Category: Research

Here’s why you are skeptical about empowerment

The principle: Humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing.

The caveat: As people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.

Research results: Managers who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, managers who value being in charge will respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling and dominating their employees.

In other words, empowerment can lead to more autonomous employees, but micromanagers will micromanage.

— from a journal article by Nicholas Hays and Russell E. Johnson of Michigan State University, and Hun Whee Lee from Ohio State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paid vacation days per year per country

Inclusion by any other name

I’m allergic to clichés and buzzwords. And this might be one of them. A research project reports this:

The employees described inclusive leaders … as leaders who act in ways that demonstrate their values and communicate openly and honestly. They treat each employee as a unique individual, recognize each person’s strengths and value diverse perspectives.

Inclusive leaders were also described as asking others for feedback when making important decisions and providing everyone access to critical information. They encourage everyone to work together as a team and go out of their way to make sure employees of all job positions are valued and encouraged to be involved.

Whatever the nomenclature, these are definitely sound management practices with desirable outcomes.

 


The content of this post was originally posted in the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. workers did not share in the growth of the economy of the last forty years

According to a recent study ((https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html)), unlike the growth patterns in the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of full-time workers did not share in the economic growth of the last forty years.

Had the income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) held steady in the following four decades, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

The median income for all adults with nonzero income was $42,000 in 1975 and it grew to $50,000 by 2018. Had income for this percentile grown as the same pace as the economy, it would have reached $92,000. In other words, their income growth captured only 17% of the growth that occurred in the whole economy.

 

 

 

 

Creativity: it’s about exploration v. exploitation

Meta-analysis of the research on creativity by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review. The whole three-article series is good. Here’s a sample: Five ways in which managers can bolster creativity:

  1.  Hire for curiosity;
  2. Model inquisitiveness;
  3. Emphasize learning goals;
  4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests; and
  5. Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.

Not convinced?

She identifies two tendencies that restrain managers from encouraging curiosity:

  1. They have the wrong mindset about exploration, often thinking that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess; and
  2. They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.

It’s the old exploitation-exploration dilemma. James March’s paper is a classic on this. Knut Haanaes provides great examples in this TEDtalk.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clayton Christensen 1952-2020

Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School, is best known for his theory of disruptive innovation, in which he warns large, established companies of the danger of becoming too good at what they do best.

People who knew him personally speak of a fine human being.

RIP

You can find some of his seminal Harvard Business Review pieces here.

 

Your job might be killing you

There are 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to ten workplace conditions and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That makes the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. — higher than Alzheimer’s, higher than kidney disease.

  1. Being unemployed sometimes as a result of a layoff.
  2. Not having health insurance.
  3. Working shifts and also working longer periods, e.g., ten or twelve-hours shifts.
  4. Working long hours in a week (e.g., more than 40 hours per week).
  5. Job insecurity (resulting from colleagues being laid off or fired).
  6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.
  7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.
  8. Facing high work demands such as pressure to increase productivity and to work quickly.
  9. Being in a work environment that offers low levels of social support (e.g., not having close relationships with co-workers.
  10. Working in a setting in which job- and employment-related decisions seem unfair.

Both articles report the findings published by Jeffrey Pfeffer in Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It.

I have not read the book yet, but I definitely will.

 

 

What does work flexibility look like?

A meta-analysis of the existing research on flexibility identified the fundamental components:

  • Where we work,
  • When we work, and
  • How predetermined our schedule is.

These component parts lead to six distinct types of flexibility:

  1. Remote: “Work from anywhere” – Remote employees keep standard office hours but are location independent. Their office is wherever they are.
  2. DeskPlus: “Partially office-based” – DeskPlus employees keep standard office hours and are partially location independent.
  3. TravelLite: “Minimal travel requirements” – TravelLite employees have minimal to no travel, with a maximum limit of 10% travel annually.
  4. TimeShift: “Standardly unconventional hours” – TimeShift employees reorder their working hours to create a set but unconventional schedule (outside of 9-5 conventions) that optimizes their productivity and performance.
  5. MicroAgility: “Freedom to adapt” – MicroAgility employees have the autonomy to step away from their work 1-3 hours at a time to accommodate the unexpected.
  6. PartTime: “Reduced workload” – PartTime employees serve in senior-level roles; they have the experience and skills to meet the company objectives on a reduced hours schedule.

 

Survey: Money not meaningful

About 62 percent of small-business employees think pay is better at larger companies (and 72 percent think benefits are better), but they stay at their jobs anyway, according to the survey of 474 employees at both large and small firms.

Small-company workers cite a better working environment as a reason to forgo a higher salary elsewhere.

Small companies have benefits that provide “meaningful value to employees,” says Jeffrey Blue, director of marketing for Salary.com. About 46 percent of those surveyed called work-life balance the biggest perk. Thirty-four percent cited loyalty to justify staying with a smaller company, while about 30 percent mentioned relationships with their boss or coworkers. Plus, small-business employees thought they had a better chance of getting ahead and eventually boosting their salary. (USNews.com)

 

Thomas Schelling – Nobel laureate by ricochet

An author who has had a significant influence on my work (before he won the Nobel prize!) by confirming that the observation of everyday events is a good (though not necessarily “academic”) way to start.

An excerpt from a paper published recently (in pdf format) on his approach:

Schelling is the master of ricochet scholarship. He studies a real-world problem and develops a conceptual model. He then takes that conceptual model back to a dozen real-world problems to see how it applies, and then ricochets back to refine the model. He keeps the process going until he is happy with his model, and satisfied with his insights into the problems that most interest him.
(…) None of us could approach his skill level, but all of us could learn from his example. If you are analyzing a policy, you should consider what your problem would look like in stripped down form. Look for an everyday analogue, and determine in what ways it is the same and how it is different. Go out in the real world to examine the information that participants have, the incentives that operate on them.

I have always been inspired by how he starts with real-world problems and, after all the back-and-forth, lets reality determine the validity of the model. Models are an attempt at understanding reality, an attempt -in some ways- at explaining reality. This is the premise for the idea that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.