Research Careers Blog

Innovation and creativity: Creating a community-driven organization

Editor’s note: Arthur Coleman is vice president, product at research firm, Acxiom, Redwood Shores, Calif. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Defining innovation and creativity.”

Bright ideaWhat is innovation? What do we mean when we say a team or organization is innovative? We speak about individuals being innovative but we are just as likely to say they are creative and intend the same meaning. We tend to do the same for teams, although less so. It is rare to talk about a creative vs. an innovative organization.

So are creativity and innovation the same thing? And if not, how are they different? What does that mean for how we approach building an innovative organization?

Researchers in the area of innovation and creativity (two different but highly interrelated fields of study) tend to define creativity as the muse in the individual or team – the fount from which ideas and concepts emerge, often in a haphazard, unpredictable fashion.1 Three concepts are commonly associated with creativity: imagination, problem solving and struggle. Associated with imagination are words like unconventional, spontaneity, intuition and giftedness. Problem-solving includes concepts like intellect, ability and organization. And struggle is associated with the concept that creativity is hard – ideas have to be wrung from one’s brain through a process of conscious and unconscious struggle. It has also become associated with the troubled artist.

It is easy to associate creativity with an individual. So individuals and teams can be creative. But it is harder to use the word with organizations. Organizations are made up of people but we recognize that to talk about an organization beyond a certain size as being creative compared to its members doesn’t match the way we view creativity. Creativity is highly personal and large organizations are conceptually impersonal. One way to combine these concepts that seems to jibe with common conceptions is to say that an innovative organization is made up of creative individuals.

Innovation, on the other hand, is often defined as implementation of ideas generated during the creative process. That is, creativity is a precursor for innovation since creativity is what generates ideas that are innovated upon.2 That would suggest a linear relationship. The implementation of an initial creative concept (the innovation) also sparks a new round of creativity that leads to other innovations.

My guess is that if I asked most of you whether these definitions reflect your notions of the two concepts, you would say yes.

I am going to argue that the relationship between innovation and creativity is more complex. Innovation is implicit in creativity. It is an emergent property of creativity, much as consciousness is an emergent property of our brain’s activity. Asking where the brain’s electrical activity ends and consciousness begins is an impossible question to answer. The same can be said for creativity and innovation.

What this means for an organization trying to spur innovation is that the first focus should be on creating an environment where individual creativity can flourish. New ideas and organizing principals for the organization will emerge from that creative cauldron which can then be turned into innovations that allow the company to better serve its customers.

Managers (my own included) worry about creativity gone wild – that you will focus on innovation because it is creativity with a purpose. Rampant creativity is in many ways frightening because it is a powerful force that once unleashed is hard to direct and organize. So most companies focus on stimulating innovation because it is creativity directed at a goal.

That is a conceptual mistake. The first part of the mistake is that an organization’s innovation must be directed at a common goal. That may be well and good for incremental innovations. But incremental innovation is not enough to keep a company growing and healthy in a turbulent economy. Companies need to encourage some amount of radical innovation which, by definition, is outside the normal processes and agreed-to mission. That creativity is what ultimately identifies crazy new ideas that become the basis for the next billion-dollar opportunity. For a large organization to thrive in today’s marketplace it must tolerate some amount of creative anarchy where individuals operate in an open marketplace for ideas that managers can’t always see, can’t control and will feel uncomfortable with.

But how do I know that people won’t go running off in a direction and create the next great hula hoop when we have a strategy of focusing on building ball bearings? That question underlies the second issue. It assumes your workforce doesn’t get it. That they don’t understand that this is a grown up game and people’s livelihoods are at stake. I don’t find this to be true. If for no other reason than “necessity is the mother of invention.” Creativity is stimulated by the problems facing us. Employees know who puts food on their table. Most understand that they are paid to bring their creativity to bear on problems related to work when at work, and so the problems they get at work stimulate what they get excited about, passionate about and ultimate what they apply their creativity to. Creativity stimulates invention. Invention is an individual activity. Innovation is an organizational activity that evolves from all the inventions that emerge from the somewhat chaotic creative, bubbling cauldron of ideas and conversations between employees.

If an organization fails at creating this community-driven marketplace for ideas and invention, then it may still find it achieves some limited degree of incremental innovation. But I will argue that such a company will never be a truly innovative organization as it will fail to quickly adapt to changes in its marketplace and will ultimately fail its mission.

1. Anderson, Niel; Potacnik, Christina; and Zhou, Jing. “Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary and Guiding Framework.” United Kingdom, Brunel University, 2012.

2. Reid, Susan and de Brentani, Ulrike. “The Fuzzy Front-End of New Product Development for Discontinuous Innovations: A Theoretical Model.” Montreal: John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, 2000.

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10 tips for attracting and retaining Millennial talent

Millennial talentSperry Van Ness International Corporation (SVNIC), a full-service commercial real estate franchisor of the SVN brand, released a new report on how employers, in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry and beyond, can attract and retain Millennial talent. The Millennial Commercial Real Estate Career Study (The SVN Study) was conducted in November of 2015 by SVNIC COO Diane Danielson as part of the company’s on-going efforts to assist their independently owned and operated offices to recruit top talent and diversifying their companies. While the study’s intent was to provide a look at how to retain Millennial talent within commercial real estate, we believe the takeaways are universal and will be beneficial to those looking to hire Millennials – specifically for commission-based jobs – within marketing research.

For the SVN Study, members of Generation Y, (born between 1980 and 1995), were surveyed in the U.S., Canada and South America about careers, specifically asking about commission-based jobs and what factors they look for when choosing future employers.

The study provided 10 recommendations:

  1. Expand your commission-based recruiting pool.
  2. Create a collaborative work environment through common goals, brainstorming and problem solving sessions.
  3. Boost your entrepreneurial spirit by rewarding innovation, supporting risk taking and encouraging employees to think like owners.
  4. Diversify your recruiting pools, existing employee base, leadership and board of directors.
  5. Ensure that upper management is genuinely ethical, transparent and open to mentorship programs.
  6. Demystify management and create a clear path for advancement.
  7. Highlight the high earnings potential and the training programs available to help Millennials succeed.
  8. Provide flexibility in work hours and locations by moving to a results-oriented, “core hours” system and cloud technology.
  9. Incorporate conscious capitalism into your company mission and vision.
  10. Engage in ongoing dialogs with Millennials.


To view and download the full Millennial Commercial Real Estate Career Study report, click here.

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What you need to know about non-compete agreements

Have you ever been asked to sign a non-compete agreement by an employer? Surveys show that around 20 percent of American workers have signed one. While there are many reasons that an employer may ask you to sign a non-compete agreement – one common motive being an attempt to keep company knowledge from getting to competitors – it is important for you to fully understand what you are signing as the agreements could limit your right to work for a competitor or even start your own business in the future.

In a recent video from the Ross School of Business, Michigan Ross Professor Norm Bishara discusses why non-compete agreements are popular a popular tool for businesses and provides five steps to take before and after you sign a non-compete clause.



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7 tips for mastering online job interviews

Current or future job seekers: if you don’t enjoy being on camera, it’s time to move past that insecurity. There’s high probability that your initial interview will take place online.

Business woman preparing for an online job interviewKevin Nall, director of operations in Baylor University’s office of career and professional development, said there has been a shift in human resource departments throughout the nation to forgo face-to-face interviews in lieu of online interviews. Online interviews, he said, tend to require fewer logistics and are more cost-effective.

“When you don’t have to pay mileage or airfare to bring candidates in, it is much easier on the recruiting budget,” he said. “In addition, it can also speed up the hiring process. In my case, if I am interviewing a candidate who has to fly in for the interview, I have to give our human resources department three weeks’ notice to secure the best airfare unless I want to pay a premium to get them here sooner. With the video interview, I can arrange an initial interview within 24 hours.”

Baylor University’s career center has installed special hardware and software to accommodate a significant increase in requests from student job seekers who have scheduled online and video interviews. And while the technology provides hiring companies with logistical ease and doesn’t bust the hiring company’s budget, Nall said job candidates need to take the process seriously and avoid common pitfalls.

“Most of the mistakes I observe come from the candidate side,” he said, offering the following tips:

1. Treat the online interview as if it’s a face-to-face interview.

“The research and preparation for the question-and-answer portion should be exactly the same,” Nall said.

2. Know and test your technology – specifically, your connection.

“Our HR group does a great job of preparing the candidates technically by testing the equipment in advance but you still have candidates who don’t take something as small as a microphone into account so we have trouble hearing them,” Nall said.

In most cases, Nall advises an Ethernet connection to the network versus a wireless connection.

“On a wireless network, you tend to have more buffering between questions and answers, and signal reliability can be an issue. It becomes incredibly frustrating when the interviewer and candidate are talking over one another. We’ve all seen news interviews via video where the reporter asks a question and the interviewee sits and stares at the screen for a number of seconds before answering. You don’t want that in a job interview,” he said.

3. Create an appropriate atmosphere.

“I think it is incredibly important for candidates to find a place they know will be quiet for the interview, both inside the room as well as away from outside noise,” Nall said, adding that he’s seen candidates who fail to consider the appropriateness of the items hanging on the walls behind them or fail to simply tidy the room.

“We’ve had Baywatch posters, dirty clothes baskets, cleaning supplies and even a garbage truck emptying a commercial trash Dumpster in the background,” he said. “This can hurt the candidate’s credibility. “

4. Make sure the camera is at eye level.

“Many candidates fail to elevate their laptop or desktop computer and end up leaning down to the camera,” Nall said. “We spend the entire interview looking up the candidate’s nose. Not the best impression. Also, do not sit too close to the camera. That is equally disturbing because we end up seeing nothing but face in an extreme close-up.”

5. Look at the camera, not the screen.

If you haven’t practiced a video interview before, it can be confusing where to look.

“Depending on how the interviewer has set up the view, you will typically see the interviewers in the main screen and a smaller picture of yourself in the corner,” Nall said. “We tend to find that confuses some candidates. It almost looks as if they are watching a tennis match. They are unsure of where they should be looking, the screen…the camera…the screen…the camera, and on and on. Make it simple on yourself and just look into the camera and treat it as if it is the interviewer. It’ll make you look much more appealing and keep you from straining your neck!”

6. Conduct a practice interview.

“Skype with a friend and have them ask you questions as if you are conducting an interview,” Nall said. “On campus, we use an interviewing software known as InterviewStream, which allows students to conduct a mock interview and record it. They can then go back and analyze their performance to see what they need to adjust in order to make a good impression.”

7. Dress for success.

“Dress should be professional just as if you were interviewing in person. As an example, I suggest men wear a full suit and tie,” Nall said. “That could be flexible depending on the industry you are interviewing with. High-tech companies in the Bay Area are likely to have different standards than an investment bank in New York. Try to find out from the person arranging your interview what the expectation is regarding dress. If you can’t get that information, my advice is to err on the side of caution and go with the coat and tie.”

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Commander’s intent: How a transparent business culture empowers employees

Editor’s note: Brian Doyle is senior director of strategic consulting at research and computer software firm MaritzCX, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.* This is an edited version of a piece that originally appeared here under the title, “Creating empowered employees.”

Arrows Circuitous Route DrawingThe great American poet Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In military parlance, we say, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Whether it’s boxing, combat operations or business, it’s imperative to have a plan. It’s equally imperative to have a culture where your followers know your intent as a leader so they can execute your vision in the absence of direct supervision.

In the military, it’s called commander’s intent and the U.S. Army defines it as, “succinctly describing what constitutes suc­cess for the operation including the operation’s purpose, key tasks and the conditions that define the end state.” In other words, a great leader defines what success looks like for her subordinates. She includes in that vision the overall purpose of the endeavor and some of the key steps that will ensure success. Commander’s intent also fully recognizes that employees won’t have all the information they need to make perfect decisions – and that’s OK.

Combat example                                                 

A good example from my Air Force flying days came during the war in Kosovo. You may recall there were hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees in Albania and it was our job (along with many others) to deter those that wanted to do them harm. The first night of the war, I flew the first of five C-17 cargo jets delivering equipment (rockets, tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc.) to the troops on the ground in Albania. We had set plans for how to navigate hostile forces but they became obsolete by the time we were halfway to our destination.

The AWACS airborne surveillance plane had seen enemy fighter jets in the area and there were also enemy personnel on the ground with surface-to-air missiles. In addition, there were major thunderstorms between us and the landing zone. Finally, air traffic control communications were limited. Under normal circumstances, we would avoid any area with people trying to kill us, thunderstorms and sketchy communications that could lead to a mid-air collision. These, however, were not normal circumstances. We had thousands of pages of procedures but none addressed these conditions. What we did have was a clear understanding from our commanders regarding what we needed to accomplish for the mission to be a success. We absolutely needed to get that equipment on the ground to protect the refugees.

To make the long story short, my copilot and I used information from the AWACS and other intelligence to successfully avoid the enemy fighters and surface-to-air missile threats. Using our weather radar (since it was at night), we picked our way through the thunderstorms and worked all six of the airplane’s radios to coordinate with any other plane that might inadvertently crash into us. Ultimately, we delivered our supplies and were able to provide somewhat of a roadmap for the jets that followed us into the area. We were able to accomplish the mission because we knew the mission’s ultimate goal, we were empowered to make our own decisions and we lacked any fear that our commanders would later punish us for changing the mission parameters to accomplish our goal.

How commander’s intent works in the business world

Businesses often struggle with the same sort of ambiguity as seen on the battlefield (though I’ve never had someone try to kill me when delivering a presentation). In the financial services industry, underwriters evaluate potential customers several times a day. As with the military, there are specific procedures for how they should perform their job. And, like the military, there are situations their leaders hadn’t considered when they wrote their standard operating procedures.

Here’s an example I’ve seen more than once: A loan or insurance policy application comes in to two underwriters from different companies and it doesn’t fit the exact definition of acceptable. The applicant does, however, have several attributes that mitigate the identified risks. Should the underwriters approve it?

The underwriter at Company A won’t. He’s unclear on what his business’ philosophy is regarding on-the-fence applications. Is the company more risk-adverse or does leadership want to grow? He’s not sure. Besides that, he needs a special override from his manager to approve applications that don’t fit specified criteria. In addition, he tried getting an application approved a few years ago and his manager yelled at him for even thinking of it – he’s not doing that again.

The underwriter at Company B will approve the application. Here’s why: She knows her business is trying to grow top-line revenue and is willing to take on a little extra risk to do it. Her manager has explicitly spoken with her about her authority level and this falls within it. And, her manager publicly recognized her teammate for doing the same thing.

Ask yourself: Do your employees know your overall intent? If not, here are a few tips:

  1. Explicitly state your team or business’ goals and philosophy. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve, when you’re trying to achieve it and what risks you might be willing to take to meet the goals.
  2. Ensure systems and policies enable you to empower your people. Formalize their ability to act on their own best judgment.
  3. Celebrate employees who have followed your commander’s intent without checking with you. Use it as a teaching moment for the others that may be afraid to test the waters.


To paraphrase Tyson, sometimes the competition, the market or the enemy “punches you in the mouth.” Your plan has fallen apart. With a clear commander’s intent, though, your team can keep working at peak efficiency. Providing a clear intent also acts as an employee multiplier. By providing well-defined direction, you can have every one of your employees carrying out your intent without having to check with you. That frees you up to finish your own work … and occasionally take a vacation!


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6 myths of employee engagement

Editor’s note: Magi Graziano is a speaker working in employee recruitment and engagement and author of The Wealth of Talent.

Fact Myth Signpost Shows Facts Or MythologyWith today’s global ability to produce carbon copy technology and business models, people truly are a company’s only competitive advantage. Businesses that want to accentuate and optimize their competitive talent advantage focus on employee engagement strategies that improve overall workforce productivity and return on staffing investments.

A major disruption to employee engagement is the adverse impact of the unhappiness epidemic across many companies.

When employees are disengaged or disenfranchised with their work situation, performance plateaus or greatly diminishes. When there is awareness about what causes unhappiness at work, a company can do something about it.

Studies have shown that the drivers of employee engagement have everything to do with how an employee feels about work and feels at work. It begins with the employee feeling connected and invested in the company mission and direction, and continues with the employee having trust in the company’s leadership.

The first step in creating and inspiring engagement in the workforce is to debunk the pervasive and misleading myths about employee engagement.

There are six myths disrupting companies’ ability to keep people engaged.

1. A flexible work environment fosters productivity

While remote work opportunities reduce the carbon footprint and avert hours wasted in traffic, more often than not companies do a poor job of looping remote workers into the day-to-day activities of the business. Unfortunately, an adverse impact of remote work for the employee is out of sight, out of mind. Research shows that remote workers and workers with flex time schedules receive less coaching and mentoring and miss out on the institutional knowledge-sharing and socialization that happens in the typical course of a shared work-space.

2. Strong paychecks equal strong loyalty

Not all people are primarily motivated by money, and more often than not, fair and sustainable pay is not a motivator – it is a table stake. For years, company leaders have approached solving the employee retention problem through monetary rewards and incentives. While this economic motivator works for 20 percent of the population, most organizations are finding that employee spiffs and salary increases alone are insufficient in reversing the turnover trend.

For 80 percent of the working population the money is not a lever that leads to engagement and buy in. Forty percent of people want workplace rewards in terms of more educational opportunities; rewarding and challenging projects; and a sense that they can further their knowledge and career path as a result of working with a specific company or in a certain role. The other 40 percent of workers want to feel emotionally connected to the mission and service of the organization and to the customers they serve. Increasing their customer-facing opportunities is much more rewarding than a few extra bucks in their paycheck or receiving a gift card for coffee.

If money is the only mechanism to get people to stay, it leads to people using money to create bidding wars between current and future employers.

3. Employee independence is necessary for performance

One pervasive myth is that all employees need autonomy and independence, and the more hands-off that management is the better the employee will perform.

The reality is that autonomy and independence are not values that everyone shares. To one employee, being left alone can be a true benefit and they may thrive when left up to their own devices. To others it is a recipe for feeling disconnected, isolated and ignored.

4. A job is just a job

Today’s worker more evolved and present to work life fulfillment than ever before. Employees today fundamentally want and need so much more than a job for a paycheck. A striking majority of workers have said they want purpose and meaning in the work they do, and that they feel happier at work when they know that what they do matters to the success of the organization.

5. Employees should be satisfied with their current position

High-performing people need to see a pathway for themselves in the role they own and in the company they work in. Engagement research shows that when people see a pathway for their growth and development they provide a higher-level of consistent results for the team. When employees feel that a company is invested in their growth, they are more committed to their role and more connected to how they impact the success of the company.

6. Your company is enough to keep the employee

The sixth myth is that people go to work for a company and their loyalty to the company and brand is enough to keep them engaged and retained. What has become painfully apparent over the last decade is that people don’t leave companies – they leave managers. When a good employee does not have a strong relationship with their manager, no incentive or brand loyalty will keep the employee fully engaged. People need to feel appreciated, respected, acknowledged and important; when their direct manager does not provide meaningful assignments, regular feedback and mentoring, engagement is thwarted.

While all of these perceived solutions are good ideas as components of an effective employee engagement program, alone they are insufficient means to drive employee connection and engagement. When carrots like money, time off, autonomy and career path are not coupled with alignment and good people management, those incentives wind up costing companies millions and derive little to no benefit in the long run.
A well thought out, conscious employee engagement program considers who people are as individuals and allows for customization in the approach to assigning work and giving feedback. Individualization is a 21st century shift from the one-size-fits-all management of the 80s. A main component of a well-built employee engagement program includes a highly competent management team who embraces coaching and mentoring their people.

When a manager takes the time to offer professional development opportunities, communicate how the employee’s role contributes to the overall organizations success and rewards for great performance, employees feel valued and appreciated and engagement soars.


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Are you demotivating your best employees?

Editor’s note: Dina Gerdeman is a writer based in Mansfield, Mass. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “How to demotivate your best employees.”

hand writing employee of the month on black chalkboardIt would seem to make sense that when companies recognize their workers with awards, they are likely to see a boost in morale and perhaps even inspire them to work harder.

It turns out that sometimes rewarding employees for good behavior can actually backfire, leading to a drop in motivation and productivity.

More than 80 percent of companies dole out work-related awards like employee of the month or top salesperson. Managers often view these awards as inexpensive ways to improve worker performance; many believe that when employees bask in the glow of corporate praise, they may even feel motivated to work harder over the long term.

But new research suggests that some awards may actually have the opposite effect, according to a recent paper titled, The Dirty Laundry of Employee Award Programs: Evidence from the Field, written by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ian Larkin, along with professor Lamar Pierce and doctoral student Timothy Gubler from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

The researchers studied an attendance award program initiated by managers at one of the five commercial-industrial laundries owned by the same Midwestern company. Perfect attendance was defined as not having any unexcused absences or tardy shift arrivals during the month.

The plant managers had all the right intentions when they implemented the award program. Absenteeism and tardiness costs U.S. companies as much as $3 billion a year. And in the case of the laundry plant, one worker’s tardiness or absence can affect another’s productivity. If one team of workers falls behind on the job, for example, other workers down the line are left to sit idle.

Stellar employees who previously had excellent attendance and were highly productive ended up suffering a 6 to 8 percent productivity decrease

The plant’s attendance award program began in March 2011 and continued for nine months. Employees with perfect attendance for a month, including no unexcused absences or tardy shift arrivals, were entered into a drawing to win a $75 gift card to a local restaurant or store; the winner’s name was drawn at a meeting attended by all the employees. At the end of the sixth month, the plant manager held another drawing for a $100 gift card for all employees with perfect attendance records over the previous six months.

The program did produce one benefit the plant managers were looking for: it reduced the average level of tardiness and led to more punctual arrivals for the workers who participated.

Airing dirty laundry

Yet when Larkin and his colleagues took a closer look at employee time sheets and records showing the amount of laundry that actually got done both before and after the program was introduced, they found that the plant – unlike the other four that didn’t have an award program – experienced some problems:

  • First, employees ended up gaming the program, showing up on time only when they were eligible for the award and, in some cases, calling in sick rather than reporting late. Most interestingly, workers were 50 percent more likely to have an unplanned “single absence” after the award was implemented, suggesting that employees who would otherwise have arrived to work tardy on a certain day might instead either call in sick to avoid disqualification or else simply stay home because they would be disqualified from the award regardless.Also, while punctuality improved during the first few months of the program, old patterns of tardiness started to emerge in later months. And once employees became disqualified and the carrot of the award was out of their reach, their punctual behavior slipped back downhill. Larkin says this runs counter to what some people believe – that such an award program might instill a long-term pattern of on-time performance in workers.

    The hope is that with the award you get them to do what you want them to do in a habitual way, Larkin says. “But we can say it’s the exact opposite. There was only a change in behavior while people were eligible for the award.”

  • Second, and perhaps more significantly, stellar employees who previously had excellent attendance and were highly productive ended up suffering a 6 to 8 percent productivity decrease after the program was introduced. This suggests that these employees were actually turned off – and their motivation dropped – when the managers introduced awards for good behavior they were already exhibiting.These workers may have believed that the award program was unfair; after all, they had been showing up to work on time before the attendance program, so they wondered why an award was necessary and why some employees who used to show up late were winning the award.

    “The award demotivated these employees,” says Larkin, who interviewed workers at the plant to gain additional insight. “People believed it was unfair to recognize people who only changed their behavior because of this award. They felt that ‘I’m a hard worker, and now they’re giving awards for something like attendance. What about me?’”

  • All in all, the award program actually led to a decrease in plant productivity by 1.4 percent, which added up to a cost of almost $1,500 a month for the plant.”Having your top performers demotivated for all eight hours on the job ended up creating a much bigger productivity hit than having the extra five minutes of work from someone who came habitually late,” Larkin says.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that rewarding one behavior sometimes can crowd out intrinsic motivation in another.

Rewards that work

Despite the fact that this particular award brought more harm than good, many other types of award incentives have proven beneficial for companies. But Larkin says corporate managers should manage them closely to make sure that employees aren’t gaming the system and that the programs aren’t fostering unintended negative effects.

“Many award programs have created value and are cost-effective for companies,” he says. “Our paper shouldn’t be taken as a blanket criticism of awards. You can’t say awards are good or bad. It depends on how they’re implemented.”

This particular attendance award may have been especially flawed because rather than rewarding workers for exceptional performance, it rewarded them for fulfilling a basic job expectation.

“A lot of awards are focused on identifying people at the top of the class or people who went the extra mile,” Larkin says. “This award did not recognize people who went above and beyond. It was an award for a behavior that employees should do.”

Also, Larkin believes that awards are more effective when they recognize good behavior in the past, rather than behavior going forward. Plus, awards for past performance aren’t likely to see as much gaming, he says.

“It’s motivational to hear that you’ve done a good job and are being recognized for doing the right thing,” he says. “And it provides a good example for other people. People aren’t being rewarded because they changed their behavior to match what the manager wanted or by gaming.”

Larkin says that in the laundry study, the reward itself – gift cards – may have led to a higher likelihood of gaming. Sometimes it’s better to keep money out of the deal.

“People respond very strongly to monetary incentives with this gaming mentality,” he says. “When I talk to companies about award programs, I find myself telling them, ‘Don’t put in that $500 or the trip to the Bahamas.’ It sounds like a nice thing to put in but it also changes the psychological mind-set people have.”

Instead, Larkin says that companies may fare better just by giving people a nice plaque, sending an e-mail to staff or calling a meeting to recognize certain workers publicly in front of the whole crew.

“You can’t put a price on that. The recognition of hearing you did a good job and that others are hearing about it is worth more than money,” said Larkin.


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Open offices didn’t have to happen

Editor’s note: Barbara Hemphill is founder of Productive Environment Institute, Raleigh, N.C.

Estimates on time wasted by executives on searching for data ranges from 150 hours to six weeks per year. That means if an executive makes $200,000 per year, the company is spending anywhere from $16,600 to $25,000 per year, per executive, looking for lost information. Not only does it represent a dollar loss but a time loss as that executive spends 8 to 12.5 percent of their time just finding what they need to work.

The figures for employees underneath the executives are even more astounding. Studies show the average office workers spends anywhere between 25 percent and 35 percent of their time every day finding the information they need to do their job.

In a hypothetical organization with 1,000 workers, each drawing salary and benefits that together average $80,000 per year, the organization will spend $6 million on looking for information that should be readily available.

Research also shows that 80 percent of what we keep we never use, and the more we keep the less we use – because we don’t know we even have it, or we simply can’t find it.

Prior to personal computers, organizations had a personnel structure that ensured decisions were made about what needed to be kept. Executives had private secretaries. Departments had file clerks. Companies had file rooms, and file rooms had a records manager who was the keeper of the records retention program for the organization.

The pile-up begins

When computers showed up on everyone’s desks, support staff were deemed no longer necessary. When they left, so did the decision-making mechanism and the clutter began piling up. An administrator in a large Manhattan company shared that her company had ten floors with 1,000 file cabinets on each floor. In addition, there were banker’s boxes of full of files, and loose papers piled on desks and file cabinets. An evaluation of the problem quickly demonstrated unnecessary duplication of papers being filed. This same company was spending money to eliminate private offices and add filing cabinets, when the problem could have been avoided by simply eliminating the unnecessary files.

By nature, entrepreneurs and executives are not attuned to the issue of clutter. It seems a minor issue and employees being paid to organize their workspaces is not an efficient use of time and money. As a result, for the past several decades, clutter has been accumulating on desks, in file cabinets, in storage closets, and off-site. One IT manager said she used to look at her boss’s office and wonder how he could manage a company if he couldn’t even manage his own office.

Avoiding the issue

open officeWhen a major banking institution moves into its new multi-story building in Manhattan, their employees certainly won’t have any clutter. They also won’t have a door in their office, and most of them won’t have a desk. If they want to have a photo of their family in the office, they’ll have to lock it up every night, since they won’t have the same desk every day.

Company management says the setup will connect people face-to-face, raise energy levels and save money – by fitting more people into one space. People will learn to use headphones and talk more softly to enable privacy.

Other companies are doing the same. While researchers disagree about whether open offices foster communication or encourage distraction, the truth is the entire issue could have been avoided if executives would have started paying attention to the clutter that began accumulating in offices when Bill Gates put computers on everyone’s desk.

What can we learn?

If companies had paid attention to the paper accumulation decades ago, perhaps today we could still have offices with desks and doors, because there wouldn’t be millions of files stored that no one needs or uses.

While it’s true that open offices solve the problem of paper clutter, the clutter problem has merely been transferred from physical to digital. For decades, companies have spent millions of dollars on software for their employees but refused to invest in any training on how to organize the millions of files that are created daily. Now our computers and the cloud are filling up with clutter as surely as our desks and file cabinets have in the past.

As the familiar saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to relive it.”

Moving forward

While we can’t undo the past, we can certainly take steps to avoid repeating in the digital world the mistakes we made in the paper world. Here are five steps your organization can take now:

  1. Identify someone in your organization to take ownership for effectively managing information.
  2. Take a serious look in your office to see if there is a clutter problem you are ignoring.
  3. Create a user-friendly records retention program for your organization.
  4. Implement a training program to teach employees how to make decisions about what information they need to keep.
  5. Empower employees to eliminate unnecessary clutter by designating specific times for that purpose.


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Developing humility in 2016

Editor’s note: Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration, author of Lear or Die: Using science to build a leading-edge learning organization and Batten executive-in-residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Work Hard, Stay HumbleAs a new year begins, most of us are focused on the resolutions we’ve chosen to pursue. While 2016 is still relatively fresh, you might want to consider adding one (probably unexpected) goal to perennial favorites like losing weight or getting your finances in order: becoming humble. Why? Larger-than-life egos are quickly becoming liabilities, not the signs of strength and leadership they once were. Indeed, in what may first appear to be a paradox, ego’s mortal enemy – humility – is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st century workplace.

In the tech tsunami of the next few decades, robots and smart machines are projected to take over more than half of U.S. jobs. The jobs that will still be safe involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can’t replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity and emotionally engaging with other humans. All of those skills have one thing in common: They are enabled by humility.

Skeptical? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others? At saying, “I don’t know?”

Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader – or even a successful employee – in 2016 and beyond, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented. And make no mistake: It won’t be easy.

We’re talking about self-work that’s never finished. For one thing, ego-based thinking is our brain’s default position – we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning. But if we’re to stay competitive in the Smart Machine Age, it has to happen!

Here are seven suggestions to help you improve your humility this year:

First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations. Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Cognitively, humans are wired to selectively process only information that is confirmatory – and to selectively filter out information that contradicts what we know to be right. In addition, we’re lazy, self-serving and emotionally defensive thinkers who are driven to protect our egos.

However, the science is quite clear that high-level and innovative thinking is a team sport. In order to learn, adapt and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top – which requires humility! The good news is, when it comes to resisting your thinking’s natural defenses, forewarned is forearmed.

Seek objective feedback about your ego. You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you – one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.

Explain why you need honest answers. Emphasize how appreciative you will be if they are honest and that candor will not diminish the relationship. After receiving the data, evaluate it with a trusted other. Thank everyone who had the courage to give you honest feedback. Reflect on the picture you received and decide what you want to do with that data.

Change your mental model of what smart looks like. In the past, smartness has been determined by the size of one’s body of knowledge. Not knowing the “right” answer was – and often still is – a big blow to the ego. But today we already have instant access to all the knowledge we want, thanks to companions like Google and Siri. The new smart means knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to learn it, being able to ask the right questions and being able to examine the answers critically.

We are all sub-optimal thinkers. Only those of us who can graciously and humbly admit that we don’t know it all will succeed in this new world. So change how you keep score. Engage in collaboration, seek out feedback and ask for help daily. That will push you toward developing the humility and empathy you’ll need to win in the new game.

Learn to put yourself in others’ shoes. Research says one way to become less self-absorbed and more open to the experiences of others is to actively work on being more empathetic and compassionate. Thinking of how others helped you and saying “thank you” on a daily basis is a positive way to begin the process. Reflecting on the people who add joy to your life helps too.

Suspending judgment so that I can put myself in another person’s shoes has always been a particular challenge for me. My mind always wants to jump to a conclusion instead of really considering what the other person is experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Active listening has been an important tool in helping me learn to set my ego aside. When I remind myself to focus all of my attention on what someone else is saying instead of on formulating my own response, I find that my understanding of the situation grows – and often, so does the amount of empathy I feel.

Remember, you don’t have to fully agree with someone’s opinion or actions to still treat them with compassion. Disagreeing with humility still leaves the lines of communication open and allows teamwork to happen in the future.

Quiet your mind to stay in the moment.  Attention-focused meditation is a time-honored method of calming one’s inner self-intensity. Fully engaging with your current experience (as opposed to ruminating on the past or worrying about the future) enables you to maintain a balanced, healthy perspective. Staying in and responding to the present moment is also a powerful safeguard against ego-driven misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Personally, I have found that meditation makes me more aware of my physical reactions – breathing and heart rate. I now know that when my internal motor gets running really fast I tend to revert to a “me” syndrome, and that I need to deliberately slow myself down so that I can exhibit more calmness and openness to others. I have come to understand that as a teammate and as a leader I don’t have to be right all the time or the center of attention all the time – but I do have to work with others to arrive at the best answer.

Stop letting fear drive your decisions. We often play it safe because we don’t want to look dumb, be wrong or fail spectacularly in front of our friends and colleagues. In other words, we’re afraid of making mistakes and bruising our egos. Being OK with being wrong is a necessary and important part of developing humility.

Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of embarrassment, fear of a loss of status, fear of not being liked and fear of losing one’s job all inhibit the kind of learning, innovation and collaboration that’s essential for your long-term job security. To proceed more fearlessly into the future, you need to understand that learning is not an efficient 99 percent defect-free process – so mistakes have to be valued as learning opportunities.

The faster and better you are at turning mistakes into learning opportunities, the less likely it is that you will be replaced by some machine. Having an ego that’s not afraid to acknowledge mistakes, confront weaknesses and test assumptions is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Grade yourself daily. There’s a reason why to-do lists are so popular: They work! Create a checklist of reminders about the need to be humble, open-minded, empathetic, a good listener or any other ego-mitigating quality you wish to work on. Make the list as detailed as possible. Review it before every meeting and grade yourself at the end of each meeting. For example, if you want to work on being a better listener, your list might include the following tasks:

  • Do not interrupt others.
  • Really focus on understanding the other person.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Do not think about your response while the other person is still talking.
  • Do not automatically advocate your views in your first response.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the other person.
  • Ask if you can paraphrase what the other person said to make sure you heard them correctly.
  • Really try to understand the reasons the other person believes what they believe.


If you reflect and work on managing yourself every day, you will notice a difference in your humility-to-ego ratio. To start, I advise picking two behaviors you want to change. Seek the help of trusted others in creating your checklist and ask for their help in holding you accountable. Give them permission to call you out when they see you acting in opposition to your desired new behaviors.

The journey to becoming a humble person will not be short. It will take persistent hard work. And it will be a lifelong endeavor – not something that’s completed by December 31. But I firmly believe that you will find the journey to be liberating and fruitful.

With humility comes more meaningful relationships, better opportunities and of course, an increased chance of staying relevant and competitive in the Smart Machine Age. In that age, individualism and internal competition will be out, and teamwork will be in. Self-promotion will be out, and self-reflection will be in. Knowing it all will be out, and being good at not knowing will be in.

In short, humility will be needed to maximize one’s effectiveness at thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. You will need others to help you out-think a smart machine! Work on yourself starting now, so they’ll want to engage with you tomorrow. Honing your humility may be one of the most important New Year’s resolutions you’ll ever make.


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3 Questions for uncovering unconscious bias in the workplace

Editor’s note: Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention and Promotion.

Diversity and inclusion have definitely grown up over the past 20 years. Studies have shown that diversity management tops the list of priorities that businesses will have in the coming years. Within the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of senior-level diversity officer roles in corporations, higher education and law firms. With all of these resources being put toward increasing diversity, why have most organizations not achieved the change they seek?

You might not have an answer because despite much societal advancement, there are reminders that people are treated unfairly because of their faith, how they look or how they sound.

Our silence might also be acknowledging that we do not know how to achieve the diversity we seek.

In the workplace, part of the issue is not knowing the difference between diversity and inclusion. Think of the high school lunch table as a metaphor for experiencing the distinction between the two.

cafeteriaDo you remember what your high school cafeteria looked like, sounded like and what it smelled like? You probably had a group of friends that you ate lunch with every day. Imagine that one day, you asked a different group if you could sit with them and they enthusiastically made room for you. However, after a few minutes at this new table, you noticed that you were not a part of the conversation. People were making plans for the weekend without asking if you would like to join them. When you tried to tell a joke, everyone stared at you dismissively. People talked over you and cut you off mid-sentence. While you were invited to sit at the table, you were not invited to engage at the table. Many organizations do a great job of recruiting for the diversity they seek, but fail to create inclusive environments.

Engagement is a measurement of a person’s inclusion in an organization and drives the overall quality of the human capital brought to the table.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that everyone has needs that must be met before they can reach a level of self-actualization. In the workplace, an employee’s safety and psychological needs are most likely taken care of because their jobs provide the financial resources for them to clothe and feed themselves. However, the difficulty in most workplaces starts with the social needs.

When you have friends and positive relationships at work, it creates a sense of belonging. Next is your esteem needs. Everyone has a need to have their work recognized by senior leadership. If employees never hear that they are doing a good job, they may doubt their work and themselves.

Lastly, if all your other needs are met, you may reach the level of self-actualization at work. Self-actualization is the point where you take initiative and solve the critical problems in your organization. When your social and esteem needs are met, you have the space, room and security to think about new and different ways to contribute to your company’s business goals. If one of these rungs on the ladder to engagement are missing, however, it could financially impact the organization. For instance, employee turnover is one consequence of not having engagement. If your organization had 75,000 employees, and 50 percent were women and non-white but saw a 3.6 percent attrition rate with this population, it would cost the organization $2.2 million if it costs ten thousand dollars to replace an employee.

So how and why does exclusion still take place when there are direct benefits to inclusion? Often, without even realizing it, people engage in micro-inequities that are driven by their unconscious biases. Micro-inequities are the subtle gestures, comments and interactions that make you feel included or excluded by another. It’s feeling ignored when you’re talking to someone and they glance at their watch when you make an important point. It’s being left off of an e-mail chain when you should have been included. Think of micro-inequities as the waves that threaten to erode your beautiful beach house that sits on wooden stilts. Over time, the waves deteriorate the wooden stilts, often in ways that are unseen by the eye.

While there are a number of ways to uncover exclusion and unconscious bias in an organization – and eventually eradicate it – the process may start with three questions:

  1. Is there a team member who would view my feedback as negative if I give them any feedback at all?
  2. Who on the team do I dislike working with?
  3. Which person on the team makes me say, “I am having such a difficult time getting to know this person?”


Most likely the person or people who surface in your responses are feeling excluded from your work groups.

In a training session for a large government agency, there was a senior leader who admitted that while he was committed to diversity as a cause, he was not putting his actions into practice with certain individuals on his team. He courageously admitted that he created a self-fulfilling prophecy where his favorite employees were excelling and the others, whom he did not connect with and had ignored, were struggling. Invitations to his afternoon coffee excursions to Starbucks were only extended to the people on his team that he connected to and liked.

Even those with the best intentions have difficulty tying their words to their actions. Creating an inclusive culture takes shaking our unconscious minds awake and questioning our actions.


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