Language is the crystallization of thought. But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture. To change attitudes and behaviors, it helps to first change the vernacular. To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.

Several years ago, IDEO hosted a visit from Jim Wiltens, an outdoorsman, author, adventure traveler, and speaker, who also teaches a program of  his  own design for gifted and talented children in Northern California schools. In his programs, Jim emphasizes the power of a positive vocabulary. And he leads by example. You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…” He actually promises to pay his young students a $100 if they ever catch him saying, “I can’t.”

Think Jim’s approach sounds a bit simplistic for adults? Don’t be too sure. When Cathie Black took over as president of Hearst Magazines, she noticed that negative speech patterns had cre­ated an environment hostile to new ideas. One person close to the company reported that the naysaying had become a cynical mantra for the executives. So Black told her senior team that every time they said things like, “We’ve tried that already” or “That will never work,” she would fine them $10. (Note the difference be­tween business executives and teachers: they levy the fine on others, not themselves.) Of course, $10 was a trivial amount for the Hearst managers, but no one wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues.

After enforcing her rule just a few times, Black effectively wiped those expressions from the office vocabulary. Did the shift to more positive words have a broader effect beyond changing the tone of meetings? During Black’s ten­ure, Hearst kept its flagship brands like Cosmopolitan healthy through an extremely tough period for the publishing industry and launched new mega-successes like Oprah’s magazine. Meanwhile, Black rose to become one of the most powerful women in American business.

IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?”  It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product design, as an op­timistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at our firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group. Anyone who has worked with IDEO in the past decade or participated in OpenIDEO’s social innovation challenges has undoubtedly heard the phrase.

We’re also careful about how we critique ideas. As we explained in this HBR article, our feedback typically starts with “I like…” and moves on to “I wish…”. We refrain from passing judgment with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. When you open with the positives, then use the first person for suggestions, it signals to everyone that you’re offering your opinion in an effort to help, which makes them more receptive to your ideas.

As adults, we sometimes forget the simple power of words. Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.

This post is adapted from our book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us(Crown Business, 2013).

by Tom Kelley and David Kelley  

Link to this article (HBR)
 
 
There is a great scene in Godfather 2 where Kay (Diane Keaton) complains to husband Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) about his unfulfilled promise to make his business fully legit and quit being a mafioso. Michael responds that he is still working on it, reassuring Kay emphatically: “I’ll change, I’ll change — I’ve learned that I have the strength to change.”

Although most of us aren’t part of the mafia, we are still a bit like Michael Corleone in that we overestimate our capacity for change. In theory everyone can change, but in practice most people don’t… except for some well-documented changes that affect most of us.

For example, most people display antisocial tendencies during adolescence and slower thinking in late adulthood, but these changes are by no means indicative of a psychological metamorphosis. Rather, they are akin to common lifespan changes in physical traits, such as gains or drops in height during childhood and late adulthood, respectively — they occur to everyone. Likewise, there are typical changes in personality, even within 5-year periods. A seminal review showed that we become more prudent, emotionally stable, and assertive with age, while our energy and intellectual curiosity dwindle after adolescence. In other words, as we grow older we become more calm and mature, but also more passive and narrow-minded.

A more interesting question is whether categorical changes are feasible. Can someone be extremely introverted at certain age, but super outgoing at another? Can someone transition from being a self-centred narcissist to being a caring and giving soul? Or from being exceptionally smart to being incredibly stupid?

On the one hand, there is no shortage of famous case studies to illustrate radical transformations in people’s reputation (their public persona). Sometimes these changes — like Miley Cyrus’s transformation from innocent Disney star to tongue-wielding twerker — seem more like carefully planned PR campaigns than true psychological journeys. But others do make us wonder if there’s something deeper going on inside. Bill Gates started as a stereotypical computer nerd, then turned into a talented entrepreneur, then morphed into a ruthless empire-builder, and then became the most charitable person on earth, giving away most of his — and his friends’ — wealth. The late Nelson Mandela, perhaps the least disputed moral figure of our times, had an arrogant, aggressive, and antisocial youth before inspiring everyone with his path of nonviolent resistance.

And yet scientific studies indicate that categorical changes in character are unusual. When there is change, it usually represents an amplification of our character. In other words, even when our patterns of change are unique, they are predictable: we simply become a more exaggerated version of ourselves. This happens in three different ways. First, we tend to interpret events according to our own personal biases, which only reinforces those biases. For instance, pessimists perceive ambivalent feedback as criticism, which, in turn, enhances their pessimism over time; the opposite happens with optimists. Second, we gravitate towards environments that are congruent with our own default attitudes and values. Hedonists seek pleasure and fun-loving people, which, in turn, makes them even more hedonistic. Aggressive people crave conflict and combat, which only augments their aggression. Altruists hang out with caring people and spend time helping others, which enhances their empathy and reinforces their selflessness. Third, our reputation does truly precede us: others (including strangers and acquaintances) make unconscious inferences about our character in order to explain our behavior and predict what we may do next. These intuitive evaluations may be inaccurate, but they are still self-fulfilling. With time, we morph into the person others think we are; their prejudiced and fantasized representation of us turns real and becomes ingrained in our identity. Reputation really is fate.

As a consequence, deliberate attempts to change are far less effective than we like to think, which is why most New Year’s resolutions are never accomplished — and why our long-term happiness levels are fairly constant and relatively immune to extreme life events (whether it is a painful divorce or the joys of winning the lottery).

Needless to say, some people are more capable of changing than others. Ironically, those individuals tend to be more pessimistic about their very chances of changing. Indeed, neurotic, introverted and insecure people are more likely to change, whereas highly adjusted and resilient individuals are less changeable. Likewise, optimism breeds overconfidence and hinders change by perpetuating false hopes and unrealistic expectations.

So, how can we change? The recipe for self-change is fairly straightforward — it is just hard to implement. In order to change, we need to start by building self-awareness, which is best achieved by obtaining (and believing) honest and critical feedback from others. Next, we must come up with a realistic strategy that focuses on attainable goals, such as changing a few specific behaviors (e.g., more eye contact, less shouting, more smiling, etc.) rather than substantial aspects of our personality (e.g., interpersonal sensitivity, empathy, and sociability). Finally, we will need an enormous amount of effort and dedication in order to both attain and maintain any desired changes — or we will quickly revert to our old habits. In short, change requires self-critical insight, humble goals, and indefatigable persistence. It means going against our nature and demands extraordinary levels of willpower.

So think carefully before you promise to change. And if you have tried to change and failed — well, you’ve got lots of company.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
 
 
A company’s culture can have a powerful impact on its performance. Culture is the glue that binds an organization together and it’s the hardest thing for competitors to copy. As a result, it can be a lasting source of competitive advantage. Take these examples: 

  • Kent Thiry builds a values-focused culture at DaVita and transforms the company from a laggard to the world’s leading provider of kidney dialysis services
  • Alan Mulally creates a “working–together” spirit at Ford Motor Company that focuses and re-energizes the automaker, reversing a decades-long slide in market share
  • Herb Kelleher fosters a culture of employee empowerment and cost containment at Southwest, enabling the airline to become one of the world’s most admired and profitable carriers
  • Steve Jobs builds a challenging culture at Apple — one where ”reality is suspended” and ”anything is possible”’ — and the company becomes the most valuable on the planet 
But culture doesn’t always produce great results. In fact, when my colleagues at Bain & Company surveyed more than 400 senior executives from large, global companies last year, they found that fewer than one in four felt that culture was very effective in supporting business performance at their company. The majority felt that their organization’s culture was largely disconnected from what it took to win.

Why this disconnect? In our experience, too many companies think of culture as a way to make people feel good about where they work and not as a way to help employees — hence the organization — perform better. High-performing companies think about culture differently. They know that winning cultures aren’t just about affiliation; they are also unashamedly about results.

Our research suggests that winning cultures are comprised of two interrelated and reinforcing elements. First, every high-performing company has a unique identity — distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other organizations. These characteristics give employees a sense of meaning just from being part of the company. They also create passion for what the company does.

Southwest Airlines is the classic example. Under Herb Kelleher’s leadership, the company became known for its sense of humor, irreverence, and focus on the employee. This unique identity not only made flying Southwest fun for passengers, it made its labor force more productive. Flight attendants, not cleaning crews, cleaned aircraft between flights, reducing time at the gate and improving on-time performance. Maintenance workers routinely devised better ways to maintain Southwest’s fleet of 737 aircrafts, lowering costs and improving up-time. The company’s unique identity reinforced many of the elements that were critical to Southwest’s strategy, such as keeping costs low. As a result, Southwest is the world’s largest low-cost carrier and is consistently among the most profitable airlines in the world.

Culture is more than just a unique identity, however. The best performing companies typically display a set of performance attributes that align with the company’s strategy and reinforce the right employee behaviors.  Our research revealed seven of these:

  1. Honest. There is high integrity in all interactions, with employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders;
  2. Performance-focused. Rewards, development, and other talent-management practices are in sync with the underlying drivers of performance;
  3. Accountable and owner-like. Roles, responsibilities, and authority all reinforce ownership over work and results;
  4. Collaborative. There’s a recognition that the best ideas come from the exchange and sharing of ideas between individuals and teams;
  5. Agile and adaptive. The organization is able to turn on a dime when necessary and adapt to changes in the external environment;
  6. Innovative. Employees push the envelope in terms of new ways of thinking; and
  7. Oriented toward winning. There is strong ambition focused on objective measures of success, either versus the competition or against some absolute standard of excellence.
Few organizations exhibit all seven of these attributes. But high-performing organizations typically spike on the three or four that are most critical to their success.

Take Ford Motor Company. When Alan Mulally became CEO at Ford in 2006, the company operated in regional silos. As a result, the Ford Focus in Europe was different from the Ford Focus in the Americas. The company had too many brands, too many platforms, too many disparate parts, too many suppliers, and so on. To turn the automaker around, Mulally focused on building One Ford — a leadership model based on collaboration, innovation, and a desire to win (again). With time, leaders at the automaker started working together to simplify and streamline the company globally. They rationalized brands, consolidated automotive platforms, made options and parts more common and designs more innovative. In just three years, Ford went from losing share and money to gaining share and making money.

Culture plays a vital role in performance. Winning cultures treat performance as an explicit output and foster an environment that is conducive to generating the best possible results — not just for employees, but for customers, suppliers, and, yes, even shareholders.

by Michael C. Mankins 
 
 
Exercise Good Meeting Hygiene 

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings! Don't contribute to the dread. Next time you need to gather people together to advance your project, make sure you do the following to make your meeting worthwhile:

  • Make sure it's necessary. Before sending out the invite, ask yourself whether there's another way to move the project forward. Can you get input via e-mail? Can you gather a sub-group to solve the current issue?
  • Be clear about the objective. State the purpose of the meeting in the invite and again at the beginning of the meeting. Be sure to explain how the meeting will advance the overall project goals.
  • Focus. Just because you have an hour scheduled, don't take it. Keep the discussion centered and avoid unnecessary side conversations.

Adapted from Guide to Project Management.

 
 
Your firm's employees work hard (well, most of them). And in a world where corporations like to boast about running "lean and mean," it may seem nearly impossible to compensate employees for doing good work without breaking the budget.

The good news? You don't have to. A January 2007 survey by staffing firmAccountemps found that “frequent recognition of accomplishments” was the top non-monetary compensation named by full- and part-time office workers, with “regular communication” coming in at No. 2. Both activities can make your staff more productive without shaving one millimeter off your bottom line.

We talked to management consultants, HR pros, career coaches, book authors and bosses from a range of industries to glean the 25 best ways to reward employees without breaking the bank. Here's their hard-earned advice.

1. Flex those hours. If there's one free reward that rises above the rest, it's flexible work schedules. Nearly every expert we contacted suggested flex time as a perk that offers the most gain with the least pain. 

“Give a little latitude in determining work schedules and to take time for family or personal issues (such as doctor’s appointment and banking errands),” advised Richard Martin, president of Alcera Consulting Inc. “As long as the employee is deserving and doesn’t abuse the privilege, this can go a long way to building trusting and mature relationships with key workers.”

2. Send a handwritten note. Supervisors should ask top brass to write a personal note to employees who deserve recognition, advised Cindy Ventrice, author of "Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works." For example, AdvancedMD CEO Jim Pack handwrites his thank-you notes to employees on a $2 bill. “In three years of doing this, only one employee has asked if he could spend it,” said company spokesman John Pilmer.

3. Make work fun. “During a business coaching engagement, I found employee morale to be way down,” said Terri Levine, president of The Coaching Institute. “We created a weekly event to boost morale. One week we asked everyone to bring in a baby picture, post it on a wall, then pick which person matched each picture. Everyone was having fun and socializing while productivity went from 58 percent to 72 percent — all in the same week.”

4. Help them connect. Introducing employees to key suppliers, customers or someone in senior management can help make an employee's career, says Ventrice — and it won't cost you a thing.

5. Lose the shoes.
 Kaerie Ray, an account executive with the Echo Media Group public relations firm, said implementing a “no-shoes policy” can make employees feel right at home with each other, which translates into increased productivity. (But she suggests keeping the footwear handy in case clients come in.) “It's great to be in an office where employees are more concerned about doing quality work than what shoes or jewelry they have on,” she said. “We get so much done.”

6. Send them to the showers.
 (As in parties, not lathering and rinsing.) “Every birth and wedding deserves a shower,” said Ray. “Echo employees always leave early on shower days, and the food is on the house. No need to make up the time.”

7. Reward effort as well as success. Even if their ideas sometimes fail, you want employees to keep producing them, said Alan Weiss, president of the Summit Consulting Group Inc. “When I consulted with the CEO of Calgon, we created an annual award for 'the best idea that didn't work' and presented a loving cup at the annual awards dinner. This stimulated innovation and positive behavior, not 'winning.'”

8. Give them a free pass. Levine suggests giving out a certain number of free days off to employees to use as they see fit. “Employees get a few of these a year and can use them as they like,” she said. “They don't have to pretend to be sick. They can go to the beach, read a book, play with their kids ... it doesn't matter.”

9. Dole out cream and sugar. During the busiest times of the year, executives at the Cigna Group push coffee carts around the office, serving drinks and refreshments to their colleagues, noted Steve Harrison, author of "The Manager's Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies." As they serve, executives coach and encourage colleagues and hear about real consumer issues.

10. Blow out the candles. Cisco Systems Inc.'s CEO John Chambers hosts a monthly hour-long birthday breakfast for any employee with a birthday that month, says Harrison. “Employees are invited to ask him anything. They feel recognized, and he gains loyal employees who share their ideas.”

11. Spread the love. Ask co-workers to write something they truly like or admire about an employee on a scrap of paper, then frame them along with a photograph of the employee, suggested David Russell, author of "Success With People – A Complete System for Effectively Managing People in Any Organization." 

12. Offer a swap. Giving your best employees a chance to pick their own projects or trade tasks with a colleague empowers and rewards them at the same time, said Harrison.

13. Applaud their efforts — literally. If someone has done something really worthwhile, have your entire staff give them a standing ovation at the next meeting, suggested Sharlyn Lauby, president of HR consulting firm ITM Group Inc.

14. Say it with flowers. 
Professor Linda M. Lopeke, principal ofSmartStartCoach.com, sayid she used to reward top employees by bringing in flowers from her garden and arranging them in a spectacular crystal vase on their desks. “Everybody knew what having the custody of the flowers meant,” she said. “Surprisingly, even the men competed fiercely for custody of the flowers.” In the winter, she'd substitute a showpiece display of floating glass fish.

15. Walk it as you talk it. The City of Dallas sponsored a walkathon where employees set goals for walking a certain number of steps each day, offering a free gym membership to those who walked the farthest. Not only did they get more fit, they turned their daily walks into traveling staff meetings, says city spokeswoman Danielle McCelland.

“Group members were able to update one another on projects, solicit team input and improve their fitness,” she said. “The organized program ended after three weeks, but the work group still holds their traveling staff meetings two months later.”

16. Pass the bucks. Handing out monopoly money that can be redeemed for gifts and other goodies may not be strictly free, but it pays off handsomely in the long run. For example, associates at BankAtlantic can pass out “WOW! Bucks” to colleagues who've done something outstanding, said bank vice president Gregory Dalmotte. The bucks can eventually be traded in for real goods. “There's a clear correlation that words of encouragement have created associates who perform at a higher level,” he says.

17. Share the memories. “My team created a scrapbook chronicling the impact I'd had on their company and gave it to me on my last day in the office,” said Lopeke. “People who’d worked on my teams wrote testimonials and creative graphics highlighting some our team successes. It's the best gift I ever received in my 40-year career.”

18. Elect them to the Wall of Fame. Several experts suggested setting aside a public space inside your firm and placing photos of employees who've accomplished something truly special, along with the details of what they did to earn their place on the wall.

19. Create your own "Club Med." 
Set aside a quiet space or unused office in your building where employees can meditate, chill out, nap or otherwise re-center themselves, said John Putzier, author of "Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work." 

20. Stoke their passion. “Great employees are not mercenaries,” said Dr. Richard Chang, CEO of Richard Chang Associates Inc., a performance-improvement consultancy. “They don’t just want to enjoy their work, they want to be passionate about it ... if you want your employees to feel valued and inspire their passion on your behalf, encourage them to make their own decisions. You can have systems in place to control the implementation of ideas, but you must be certain not to compromise the enthusiasm, creativity and hard work that make them possible in the first place.”

21. Give them a place to park it.
 Reserve the best parking spot for employees who've done something truly worthwhile, said Lopeke. And if it's next to the CEO's Lexus so the employee can chat him or her up on the way into work, so much the better.

22. Remember the spouses.
 Independent management consultant Nan Amish recalled one time when she had 16 employees trapped in a hotel lobby on a Sunday night, waiting for the ballroom to open so they could set up a trade-show booth. “I bought flowers at a farmers market, a nice $6 bouquet of roses for each person,” she said. “I told them to take them home to their significant others, apologizing for me taking them away from their families on a Sunday. The next day I got thank-yous from most of them. One wife sent a letter saying I could keep her husband until Friday.”

23. Publicize their successes. “We like to publicly recognize employees so the whole company can share in their accomplishments,” noted Scott Ragusa, president of contract businesses for staffing firm The Winter, Wyman Companies. “Each week, nominations for our quarterly 'Clutch' award are shared with the whole company. The Clutch nominations are a way to recognize our administrative and nonmanagerial professional staff members who have come through in the clutch in supporting their departments or the firm.”

24. Let them phone it in. Telecommuting programs can relieve stress and make workers feel more appreciated, as well as more productive. “Reward the employee by starting with one day of telecommuting, then add additional days as performance heightens,” suggested Brian Margarita, president of IT staffing firm TalentFuse Inc. “Having the option to cart the kids to soccer practice, visit the beach during the afternoon or cut out early to avoid traffic congestion is becoming more important than working an 80-hour week for a larger paycheck.”

25. Remember the secret words. “The two most underused words in corporate America that get the highest ROI (return on investment) and ROT (return on your time) are the simple words 'thank you,'” noted Michael Guld, president of the Guld Resource Group author of "The Million Dollar Media Rep: How to Become a Television and Radio Sales Superstar." 

While telling your employees you appreciate them should be obvious, added Amish, no one does it enough or is specific enough about what the employee did. “So when you share your appreciation, be specific about what you really liked, so they not only feel appreciated but can do it again.” 

By Dan Tynan

25 Ways to Reward Employees (Without Spending a Dime)
 
 
When people feel connected to you, even difficult conversations feel less threating. Here are three tips to forge stronger bonds with your employees:

  • Relate whenever you can. View every interaction as an opportunity to get to know someone a little better. Make a habit of asking employees one question about their work or their personal lives each time you encounter them.
  • Take note of subtleties. People seek emotional connection through countless small “bids” for attention—questions, gestures, or looks. Take stock of how much you notice these cues . You might also solicit some feedback from friends and family on how well you listen and respond to social cues in general.
  • Regularly express appreciation. Research shows that the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1 in a successful relationship. You don’t need to pay someone five compliments before offering criticism, but do be mindful of the ratio.
 

Human Resources

12/12/2013

 
Learning styles are various approaches to ways of learning. They involve different methods which allow individuals to learn best. Most people prefer an identifiable method of interacting with, taking in, and processing information.

There are three different learning styles:

1. Visual Learners

  • Learns best through seeing them.
  • Benefits from illustrations & presentations in color.
  • Takes notes and needs to see things in writing.

2. Auditory Learners

  • Learns things best through sounds.
  • Acquires knowledge by reading things aloud.
  • Sits where they can hear but doesn't need to pay attention to what is happening.

3.. Kinesthetic Learners

  • Learns things best by performing them.
  • Communicates by touching, such as a pat on the back.
  • Needs to be active and take frequent breaks.
 

Human Resources

12/05/2013

 
Use a Performance Improvement Plan when you have identified a performance problem and are looking for ways to improve the performance of an employee.