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Over one hundred twenty years ago, Frederick Taylor developed some theories about work. Labeled scientific management, these ideas emerged as solutions to improve worker efficiency. In his approach to managing labor he equated humans with the machines used for production. Given the knowledge available at the time, he didn’t realize how little humans have in common with the machines they use.

Even though scientific management is not as popular as it was in the earlier days of the industrial revolution, the consistent push for efficiency and production from employees remains a dominant aspect of our work cultures. Work cultures still mostly fail to understand that the organic human brain works very differently from a machine, even a machine as complex as a computer.

How We Work

Using Your Brain | Marigold Associates

Photo Credit: Andrew Magill via Flickr/Creative Commons

A machine essentially has two settings — on and off. So too for employees, most people reason. You are either working or you are not. Most managers want to ensure their employees are clicked “on” during the workday and producing something tangible for every billable minute.

There’s an inherent problem with this consistent drive to work from the frame of the on-off switch. Simply, the human brain is not wired that way and operating as if it was depletes energy and creativity. The brain is organic and like most of the biological world it operates in cycles of work and rest. The ideal way for a brain to work is in a series of 90 minute focused cycles. Short breaks or switching across a variety of tasks keeps the brain operating at peak efficiency.

There is a better way to create a good working environment that takes into account a better understanding of the brain.

The way your brain works provides life-altering answers for how you should work. Just a few examples include the way you learn, the way sleep and stress influence you and the difficulty you have in remembering more than five or six items from a meeting.

In fact, learning to better use your brain will help you improve your performance and creativity.

Brains in Motion

Consider this, studies show the brain performs best in motion. You might have noticed that some of your best ideas have emerged when you were exercising. For most of human history, people spent their days in motion. Movement is the default setting for our brains.

Yet most of us now do sedentary work 8 hours a day at a desk or in front of a computer screen. As a result not only our health, but also our creativity has suffered.

Brains Asleep

Using Your Brain | Marigold Associates

Photo credit: Dierk Schaefer via Flickr/Creative Commons

Most of us believe that productivity and success coincide with the amount of hours you work. Have you noticed how much people take pride in the few hours they sleep and long hours that they work? There’s a consistent push for more time spent working. But this aspect of our culture contributes negatively to our well-being and our productivity. In fact, sleep is a critical part of creativity and strategic innovation. Research has demonstrated that workers who get fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep a night make more mistakes, have fewer creative ideas and worse, have very poor judgment about the quality of the work they are producing.

In fact, the way that the brain works during sleep helps unlock difficult problems of work. It is far more effective than burning the midnight oil in frustration.

The Shower Principle

Have you ever had a great idea while showering or jogging? While it might seem counterintuitive, “mindless” activity actually opens up the neural networks of the brain in entirely different ways than during focused activity. While it’s difficult to believe it, a period of rest, walking, drawing, meditation, or hitting golf balls might be what your team needs to unlock the big idea for the project. Especially during crisis points such as an impending deadline, it is tempting to fall into the trap of working longer hours under intense pressure. It is clear from everything we know from our study of worker productivity and creativity, that this is likely to produce the lowest quality product. This over emphasis on efficiency and time management has eradicated mindless time under the false assumption that it is not productive, once again illustrating our misunderstanding of the human person. The mind is not a machine.


Many work environments extol the virtues of multi-tasking. Have you checked the job listings lately? Multitasking is almost always mentioned. From an efficiency perspective, wouldn’t you want an employee who can competently perform four tasks at once?

Well, multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains are unable to process more than one thing at a time. Meaning, the “best” multi-taskers are the people who are most capable of switching quickly from one item to another in quick succession.

Multi-tasking takes a physiological toil, however. Every time the brain needs to switch from one item to another, it burns energy as it fills in the gaps that were missed during the period of inattention. The more often you switch from item to item, the more energy is burned in switching and a decrease in performance occurs. Some studies have suggested that as much as 25% of our energy in a day is used up simply in the switching.

Ultimately, all of these aspects just scratch the surface of how we use our brain. We challenge you to begin to think about how you are using your most important work tool: your brain.

We look forward to addressing some of these ideas in more detail in the coming months.

The way that you handle conflict is one of the dimensions that will most impact your effectiveness in the workplace. In reflecting on my own conflict style I realized how much it had changed over the years. As a young woman, I was often reluctant to express myself, particularly if I disagreed with someone who was more senior. Now, as a seasoned (a nice way of saying “old”) professional I have to guard against being too blunt and too bold. Is the difference a result of my age? Experience? Position?

Arm wrestling

CC by flickr user nick@

Conflict in the workplace covers a lot of territory. Creative differences, personality conflicts, misunderstandings, competition, resentment, and even toxic relationships are all found in a workplace environment. Some of these “conflicts” are good for business. Creativity and innovation depend upon having a variety of perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. But other forms of conflict can fester over time and damage workplace relationships.

When it comes to conflict, we usually have a “style” that typifies us depending upon whether we give more attention to the relationship or the task at hand. We can think of these as three “types”:  challenger, harmonizer, or negotiator. Which are you?

In your face

CC by flickr user Tom Hilton

Challengers enjoy engagement and the exchange of diverse points of view. They are quick to express their opinions and comfortable advocating for their position. Harmonizers are sensitive to relationship issues. Disagreements make them uncomfortable. They are often reticent to express their own viewpoints, especially if they are not compatible with those of others. Negotiators look for the win/win solution. They want all the points of view on the table and hope that a solution can be found that will satisfy the needs all around, including their own.

There are strengths and weaknesses in each of these styles. Various situations call for each approach. At the beginning of a relationship (even a business relationship) it is important to build rapport. Harmonizing is good way to get started. In situations where deeply held principles are at stake, challenging a point of view that violates those and sticking to your position is vital. Trying to solve a complex problem with many stakeholders requires a win-win approach if the solution is going to have sustainability. So even if we are most comfortable with one style, flexibility will increase our effectiveness.

The way that we handle conflict is strongly influenced by our culture. Age, status, education, sex, and social class are dimensions


CC by flickr user buddawiggi

within culture that impact the rules and values around conflict. How would you describe the preferred conflict style in your workplace culture? Is it comfortable for you? Is it healthy for the organization?

Becoming competent at handing conflict is essential for anyone who aspires to be an effective leader. According to research reported in Harvard Business Review, CEOs say the area in which they most want to develop is conflict resolution:

“Conflict management is critical in the CEO role — just about anything that gets to the CEO’s desk has an element of pleasing someone and making someone else unhappy. When the CEO avoids conflict, it can shut down the whole organization: decisions are not made and problems fester, creating a domino effect of unproductive behaviors down the ladder. A CEO who can manage and channel conflict in a constructive way can get to the root of issues, apply rigor to the team’s thinking, and, ultimately drive the best outcomes. So cultivating this skill can be a powerful tool to help the entire organization.”

Like any new behavior, it takes practice to get comfortable with conflict skills. Talking openly about conflict styles with your work team can be a first step in increasing your competency. Coaching can help those who are either too dominant or too submissive find more balance.

While it might take some effort and attention, the rewards of being competent when it comes to conflict are well worth it. Getting comfortable addressing conflict gives you tools to address those problems at work that most impact your job satisfaction and well-being.


th-2Organizations have a readily observable culture. I was once interviewing for a position with a large successful practice. As soon as I walked in, I knew I didn’t want to work there. It was extremely quiet. I didn’t see another person as I walked to the waiting area. It was decorated like an old-school men’s club with deep leather sofas and chairs. My feet didn’t reach the floor if I sat back in the seat of the chair. I could tell it wasn’t the kind of place that would have the right energy for me. Just as it does when you visit a foreign nation, culture shows up in lots of places in an organization; from the greetings, customs, furniture, dress code, social atmosphere to the comfort foods.

In our work, we often ask focus groups of employees to describe their workplace organization as if it were a person. Participants usually have no trouble coming up with adjectives and there is typically high agreement. Often the culture can be traced back to the style and values of the senior leaders. But everyone who is part of a culture has influence. When it comes to culture, we are shaped by it but also participate in creating and maintaining it. Here are a few (highly stereotyped!) examples of the kind of cultures we see out there.

Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice

People are overwhelmingly positive. No one ever disagrees and no one can remember anyone ever getting fired, though people who don’t fit in seem to disappear. There are often no performance reviews, because (though no one would admit it) performance doesn’t matter. People describe their co-workers as family. Like a dysfunctional family, however, there can be lots of passive aggressiveness, favoritism and gossip. If you dare to challenge anyone in this kind of setting, you will be perceived as mean-spirited. People will be very friendly and smiley but talk about you behind your back.


Hard-Driving Manly Men

Competition is the game. Winning is the goal. Employees brag about their “numbers” and how many hours they put in. No one stays home sick, EVER. On vacation these guys play war games or summit K2. (Everest is for tourists.) Even the women can do lots of pull-ups. You can bet that 10% of the workforce will be fired every year — just to keep people on their toes. If you are mellow and laid back in this kind of place, you will get run over on your way to the bathroom.

The City Morgue

The quiet descends over you like a down quilt. All communication occurs in emails. People whisper if they speak at all. Someone can be missing for weeks and no one notices. People tiptoe in and out. They eat their brown-bag lunches at their desks. One wouldn’t dare pack carrots or apples because the crunch would draw attention to them. No one is sure what the CEO looks like. The last time they heard him or her speak was September 11, 2001 when an announcement was made that everyone should quietly leave the building in order to go home and watch TV. If you stay too long, your tongue may atrophy.

Of course, these are exaggerations. Clearly we wouldn’t want to work in these kinds of settings. None of them would bring out the best in their employees. But what kind of an organizational culture is good for employees? And importantly, how does it affect the success of the organization?

Here are some practices that contribute to building a healthy, productive culture:

  1. Communication is open and transparent.
  2. Your perspective matters and you are expected to speak up.
  3. You are encouraged to develop to your full potential.
  4. You know where you stand because you get meaningful, regular performance reviews.
  5. If you have a weakness, you will get the support that you need to address it.
  6. Your work has meaning and purpose, because you see how it contributes to the success of the organization.

How does your work culture rate? How do you fit into the culture of your organization? Is it a good match?


A gift of feedback
by ShowOffDundee

Giving and receiving good feedback is on the verge of becoming a lost art. The practice of giving regular feedback to colleagues is one of the behaviors that has nearly dropped off the radar in many work environments. Even simple gestures such as saying “nice work” for a routine job well done have diminished. There are lots of reasons for this: work overload has reduced communication generally, and email has replaced the longer face-to-face conversations which would more naturally include feedback, both positive and negative. Some seem to believe that giving feedback is exclusively the job of supervisors.

Whatever the reason, it is a skill that deserves resuscitation. Feedback is necessary for learning and growth. High-performing individuals welcome it as an opportunity to improve. High-performing organizations make sure that feedback loops are built into their processes for the purpose of continual quality improvement.

One of the more interesting job assignments that I get on occasion is to participate in security trainings for humanitarians. The rest of the team are former military special forces. At the end of every day, they do a sit-down debrief where they are direct and honest with themselves and each other about their performance that day. Of course, it makes sense to develop this habit when people’s lives are on the line. But transferring this practice to the training situation has resulted in a training process that is unrivaled in quality and effectiveness.

While verbal feedback from colleagues is only one format for measuring our performance, it is a unique perspective that offers information not attainable in any other format. When it becomes a routine part of doing business, teams flourish.

What can you do to build the skill of giving and receiving feedback in yourself and your colleagues?

  1. Get in the habit of asking for feedback from colleagues on a regular basis. Until it becomes routine, it may be helpful to give your colleagues some lead time to think through what they want to say.
  2. Your response to feedback will determine whether the giver will ever risk giving you honest feedback again. Be sure that you are non-defensive, open, and refrain from explaining or arguing with their perspective. Remember, it is just that — their perspective. For that reason alone, it is legitimate. Make sure you clarify to understand fully their point and possible implications. Try to leave with an understanding of what actions you can take to improve.
  3. Begin to practice by giving lots of positive feedback to others. It is easier and almost always appreciated! Remember that negative communication has a much stronger impact than positive communication, so that it requires three positives to balance every one negative. Once your colleagues know that you respect and value their contribution, they will be more comfortable receiving constructive feedback about areas for improvement.
  4. Before giving feedback, place yourself in the other’s shoes. Empathy will go a long way in helping you frame feedback that will be well received and effective.
  5. When you give feedback, make it SMART: specific, meaningful, accurate, respectful, and timely. Avoid general comments about a person’s personality, habits, and work style. Don’t use words like “never” or “always.”
  6. Don’t be afraid to give feedback “up.” I still remember fondly and am grateful for employees who took the risk to give me feedback as a young (and very green!) manager.
  7. Ask for a 360-evaluation as part of your annual performance review.
  8. If you run meetings, try routinely including discussion on how you can improve as a team. If you are a project manager, add debrief sessions at critical points along the way.

People understandably seem to be wary of delivering any message which might be construed as negative. Our cultural obsession with positive self-esteem has made us less practiced at giving and receiving any message that implies that improvement is needed.

I noticed this shift in my students as a professor of psychology. There came a season when even advanced graduate students were unprepared to hear that their performance included some mistakes and their skills required improvement. I recall one student who wanted to start a petition among the students that would require faculty to give only positive feedback! Luckily she was talked out of that idea.


Lovely feedback
CC by ShowOffDundee

There are some real problems that develop if we limit ourselves to giving only positive feedback. Most obviously, it means that we are avoiding problems. While some problems may resolve themselves naturally, more often, they simply fester. The failure to address problems directly leads to a culture of complaint, frustration and cynicism.

More subtly, failure to let a valued colleague know that improvement is needed is disrespectful. It limits their potential for growth and ultimately may interfere with their career progress. It also may damage your working relationship.

Whether it is positive or negative, the purpose of feedback is to be helpful. In that light, it should be considered a valued gift!


Do you work in a positive organization? Think about how would you describe your workplace. Take a minute and make a list of adjectives that apply to your workplace culture including your work relationships.

Now sort those adjectives into two columns: positive and negative. If your positive pile is at least 3 times longer than your negative column, chances are pretty good that you are working for a high-performing team or organization. If the negative column is longer, your culture is probably interfering with productivity, creativity, and customer relationships.

It turns out that positivity is not just a flaky West Coast fad left over from the sixties. In fact, the research on positivity is demonstrating that a positive work culture makes a real difference to the company bottom line.

This finding has been supported in the study of high-performing teams. Marcial Lasoda studied the behavior of 60 teams as they worked on their annual strategic plans. Trained coders, watching from behind a one-way mirror, observed their interaction and categorized their dialogue. Positive speech included comments of support, encouragement, or appreciation. Negative speech included disapproval, sarcasm, or cynicism. The raters also coded for the number of times that teammates asked each other questions (inquiry) or advocated (advocacy) for various ideas.

Lasoda independently identified 15 of the 60 teams that were consistently high performers on the basis of three indicators: profitability, customer satisfaction, and evaluations by superiors, direct reports and peers. Twenty-six teams had mixed performance and 19 had uniformly low performance.

The high-performing teams had the highest positivity ratios of 5.6 as well as the broadest range of inquiry and advocacy. Compared to other teams, they were the most generative and flexible in their problem solving. The medium performance teams had a positivity ratio of 1.8. and had a narrower range of inquiry and advocacy. The low performance teams had a positivity ratio of only .4, meaning that they made more negative than positive comments.  Moreover, these teams were stuck in a narrow repetitive loop of self-absorbed advocacy and lacked behavioral flexibility.

Notice that only 25% of the 60 teams that Lasoda studied were consistently positive. This factor corresponds to the finding that only 20% of U.S. adults are consistently reporting positivity ratios of 3 or higher.

Given the simple fact that positivity feels better than negativity, why is it so rare?

One contributing factor is no doubt the high levels of chronic stress in our workplace culture. We  live in an odd time when being out of balance is considered heroic. How many times have you heard people “brag” about how many hours they work, how little they sleep, and how few vacation days they take? What many don’t realize is that the best way to get more work done is not to work longer hours.

Likewise, management that increases competitiveness, pressure, and threats of lay-offs does not result in sustainably higher performance or profitability. “Lean” management can be a very good thing when it eliminates waste. However, it goes too far when time to reflect, interact, learn new skills, and invest in personal development is considered “waste.”  Deprived of sleep, recreation, exercise, time to think and reflect, it is no wonder that workers are negative.

What can you do to increase your own positivity as well as that of your colleagues?


Both positivity and negativity are contagious. If you complain, you will probably end up hearing the complaints of others. If you begin to encourage, support, and say thank you to colleagues for their contribution, no doubt you will begin to receive more positivity in kind.

If you are in management, you have an even stronger position to leverage positivity. Your positivity or negativity will have a trickle down effect on your teams. We recently interviewed a high-performing executive who said that his own sensitivity to stress was a motivator for him to remove all forms of systemic stress from his organization wherever possible.

Is there such a thing as too much positivity?

The answer is a resounding yes! Positivity ratios of greater than 10 are associated with declines in performance. Why? Most likely because real conflict and challenge are being avoided. The members of high-performing teams are comfortable engaging in advocacy for their point of view and are open to being challenged. They pursue excellence, not false harmony. They strive to encourage each other to make their best contribution and call each other on anything less.

So, did you finish your list? What adjectives did you use? We’d love to hear you comments!


Clock Work Man  CC by Sean MacEntee

Clock Work Man
CC by Sean MacEntee


“Getting the right people on the bus” a la Jim Collins’ Good to Great by has become a popular phrase among businesses and nonprofits. And appropriately so, since people are central to running business. Peter Drucker had it right when he wrote back in 1974, “A business enterprise (or any other institution) has only one true resource: People. It succeeds by making human resources productive.” And thankfully businesses are beginning to see the light. We keep hearing language about the importance of the human factor, or human capital.

Getting the right people on the bus is important, but the more challenging task is actually getting them into the right seats and making them want to stay aboard by creating an organizational culture in which they can flourish. To date, very few business are able to do this with any consistency. And when they do, it seems more mystery and luck than an intentional process.

A look inside the typical business curriculum and the background of many business executives explain why. It isn’t clear that senior executives or managers understand people; at least not if you look carefully at the actual hiring practices, management styles, policies, and organizational cultures. Admittedly, people are a challenge. Building a human-centered organization is no easy task. But even with an emphasis upon talent management, four main problems persist:

  1. We have a tendency to think of people management as the “soft” side of business.
  2. We tend to view people as a technology, computer, or piece of software. (Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if they really were?)
  3. We use tools (personality, culture, etc., assessments) that are based upon 1950’s or 1970’s research. A simple example is the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. Developed in the 1920’s with little scientific validity, it was never intended for a work environment. Yet how many businesses and business consultants still use or recommend it?
  4. It is not clear what expertise is really necessary when it comes to people. Finance, accounting, law, marketing, advertising are all specialized fields and have degrees as their foundation. But with people, what expertise, beyond human experience, is essential? Isn’t everyone is an expert?

Organizations need an updated, more sophisticated, informed approach to people management that has kept apace with the dramatic amount of data and research being released in various disciplines related to people. This, however, is rare in today’s marketplace.

Why don’t we have the same level of sophistication for our people that we have for finance and law? Why is an outmoded, substandard approach to people considered acceptable?

I would like to suggest that we demand more. I often hear that there is no value add for a well-designed human ecosystem. But this is both uninformed and naive. Most businesses will lose 30-50% productivity due to toxic work environments, overwork, stress, poor management, and badly functioning teams.

A powerful example of the impact of a lack of expertise with people is found in Kurt Eichenwald’s recent article in Vanity Fair, “Microsoft’s Lost Decade”. Eichenwald tells the tale of Microsoft, its missteps in strategy and product development, and the toxic organizational culture and loss of talent that followed. Like many organizations, its leadership couldn’t keep the forces of entropy at bay and foundered in mediocrity. Whether Tim Allen can do any better at Apple is in question.

Eichenwald places the blame for the Microsoft’s demise squarely on the way its leadership managed people. Like many large public corporations, they followed the lead of Jack Welch and GE, putting in place a hard-charging culture through the practice of routine culling of 10% of the workforce. The purpose of this approach is to keep the work force hungry, competitive and vibrant. The assumption is that this will motivate people to do their best work. This strategy assumes much about the human person that is simply wrong headed. Rather than creating a high-performance culture, over the long term such an approach has the opposite effect. The result is a toxic, individualistic, competitive culture that ends in mediocrity, loss of market share and bankruptcy of the creative innovation so necessary to succeed in today’s marketplace.

Missing in most of the analyses of Microsoft, GE, Dow, Apple and other business cultures is one fundamental dimension. Business today is antiquated in its understanding of what human beings need to perform at high levels for prolonged periods of time. Most simply do not understand how to think about building a sustainable, flourishing, human-centered organization. They lack professional expertise, relying on their own layperson’s perspective.

In the next series of blogs, we will plot a way forward for businesses that are interested in designing, building, and enjoying the benefits of a human-centered organization.

We invite you to join us and value your comments.


Most of us need work in order to be complete. We would go so far as to say that it is in our nature to work. But there is a difference between good work and what we might call toil. Good work gives us meaning and purpose, energizes us, and provides a forum for creative engagement and contribution. Toil is dehumanizing. Some jobs really have little silver lining. They are boring, meaningless drudgery.

What makes the difference between good work and toil?

Think in terms of capacity, competencies developed by training, helpful supervision, and appropriate rewards.

Have you ever seen a sniffer dog in action? We totally enjoyed the spectacle of Lucy doing her thing at our local airport. Lucy loves her work. Watching her, we could see all the principles of what makes for good work.

CC photo courtesy of ukhomeoffice

Work should match capacity.

Lucy’s natural capacity is perfectly suited for this job. She was chosen for it because of her ability to detect scents.  Lucy is wired by her biology to sniff. She can do her job all day long and never get burned out. In fact, she is energized by her work.

Training builds competencies.

Lucy has received excellent job training that built on her natural talent by giving her competencies in advanced smelling. She was trained to target her sniffing to bags including purses, luggage, and computer cases and to differentiate particular smells that indicate the presence of danger.  Her capacity and competencies overlap perfectly.

Supervision promotes good work.

Her relationship with her handler is a great example of good supervision. The handler knows he can’t do what Lucy does. As a result he doesn’t try to micromanage her sniffing. He appreciates Lucy’s talents and loves to see her do her work well. He offers frequent and positive feedback to Lucy about the excellent quality of her work.

Good work is rewarded.

Lucy is appropriately rewarded for her work. She works decent hours and has time off for rest and play. She enjoys a comfortable and dignified life that includes good nutrition, shelter, companionship, exercise and health care. She is a happy dog.

Watch this video to see more about training a sniffer dog.

How about you? Are you happy with your work? Do you have all the benefits that Lucy enjoys? If you are missing capacity, competencies, training, good supervision or appropriate rewards, it might be time to do something different.


CC photo courtesy of Y


    Are you satisfied with your job?

    Are your natural aptitudes aligned with the job you are asked to do?

    Does your supervisor treat you like a partner?

    Does your supervisor create an environment that is trusting and open?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you are part of a growing number of people who are dissatisfied with their job. The Gallup Healthways Well-being Index registered 47.1 in August for the category titled “work satisfaction”—the lowest it has been since the measurement was introduced in January 2008. This means that nearly half of the workforce is in the same boat.

What is behind the growing job dissatisfaction?

With unemployment at +9% and frequent reports of mass layoffs, many people are so afraid of losing their jobs that they are willing to work longer hours for less pay, fewer benefits, and less meaningful work. The stagnant economy reduces the leverage employees typically have when they attempt to negotiate improved working conditions, move up in their organization or find better jobs outside the company. This loss of bargaining power leads to an increasingly unhealthy work environment.

There is not much any of us can do as individuals to change the economy. But, according to Wharton professor, Adam Grant, it is not just financial incentives that make work satisfying. There are four additional factors that can lead to an increased sense of well-being and productivity in the workplace. In our own research we found these same four “life assets” in people who were flourishing. Finding ways to express them in your work may increase your job satisfaction.

Four Essentials of a Satisfying Job



Autonomy is the opportunity to make choices. When employees are given the chance to decide what to do, when, where and how to do it, they experience greater responsibility for their work and invest more time and energy. They often develop greater efficiencies and innovations.


Mastery involves the opportunity to develop skills, expertise and knowledge. When employees are given opportunities for mastery, they naturally pursue learning and look for ways to contribute.


Doing work that matters gives us purpose. Employee satisfaction increases when they experience their work as contributing to a greater effort or cause. Meeting clients or customers who benefit from their work gives workers a clearer understanding of the purpose of their job.

Connection with Others

Building meaningful interpersonal connections is essential. The feeling of belonging to a community and being valued by others consistently leads to lower turnover. The quality of relationships with supervisors, co-workers and customers can be even more powerful than financial rewards in leading to job satisfaction.

Steps You Can Take Now to Increase Job Satisfaction

If you are dissatisfied with your job, what can you do about it while remaining in the same position? Wharton Ph.D. student, Peter Berg, has advocated for a more proactive approach on the part of employees to make changes to their jobs to better suit their own motives, strengths and passions. Berg calls this process, “job crafting” and has shown that it results in more engaging and fulfilling work.

Thanks to koalazmonkey via CC

Visualize your job as a set of building blocks.

Some of the blocks are more stressful and dissatisfying. Others are more desirable and energizing. Increase your autonomy by limiting the time spent on the unappealing tasks, freeing up time for those that you love. Carve out some time each day or week to increase your mastery by working on something new.

Re-think your job. What is the purpose of your job?

Changing your understanding of the meaning of the work you do can make a difference. In one study by Harvard psychologists Alia Crum and Ellen Langer, hotel room cleaners were divided into two groups. One group was asked to look at their work as exercise, the other, as just a regular cleaning job. The two groups did exactly the same thing at work, yet after one month the “exercise” group lost weight and body fat. The only difference was the meaning they had attached to their job.

What is your unanswered calling?

Do you have an occupation that has always intrigued you? If so, try to find a way to fold it into the work that you do. For example, if you have always wanted to be a teacher, take on the training of new employees. Berg has found that people can be “very creative and clever about incorporating their unanswered callings into what they do now… By job crafting these employees did not have to switch jobs to fulfill their unanswered callings.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to get the job you always wanted without leaving your current position? Find ways to express your autonomy, mastery, purpose, and connection by re-thinking your work.

CC Photo by lisahumes
Favoritism is alive and well in the American workplace. A new study by Jonathan Gardner of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University demonstrates that favoritism is still a factor in corporate America and plays an important role in promotions. Some days it seems like we are back in grade school observing the dynamics between teachers and their pets and pet-wannabes. Apparently many of us have not outgrown the habit.

Here are the details of the study:

  • 92 percent of senior executives have witnessed favoritism at play in employee promotions.
  • 84 percent have seen it at their own companies.
  • 23 percent said they themselves practiced favoritism.
  • 29 percent said their most recent promotion considered only a single candidate.
  • 56 percent said when more than one candidate was considered, they already knew who they wanted to promote before deliberations.
  • 96 percent report promoting the pre-selected individual.

Why does this matter? Cronyism and nepotism are bad for organizations and for the people who work in them because recipients of favoritism are often promoted into positions for which they have either little capacity and/or competence. The wrong people in the wrong positions can wreak havoc in an organization and seriously damage morale and impact results.  We at Marigold have seen this on numerous occasions in our work with client companies.

But not all forms of favoritism are necessarily bad. People have or become favorites for many reasons. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about favoritism, organizations and promotions.

Why We Have Favorites

Favoritism is understandable because of:

    1. Our Sociability

    We are social beings. This may seem obvious, but it is baffling that the idea that relationships are essential to doing good work continues to struggle to find a place within management literature.

    2. Our Desire for Familiarity and Camaraderie

    People like to work with people they know and with whom they can get along. Additionally, working with people we can trust is essential. Trust is built through relationships. All things being equal, most of us given an option would choose to work with someone we click with rather than someone who irritates us or who is at best neutral.

    3. Our Interdependence

    Leaders and followers depend upon each other. In his book, Don’t Step on the Rope, Walter Wright uses a metaphor from mountaineering to describe the interdependence of teams. Each team member is tied into the rope with all other team members. A team encounters obstacles together and reaches the summit together. This is a great image that underlines the reality that each depends upon one another to attain their goal. A leader is not successful without a great team and vice versa.

    4. Our Tendency towards Brand Loyalty

    We naturally go to people who work hard, are competent, keep their commitments, and deliver results.Go-to people can seem like favorites, but this is a bit like brand loyalty. You know what you are getting when you ask them to do something.

But these are not the reasons favoritism in the workplace can be detrimental. Used negatively, favoritism bypasses a merit-based, transparent, assessment-driven model of hiring and promotion. As a result, it has a profound impact upon all involved.

10 Problems with Favoritism

    1. Shortcuts ignore long-term outcomes.

    It is easier and seemingly safer to decide for the devil you know than the one you don’t. It’s probably not, but this thinking is why so many hire and promote people they know and like. It protects the established status quo, culture and institutional commitments (both positive and negative).

    2. It clouds transparency.

    Favoritism is often disguised by other commitments, such as ideology, budget, continuity, or timing. Most senior executives and board members don’t see it as favoritism. Leaders tend to overestimate their ability to read people and they think they are hand picking someone they know well who will fit the position admirably.

    3. It affirms personal needs over corporate good.

    Too many leaders have a compulsive need to be liked. I personally am skeptical of the idea that most leaders can see through the person on their team who is sucking up or using their charm, sexuality or some other practiced behavior to become a favorite.

    4. It contributes to loss of respect.

    Favoritism impacts the ability of the newly hired/promoted to lead. When people see favoritism occurring, the new leader’s reputation and respect are directly impacted. (And the decision-makers who exhibited favoritism can also lose respect.)

    5. Others are denied opportunity.

    Favoritism can perpetuate discrimination based upon race, gender, age or other forms, and can hinder worthy candidates from finding their place and their opportunity to make a solid contribution.

    6. It relies on the past to predict the future.

    Favoritism focuses on past performance and does not guarantee success at the next level.The new position will demand a different personality profile (capacity) and skill set (competence and performance). For example, a favorite talented sales person does not necessarily make a great VP of sales.

    7. It’s viral.

    Favoritism is like a disease that infects the organizational culture. The workplace is a type of community that is founded upon trust, transparency, honesty, merit, performance, and justice (professionalism). When leaders handpick and promote their personal favorites, it betrays these fundamental values and injects a virus into the organizational culture.

    8. It stunts personal growth.

    Favoritism derails the personal development and growth of the boss’ pet. While the reasons are unique to the individual, they are promoted for reasons outside the actual needs of the position or organization. A transparent process and search legitimates the promotion/hiring in everyone’s eyes and pushes people to develop their own capacity and skill set.

    9. It stunts professional growth.

    Favoritism can derail the process of growing into the new position. Max De Pree used to say that presidents and vice-presidents when appointed to their new position are provided the opportunity to become the president or vice-president. Leadership involves more than just positional rank and authority. A transparent search process allows those within the organization to assess the candidate, observe their style and listen to their answers to important questions. They need to decide on their own to offer respect and get behind the new appointee.

    10. It promotes imbalance.

    Favoritism can impact the power dynamic between boss and newly hired/promoted and result in off-balance interactions with each other and coworkers at large.

Favoritism is a reality because we are social beings. The challenge for bosses and organizations is to develop systems and processes that account for human nature and maximize diversity. Favoritism provides safety, continuity, and uniformity, but very often the person promoted isn’t right for a host of reasons and favoritism obfuscates those issues. A transparent process that includes the best candidates one can secure will yield a better result for the organization and the people involved, regardless whether the favorite or another is hired.

How has favoritism impacted you and your organization?

Leaders and good bosses are both made and born. Although we have been told for quite some time now that they are made, research demonstrates what we all kind of suspected: the answer is both. They are born and made.

A Leader or Boss Is Born.

I sometimes think that being a boss is a bit like a developing a great golf swing. There are those for whom it comes more naturally, those for whom it comes less so, and others who shouldn’t be trusted with a club. The first group still needs to work on their craft, but it comes instinctively. The second group always feels like it is a struggle. They want to play scratch golf so they spend loads of money on lessons, gadgets, balls, innovative clubs (technical change), and seemingly know every aspect of their swing. But in spite of their desire and effort, they can’t bring their handicap down. The final group, well, enough said. Perhaps hiking might be a better activity.

What does this have to do with being a good boss? Those belonging to the third group—if for some reason they are promoted into a position of responsibility—will never become good bosses.

The second group will always struggle with something that doesn’t come naturally to them, regardless of how many books on leadership/management they read and courses they take. Their leadership/management style will always remain somewhat awkward and unnatural despite occasional moments when they lead or manage well.

The first group consists of those who are the new type of boss/leader/manager—the one for whom we all want to work. She is one who can balance both the financial/strategic management of the organization and also the people side, what the uninformed still call the “soft” side. The good boss is the person in whom nature and nurture intersect—in whom innate abilities are augmented, honed and perfected.

A Leader or Boss Is Made.

So what makes a good boss then? Most of us have worked for at least one and we know it when we see it. Here are the necessary traits and behaviors I’ve come up with that make a good boss. What would you add?

1. Character Counts.

I am decidedly on the side that says new techniques will not solve many human problems within organizations. They haven’t helped much with golf swings and they won’t fix bad bosses. The one element that remains consistent is the need for character. This is often lost in today’s branded world in which a new suit, a haircut and a lot of attitude are the primary qualities often sought after. The reality is that character matters.

Manager/leaders need to be able to govern their part of the world with consistency, justice, humility, honesty, faithfulness, and transparency in a way that builds trust among their followers. But sadly, character can’t be learned in a classroom, a weekend seminar or a corporate training event. Character is formed in the everyday experiences of life. People aren’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect them to be. People of character make mistakes, learn from them, take responsibility for their mess, and grow as people. Perhaps it is time to open the discussion about how organizational leaders/managers are formed.

What Else Counts?

In addition to quality character, what makes a good boss? Here are a few ideas gleaned over the years through observation, conversations, and research.

2.    Good bosses are competent.

They know their area of business well and have the capacity to manage/lead. They have worked hard at their craft, excel at management and leadership and continue to learn and develop their knowledge and skills.

3.    They understand and use power carefully with humility.

Power is like money: few want to talk openly about it. But its accumulation and use is a reality, and it is a clear window into the character of the one wielding it. And like money, few handle it well.

4.    Good bosses are authentic and self-aware.

They are comfortable in their own skin. What this means practically is that they will not be insecure; they will be non-defensive, empathic, willing to admit mistakes, open and authentic (meaning their stated values are the same as their practiced values). They relate upwards and downwards well. You encounter the same person that they are with their boss.

5.    They are respectful of the gender and sexuality of others.

They do not exploit them for either personal or corporate gain.

6.    Good bosses have high expectations.

They have them for each employee, the team and the organization. This pursuit of excellence, with the necessary supporting resources, is what provides the context for you to continue to grow into your full capacity.

7.    They understand that it really isn’t about them.

It is increasingly difficult to find people like this in a culture that is increasingly narcissistic. They run their team in such a way as to advance the mission of the organization and the development of their people.

8.    Good bosses can build and lead culturally diverse teams.

A good boss today needs to see diversity as a strength, not simply as a quota system. This very challenging skill becomes part of their DNA.

9.   They understand the powerful force of interdependence.

Simply put we all need each other to succeed, whether in a small team, a larger organization or nation. Globalization has changed the way we work.

10.    Good bosses communicate clearly.

They are transparent and honor what they have said.

11. They create a culture of advocacy, trust and fairness.

Each boss strikes an implicit deal with their employee that goes beyond just money for labor.

12.  Good bosses are able to see systems and read culture.

This is an essential capacity that will increasingly be needed in future leader/managers.

Bosses, of course, have bosses, and they have their own deadlines, goals and stresses. They are part of an organizational culture that shapes them and those who work for them. Great organizations promote people of character that have the capacity and potential to become very good manager/leaders within their organizations. They then optimize this capacity through experiences, further education and regularly scheduled performance reviews. Merely good and poor organizations do the opposite. Good bosses create an environment in which their team can do good work and produce great results.