April 2022 – brilliance is overrated, tours of duty, being connected at work, and meeting doomsday

A year ago this month, this was the most clicked link of the newsletter:

Leader, know thyself – To improve executive performance, thinking about thinking is a really good idea.

In the news

Possible Twitter purchase

An industrialist might soon purchase Twitter, Inc. His substantial success launching reusable spaceships does nothing to prepare him for the challenge of building social spaces. The latter calls on every liberal art at once, while the former is just rocket science.

The rest of Robin Sloan’s post is worth reading.

Amazon workers on Staten Island vote to unionize

peer-reviewed study examined how unionization is correlated with poverty. Here’s what it found:

  • Households in which there was at least one union member had an average poverty rate of 5.9%, compared with 18.9% for nonunion households;
  • States with higher unionization rates had average poverty levels about 7 percentage points lower than states with lower unionization rates;
  • Had union membership not declined dramatically since the 1970s, we could reasonably expect poverty rates would be significantly lower.
Work from anywhere

Add Airbnb to the list of companies that will not force their employees to come back to an office.

  1. You can work from home or the office
  2. You can move anywhere in the country you work in and your compensation won’t change
  3. You have the flexibility to travel and work around the world
  4. We’ll meet up regularly for gatherings
  5. We’ll continue to work in a highly coordinated way

What the data say

Microsoft surveyed 31,000 people in 31 countries, along with an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labor trends on LinkedIn. The study explored leadership’s plans for the year ahead and feedback on what employees want from their employers — what motivates them to stay or go, what they want out of an in-office experience and the role technology plays in creating a worthwhile work experience.

Five key trends emerged from the research:

  1. Employees have a new “worth it” equation.
  2. Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations.
  3. Leaders need to make the office worth the commute.
  4. Flexible work doesn’t have to mean “always on.”
  5. Rebuilding social capital looks different in a hybrid world.

In any case,

The debate over remote work is evolving. We have gone from arguing about whether a significant level of remote working will be a permanent feature of the labor market to a greater focus on what the implications of that will be. Yet throughout this 2+ year debate, I think we have been consistently too pessimistic.

There are two reasons for more optimism. First, the thinking about who remote work is “leaving behind.” is far too narrow.

Second, remote work opens up new frontiers for innovation and improved economic geography, and should spur bigger thinking by policymakers, pundits, and businesses, and more. (…)

Bigger thinking is needed. If we are too pessimistic, and continue the trend from the past few decades of declining dynamism rather than take advantage of the new momentum unlocked by remote work, we may fail to capture the profound benefits that are possible. (Adam Ozimek)

More and longer meetings: better design might help

Rebecca Hinds carried out an experiment to improve meeting productivity. A simple and practical method she calls “Meeting Doomsday”.

Want the generation of good ideas? Forget brilliance

People often equate competition with high quality – believing that, in a battle for success, the best ideas will rise to the top. But masculinity contest cultures entail a zero-sum noncooperative mentality that does not necessarily drive excellence. Of course, competition in itself need not be a bad thing; but everybody suffers in a culture focused on attaining status and dominance at any cost.

Rather than trying to revise deep-rooted beliefs about the value of brilliance, it may be more fruitful to change workplace cultures, setting strong norms that curb competition for intellectual dominance and that favor free exchange and openness.

Narcissists: they’re not just full of themselves

They are especially aggressive.

Not all leaders have narcissistic traits, of course, but it’s certainly common to find narcissistic tendencies in positions of power simply because of the benefits that leadership offers to narcissists.

If you love what you do: you are more connected and less likely to leave

It’s from an ADP Connection survey that finds that

  • Employees who love what they do and are great at doing it are 8x more likely to be Strongly Connected compared to those who dislike what they are doing.
  • Those who dislike their jobs and have to work hard at doing it are 3x more likely to be Not Connected.
  • In addition, those who love their work are 4x more likely to stay with their organization.

This a corollary to the research I shared last month and an informal survey I ran on LinkedIn. Here is the result of last week’s informal survey:

The employer-employee compact

A lot my recent conversations with managers and business owners seem to be about “we can’t go back —post-pandemic— to how things used to be”. My take is things haven’t been what they used to be for a while now. As I discuss in my forthcoming book, one way to think about what the future looks like is by revisiting the assumptions on which a lot of our current analyses and decisions rest.

And in the context of the “Great Resignation/Attrition”, I am reminded of this proposal of looking at the employer-employee compact anew:

For most of the 20th century the compact between employers and employees was based on loyalty. That is now gone, replaced in the U.S. by a transactional, laissez-faire approach that serves neither party well.

A workable new compact must recognize that jobs are unlikely to be permanent but encourage lasting alliances nonetheless. The key is that both the employer and the employee seek to add value each other. Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in employees’ employability.

Three simple policies can make this new compact tangible. They are

  1. hiring employees for explicit “tours of duty,”
  2. encouraging employees to build networks and expertise outside the organization, and
  3. establishing active alumni networks to maintain career-long relationships.

Out of respect for the military service of friends and family members I take exception to the frivolous use of the expression “tours of duty” but that’s beside the point.

The point is the revisiting of assumptions. In this case, loyalty is out, transactional is in… and therefore it is unrealistic to expect a lifelong commitment on the part of companies or employees to each other.

What other decisions do we make as managers that are based on outdated, inaccurate assumptions? And how often do we revisit them?

Overcoming confirmation bias

One way to ensure our assumptions are challenged is to surround ourselves with people who do not think like us.

The most reliable cure for confirmation bias [the tendency to search only for evidence that confirms our preferred beliefs] is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counterevidence and counterargument. John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” and he urged us to seek out conflicting views “from persons who actually believe them.”

People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain. People who try to silence or intimidate their critics make themselves stupider, almost as if they are shooting darts into their own brain. (Haidt, 2022)

Mill lived in the early 1800s. So nothing new under the sun.

Which brings us to the staffing question. At this time, I will share three thoughts that I will develop for the book:

  1. The composition of your team is crucial to its success which makes staffing perhaps the most important responsibility you have as a manager;
  2. Therefore, it is too important to be left up to HR;
  3. If you are not constantly scanning your environment for talent while entering new environments where you might find talent, and enticing your team members to do the same, then you are not taking #1 seriously.

What do you start your 1-on-1 with?

We all have our tricks and our preferences in tackling management activities. Lately 1-on-1 conversations have come up often in conversations.

So, what do you start yours with? Is it a question? Is it a statement?

I know some of you will say “well, it depends”. If so: It depends on what?

Take a second to hit that Leave a comment button and please share what YOU do. What do YOU start your 1-on-1 conversations with?

Leave a comment

And if you have more than a few seconds, tell us why.

That’s it for now. In the words of Shakespeare, may you be “as full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer”.

See you next month!


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