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Every New Employee Needs an Onboarding “Buddy”

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Bringing a new employee onboard is both an exciting and stressful time. And while managers play a critical role in shaping a new employees’ first weeks and months, a broader team effort can ensure the experience is both positive and productive.

Over the last few years, Microsoft has been working to improve its onboarding process. At the outset, we learned that a seemingly simple action — managers having one-on-one meetings with their new hires during their first week on the job — has outsized benefits. Through our continued research, we’ve also come to another conclusion: Onboarding buddies play an important role in ensuring a successful onboarding experience. While this may seem obvious, much like our findings on one-on-ones, it’s often missing in a new employee’s introduction to a brand new company. After piloting a buddy program involving 600 employees across the organization, we found that onboarding buddies help our hires in three key ways:

Onboarding buddies provide context. For tenured employees, the context surrounding most of their work has been so well established, it’s in the folds of every email written, every meeting attended, and every PowerPoint presented. For new hires, context is a precious commodity. Without it, a new hire will likely struggle to fully understand their role or how to contribute to their team’s success. Onboarding buddies can give the type of context you won’t find in the employee handbook. For instance, knowledgeable onboarding buddies can help new hires determine who relevant stakeholders are, how to navigate the matrix of different organizations, and think strategically when problem solving. They can also shed light on cultural norms and any unspoken rules that exist, which could lead to a much smoother transition into the organization.

Onboarding buddies boost productivity. Speed to productivity is often a concern for both the company and the new hire. By filling the position, the company satisfied the need for a certain skillset and now wants to see a quick return on its investment. Meanwhile, the new hire is likely experiencing the tension between wanting to ramp up quickly but also needing to take time to learn the job. At Microsoft, we found the more the onboarding buddy met with the new hire, the greater the new hire’s perception of their own speed to productivity: 56% of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days indicated that their buddy helped them to quickly become productive in their role. That percentage increased to 73% for those who met two to three times with their buddy, 86% for those who met four to eight times, and 97% for those who met more than eight times in their first 90 days. Clearly, that additional layer of support is critical to a new hire’s success.

Onboarding buddies improve new employee satisfaction. With over 120,000 employees, it’s not hard to imagine the overwhelming challenges one might face entering such a large and complex organization. In order to truly understand the value of onboarding buddies, we looked at the difference in hires who were assigned onboarding buddies versus those who were not. Our research found that after their first week on the job, new hires with buddies were 23% more satisfied with their overall onboarding experience compared to those without buddies. This trend continued at 90 days with a 36% increase in satisfaction. Those with buddies also reported receiving more active support from both their manager and the broader team.

After careful observation of our data, we decided to expand our onboarding buddy pilot program by creating an internal site for hiring managers to match new hires with an onboarding buddy, along with guidance on what makes a good match. For instance, buddies should have sufficient knowledge about the new hire’s role or the nature of the work, a strong job performance history, and the time to assist a new hire. Once matched, automated reminders were sent to the new hire, the manager and their buddy to encourage consistent engagement, particularly during the first 90 days of employment.

We still have quite a bit to learn as we continue to adapt and broaden our program, but here are some of our early insights and tips:

Reprioritize the workload. When matching a new hire with an onboarding buddy, consider the onboarding buddy’s current workload. In some cases, you may need to help reassign or deprioritize work so the buddy has time to support the needs of the new hire.

Communicate timing. Let both the new hire and the onboarding buddy know that this is a time-bound partnership. Buddies may be more likely to offer their services if the duration of the engagement is established in advance.

Reporting structures matter. Our research has shown that onboarding buddies reporting to the same manager receive more favorable ratings than those who report to different managers. Why? We think it’s because buddies who report to the same manager may also be more familiar with the new hire’s role and responsibilities. If the onboarding buddy lacks an understanding of the new hire’s role it can create frustration for both parties.

Being a buddy is mutually beneficial. It’s not just the new hire who can benefit from this relationship. Serving as an onboarding buddy provides an opportunity to demonstrate and develop managerial and leadership skills. A few years ago, we surveyed our employees to understand the attributes of a successful manager. Two of the top five attributes, communication and support, are also components for a successful buddy relationship. Additionally, teaching others can strengthen one’s own knowledge base, enabling buddies to develop a deeper level of expertise.

Ultimately, we’ve found that successful onboarding doesn’t require an overcomplicated playbook. It’s important to have a multi-dimensional onboarding plan in place, of course, but remember the most important thing a new hire needs for success is support. All it takes is a planful manager and a dedicated onboarding buddy to ensure their new hire has a positive and productive first few months on the job.

Dawn Klinghoffer is the General Manager of the HR Business Insights team at Microsoft. Her responsibilities include advanced people analytics and research for Microsoft’s business units globally; analytics; and reporting support for HR programs such as Global Diversity & Inclusion, Global HR Services, Talent Management, and Learning & Development. She is also responsible for reporting tools/technology for HR and employee data privacy.


Candice Young, Ph.D., is a Senior Data Analyst at Microsoft, where she acts as a research advisor to program managers in the areas of onboarding and manager capabilities. She is responsible for developing and implementing research methodologies used to provide evidence-based solutions to improve organizational practices and procedures that impact culture, onboarding, and career development.


Dave Haspas is a Data Analyst at Microsoft, where he works on analytics to support various aspects of the employee lifecycle, generating data-driven insights that inform our program teams on hiring, onboarding, internal movement, and engagement.

 

Five myths about the future of work

In a new world of gigs, unicorns and automation, change in the workplace is inevitable but it doesn't necessarily mean that you will be out of a job.

About 50% of all jobs that exist today could already be automated with existing technology. This sobering statistic from global management consulting firm McKinsey raises a number of questions about job security against the backdrop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But fear not: mass unemployment is just one of the myths associated with the future of work. In part one of this Investec Focus Radio podcast, we dispel a few more.

The future of work: part one

We talk to Investec's head of Organisational Development and Human Resources, Marc Kahn, and a host of other experts about what the workplace of the future could look like.

Myth 1: Automation will take away our jobs

Tech replacing jobs is nothing new; it's been a major cause for concern in all of the previous industrial revolutions. But, as history shows, new technology has the power to create as much work as it displaces.

"If you look at any 10-year period, in most economies, developed and developing, something like 10% of the occupations are ones that didn't exist in the previous 10-year period," says James Manyika, director of the McKinsey Global Institute, the firm’s business and economics research arm.

On a macro level, technology grows the number of jobs because it increases productivity, which drives economic growth and creates new jobs and entire new industries like online shopping.

Uber drivers, web designers, 3D printing technicians, social media managers – these are all completely new jobs we didn't dream of when we were growing up. "Some occupations decline, but many others actually grow and rise, and quite often, many that grow and rise, are ones we could never imagine," explains Manyika.

What is changing in this new era is that the kinds of jobs we're automating are no longer only physical work but what Manyika terms "knowledge work" – cognitive tasks like image recognition and data analysis.

Myth 2: Your industry won't be disrupted

Unicorns – start-ups valued at $1bn or more – are no longer rare. There are currently more than 300 unicorns disrupting everything from healthcare to financial services, manufacturing, food and travel, and the number is growing rapidly.

"You might think that in your industry you're safe; that there's no way that digital technology or exponential technology is going to disrupt you. But I'll tell you, people in food thought that, and people in taxis thought there's no way they'll be disrupted by cellphones; but of course, they have been. So, you might be too." Sage words from renowned futurist Ramez Naam, who spoke to us at the recent SingularityU South Africa Summit.

History is littered with examples of companies and industries that were caught unawares by technologically advanced challengers. Don't let your company be one of them.

Myth 3: You need an innovation hub to innovate

While individuals may be concerned about their own future prospects, companies are grappling with how they can keep up with the explosion of exponential technology that is already disrupting industries globally. The response from corporates has been a proliferation of innovation hubs and incubators sitting on the periphery of the company.

Marc Kahn, global head of Organisational Development and Human Resources at Investec, believes that innovation doesn't happen in the confines of a hub.

"You want to create a total and holistic environmental shift for the entire organisation … that innovation is the primary task of the normal course of work on a day-to-day basis, and that's the real challenge. You don't do that by stripping out innovation and putting it in a separate place, because that means the innovation doesn't happen in the main and it de-authorises the ability to innovate if you aren't in that box."

To make the whole company a hotbed of innovation, Kahn believes that failure needs to be tolerated and hierarchy demolished. "Rule number one for future workplaces is that failure is an option. So, you need to create an environment that tolerates risk more, not unlike a start-up, and that has in place mechanisms to manage failure and encourage experimentation," he says.

"Hierarchy is death to innovation," adds Kahn, because it stifles bottom-up innovation. Instead, ideas from all areas of the business should be encouraged and rewarded.

Myth 4: The gig economy is a threat to employers

Far from being a threat to companies, employers themselves could become the biggest beneficiaries of the gig economy – a labour market made up of freelance, short-term, flexible, on-demand work.

More than a third (36%) of US workers are foregoing the 9-to-5 workday to perform more lucrative 'gigs' and about 15.6% of the UK’s workforce are giggers. This challenges the notions of employer loyalty, company culture and institutional memory, but it also opens up possibilities for businesses to save money on benefits, office space and training, and makes getting the best talent more affordable.

Kahn believes that the gig economy is fuelling a revolution in the definition of what a company is. A business is real by virtue of its people and assets, he says, "but what if all the people employed in the company are employed as gigs? Where is the company?

"We start thinking about capability, and capability becomes detached from an individual and it becomes a commodity that's moving around in a free-flowing environment. People cluster together in sensible ways and then uncluster and reconnect in various gigs to deliver a very agile value chain," explains Kahn.

This, he says, is all "loosely coordinated by a leadership function without too much management control, but enough to manage the risk in a very fluid environment".

Myth 5: You will have one career your entire life

Job-hopping will become the new normal. Millennials today will hold four jobs by the time they are 30 years old – twice the number of job changes than Generation Xers, says a report from LinkedIn.

We spoke to 25-year-old Stacey Ferreira, a San Francisco-based tech entrepreneur who has held four different jobs since she was 18.

She says that continuous learning is the best way to prepare yourself for the future of work. "We need to continue to learn about new things, so that 20 years from now, we aren't saying: 'Oh, I don't know anything about this new technology that exists.' We've actually kept up with it."

Kahn adds: "Instead of thinking about a career in a particular craft that you have for 30 years, you need to think about being multiskilled, independent and massively flexible in as many different working environments as possible."

 

Ingrid Booth

Digital content producer, Investec

The Financial Upside of Being an Optimist

Under the weight of chronic stress at work, optimists are winning.

It’s hard to escape the fact that chronic stress is one of the greatest threats to well-being in modern times. In a report published by The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, 75% of workers say they are more stressed than the previous generation, and 40% place themselves on the high end of the stress spectrum. In a large-scale study of more than 11,000 people, researcher Shawn Achorand I found that 91% of people had maladaptive responses to stress that exacerbated circumstances and decreased well-being. In the face of this mounting reality, some argue that chronic stress is a “modern day birthright.” It is not. Chronic stress is a trap we’ve fallen into — one that we can get out of with intentionality.

An antidote to chronic stress is cultivating an optimistic mindset — and it serves us well over the course of our careers. In a new study I conducted in partnership with Frost Bank, we found that when it comes to money, optimists are more likely to make smart moves and reap the benefits.

We surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, testing for optimism, financial health, and attitudes and behaviors around money, using scientifically validated measures such as the Life Orientation Test and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Well-Being Scale.

After controlling for wealth, income, skills, and other demographics to level the playing field, the data clearly showed that optimists were significantly more likely to experience better financial health than pessimists, and engage in healthier habits with their money. For instance, we found that 90% of optimists have put money aside for a major purchase, compared to 70% of pessimists. Nearly two thirds of optimists have started an emergency fund, while less than half of pessimists have. Additionally, optimists are more likely to seek out and follow advice from someone they trust. In my opinion, the most compelling finding was how optimists felt, reporting that they stressed about finances 145 fewer days each year as compared to pessimists.

Optimism is a lucrative investment beyond one’s finances. Optimists do better over the course of their careers as well. They make more money and are more likely to be promoted. Achor and I developed a scientifically-validated optimism scale to test professionals at hundreds of companies across industries, and we found that “Visionary Work Optimists” — those that are in the top quartile for optimism as compared to their peers — are 40% more likely to get a promotion over the next year, not to mention six times more likely to be highly engaged at work, and five times less likely to burnout than pessimists.

A landmark study by my former research partner Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania found that optimistic sales professionals outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. As a result of this study done at MetLife, the insurance giant changed its hiring practices to include a screening for optimism, which improved retention and saved the company tens of millions of dollars.

But thinking like an optimist isn’t all rosy. One study found that while most successful entrepreneurs will call themselves optimists, optimistic entrepreneurs earn 30% less than pessimistic ones on average. That might be because they are taking greater risks and failing more often. (That same study found that optimistic employees do earn more than pessimistic colleagues.) But studies highlighting the negative side of a more positive mindset are few.

Optimism sometimes gets a bad rap because people often connect it with Pollyanna and her rose-colored glasses ignoring reality. One time a manager told me during an upcoming restructuring at his company that the best way to help his team stay positive was to not talk about what was going on. You can imagine it was no surprise when a few months later I received word from his boss that he had been let go for mismanaging his department. Optimism does not mean ignoring reality. In our work, we define optimism as the expectation of good things to happen, and the belief that behavior matters, especially in the face of challenges. A rational optimist is able to see reality for what it is, while maintaining the belief that actions can improve the situation. This solution-focused mindset propels positive action. Rational pessimists also see what’s really happening; they just don’t believe there is much they can do about it. For pessimists, circumstances overwhelm. For optimists, mindset wins.

Optimism is a lucrative investment for professionals, which is why I’m on the road more than 120 days a year (with my family, including two kids under 5-years-old in tow — yes, I am an optimist!) to help employees assess and strengthen their optimism. It’s just like a muscle, and you can build it.  Here are some of the same positive habits I share during my keynotes at organizations to help build optimism:

Focus on what’s working: Start the day by practicing gratitude. Instead of grabbing your phone first thing to check the headlines or your email, create a “media moat” and start your day by listing three things you’re grateful for, and why. This two-minute daily practice rewired elderly pessimists to become more optimistic after just two weeks.

 

Seek progress, not perfection: Don’t wait until you’ve perfected the plan. Whether you’re trying to switch roles at work or launch a new idea, waiting for perfection can be your greatest enemy. Set a meaningful goal, and take the smallest measurable step towards achieving that goal. That win will propel continued positive action as your brain gets a boost from perceiving progress.

Meaningfully connect with others: Send a two-minute email each day to someone new and different, praising or thanking them. This habit is my all-time favorite, because these notes often brighten the day of family members, colleagues, or friends, but they are also good for you. Your brain starts to more deeply recognize all the people who care about you. Social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness, and it is strongly correlated with optimism.

Consider testing your optimism before and after adopting these habits using the Success Scale. These small habits could help you take back 145 stress-free days each year, not to mention fuel your happiness and work success as well.


Michelle Gielan, a national CBS News anchor turned UPenn positive psychology researcher, is now the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness. She is partnered with Arianna Huffington to research how transformative stories fuel success.

A Good Meeting Needs a Clear Decision-Making Process

The tension in the room was rising. The group had been at it for hours. In fact, this same team of 12 had been through essentially the same discussion on three previous occasions but still couldn’t reach a decision on a critical issue: Should the organization divest their South American operation or shift to a different strategy?

They reviewed the pros and cons of both options yet again. Each side paraded their own experts, data, and recommendations. And yet they remained at an impasse.

What should a team do when it’s tasked with making a decision or recommendation but can’t reach consensus?

In our 60+ years of combined experience working with boards and senior executives at organizations ranging from Fortune 10 multinationals to German mittelstand companies, we’ve seen leaders give plenty of thought to the data and analysis needed to kick off and carry on these sorts of discussions. But they typically don’t consider how they’d like to finish them.

We’re not suggesting they should know in advance what decision will be made. But they should know how a decision will be made if people can’t agree.

In situations where everyone in the room reports to a common manager, and that person is present, there’s not much of an issue. If the team can’t decide, the boss will. But in today’s highly matrixed organizations, closure in the absence of consensus can be an enormous challenge. Team members — even an individual executive — may well have multiple reporting lines. Finding a “natural tiebreaker” — whether one person or another group — may involve decisions bumping up two or even three levels — which is an impractical solution in many cases, and one that risks casting an unfavorable light on the group.

When we ask our clients, “What’s going to happen at the end of the conversation if the decision isn’t obvious? How exactly will it be made?” the answers often include: “Let’s see how it goes,”  “We’ll figure it out,”  or the classic “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

We think that’s a bad idea. Your team shouldn’t try to make an important decision unless everybody understands what’s going to happen if its members can’t reach an agreement.

So, before a decision-making meeting starts, be crystal clear about how the decision will be made. For example, tell the group there will be 90 minutes of discussion and if there is no resolution after that time, the issue will be put to a vote. While this may seem obvious, be sure to consider how the results will be used in the room. Does the verdict rest directly on the vote, or is the vote merely advisory for the accountable executive? Most decision-making models, such as RACI, suggest that one person be accountable for making the final call, but if your organization takes a more collaborative approach, you need to clarify what a vote means. If it determines the decision, what is required? A simple majority? A two-thirds vote?  Is anyone given veto power?

Also consider what happens if the executive or team with final authority isn’t in the room. How should the issue get elevated? Will the vote be enough input? Should majority and minority viewpoints be documented? If so, how?

Once you’ve outlined a plan, share it with key stakeholders early so they can ask questions or suggest changes. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it should be clear and simple so that everyone understands the process.

Early in his career Tom Wilson, now chairman, president, and CEO of The Allstate Corporation, used to end each major meeting with a simple chart. For each significant decision there were three boxes: “Yes,” “No,” and “Defer.” Under the latter, there was space to indicate the date to which the issue would be deferred and what additional actions or data were required to move to a “Yes” or “No” at that time.  This helped drive clarity and closure and made his meetings more efficient and decisive.

Teams don’t need to get stuck spinning around a whirlpool of indecision. Meetings just need to start with everyone crystal clear on how they will end.


Bob Frisch is the managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy. He is also the co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015), the author of Who’s In The Room? (Jossey-Bass, 2012), and four Harvard Business Review articles, including “Off-Sites That Work” (June 2006).


Cary Greene is a partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy, and co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015) and the Harvard Business Review article “Leadership Summits that Work” (March 2015).  He writes frequently for HBR.org.

 

What Mindfulness Can Do for a Team

What happens when you take a team of people from a range of backgrounds and skillsets and ask them to perform a challenging task on a tight deadline? Often, conflicts arise.

Sometimes conflicts can be productive: When teams are hammering out ideas and striving to find the most effective route to a shared goal, people will often express concerns and offer differing perspectives. That process can lead to stronger outcomes as well as a sense of shared accomplishment — even if not everyone agrees.

Those benefits can quickly evaporate, however, if that healthier “task conflict” turns personal, and team members begin to resent their coworkers’ comments or actions, or treat disagreements as attacks. What’s more, if left unchecked that personal friction — known as “relationship conflict” — can lead to social undermining, which happens when people retaliate against coworkers and actively attempt to undercut them by spreading gossip, giving them the cold shoulder, or mistreating them in other ways.

These more damaging forms of discord have been shown to be highly detrimental in teams, and organizations spend significant time and money on efforts to reduce them — but too often use unproven strategies that fail to produce results. Ultimately, this type of chronic conflict can negatively affect employee effectiveness, motivation and well-being, workforce retention, and ultimately, the bottom line.

How can leaders help teams before they get to this stage? One possibility might be mindfulness. Mindfulness, defined as “a receptive attention to and awareness of present events and experience,” has been shown to help individuals stay on task, approach problems with an open mind, and avoid taking disagreements personally. The trend is so strong, in fact, that many major corporations have begun instituting mindfulness programs: Google, Aetna, LinkedIn, and Ford have all employed it in hopes of boosting productivity and employee satisfaction.

Team mindfulness, however, is distinct from individual mindfulness in that it applies to the group as a whole, and to the interaction between its members, as opposed to employees’ individual thought patterns. In other words, it’s the collective awareness of what a team is experiencing at a given moment, without the prejudgements that come at the individual level.

There is anecdotal evidence that mindfulness can work for teams. In 1989, more than a decade before mindfulness became a buzzword in Western society, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson famously introduced the idea to his team.  He believed the practice would pull the players together, buffer them against tensions, and ultimately, win them championships. Many players — including NBA legend Michael Jordan — were skeptical, but when they went on to win six NBA titles, that uncertainty evaporated. When Jackson brought the same methods to the Los Angeles Lakers, they won five championships.

Jackson’s results in the NBA are encouraging, but until now, the scientific literature has almost exclusively examined the benefits of mindfulness on an individual level; without a thorough understanding of team mindfulness, managers could risk instituting practices that are little more than ineffective and costly fads — or potentially even counterproductive. What’s more, without evidence of the structure and function of team mindfulness, its risks or benefits cannot be effectively evaluated.

Our research introduces the concept of team mindfulness and offers an empirical investigation of its application within organizations, as well as a psychometrically sound scale — that is, a scale that is tested and validated using multiple samples — for its measurement. We also show that team mindfulness can directly safeguard against the more detrimental aspects of conflict.

In one of the field studies we administered the questionnaire to 224 MBA students within 44 project teams at a large Midwest university. In the other, the questionnaire was distributed to 318 employees on 50 teams at a Chinese health care organization, in a range of departments — among them technical support, pharmacy, marketing, and customer service. To ensure that team mindfulness is distinct from individual mindfulness, we also accounted for individual mindfulness as a control variable in our models.

Across both studies, we found the higher the level of team mindfulness, the lower the level of relationship conflict. What’s more, in the more mindful teams, the shift from the project-based task conflict to the more damaging relationship conflict was significantly diminished; the tendency for relationship conflict to devolve into destructive undermining was also notably reduced.

In other words, our findings support the idea that team-level mindfulness is distinct, and offers distinct benefits from individual mindfulness.

 

Putting this type of mindfulness into practice can be challenging, however. Workplaces have become increasingly rife with distraction, with employees scrolling through their cell phones during meetings rather than listening and participating. Add to that the fact that more people are working remotely, and that more companies are employing people with a diverse range of languages, cultural backgrounds, and working styles, where miscommunications and misinterpretations can easily occur.

The most important thing organizations can do to increase team mindfulness is to encourage present-focussed attention, non-judgmental processing, and respectful communication, as well as an openness to collecting and understanding information before processing it. This helps reduce emotional or reflexive responses, leaving room for teams with diverse knowledge and different functional backgrounds to reach a greater potential.

That doesn’t mean that difficult decisions don’t get made, or that the focus on the present prevents employees from analyzing the past or planning for the future; rather, it allows people and teams to better control when and how critical analysis and crucial judgements take place.

Currently, there is no formal prescription for how to achieve team mindfulness, and how the concept is applied will necessarily vary according to the type of organization. A growing number of major corporations are instituting individual mindfulness programs, which may lead to greater team mindfulness; some are taking that approach a step further, and getting entire teams to sit down for group-based sessions that encourage employees to focus on themselves, the group, and the tasks they need to complete.

However it’s important to note that, in order to achieve a high level of team mindfulness, not every team member must have mindfulness training; in fact, even if only the team leader or a handful of team members are mindful, it is possible the team as a whole will also be more mindful. This is because team processes involve ongoing interactions, and employees with a high level of mindfulness influence the behaviors of their coworkers; when a leader models a more mindful approach, employees are also more likely to follow suit.

At the business level, leaders can set cultural expectations, and lead meetings and other interactions with team mindfulness as a central cornerstone; they can also step in when discussion is being shut down before potentially invaluable ideas have been properly heard and considered. For example, if a leader sees tensions morphing from a potentially productive task conflict to the more destructive relationship conflict, they might step in and encourage employees to shift their focus back to the task at hand.

The benefits of embracing team mindfulness are becoming clearer. Imagine two teams: On one, members interact on the side, with some members unaware that the participation has shifted or that the team has lost its task focus, so discussions have to be repeated and work redone. Members might be critical and defensive, and quick to judge, or simply check out and watch the clock. On another team, members stay focused and reunite the team if they sense that actions and communications have veered off course; the discussions focus on exploring facts, ideas and options, and avoid impulsive judgements.

Which team is more likely to win? Whether it’s an NBA franchise or a department in a health care organization, the more mindful team will almost certainly have the upper hand.


Lingtao Yu is an assistant professor in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He received his PhD in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from the University of Minnesota. His current research interests include leadership and ethics, abusive supervision, workplace deviance, emotions, and mindfulness.


Mary Zellmer-Bruhn is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She completed her PhD in Organizational Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Zellmer-Bruhn’s current research focuses on context and teaming, team diversity, and knowledge processes and learning in teams.

Don’t Be the Boss Who Talks Too Much

As head of a startup, I always want to make sure everyone on my team understands the vision for what we’re trying to achieve. I also want to make sure we’re hearing, considering, and incorporating everyone’s ideas, and acting quickly to iron out problems along the way. So we have a lot of group conversations. A lot.

We discuss our mission, goals, and the steps it will take to achieve them. Every time, I look for new ways to say things, in hopes of making the vision crystal clear and discovering even slight differences in how various team members understand our goals.

In short, I over-communicate.

I don’t just do this now, with a relatively small staff. I’ve done the same throughout my career, including when I spent several years as vice president of a large company in Newton, Massachusetts.

So I’ve had to ask myself: At what point am I communicating too much? When should I give it a rest?

The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, HBR has reported on complaints from people about the kind of boss who “over-communicates with everyone on a project,” creating “a huge time suck.” On the other hand some research from Harvard finds that “persistent, redundant communication” from managers helps get projects completed quickly.

To toe the line, I’ve developed rules for myself to follow, aimed at mitigating the downsides (like wasted time and lost productivity) while still using frequent communication to clear any hurdles in our path.

Make it two-way

When you’re trying to communicate your vision and organize the work ahead, it’s easy to start speechifying. You have so much to say, so many thoughts on your mind, that you can get carried away. And since you’re “the boss,” other team members may feel a duty to listen and nod along. You can lose track of time.

So leaders should make sure to listen every bit as much as — if not more than — they talk. “Effective leaders don’t just talk, they listen,” Northeastern University reported. An HBR piece described listening as “an overlooked leadership tool.”

As you hold meetings, keep tabs on how much time you spend talking, and how much listening. And when you get a question, sometimes invite other team members to weigh in as part of the answer. That way everyone is included, and feels that their input is valued.

Never interrupt “the zone”

When your employees are busy designing a solution or banging through tasks, it’s not the right time to strike up a conversation with them. Short of an emergency, you shouldn’t pull them out of “the zone,” in which they’re focused on crucial tasks. You also need to make sure there are sufficient uninterrupted periods of working time to allow people to find that focus. Breaking the work day up into multiple chunks by scheduling meetings is a sure way to kill productivity in any creative work environment.

That’s why, as a rule, the ideal time for conversations is at the beginning of a work session or close to the end of the day  though not when they’re supposed to leave. It’s only worth having these sessions when everyone needed for them is available at the same time.

 

Monthly one-on-ones

To ensure that ideas and concerns are teased out and raised, every team member should have a one-on-one session with a leader once a month. In these meetings, the team members can voice anything.

To be sure they don’t hold back, I ask employees to bring at least one “bad” issue to these meetings. It can be a concern about the product we’re creating or the way our business is running. It can also include an idea for how to improve.

Of course, employees are also welcome to bring positive issues  things they’re excited about and want us to do more of. But addressing problems takes precedence.

Beyond the open-door policy

I expect all leaders and managers to welcome any team member to discuss issues large or small. But as many experts have written, simply announcing that you have an open-door policy isn’t enough. It’s important to empower employees to speak up by showing them that when they bring concerns your way, you act on them.

One way to achieve this is through a “feedback loop.” After a concern is raised, whether in a group meeting or one-on-one, follow up on it. Track progress, identify obstacles, and keep moving the effort forward. The more you do this, the more people will see the practical value of bringing up an issue  and they’ll see what all the communication you’re engaging in can achieve.

In general, avoiding lots of scheduled meetings and instead engaging in ad hoc conversations is better. And when meetings are necessary, bring good food, since meetings on low-blood sugar are an especially bad idea.

As a manager, you want to make sure everyone on your team understands the vision for what you’re trying to achieve. But at what point are you communicating too much? When should you give it a rest? There are rules you can follow to mitigate the downsides of overcommunication (like wasted time and lost productivity). For one, listen as much, if not more, than you talk. And never interrupt “the zone.” When your employees are busy designing a solution or banging through tasks, it’s not the right time to strike up a conversation with them. Encourage your employees to have a one-on-one session with a leader once a month and ask them to bring at least one “bad” issue to these meetings. And finally, empower employees to speak up by showing them that when they bring concerns your way, you act on them. With all these efforts in place, and an atmosphere of psychological safety, it becomes much more likely that you’ll do a good job of communicating frequently without annoying your team.

After all, in that environment they’ll also feel much more comfortable to say: “You know what boss? I really think we’ve got it.”


Hjalmar Gislason is founder and CEO of GRID.

How Asking Multiple People for Advice Can Backfire

  • Category EQ

When was the last time you sought someone’s advice? Perhaps you were navigating a tricky situation at work, searching for jobs, or making an important purchase. In these situations, we often focus on gathering all of the information we can in order to make the best choice. That’s why we may turn to a few or many people for different opinions. Research, after all, has shown that leveraging the “wisdom of crowds” can lead to more accurate decisions. But could turning to multiple people ever backfire? Our recent research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests it may.

Doing the “right” thing is undoubtedly important, but so are the impressions we make on and the relationships we establish with our advisors. Given that we commonly consult people with higher status than us, their perceptions about us could have an out-sized impact on our futures.

In a series of studies, we tried to understand the interpersonal consequences of people’s advice-seeking strategies by investigating how advisors reacted to them. In one study, we asked 200 workers in the United States to recall a time they had been asked for advice, in which they were either the only person or one of multiple people consulted. We then asked about their impressions of the advice seeker, how close they were after the exchange, and how willing they would be to give guidance to the same person in the future.

Given how commonly most of us are told to seek second and third opinions, we expected advisors to rate those pursuing this strategy as more competent. But we found the opposite. People who were in a group of several advisors not only rated the advice seeker as less competent, but also indicated that they felt more socially distant to them later and were less interested in advising them in the future.

What prompted the negative reaction? We hypothesized that advisors were really reacting to the reduced probability that their own advice would be followed. (The more people an advice seeker approaches, the less likely it becomes that he or she will follow any one advisor’s advice.) People tend to think highly of themselves and their own opinions and gain status when their advice is taken. So they might be offended by the idea that their advice could be disregarded and, as a result, negatively judge and distance themselves from the offending party.

We tested the link between the advice seekers’ follow-through and advisors’ subsequent behavior in a series of five experiments with 1,362 participants, in which we controlled whether recommendations were taken or not. We found that advisors whose suggestions were ignored did become more offended and were more likely to denigrate and sever their relationship with the seekers. They also felt less secure in their capabilities and social standings.

To investigate the link between these negative reactions and the fear of rejection sparked by presence of multiple advisors, we conducted another controlled experiment. We recruited 186 experienced workers from an online crowd-sourcing platform (Amazon Mechanical Turk) and told them that a novice worker had asked them for advice about using the platform. Half of the advisors believed the newbie was seeking counsel from only them; the other half believed the person was consulting four other experts. (In reality, the role of the novice was pre-programmed.)

Advisors were then asked how likely they thought it was that their advice would be followed. They were also asked to rate the seeker’s competence and given the opportunity to either continue working with the person or to work with someone else on a subsequent task. Sure enough, we found that advisors told they were among a group of people consulted thought their advice was more likely to be ignored and correspondingly deemed the novice as less competent. They were also more likely to select a different partner.

Having uncovered a significant interpersonal cost to following the wisdom of crowds – or simply disregarding advice – we wanted to understand how pervasive these behaviors were. Maybe people understand this and avoid these risky advice-seeking strategies. But when we surveyed 119 full-time employees across an array of U.S. industries who had sought advice in the past month, 58% reported having consulted multiple advisors, and 52.9% reported ignoring recommendations they had received.

Why might advice seekers overlook this potential for backlash? Our research reveals that they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with their advisors when it comes to the purpose of their interactions. In another study, we found that those looking for advice simply wanted to receive information (thereby widening the set of options considered), whereas those giving advice were more likely to believe that they were supposed to provide direction (which would serve to narrow choices).  If you illuminate a specific path, you might be more likely to expect people to follow it than if you shine a light in a general area.

What all of this work seems to suggest is that advice seekers should expand their consideration of the potential consequences of asking for guidance. In addition to considering who will provide the most information, ask yourself how advisors might react if their advice is not followed.  You might also benefit from being more transparent about your goals. If you clarify the reason why you are soliciting advice (“I am hoping to explore all my options”), that may help set the tone for the discussion and expectations for the actions you take in the future.

For advisors, it’s worth understanding the general tendency to react to advice seekers with an egocentric bias. Many of us genuinely want to help those who seek counsel, and our recommendations may not always be the best.

Want our advice? Considering the broader goals of advice seeking could pay off for seekers and advisors alike.


Hayley Blunden is a PhD student in the organizational behavior program at Harvard Business School.


Jennifer M. Logg is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Her primary research examines how people expect algorithmic and human judgment to differ (research she calls, Theory of Machine, a twist on the classic “theory of mind”). Her work tests how people respond to the increasing prevalence of information produced by algorithms.


Alison Wood Brooks is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. She teaches negotiation in the MBA and executive education curricula and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group.


Leslie K. John is an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Twitter: @lesliekjohn.


Francesca Gino is a behavioral scientist and the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She is the author of the books Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life and Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. Twitter: @francescagino.

Should You Try to Convince a Star Employee to Stay?

  • Category Teams

No matter how hard you try to create a supportive and fulfilling workplace, the day will come when you find out that a valued employee is thinking of leaving or has already accepted an offer outside the firm. What you do at that moment — whether you decide to convince the person to stay or let them go gracefully — matters not just to that specific situation but to your organization for years to come.

Should you convince them to stay?

The first question is whether you want to let this valuable employee go. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find out that someone is considering another job before they have committed to it. In that case, there is still a chance to retain one of your best people — and you should do what you can, within reason.

Here are some things you should do, all of which assume that your employee is aware that you know they are considering another position. If not, start by confirming what you have heard.

Take the person out for coffee. Find out what they’re thinking about. No matter how open and supportive an environment you think your organization has created — you might be wrong. Ask about their concerns and their hopes for the future. Be prepared that you may hear a few things that are uncomfortable for you. Sometimes you are the last person to find out some of the problems within your group — no matter how approachable you try to be.

Set up an atmosphere of joint problem solving. Presumably your employee wants things that they are not getting in their current position. You would like to keep them. In order to get there, you’ll have to approach this together.

Sometimes (particularly early in a person’s career) money is a big part of the problem. People entering their first job are often happy just to be employed, and so they don’t negotiate that hard on salary. Once you’ve figured out how valuable this person is — and they’ve figured out how valuable they are to any organization — they may feel they’re not making enough. If that’s the case, try to address it. There is nothing to be gained by nickel-and-diming a keeper. Any problem facing a star employee that can be solved by the proper application of money should be solved quickly.

More often, the issue is bigger than salary and you’ll need to think creatively. Ask a lot of questions about your star’s career goals, ambitions, and desires. Are there other ways to help them succeed that they haven’t thought about? Suggest new projects, mentors, and training. Consider helping them to get an advanced degree if they need one. Give them a sense of where you would like to see them end up in the next few years and commit to helping them get there.

One reason people stay at their jobs is that they feel supported by the people they work for. Show that support.

When to let go gracefully

Of course, you can’t win them all. Sometimes there are hidden problems you didn’t know about or can’t solve. Sometimes your star wants a new adventure. Many early-career employees just want to work for someone else to get a feel for how the field works. And sometimes you don’t find out about your star’s departure until they have already accepted a position somewhere else.

In this case, start by congratulating them on the new position. You may have been a supervisor to that person in the workplace, but most importantly, you’re a colleague. And you want to see your colleagues succeed, even if that success takes them elsewhere. A gesture of goodwill like wishing someone well goes a long way toward creating a healthy long-term relationship with that star.

You want your star to feel good about the organization as they might be back some day. There is an increasing trend toward boomerang employees who leave an organization for a while and then come back. You can smooth the path for a star’s return by letting them know you care about their future. If they decide that they were actually better off working for you, they will remember your supportive attitude. You can even remind them that the door is always open.

 

Even if your star never comes back, they are likely to remain in your sphere. Perhaps they will work for a rival firm or a company in a neighboring business. These days, many big projects require a number of organizations to band together to complete a complex project. That means that your star may be in the position to recommend your firm for business or even to partner up to bid for or complete a new project. You want to be the first one they call in the future.

So treat your departing employee as a potential ambassador for your firm. Not only might they direct business toward you in the future, but they might even recommend your firm as a place for their new colleagues to consider working if they need a change.

To be graceful in the face of a departure, you have to bear in mind that business is not a zero-sum game. The more people out there in the world with a positive impression of you and your firm, the more opportunities you will have down the line to succeed. Even the people who leave may still end up being valuable.


Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. His new book is Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career (HBR Press).

 

What PwC Learned from Its Policy of Flexible Work for Everyone

Every Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time, I join a video conference call with leadership colleagues from across the country. I’m on the West Coast, so these meetings are always early for me. When I started joining them more than 10 years ago, I was up early to ensure that I looked polished and ready to conquer the day before I got on the video conference. These days, I find myself forgoing dressing up or putting on makeup before dialing in. I no longer think twice about being on video from the comfort of my living room and in my morning sweatshirt. And, as I say good morning to my colleagues, it’s apparent that I’m not the only one.

It hasn’t always been this way. Our company has come a long way over the past decade by truly instilling a culture of flexibility across the firm. We now have the ability to work in a way that fits our personal lives and, if that means taking an early morning video call at home in our sweatpants, then so be it.

When others ask me how we did it, I’m honest. This did not happen overnight. It wasn’t easy, there were growing pains along the way, and we’re still learning. Here’s some of what we learned along the way that we hope other companies can benefit from:

You need to toss out the rule book. To build a culture of flexibility, you must first reimagine what flexibility means today. Remember, to create behavior change, you need to allow for variance and creativity and agility. In other words, be “flexible” when creating a flexibility culture. A policy guide or a formal program can work against you. It seems counterintuitive, but having rules in place actually hinders the development of a truly authentic culture. At PwC, we loosely call it “everyday flexibility.” It isn’t something we mandate that all teams adopt; it’s a mentality and a way of life that should be individualized for each person.

Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.

Everyone deserves the same degree of flexibility. Flexibility is not related to a generational need. Every employee, at any age, benefits from and is looking for its availability. A culture of flexibility will not be created, adopted, or embraced unless the origination stems from an understanding and belief that every single person in the organization deserves the same consideration and flex work policies. This isn’t about one segment of the workforce, so if you’re sending out any kind of internal communications materials about flexibility, make sure it speaks to all employees. After all, we are a diverse workforce made up of diverse people, from working moms and dads to thousands of others without children who also want flexibility. One person’s reasons for needing flexibility are not any more important or any less important than any another person’s.

When it comes to flexibility, trust is not earned. It is not uncommon for managers to tell me that they believe in allowing employees to work flexibly, if and only when they’ve been with the firm a certain amount of time and earned that trust. This is when I remind people that we place our trust in employees from the moment they start working for us, so why wouldn’t that same theory apply when it comes to flexibility? If you trust an individual enough that you hired them to join your organization, you also should trust them to get the work done when and where they prefer, as long as they meet deadlines. I challenge all managers to take this approach.

Flexibility is a two-way street. A strong culture starts from the very top. For example, when our CEO started wearing jeans to work, it sent a message to all of our people that it’s okay to dress casually. That said, that is only where it starts. The action comes from the bottom up.

I often travel to speak to groups of our newly promoted senior associates. For most of these individuals, this is the first time they are stepping into a supervisory role. At the same time, they are still being supervised. They have a unique opportunity to empower direct reports, while putting pressure on managers to do the right thing for their teams. In these moments, I am reminded of the tremendous power our people hold in strengthening flexibility across the firm.

For us, flexibility is not about working less, but it is about encouraging people to work differently. It’s a two-way street. We give our people the flexibility they need when they need it, and sometimes, we need them to give more when business demands require it. When done right, flexibility results in a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. And it helps attract the best employees, and makes them want to stick around

Anne Donovan is the U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), where she is a key senior leader responsible for strategy and innovation around culture change. She has a strong background in operational effectiveness and in engaging people to lead positive change.

Want to Get That One Project Off Your Plate? Try This

Want to Get That One Project Off Your Plate? Try This

All of us have tasks we don’t want to do. Maybe they’re boring or time-consuming or stressful — but we’ve still got to get them done. One way to push yourself is to involve other people. Delegate part of the task, complete the project with someone else, or simply be around others who are working (in a library or a coffee shop, say) — the positive social pressure can create accountability. If looping in other people doesn’t do the trick, pair that approach with another one, such as not letting yourself check email or social media until you’ve finished the project. Or you can plan your time around the task: Block off a few minutes every day, or a few hours every week, to make some progress. No matter what, don’t let the unpleasant task keep lingering. The longer you put it off, the more it will wear on you, and the more unpleasant it will seem.

Adapted from “How to Motivate Yourself to Do Things You Don’t Want to Do,” by Elizabeth Grace Saunders