Believing in what personality tests do for us is more important than what they actually do.

Personality tests produce better hires largely because we believe they do. They increase our belief in our employees. That belief produces better performances.

When we set realistic goals for employees, we improve their performance. When we believe in them, it improves too. Personality tests convince us to believe in our employees. Our belief more than the test itself accounts for the better performance of hires passing it.

In medicine, researchers must account for the placebo effect. This occurs when patients feel or improve from a fake treatment. Placebos can take many forms.

For example, the article, “Think Yourself Better” (The Economist, May 21, 2011 edition), cites research in which patients improve even from fake surgeries. Thus, to see the true effect of a treatment, the researcher must conduct a blind trial. Still, patients can feel and see results even if they know a placebo has been used on them.

If placebos can make us feel better about our bodies, they can make us feel better about many things. This includes how we feel about our employees. Personality tests do not go through a blind trial. Their primary evidence is that employers say that hires who pass the test perform better than those who do not. Patients who take placebos say their bodies are better than when they do not take them.

OkCupid, the dating site, ran a test to see how much weight their word carried in making two people believe they were a good match. Their word inspired bad matches to exchange nearly as many messages as good matches did (“Make Me a Match,” ([The New Yorker, August 25, 2014 issue]).

As a founder of OkCupid, Christian Rudder, wrote in his book, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” If belief in personality tests can make us feel good about whom we date, it can make us feel good about whom we hire. Good feelings yield good results.

It is authority that makes these placebos work. It is highly persuasive. This is true even if we know authority is selling something. Fairy dust will deliver better performance as long as we believe it does. Authority is critical to that belief.

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In leadership, how to motivate employees with words is critical.

How to motivate employees with words requires training, practice and planning.

In advertising we learn how to motivate consumers with words. In leadership we need to know how to motivate employees with words. We can learn much from advertising. Principles are the same. I use them in my series, Leveraging Relationships in Communications. We just apply more rigor to advertising than we do leadership when it comes to relationships.

“Advertising’s New Medium: Human Experience” (Harvard Business Review, March 2013 edition) by Jeffrey Rayport shows the contrast. In using words, he says advertising operates in four ways to establish:

  1. Keywords in the mind
  2. New habits
  3. Ways of thinking
  4. Emotional connections

Contrast this with how to motivate employees. Do we plan this with them? We don’t to the extent we do with advertising plans. Our keywords are critical to change. According to Rayport, we establish a “cognitive beachhead.” They become the anchors by which we produce change. A change management plan for an employee will begin with keywords.

Using keywords, we repeat and follow up to change habits. Many times we need to change thinking first. This includes how an employee sees himself. We often skip this. Resistance to change is often fear though. It’s fear of embarrassment. It’s fear of failure. Changing the habits of employees with low confidence is hard. We work on confidence first. We work on new habits second.

Once we introduce a new habit, we need to introduce a way of thinking about it. This can be as simple as explaining why the new habit is good. On a higher level, it will provide context. For instance, rather than saying, “The industry is changing,” saying why gives context.

Finally, we make emotional connections with our words. We look for the emotions that really motivate an employee and connect our words to them. Saying “good job” connects a good emotion to a habit. A compliment strategy will help us do even a better job of this.

Advertising shows us how to motivate employees with words. Its principles are relationship building ideas used on a mass scale. We just don’t plan our relationships as well as we do our advertising.


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Challenging Assumptions Example

By Mike Lehr
Challenging Assumptions Example

Assumptions can isolate us from our world unless we challenge them.

Challenging assumptions is a key approach to communicating, problem solving, innovating and creating. Too many times though people tell us to do this without really showing us how. If they do, they give simplified examples anyone can see. I focus on invisible assumptions. They guide our thinking without our knowledge.

To explain this, I will present a typical definition of an assumption. I’ll then give an obvious example. Afterwards, I’ll dive into invisible assumptions and give an example.

A typical, academic definition of an assumption is similar to this:

A statement for which no proof or evidence is offered

For instance, “That product won’t sell,” is an assumption by this definition. We are saying it won’t sell. We don’t offer any proof or evidence. “That product won’t sell because it’s very similar to the one we tried last year. It didn’t sell.” Here, we offer evidence.

The second statement in the link to the above statement is better:

An idea one believes to be true based on prior experience or one’s belief systems

For example, “Based on my experience that product won’t sell,” offers our experience as proof. Saying, “Based on my expertise in taking products to market,” offers our belief in the form of expertise as proof.

The problem remains though. What about unsaid statements and unconscious ideas? Three of us were preparing a block party. Two of us asked the third, “Could you go and get some ice?” Even though he was with us amongst five large coolers, he returned with only one bag of ice. It was barely enough for one cooler. We were stunned. What unsaid statements or unconscious ideas did we assume?

  • He saw that we had five large coolers.
  • He understood how much ice to get.

We neither asked nor thought of asking questions to clear these assumptions. Miscommunication occurred. Our ice problem remained.

Identifying assumptions trains our minds. Hidden ones exist in our everyday discussions. They create business problems. A challenging assumptions example helps us practice. Practice helps us train our minds to see assumptions. We can’t challenge what we can’t identify though.


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Reducing emails begins and ends with leadership.

Reducing emails requires excellent leadership.

Emails are one of the three biggest time wasters in business. Reducing emails though is simple and cheap. It begins and ends with leaders.

Last year, the research cited in “To Reduce E-mail, Start at the Top” (Harvard Business Review, September 2013 edition) by Chris Brown, Andrew Killick, and Karen Renaud made the rounds. In a case study, simply reducing the executive team’s email output cascaded throughout the company. Their 54% reduction translated into a 64% reduction by employees. The time savings equated to a 7% increase in productivity.

The solution is cheap. Only leaders need to seek help. In the study, employees required no help. They needed neither training nor tracking software. They received fewer emails from their bosses requesting updates, information or follow up unless it was really critical.

Emotionally, we enjoy being busy. It triggers emotions of importance and security. It’s easy and seductive to make work, especially for others. Emails, especially responses to work we issue, tap our most basic reward centers. Yet, they are empty calories. They yield many wasteful activities.

In addition to being cheap, simple and productive, reducing emails helps leaders have more effective relationships. In the study, leaders used alternate communications forms such as phone and in-person. These are more effective relationship-building modes.

Better relationships make better teams and business cultures. Better cultures make better implementation of visions, strategies and processes. They are the secret to change. Successful change is directly correlated to the strength of relationships between management and employees.

Looking at emails from these perspectives, reducing emails is excellent leadership. It’s excellent management. The only obstacle is what lies between leaders’ ears. It’s difficult to see one small email as a problem.

One time our ceiling collapsed. Water came cascading down. Tracing it back, our plumber found a small hole above our shower head. It was so small we never noticed it. As water splashed off our heads and shoulders, drops also fell through this pin-sized hole. With no place to go, many drops had collected over months.

Humans prefer singular, big problems. They have difficulty tackling many, small ones. Emails are many and small. Reducing emails requires excellent leadership.


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Meanness as Competent and Smart

By Mike Lehr
Meanness as competent and smart

Our crude instincts often cause us to misinterpret hypercriticism as competence and smartness.

For thousands of years, humans have struggled against their crudest instincts. They influence us daily. They require work to overcome. Whether it’s courage over fear, coexistence over destruction, love over reproduction, or faith over hopelessness; the first in each pair requires work to overcome the second. These same crude instincts cause us to misinterpret meanness as competent and smart. They encourage the misevaluation of talent.

The desire for security is a powerful emotional trigger in all humans. Long ago, we craved leaders whose meanness and insensitivity didn’t permit squeamishness to interfere in eradicating our enemies. That was our crudest definition of competency.

Despite our advancement, civilization and legalism, this crudeness has not left us. “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” (Wired, November 2014 edition) by Clive Thompson and the research, Downplaying Positive Impressions: Compensation Between Warmth and Competence in Impression Management, by Deborah Holoien (The Ohio State University) and Susan Fiske (Princeton University) find that we tend to see meanness as competent and smart. They technically define meanness as hypercriticism.

Moreover, as noted by the research Thompson cites, Wanting to Appear Smart: Hypercriticism as an Indirect Impression Management Strategy (Bryan Gibson, Central Michigan University), applicants and employees can trigger these in us as an active part of an indirect impression management strategy (more). Indirect means subconscious here.

Holoien and Fiske also found that a tradeoff exists. Not only do we see meanness as competent and smart, but we also see warmth as less competent and smart. In other words, we find it very difficult to see someone as both warm and compassionate, and competent and smart. Emotionally, a tradeoff exists for us. Thus, the mean get hired and promoted over the warm.

Returning to our roots, business seems to tap our crudest instincts. The survivability of our enterprises is on par with our prehistoric struggles for life. No doubt, we have experienced tremendous civil, legal and technological advancements. Emotionally though, we have not advanced to where we are comfortable putting the fate of the enterprise in the hands of the warm and compassionate . . . no matter how competent and smart they are.


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Identifying extroverts and introverts is a relative determination not an absolute one.

Extroverts and introverts can change with moods and circumstances.

My previous post on extroverts and introverts looked at their energy sources. Problematically, many personality tests don’t explain differences between extroverts and introverts beyond a social context. They also don’t explain how orientation might change with moods and circumstances.

A major deficiency of personality tests is their tendency to score extroversion-introversion as a zero-sum game. We gain introversion at the expense of extroversion and vice versa. There is no allowance for moods and circumstances in this one-dimensional assessment.

Naomi Quenk, an authority on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), wrote several books on how our extroversion-introversion orientation (as well as the other MBTI functions) can change depending upon our moods:

For example, a friend received an outlying MBTI result. It ran counter to his previous three. However, the night before this outlier, he and his wife had a bad argument. This easily changed his mood and likely results too.

It’s quite common for extroverts to become more introverted when under stress or attack. They become withdrawn and quiet. Introverts often become more extroverted by going on the attack. Now, consider this. When we test athletes’ bodies, we put them through a stress test. Yet, when we test people’s personalities, we want them calm.

Circumstances also influence our extroversion-introversion orientation. Many extroverts fear public speaking. Many introverts enjoy being on stage, such as Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Circumstances also change our moods. The Velten Mood Induction demonstrates how this can be done over the short term. If the same circumstances persist (i.e. work, stress), the orientation will too.

Surrounding all of this, energy, moods and circumstances, is that extroversion-introversion is benchmarked. Testers take a sample population, score it and declare one half extroverts and the other introverts. Unlike the kilogram stored under glass in Paris, no extroverts or introverts are held anywhere in the world as the objective standard for their kind.

In other words, we really aren’t extroverts and introverts. It’s all relative. We are either more extroverted or introverted than another person . . . depending upon moods and circumstances of course.


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Dealing with Complexity

By Mike Lehr
Dealing with complexity is one of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making.

Complexity is one of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making.

When dealing with complexity, simplifying it to the point of unrealism so it’s easier to understand becomes a major danger. As the article, “What VUCA Really Means for You” (Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition) by Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine, indicated; when any of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity [VUCA]) confront us, we frequently shirk planning and strategizing. This series provides tips for avoiding this.

Situations containing many parts, variables and aspects are complex. Of all the four horsemen, complexity is the most particular to the enterprise. Complexity to small organizations could be routine for large ones. Regardless though, complexity usually arrives in the form of scale, refinement, coordination and politics.

As Bennett and Lemoine point out, complexity can come from sheer scale of things to consider. For example, companies used to doing small mergers might suddenly become overwhelmed by larger ones. Basic tasks aren’t different. Their scale and scope are though.

Complexity as refinement often appears as improving quality and efficiencies well beyond current norms. Suddenly picking up customers with more stringent product specifications, delivery requirements or product customization are examples.

Coordination becomes complex especially when crossing functional and reporting lines. Opening a new location far from current ones will often requiring coordination among many aspects of the enterprise.

Internal political considerations can add complexity to the simplest efforts. For instance, high growth involving hiring of new and better talent can destabilize jobs, relationships, reporting structures and “pecking order.”

Dealing with complexity of these types often involves:

  • Allocating project and program managers to coordinate activities
  • Assigning executive or senior managers comfortable with complexity to provide vision and guidance to project managers and teams
  • Beefing up needed specialties
  • Fully tapping systems and data to monitor and manage
  • Augmenting general staff to handle scale complexity
  • Producing extensive internal communications and allocating human resource professionals to temper political complexity
  • Contracting consulting firms to provide needed expertise and experience
  • Readjusting timeframes and deadlines
  • Establishing new processes and infrastructure

The complexity’s permanency will modify these activities, contracting versus hiring for instance. In short though, dealing with complexity usually means teamwork.


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Trying new behaviors is change

Focus and concentrate on trying a new behavior daily.

The first post covered expectations and strategy to try new behaviors. This post will dive into daily activities. It will answer how we can take more control over the entire process.

Again, the Capgemini consultant, Greger Wikstand (more), asked about best way to try new behaviors. Thus, my focus will be self-directed solutions. Still, we can use these expectations, strategy and activities to coach our people.

It’s difficult to try new behaviors if conditions requiring them don’t arise. We can’t try a new project management approach if we don’t have any projects to manage. Therefore, the first step in taking control to try new behaviors is injecting ourselves in situations requiring them. That might mean compromising our schedule, pricing, norms, time and comfort to do so. It means going out of our way to find or plan for them.

The second step is focus and concentrate. Focus on doing one new behavior for the day. Then, concentrate on making that happen. This could include writing it down on a task list. I recommend writing it down versus keying it in. Writing engages our minds more. Furthermore, scratching it off when done is better than indicating complete or deleting it. These help our motivation.

For example, if we want to try a new relationship building technique, we focus on one and concentrate using it in an interaction. Again, we break it down. Rather than learning all its different forms, we focus on one. When we do, we take that pen and scratch it off our list until it’s obliterated.

Similarly, trying a new function of an application means focusing on one then concentrating on finding a project to use it. We allow more time. Allowing more time to try new behaviors is working within realistic expectations.

Focusing and concentrating train our minds to think about the new behavior. They change how we think about our day and its activities. Behavioral change usually doesn’t happen without changing our thinking.

To try new behaviors in this way will allow us to change a dozen or two behaviors annually. If we pick the right ones, they will have dynamic impact on our lives.


Part 1 of Best Way to Try New Behaviors covers expectations and strategy. It supplements the daily activities outlined here.

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In this series on leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture, we actively inject ourselves into group dynamics. We do so subtly.

Previously, I discussed activities after and before the interactions. They are the bookends for the activities while the meetings, presentations and functions are happening. This post combines everything into a complete strategy.

Figure #1 is the complete picture. Group interactions position themes. In subsequent individual interactions we reinforce them. We repeat. We reiterate. Repetition is fundamental to change. It’s not only about having people do again. It’s about having them think again.

Group Interactions Complete Strategy

Figure #1: Group interactions serve to position individual interactions which then serve to reinforce.

After group interactions, individual interactions follow. We work it into our everyday business activities. Planning the themes are important. Planning how we would present to each in individual discussions is too. Yes, extra time, but we work relationships smarter not harder. These activities contain the keywords and phrases of the change we emphasize.

Consequently, the strategy is very dynamic. There are many moving aspects. They require us weaving them together. Our themes, our keywords and phrases do this. Our relationships with each person determines the strength of that weave.

Figure #2 inverts Figure #1. The purposes of group and individual interactions reverse. Individual ones position and groups reinforce. While each group interaction positions themes, it also allows us to reinforce the individual interactions we have.

Figure #2: Individual interactions can position group interactions which serve to reinforce.

Figure #2: Individual interactions can position group interactions which then serve to reinforce.

Even though I’ve segregated the two views, every group and individual interaction will simultaneously give us positioning and reinforcing opportunities. Thus, the strategy is very synergistic.

Each interaction, whether group or individual, reinforces the previous one and positions the next. Our interactions are no longer segregated points in time. They are a continuous flow.

To this point, I’ve emphasized our themes, keywords and phrases – the subject matter. Relationships are key here too. In this sense, subject matter is the excuse for us to strengthen relationships. Face time’s power is real.

From this perspective then, in many interactions the subject matter will be secondary. Molding relationships will be primary. This series contains activities for molding relationships in groups. The series, Leveraging Relationships in Communications, has corresponding activities for individuals.

This strategy is extremely effective. It puts the practitioner in great position to effect change.


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Finding Right Problem to Solve

By Mike Lehr
Working the Right Problem

Finding and working the right problem is often a problem.

Solving problems is like painting. Prepping is ninety percent. That means ensuring we’re solving the right problem. It’s a common problem.

As example, a call center supported software for sales people. The sales people were giving them poor reviews. Supervisors listened to calls. Support representatives answered questions well. Supervisors were puzzled. However, representatives were answering the right questions to the wrong problems. They weren’t qualifying sales people’s questions to ensure they were asking the right questions.

Writing down the problem helps to find the right one. In “Are You Solving the Right Problem?” (Harvard Business Review, September 2012 edition) Dwayne Spradlin outlines steps suitable for large teams and complex problems. Step 4 is “Write the Problem Statement.” He also gives three examples of “The Power of Defining the Problem.”

Trimming Spradlin’s approach to fit small teams and individuals, it’s similar to planning’s benefits. It’s the process not the outcome that helps us. In finding the right problem, it’s important to:

Surrounding these are our biases. They encourage us to view problems in ways comfortable to us. We make them fit our experience, expertise, budgets, schedules, understanding and many others.

There are eight generalized biases influencing our perspectives too. They encourage us to view problems in ways we can easily understand, accept and resolve. As a result, we’ll end up tackling the easy but wrong problem.

Problems are also like crime scenes. They need enough scope to contain the information and give the perspective we need. Our need for security often as certainty, clarity and simplicity will emotionally trigger us to overemphasize statistics. Expanding our scope means searching and analyzing different types of information, not just the quantifiable.

Details help here. A glass filled with sand looks full. Diving deeper, gaps appear among the sand particles, more spaces to fill. Analogously, they are the gaps hard data leaves to intangible factors. It also means challenging definitions, demanding more specificity and applicability.

Yes, this is work and difficulty, naturally deterring us. This can’t deter us from the right problem though. If it does, paint will peel, and we’ll soon be painting again.

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