Research Careers Blog

Taking a conscious approach to your hiring practices

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

Application - approved hiring processMany companies – from mega-corporations to neighborhood markets – are still using outdated hiring techniques. Clinging to the ways of the past when constructing a workforce leads to high turnover, stagnant engagement from staff and quarterly reports in the red.

In some cases, it is as if they are staffed by a host of HR drones, these businesses are going about the practice of hiring in a completely automatic, unconscious manner. Solving the hiring problems of the 21st Century requires a spirited, connected system that makes selecting the right candidates for the job easy.

It requires a conscious hiring process.

The premise is that conscious hiring is the key to workforce optimization and engagement and employee retention, as well as an overall boost to your customer service efforts. Hiring consciously means awareness around the role, the purpose and outcomes required to successfully validate the roles existence and cost in the organization; as well as mindfulness about who the right type of person is for the role. With a conscious hiring mindset, all of these parameters are defined at the beginning of the search. It means making keen hiring decisions that are geared toward the organization’s strategic needs over and above the key words listed on the resume and the frenzy to fill the job fast.

When people are hired and on-boarded into an organization that they are philosophically aligned with and they are hired into roles that are a natural self-expression of their strengths and talents, simply said, they perform – and they perform well. When you open your hiring minds and take a conscious approach in your “people on boarding” methods, you ultimately streamline your operation: you optimize your workforce, maximize employee retention and engagement and begin to provide stout customer service.

Workforce optimization

When you look at hiring like you look at improving your running, tennis or golf game, it only makes sense to hire people who raise the bar and make everyone better in the process. High performers focus on doing the right things, achieving outcomes and depending on their role and interests, they focus on making improvements to products and the business. An optimized workforce means that the right people are focused on the right things. The right things might look like increased sales, operational efficiency, innovation, customer experience and sustainability, as these are the pillars of any long-term successful organization.

Employee engagement

There is tremendous chatter in the media about the lack of employee engagement in the workplace and a large emphasis in leadership circles on raising workforce productivity – both of which can be solved through a conscious hiring mindset. When the majority of people on a project team are high quality engaged workers; it raises the energy and output of the group, and when the opposite occurs, it lowers the energy and output of the work.

Most people are like sponges and those around them affect their work attitudes. Positivity breeds positivity, and so forth. Work production improves under the guidance of engaged, inspired and competent people; as opposed to when you unknowingly hire someone who is not competent, not engaged and their attention is bifurcated, you get a sub-par work product. It’s the law of physics.

Hiring is a tricky game. Most people know they must put their best foot forward in an interview; however they don’t know the impact they cause by being ill-equipped for actually doing the work. It is the business manager’s job to know and be aware of the impact and to head off these problems before they arise.

Employee retention

A conscious hiring program helps business owners streamline their hiring efforts and maximize hiring effectiveness because it begins with the end in mind. Before any advertising is done, or any recruitment begins the role is assessed and analyzed for a solid understanding of purpose and linkage to strategic outcomes. Often, too much time is spent with candidates who have spot-on resumes yet lack the fundamental traits to effectively execute the role; and in the end, neither the person nor the role deliver.

Organizations want to keep the right people – those people who contribute and move the business forward. When management focuses on developing their best people, evoking the best in them and shepherding them to the next level, they improve the retention of their high-potentials. Likewise, when management focuses on fixing and preventing errors, they create a culture of risk adversity and stagnation. Consciously hiring affords managers the time to focus on elevating the work challenges and opportunities for the right people, which leads to stronger employee retention.

Customer service

The customer experience improves when the person in the customer-facing role authentically cares about service delivery, is a proactive problem solver and has a natural talent at follow up and detail orientation. The experience one has when they walk into an establishment and the staff are standing around talking, while customers stand and wait is the same experience your customers have to endure when they call don’t feel served.

In sharp contrast, the organizations that match their hiring brand with their customer brand attract and onboard the type of people who deliver results for the customers that are consistent with what was promised when they signed up. When you match your company values to the values you look for in your service people, they naturally deliver in a manner that honors those values and your message and inn turn your service brand is strengthened.

When your company breaks free from the fetters of archaic hiring methods, turns on its brainpower and begins to recruit and hire in a conscious manner, it has an organization-wide benefit. Turnover drops, employee engagement improves, workforce productivity increases and your customers and clients are more apt to return and increase their business.


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Online training is the key to employee retention

Editor’s note: Patricia Fripp is creator of virtual training site, San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.

Successfully tying your shoe laces; learning the Pledge of Allegiance, memorizing multiplication facts or the periodic table; conjugating irregular verbs in Spanish. What do these things have in common? They were all mastered through repetitive attempts. From a very young age, we began to achieve retention through repetition, and that strategy still applies for mastering new content and new skills in business.

However, when your employees attend a conference, a seminar, a board meeting, a class, etc., even if they listen carefully, take notes, study the handouts and relate the material to their personal experiences, they will not be able to recall all of the most critical and relevant points. Neuroscience research and experience indicate that with only one exposure to the material this is the governing reality.

online training word cloudAfter the in-person training, the next critical component for retention is reinforcement through repetition. Even the most skilled, artful and memorable trainers will impact an audience’s brains with very limited retention in one presentation. True retention comes from repeated exposure and practice of the skills that are taught, and that is why online training makes sense.

Why should you invest in online training for your company? Because you are a professional and you want your employees to be professional in their interactions with their colleagues, with your competition, with potential clients, with everyone they encounter as they represent your company.

No matter what your profession is, you are smart enough to know that the future belongs to the competent. True success comes to those who are more multifaceted in their competence; those who seek out relationships with others in other disciplines, in and out of their companies; those who are always ready and willing to learn something new.

The value of investing in online training cannot be underestimated. This is especially relevant to the person who makes decisions around funding of training and development. When companies invest in online training programs, they reap multiple benefits:

  1. An opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the personal progress and growth of your associates in your workplace. Many younger associates will stay longer, work harder and be more committed to companies that help them learn skills that will last a lifetime.
  2. Ensuring that your capabilities keep pace with the current standards of others in the same field. Companies are always competing for the best available talent. However, most recruit the best they can find with the right attitude and then train for skills that are required.
  3. Many industries require continuing education credits for employees, and many online training programs qualify for continuing education certification. A continuing education program can lead to increased public confidence in individual professionals and their profession as a whole. When comparing individuals for promotion and new opportunities, those who actively seek professional accreditation have an advantage.
  4. Continuing education programs link employees who have similar job responsibilities. They may also connect employees to programs that help them discover new opportunities available to them within the company. Smart managers continue to communicate this message in their team meetings. Ambitious professionals realize that continuing education is a non-taxable fringe benefit. Employees of companies with multiple locations can study together and consider the friendship and comradery an amazing bonus.
  5. When you provide employees with access to resources, not only will they feel like they are gaining value from their relationship with their employer but they will also be empowered to develop their professional skills (e.g., lunch-and-learn programs that also offer continuing education).
  6. Funding online training will multiply the value of in-person training by generating employee practices that will produce tangible results. As this is usually a fraction of the cost of in-person training, more associates can benefit from the knowledge.
  7. Workforces in companies are often spread across a wide area, and it may not be convenient or financially sustainable to send representatives from each area to a conference or training. Some managers are incorporating segments of the well-prepared and well-presented content from nationally known experts into their staff meetings. Many small companies in Canada that provide company retreats build online training modules into their agendas. Again, this is an affordable way to learn from experts you would never be in a position to bring in.
  8. Employees can access the online training at times and in locations that are convenient and practical for them. As many online programs are very well produced and have a gamified feel to them, employees are more likely to watch on their mobile devices on their own time.


When your employees, your colleagues, your managers or executives experience presentations, it is important for them to have opportunities to revisit the training. The impact of having quality online training available cannot be underestimated.

Just like learning to tie shoelaces, being able to revisit those lessons through virtual online training can make all the difference in whether those skills are embedded and become skills that have a powerful and enduring impact for your company.


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Fear factory: Are you letting fear drive your leadership?

Editor’s note: Dan Prosser is the author of Thirteeners and CEO of The Prosser Group and

As iconic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” But here’s the harsh truth: No matter how much you plan, no matter how many rules you put in place, no matter how much risk you avoid, you’ll never control all the circumstances that influence your business. Never. And if you can’t learn to coexist peacefully with that truth, you’ll never live up to your full potential as a leader.

panic buttonToo many leaders live in fear of the unknown and of uncontrollable events in their business. The consequences can be devastating. There’s no faster way to turn good employees into cynical and nonproductive ones than to stress them out through your efforts to control the possibility of failure.

Fear spreads quickly from leaders to employees, Prosser notes. It stifles individuals and groups, prevents productive risk-taking and turns engaged innovators into disconnected clock-punchers. Ultimately, the harmful side effects of fear prevent your company from effectively executing its strategy.

The future of your business exists only in your declaration. You must declare for something that doesn’t exist yet. Leading by fear is the antithesis of that. Fear holds you in place. You can’t declare for great outcomes because you’re afraid to take the actions necessary to achieve them. To shut down the fear factory inside your company, you have to gather your courage and take a close look at what fears are dominating the way you lead.

Here are five behaviors that indicate you are a fear-driven leader:

You value “not failing” above all else. Eighty-seven percent of all companies with a strategic plan will fail to execute it. That’s because those companies are pursuing the simplest yet most damaging strategy: the strategy to avoid failure.

You cling to old strategies simply because they’re familiar. Many companies that fail often appear to be operating under full sail. Yes, there’s lots of action happening in these organizations, but it’s usually the wrong kind of action. It’s what earned success in years gone by. Leaders at these organizations think that if a strategy has worked before then it’s got to work again – and that more of the same can only be better. They go out of their way to convince themselves that the old strategy is working – especially when it isn’t.

The difference between a rut and a grave is only about five and a half feet. Instead of digging themselves out of the rut they’re in, leaders who cling to old strategies end up just digging themselves in deeper when change occurs in the marketplace. Suddenly, they realize the competition has caught up or customers are starting to disappear.

You assume you (and you alone) “should” have all the answers. Fearful leaders often operate like lone wolves. They have to do everything themselves to feel confident it will be done correctly, and they resist considering (much less relying on) the opinions and recommendations of others.

This is like taking a test from memory when you have the option to use not just the textbook but the whole library. You’ll never know how talented your employees are if you think you have to have all the answers. Why not partner with your people to generate radical and revolutionary innovations for the future – a future that does not represent your fears of repeating the past? Let go of how you think it has to be and trust the process, allowing others to contribute ideas and get connected to your vision.

Your knee-jerk reaction to chaos is to do something – anything. Whether you’ve just learned of an unexpected drop in quarterly earnings, gotten bad news from a client or had a promising deal fall through, you’ve no doubt been faced with chaos, disorder or confusion. Did you remain calm and thoroughly assess the situation or did you panic, rush to judgment and act without thinking?

When you’re faced with unexpected chaos or anxiety (especially anxiety that implies you’re not equal to the challenge at hand), it’s easy to think, I need to do something right now. And so you lay off employees, switch to a new strategy, pull a product off the market or make some other move that makes you feel better in the short run that you did, well, something. But knee-jerk reactions made out of fear can have a long-lasting negative impact on your organization.

You find yourself constantly addressing symptoms rather than searching for root causes. When disruptive issues pop up in the workplace, the first thing we want to do is – naturally – snuff them out as fast as we can. Often, that’s because we fear not just the consequences of the disruption but also the damage that might occur to our own reputations.

However, treating only the symptoms rarely works. Most of the time, it just temporarily masks the real problem, which continues to damage workplace performance. As long as you’re addressing only the symptoms and allowing core issues to remain, similar problems will just show up somewhere else and you will go through the same exercise of pulling people in and talking through the problem (actually the symptoms) again and again and again.

If any of these behaviors seem familiar, fear may be holding you – and by extension, your organization – back from executing your strategy. Only by becoming aware of your automatic thought pattern about the circumstances you face (that you can’t do anything about) and by becoming unattached to the outcomes will you be able to get yourself, first and then your company, out of its rut, get your people engaged and connected and move ahead.

Becoming a successful top 13 percent company takes a leader with a high level of desire and a fearless willingness to lose everything (i.e., no attachment to a particular outcome) to produce breakthrough results. That requires changing one’s perspective, modifying one’s own thinking and behavior, and conquering well-entrenched beliefs and habits. Don’t make the mistake of believing that just because you’ve earned a leadership position you’ve finished working on yourself.

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How to engage employees with elevated communication

Editor’s note: Ascanio Pignatelli is founder of Apex CEO, a Los Angeles-based executive coaching and leadership group, and author of the forthcoming book Lead from Need.

CommunicationIn many ways, Adrian was a great CEO; hard-working and completely devoted to his staff and organization but it was not until he analyzed his CEO performance review that he noticed the blind-spot in his leadership: the gap between how he saw his communication and how his employees were interpreting it. Committed to becoming a better communicator and more effective leader, Adrian met with an old colleague Ivana, one of the finest leaders and communicators he had ever met. After scrutinizing his report for what seemed like an eternity, Ivana asked Adrian: “Why do you think so many of your employees believe you have a negative mindset and don’t communicate effectively with them?”

Adrian took a moment then muttered, “With all the stress it’s hard to always maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude.”

Ivana nodded in agreement. “That’s true, being positive when stressed is a real challenge, however doing so will help lower your stress, increase your energy and make you feel a lot better. It will also help set the tone for your entire company.”

“I guess you’re right. I should probably be more positive.”

“More positive yes but the real key is to really listen to them. The most important part of communication is effective listening. Most of us are rather disengaged when we listen but if you can really listen to what your employees are saying you will be able to build more trust and rapport with them, resolve more conflict and connect in a deeper way.”

Ivana is right. Effective listening does two things: it ensures that the sender’s communication has been received as intended and it tells the sender that their communication has value. There’s an old saying goes, listening is love. Great listeners are masters at making those they are listening to feel important, and perhaps on some deeper level, loved. To really connect with your staff and make them feel valued you’ll want to move toward empathetic listening.

Disengaged listening

Have you ever had a conversation with someone you felt just didn’t get anything you said despite their involved contribution? You probably sensed their minds were completely focused on what they wanted to say next, and not on absorbing and processing what you were saying. Well, that is disengaged listening, and most of the time although we might be hearing what’s being said, our minds are actually busy thinking about what to say next. Disengaged listening isn’t just responsible for corrupting the communication that’s being received; it leaves the speaker feeling unimportant.

To escape the disengaged listening trap, the next time you are having a conversation with someone begin to notice when your mind either starts to wander from the conversation or is thinking about what to say next. The simple act of bringing awareness to how you listen will make you a much better listener and leave those you communicate with feeling valued.

Engaged listening

Engaged listening means listening without judgment, opinions or preconceived notions. Engaged listening creates a space for others to really express what they are thinking without them feeling like they are being judged. It also ensures they are heard, and that their thoughts and feelings are important to you. You can become a more engaged listener by asking empowering questions; questions that probe, seek clarity, focus on solutions and put the power to solve a problem or challenge into the other person’s hands. For example, “How might you accomplish that?” or “What’s another way of seeing that?”

There is a direct link between employee engagement and how much those employees feel their company values them. Organizations that have created a culture that values its staff by listening to them in an engaged and nonjudgmental way will find its members reciprocating the value and respect they feel by raising their energy and level of engagement while at work. You can become a much more engaged listener by acknowledging and validating the feelings other people express to you the same way Ivana did with Adrian.

Empathetic listening

This is the highest form of listening and will build strong ties with your employees if you master it. Empathetic listening is feeling what the other person is feeling through their communication. It includes deciphering body language, reading between the lines, listening for tonal discrepancies and looking for what’s not being said as much as what’s being said.

Listening at such a high level lets the person who is speaking know that you’ve captured their emotional experience. Although empathetic listening requires considerable focus, effort and concentration, with enough practice it can become routine.

Adrian worked hard at being a more positive and effective communicator. He became a lot less judgmental and shifted his focus from finding problems to finding solutions. Whenever his employees were upset about something he’d acknowledge and validate their feelings. And when they became stuck or frustrated, he’d ask them empowering questions to shift their perspective. He developed more rapport with them, and earned more of their trust, which left them feeling more valued, respected and connected to him. It didn’t take long after that for their own performance and engagement to increase as well.

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Should your company implement a shock report?

Your company has a culture that you are proud of. Employees are deeply engaged with the company mission and you believe your teams have strong leadership skills that lead projects to success. And yet, you’re finding it difficult to recruit for (and keep) senior staff positions.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal blog, “Why you should ask new employees what most shocks them,” you might want to consider implementing a shock report when hiring new employees – a tool that taps new recruits, asking what they found most shocking or astonishing after joining the company. The blog draws on a recruitment discussion with Chinese company founders in Shanghai that ask new recruits to fill out a type of shock report after a set period of time at the company – usually 100 days. The goal is to “capture the collective wisdom of first impressions before the organization’s culture begins to indoctrinate new recruits.”

I am newWhile the importance of gathering data and asking questions certainly isn’t a new idea in the MR industry, you might find it a bit puzzling that shock reports are recommended to organizations that already have a strong company culture. The reason? A strong culture often makes it hard for new leaders and ideas to find success in the company. In addition company pride – a common side effect of a strong culture – can also cause management to overlook internal dysfunction.

So the next time you are recruiting, make it a goal to ask new employees to observe subtle trends, emphasizing their role in taking the company to the next level.

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Why a big ego could be your downfall

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.

Man towering over building Not so long ago, our culture really (really) admired people with big egos. We called them rugged individualists, fearless leaders, MVPs, visionaries and go-getters. We respected these confident and successful folks for (seemingly) having all the answers. They were all too happy to stand their ground and argue their point, and we saw this as a sign of strength and leadership.

Now, everything has changed. Larger-than-life egos are fast becoming liabilities. 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?

Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader (or even a successful employee) in our brave new workplace, 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 hone your humility:

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.

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 okay 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 help in creating your checklist and ask for help in holding you accountable to that list. Give someone permission to call you out when they see you acting in opposition to your desired new behaviors.

The journey to becoming a more humble person will not be short. It will take persistent hard work. 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.



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Employee engagement: What you can learn from horrible bosses

Editor’s note: Amy Jones is a director of human resources at research firm MaritzCX, St. Louis. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “How NOT to engage your employees: What we can learn from horrible bosses.”

Employee engagement is a concern for any organization worried about the retention and productivity of its employees. Companies want to know what they can do – what program they can roll out, what software they can implement – to increase engagement and ultimately increase customer satisfaction. Since we know the two are linked, it is vital to engage those employees in order to have success within your company.

But this blog is not about the next big idea. It’s about a few small ones that can be applied every day by the managers of your company. These are lessons in what NOT to do to engage employees, as told to me by people I’ve worked with over the years.

1. Don’t give negative feedback that’s not specific.

Horrible BossesJennifer, a recent college grad in her first professional job, was charged with leading a meeting. After the meeting (on a Friday) her boss said he didn’t think it went well. She asked him what she could’ve done better. Jennifer hadn’t led many meetings before and she desperately wanted to improve. Her boss said he had to think about it, and so she obsessed all weekend about what went wrong and what criticism he would give her. On Monday, downtrodden and sleep deprived, Jennifer went into her boss’s office and asked for clarity. After he’d thought about it all weekend, what constructive advice could he give her? He said he didn’t really know, shrugged it off like it was no big deal and told her they should move on. Imagine how that felt. Not so engaging. If you’re going to deflate someone’s balloon, at least tell them why.

2. Don’t be a zookeeper.

Mike, a manager with over 20 years of experience, told me that when someone comes into your office and puts a petty problem on your desk (), your job as the boss is to not only send them back to work with that monkey, but add another one as well. (Mike liked to call the petty problems “monkeys.” I always have the image of the children’s game with the plastic monkeys with interlocking arms that go in a barrel.) He explained it like this: As a boss there are plenty of big problems you should be working on but the whining, gossiping and bellyaching must stop with you. If your people feel that your office is an emotional dumping ground, they will behave accordingly. You are not being sympathetic! You are enabling bratty behavior in the workplace from adults, who – last I checked – are paid to be there. You are also demotivating the employees who don’t dump their emotional garbage on you but who see that it’s an accepted practice.

3. Don’t let your trust issues incapacitate you, your team and your organization.

Jackie – a project manager who’d been with her company over five years at the time of this example – once worked for a boss who didn’t trust anyone with information. Not the staff, not her peers on the management team, nor the administrative assistant. This manager knew everything she needed to get her job done, yet she couldn’t get it done because there was no one she thought she could rely on to move things forward. Was she surrounded by poor performers on the verge of being fired? Did they all have loose lips and reputations for not being trustworthy? Not at all. So, why would an overloaded manager not share information and allow her team to do something else besides tread water? Jackie couldn’t tell me. Maybe the woman operated under the assumption that trust must be earned, instead of assuming that everyone is qualified to be in the roles they are in, and with that comes a certain responsibility or need to know certain things. Maybe she didn’t trust herself, and that stopped her from trusting her team, which stopped the company from trusting her entire group. What happened in that case? Engagement was so low that the team ended up scattering to the wind, all moving on to different opportunities.

Managers have real power to affect employee engagement. Think of all the scenarios that occur in a single day at a company that have the potential to increase or decrease the discretionary effort of its employees. What is the effect of those events compounded over a week? A year? How much faster could you go if all your managers were great engagers? Food for thought.



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3 ways to maximize your power and potential as a leader

Editor’s note: David Waits is founder of Waits Consulting Group, Inc., Zellwood, Fla.

leaderA local newspaper has a daily section titled “Progressions” allowing companies to publicly recognize employees who have been promoted to leadership positions such as general manager. The announcement is a very nice recognition for the new leader but the promotion, in and of itself, doesn’t make the person a powerful, productive leader. The promotion does allow the new leader to exercise the roles and responsibilities of the position but the promotion has very little to do with the leadership effectiveness of the person who received it.

The power of the position and the potential of the leader are maximized only when the leader understands and leverages their performance, presence and profitability.

1. Performance is simply what you do. Like it or not, at the end of the day, quarter or year, leaders are evaluated by what they get done and get done through others. Leaders are paid to get results. They are not paid for their intentions or mere activity.

Intentions matter but results rule!

“I meant to have a discussion with the underperforming team member but I just haven’t had a chance to talk to them,” says the well-meaning leader. The question is not, “Did you talk to them?” The question is, “Did the underperforming team member’s behavior improve?” Intentions without actions create nothing. Action – having the talk with the underperformer – that doesn’t produce results is simply activity not productivity. Performance is measured by results.

Aesop rightly stated, “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Performance, measured by results, is the metric of your leadership ability.

2. Presence is who you are. You can’t be one type of person and another type of leader! Although you can try to fool people – and even obtain pseudo-success for a short season – time will ultimately reveal the real you. Who you are in the core of your being will determine your presence. How big is your presence?

Someone who is physically large is noticed when they simply walk into a room. Former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal is over 7-feet tall, weighing in at over 300 pounds. Everywhere he goes, his physical presence is commanding.

When you enter a room, are you noticed? Are you respected? Do people want your input? Are you listened to? Are you commanding? Your presence is the key to positively and powerfully influencing people.

Remember, a title or position does not a leader make. A position can be conferred on you. When something is conferred it is placed and bestowed on you by someone else. It is recognition of a position. Your position allows you to perform the roles and functions of a leader, but it is your presence that determines your effectiveness. Presence is inferred upon you. Something inferred involves a conclusion. People are concluding, “This person has a dynamic presence about them that makes me want to follow them!”

Are you working as hard on who you are as you are working at the job you do? Your job functions are important and your ability to be highly functional in your job as a leader is directly proportional to your presence. Your presence increases as you grow as a person. When you become great at who you are, you become remarkable at what you do! Constantly invest time and money in personal growth.

3. Profitability is the value you bring to those you lead. The bottom line number reflects profitability but it is more than that. Is your team profitable because of you?

In the arena of interaction with those you lead, are you profiting from them? Are they better – more profitable themselves – because they are around you? Do you inspire? Do you motivate? Do you create synergy?

There are many world-class athletes playing in team sports who have tremendous individual skills, yet their team fails to obtain championship status. Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. His greatness wasn’t only measured by his ability to make baskets and his incredible desire to win but by making others better. Many of his years in the NBA he was surrounded by, at best, serviceable role players. Yet his presence made others profitable because he brought out the best in his other team members. He helped raise the entire team to a winning, championship level.

Your potential is maximized and your power exploited when you leverage:

  • Your productivity: your effective actions, not your noble intentions.
  • Your presence: constantly investing in yourself, stretching and growing to increase the size of your presence.
  • Your profitability: evaluate yourself by looking to the outcome – is there profitability in your leadership in the bottom line and are people better because they have been influenced by you?


When you maximize productivity, presence and profitability it is likely you will not only show up in the progressions section of your local newspaper but also make the front page headline as well. If you are not on your newspaper’s front page, you will certainly make the headlines with the most important people in your sphere of influence – those who are following you.



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How you can improve productivity by focusing on company culture

Editor’s note: Eric Bloom is president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, an Ashland, Mass.-based IT leadership development firm, and author of the forthcoming book, Productivity Driven Success: Hidden Secrets of Organizational Efficiency.

What does productivity mean to you? To many, it means more time, money and resources to get other things done. For example, if you have five people working toward the completion of a specified task and can find a way to complete it using only four people, you can have the fifth person working on something else. Productivity is the art of doing more with the time, money and resources you have at your disposal.

Business cultureMake no mistake, productivity requires change. If your organization views the ability to change as an important business attribute, then ongoing productivity improvement can be the status quo. If your company is set in its ways, refuses to streamline its processes and shuns innovation, then productivity improvement is not required. Given today’s business environment, a company that does not progress will soon stagger under its own weight and fade away. That said, if you are working at or own this type of firm, the best way for you to be productive is by updating your resume. Conversely, an internal productivity culture that continually strives for optimal efficiency gives your organization the opportunity to enhance its market position, maximize its profits, increase its market share and position it for future growth and success.

There are six cultural attributes needed to give your organization the ability to accept the small – and sometimes large – changes that productivity enhancements require.

1. Cultural awareness:

One of the most important business attributes of people leading the productivity charge is cultural awareness. This is the ability to understand your organization’s internal politics, idiosyncrasies, strengths, weaknesses and how it gets things done. To make matters more complicated, organizations have subcultures. For example, the help desk may have a different internal culture than software development.

Before moving forward with a productivity initiative, you must first ask yourself the question, “Does this organizational change require cultural change first?” The answer may be yes or may be no, it will depend if the changes being made are aligned and consistent with the current organizational culture.

2. Innovative mind-set:

Innovative opportunities to enhance productivity come in many forms. It could be the successful creation, implementation, reuse and/or improvement of an existing IT or business process that reduces costs, enhances productivity, increases company competitiveness or provides other business value.

Finding these innovative solutions requires a willingness to look at your existing operational processes with a critical eye – even if you were the one who originally designed them. You must think about your processes from different perspectives if you wish to improve them.

3. Management focus:

Like all organizational initiatives, productivity related projects must have management support. If not, they most likely will not get funded. If they do get funded, they will eventually wither on the vine. If you’re the project’s executive champion, great! If not, you must find one that can provide you with the resources and political clout needed to move your productivity innovation from idea to ongoing business practice.

4. Employee communication:

Virtually all productivity enhancements are a form of change and this change must be communicated to those affected by it:

  • Be clear in your own mind about what you want to say.
  • Be consistent over time in your messaging.
  • Be aware that varying audiences have different needs and worries.
  • Explain rationale in a way that listeners can best relate to the issue.
  • People are persuaded more by human dimension than statistical facts.
  • Showing your genuine passion and enthusiasm has potential to create similar feelings in your listeners.


5. Self and organizational learning:

Organizational learning is born through a combination of formalized education and business experience, both of which are driven (or suppressed) by the organization’s internal culture. Educationally, different employees need different types of training in order to grow. Technologists need to learn new technologies. Senior executives need to keep abreast of industry trends and corporate best practices. Lastly, all employees need to maximize their interpersonal skills, business skills and emotional intelligence. These skills collectively help IT employees of all levels to not only identify the efficiency of the organization but also provide the business savvy to make it a reality.

Professional curiosity in both individuals and organizations cause them to be introspective and more aware of their external environment. Introspection causes people to ask the question, “How can I improve?” External awareness causes people to ask the question, “What can I learn from my surroundings that can help me and/or my company successfully move forward?” Both of these questions lead to innovative thought and help drive productivity.

6. Conflict avoidance and resolution:

Productivity drives change and change drives conflict. The ability to minimize this conflict helps facilitate change, which in turn drives productivity. Your personal and organizational ability to deal effectively with conflict can make or break your ability to enhance organizational productivity.

If your project is being slowed or stopped by a specific individual it is good to remember that most of the time people are not against you, they are for themselves. This means that if you can understand the reason behind someone’s objections, you can very often turn a presumed adversary into an ally.

When you gain an understanding of your company’s internal culture with respect to these six cultural attributes, you can enhance your entire organization’s productivity. With this knowledge in hand, analyze the impact these factors are having on your organization’s ability to foster innovation, communicate internally, expand corporate knowledge and implement change. Lastly, where appropriate, devise a plan to slowly move toward a true productivity culture. This culture, in turn, will be your steppingstone toward continuous improvement, change management and full utilization of the time, money and resources that meet your organization needs to grow and prosper.


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Analyzing the current representation of minorities in market research

Editor’s note: Rill Hodari is the founding president of the Association of Minority Market Research Professionals (AMMRP), Chicago.

As anyone who has done mass consumer research knows, although a U.S. Census representative sample solicitations is sent out, the final data set is rarely representative. And often when you let the responses come in without any extra controls – in other words letting them naturally fall out – total minority representation is typically 4 to 5 percent. That is 4 to 5 percent for all minority groups.

Similarly among market research and consumer insights professionals, minority race/ethnicity representation is much lower than the U.S. population proportions even though extra efforts are made by some companies to increase representation. Table 1 shows the racial/ethnic composition of marketing research employees during the typical employment ages of 20 to 69 years old. Conversely, a recent estimate of racial incidence puts minority representation among analyst/associate and manager at 17 percent, with Asians over-represented at 10 percent and African-Americans and Hispanics underrepresented at 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Table 1 shows the racial/ethnic composition of marketing research employees during the typical employment ages of 20 to 69 years old. One reason for this demographic distribution may be due to low awareness of market research careers but since low awareness this is something that impacts the field in general, it should impact all groups equally. In addition, it should be noted that although the corporate market research practices may have started in the 1920s, U.S. minorities may not have started to participate to a significant degree until after the 1980s. So the chronological delay in the history of minorities in market research may also impact current representation.

Doing further analysis we find there may be even more dynamics at play. A review of over 200 LinkedIn profiles reveals that although 60 percent of the profession report having graduate level degrees, over 90 percent African-American and Asian market researchers report having at least a graduate level degree. Hispanics are so underrepresented, a read on their education level is difficult to evaluate. For African-Americans, this educational hurdle is actually an economic barrier since Blacks still lag behind the general population in achieving higher education correlated with economic constraints. So access to the profession at the collegiate level is particularly critical in order to more effectively increase African-American representation. In addition, the collegiate field of study is more diverse among White, non-Hispanic market researchers in that they have majors in business, marketing or social sciences but also in communications, psychology, history or various physical sciences. African-Americans and Asians often have less range in their majors and are generally more in line with the typical business, marketing and statistics profile. This shows that potential minority research candidates suffer over-adherence to the requirements in order to gain career access compared to their non-minority counterparts.

Another finding from the review of the LinkedIn profiles shows that African-Americans and some Hispanics can tend to have more mobile careers. On average, Blacks and Hispanics change companies more than their White, non-Hispanic counterparts. The data also shows that people with longer tenures at a company have a greater change to advancing into leadership positions. One might hypothesize that this career mobility behavior may impact effective advancement and even attrition rates among African-American researchers. Whether or not these trends really have a direct relationship, it is certainly more evidence that there are unique minority experiences within the profession that need to be identified and better understood.

Suggestions for measuring and constructing solutions

Recently the University of Southern California at Annenberg announced that they will produce an annual diversity report card on the entertainment industry. Given the similar gaps that the market research profession faces in terms of diversity, I would suggest that similar reporting be conducted. The Association of Minority Market Research Professionals has initiated a good start in measuring not only the racial composition of the profession but the experiential differences. Longitudinal tracking would go a long way in crafting and implementing effective organizational changes to bring the profession in alignment with where it needs to be in order to take advantage of an increasingly diverse talent pool. Collaboration with other professional organizations and corporate stakeholders are essential not only to build profession-wide buy-in but to also craft relevant, actionable recommendations and bring a broad skill set and resources to the table to ensure research quality.


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