Research Careers Blog

The 12 types of bosses

Editor’s note: Geoffrey James is a business journalist writing for Inc.com, Boston.

There are 12 types of bosses, each with a different management style.

Business and authorityEveryone needs a field guide to identify which type of boss they’ve got and how to get the most out of the experience.

1. The visionary

Visionaries are more concerned with the future than with what’s going on here and now. They manage by creating (or trying to create) a reality-distortion field that makes a team believe they can accomplish the impossible.

While visionaries can be fun to work for, they can also be intolerant, overly critical and sometimes throw tantrums when they don’t get their way.

If you’re working for a visionary, drink the Kool-Aid, work the long hours and learn to repeat this mantra: “This product will change the world.”

2. The climber

Climbers are interested in you only insofar as you can help or hinder their ascent to the corner office. They spend most of their time and effort figuring out how to win status, claim credit and build alliances.

Because they’re obsessed with their own career, they see you (and everyone else) only as either a help or a hindrance to achieving their personal goals.

If you’re working for a climber, become the person who has his back when his fellow climbers try to stab it.

3. The bureaucrat

Bureaucrats want everything run by the book. They are resistant to change because they see their current situation as the best of all possible worlds.

Bureaucrats thrive inside large enterprises but falter in smaller firms because the lack of a crowd makes it too obvious that they really aren’t doing all that much.

If you’re working for a bureaucrat, document everything you do and limit your activities to what’s been done in the past. Warning: Bureaucrats can grind your creativity into dust.

4. The propellerhead

When engineers get into the management chain, they bring a technology-oriented worldview with them. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean you’ll be judged almost entirely on your technical competence.

The propellerhead boss prefers employees who are experts in some technical field – the more obscure the better. They consider all nontechnical types (like MBA holders) equally stupid and useless.

If you’re working for a propellerhead, become fluent in nerdy pop culture references. If possible, illustrate business points by quoting lines from specific Star Trek episodes.

5. The fogey

Fogeys have been around since the days when “secretaries” (whoever they were) used “typewriters” (whatever they were). They’re wise in the ways of the world but clueless about what’s actually going on.

Fogeys who are close to retirement are often quite jovial and easy-going; those who must continue to work because they can’t afford to retire can be meaner than dyspeptic weasels.

If you’re working for a fogey, don’t assume that every duffer is a doofus. Reassure your boss that he’s still relevant and then recruit him as a mentor.

6. The whippersnapper

The flip side of the fogey is the barely-out-of-college go-getter who’s assigned to manage a group of seasoned employees.

Whippersnappers are energetic, enthusiastic but secretly afraid that nobody is taking them seriously.

If you’re working for a whippersnapper, respond enthusiastically to the energy they bring to their job and never, ever remind them of their relative inexperience.

7. The social director

Social directors consider the personal interactions that happen in the workplace as important as (and sometimes more important than) the work itself.

Social directors manage by consensus. They call a LOT of meetings and spend a LOT of time letting people air their opinions and ideas.

If you’re working for a social director, build alliances and garner supporters before trying to get any decision made. Also, be the one who brings the donuts to the meeting.

8. The dictator

While most people find the “my way or the highway” boss irritating, working for a dictator has some advantages. They make decisions quickly, without over-analyzing.

On the other hand, dictators are impervious to outside opinion and brittle when it comes to change. When they fail, it’s usually on an epic scale.

If you’re working for a dictator, simply follow orders and hope for the best. But be ready to job hunt before the dictator drives your organization over a cliff.

9. The sales star

Selling is part of every job, and every boss should be able to sell his or her ideas. The problem with sales stars is that’s the only thing they know how to do.

Sales star bosses are usually created when top sales professionals are promoted into management, which is stupid because managing people requires a different skill set from selling to customers.

If you’re working for a sales star, encourage them to sell for you! Bring them into situations where a deal must be closed or terms negotiated.

10. The hatchet man

Hatchet men (or women) are brought into an organization to fire people as quickly as possible, usually to make the company more attractive to investors.

There are only two roles available for people who work for a hatchet man: henchman or victim. Ultimately the favored role, that of henchman, is temporary: They often get canned too.

The best way to deal with a hatchet man is to be long gone by the time he or she arrives.

11. The lost lamb

Sometimes people who have no management talent end up in a position of authority, usually because a manager left and the organization needs somebody to “hold the fort.”

Lost lambs continue whatever policies were previously in place and dread doing anything that will be held against them once they’re pushed back into the ranks.

If you’re working for a lost lamb, move your projects forward without forcing your manager to make any difficult decisions.

12. The hero

Heroes prefer to coach others than to do things themselves. They have a knack for figuring out exactly what their employees need in order to do a superlative job and then how to get that for them.

Heroes always give their teams credit for the wins but take personal responsibility for the losses. They believe that “the buck stops here” not that “shit rolls downhill.”

If you’re working for a hero, enjoy it while it lasts, because chances are the hero will get promoted upward or be recruited to work elsewhere.

Adapted from Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know by Geoffrey James.

Posted in Employment Trends, For Employers | Comment

Why Six Sigma may stifle innovation

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.  

Dell. 3M. Motorola. General Electric. They are just a few of the organizations that have embraced Lean and Six Sigma over the past couple of decades. And no wonder. There’s something so appealing, so elegant, about the concept that drives these systems: Take what we already know, replicate it, improve it and repeat. It’s so easy a robot could do it – and that’s precisely the problem.

Perpetual motion with broken light bulbs and glowing bulbVery soon the tasks that Lean and Six Sigma have helped operationalize will be handled primarily by robots and smart machines.

That’s a good thing. Nothing beats a robot in terms of efficiency and perfection. But here’s the real question: How good is your company at doing all the things robots can’t do well – such as innovate?

As you’ve no doubt heard, the only real competitive advantage these days is the ability to learn and innovate. That means your organization must be okay with risk – and the screw-ups, missteps and waste that inevitably accompany it. The problem, of course, is that an organization steeped in the lore of Lean and Six Sigma naturally views them as sins to stamp out.

So am I suggesting we abandon the quest for operational excellence? Well, no. We must allow Lean or Six Sigma or whatever operational excellence system we follow to coexist peacefully with a deep desire to learn and try new things, even when the outcome is unknown.

Yes, it’s a paradox. But it’s one that must be hardwired into the fabric of an organization through a learning culture, because learning is the fundamental process that underlies both operational excellence and innovation.

Lean and Six Sigma just need to happen in the context of a hybrid business model, one that also prioritizes the need for innovation while keeping in play the best aspects of operational excellence – for example, its focus on relentless, constant improvement.

If you want to survive the coming Digital Age of Machines (a.k.a. the 21st century), you MUST create a learning environment with these five key elements:

Give employees permission to try and fail. Perhaps the most popular reasons Lean and Six Sigma are used by companies are to increase efficiency and reduce costs. However, when you worship efficiency, you also can handcuff learning and innovation. Employees must be given conditional permission to fail within proscribed financial tolerances, with the knowledge that they won’t be punished for their mistakes so long as they learn.

Bridgewater Associates, the biggest and one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, is passionate about the power of mistakes. Bridgewater actually encourages employees to get excited about their mistakes because each error that employees learn from will make them better faster. Employees are instructed not to feel bad about their mistakes or failed experiments, or those of others. Learning from mistakes, being honest about personal weaknesses and stress-testing one’s thinking, the company believes, is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Shift leadership toward coaching-ship. The knowing and telling that can make up leadership under Six Sigma-style systems can stifle independent thinking. If you want an adaptable learning (thinking) organization, you need to humanize your management models, and that requires many leaders and companies to fundamentally change their attitudes and behaviors toward employees. This paradigm shift from command and control leaders to developmental coaching is pivotal to creating a culture where employees are not fearful of making mistakes and feel safe enough to try. Humility, empathy, emotional intelligence and self-management are required leadership capabilities for today’s companies. These qualities nurture the very human capabilities that are at the root of adaptation and innovation: the ability to ideate, create, emotionally engage and learn in conditions of uncertainty, ambiguity and rapid change.

Allow the best ideas to rise to the top. In an idea meritocracy, the best ideas win out regardless of the position held by the thinker-upper. Innovation and creativity are what matter, not hierarchy.

Google has successfully built an idea meritocracy to drive innovation and experimentation – in other words, trying new things. To support this culture, pay level is irrelevant in decision making, and so is experience or tenure – unless the experience provides data used to frame good arguments. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, stated in the book How Google works that Google employees are told not to listen to HiPPOs, or the highest paid person’s opinion just because of their position.

Make candor with a duty to dissent the gold standard. Operational excellence can lead to command-and-control, hierarchy-based cultures. Unfortunately, these cultures have a tendency to stifle dissent and limit learning.

At Google, employees have a duty to dissent. This means that relative rookies can – and do – raise objections and present alternate ideas when they disagree with their bosses. A similar duty to dissent can be found at UPS, which has an employee-centric culture of constructive dissatisfaction, meaning that everyone has the duty to find ways to improve.

Candor and permission to speak freely without fear of punishment are critical to becoming an innovative organization. This is evidenced at Google, Bridgewater Associates, Pixar Animation and W.L. Gore and Associates.

Teach employees how to overcome their weaknesses. We cannot learn when we constantly seek to be right, actively avoid the risk of making mistakes or ignore those who disagree with us. Employees must work around these human tendencies in order to become better thinkers, learners, and in turn, innovators.

We are sub-optimal learners. In order to learn, we have to be open-minded and be willing to constantly stress-test our beliefs against data and we need to really listen to people who disagree with us. In other words, we have to be willing to be wrong! Overcoming the strength of our ego-defense system requires management of our emotions and quieting our egos. We need to decouple our beliefs (not values) from our egos. We are not our ideas. Yes, in order to optimize the good things our human brains can do, we must overcome the bad aspects of our humanness. That requires a learning culture and the rigorous daily use of best thinking, listening, and collaborating processes.

Ultimately, Lean and Six Sigma systems thrive on eradicating variance. Innovation, on the other hand, thrives on variance. Reconciling that difference along with the different tolerances for failure can be achieved under an umbrella learning culture.

I believe that technology advances will make operational excellence a commodity, making innovation the key organic growth strategic differentiator. That means the organization of the future has to be both operationally excellent and innovative. That is made easier with a learning culture.

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11 tips for connecting with other women in business

Editor’s note: Nancy D. O’Reilly is a clinical psychologist, an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc.

Competing with other women is out. Connecting with other women to share ideas, work together on projects and offer support is in. The changes brought about by the global economy have made collaboration and innovation must-have skills, and the great news is that women tend to be naturals at them. And that is why the women-helping-women movement is really picking up steam.

Two business womenWe’re making a shift to what I call connecting 2.0. It’s more meaningful than the “mile-wide and inch-deep” type of connecting we associate with social media. It’s based on sharing and co-creating, not self-interest. It’s authentic, it feels good and it works.

This deeper approach to connecting works so well, in fact, that we are creating an ever-expanding network of resources offering expertise and support to women in business, government, education, philanthropy and other fields. The idea is not just to advance our careers and make money but to make life itself richer, more exciting and more creative.

This is more than a trend; it’s a movement – and women love it. More and more smart, amazing women are connecting to help their “sisters” live their very best lives. These like-minded women are passionate about making the world a better place – so they are finding one another and building strong, supportive communities.

The women-helping-women movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let’s-exchange-cards-and-move-on networking that most of us hate. Sure, connecting with other women does pay off in amazing ways but the rewards flow organically from our feminine strengths and a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

You may be wondering, where do I sign up? The answer is everywhere. This is not some exclusive club – it’s open to all women with passion, enthusiasm and a yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life and maybe even change the world. But I know you may not be used to thinking in this way. That’s why I offer the following tips:

• First things first: aim for a good mix of online and face-to-face connecting. It’s easy to send an e-mail message, and it’s really easy to like, share and follow in the world of social media. That’s why so many women do it. (It’s easy to push a key or click a mouse after all.) And while there is nothing wrong with social media, it’s also no substitute for real-world human interaction. The women-helping-women movement depends on both types of connecting: virtual and face-to-face.

If you’re burning up social media, consider taking an online contact offline. Tell her you’d love to meet her for lunch the next time she’s in town. Conversely, if you’re proudly old school and are neglecting your social media presence, dive in. You really need a foot in both worlds.

• Join a new group that interests you and really attend the meetings. Make them a priority. It doesn’t matter what activity it’s based on. This may be a book circle or a kayaking club or a community cause. What’s important is that you’re getting together with other women who share a common interest – and that you go to meetings and events often enough to let these strong connections develop.

It’s the shared passion for the activity that generates the connections. And those connections take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, winning clients – even though that’s not the purpose for the group.

Get on a different team at work. We tend to stick to our comfort zone. But shaking things up from time to time keeps you sharp and in the path of exciting new people. When you work with women you don’t know on projects you’re unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow and often discover vital new talents and interests.

• Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart. Women who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents and treasure are the kinds of women you want to meet. They tend to be other-oriented and want to make new connections, too. So whether your cause is homeless animals, kids with cancer, adult literacy or clean oceans, get involved.

I actually met the 19 women who co-wrote my new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life, through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation. In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when women make connections based on their desire to serve.

• Think about what you need to learn. Seek out mentors who can help you learn it. Let’s say you have a small catering company specializing in weddings, parties and family reunions. You’d like to expand into the health care conference arena but know nothing about the field. You might reach out to someone who plans such conferences and offer to trade services – perhaps cater an upcoming event for free or for a greatly reduced price – in exchange for the chance to learn and get a foot in the door.

• Likewise, give back to women who need your expertise. In other words, don’t just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to women who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. It’s good karma and it can pay off in unexpected ways.

• Take a class. (And don’t just sit there! Talk to your neighbor.) Whether it’s continuing education for your job, a creative writing class at the local community college or even a martial arts training session, actively pursue new knowledge and skills. This will bring new and interesting women into your life – women who, just by being there, show that they have a zest for life and learning.

• Volunteer your speaking services. Yes, yes, you hate public speaking. Many women do. But taking to the podium is a powerful way to get your voice heard, to build up your confidence and of course to make new connections with those who hear you speak. And there are many civic and service organizations – like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club – that need speakers.

• Handpick five to 10 powerful women in your community and ask them to participate in an event. This might be a roundtable discussion that takes place at an industry conference or a community fundraiser, for example. And don’t think that busy, important women won’t have time for you.

Remember, women love sharing stories, best practices and ideas. You might be surprised by how many will say yes.

• If you’re invited, go. When someone invites you to an event or gathering – whether it’s an industry trade show, a party or a hiking trip – go if you can. Yes, even if you’re tired, out-of-sorts and feeling blah.

Say yes if it’s remotely possible. There are always reasons to say no and some of them are good reasons. But overall, life rewards action. Life rewards yes. The more times you say yes, the more connections you will make. The more connections you make, the richer and more creative your life will be.

• Set a goal to meet x-number of new women per month. Insert your own number, depending on your circumstances and personality. Hold yourself to this number (it will help greatly to keep track in a journal or calendar). If you take this metric seriously, you’ll figure out how to make it happen. And while meeting isn’t the same as connecting, it’s the essential first step.

Let’s say your goal is to meet five new women this month, and it’s the last day of the month and you have two to go. You can always pop into the spin class at your gym, or maybe go to an open house or political rally. While you’re there, of course, strike up conversations with at least two women and introduce yourself. Voilà! You’ve met your goal!

Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don’t make it a priority to connect with other women. We really do have to be deliberately purposeful about it. The benefits of connecting with other women are incredible, so we owe it to ourselves – and each other – to make it happen.

 

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How to communicate employee survey results

Editor’s note: Hilary Write is marketing manager at Quantum Workplace. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Communicating employee survey results: 10 do’s and don’ts.”

Tcloseup of a blank employment survey with red penhe first step of following up after an employee survey is communicating the results to employees. An action-planning best practice is to communicate in phases about your employee survey results, starting with high-level results and then filtering results down to individual teams for a closer look. In each phase of employee survey follow-up, these communication dos and don’ts are applicable for both company-wide and manager-to-team survey communication.

 
Don’t:

1. Don’t guilt trip employees
Employees should never feel like they have to retract their survey responses. If you make them feel guilty about your organization’s survey results, they are less likely to trust the survey process and you.

2. Don’t debate who is right and who is wrong
Employee survey follow-up conversations aren’t about debating which opinions are right and which are wrong. Employee surveys reveal employee perceptions, and right or wrong, perception is reality. Debating right versus wrong sends the message that not all employees’ feelings and experiences are considered valid and that disengages teams.

3. Don’t try to change opinions
Communicating employee survey results isn’t a time to campaign and persuade employees to change their opinions. You need to open up communication about results to find out what changes need to take place in the organization first.

4. Don’t plead the organization’s case
Presenting employee survey results is a time for humility. Being defensive or trying to convince employees that their survey responses are wrong can ruin the employee survey process.

5. Don’t play who said what
Employee engagement survey responses should be confidential. When reviewing employee survey results, the conversation should never turn into speculations about who said what. This diminishes the credibility and integrity of a confidential survey process.

 
Do:

1. Be open
Being open and honest is critical to communicating employee survey results. Don’t try to position results to be better or worse than they are. Talk openly about the results. How you talk about survey results sets the tone for receiving continued honest employee feedback and their ideas for improvement. Being open builds trust.

2. Be objective
When communicating survey results, do your best to play the role of an impartial observer. Communicate the findings without interspersing personal opinions. If you are conducting an employee focus group, your personal opinions could sway employee opinion and steer the discussion off course. In addition, employees might be unlikely to share opinions if they’re dissenting from the perceived group leader.

3. Be clear
Employee survey results can be difficult to understand. Be as clear and concise as possible when you share the results with employees. Avoid jargon and commentary that will create confusion.

4. Be inviting
Invite employees to comment as you discuss survey results. Make employees feel as though you’re talking with them instead of at them. This will help foster an ongoing conversation.

5. Ask for questions
Always ask for questions. If you’re presenting the survey results during an employee focus group, ask for questions after each data slide. If employees seem quiet, let them know you’ll be asking direct questions during the discussion.

 

Posted in Employment Tips, Employment Trends, For Employers | 1 Comment

Using surveys to attract and retain top employees

Editor’s note: David Miller is an educational researcher and contributing author with ProProfs, New York.

The employment landscape is changing. Millennials are different from previous generations in many ways, including not only their digital skills but also the expectations they have for their workplace. Also, employees’ needs are changing, especially as mobile technologies blur the boundaries between work and real life. Finally, companies’ needs are evolving with many organizations focusing more on workplace culture and putting emphasis on soft skills than on hard ones. In today’s ever-shifting environment, how can you keep up?

One effective and affordable way to stay current is to use online surveys to assess the attitudes and behaviors of these various groups. Creating surveys is easy with online survey software, which can not only deliver your surveys but also track the results. Here are a few ways you can use surveys to help you attract and retain top talent in your organization.

Recruiting better candidates

If you want to recruit better candidates, you need to know what your ideal employees want from their work experience. For example, according to SuccessFactors Recruiting’s 2012 HR Beat: A Survey on the Pulse of Today’s Global Workforce report, more than 40 percent of Millennials want mentors. If your organization doesn’t have a mentoring program, you may be missing out on the opportunity to attract a large portion of that generation. What else might you be missing out on? Create survey questions to assess the needs of your target employees – you might be surprised at what you learn. Recruitment surveys can also be used to measure employees’ goodness of fit with the organization and predict future performance.

Retaining great employeestime to feedback date

More than two million Americans quit their jobs every month. There are many reasons people quit but the vast majority of them can be classified under the general category of low job satisfaction. Unless they are asked, many people do not voice their dissatisfaction – they just look for a new job. Conducting regular (e.g., monthly, quarterly or yearly) employee satisfaction surveys is an excellent way to assess how your employees feel about everything from their salaries and benefits to their manager’s leadership style, the organizational culture and the opportunities for training and development. Giving your employees the opportunity to express their opinions will in itself contribute to increased job satisfaction. To get the most accurate picture possible, create survey environments that allow employees to submit their answers anonymously.

Increasing productivity

The productivity numbers from Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report are rather grim – only 30 percent of employees report being engaged and inspired at their jobs. The other 70 percent are either just putting in their time or are actively disengaged. Surveys can help you both measure productivity and identify potential obstacles to productivity. Create survey questions that assess management’s effectiveness, individual effectiveness and team dynamics. Ask employees when they are most productive individually and in a group and what factors contribute to or detract from their personal senses of productivity and engagement. The answers to these questions can help you advise managers on how to form more effective teams, use better leadership strategies and even schedule more productive meetings.

Learning why good employees leave

The exit interview is not generally considered a place for honesty and this perception deprives companies of the opportunity to learn anything when their good employees leave. Using an online survey, particularly if it is anonymous, is one way to elicit more candid responses, which can help your organization address problems and keep from losing more employees. Don’t miss out on this valuable information.

Surveys are powerful tools you can use to help your organization improve its recruitment, productivity and general employee relations. It is easy to develop, distribute and track the results of surveys using online survey software. Transform your HR practices by creating effective, informative and engaging surveys today.

Posted in Corporate Researchers, Employment Tips, Employment Trends, For Employers, Research Vendors | Comment

8 steps to surviving the tech tsunami

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.

Tsunami wavesYou know technology is advancing by the day. You may know that over the next 10 to 20 years, according to two experts, 66 percent of U.S. employees have a medium-to-high risk of being displaced by smart robots and machines powered by artificial intelligence. (Just read the study by University of Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.) But here’s a twist you may not have considered: To hone the human strengths that will carry you through this tech tsunami, you first must conquer some very human failings.

Ironically, being human helps us and hurts us. We possess extraordinary abilities that machines can’t replicate, including the ability to ideate, create, emotionally engage and empathize. But (here’s the irony!) to tap into these abilities when the tech tsunami hits, we’ll have to overcome our human nature.

Research in neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics has offered up an unflattering picture of the way we think and learn. While humans have the capacity to be highly efficient, fast, reflexive thinkers, our autopilot thinking isn’t very critical or innovative. Instead, it’s rather lazy and is hobbled by our egos, biases and emotions. This is the humanness we must overcome to stay competitive.

Here, I spotlight eight things you (and, if you’re a leader, your employees) need to do to de-humanize yourselves so you can think better, learn better, collaborate better and emotionally engage better:

Put less stock in being right. When we’re right, our egos (in other words, the views we have of ourselves)are reinforced and validated – and that feels good. So we instinctively seek out situations that validate our views of the world and of ourselves – and we selectively filter out information that contradicts what we know to be right. The problem is that none of this supports the cultivation of better thinking and learning.

Effective learning requires us to uncouple our egos from our beliefs by admitting that as humans, we’re wired to be suboptimal learners. In order to learn, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures and to really listen to people who disagree with us. In other words, we have to be willing to be wrong! Overcoming the strength of our ego-defense systems requires deliberateness, mindfulness, management of our emotions and quieting our ego – more on those things later!

Emotions at workOvercome lazy thinking. Believe it or not, it takes a disproportionate amount of energy to learn. Although the brain comprises only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, it generally uses 20 percent of the body’s energy. As a result, the human learning machine prefers to operate in a low gear – on autopilot – as much as possible to conserve energy. Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman puts it this way, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

What this means is that no matter how intelligent or experienced you are, you probably aren’t doing your best thinking. Especially in situations with important consequences, you need to deliberately think about how you, well, think. Are you proceeding based on impressions, feelings, impulses, or a desire to protect your ego? Or are you unpacking and questioning assumptions, weighing alternatives, and digging deeper?

To start “strengthening” your thinking, mentally rehearse each upcoming day by thinking about what instances, meetings, occurrences, decisions, and events may need higher-level thinking. Then in the evening, take 15 minutes and replay the day with an eye to identifying situations in which your lazy thinking may have gotten you in trouble. Over time you’ll be able to create a checklist of the types of issues, problems or situations that require deliberate thinking. And forewarned really is forearmed.

Stop being so judgmental. Our human drive to be right – combined with our predisposition toward lazy thinking – causes us to be judgmental of other people and situations. We do it in work and in life all the time: That’s a terrible idea. He’s an idiot. She didn’t try hard enough. I know better. And so on. The problem is that judgments like these set the stage for division, resentment, and roadblocks, not collaboration, dialogue and progress.

Suspending judgment has always been a particular challenge for me. My mind always wants to formulate a response or counterattack instead of really listening to what the other person is saying. (Maybe yours is the same way!) I have to remind myself that interactions with others are not guerilla warfare; nor are they tools to help me confirm what I already believe. They are stress tests to help me evaluate and – if necessary – change what I believe.

Get less rigid. Throughout history, rigid processes and procedures were (usually) a good thing for humanity. Do action X, action Y and get result Z, which provides comfort, shelter, sustenance, or some other desirable outcome. But in today’s rapidly changing world, doing things the way they’ve always been done is a recipe for obsolescence. We humans will have to start fixing things before they’re broken in order to stay relevant.

It’s okay to have preferred methods and procedures but it’s equally important to realize that risk, creativity and breaking new ground are all part of the learning process. To set yourself and your organization on the path to becoming more adaptable, I suggest following Intuit’s example by consciously choosing to bury the “modern day Caesar” – the kind of boss who dictates exactly how progress should and shouldn’t unfold. Instead, encourage creativity and self-efficacy.

In India, this policy allowed young Intuit innovators to conduct an experiment on helping farmers get the best price for their products – even though management initially wasn’t interested in the idea. After conducting research, these innovators found that the farmers had no information on what price wholesalers would pay on any given day in any geographical market for their crops. So, Intuit employees created an app for mobile phones that provided farmers with daily prices from various markets. The farmers could then choose to travel to the market that would pay them the highest price. Today, 1.6 million Indian farmers now use the successful program these innovators developed.

Young businessman holding card with a angry face on it Rein in your emotions. Emotions are one of the defining qualities of being human and they can certainly make life wonderful, worthwhile and interesting. But when it comes to doing your best thinking and learning, emotions tend to hold us back. Even if you consider yourself to be a very rational person, I guarantee that your emotions impact your attitudes, communications and behaviors, as well as your approaches to problems, new situations and decisions.

For example, a real-time critique by a difficult or unfriendly manager can elicit highly negative emotional arousal that adversely affects your listening, processing, and interpretation of what is being said. (In general, negative emotions restrict and narrow cognitive processes.) So instead of sifting through the manager’s words to glean useful criticism you can use to improve your work, your anger might cause you to discard everything that was said in the meeting. Alternatively, your self-esteem might take a huge hit and your feelings of shame and fear might cause your performance to further deteriorate.

Learning to self-manage your emotions is a valuable skill to develop. Tactics as simple as taking deep breaths or taking a walk to reduce physiological stress can help you begin to tame emotions. Although we can’t completely turn off our emotions, we can deliberately try to think rationally about the situation, causing the emotional reaction to turn on cognitive areas of the brain that can tamp down emotions. In many cases, this could help us make better decisions and be more open-minded.

Stop letting fear drive your decisions. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear is a good thing. It alerted our ancestors to danger and held them back from making decisions that might threaten the species’ survival. But in the business world, playing it safe because you’re afraid of the consequences is likely to have the opposite effect: A bolder colleague (or computer!) will step up to take your place. Abraham Maslow aptly stated that an individual would engage in learning only “to the extent he is not crippled by fear, [and] to the extent he feels safe enough to dare.”

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 that’s essential for your long-term job security. To proceed more fearlessly into the future, you (and ideally, your whole organization) need to adopt a different mindset about mistakes.

Learning is not an efficient 99 percent defect-free process. Far from it. So mistakes have to be valued as learning opportunities. In fact, as long as they don’t violate financial risks guidelines and you aren’t making the same mistakes over and over again, mistakes can be good. The key is making sure you’re learning from them. And 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. Acknowledging mistakes, confronting weaknesses and testing assumptions is a reliable strategy for long-term success.

Make it (whatever “it” is) less about you. Looking out for number one is engrained in human nature. We instinctively think about how situations and events will impact us and how we can use them to our advantage. I’m not saying you should stop looking out for your own interests, but I am advocating that you make more of an effort to empathetically consider how others are being impacted and how you can all work together to achieve desirable outcomes.

Humans have the best chance of surviving the coming technology tsunami when we band together. We’ll need to draw on our collective intelligence to innovate and adapt, and we’ll need to work in teams to confront and get past individual biases and egos. In my own work life, I’ve experienced the power of making it less about me. When I started to really listen to my team, to suspend my judgments, to pay attention to others’ emotional cues and to consider their views, my team began to perform at ever-higher and more successful levels.

Making it less about me – quieting my ego – became much easier when I realized I am not my ideas or my business beliefs, and as a leader, I don’t have to be right all the time. But I do have to get to the best answer all the time, and in many cases that involves others helping me think better. Humility will help you really hear what your customers and colleagues are saying, and humility will help you be open-minded and more willing to try new ways. Both make innovation and entrepreneurial activities more likely to be successful.

Stop the time traveling. The human mind has a tireless ability to dissect past events and project what might happen in the future. This power can be very beneficial when used for good – but too often we use it for evil. We obsess over past mistakes and beat ourselves up, instead of learning what we can and moving on. We stress about future what ifs over which we have little to no control – or we plan our responses to other people instead of actually listening to them talk. And in the meantime, we fail to use the present moment productively.

We must train our brains to be where we are right now, fully engaging with and responding to our current experience. This is especially important (and difficult) when we’re connecting with other people. Consider that while most people speak at a rate of 100-150 words per minute, we can cognitively process up to 600 words a minute! To fight cognitive boredom and keep your attention from wandering, listen actively by summarizing what the other person said and asking questions for clarifications.

I want to assure you that I’m not anti-technology at all. I’m excited by all the tech advances that are being made and I think there’s room for everyone – man and machine – if we humans focus on developing the skills that are ours and ours alone. As technology drives business change, not only will we have to rewire the way we operate as individuals but entire organizations will need to be radically restructured in terms of their cultures, leadership models, view of employees, innovation and collaboration processes and more. In this new environment, will you be prepared to utilize the competitive advantage your humanity gives you?

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Creating an engaging work environment

Editor’s note: Tore Haggren is senior vice president, voice of the employee at market research vendor Confirmit, San Francisco.

It’s no surprise that the attitude of your employees has a direct correlation to the productivity and success of your business. While this is important, companies often spend too much time focused on how to keep employees happy, thinking that the happier you make them, the harder they will work for you. In fact, the general feeling of happiness is not enough of an indicator of how a business and its employees work together to achieve success.

If you’re looking for the real key to success, it’s in measuring employee engagement, which has a much more comprehensive set of criteria than happiness alone. Engaged employees don’t simply work to get paid, or to move to the next step on the ladder – they work because they care about the company, the quality of their work and the overall business results. While happiness is still important, there is a deeper connection in engagement vs. happiness alone that comes in part from employees being mindful of business goals and understanding that they play a major role in achieving those goals.

While this sounds good in theory, companies are still struggling to engage their workforcestruggling with how to engage their workforce. A recent Gallup report found, “The bulk of employees worldwide – 63 percent – are not engaged, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest in discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24 percent are actively disengaged, indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers. In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.”

Employee engagement doesn’t have to remain a mystery to companies. There are ways to approach your employee engagement strategy and think about what will work best for your business and employees.

If your business needs to rethink its approach to employee engagement, keep these ideas in mind:

Customer experience and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. Engaged employees are more likely to engage customers but most businesses treat customer-related activities as an entirely separate entity to employee engagement, and vice versa. Engaged employees will be able to provide better customer experiences and drive greater profitability. They can also provide valuable insight into customer experience and offer a view that an organization may not derive from customer feedback exclusively. Don’t separate the two from each other.

Leaders hold the key to employee engagement. A recent report from Aon Hewitt highlighted that engaging leaders think, feel and act in different ways than do typical leaders. Leaders have a multiplier effect on engagement in that they affect engagement through control over all the top drivers, in addition to having a direct effect on the engagement of others through their interactions. If you want to increase employee engagement, start with your company’s leaders and identify areas where you can improve. If you’re investing in an employee engagement program, make sure you involve your organization’s top leaders. The most successful employee programs need full internal buy-in.

Tailor your feedback approach. How do your employees want to interact and share feedback with you? The right feedback channel vs. the wrong channel may make a huge difference to your employees. Don’t just rely on standard surveys on an annual or biannual basis. Forward-thinking organizations now complement traditional HR surveys with a wealth of methods to monitor, measure and react to changes in employee engagement. Short, relevant and timely surveys either on paper, online, a mobile device or SMS may give you better and more timely insight into how engaged your workforce is.

Share results and celebrate success. Satisfaction does not equal employee commitment. Employee commitment is not that same as employee engagement. When we talk about measuring engagement, we are talking about understanding the level of emotional commitment that employees have to a business. To create that emotional commitment, you must be transparent with results, acknowledge hard work. If you ensure that you’re closing the employee feedback loop, whether that’s acting on direct employee feedback or feedback about customer experience that’s been shared by employees, this will bolster engagement. Some companies have virtual high-fives on employee intranets, encouraging employees to share customer success stories and offer kudos to coworkers for their hard work. Keep in mind that the opportunity to celebrate success, no matter how big or small, is something that you should always take advantage of.

What are some of the other ways you’re creating employee engagement? Share your thoughts below.

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Business etiquette from coast to coast

Editor’s note: Margaret Page is founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a Western Canadian training organization, and author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and Cognito Cards – Wisdom for Dining & Social Etiquette.

If you have done any kind of travel, especially for business, you will have noticed there can be huge differences in the way we communicate, ways of dress, leisure activities and business practices from coast to coast. Our cultural norms – how we behave socially or in business from region to region or age group to age group – can feel as dramatic as visiting a foreign land.Business Partners Shaking Hands

According to social and cultural psychologists, the stereotypes we hear are true – the East is more old and established and the West is more new and free – and this does not change in the business world.

Crossing the communication border

The way people speak – the words, tone and dialect they use – is one of the biggest differences we see from coast to coast. This can be especially challenging in business settings.

How we greet each other is often unique to a region. In the Northeast, people are less likely to greet others with a “hello” while walking to their office, unless they know the person. In the South and the West, however, if you pass someone in the hallway or are sharing a long elevator ride, it would be odd not to smile or extend a casual greeting to the individual.

And of course, if you are in the South you can expect to be greeted with a cheery “Yes, Ma’am” or a “Hi ya’ll!” from all levels of the corporate ladder. By simply paying attention to a greeting, you can easily understand where someone’s roots are planted.

Differences within cross-regional communication also apply to indirect communication. In New York City, busy business people move from home to work with purpose. They are accustomed to the busyness around them – to the point where the sounds they encounter from point A to point B fall on deaf ears.

Emma Stone solidified this in an interview about filming the latest Spiderman movie. Busy New York office workers hustled along and were so oblivious to the action (where cars were literally being blown up) that they had to hire people to react to the situations. You are less likely to see that kind of reaction on the West Coast. Though just as determined and focused in their business life, if cars are blowing up around them, they’re likely to stop and watch the action.

When it comes to business communication, the most important thing to remember is to be open and flexible – and if you’re unsure of what behavior is expected or appreciated, just ask.

Dressing for success

Take for example a recent client’s visit to coastal California. In what we would call the business hub of the city, she found businessmen and women dressed in casual attire. Gentlemen rarely wear suits – opting for pressed khakis and a nice polo shirt in its place. Where suits and ties are a rare occurrence in the West, gentlemen seem to shower with them on in the East.

A West Coast business person was surprised on a recent business trip to New York City because of how different the corporate culture felt. Men and women in suits scurried from the subway to the office – grabbing a bagel at the local food cart. Said business person exclaimed how New Yorkers moved with intention. She, herself, felt that she couldn’t keep up with them, and she wasn’t the one in 3-inch heels! The atmosphere in the West is definitely more laid back and casual.

In the South where temperatures and humidity are higher, you rarely see women wearing pantyhose to the office unless required by a dress code. An interesting tidbit to note: women who work in the White House or on Parliament Hill must wear stockings or hose and closed toed shoes ALL year round. Though this may be surprising, those that work closely with other cultures must set a high standard and respect other’s cultural beliefs around dress codes.

Since wearing inappropriate clothing to a foreign area can sometimes be awkward and embarrassing, there are things you can do to ensure the comfort of others when faced with cultural and regional differences. Do your homework before your next business trip by making Google your go-to resource. Enter in the address or area, such as downtown Vancouver, where you’ll be prompted with a street view that allows you to see how people are dressed! Or, simply search for the city’s business attire, such as business attire Vancouver, for a host of resources that discuss etiquette catered to that city.

Mixing business with pleasure

It is becoming more and more common to mix labor with leisure – that is, business with pleasure. Attending a cocktail party at your boss’ home or gathering the team for a brainstorm session over lunch at a colleague’s apartment is not uncommon nowadays. And if you do visit someone’s home for a business-related function, one of the things that can differ from one coast to the other is whether to remove your shoes. Most likely, if you came from a colder climate where part of the year is under snow, you grew up removing your shoes at the door, before entering someone’s home – winter or summer. It just became a habit. And when you enter someone’s home today, no matter where you live, it’s the first thing you do.

Whereas those that grew up in climates where the walkways remain clean all year round are encouraged to leave their footwear on. Bare feet or sweaty socks on carpets or hardwoods can be damaging and is really not a good practice but in the battle between dirty shoes and stocking feet – socks wins!

Outdoor leisure activities also differ from region to region. Since the weather in the West is moderate, golf is a popular business leisure activity. It’s also not uncommon for business people in metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles to take their clients to NHL, NFL or MLB sporting events or to even experience the city’s nightlife. However in the South, you can expect an invitation for something more adventurous, such as hunting. In the Northeast, leisure activities can range from fishing to a night at the theater.

If you know your business travels will include an activity that’s unfamiliar to you, it doesn’t hurt to do some light research. If you are feeling uneasy about your abilities to do said sport, expressing a light-hearted joke with your company at the start of the day will help ease your tensions.

We’ve all heard the expression that begins “When in Rome…” When it comes to traveling for business relations, the expression holds true. It’s important to be respectful of local customs and traditions. Prior to scheduling your business travels, it is essential to check the region’s observed holidays. Where Jewish holidays are honored in Southern Florida and the North East, the Midwest and the Southwest are known to embrace the traditions of Cinco de Mayo. However in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, you will likely find that only traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are observed. These are all important to keep in mind when scheduling business trips.

Respecting cultural boundaries also takes effect in more intimate circumstances such as hugging and cheek kissing. Some things to consider are how long you have known the person and whether you are friends with them outside of the business arena. The setting also comes into consideration here. What if their boss is present? No matter how well you know the person, a handshake may be the better choice in this situation.

Is the gap narrowing?

While it’s true that there are definite cultural nuances, it’s also true that these differences seem to be narrowing as younger generations move into the business world. Co-working spaces are opening across the country – east to west. Millennials and Gen Y are slowly changing the way we work and it’s happening everywhere. Working from co-working spaces or coffee shops have become the norm for this generation and working traditions are far less formal than what generations before them are accustomed to.

No matter what part of the country you are in, the most important thing to remember is that you are in someone else’s backyard – not yours, so avoid making any judgements. By being respectful, receptive and inclusive of new cultures and norms, it may be a deal breaker for your clients. And when in doubt, let it go. No one is trying to offend you!

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Nine habits you can do without in 2015

Editor’s note: Geoffrey James is a business journalist writing for Inc.com, Boston.

The New Year is an excellent time to expunge work habits that irritate coworkers and make you less effective. Achieving success requires more than just doing the right thing. Success also means changing the behaviors that hold you back.

Here are nine habits you can do without in 2015:

1. Doing the bare minimum.Erasing Bad Habits

If you accept a task, you owe it to yourself and to others to make your best effort. If you don’t want to do something, have the courage to refuse the task. Doing a half-*ssed job is just being passive-aggressive.

2. Telling half-truths.

Honesty is the best policy. However, if you’re afraid to speak the truth, it’s cowardice to tell a half-truth that’s intended to mislead but leaves you plausible deniability. Either tell the whole truth or tell a real lie and accept the consequences if you’re found out.

3. Finger-pointing.

Few human behaviors are more pointless than fixing blame. In business, it’s usually irrelevant who’s at fault when something goes wrong. What’s important is how to avoid making the same mistakes again.

4. Bucking accountability.

Finger-pointing is common in business because some people aren’t willing to admit their mistakes. If you’re going to take credit for your accomplishments, you must also take credit for your failures. The two go hand in hand.

5. Hating on successful people.

When you direct your hate at success, you’re telling yourself that being successful means being hated. Since nobody in their right mind wants to be hated, you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself so that people will continue to like you.

6. Schadenfreude.

Taking a secret pleasure in the failures of others makes your own success less likely. You end up gloating over what other people did wrong, rather than doing whatever it takes to make yourself more successful.

7. Workplace gossip.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” When you spread gossip, you’re identifying yourself as small-minded and also showing that you can’t be trusted to keep secrets.

8. Creating your own stress.

While work may be stressful, you make it worse when you fail to disconnect on a regular basis. Rather than answer yet another e-mail, take a walk, read a book or listen to some music. Turn off your phone when you go to bed; whatever it is, it can wait.

9. Giving or accepting flattery.

An honest compliment is always welcome but flattery truly gets you nowhere. When you flatter, everyone knows that you’re brown-nosing. Similarly, when you accept flattery, you’re marking yourself as gullible and self-absorbed.

 

Adapted from Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know by Geoffrey James.

 

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5 ways to override the lazy brain and save your company

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.

Humans are lazy thinkers. Although the brain comprises only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, it generally uses 20 percent of the body’s energy. That’s why the human learning machine prefers to operate in a low gear – on autopilot – as much as possible. It’s a conservation thing. As Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman puts it, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.” So (your slothful brain is probably thinking) what’s wrong with that? Well, the big problem is that business has taken the laziness model – also known as operational excellence – as far as it can go.Office cubicles - lazy brain

The lazy brain is why the operational excellence model – in which companies fight for dominance by being faster, better and cheaper – rose to dominance in the first place. We take what we already know, replicate it, improve it and repeat. It is much easier than innovative thinking.

Unfortunately many of the jobs this model creates can now be done by machines. Today the only real competitive advantage is an ability to learn and innovate. That’s it. And if your business is set up on the old model, it just doesn’t lend itself to learning and innovating.

The fact is that the old operational excellence model provides too many reasons NOT to learn – too many reasons to remain lazy, complacent and robotic. Steeped in the command and control paradigm of operational excellence, leaders (and employees) see learning as a high-risk activity. Combine a deeply entrenched attitude that risk-taking is a no-no with the brain’s inherent laziness and you get a company that can’t innovate its way out of the proverbial wet paper bag.

The implication is clear: If you want to survive the coming digital age of machines (the 21st century) you MUST give your culture a serious shake-up. You MUST engage and reward people so strongly that they’re willing to override their natural tendency toward laziness and continuously generate and share new ideas.

In other words, you have to create an idea meritocracy. Doing so requires creating a hybrid business model, one that prioritizes the need for innovation while keeping in play the best aspects of operational excellence – for example, its focus on relentless, constant improvement. Succeeding at this hybrid culture requires a commitment to learning. Lazy brains won’t survive.

Read on to learn how you and your employees can energize your lazy brains and revitalize your culture in the process:

Empower fast, cheap, customer-centric experimentation. Intuit is a successful and highly profitable company (Quicken, TurboTax and QuickBooks are a few of its products). About eight years ago, after becoming concerned that it was losing its edge, Intuit proactively created a new culture and installed new processes, all designed to create an idea meritocracy. One of its primary goals was to galvanize product development by discovering often-unstated customer needs and creating solutions for them.

Intuit wanted to empower idea generation and encourage fast, cheap, customer-centric experimentation by all employees. As part of the transformation, founder Scott Cook stated that decisions would no longer be made at Intuit based on PowerPoints and politics but by customers themselves, who will vote with their feet for the ideas they like best.

They designed the experiments to first test key customer needs or value assumptions so that they could move quickly on critical “must-have” data. Also – here’s the cheap part – they decided to start small in scope until innovators had more and better data to justify a larger investment.

In India, young Intuit innovators conducted an experiment on helping farmers get the best price for their products – even though management initially wasn’t interested in the idea. Operating under Intuit’s new “Caesar is dead” principle they forged ahead with their research and spent time with farmers to understand their business challenges. They found the farmers didn’t know what price wholesalers would pay on any given day in any geographical market for their crops. So, they created an app for mobile phones that provided farmers with daily prices from various markets. As a result, the farmers could choose to travel to the market that would pay them the highest price; 1.6 million Indian farmers now use the successful program.

Cook and other leaders have made this a prime example of how empowered employees can quickly and cheaply transform new ideas into products that materially improve people’s lives. Allowing employees to pursue their own ideas is a great cure for lazy thinking and one in which Intuit wins either way. If an idea succeeds, the company reaps the benefits. And if it doesn’t, the company still has energized, engaged employees who are motivated to try again.

Turn mistakes into surprises. Another major change was needed at Intuit to fully engage the workforce in this new culture of innovation and learning – specifically, a new mental model about mistakes. A lot of ideas just don’t work out. They may not be supported by data when they are tested or a process improvement idea that looked wonderful in theory may not work as expected in practice.

In an idea meritocracy, mistakes like these are not punished so long as financial risk parameters are respected. Instead, they are viewed as learning opportunities. There is no mistake so long as you learn. Intuit even calls mistakes or experimental failures “surprises.” First of all, while mistakes are not good, there’s no negative connotation with surprises. Surprises don’t elicit the same amount of fear and anxiety that mistakes do. And when we aren’t afraid, we’re more likely to take risks that have the potential to lead to big wins. Second, in many cases, those surprises ultimately point employees down a different path that could have great promise.

Teach employees to work around their weaknesses. Bridgewater Associates, a large and successful hedge fund, implements its idea meritocracy through a culture and processes designed to help people overcome the common human obstacles to learning: their cognitive blindness, dissonance and biases, and their ego-driven emotional defensiveness. Bridgewater does that through radical transparency, constant stress-testing of one’s thinking by others, the daily rigorous use of best learning processes, complete candor, permission to speak freely and an egalitarian idea meritocracy where everyone has the duty to challenge ideas regardless of rank or position in the hierarchy.

Bridgewater also has installed root cause analysis as its standard process of diagnosing problems and examining results that differ from desired results. To do this well employees must be aware of their personal weaknesses and to either get training to improve those weaknesses or to team with others whose strengths complement those weaknesses.

Let employees pull the cord. Sometimes employees see big problems and mistakes but feel powerless to make a change. They figure bringing mistakes to the attention of higher-ups is above their pay grade and not a part of their job description, or they fear ending up being the proverbial messenger who gets shot. Of course, these feelings of powerlessness are terrible for morale and just encourage people (and their brains!) to keep going on autopilot.

The solution is to make it very clear to employees that they are able not just to point out problems, but to take bold action to correct them. At Toyota, an idea meritocracy was created by giving every employee in the factory the ability to pull the cord at any time to stop production. In other words, all employees were empowered to take ownership of preventing defects and mistakes.

In many cases, fixing a mistake required a team to discover the root cause of the problem and to devise a process that would prevent that mistake from happening again. Empowering line employees to take responsibility for continuously improving processes using root cause analysis helped Toyota keep employees engaged and was Toyota’s quality differentiator for years. Unfortunately, Toyota diluted that system in its drive for global expansion and global sales leadership.

Make it a duty to dissent (even when you have to shoot down a HiPPO). Google’s culture is built on driving innovation and experimentation – in other words, trying new things. To support this culture, pay level is irrelevant in decision making, and so is experience or tenure – unless the experience provides data used to frame good arguments. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, stated in the book How Google works that Google employees are told not to listen to HiPPOs or the highest paid person’s opinion.

At Google, permission to speak freely is not enough – one has a duty to dissent. This means that relative rookies can – and do – raise objections and present alternate ideas when they disagree with their bosses. A similar duty to dissent can be found at UPS, which has an employee-centric culture of constructive dissatisfaction, meaning that everyone has the duty to find ways to improve.

Allowing dissent is yet another way to combat lazy thinking. When employees know their voices not only will be heard but are needed, they’re far more likely to engage in the kind of thinking that leads to big ideas and positive changes.

Idea meritocracies are able to continuously improve or innovate faster and better than the competition.

Seek to engage all employees in constant improvement or innovation through everyday learning. No matter what product or service you sell, in order to compete in a technologically advancing, highly globalized competitive environment, you must be in the business of learning. You must build a culture where lazy thinking is snuffed out and big thinking is encouraged and rewarded.

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