Ashley Palmer

Recent Posts

Developing Leaders for the Future

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Mon, Mar 11, 2013

bschoolHarvard Business Review blogger, Jack Zenger, recently wrote “we wait too long to train our leaders.” In his post Zenger points out the discrepancy between when individuals first take on leadership roles and when they first receive leadership training. When looking at data from over 17,000 leaders across the globe, the average age an individual became a leader was 30, yet the average age for entering leadership training was 42. Why does this gap exist?

Some critics have pointed the finger at business schools, claiming they focus on developing “hard” business skills while doing little to develop their graduates’ “soft” leadership skills. These critics assert that new managers use their MBA skills marginally or not at all in their first management assignments. As such, MBA program administrators and faculty can no longer assume that graduates will successfully motivate and lead people in the business world without first developing these skills. In fact, companies prefer to recruit graduates who have been exposed to soft skill leadership development while still in school.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) concluded that business schools could enhance their relevancy by devoting more attention to soft skill competencies and recently developed Reflect, an online development tool aimed at addressing this gap. Also, MBA programs have started implementing leadership development courses into their curriculums. Several of U.S. News’s top ranked MBA programs describe their leadership development courses on their websites to attract prospective students. Business schools appear to be working to close the gap by providing their students with leadership training early in their careers.

Interestingly, a similar trend may be happening in the leadership ranks within universities themselves. A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted Lucy Apthorp Leske, co-director of the education and not-for-profit practice at Witt/Kieffer, as saying, “There has been a real shift to the professionalization of higher education administration.” She explained that universities are putting more weight on factors like business sense and creative problem-solving rather than just research prowess for their leaders.

So while Zenger has a point, universities seem to be addressing this gap in more ways than one, working to equip leaders with the skills they need to be successful in the future.

Topics: leadership, Reflect

This American Life: Personality Matters for Life Success

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Fri, Oct 12, 2012

SuccessI recently listened to a “This American Life” podcast in which the host, Ira Glass, posed fundamental questions about what kids should learn in school and what really matters when it comes to success later in life.

During the show, James Heckman (a Nobel Prize winning economist) argued that qualities other than IQ (i.e., personality characteristics) are equally important in predicting who will be successful in life and who won’t. Heckman became a huge proponent of this viewpoint, bringing together neuroscientists, economists, educators, and psychologists each year to discuss these ideas, after conducting a study that convinced him IQ wasn’t all that mattered.

In this study, Heckman looked at three groups of students:
1. Those who graduated high school
2. Those who dropped out but obtained a GED
3. Those who dropped out and did not obtain a GED.
He followed these people into adulthood for many years to see how successful they were in life. Did they land and hold jobs? How much money did they make? Did they stay out of prison? Did they divorce?

He reasoned that since the GED was equivalent to a high school diploma, those with GEDs should be as smart as high school graduates. If IQ was all that mattered, he predicted the two groups would be equally successful in life. He wasn’t sure how the drop-outs would end up since their intelligence was unknown.

Heckman found that those who had earned their GED performed slightly better than drop-outs, which isn’t too surprising. However, what did surprise Heckman was that those with GEDs didn’t achieve anywhere close to the same success as the high school graduates (in terms of earnings, job performance, college success, etc.).

The study’s findings led Heckman to conclude that cognitive skills, (i.e., IQ) are only one piece of the puzzle. Scores on standardized tests like the GED and ACT that measure IQ can only explain a small fraction of whether or not someone is successful. Other “non-cognitive skills,” like personality characteristics, play a large part in predicting success both personally and professionally.

His conclusion makes sense when you think about it. How resilient or tenacious you are, how you relate to and communicate with others, or how goal-oriented and organized you are should influence how well you do in life. As Dr. Hogan once quoted in the blog, “Character is fate.”

Topics: personality, personality characteristics

The Secret of Narcissism

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Self love is not selfish narcissism2Narcissists don’t just think they are better than everyone else, they actually ARE better – at least when it comes to interviewing. In his recent study, Dr. Peter Harms (a Hogan academic partner) found that narcissistic behaviors such as self-promotion and self-confidence make narcissists more desirable during job interviews. Ultimately, narcissists better communicate why they’re able to do the job.

As reported by U.S. News, Harms explained, "This is one setting where it's OK to say nice things about yourself and there are no ramifications. In fact, it's expected. Simply put, those who are comfortable doing this tend to do much better than those who aren't."

Although narcissists may ace the interview, their self-promoting ways likely catch up with them sooner or later. Confidence, ambition, and competitiveness taken to the extreme can damage relationships and lead to career derailment, especially for those in leadership roles.

In a recent Hogan survey, 52% of respondents identified arrogance as their bad boss’s worst quality. Arrogant bosses tend to blame their mistakes on others, feel entitled to special treatment, and lack a sense of team loyalty. Thus, the characteristics that seem desirable at first are the same ones that cause leaders to fail.

You don’t have to look far to find examples in the popular media. Take Mad Men’s Don Draper for example. As the narcissistic creative director at a Manhattan advertising firm, Don appears attractive, charming, witty, and confident. However, you soon realize Don is also off-putting, aggressive, and overly demanding of his direct reports. Don’s narcissism causes both the initial attraction and eventual alienation of his employees.

Beyond fictional characters, you can also find examples in the business world. While partnering with a convenience store chain, we found that narcissists within the company were successful in certain leadership roles, but not in others. For lower-level store leaders, narcissism was actually a positive characteristic. Narcissistic individuals came across as decisive, assertive, motivated to get ahead, and more successful overall. Similar to Dr. Harms’s research, these store leaders leveraged their narcissistic tendencies as strengths, leading to enhanced performance.

However, for those in senior leadership roles, the same self-promoting tendencies were detrimental to performance. Instead of appearing decisive and assertive, narcissistic senior leaders came across as aggressive, intimidating, and difficult. As a result, they alienated those around them and their performance suffered.

In summary, strong self-confidence and fearlessness can contribute to one’s success…to a point. Although narcissists may be convincing during an interview – beware. Everyday strengths, such as assertiveness and ambition, can easily turn into derailers.

Topics: narcissism, bad manager

High Stakes Hiring

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Fri, Nov 11, 2011

PilotLike many people, my coworker is afraid of flying. We encourage him to take sleeping pills and try to distract him with entertaining stories during takeoff, but despite our best efforts, he usually remains anxious throughout the flight.

Because of his fear, my coworker is drawn to news stories about plane crashes and equipment malfunctions, and shares them with us as proof that his fear is legitimate. And there have been many headlines about pilot error leading to tragedy; in early 2009, a commuter plane crashed into a New York house after the pilots were mindlessly chatting and then panicked when they realized the aircraft was in trouble. More recently, a Russian passenger airplane missed the runway and crashed because the navigator was drunk.

Given all of the doom and gloom in the headlines, it’s refreshing to hear about pilots who do things right. For example, in 2009, US Airways flight 1549 famously crash-landed into the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese during takeoff. The pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was described as “cool, calm and collected” as he maneuvered the plane into a safe landing position. Because of Sully’s focus and composure, a tragic accident was averted and all 155 people onboard survived.

Earlier this month, pilot Tadeusz Wrona safely crash-landed a passenger plane in Warsaw’s main airport after the landing gear failed to deploy. Luckily, all 230 passengers and crew members survived the belly-landing. Wrona and his crew remained vigilant and focused during the flight, immediately taking notice when the landing gear failed to open on the second attempt. After identifying the problem, the crew began to review belly-landing training guidelines while flight attendants explained emergency landing procedures to passengers. The flight crew remained calm and steady during the perilous situation, preventing hysteria from breaking out in the cabin.

When reading news stories like these, you realize the importance of the pilot’s training, skills, and personality when you board any airplane. From unsuccessful crash-landings to heroic ones, pilots’ behavior greatly affects passengers, crew members, the airline industry, and the general public (not to mention my co-worker). As such, organizations must take great care when hiring for jobs like pilots where the consequences of an unsafe decision can mean life or death.

Topics: hiring, safety, training, selection

Motivating Employees in Today's Economy: A Lesson from the Past

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Tue, Aug 16, 2011

Faced with the threat of a double-dip recession, many U.S. companies, rather than re-expanding their diminished workforces, are expecting more from their employees for less pay. These circumstances put a strain on worker satisfaction; a survey by First Command Financial Services Inc. found that 24% of respondents were unhappy with their job and 39% were actively looking for a new employment. Talent Management magazine quoted Scott Spiker, First Command CEO, as saying, “This rising discontent in the middle-class workforce is clearly being fueled by the continuing economic turmoil.”

Reduced bonuses and extended work weeks are sure to diminish morale. So what can organizations do to motivate and retain their talent given today’s economic constraints? A look back into the field of psychology may provide the answer.

Frederick Herzberg, a well-known psychologist and business management guru, was one of the first to propose theories of workplace motivation in the 1960s. He asserted that “the only way to motivate employees is to give them interesting jobs.”

Although Herzberg’s theory is quite absolute, the concept is worth entertaining. Job enrichment, a less expensive and arguably more effective way of intrinsically motivating workers compared to traditional methods (e.g., bonuses, promotions), involves:

• Providing employees with challenging and interesting work so they can use and develop a wide range of skills
• Empowering employees to make decisions about their work
• Allowing employees to work on projects from start to finish
• Delivering accurate, timely, and constructive feedback to let workers know how they’re doing
• Letting employees know how their work relates to the organization’s overall strategy

Herzberg and other psychologists found that when organizations enriched jobs, employees became motivated, satisfied, and engaged by their work and were less likely to leave. For example, a leading technology company wanted to boost their sales team’s morale and retention rate. Instead of increasing pay, they assigned each sales representative a geographic area so that he/she could develop long-term relationships with clients. Also, they gave the sales reps the authority to offer discounts and set their own work hours. These initiatives led to happier employees and a 19% increase in sales.

Although financial compensation is important, it isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to satisfaction in the workplace. A recent Talent Management magazine article reported that a PDI Ninth House survey found that only 10% of surveyed leaders cited compensation and advancement opportunities as essential motivators within their jobs. Instead, leaders claimed that key motivators included having stimulating and challenging work and an organizational mission they can support. These results echo Herzberg’s job enrichment theory.

Although traditional motivators can lead to contentment and short-lived happiness, job enrichment can lead to engagement, pride, and growth. Given today’s turbulent environment, organizations can use these lessons from the past to motivate and retain top talent.

Topics: talent management, employee engagement, job satisfaction

Goodbye Michael Scott, Hello New Office Culture

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Thu, Jun 16, 2011

After seven seasons playing the wacky, yet lovable Michael Scott on NBC’s hit series, “The Office,” Steve Carell left the show this spring to focus on his film career. With his crazy antics and hilarious one-liners, Carell’s character enticed more than 7 million viewers to “The Office” every Thursday night. From off-the-wall impersonations to “that’s what she said” jokes, Michael Scott was a staple (no pun intended) of Dunder Mifflin, and his resignation will certainly lead to changes for the fictional company.

Like all managers, Michael’s personal values shaped the culture of the Scranton branch. One of his most fundamental beliefs was that his employees weren’t just staff – they were family, with perhaps the exception of Toby. Michael clarified during one episode that “Toby is in HR. Which, technically, means he works for corporate. So he's really not a part of our family. Also he's divorced. So he's really not a part of his family.”

Because he placed great value on relationships, Michael created an office environment that revolved around social interaction, frequent unscheduled meetings, constant communication, and spontaneous special work teams. For example, Michael held impromptu meetings on hot workplace topics including diversity, sexual harassment, and fire safety. He also assembled the Party Planning Committee to organize office events, such as birthday parties and holiday celebrations.

Another one of Michael’s drivers was the need for recognition. He sought visibility and admiration and cared deeply about having his and others’ accomplishments publically acknowledged. Michael carefully selected job titles such as “Assistant to the Regional Manager” to properly acknowledge his employees for their work roles. Also, Michael hosted “The Dundies,” an annual award show that publically recognized the Scranton staff by bestowing prestigious awards such as Whitest Sneakers, Longest Engagement, and Busiest Beaver.

After his nearly 20 year tenure (9,986,000 minutes to be exact) at Dunder Mifflin, Michael hosted his last Dundies and a new manager will take his place as the leader of the Scranton branch. Although “The Office” season finale left viewers in the dark about who the next regional manager will be, one thing is certain – a new leader will create a new office culture.

Will it be Dwight Schrute with his traditional values of reporting hierarchies, respect for authority, rules, and formality? Or will it be Kelly Kapoor with her attention to appearance and style? Perhaps it will be an external applicant with a completely different set of values and beliefs.

Regardless of the new boss’s identity, the culture of Dunder Mifflin will surely change with Michael Scott’s departure. Despite his quirks, Michael’s unique personality and value set created a one-of-a-kind office that we won’t soon forget. At least, that’s what she said.

Topics: values, corporate culture, engagement

My Left or Your Left?

Posted by Ashley Palmer on Wed, Mar 23, 2011

With approximately 2.3 million Americans working as customer service representatives, it is one of the fastest growing and largest occupations in the U.S.

My brother is one of those customer service representatives. He has worked at a well-known television provider for the past year and a half, and in that time he acquired not only an “employee of the month” award, but several interesting stories to share over dinner.

Like the time a man called in because he was having difficulty with his television service. My brother instructed him to look behind the receiver box to make sure a cable on the left-hand side was connected tightly.

“My left or your left?” the customer asked, “I’m right handed.”

My brother was confused by the question because he was talking to the man on the phone; however, without missing a beat he replied, “Your left.” And with that the man fixed the problem and hung up, satisfied with his service.

Or another time when a woman called in because her remote control kept making a loud beeping noise. My brother explained to her that the remote was not capable of beeping so the noise must be coming from somewhere else.

“It’s definitely coming from the remote!” the woman claimed.

My brother instructed her to remove the remote batteries. Although the beeping continued after she removed the batteries, the woman still insisted the remote was the culprit. Finally, my brother convinced her to put the remote on her front porch to see if the beeping continued in the house. It’s at that time she discovered the noise was coming from her smoke detector.

I think my brother’s success in handling situations like these is due mostly to his personality - the way he relates to customers, remains calm, and acts in a dependable manner. Even when asked ridiculous questions, my brother remains friendly and polite, and leaves customers satisfied with their service. Also, he doesn’t lose his cool. Although he encounters angry customers on a daily basis, he stays calm and collected and doesn’t take it personally. Finally, he’s dependable. He shows up to work on time and works hard while there.

As the demand for customer service representatives grows, so does the need for companies to staff people like my brother who display the personality characteristics related to successful performance.

Topics: personality

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