Friday, April 21, 2017

Are Job Interviews Utterly Useless?

Jason Dana, Assistant Professor of Management at Yale, wrote a thought-provoking piece for the New York Times this past week.  The title of his article: "The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews."  Dana argues that people draw conclusions from interviews based on a variety of factors, yet in many cases, these conclusions are unwarranted or flat-out wrong.  In his article, Dana explains the findings from his experimental research. He began by conducting an experiment in which people were asked to predict a student's future GPA.   They had an opportunity to review each student's past GPA as well as the student's course schedule.  The research subjects also had an opportunity to interview these students.  The research subjects also tried to predict future GPA for some students who they did not interview.  Amazingly, they predicted GPAs more accurately in the case of the students who did not participate in interviews.  In a second experiment, they instructed half of the interviewees to answer each question posed by the interviewer honesty.  The other half of interviewees were told to answer the questions randomly.   Dana reports a startling finding: "The students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they 'got to know' the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews."  What's the lesson here? Dana argues, "The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative....People can't help seeing signals, even in noise."  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Identifying High Potentials in Your Organization

Many organizations seek to identify their high potential employees.  They provide them good opportunities for growth and development and interesting work assignments.  Firms typically invest a great deal in their high potential employees.  A recent article in Harvard Business Review suggests that many firms may be going about this process all wrong.  They might not be selecting the right people as their high potential employees.  

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, leaders of the Zenger/Folkman leadership development consulting firm, wrote recently about a study they conducted at three companies.  They studied nearly 2,000 high potential employees at these firms.   Zenger and Folkman used a 360 degree feedback instrument to evaluate the leadership effectiveness of these individuals.  Amazingly, they found that 42% of these high potentials scored below average on leadership effectiveness.  12% of the high potentials ranked in the bottom quartile.  

What's going on?  Zenger and Folkman argue that companies are selecting high potentials using the wrong criteria in many cases.   They maintain that many firms select based on technical and professional expertise.  Moreover, they examine whether people can deliver results, meet commitments, and fit the organizational culture.  Unfortunately, many of these traits might make someone a strong individual performer, but not an effective team leader.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

Jessica Stillman writes this week in Inc. about a new research study conducted at Duke University.  Mark Leary and his colleagues conducted a series of studies examining the impact of "intellectual humility." Stillman writes, " In everyday language, it means the willingness to accept that you might be wrong and to not get defensive when arguments or information that's unfavorable to your position comes to light. And according to this new study, those who lack this quality make markedly worse choices that those who have it in abundance."  

Stillman notes that others have written about this concept previously, though this research at Duke provides strong statistical evidence of the impact of intellectual humility.   An article published on Duke's website cites some of the key findings:  "People who displayed intellectual humility also did a better job evaluating the quality of evidence -- even in mundane matters. For instance, when presented with arguments about the benefits of flossing, intellectually humble people correctly distinguished strong, fact-based arguments from weak ones."

Stillman notes that Stanford's Bob Sutton wrote about intellectual humility a decade ago, and he explained using a phrase made famous by people at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California.  I love the phrase as it conveys the essence of intellectual humility.  Sutton explains that people should have "strong opinions, weakly held."  Here is Sutton's full explanation of this phrase:

Perhaps the best description I've ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto's Institute for the Future... they advise people to have "strong opinions, which are weakly held." They've been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Institute Director Paul Saffo.

Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren't inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to "see" and "hear" evidence that clashes with your opinions.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Framing the Question: Improving Your Brainstorming Session

I listened recently to a Stanford Innovation Lab podcast with Professor Tina Seelig. During this episode, she interviews Emily Ma from Alphabet.  They discuss the keys to an effective brainstorming session.  During their discussion, they focused on important it is to frame the question properly at the outset of a brainstorming meeting.  For instance, Seelig and Ma describe the question:  "How might we create an awesome birthday party for our friend?"   Then they talk about how you might reframe the question with a slight change in word choice. What if you used the word "celebration" instead of "party" in your "How Might We" question?  The word "party" might have framed the question too narrowly.  Changing the word to "celebration" could invite a much wider range of ideas.   This example reminds us that we should be careful about our word choices.  However, we also have to consider multiple frames as we pose the question(s) that initiate our brainstorming sessions. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Would Anyone Miss Your Company?


Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath sent out a terrific tweet several days ago.  She offered a thought about Macy's, the department store struggling to adapt to the new business environment in which find themselves.  Macy's faces multiple threats these days, including e-commerce, as well as more nimble specialty retailers that pursue "fast fashion" strategies.  I have posted McGrath's tweet here.  What an awesome concept!   Who would miss Macy's if they disappeared tomorrow?  What customers find them indispensable? What customers are highly devoted to Macy's and why?  What do people get at Macy's that they cannot get anywhere else?  Every firm should be asking this question.  It truly challenges management to consider what makes their organization truly distinctive.  



Meg Whitman: The Right Approach Early in Your Career