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Matthew Horst at CostCo

This letter of thanks was written to the CEO and board of CostCo. Reading it one reflects on two things, firstly, there is no way WalMart is ever getting a letter like this with their slave, command &  control atmosphere, that is, frankly, inhibiting work developments in the US, and secondly, Talent is not a good degree, and good clothes: it’s effort, application and desire. Well done CostCo!

 

Dear Mr. Sinegal and Mr. Jelinek,

Throughout the 90s, my older brother Matthew worked part-time at a grocery store. He was punctual, cared for his customers and he completed his work (clearing grocery carts from the parking lot) with excellence. But, the part-time minimum-wage salary, lack of benefits and toxic work environment prevented this job from becoming a career.

 

When a Costco opened up in our neighborhood (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) in the late 90s; its reputation for treating its employees with dignity preceded it. Matthew applied immediately in hopes of joining the Costco team. A few short months later, Costco took a chance on him. Today, 11 years later, after several promotions, consistent pay increases and with a supportive team around him, Matthew has found his career. The very generous salary and benefits package allow him to enjoy life in a debt-free home in a great neighborhood, within walking distance of Costco.

 

For his entire life, Matthew has been classified and known by his “special needs”. Since the day he began at Costco, however, his coworkers and customers have valued him because of his unique strengths. There are many companies which “succeed” at the expense of their workers. I am a firsthand witness to a counter-intuitive company: Costco succeeds through the flourishing of its employees.

 

Matthew worked for years in the Costco parking lot (bearing the wind, rain, cold and snow), taking pride when it was free of carts. And, true to the rumors (that Costco promotes from within), he eventually was given the opportunity to work in the warehouse as a cashier’s assistant, supporting customers as they check-out. He absolutely loves his job…and his customers absolutely love him.

 

Matthew raves about his friends at the eyeglass center, bakery, pharmacy, food court and customer service desk. He always talks about the tire crew members who allow him to park his bike under their watch–and make sure it is tuned and safe to ride. He pays tribute to his many supervisors, each of whom has taken special care to help him succeed. Matthew enthusiastically participates in Costco’s Children’s Miracle Network partnership month, the annual Christmas party, and he recently won an employee Biggest Loser competition (losing over 65 pounds).

 

Costco has become much, much more than an employer to Matthew. Thank you for giving him a chance. I have always deeply believed that Matthew does not need any handouts — he just needs opportunities to apply his incredibly unique gifts and abilities. The purpose and care with which you approach business has literally changed the course of my brother’s life and has been an unspeakable blessing to him and to our family.

 

My warmest thanks,

Chris Horst


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This piece from Jeff Haden (who can count me among the 100,000 readers he has on LInkedIn) reflects new developments in motivational psychology: we now talk about identity (and marketers live for that, right?), rather than personality.

Here it is…

We all have huge personal goal we want to accomplish: A big, challenging, amazing goal. We think about it, dream about it, obsess about it… but we never accomplish it.

That could be because we also talked about it, because according to some studies, people who talk about their intentions are less likely to follow through on those intentions.

Say you want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, a grueling five- to seven-month trek from Georgia to Maine. (Having completed about 2% of it, I’m not so well on my section-hiking way, much less thru-hiking.)

You’re having dinner with friends and you tell them all about it. “Oh, wow!” one exclaims. “That sounds amazing. But won’t it be super hard?”

“Indeed it will,” you say, puffing out your chest, and you share what you know about tent sites, shelters, infrequent showers, and the cool trail name you’ll get.

It’s fun. It feels awesome to bask in the glow of people who admire you for wanting to take on such a huge challenge.

It feels… it feels like you’re already on the Trail.

It also means you’re less likely to someday be on the Trail, because according to this study, “When other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention, this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.”

In short, you already got a huge kick out of people thinking of you as a Trail hiker… so now you’re less motivated to actually be a Trail hiker.

Sounds counterintuitive, right? Aren’t we supposed to share our intentions so other people can support and motivate us?

According to NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, one of the authors of the study, that’s not always the case. Gollwitzer thinks the issue lies in our sense of identity. Each of us wants tobe certain things, so we naturally declare those intentions even if we have not yet becomethose things.

Describing how I plan to run a marathon, how I bought running shoes and joined a gym and created a training plan, certainly makes me feel good… but it also makes me feel like I’m already part of the way to being a marathoner even though I haven’t trained at all.

Sometimes declaring what we want to be and how we will get there causes us to feel we are farther along the path of becoming who we want to be, and therefore makes us less motivated — even though we’ve actually done nothing but talk.

So try it. Pick a goal. Create a plan to achieve it. Get help, get guidance, get input from other people who have accomplished that goal… but otherwise keep your goal and your plan to yourself. Don’t talk about it: Focus solely on doing the work required to achieve your goal.

Then, when you do achieve your goal, hey, feel free talk all you want. If nothing else you’ll enjoy how surprised your friends are when they realize you’ve accomplished something awesome, something they didn’t even know you were attempting.

But my guess is you won’t talk about it, since the personal satisfaction of achievement is infinitely sweeter than public acclaim.

 


Sometimes all we need to do is remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

15 styles of Distorted Thinking

1. Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
2. Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground.
3. Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once you expect it to happen over and over again.
4. Mind Reading:  Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you.
5. Castastrophizing: You expect disaster. you notice or hear about a problem and start “what if’s”. What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?”
6. Personalization: Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, etc. .
7. Control Fallacies: If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
8. Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t agree with you.
9. Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal.
10. Should: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
11. Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true-automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.
12. Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hope for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
13. Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.
14. Being Right: You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You feel better when the reward doesn’t come.


[Source: Reuters]

In a surprising and stunning misstep by the British Government that has been splashed all over the newspapers, thirty-eight soldiers have been told their roles are ending – by email.

The following is from the Guardian, a newspaper not know for a sympathetic attitude to any Conservative government, but is the only paper so to report in full the apology:

Liam Fox has issued a grovelling apology for the “appalling mistake” which led to the army sending emails to 38 soldiers – including one on duty in Afghanistan – informing them that they were losing their jobs.

Hauled to the House of Commons to answer emergency questions on the matter, the defence secretary said the army had already begun an inquiry and that it would be completed within days.

“This is a completely unacceptable way to treat anyone, not least our armed forces,” he told MPs. “The correct procedure was not followed. I regret this and want to reiterate the unreserved apology already made by the army and on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.”

Later he added: “I think that there has been an appalling mistake. I know that the individual concerned will be absolutely mortified that this has occurred.”

The episode came a day after it was revealed that the MoD was informing up to 100 trainee RAF pilots – some near to qualifying – that they too could be made redundant.

The email blunder involved a number of long-serving warrant officers who had already completed 22 years service, and had then been given short-term contracts so their expertise was not lost.

Instead of sending letters to their commanding officers, who would then have spoken to the soldiers face to face, emails were sent to the soldiers directly.

The Sun newspaper reported that the message from an army career manager advised them to “Start planning your resettlement”.

The newspaper also quoted one of those who received the email as saying: “It was out of the blue. We’re disgusted.”

The MoD said: “The Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow incorrectly sent letters to 38 warrant officers telling them that their rolling contracts are coming to an end in 12 months time. A letter should have gone first to the commanding officers … as soon as the mistake was realised, the COs were informed and spoke to the warrant officers. We apologise for the inevitable distress that this will have caused.”

It added: “This was a clerical error, pure and simple. We will try to help them find employment … but as of now we need to prepare them for the worst.”

Criticism of the MoD came from the prime minister’s office, and also from the charity Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help.

Its spokesman said: “This is a really unfortunate communication error that comes at a particularly difficult time for our armed forces. The demands placed on our servicemen and women and their families are different to anything experienced by others. We must never lose sight of this if morale and trust are to be maintained.”

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said: “We all know that you can’t stop every redundancy … but this is no way to treat soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland, Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Sacking anyone by email is always wrong, sacking our armed forces in this way is utterly unforgivable.”

He added that the MoD was being run in a “shambolic way” because of defence cuts that had gone too deep and too soon.

Fox accused Labour of opportunism and playing politics with the armed forces.

“I hope with issues as sensitive as individual redundancies, we can refrain from making a sad situation worse for the individuals and their families,” he said.

At Business Intelegant, we believe that onboarding and offboarding are serious processes that affect how organizations are seen and how individuals judge those processes.

Ironically, the British Army used to refer to HR as Man Management. They have a tough job especially now when facing cuts to personnel, budgets, and blighted by stretched resources.

Correct morale and good use of the type of human warmth which the Navy labels after its most famous Admiral, the Nelson touch, might well be in order. The above serves as a stark reminder that even Taylorism never advocated bureaucracy over the value of a good employee.


New research from Oxford University shows that large doses of supplement B Vitamin could halve the rate of brain shrinkage – a physical symptom associated memory loss and dementia in the elderly.

The effects were so dramatic that the scientists behind the work believe it could revolutionise the treatment of the disease.

Brain shrinkage or atrophy is a natural part of ageing but it is known to be accelerated in people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – a kind of memory loss and forgetfulness – and Alzheimer’s.

Scientists at the University of Oxford conducted a trial on 168 people and found that taking high doses of three vitamin B supplements every day reduced brain shrinkage associated with dementia by up to 53 per cent.

They said the results were so strong that it should open up a debate as to whether the tablets should be prescribed to everyone with MCI – half of whom develop Alzheimer’s disease.

MCI affects 16 per cent of people over 70 – 1.5 million people in the UK.

Professor David Smith, a pharmacologist who co-authored the study, said the results were “immensely promising”.

“It is a very simple solution: you give someone some vitamins and you protect the brain,” he said.

“This is the first trial that has shown a glimmer of hope and success. It is the first one of its kind that has worked so clearly. I think it will change the whole direction of Alzheimer’s research.

“500 people a day develop Alzheimer’s in the UK. If we can cut that down by just 10 per cent it will have a big impact. I personally believe that it will.”

The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, is controversial because it defies current scientific dogma about the way to tackle Alzheimer’s.

It suggests simply taking vitamins can achieve results that have so far evaded pharmaceutical companies, despite millions of pounds being spent on experimental dementia drugs.

The brain naturally shrinks in volume as we get older and when you get to 60, it is shrinking by as much as half a per cent a year.

But in those with MCI it is accelerates to one per cent a year and in Alzheimer’s Disease by 2.5 per cent a year. This is accompanied by severe memory problems, slower thoughts and confusion.

Current research centres around tackling so-called tangles in the brain which are thought to “silt up” the brain’s thought processes.

The team at the University of Oxford set out in a new direction – targeting the abnormal physical shrinkage of the brain.

They knew that a substance called homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood, was associated with this shrinkage.

Elderly people with higher levels of homocysteine, had higher levels of brain shrinkage.

They also knew that vitamin B regulated levels of homocysteine and that the more vitamin B in the blood, the lower the levels of the harmful amino acid.

The researchers used an advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique to study brain shrinkage in 168 volunteers over the age of 70 with diagnosed MCI.

Over a period of two years, half were given a daily tablet containing high doses of the B vitamins folic acid, B6 and B12. The rest received a “dummy” placebo pill with no active ingredients.

At the end of the trial the effects of the vitamin treatment were found to be dramatic, and most pronounced in participants who started out with the highest rates of brain shrinkage.

On average, taking B vitamins slowed the rate of brain atrophy by 30 per cent, and in many cases reductions was as high as 53 per cent were seen.

Prof Smith said: “This is a very striking, dramatic result. It’s much more than we could have predicted.

“It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease in many people who suffer from mild memory problems.”

Although the trial was not designed to measure thinking ability, the researchers found that individuals with the lowest rates of shrinkage had the highest mental test scores.

Prof Smith said it was still early to say exactly how vitamin B worked.

“The treatment lowers homocysteine, lower homocysteine reduces brain shrinkage and that reduces cognitive decline,” he said.

The scientists stress that the doses of B vitamins used in the trial are much higher than would be obtained from diets and additives or normal health supplements.

The “TrioBe Plus” pills, prescribed under medical supervision in Sweden but not available in the UK, contain around 300 times the recommended daily intake of B12 and four times recommended folate levels.

However it is possible to copy the dose by buying three separate supplements from health food shops in Britain for as little as 10 pence a day.

The long-term effects of taking big doses of the vitamins were not known, and there was some evidence that high folic acid intake could be linked to cancer, he said.

While Prof Smith said anybody thinking of taking them should consult their doctor first, he personally felt they would be effective.

He said: “These are big doses. Should we take it? The person must be worried about their memory and then I would recommend going to their doctor first. But if I had MCI I would take it.”

Professor Helga Refsum, his co-author at University of Oslo who is a visiting academic at Oxford, said more trials were needed but the evidence was strong.

“As a scientist I am not happy with just one trial and there will be a large debate. But as a clinician sitting in front of a patient I would say vitamin B supplements are fairly safe, they are not expensive and what we have found here is extremely convincing. It is very difficult to argue against its use.”

The study was cautiously welcomed by other scientists although they said more studies were needed to back up the findings.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, which co-funded the study, said: “These are very important results, with B vitamins now showing a prospect of protecting some people from Alzheimer’s in old age.

“The strong findings must inspire an expanded trial to follow people expected to develop Alzheimer’s, and we hope for further success.

Chris Kennard, chair of the Medical Research Council’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, which also provided funding, said: “The findings are very encouraging and we look forward to further research that is needed in order to test whether B vitamins can be recommended as a suitable treatment.”

Paul Matthews, Professor of Clinical Neurology, Imperial College, London said: “This well-conducted study adds substantial new data to previous information suggesting that dietary B vitamins could have beneficial effects on neurodegeneration with ageing.”

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said:”This is an interesting study which could change the lives of thousands of people at risk of dementia.

“However, previous studies looking at B vitamins have been very disappointing and we wouldn’t want to raise people’s expectations yet, as we have not specifically seen any benefits in preventing the onset of the symptoms of dementia.”

(Source: The Daily Telegraph 9th Sept 2010)


The history and purpose of talent management: What is it? Does it matter? Has it now been shown to be an effective identifier for HR?

Do we need to understand the roots of talent management to really use it? Maybe not: but some understanding of the causes and reasoning are helpful so that we don’t see talent management as simply a development tool that enables good workers to be profitable or a set of tools to retain intellectual capital and knowledge capital. There are wider issues to do with more tangible business processes and to do with creating a long-tail solution to succession planning and leadership pipelines.

Most will point to the origins of talent management as being Softscape CEO, Dave Watkins, who in 1998 published a newsletter on an IT tool they had developed called Lightyear. The paper was entitled: “An appliation framework for talent management that acts as a central feedback center for all organizational functions.” It never mentions recruitment or enabling talent as we now think of it, but most agree, it is the first known use of the phrase. However, the origins of talent management as a sytematic approach to competence-based HCM (Human Capital Management) is far more complex.

Any system in OD can be open or closed or both: this is important. For example, school children needing a hall pass are in a closed system, but do not need to ask for pencils (the organisational culture dictates they should have one with them). Feedback systems were developed in the 1930s by Kurt Lewin and others to ensure that closed systems reinforce positive messages in learning and development (a learning loop) and open systems meant that feeback was actually taken on board as culture changes for the better. From this we get a host of feedback systems all of which try to get the employee to give an honest evaluation of what would make their job better. Currently we are using 360° reviews, and coaching and mentoring programs.

Kurt Lewin [1890 - 1940]

This makes one half of the equation: the human feedback or loop.

Approaching fast from another angle are the quality and statistics gurus, like Walter A Shewart, whose Learning Cycle make Lewin’s methodologies measurable, and George Box, a statistical genius at business costs, and of course, Deming. Deming believed in TQM: total quality management. His work in Japan led to the 5 s approach: clean, clear, uncluttered, no waste, on demand manufacturing and those qualitites where human-based and human-driven. A great and under-rated example of this is Yoshio Kondo’s Total Employee Involvement (TEI).  Kondo simply advocated that the time was coming when quality would equal employees committment. And, that that committment would be tied to their involvement and not simply to rewards. His ideas around the need for creativity while applying TQM (Total Quality Management) are, if anything, more relevant today than they were in 1989 when he published Human Motivation: A Key Factor for Management.

Both approaches, the feedback loop and the quality approach were productive, but they needed a synthesis.  It all culminated in the publication in 1990 of an extraordinary book that literally changed how companies saw HR. Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization not only called for this seismic shift and just in time for the internet boom, but gave people all the tools they needed to implement the process.

The Fifth Dicipline showed different ways to do three things: firstly, to “foster aspirations”, secondly, to “create reflective conversations” and finally to “understand complexity”. These was achieved by the five disciplines: firstly, develop “personal mastery” and vision, secondly, examine “mental modes” and the assumptions of any organisation, thirdly, build shared vision, fourthly, get the team “genuinely thinking together”, and finally the fifth discipline is “systems thinking”, an amalgamation of all of these. It also advocated awareness of laws that would help and hinder the process. It was, and still is, enormously influential, and even though it failed to see recruitment, leadership pipelines, and networking per se it hints at all of them. Most of all though, Senge is highly intelegant: simple, intelligent, and elegant in his exposition and thinking. Here was a book everyone could follow – and many did.

From this we get not only the Learning Organization (one that listens and takes on board it’s own information) but also the idea that man management falls short: there is capital in the ideas and feedback of workers. While Senge cannot take credit for the idea of Human Capital, the opening of systems meant that seniors in the company has already seen bottom line value in their workers ideas rather than just their productivity; but the from Taylorism and army developed ideas of IQ and command and control into new frontiers of Howard Gardner’s frames (How we think about problems determines how we choose to solve that problem) and Goleman’s work on EQ and Emotional Intelligence and so on complete a very important change in work: from a manufacturing and industrial worker to the knowledge worker.

All of these factor led in the 1990 to re-engineering and out that came the idea of Intellectual Capital. The best analogy I can think of for intellectual capital is a computer: the computer loses its value as a commodity from the moment you buy it, but the information it holds, its equity, is worth much more than the computer itself. This is true for us too: our knowledge and experience within an organisation cannot just be transferred to a new employee, we learn culture, we know more than just facts, look at the human realtionships and networks for a start. Business Week in 2006 had a great story about a maintenance manager in London who was given a S-Class Mercedes by the CEO. They had replaced him after 15 years with a subcontracted firm, witihn eight weeks they couldn’t work the heating, make the plumbing work, or find out why the air conditioners weren’t working. Smart guy: good intellectual capital!

Intellectual Capital’s leading exponent was a Swede working for Skandia, Lief Edvinsson, who had in turn taken on board the groundwork laid by a fellow Swede, Karl-Erik Sveiby and Hiroyuki Itami’s excellent Mobilizing Invisible Assets, published by Thomas W Roehl in 1991 it led to the idea that the ideas people had were as much assets as any machinery, land or inventory. While hardly a new ide
a in iteself it did provide a way to quantify on the balance sheet the intellectual capital of a company.

Hiroyuki Itami

Hiroyuki Itami

So now we have all the parts of one side of the equation: listening and evaluating, quality systems and intellectual capital. The other part of the equation was very simple: employers needed brains, and so, the hunt for talent was on. Like racehorses, if you could find the best early on and develop some way of making them stay, the potential profits were huge.

The talent process was initially just a way to hunt for graduates before they sent off their CVs. From the Universities came the Milk Round, where top companies looking for top recruits could have a pre-process face to face. This has now turned into global career fairs with top Blue Chips seeking talent from all areas.

Recruitment shifted dramatically in the 1960s in the 1970s from simply  a job market where jobs where available and full employment was the reality to the massive depression of the early Seventies. The Eighties saw an upswing in the economy and crucially Business became the game to be in: employees were educating themselves, the brightest and best were no longer looking for jobs for life; they wanted statues, reward, and responsibility over security. With the onset of IT after 1994 we see a further crucial change: unlike Ford and his manufacturing base where manpower is needed, in the Knowledge Economy, specialism is in the hands of the few and they are the talent. You either know SAP or you don’t, you can either write COBOL or you can’t, no longer is it just take a kid, train them in sales, if they do well promote them; the game changed.

What did not change was that organizations acknowledged that a good organization needed both a good culture and that that came, not from theories and GANT charts, but from its leaders and its people. Now it seems just common sense, but as IBM proved, the balance is between being an organization that demands people act in an exact way (The Blue Book for employees even outlined dinner conversations for middle managers) and Microsoft, who integrated new techniques, sought talent, and did it right during the 90s.

In conclusion, having some understanding that quality and feedback process should shape a talent process, and that it should not just be a recruitment process matters. As we shall see in the next part, talent is about identification, but, without the right culture talent leaves; and we don’t want that investment bolting, do we?


Yellow Flower - Aoru [FlickR CC]

Yellow Flower - Aoru - FlickR CC

As we move out of the worst of the recession, and the US showed a 5.6% growth for the latest quarterly released figures from the Treasury, we should be able to ask what can we do to accentuate the positive.

A good intelegant approach is to push the vision up the agenda – give people a “totem pole” to gather round and the tribe will be more cohesive. The most important part is that values and strategy work together well.

There has been lots of recent thought around this area. Authors such as Richard Barrett, who created the Values Center, with it’s emphasis on vision and values, I have been a fan of a longtime, have been working on this theme for a long time and it is one that more organizations need to take seriously.

In the current era of cost-cutting and expediency it is tempting to push values and vision to the backburner and simply focus on bottom line top line issues – however while it is easy to see the folly of this it is more difficult to drive it forward in the real day to day cut and thrust of commerce.

The best companies take values seriously, our core values and ethics make us feel more surety, as well as more professional and more creative: and those are not bad attributes to want in employees in tough times…

On sure way to do so is to run some Appreciative Inquiry workshops. They are a very resilient way to approach long-term motivation by linking real, proven past successes and those stories, the tribal myths, if you will, with the future positive hopes of the teams. This not only brings continuity, it also reinforces messages of success, and creates a success culture. A side note here would be that AI is also good for encouraging openess, transparency, and clarity when success eludes us, as it emphasizes a culture where failure is discussed without attribution.

Values are not trivial or expendable. They should be the core of our thinking. And with clear values comes the elimination of the negative.


[Source: FlickR CC Photographer: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino]

ScienceDaily (Jan. 9, 2009) — The International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS), which is based in Norway, have studied which leadership qualities could help employees return from sick leave early. Being considerate, understanding and able to maintain contact with the sick-listed are the most important leadership qualities, according to the study.

“The manager has a key role when it comes to sick leave. He or she is often the best available measure for promoting health in these cases. A manager with good qualities can have a great impact on how long the employee is off sick”, says senior researcher Randi Wågø Aas, at IRIS, which is owned by the University of Stavanger and Rogalandsforskning.

Norway has the highest sick leave figures in Europe, and the authorities are constantly looking for new measures to get numbers down. The latest research effort from IRIS on the topic studied the relationship between the employees who are signed off sick, and their managers. Part of this work has now been published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

Previous research has revealed a strong link between management and sick leave.

The risk of long term sick leave rises proportionally to the lack of support from the manager.

“That is why we think it is interesting to look at which qualities in managers are considered important”, says Ms Wågø Aas. Researchers followed 30 people on long term sick leave over the course of eight months. Both the employees and their managers were asked which management qualities they felt were the most important in the follow-up work. Researchers got 345 descriptions of important qualities, which were naturally grouped in 78 specific management qualities. The three most often mentioned were Ability to make contact, Consideration and Understanding.

In other words, the study shows that people on sick leave first and foremost need to feel cared for.

“The employees find it important that their managers are understanding, supportive, attentive, empathetic, warm and friendly. When they are on sick leave, people are in a position of vulnerability. Many of them talk about feeling suspected, and say their problems are not taken seriously”, says Ms Aas.

The 78 manager qualities which emerged from the investigation were divided into seven categories, which each represent a given type of manager. The one mentioned the most frequently, is nicknamed The Protector, who has caring qualities. Number two is The Problem Solver, who is the best at adapting. The third most important is The Contact Maker, and then it is The Trust Creator, The Recognizer, The Encourager, and The Responsibility-maker. Each of these types contains groups of qualities which emerge in the interviews. Ideally, managers with staff responsibilities should have a bit of each of the seven in them, but what is the most important will vary.

“The perfect manager can take steps which are tailored to the individual’s needs. The survey shows that there are great differences in what the individual considers good follow-up. It is also clear that a combination of different management qualities is needed. A great many people need both a pat on the shoulder, and to be welcomed back to work”, says Ms Aas. According to her, it also seems that contact ability is a necessary quality in order to achieve the combination of protection and problem-solving.

Researchers also found age differences in the individual’s needs while on sick leave. Younger employees had the greatest need for protection and recognition, while those over 45 were more concerned with problem solving and being held responsible.

“Older people are probably more concerned with adaptation of their work environment, to make sure they can get back to work. Younger employees are possibly more vulnerable, and need more encouragement”, she says.

A third important find in the study, is the difference in what the employees and the managers thought was important. The employees emphasised recognition and encouragement more than the managers, who were more concerned with accountability, and problem solving.

“If employees have different needs from what the managers are aware of, and this is not communicated, there is a big problem. It is easy to view management as mainly about adapting all practical and formal matters for the employee. For most employees however, it is more important to be understood and included. For instance, many managers think they are protecting the employee by telling them that they do not need to work. In reality, they are simply extending the sick leave, since the employee does not feel included. After all, many are able to do things even though they are ill”, says Senior researcher Ms Wågø Aas.

IRIS will continue to study the interview material. They also wish to develop a feedback tool, which aims to improve communication between managers and employees on sick leave.

Here are the types of managers identified in the study:

1. The Protector

Protects the employee, understands the situation, helps and includes. Shows compassion, is discreet, warm and friendly.

2. The Problem Solver

Professional, solution oriented and creative. Can, among other things, change the tasks or in other ways adapt them so that the employee can continue to work. Takes responsibility, and gives individual treatment.

3. The Contact Maker

Gets in touch with the employee to inform of what is happening in the workplace. Is also interested in how the employee is doing, and proves a listening and able conversationalist.

4. The Trust Creator

Is discreet, predictable, attentive, honest and open. Creates trust and a feeling of safety.

5. The Recognizer

Behaves acknowledging, confirming and without prejudice towards the employee.

Shows respect and confidence.

6. The Encourager

Has a positive attitude, and is generous and happy. Motivates, inspires and is available. This type of manager has a sense of humour, as well as being just, patient, and encouraging.

7. The Responsibility-maker

Assertive, fearless, challenging, and direct. Is honest, to the point and not afraid to establish boundaries or confront. Gives the employee challenges and responsibility for his or her own situation.

Adapted from materials provided by The University of Stavanger.


Source FlickR: Peter McDonald

Source FlickR: Peter McDonald

How we use Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Quotient in teams and organizations matters.

While we will be dealing with metrics, alignment, and implementation, initially we need to consider the fundamental purpose of emotions and how they work when at work.

Let’s see how EI can improve sales teams for a starter. And an environmental approach to keep talent.

Rather than look at Goleman’s or Bar-On’s overwhelming contributions to EI initially, I would like to start on another more empirical track, and hopefully we’ll converge along the way and see how these threads tie together.

As stated in the introductory post, Emotional Quotient (EQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EI) has little to do with “being emotional”. Again, emotional intelligence is not how emotional a person is. It is a set of skills that enable me to be emotionally stable and mature: clever, if you will, at handling emotions.

It took several of the most brilliant medical minds of the pre-War period to understand the simple formula:

See Bear -> Feel Fear -> Run or Freeze

Through a set of extremely precise experiments psychologists, all previously medical doctors, sought the answer as to how and why we react the way we do. Especially to fear.

It led to some fundamental discoveries in the neurobiology as to how the brain and body create, react, and learn of and from emotional responses.

Bear -> Fear -> Run is otherwise known, in Walter B Cannon’s own words, as the flight or fight response. Cannon with Philip Bard proposed what has become the best known theory of emotional response. Some 50 years earlier, William James, the father of modern rigorous psychology in America and Carl Lange in Denmark both separately proposed what has come down to us as the James-Lange theory.

In the James-Lange theory the suggestions is: see bear, your body reacts before your cognitive mind does, your mind recognizes these reactions of the nervous system, and calls it fear (Or love, or whatever emotion you feel). Cannon-Bard on the other hand states that the emotions come first, i.e. your brain reacts and then your body does it’s flight or fight stuff.

Chicken or egg? A little.

And we still don’t really know the answer. What is accepted is that see bear have a physical reaction is normative. It would seem more holistic to suggest that the two are working in unison, that the amygdala (the reptile base of the human brain responsible for among other things the survival instinct) is programed to kick in both a cognitive response and a physical simultaneously as we need to survive.

What is certain is that I need my senses to recognize danger – however, just to muddy the waters, it appears, from recent experiments that the brain works faster than the physical nervous system. We seem to literally know fear before our body does – giving weight to the Cannon-Bard theory. What we can be absolutely certain of is that we do call that normative reaction an emotional reaction.

And, what has this got to do with Emotional Quotient and Emotional Intelligence?  As we will see EQ and EI are our not only about our emotional reactions, it is rather about our emotional awareness. It is from the combined efforts of Drs William James, Carl Lange, Walter B Cannon and Philip Bard that we developed a working understanding of emotion and the part of the brain that deals with and generates the neurochemical responses to environmental change: the limbic pathway.

The limbic pathway is the part of your brain that deals with emotions. Not just crying, fear, love, happiness, but rather the much more subtle and important stuff: our daily interaction and reactions with people and objects and out thoughts etc; these happen all the time, when we sleep, when we’re awake, and so on. The limbic pathway keeps on working out our emotional, cognitive state.

The Limbic Pathway

It is linked to both the hindbrain (the reptilian brain in humans controlling your most basic physical needs) and the higher brain functions (thought, memory, imagination) and releases dopamine (which makes you calm) and serotonin (which makes you happy).

What we are looking for at first is the correct mix of both of those neurotransmitters, if they are in balance we have emotional homeostasis.

This is a fancy way of saying we are able to be at our most optimal performance wise and keep our stronger emotions in check.

We exhibit one of the key indicators of Emotional Intelligence: self-control. We are calm. Even when driven to distraction, we are calm, self-controlled, and in check. All the time. We use our limbic pathway to keep calm, to assert ourselves without raising our voices, and we are still genuinely in relation to others – we are not artificially calm or stiff, or withdrawn, but neither are we shouting, stamping, and frothing at the mouth.

Such a person is not given to outbursts, or to total withdrawal. They have a mature developed sense of self. Their interaction with others is not based on subversive or agenda-based behaviors like narcissism, self-interest, psychotic manipulation, and so on. Emotional intelligent people are composed, detailed, focused and on point, they are calm, deliberate, but emotionally engaged. They do not sound or act like an automaton, but neither are they manic. Again, it is what we would all instinctively recognize as balanced behaviour.

In a 360° survey we might want to ask:
Does the person control themselves?
When stressed what is their reaction?
To fight? Or withdraw? Or to assert?

Assertive behaviour is more than don’t mess with me you’ll come off worse than me. Assertiveness is the ability to influence and engender respect in the other party. And here, high EI and EQ pay massive dividends. This is more than appearance and body language, it is a fundamental brain set, from the limbic pathway, that will not be rattled, that holds its position, that listens, and states clearly and precisely their position in a calm, measured, and considered way while still using emotions.

This is exceptionally useful for sales personnel who need to exude more than confidence. They need to exude professionalism, knowledge, and a keen self-awareness.

This has top line and bottom line effects.

In Strategic HR we might define this as a good indicator of maturity in young talent. They need to also show real engagement, drive, and results as well.

If the companies goal is to keep talent, and it should be a central HR goal of companies to retain the talented, the best, then helping them achieve early maturity in an excellent idea. This must be aligned with other factors such as motivation, rewards, respect, and inclusion otherwise it will be ineffective.

In the next post, we will look at other components of Emotional Intelligence and how scaling them up in an organization drives business results.


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It is good to be asked back again.

When the people asking are a branch of the United Nations then it is a definite privilege and an honour.

I had a great morning with 85 post-graduate students, from a very wide range of nations including China and Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tanzania, Gambia, Nigeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Malawi, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Ecuador, Peru, Latvia, and even from here in Sweden. (My apologies to those who represent countries I may have left out). Many are women. And all are exceptional.

All have been chosen by their governments, companies, and organizations to do the courses in advanced marine management. I was invited to compliment the academic with a healthy dose of leadership training. Rather tahn adopting a command-control or technical model I talked on Authentic Leadership. We had a blast.

I am very grateful to academic dean, Prof. Patrick Donner, and to all his students, for their efforts. Honestly this is why I work: to have so many people from so many nations on one site like the World Maritime University is a wonderful opportunity to talk about what leadership is becoming and how we achieve changes that will improve both work and life in the modern world.


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