The Unrecognizably Easy Way to Improve Employee Engagement

I was meeting with a COO a few months ago who was struggling to motivate and engage his team. With one piece of advice, he’s turned his team around. I’d like to think I offered the sage wisdom of a Tibetan monk located in the outskirts of civilization, but the truth is that I gave him the commonsense advice many leaders could use – Exponentially increase the amount of recognition you give to others.

We all know that recognition is an essential part of leading others…right? For you skeptics who need proof that offering appreciation is more than a “nice” practice, Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute found that employees recognized within the last two months are more than twice as likely to believe their leader cares. Similarly, O.C. Tanner found a significant correlation between loyalty and acknowledgment with 87% of employees feeling a strong relationship with their direct manager versus the 51% who reported a lack of recognition.

In a 2015 study, 70% of employees who received some form of appreciation from their supervisor stated they are happy with their job. And this study found that new leaders can foster an immediate 31% boost in job satisfaction simply by recognizing employees who have never received appreciation from their superiors.

A study in the Journal of Financial Economics found that companies offering stock options to non-executive employees were more innovative. Plus, in an article from Positive Psychology Program, organizations implementing gratitude into their company culture experienced a greater willingness amongst the team to spread their positive feelings with others, including helping with a project and recognizing the accomplishments of other employees.

Once you understand the value of expressing recognition, the next step is doing it in an effective manner. Here are four things to consider.

Recognition programs matter. The mere presence of a recognition program can positively impact employees’ perceptions of the workplace by 35%, compared with organization that do not have a program.

Quantity matters. 82% of employees who receive appreciation more than once a month describe a strong bond with their bosses. When the occurrences dropped to less than once a month, 63% felt those strong ties.

Frequency matters. 80% of employees who were recognized for performance in the past month feel fulfilled at work. These numbers decline sharply over time: 75% are satisfied 1-2 months later, 71% after 3-5 months, 69% after 6-12 months, 51% after 1-2 years, and 42% when the recognition is more than 2 years ago.

Purpose matters. It’s not enough to recognize; we must be conscious of what we are recognizing. To promote risk taking and innovation, incentives should be tied to long term rewards—stock options, promotions, etc.

Don’t sit in your office wishing for a better culture. Start creating it by recognizing the people who work towards making you look better. Write “thanks” on a sticky note. Say “good job” at your next staff meeting. It does not need to be elaborate, just sincere and meaningful.

Did You Catch My Interview with Michelle Pizer?

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Michelle Pizer, host of the annual Crack the Leadership Code summit. We discussed the challenges of being a new leader, how leaders can utilize confidence and courage, leadership lessons from our current political climate, and the ways we can harness and maximize the five superpowers outlined in Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.

Check it out!

 

 

Is Logic for Losers? Persuasion, Influence, and Biased Assimilation Effect

When engaging in a heated debate, how do you convince your opponent to abandon their stance and jump onboard yours? Most of us try to prove our point with a barrage of graphs, charts, statistics, and research studies. We cite last week’s 60 Minutes interview and regurgitate the numerous articles we’ve read. And then we wonder why we were unsuccessful in changing anyone’s minds. As a result, it would behoove us to consider whether logic-based arguments are effective.

There is plenty of research illustrating the ineffectiveness of logic as a persuasion tool. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when participants were presented with a counter-argument for the death penalty, not only did individuals not change their minds, rather they ended up with more extreme views than before the experiment began—those for the death penalty became more for it, those against it became more against it. Classic biased assimilation.

The idea of biased assimilation effect, where we tend to believe ideas that synchronize with what we already believe, is not new—research like the one previously mentioned has been replicated with everything from climate change to health. It turns out that biased assimilation effect is the very barrier we are trying to overcome when engaging in a debate.

Getting back to my original question about the effectiveness of logic-based arguments, there is plenty of research showing that utilizing emotion is more persuasive than logic. One study concluded that up to 90% of decisions are based on emotion. But what if this is not accurate? What if biased assimilation effect supersedes both emotion and logic?

In a classic study by Randall Reuchelle, students prepared speeches written from either a logical or an emotional standpoint. While we may argue about the use of emotion over logic, Reuchelle found that speeches displaying a message the evaluator agreed with were rated as more logical even if they were intended to be emotional, and those the evaluator did not agree with were considered to be more emotional even if they were intended to be logical. This means we can’t even distinguish between facts and opinions; biased assimilation effect is too powerful.

As leaders, we must be equipped to overcome biased assimilation effect. While there is a strong case for utilizing emotion over logic, you have a more powerful case when you use them together. Start by employing a healthy dose of storytelling and personal anecdotes. This will inject the emotions necessary to connect with the audience, lower defenses, and allow for a more open-minded conversation.

Once you’ve created a mutual understanding, sprinkle in the relevant facts. This use of logic creates a necessary foundation for emotion. It justifies actions and provides the evidence others can rely upon.

We are in a constant battle against biased assimilation effect. It shuts down the open flow of ideas and precludes us from reaching consensus. Instead of conceding with the weak acceptance that we can “agree to disagree,” develop your ability to articulate logical points that reverberate with your audience. Then use your emotional radar to trigger emotions that embody your case. It is not easy, but changing someone’s mind never is.

The Easiest Way to Change Behavior with Craig Ferguson

There is so much written about the ways a leader can enact behavior change. We can discuss the power of social norms, habit formation, change management, or any number of behavior modification techniques, but maybe that’s overthinking it. Maybe Craig Ferguson has found the simplest, more effective solution.

In a recent interview, television host, comedian, director, and author Craig Ferguson discussed one particular behavior that he’s worked to improve—being a good person—and how his “complex” methodology has helped:

I do not believe that thought makes behavior; I believe that behavior makes thought. So if you want to be a good person, job number one: Do something nice. Resist the temptation to be a dick. And then, very quickly, the universe will stop making you a dick. You’ll stop feeling like a dick because you’re not acting like a dick. If you don’t act like a dick, you’re not a dick. Sometimes I want to do some really awful shit, but I don’t do it, therefore, I’m not in jail.

I could write an essay on why this approach will work, but the lesson is clear—if you act a certain way, you are more likely to become that way. We can question sincerity or the problems associated with pretending, but the truth remains that change follows action, and nothing changes without action.

So if you want to enact behavior change, start making the change. You want to be considered a leader who empowers others? Start empowering them. You want to be considered ethical? Act ethically. If your goal is to be a better leader, don’t over analyze it; take action.

When Leaders Insulate: The Dangers of Corrosive Privilege

I recently read a fascinating article by Rebecca Solnit on how being born to privilege has had a corrosive effect on Donald Trump and his presidency. She discusses the ways an individual raised in a protected bubble of wealth and power becomes isolated from the rest of the world. After reading Solnit’s piece, it’s evident that the trappings she associates with Trump can become obstacles for all leaders. Here are three lessons that sound out:

Setbacks

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us.—Rebecca Solnit

There is a mentality amongst some leaders that acknowledging failure is a weakness. As a result, they shift responsibility (i.e. blame others) so they are no longer accountable, artificially reframe setbacks as new opportunities, and/or outright change the end-goal so the outcome can now be viewed as a win.

While “not failing” may feel good, it is a false sense of satisfaction. Leaders must build the thick skin necessary to accept and learn from disappointment without carrying the weight of feeling like a failure. Otherwise we risk becoming overly sensitive and brittle, unequipped to make the adjustments necessary to rebound and adapt.

As leaders, we must also allow others to fail. Solnit writes of rich college kids who are not allowed to fail because their parents “[keep] throwing out safety nets and buffers” that protect them from experiencing adversity. As nice as this may sound, when we live without consequences, our lives become inconsequential—we cannot feel the highs of achievement without also having faced the lows of failure.

Self-Reflection

Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it.—Rebecca Solnit

In Hannah Arendt’s book On the Origins of Totalitarianism, she promotes the need for an inner dialogue where we can cross-examine ourselves, where we can ask the difficult questions. If we can master this skill, we are better equipped to have these discussions with the people around us. If we lack the ability to self-interrogate, we are prone to suffer from, what Arendt calls, the banality of evil, i.e. “the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself, or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.”

Obliviousness

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society.—Rebecca Solnit

We need people in our lives who have the ability to provide unfiltered commentary. These individuals cannot be fearful of repercussions, nor can they hold back in the hopes of gaining some type of advantage. They must be willing to give it to us straight and we must be open to what they are saying. Otherwise, we risk becoming oblivious.

Obliviousness is not a sign of low intelligence, but an indication that the leader is sequestered from information that runs counter to their viewpoint. It tends to happen over time as we weed out those who are the bearers of bad news, those who are perceived as not being “on board,” and those who are damaging our precious self-esteem with their critique. Before we know it, we are surrounded by yes-men and sycophants who tell us what we want to hear versus what we need to hear. In the end, not only are we alone, but their biased feedback has infected us with delusional thinking, faulty decision making, and a general lack of insight into how our team and the population-at-large are feeling.

Being in a position of power can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to. Leaders must seek and foster relationships outside of their power structure. Our associates keep us honest. They ensure we remain grounded and in touch with reality. And they provide the feedback, criticism, and advice that, while not preferable, is essential to avoiding the impairments of corrosive privilege.