November 2022 – managing generations, weak ties, measuring management, and escape rooms

This month: Are all managers psychopaths? ❋ Bringing your “whole self” to work ❋ Escape rooms and team dynamics ❋ Managing and measuring ❋ The importance of weak ties in job search ❋ “Thought leaders” ❋ Time and productivity ❋ Why it’s hard to manage different “generations” in an organization ❋ Workplace mental health and well-being

One company – Many ages

There is an industry of gurus and consultants “helping” corporations navigate their way through the differences between baby boomers, millennials, and Gens of various letters. The problem is: these “generations” are made up. They do not exist objectively. There is simply no supporting evidence pointing to the following:

  • that generations exist as demonstrable units of study;
  • that people can be classified into generational groups in a valid, reliable way; and
  • that differences exist between such groups.

No evidence whatsoever. So what is one to do?

An alternative approach to understand the complexities of age and aging in workplaces is the lifespan perspective. It conceives of aging as a continuous, lifelong process. It suggests that people’s developmental paths can change at any age, and that various shared and idiosyncratic influences impact development.

This perspective seems well-suited for understanding aging in the workplace as it adopts a personalized perspective rather than categorizing people into arbitrary generational groups.

Forget “connections” – think weak ties

This is not my first post on this. The 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter was a real eye-opener for me. And it seems to have stood the test of time.

The two elements of the paper that stood out for me, and still do, are

  1. That the strength of an interpersonal tie lies in the combination of the following elements:
    1. The amount of time,
    2. The emotional intensity,
    3. The intimacy (mutual confiding), and
    4. the reciprocal services.
  2. That what matters is not so much the number of interpersonal ties one has (strong or weak) but rather how many interpersonal ties your interpersonal ties have… that you do not have.

In this video, Granovetter explains the importance of weak ties in job search.

This was 1973. Is it valid today? A 2020 study published in Science says: Absolutely!

[W]e found that moderately weak ties with low interaction intensity -measured by the number of mutual friends between two people- increased job applications and job transmissions the most, whereas strong ties -measured by both the number of mutual friends and interaction intensity- increased job applications and job transmissions the least.

Speaking of social dynamics, escape rooms

Many corporations use them as team-building activities because they require intense collaboration under time pressure. They can be a lot of fun. And, according to this paper published in Nature, they provide an excellent setting for the study of team dynamics.

In their specific study of 40 different teams, all made up of first-time players, they found that conversations are fast-paced (an average of 30 interactions per minute, 3 seconds per interaction) and

that already after 20 minutes failed teams had different interaction patterns from successful ones, displaying less task-focused behavior and the first signs of social conflict.

Interestingly, also successful groups were found to maintain a non-negligible number of negative interactions until the end of the game, suggesting that a minimum level of tense communication might be beneficial for collective problem solving.

There are more findings in the paper. Well worth reading.

Managers and workplace mental health & well-being

Last year, I wrote

Managers have the ability to impact the lives of their direct reports in significant far-reaching ways. The way they treat people day-to-day over a period of time has an impact on their psyche, on their body, on their families, and on their communities.

In other words: your manager is more important to your health than your primary care doctor.

Today, I say: Don’t take it from me, take it from the U.S. Surgeon General who suggests that

We can build workplaces that are engines of well-being, showing workers that they matter, that their work matters, and that they have the workplace resources and support necessary to flourish.

And that suggestion comes with a 30-page document that offers a framework (“Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being”:

Plenty of useful items in that framework for the thoughtful and discerning manager. Bon appétit!

Two on measuring managers

  1. Rob Miller:

Not every problem can be neatly solved. Conditions of success aren’t always easy to define in advance, or even sometimes in hindsight. Just because you can measure something, that doesn’t mean you can improve it.

Targets only offer the illusion of control; they’re a false comfort.

  1. Henry Mintzberg:

To assess the effectiveness of a manager, you have to assess the effectiveness of the unit being managed.

You also have to assess the contribution the manager made to that effectiveness.

Managerial effectiveness also has to be assessed for broader impact, beyond the unit and even the organization.


The effectiveness of a manager can only be judged in context, not just measured.

Productivity is not action. It’s a lens.

Anytime you try to control or reverse disorder, you introduce tension. This is true on a sociological level, where any attempt to organize people inevitably leads to rebellion. But more relevantly, it’s also true at the individual level, and is particularly poignant in our desire to control time.

The fundamental tension is this: The more you view your time through the lens of productivity, the less you can see it through any other lens.

Are we managed by psychopaths?

The pop management press often puts out opinion pieces to that effect. A review of the research says “not really”: psychopaths are only slightly more likely to become leaders.

Bringing your “whole self” to work

There are plenty of “thought leaders” who think you should.

Pamela Paul says “Don’t”.

I have my own take on this which I share in an online course that I am about to launch. Stay tuned!

Speaking of “thought leaders”

‘Thought leader’ gives talk about ‘thought leadership’ that will inspire your thoughts — a parody.

This month last year, the most popular entry of the issue was

Roger Martin thinks it’s time to accept that pay for performance doesn’t work: research, a discussion, and two examples of how to do it differently.

Autumn is my favorite concerto of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Here is a beautiful rendition by The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. Enjoy!

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