A Place in the Sun: On Towel Wars and Corporate Culture

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | MappaliciousOh, sweet vacation time. I have spent the last 12 days on the island of Ibiza with my wife and our two children at a seaside resort near Santa Eulalia. The weather was nice, the sea was warm, the ice cream was delicious – everything as it should be. Only one thing has somewhat diminished our enjoyment on a daily basis: My children are water lovers. Accordingly, we spent the greater part of our days at the pool (or the beach, for that matter). Thus, every morning before breakfast, an urgent question arose:

Reserve a lounger – or not?

On most days after breakfast, all the loungers next to the pool areas for children were either occupied or reserved with a towel, oftentimes for several hours before their respective owners even appeared.* My wife, who apparently was raised to display more civility compared to myself, asked me several times not to participate in this game. I complied on all days except one, which mostly resulted in hours and hours of waiting until we could get hold of two adjacent loungers for the four of us. On other days, we only found separated ones, so the family had to chill at different parts of the pool, which was also rather unsatisfactory. All of this happened, by the way, even though there are clearly visible signs which disallow the reservation of loungers.

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | Mappalicious

Now, one could easily object the hotel was simply accommodating too many guests compared to its capacity, but I won´t delve into this today. Instead, I would like to shed some light on what was going on based on insights from social psychology and game theory – and I would also like to explore what this has to say about company culture. There is a perceptive tweet by Robert Sutton, a Stanford management professor, that I often share in my keynotes:

Nico Rose | Positive Psychology | Mappalicious

The underlying assumption here is that, when resources are scarce, the behavior of people in organizations predictably takes a moral downward spiral when there is no proper positive intervention on the part of the leaders. In the absence of purposeful countermeasures, human virtues will succumb to egotism, at best a narrow-minded tit-for-tat mentality.

When civility goes overboard

I guess this is also what tends to happen at hotel pools worldwide every morning. The crucial point: Most people undoubtedly do not want to behave like assholes. They simply see their hopes dashed given the limited resources. In that sense, initially it does not take more than a few people who won´t stick to the rules to wreak havoc. It´s exactly these people who (almost) inevitably set in motion the abovementioned downward spiral – especially when their behavior is not immediately interrupted by an appropriate authority. I´ve heard of hotels where employees regularly patrol the pools and confiscate towels that have obviously not been used for several hours. Unfortunately, this was not the case here, and to remove the towels myself seemed inappropriate to me (as well as to many other guests). As a result, virtually all “players” chose to pursue their own somewhat selfish interests, even though they initially intended to behave graciously. There are at least two reasons for this kind of behavior:

  • In terms of social psychology, people will look to “the norm”, that is, to what “the others” are doing in a given situation. Accordingly, those fellow human beings who initially break the rules are used to legitimize one´s own misconduct: “If everyone does it, it seems to be OK.”
  • In terms of game theory, people see themselves as part of a zero-sum game (not entirely misguided with regard to the loungers) and, hence, decide to pursue their own benefit to the detriment of their fellow human beings: “Why should I go out empty-handed, when the others are not willing to do without?”

Ultimately, this is the tragedy of the situation: Almost everyone breaks the rules, but hardly anyone will feel guilty – because there are “good reasons” to do so. And it all starts with just a few assholes. I deliberately use this expletive – specifically referring to Aaron James, professor of philosophy at University of California, Irvine. He has dedicated a whole book to this variety of human being. According to James, a person can be categorized as an asshole when he or she…

systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people. […] The asshole is the person who habitually cuts in line. Or frequently interrupts in a conversation. […] Or who persistently emphasizes another person´s faults. Or who is extremely sensitive to perceived slights while being oblivious to his crassness with others.

A stitch in time saves nine

So what? Aaron James and Robert Sutton by and large agree the objective should be to work towards turning a given system (whether a hotel pool or conference room) into an “asshole-free zone”. Indecent behaviors should be counteracted pro-actively and immediately, in public at best. At the same time, it certainly helps when leading protagonists of the respective system frequently demonstrate desired behaviors (“Walk the talk!”). Lest the transgressors remain continuously unshaken in light of such measures, it is prudent to remove them from the system altogether – even at the risk of turmoil and momentarily increased costs. The harm they inflict on the system in the long run, as a rule, will exceed the costs of the intervention by far. If you´d like to know more: In one of his own books on this difficile subject, Robert Sutton – I guess somewhat tongue-in-cheek – describes a way to calculate the so-called TCA (“Total Cost of Assholes”).

Conclusion

To end on a high note, I´m happy to tell you that, some of the time, the better angels of our nature clearly prevailed. On the fifth day, after my son had walked around the pool several times looking more and more frustrated, fellow guests graciously gave us one of their loungers. This was followed by spontaneous exchanges of toys among children, lively dialogues among adults on the question of how to get rid of stains caused by surplus bolognese sauce on white t-shirts without a washing machine – and cheerful multinational fraternization in general.

However, I cannot guarantee this will hold true for your organization.

* The whole issue does not seem to be a national feature. The club hosts a motley mix of German, Austrian, Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, English, Russian, French, Spanish, and Scandinavian compatriots.

This text was originally published on my LinkedIn profile.

Competing with Skills, Winning with Confidence

Nico Rose | Sebastian Thrun | Udacity IntersectThis was the motto of the panel discussion I participated in during the morning session of Udacity Intersect 2018. The panel was hosted by Kathleen Mullaney, VP of Careers at Udacity. The other panelists were:

  • Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Atlassian;
  • Aline Lerner, Co-Founder & CEO, interviewing.io;
  • Chapman Snowden, CEO of Travr.se.

We covered questions such as:

  • How to project confidence during a job interview?
  • How to successfully apply when you have non-linear CV?
  • How to approach continuous learning in the ever-changing tech sector?

The panel (as well as all the other keynotes and panels) can be found on YouTube.

Nico Rose | Udacity Intersect

How Applicants can find out if a Job will provide Meaningful Work using Tools from Positive Psychology

Yesterday, I was a panelist at the morning session of Intersect 2018, a phenomenal event along the lines of “Tech Conference x Career Fair x Learning Exhibition”. The conference is hosted by e-learning platform Udacity. You can watch the panel I participated in here on YouTube. The guiding theme was “Competing with Skill, Winning with Confidence”.

Nico Rose | Udacity Intersect

In the afternoon, additionally I hosted a breakout group on using tools developed in the context of Positive Psychology to ace a job interview – but also to find out what kind of jobs we should apply for in the first place. You can download the full slide deck here.

Towards the end of the session, I shared my ideas on how to use the final phase of a job interview (where applicants get to ask questions) to better understand whether the job opportunity will (most likely) provide a meaningful work experience.

In order to do so, I referred to a framework of meaning in work that was developed by Amy Wrzesniewski (and colleagues), one of my academic heroines. Based on decades of research, the framework posits there are four overarching drivers of meaning in work. They are thought to independently contribute to the experience of meaningfulness in a given work environment.

For my session, I tried to come with questions to ask the recruiter or hiring manager at the end of the job interview in order to assess the likelihood of the presence of each driver of meaningfulness in the prospective job environment. Here´s what I came up with. What do you think? What would you ask?

Folie11Folie12Folie13Folie14

 

You think being Successful will make you Happy? Science suggests it´s the other way round [Current Research]

Does Happiness Promote Career SuccessOnce I´ll reach x (…put in one of your personal or professional goals…) I´ll be happy. This is a popular equation many people believe in. It´s promoted by a lot of self-help books as well.

And it´s wrong – or at least incomplete.

One of the central tenets in Positive Psychology is that happiness (positive emotions) actually lead to success. Researchers Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky gathered the extant scientific evidence supporting this hypothesis for an influential review article in 2008. Ten years later they revisited this article and integrated new findings that corrobate their initial stance: Does Happiness Promote Career Success? Revisiting the Evidence. Here´s an excerpt from the discussion section:

First, the cross-sectional literature supports a correlational link between happiness and various success-related outcomes. Happiness is positively associated with job autonomy, job satisfaction, job performance, prosocial behavior, social support, popularity, and income. Happy people also receive more positive peer and supervisor evaluations […].

Second, […] longitudinal research suggests that people who are happy at an initial time point are more likely to find employment, be satisfied with their jobs, acquire higher status, perform well, be productive, receive social support, be evaluated positively, engage in fewer withdrawal behaviors, and obtain higher income at a subsequent time point.

Finally, […] experimental research demonstrates that when people are randomly assigned to experience positive emotions, they negotiate more collaboratively, set higher goals for themselves, persist at difficult tasks longer, evaluate themselves and others more favorably, help others more, and demonstrate greater creativity and curiosity than people assigned to experience neutral or negative emotions.

International Speaking Engagements: Mountain View + Helsinki

While I do most of my speaking on Positive Psychology in Organizations in the German-speaking area, the number of international speaking engagements are somewhat on the rise. This spring, I´m going to be a contributor at Udacity´s Intersect 2018 conference in Mountain View (March 27). I will talk on how to use Positive Psychology to find the perfect job and ace the job interview. Here´s the current speaker roster:

Nico Rose | Udacity | Intersect 2018

In April, I´m going to speak in Helsinki at the Coaching to Success conference (April 26). There, I will talk about Relational Energy in organizations.

Nico_Rose | Coaching Success | Helsinki

 

 

Pygmalion and the Leadership Value Chain

I´m still tremendously inspired by my time at the Ross School of Business in December 2017. Today, I´d like to share with you one of the teachings of Professor Bob Quinn (I´ve posted about his fabulous book Lift before). At one point during the training, Bob introduced us to what he calls the Leadership Value Chain. It´s a model of how (top) management´s mindsets, belief systems and values influence their behavior, which in turn influences organizational values and climate, which ultimately shape peoples´ engagement, and, at the end (and beginning) of the day, their behavior:

Leader Value Chain | Robert Quinn | Mappalicious

One of the framework´s assumptions is that change at higher levels can be blocked or at least diluted by stagnation at the deeper levels. Thus, any (hierarchical) organization will fundamentally change if, and only if there´s a change at the level of leadership values and behaviors.

This got me thinking again about self-fulfilling prophecies and the Pygmalion Effect, whereby performance (e.g., of employees and students) can be positively influenced by the expectations of others. It does make a difference if leaders believe their people:

When leaders´ mindsets are shaped by the ideas on the left, they will act accordingly. When they adhere to the conceptions on the right, they will also act accordingly. Yet, the results will be different.

The left side will lead to optimistic, trusting and, thus, empowering leadership behavior, the right side to pessimistic, mistrusting and thus, controlling leadership behavior. People will adjust accordingly, either by being engaged, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial – or disengaged, unwilling to learn, and small-minded. This, in turn, will fortify their leaders´idea of men, either way. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy is fulfilled.

Now, here´s a funny thing about the Pygmalion Effect: Research has demonstrated it can (by and large) not be faked. Either you believe “people are good” – or you don´t. You cannot “believe that you believe”. Which leaves us with the following conclusion:

If you want people to change for the better, you better become a better version of yourself first.

Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to search for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accessible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitely useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilities so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.