Management Training – but not as we know it

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fortune_cookie_message_1600_clr_7951A motivational trainer in China has been forced to apologise for spanking under-performing bank employees.

With a cry of “get your bums ready” Mr Jiang Yang walked behind them with a stick hitting each of them four times.

Now I’m not saying some bankers don’t need public humiliation but actually spanking them, and in some cases shaving men’s heads and cutting women’s hair, seems over the top.

The punishments were filmed on a phone and widely circulated online as a result of which a couple of executives have been suspended (not sure by which part of their bodies) and the training terminated.

The 8 employees – four men and four women – who were made to stand in a line of shame were among 200 from the Chanhi Zhangze Rural Commercial Bank in Shanxi province who were attending a 3-day training camp.

The unfortunate eight were the lowest performing participants on the day. They were made to confess their shortcomings e.g. “I didn’t exceed myself”, “poor teamwork”, “not brave enough” before the beatings were delivered.

The Shanghai-based trainer, who charges £10,000 a day, has apologised to his client but not the victims, some of whom had apparently thanked him “for changing them“.

Jiang Yang says he’s been punishing trainees for years using sit-ups and head shaving. “Physical punishment can also be called ‘touching flesh’ a way of waking up a person’s vigour. This kind of positive-energy physical punishment is a better teaching method because pain is an effective way to wake up a sleeping spirit” he said.

He’s been accused of spanking the women harder than the men so obviously needs some equal opportunity counselling and diversity training.

One blogger was concerned that “there was no man on the spot to stand up and protect the beaten female colleagues“.

It brings a whole new dimension to managing performance. Perhaps I should discuss the possibilities with my consultant colleague before our next workshop (and also review our fees)?

Original report in The Times


Green micro-breaks good for productivity

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P1030063Researchers at the University of Melbourne gave 150 subjects a menial keystroke task responding to numbers on a computer screen.

After 5 minutes they were given  a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.

Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.

The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.

The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.

The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.

Previous research has explored how people respond to landscapes like forests, parks, and woodlands for longer periods so this research using such a short time period is impressive.

The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.

Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.

Source: HBR September 2015


What time should you start work?

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changing_the_clock_1600_wht_11186Not before 10.00 am according to the latest research from the University of Oxford.

Apparently our body clocks aren’t aligned to a  9-to-5 working day and this poses a serious threat to our performance, mood, and mental health.

Dr Paul Kelley believes that there needs to be a huge change to move work times to fit with the circadian rhythms of employees to avoid storing up health problems.

And furthermore staff don’t get back to a 0900 start until they reach 55.  So “staff are usually sleep-deprived… and this is hugely damaging top the body’s emotional and performance systems”.

He doesn’t believe we can change our 24-hour rhythms and learn to get up at a certain time because our bodies are attuned to sunlight and its effect on the hypothalamus.

Much has been published recently about the ill-effects of working shifts which includes the increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

This is separate from the ill-effect of working long hours.

Extreme workers beware!

Is it really the end of staff appraisals?

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one_on_on_interview_clip_1600_wht_6951News that two out of three companies are planning to change their staff appraisal processes “radically” might be good news – depending on what they come up with of course. And one in 20 companies are scrapping it entirely.

PwC conducted a survey which came up with these figures and said that that once-a-year assessment of performance and exchange of views between managers and staff didn’t motivate staff or provide the honest feedback bosses needed.

Most of the companies abandoning the traditional approach are encouraging managers to give continuous feedback so that problems are dealt with in a timely fashion and praise is linked to current work performance or behaviour.

PwC is cautioning managers not to abandon appraisal completely as they claim most employees like them as they helped them to understand what they were doing. Does it need an appraisal system for that to happen? I think not. Perhaps improved communication between managers and employees would do the trick.

But PwC also acknowledges that most managers don’t like doing them because of all the paperwork it entails.

Deloitte recently calculated it spent 2 million hours on 65,000 staff. They have replaced that system with one comprising just 4 questions.

Accenture has also dropped annual appraisals. In future staff will no longer receive a ranking or evaluation, just “timely feedback“.

They also say “Companies need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Without the year-end rating the danger is that the distribution of pay and bonuses can become even more of a dark art as shadow systems evolve without proper governance and infrastructure behind them”.  And what would HR find to do?

One of the reasons for discontinuing ranking methods is that globalisation has thrown up many different roles and comparisons become more difficult.

There are also cultural differences. I remember being asked in Sweden by a Swedish employee in a multi-national company why his boss always asked him where he planned to be in 5 years time. He said he was quite happy doing the job he had.  I also coached a senior Swedish manager who decided to leave the company he worked for rather than having to turn down promotion to a more global role. He opted to move down the road across the Øresund bridge instead.

The Swedes tend to take a different view on careers, valuing work-life balance more than say Americans or Brits.

I’ve posted before on this topic 

Bullshit still baffling brains

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inflate_self_PA_500_wht_5437You’d think people would react against people who promise the earth but never deliver on performance.

Recent research from America suggest it “ain’t necessarily so”.

It seems people admire cocky people even when their pretensions are exposed.

Confidence is compelling to observers because in the absence of information to the contrary observers assume it reflects superior ability” say behavioural researchers in Organisational Behaviour & Human Decision Processes.

Actual talent appears irrelevant. The sense of competence lingers even after it’s been shown to be a sham say the researchers at the universities of Pennsylvania and California.

Being perceived to possess the valued characteristics is the key to attaining higher status – it’s not necessary to actual possess them”.

Previously it was assumed that such over-confident charlatans would eventually be punished by their peers but it seems people are far more tolerant of failure – at least in the USA.

If the overconfident person has created peer impressions which persist groups may not punish them even after discovering that the confidence was unjustified.

Interestingly in the experiments, in which participants were asked to rate each other’s status, confidence, and ability as well as their own, those who rated their own ability highest were accorded high status by the others.

Previous research has suggested that being arrogant gives people the impression that you actually are superior.

Feedback & its impact on Women in Teams

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P1000161Receiving feedback on how individuals in a group are performing on can reduce your cognitive ability.

That’s according to researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute who used MRI technology to study how the brain was processing information about the group processes and how it effected cognitive capacity.

Researchers ranked performances on tasks and then shared that information with the group. After the feedback some people’s problem-solving ability declined significantly and that was particularly true for women.

The researchers think that subtle social signals in group settings affect cognitive functioning or, as the Daily Mail put it: “being in a group lowers your intelligence especially if you’re a women“.

This is interesting because not long ago I posted on how adding women to your group raised its collective IQ. This was attributed to women having better social skills, or more social sensitivity (similar to emotional intelligence). Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism.

I wonder if in this experiment the sharing of feedback introduced an element of competition rather than cooperation and raised stress levels which impact on problem-solving ability.

Other research has found that men are more competitive than women on the whole and this gender competition gap could explain why in this experiment giving feedback was not an advantage for women and of course for the team as a whole.

Originally posted on SGANDA

Rudeness and the bottom line

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SGA_diagram_7-bad-graphWe seem to becoming less polite to each other at work. 15 years ago 1 in 4 employees said they were treated rudely at least once a week.

Ten years ago that number had doubled. 4 years ago 1 in 4 employees reported seeing workplace rudeness on a daily basis.

And it isn’t just rudeness between co-workers. 25% of customers reported rude behaviour from service providers. Half said they saw colleagues being rude to each other, half said they saw customers being treated rudely, and 40% said they experienced rudeness on a monthly basis.

Of course it goes both ways and customers and the public can be just as rude to service providers’ front-line staff.

Research shows that rudeness has detrimental effects on a business. People on the receiving end report losing focus and even having time off or thinking of leaving. They also begin to avoid the perpetrators.

Rather than rely on subjective self-reports (after all one person’s rudeness is another person’s bluntness) researchers Christine Porath and Amir Erez designed a series of experiments to study the effect of rudeness – both indirect viz being rude about the participants’ reference group, and direct by being rude to participants personally.

They found that people treated rudely only once, and in an indirect and impersonal manner, were less able to perform simple cognitive tasks. And the same applied to those who were only asked to visualise such a situation. Both groups lost focus and their task performance worsened.

For those subject to direct personal rudeness the effects were much worse. They were less creative on a “uses for a brick” test and their ideas were less diverse and more routine eg build a house.

Creativity, which requires the juggling of ideas old and new and the integration of possibilities, was impaired and so was helpfulness.

People treated uncivilly are less inclined to help others. In one experiment helpful behaviour occurred between 75% and 90% of the time but when the experimenter was rude about the group as a whole helpful assistance dropped to 35% and when insulted personally by a stranger it dropped to 24%.

Overall they found that even mild forms of rudeness, whether delivered by an authority figure or a stranger, whether direct or indirect or just imagined, had an impact on performance, creativity and helpfulness.

The researchers don’t think this effect was because of the desire to retaliate or strike back but perhaps because the targets of rude behaviour either shut down or use their cognitive assets to make sense of the behaviour rather than using them to learn and complete the tasks.

They also found that just witnessing rude behaviour was enough to make people perform tasks less effectively and less creatively as well as making them less likely to be helpful. It could also provoke them into acting more aggressively.

And rudeness in organisations can mean a range of behaviours from taking credit for others’ work, ignoring messages, not asking politely or saying “thank you”, to having temper tantrums.

Unfortunately in organisations it’s been found that rude, arrogant, managers are often perceived as powerful and effective decision-makers. However the truth is that rudeness not only impacts on employee engagement but on the bottom line.

Porath and her colleagues estimated it cost the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity when they were researching their book “The Cost of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It”.

Originally posted on SGANDA

Motivating yourself needs the right words

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pushing_someone_to_the_edge_of_custom_text_13242Pretty much everyone knows about using self talk to help improve self-control. It’s become a staple of most self-improvement books and life coaches as well as sports coaches. But it turns out that the form of words you use can make a big difference.

An interesting series of experiments reported in the BPS’s Psychology magazine found that speaking to yourself in the second person i.e. “You can do it” was more effective than speaking to yourself in the first person i.e. “I can do it“.

Not only did the participants in the study who used the second person encouragement complete more problems, they also said they would be happier doing them again in future.

Why would there be this difference? The researchers speculate that when the going gets tough using the second person self-talk cues memories of being encouraged and supported by others, even back to childhood.

The experiments weren’t perfect relying on psychology students and written self-talk in relation to solving anagrams and planning to do more exercise. But it’s something to think about if you’re in the coaching business (and not too late to start encouraging your kids!).



Washing your Hands hampers Performance

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Washing your hands after failing at a task increases your optimism but unfortunately hampers your subsequent performance.

According to Kai Kaspar at University of Osnabrueck who suggests that the soap and water not only cleans your hands but washes off the psychological need to try harder to make you feel competent again.

Throwing out the motivational baby with the bath water? Or is it more than that? I wonder if it makes you forgot what you just did which means you don’t learn from your error; you go back a step to start again instead.

The report on the study (HBR September 2012) also mentions that hand washing lessens a person’s guilt after immoral behaviour. A touch of the Pontius Pilate maybe?

Strange how many expressions we use about washing or cleansing eg making a clean break, washing your hands of something, wipe the slate clean. There is something ritualistic about washing hands and maybe it taps into some unconscious belief we have.

There is also a genetic component to washing and cleaning believe it or not. Compulsive washing is one symptom of  OCD, which can be a dysfunctional way to deal with anxiety.