons for this “above-average” effect.  One is your in-built mental defence mechanism. Psychologists call this ‘self-serving bias’ which (amongst other similar biases) is the tendency to attribute any perceived criticisms to external factors (AKA, the “it’s them, not me” effect, or the “oh yeah, but that’s probably because of [insert extenuating circumstances here]” effect—both equally as common).

By far in large this unconscious bias plays a crucial part in your effective functioning and is fantastic at protecting and enhancing self-esteem.  However, when it comes to the fundamental business skill of increasing self-awareness and improving your communication ability, the self-serving bias may act as a road block to success.  It is these self-serving mechanisms which may be hurting your ability to communicate effectively with your team wider organisation.  All is not lost, however, if you know your ABC’s.

The ABC model is a framework for addressing these concerns:  what level of awareness do you have around being able to consciously choose your communication style.  To what degree can you consciously choose and deliver a behaviour that will result in the best possible interpersonal outcome?  Finally, how much awareness do you have around the consequences of your communicative actions?  If you —like nearly everyone—are positive you are great on all of these, probability tells us that you have just fallen victim to one of our many self-serving biases.  Not all great communicators are born naturals—active self-development plays a vital role in strengthening your ABC’s, and thus your communication ability.

If you are looking at an effective communication program, make sure that the following areas are addressed:

  • Increase self-awareness of one’s own preferred communication style, communication strengths and biases;
  • Develop  an understanding of how one’s preferred communication style can impact on others;
  • Develop an ability to consciously choose an appropriate communication style and behaviour in anticipation of desired outcomes;
  • Learn to use communication as a tool to build co-operative alliances and maintain team performance in difficult situations;
  • Enhance conflict resolution skills and learn win-win communication techniques.

Or if you would like further information on effective communication, or how such an initiative could be effectively implemented into your team please get in touch with one of our psychologists/consultants.

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Misguided Intuitions: A Failure of Selection Experience

An article I have recently finished suggests that the best technological achievement of organisational psychology over the past 100 years is the creation of structured interviews, psychometric testing, and the mechanical combination of predictors to improve prediction of employee performance.  The next sentence is the one that strikes a chord with me: “arguably the greatest failure of organisational psychology is the inability to convince employers to use them”.  When the research shows that even one good cognitive ability assessment significantly out-performs unstructured interviews alone I find it vexing as to why so many still use only “gut-feelings” to make important employment decisions.

Why do even skilled HR practitioners fly in the face of science in the favour of intuition?  What has recently become apparent  to me is that it isn’t a lack of knowledge that is being reflected, nor a concern for pricing, but almost an seemingly-inexorable, unconscious assertion that experience knows best—the hiring manager knows “how to read between the lines”, there is a persistent belief that one can “just know”.  While this confidence in intuition is all very natural, the popularity of some recent ‘self-help’ work, such as Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005) or Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings (2007) seems to be wrongly reinforcing this belief.  It remains though, that performance prediction based only on gut feeling is relying on blind faith in a zero-validity environment. For selection to move out of a zero-validity environment it must be viewed in probabilistic terms.  We must view selection in terms of likelihood.  Ask yourself the question now, how can we improve the likelihood of a good hire?  Remember, a good hire is never guaranteed, it is only the likelihood that can be improved through smart use of validated tools and procedures, and peer-reviewed knowledge.

There is another causal factor at play—the pervasive myth of expertise.  A recent study demonstrated the confidence in one’s intuition increases significantly with experience.  Does accuracy in intuition also increase?  No.  Expertise will not necessarily significantly increase one’s ability to effectively predict candidate job performance.  The power of illusory superiority is powerful.  Many of you reading this will have already had the thought: “yeah that may apply for most, just not me”.  I’m not denying this is possible, but please do consider that we all fall victim to a bias in how we perceive our abilities. A recent study demonstrated that these misguided intuitions show a similar pattern:

  • They rely on far too few pieces of information.
  • They cannot be backed up with rationale—“don’t ask me to explain, it just feels right”.
  • They show poor interjudge (expert) agreement.  One expert isn’t agreeing with the other.
  • The belief in these intuitions will grow when irrelevant information is presented.  “Oh, you like golf as well?”

Finally, one more very interesting concern is the perception of psychometrics and the like, as a crutch to assist those “not-so-skilled” and experienced with selection.  Research supports this.  It is likely that you will be perceived as less confident in your selection decisions if you use these tools.  Relying on intuition is more socially acceptable than relying on test scores and formulas, and it’s also less fun.  So why would HR practitioners actively undermine their status by advocating the worth of objective measurement over the fragility of intuitive judgment?  I will leave that for you to answer yourself.

Highhouse, S. (2008).  Stubborn Reliance on Intuition and Subjectivity in Employee Selection. Industrial and Organisational Psychology, 1, 333-342.

Churning, Churning, Churning…

Fortune recently reported the ‘Top 100 Companies’ turnover figures at approximately 2-3% per year.  Now compare this with the US national average of 2-3% per month, that is, an average of 24-36% of employees leaving US organisations every year.  A 2007 Department of Labour report put the percentage of New Zealand workers having been in their job short of a year at 38.8%, a percentage not directly comparable, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

Now, the worrying bit: it is suggested that the average cost of replacing a professional is approximately the annual salary of the individual.   For example:

An average company of with approximately 200 people, with an average salary of $50,000 will be losing up to $3.6 million annually replacing the lost staff.  A US Top 100 Company would be spending less than a tenth of this.  Care to do the figures for your organisation?

If your figures are high, then chances are you won’t be able to put this purely down to industry, the economy, the industry, fate, the price of milk, only your organisation itself.  Consider the following tips in getting your figures down:

  1. Get the right people first time around.  It is vital that you are getting the right people in to the right spots on your bus. If you fail to do this employees will be disembarking well short of the organisation’s destination.
  2. Fit the employee; don’t make the employee fit you.  Rigid policies and procedures don’t tend to fit well with Gen-Y’s, Gen X’s and highly skilled employees – flexibility is a must.
  3. Increase the quality of leadership/supervision.  “People leave their manager, not their organisation”, a truism of ever-increasing career-mobility.  Improve the quality of leadership at all levels—proactively seek areas of weak leadership.
  4. Find out the real reasons people are leaving.  A casual exit discussion won’t be enough—most will not want to speak freely straight to an ex-employee.  Outsourced exit interviewing will elucidate the real reasons.
  5. Effective on-boarding.  This is an area often overlooked.  First impressions matter more than most of us think, and with on-boarding there is no second chance.  This presentation by Dr. Sarah Burke is a must watch in this regard.
  6. Provide clear opportunities for career development.  Ensure your organisation has well-defined career pathways for those of the ambitious ilk.
  7. Eradicate organisational ill-will.  Proactively seek out employees with negative sentiment towards the organisation and work with the individual(s) to minimise this.  Think: 360s, mentoring, culture surveys, engagement surveys, and the promotion of transparency.
  8. Show appreciation.  Time and time again organisations do not give praise where praise is due.  This is a common blind spot.  We suggest you look with an exceptionally critical eye as to how well you do this.
  9. Do not under-staff.  Consider temporary staff if you have to.  Costs saved in under-staffing may come back to bite the bottom line.
  10. Share knowledge.  Employees tend to love sharing what they know.  Ensure channels of information flow are open upwards and downwards.
  11. Make work fun.  Employees will tend to engage and enjoy themselves when they are encouraged to build on their strengths.  Encourage safe laughter!

If you would like any advice on how you can reduce your turnover, please contact your local OPRA office.

Beware: How Does your Organisation Compare?

Tidy the office, job hunters might soon have an ‘all-access’ pass.

  • How valued do your staff feel?
  • Do you pay below/above market rates?
  • How would your typical employee describe working at your company?
  • Does everyone enjoy working in your organisation? 
  • There’s no bullying culture, is there?
  • How about physical working conditions, are they up to scratch?

What would you think about a potential employee having access to all of this information?  Unless your organisation has become (in)famous in the media for some reason, the typical new employee would likely have limited idea of what lies behind the employment curtain—up until now.  NakedOffice.com.au is a website which allows people to anonymously post public reviews of their past and present employers. It has just been launched in Australia, and guess what,  it’s coming to New Zealand!

Based on a successful US version, Glassdoor.com, Naked Office gives employees and ex-employees a chance to get on the soap box about their experiences within an organisation.  Reviewers are asked to share their overall experience, the positives, the negatives, the non-financial benefits, photos, their position/salary, and their rating of:

  • culture;
  • pay and benefits;
  • career opportunities;
  • company location;
  • management competency;
  • CEO (or equivalent);
  • health and safety; and
  • environmental responsibility.

Naked Office states their goal is to “provide a transparent view of jobs & workplaces”.  If they succeed to make this idea sufficiently viral, there is the potential for a fundamental shift in the responsibility that HR has to maintain, protect, and repair employer perceptions.  A review of a well known Aus-NZ household electronics store, which may need to now engage in the latter, caught my eye:

“This company has one of the most frustrating, dysfunctional work environments I have ever encountered. Employee initiative is actively discouraged. Longstanding problems go unrecognised and unresolved…”

Whether a review like this is completely true or a perception of a disgruntled ex-employee with an ‘attitude problem’, the end result is the same: it is entering the public domain in a way never seen before and the employer brand damage is being done.

Ask yourself, how might you prepare for this technology to enter the mainstream? 

“Dark Side” Personality Traits: Not so Bad after all?

Some have suggested that there are two sides to personality: the bright side and the dark side.  The bright side relates to those generally “favourable” aspects of working behaviour like attention-to-detail and emotional maturity.  The dark side relates to the supposedly dysfunctional parts of work-related behaviour like self-importance, moodiness, and impulsiveness.  However, this distinction isn’t as black and white as it may appear.

Over the past ten years a team of researchers have collected solid evidence that some dark side traits can actually be favourable for certain jobs.  Before we discuss these, it is important to note that the authors did find some dark-side traits consistently associated with lower occupational success.  These were:

  • Moodiness.  Anyone who has read the latest Steve Jobs biography may disagree with this, but in general those mercurial types who are moody and hard to please experience lower success.
  • Cynicism.  Those persistently doubting of others’ behaviour also tend to be self-doubting, risk-aversive, and poorer performers.
  • Excessive independence.  Those who want to do everything their own way and ignore others’ requests don’t tend do well either, particularly in a team environment. 

Other dark side traits were found to be favourable in one aspect of the job, but counterproductive in another.  For example, more eccentric and imaginative individuals tended to be less reliable, but also far more successful in sales roles.  Know some colleagues like this? 

Furthermore, it seems some dark traits are actually largely beneficial.  For example, perfectionism (excessive orderliness and dutifulness) was found to be associated with high levels of integrity and low amounts of counterproductive work behaviours (for those who attended my colleague Dr. Paul Wood’s presentation on counterproductive workplace behaviour this may sound familiar).  This behavioural style was also related to success in any area of business requiring strict quality control or tight methodical systems.  Makes sense right? 

Finally, some other dark side traits were found to be predictive of management potential, sales potential, and clerical potential:

  • Unusually high self-confidence.  Found especially  amongst CEOs.
  • “Colourfulness”.  This is the dark side trait representing those more “dramatic”, and “animated” types.
  • Risk-taking and imaginative thinking.  These were associated with all three success-potential areas, but were especially predictive of sales potential.  (Perhaps the good sales people are the ones that are typically hard to manage?  Can you relate to that?)

If you would like assistance in considering the impact of dark side behaviours in your next selection process, then please feel free to contact your local OPRA office.

Furnham, A., Trickey, G., and Hyde, G. (2012)  Bright aspects to dark side traits: Dark side traits associated with work success.  Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 908-913.

Why Weekends are Welcome

Great expectations. The want for relaxation.  Ruminations of the debaucherous night ahead (not you of course!) or perhaps the couch envisaged in all of its cushy grandeur.  Sly glances at the office clock: the short hand oh so close to the ‘5’.  Here comes the end of the working week! 

Us mere mortals are far from indifferent to the pressures of employment, in fact we often yield to the nine to five.  It is for this reason that our working week has evolved into its present form: five days on, two days off.  It gives us balance, it allows us to reflect, allows us to unwind, and always gives us something to look forward to.  Sure, a fair majority are happy with—or even love—their job, but even these people need the time to step back.

A recent study investigated how these weekend recovery experiences were associated with specific states of positive affect (e.g., joviality, serenity, and self-assurance) and negative affect (e.g., sadness, fear, fatigue), during the following workweek.  Results suggested that positive off-work experiences during the weekend contributed significantly to positive affect at the end of the weekend and during the following week.  Specifically, engaging in these recovery behaviours on these two glorious days of weekend significantly decreased tension and facilitated the regeneration of those all important mental resources for self-regulation.

Employees undoubtedly bring their emotions, feelings, and moods to work every day of the working week. These emotions, which I’m sure most can attest to, have a direct impact on the work environment.  These findings indirectly show the positive effect that weekend-recovery can have on organisational outcomes, especially in relation to employee interactions in things such as group-decision making, creativity, problem solving, and so on.  In the spirit of brevity, here are two all important take-aways:

1)      The authors suggest that employees should engage in weekend activities that involve mastery (e.g., becoming a crochet Jedi), psychological detachment (e.g., a few glasses of vino floating in the neighbours pool?), and relaxation (maybe it’s time to adopt some ancient Zen practices? Go for a walk even).  I’ll leave how you do this up to you!

2)      Employers need to facilitate these weekend recovery behaviours as much as possible.  For starters, where possible avoid giving employees work over the weekend, the consequent resentment is likely to compound.  And focus ‘recovery’ encouragement on those you think may most need it!

Fritz, C., Sonnentag, S., Spector, P., McInroe, A. (2010).  The weekend matters: Relationships between stress recovery and affective experiences.  Journal of Organisational Behavior, 31, 1137-1162.

The Creative Outcomes of Positive Emotion

Employee creativity is generally recognised as a crucial component in achieving innovative success and more importantly, organisational sustainability.  This would come as little surprise to many; in fact it would be far more peculiar to find any large corporate organisations that didn’t occasionally emphasise the importance of creative performance outcomes.  Within-person studies that acknowledge creative performance as a dynamic outcome, which can change from day-to-day or even hour to hour, are very sparse as most look at the creative differences between people.  But why wouldn’t we look within the person?  We can probably all attest to the fact that some days we intuitively feel more creative that others

One recent diary-type investigation looked at 100 architect’s daily experience of creativity with the aim of asking “what makes a creative day?” The authors found that the better the architects felt in the morning upon getting to work, the far more creative they were the rest of the day.  The authors also looked at the relationship between job stressors and creativity.  Before I tell you what they found, take a moment to question yourself on what level of stress you think you are at your most creative: When you’ve kicked up your feet on the desk? Or, when you have 17 deadlines to meet before lunchtime? The architects’ diaries suggested an inverted U-shaped curve type relationship (a Yerkes-Dodson type curve) between daily time pressure and daily creativity, but only for those with a high level of job control.  That is, employees with a relatively high level of autonomy felt they were at their most creative when they were under a normal amount of time pressure.  Conversely, for those with lower levels of autonomy time pressure did not seem to have any effect on their level of creativity.

So what can we take away from this?  I think there are two major practical implications:

  1. If we need staff to have high levels of creative performance on any given day we need to foster positive affect, that is, positive emotional experience.  I’d suggest thinking what would better your employees’ moods in the morning.  How about surprising them with something nice?
  2. Lastly, the findings regarding time pressure and job control highlight the importance of effective work design.  Increasing job control and keeping time pressures at a normal level are seemingly crucial; well at least on days you need your staff to think outside that proverbial square.

Binnerwies, C. &Wornlein, S.C.  (2011).  What makes a creative day?  A diary study on the interplay between affect, job stressors, and job control. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 589-607.

5 Tips For Extending The Feeling After a Vacation

Whether it be kicking it up on a 60ft yacht cruising the Adriatic coastline, or sauntering the eastern beaches of the Coromandel, we can only attest to how fantastic it is to revel in the of joy of being on vacation.  Vacations replenish resources drained by the often unsympathetic demands of the working life, and more importantly, give us a chance to reflect.  What is more, vacations can improve well-being, reduce stress, and improve long-term performance.  This sounds just great, but for how long do the effects last?

A recent study investigated this very question. Immediately following the participant’s holiday, emotional exhaustion was shown to decrease, and work engagement—our sense of vigour, dedication, enthusiasm, and mental toughness—was shown to increase.  But we expected that.  What we want to know: how long did the effects last?  Unfortunately, as most of you may very well relate to, the beneficial effects of the vacation—for the vast majority of the participants—began fading within a mere week of the participants returning to the nine-to-five, had significantly declined after two weeks, and had virtually disappeared after four weeks.  Sound about right?

Holding their heads high, the authors accepted this reality, and asked: but what of those who the euphoria of their holiday lasted longer? What were those people doing differently? Or what was different in their environments that could account for these differences?  After controlling for relevant variables, they found the following factors had the biggest influence on length of the post-vacation ‘high’:

  • Avoiding any negative work-related ruminations during the vacation, e.g., “I can’t stand that know-it-all Sally down in marketing”
  • Having sufficient job resources available upon return to work, e.g., supportive co-workers to bring you up to speed on the job-related happenings, sufficient staffing to ensure a fair amount of ‘backed-up’ work
  • Practicing daily relaxation, e.g., quiet reflection, yoga, exercise
  • Scheduling and ensuring personal leisure time, e.g., walking, hobbies, and socialising
  • Keeping the holiday in mind! Pictures, memories, stories!

So what can we take from this?  Well, the follow-on effects of a holiday generally don’t last very long. Won’t be any surprises there for most of you.  But on the lighter side, this research suggests that there are tactics and behaviours that you can adopt that may keep alive that feeling of frivolity, peace, excitement, or whatever it is that you look for in a vacation.

Chin up, I’m sure the next one isn’t far away!

Kuhnel, J., & Sonnentag, S. (2011). How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects. Journal or Organizational Behavior, 32. 125-143.