Big Data Big PersonalityImagine applying for a job. In addition, to all the necessary disclosures for background checks, references, credit reports, drug tests and personality assessments, there is a new one: accessing our consumer history, social media activity and internet browsing records. While perhaps not the actual data, future employers could gain rights permitting its input through personality assessment applications contracted through third parties.

This differs from current personality assessments because almost all are currently self-reporting, having us respond based on who we think we are. Big data though can give greater insight into who we are by analyzing what we actually do. Consumer psychology and online dating have already exposed contradictions with self-reporting methodologies.

Already, in “Your Doctor Knows You’re Killing Yourself” (BloombergBuisnessweek, June 26, 2014) by Shannon Pettypiece and Jordan Robertson, reports of medical centers accessing consumer data, “public records, store loyalty transactions, and credit card purchases.” By putting this “data into predictive models that give [health] risk scores,” doctors can better advise patients based on what they’re doing not what they say they’re doing.

Private Traits and Attributes are Predictable from Digital Records of Human Behavior (pdf), by Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell and Thore Graepel, shows what people’s Facebook Likes disclose. Commercially, providers are already tapping Twitter streams. Since our personalities often influence our health and job performance, medical professionals could further improve if they had better insight into our personalities.

Politicians already use this information to analyze candidates and issues we like (see “Data Unravels Voters’ Political DNA” [CBS Evening News, October 24, 2006]). Since personality correlates strongly to politics, we’re already well on our way of tapping big data’s full personality assessment capabilities. Furthermore, as 60 Minutes (March 9, 2014) reported in “The Data Brokers: Selling Your Personal Information,” data brokers avail this information in a relatively unregulated market. This means that the only problem with the above scenario might be that employers won’t need our permission.


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External - Internal Feelings

Soft skills are harder to see, define and quantify than hard skills are.

The body has 206 bones. The number of skeleton muscles is in the 639-850 range depending on definition, not including though the heart muscle, smooth muscles or ones for each hair follicle. Defining muscles is a far harder task than defining bones is.

In business we apply hard and soft skills. Hard are specific, teachable, definable and measurable. Soft make those much more difficult. Hard skills apply to companies’ structures: organization, processes, operations, rules and procedures – their bones. Soft skills apply to their people – their muscles.

Without bones, our muscles would collapse as soft tissue blobs inert on the ground. Without muscles, bones would fall like sticks. Without structure, companies would be chaotic groups of people. Without people, they would be just bytes of procedures, policies and rules.

Repairing and healing broken bones is critical, requiring rest and perhaps a couple months. Rehabilitating surrounding muscles, even before a surgery, is important too, but is much harder, requiring much more work and time. As a juror, both lawyers explained the much harder task of defining and diagnosing soft tissue injuries versus structural ones. Even legally, soft is harder, and hard is easier.

Comparatively, companies’ people are much harder to define and quantify than their structural aspects are, making soft skills harder to apply and hard ones easier. After all, we naturally drift to easily visible, definable and quantifiable problems, those usually requiring hard skills. Similarly, lying still while a doctor repairs bone is much easier than rehabilitating muscles is. If undone though, muscles will be weaker.

Thus, reorganizing and restructuring companies without applying necessary soft skills before and after is akin to neglecting rehab. As doctors say though, it’s most critical for a successful recovery. Working soft tissues and applying soft skills are much harder work though . . . and easier to neglect.


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Customers Are #2

By Mike Lehr
The influence of this statement extends deeply into an organization.

The influence of this statement extends deeply into an organization.

Eighty percent of companies seem to emphasize the classic, “Customers are #1,” mantra. Far fewer emphasize an employee-centric one, “Employees are #1.” With the latter, the rationale is usually “Treating employees well encourages them to treat customers well.” It’s much deeper than that though.

Centier Bank in Indiana is an example. In Indiana Bankers Association’s publication, Hoosier Banker (Hoosier is Indiana’s demonym), Mike Schrage, the bank’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, explains the rationale:

We also put our associates first, before our customers and our shareholders. The reason is that if we are treating our employees really well, they are going to treat our customers really well (see “Mike Schrage: Leading Centier Into the Next Generation” pg. 9 [pdf])

Intriguingly, reinforcing this as Centier is “Indiana’s largest, private, family-owned bank,” employees sign a “Declaration of Independence,” acknowledging to do what they can to preserve that independence. Additionally, Centier offers an in-house clinic, with free health screenings, treatments and generic prescriptions, and conducts annual fund-raisers for employees experiencing difficulties.

Below this pragmatism though, “Employees are #1” triggers emotions of long-term security and emotional recognition. Employees know Centier won’t sacrifice their jobs, integrity and efforts for customers. Under “Customers are #1,” all are potential fodder for that cause, expendable. They also know Centier values their unique skills, talents and “servant-oriented” personalities for which they actively recruit.

A colleague once countered, “Mike, employees don’t think that.” He’s wrong. They do on an intuitive and subconscious level. The first generates undefinable uneasy emotions, the second unattributable or misattributed ones. Feeling anxious about their jobs or about protecting themselves from blame are typical symptoms.

What we say and how influence motivation and thus outcomes. If the emotional aspects of messages are important in marketing, why aren’t they too with our internal markets?


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Top Secret

Keeping secrets is stressful.

As it turns out, we might be doing harm to those we tell secrets expecting them to keep. In her article, “Why You Can’t Keep a Secret” (The Atlantic, March 2014 edition), Sarah Yager cites six different studies exploring why it’s so difficult to keep secrets. Very simply, it’s stressful and carries implications for the workplace.

Among other things, secret keepers “performed worse on a spatial-ability task, reacted more rudely to criticism, gave up sooner” and perceived tasks more difficult. More importantly, secret keeping wears the body down including increased colds and chronic diseases. The severity of these effects increased with the secret’s importance. Secrets are stressful too to their originators especially if no one else knows such as personal secrets about sexual orientation.

What makes secrets hard to keep though is that once told most of these problems go away. For example, “teens who confide in a parent or close friend report fewer physical complaints and less delinquent behavior, loneliness, and depression than those who sit on their secrets.” Secret keepers feel better even if they simply write about them.

This isn’t new. It’s similar to the “talking cure” Freud popularized. Yet, vastly improved technology and research methodology have allowed researchers to deepen and reinforce our knowledge, concluding that sharing openly and venting are healthy for employees and for businesses.

For example, a secret could be as simple as employees being afraid to tell managers about problems. This increases employees’ stress, putting them under pressure and increasing the likelihood of improper behavior.

In the end though, the real problem hides as such employees are often reprimanded or terminated, thus categorizing the problem as one with the employee rather than the business culture. In effect, the real problem becomes a secret the company keeps from itself.


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Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture.

Two Types of Group Interactions: Presenting & Question and Answer

All group interactions (GI) are a blend of two types. The difference between the two is the amount of interaction between the audience and the leader or facilitator of the GI. Thus, they influence differently. Understanding this becomes important as we leverage GI’s to mold relationships and cultures.

At one extreme, little audience participation occurs. The leader alone presents. TED talks are popular examples. At the opposing extreme, the audience participates usually in the form of question and answers (Q&A), thus directing GI flow. Press conferences are public examples (although the leader often has ways to moderate questions). Thus, by mixing the two, any GI becomes a ratio between leader’s presenting time (P) and audience’s Q&A or formulaically P/QA.

Contrasting the two, presenting delivers much information in a short time period but doesn’t permit clarification and exploration. Q&A does but since this takes time, it covers less information. So, looking at any GI as the ratio P/QA, a GI oriented around presenting could be 90/10, 90% presenting and 10% Q&A. One oriented around Q&A could easily be 30/70 meaning the leader opens with comments for 30% of the time and then attendees engage with questions and comments for the remaining 70%.

From the perspective of molding relationships and cultures, Q&A is more influential and persuasive than presenting; the spontaneity of Q&A is psychologically and emotionally more impactive. The leader is on the spot, potentially challenged. It’s the same reason management by walking around and “teachable moments” are so powerful. This doesn’t mean presenting can’t be influential, but it does mean we will need to leverage certain techniques more.

The key is remembering that all GI’s usually blend the two. That blend will depend upon the balance we want between our pragmatic goals and our relational and cultural ones.


Related post: Group Interactions, Molding Relationships and Culture


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3 Gold Stars - Leadership Secret

Across leadership studies, a consistent leadership definition or model is very often lacking.

Greger Wikstand, a Capgemini consultant (plus much more), and I exchanged Tweets on my post, “Leadership, The Secret (Pt 6): Scientifically Unproven.” He asked me to look at some science that apparently proved good leadership begets good results. After tweeting what I look for in these studies, he suggested I read the study more thoroughly and write about them.

The research Greger had me analyze was an excellent exercise for which I am grateful to him for suggesting. It’s a systematic analysis of current literature on leadership’s predictability of:

  1. Job well-being
  2. Risk of sick leaves
  3. Early retirement
  4. Job satisfaction
  5. Job performance

Interesting enough, after “109 articles were thoroughly analyzed” and “conclusions [were] based on 27 articles providing the best evidence,” (see Abstract, Objective pg. 904) the study concluded only a “moderate association” with the first three and “weak associations” with the last two (see Discussion pg 910). In other words, while leadership might be good for employee’s health, “the relationship between leadership and performance remains unclear.” (see Abstract, Conclusions pg. 904). So, in terms of my post, the only thing this research seems to prove is that good leadership begetting good results, especially performance, is still unproven.

Nevertheless, Greger wanted to know what I examine in these studies. One important aspect I mentioned is definitions. They form studies’ foundations. Varying the definition of a ball will change outcomes. Leadership works the same. This study provided no definitions of leadership, let alone definitions of good leadership, used by the analyzed studies. More astounding, 62 different leadership models were used to assess leadership (see Description of Studies pg. 907). This inconsistency dynamically influences hypotheses, methodology, results and conclusions.

Thus, reconnecting this study to this series on leadership’s secret, the conclusions (especially those regarding performance) and inconsistent assessment approaches confirm the subjective, arbitrary nature of leadership – it’s real secret. It makes defining and studying leadership in any consistent manner difficult, if not impossible, and is probably why this study concluded that “there is a relative lack of well-founded prospective studies” in this area (see Abstract, Conclusions pg. 904).


Referenced study: Leadership, Job Well-Being, and Health Effects – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis by Jaana Kuoppala, MD, PhD; Anne Lamminpää, MD, PhD; Juha Liira, MD, PhD; and Harri Vainio, MD, PhD (12 pgs.)


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Problems with Science

By Mike Lehr
Irrationality of Science

The scientific method, as with any process, is not immune to adverse human influences.

The biggest problem with science are people, not only scientists but the people who fund, publish, cite and use it. As sharp as the scientific method (SM) is – the overarching process powering science and academic research – as a process of inquiry, unchecked human biases dull it as they do with any process.

Supposedly, SM’s ultimate bulwark against such biases is peer review (review of findings and process by others in the field). However, it’s under assault from money, prestige, publication and unconscious biases. Consequently, peer review is barely up to the task of providing this defense anymore, so much so that market forces are producing opportunities for firms to do what scientists increasingly have difficulty doing themselves: protecting science from sloppy research (“Metaphysicians” [The Economist, March 15, 2014 edition]).

Such problems with science are not new. In 2005, John Ioannidis, Professor of Health Research and Policy at Stanford School of Medicine, published in PLOS Medicine a groundbreaking paper Why Most Published Research Findings Are False (see also “Science, Its Irrational Aspects” for additional related research). Jonathan Schooler, University of California Santa Barbara, is another who has taken on “broader issues and associated questions regarding the frontiers of science.”

Many of these problems originate from extending science beyond its inherent limitations. For example, science cannot prove great leadership begets great business. Pragmatically, this means soft sciences such as psychology, medicine and sociology as opposed to hard ones such as chemistry and physics will contain the biggest infections of adverse human influences. Another major source of problems is scientists’ belief they are immune to unconscious, subjective influences. Yet, this belief often makes people most susceptible.

Science has greatly improved our lives. All of it is because scientists have used it creatively, wisely and appropriately. Let’s ensure it stays that way.


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When we buy processes without assessing fit to culture, we are buying clothes without checking to see if they fit.

Processes trigger our emotions for security, for certainty. All too often processes become the end, not outcomes. Providers of all kinds, from hair treatments to management consulting, tap this emotional trigger by touting their processes, systems and practices. The untold secret of these best practices is this: more often than not they only work for certain clients meeting certain specifications.

For example, Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School writes in “Beware the Next Big Thing” (Harvard Business Review, May 2014 edition):

But all too often, the practices used successfully at one company prove disastrous at another.

For instance, consensus decision-making only works if the business culture is geared for it. If a company has been organized autocratically or advisorily, this process could easily falter because people are not accustomed to informing themselves and knowing extended discussion is not decision-making. Yet, when clients don’t fit into our “proven processes,” we conveniently assume there is something wrong with the client. In fact, the process might be wrong for the client.

How often do we hear, “Our people are our greatest asset?” Yet, we tend to assume that the same process will work for two different sets of people. Therefore, indirectly we are adding the caveat, “But, that asset is like everyone else’s.”

Culture and relationships trump processes. That means as Birkinshaw answers the question, “Where do new management practices come from?” that “the vast majority come from corporate executives experimenting with new ideas in their own organizations.” In other words, they are trying to figure out what works for them, not unilaterally applying what worked someplace else. It’s applying trial and err to perfection.

When we buy processes without assessing fit to our culture, it’s akin to buying clothes without checking to see if they fit.


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Politeness as Dishonesty

By Mike Lehr
Politeness as Dishonesty

Are we being dishonesty when we are being polite?

Politeness softens the edge on our feelings but does so at the cost of cutting a good understanding of where we stand. If doing this purposely, are we dishonest?

Early in our marriage, my wife showed me a wallpaper sample for our bedroom. I politely said I didn’t like it. The next day, returning from work, it was up. I asked her why when I told her I didn’t like it. She answered that it didn’t seem like I disliked it a lot. Ironically, according to “Perils of Candour” (The Economist, June 7, 2014 edition), China-United States relations seem to suffer from the same politeness. A spat that occurred between the two was “welcome relief from the stifling obfuscation and pussyfooting courtesy in which much diplomacy is cloaked.” Could our workplaces be suffering from such politeness, creating problems with dishonesty and effectiveness?

We naturally shy away from dissent and conflict. We often use euphemisms such as retrenching to reference terminations and challenges to reference problems. Not only might they hide reality but they might compel us to express ourselves dishonestly. For example, is it dishonest to express something as a challenge, when we feel it’s a problem?

Moreover, as with any dishonesty, politeness produces problems. Avoiding conflict and dissent is bad for innovation and business. Some then ask, “So, I should be rude?” The real question is, “If honestly expressing how you feel, how can anybody interpret that as anything but honesty? It’s neither polite nor rude. Polite means you’re packaging truth to please, rude packaging it to hurt. Both can manipulate.

Yet, people prefer to characterize our words and behaviors along a polite-rude spectrum. Otherwise, they might find themselves admitting that they don’t like our honesty. Who’s going to admit, especially to themselves, that they don’t like honesty?


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Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture.

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture

Most times, we see group interactions (GI) as convenient communication tools. Typically, they appear as meetings, training sessions and other events. Except for possible networking opportunities, we often don’t see them as opportunities for molding relationships and culture, but we can.

At the root of molding culture is relationships. Just as there are two aspects to every individual interaction there are for GI’s. The overt, rational aspect is its stated purpose. The subtle, emotional aspect is the collective impressions it creates. Every interaction, whether intentional or not, will instill emotions contributing or retarding relationships. Unfortunately, since emotional aspects are so intangible and fuzzy, they’re easy to discount. Discounting the company grapevine is an example.

GI’s then serve two primary, interrelated functions:

  • Positioning future individual interactions
  • Reinforcing previous individual interactions

The first is more common, laying groundwork for follow up. Announcing a project and then visiting with each member to review his specific assignment is an example. The second often uses meetings to summarize findings from individual meetings. Conducting individual assessments and then reporting findings to the group is an example.

From a relational perspective, we sometimes use our standard relationship building techniques in GI’s; however, we can also tap two broad categories of techniques specific to them:

  • Acknowledging contributions (i.e. questions, information)
  • Thanking for that contribution

To position, we use GI’s to acknowledge publicly a critical role someone will play: “Samantha, your input will be critical to this project’s success.” To reinforce, GI’s acknowledge roles played: “Bruce, this point specifically relates to your input to me last month.” With both, we can integrate techniques leveraging relationships and strategic complimenting giving us many ways to personalize.

GI’s offer a wealth of opportunities for molding relationships and culture. It means though seeing them more than simple communication tools.


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