Friday, June 17, 2011

Negotiating Your Next Raise

Asking for a raise doesn't come naturally to many of us, especially us women. Men initiate pay negotiations about four times as often as women, and women sacrifice on average half a million to $1.5 million in pay over the course of their careers by failing to negotiate, according to author and researcher Linda Babcock.

Handling the potentially awkward conversation about a raise is an acquired skill, but one well worth having. This is, after all, your livelihood we're talking about. So we've called in an expert with over 25 years of experience: Amy Lynch, the Vice President of Human Resources for Startek, successful woman and HR professional. Her advice? First, know your reasons for asking. Second, find the right time. And third, prepare for the conversation, and go for it.

Know why you're asking

Your request for a raise should be grounded in an inequity you see between your job and your pay. This can mean a variety of things: Maybe you learn that your co-workers—or competitors—with the same job are making considerably more than you are. Maybe you've been taking on more projects or greater responsibilities at work, but have not seen any increase in your paycheck. Or maybe it's been an exceptionally long time since your last raise.

If you've been offered a higher-paying job at a new company but are happy where you are, you're in a particularly good situation. "When this happens," says Lynch, "it's a great time to ask for a raise. You have nothing to lose and a lot to bring to the bargaining table."

But if you can't point to any inequity you shouldn't be asking in the first place. Timing is everything—don't jump the gun asking for a raise, particularly your first one.

Schedule a meeting

When you're ready to ask, Lynch advises you set up a specific meeting to discuss your career, and bring it up there. Annual reviews can be a good time to schedule that meeting, but if you're new to a job, the timing should depend more on how long you've been there than when the annual review falls.

How early is too early? Three months is definitely too soon. "You negotiate your salary when you're offered the job, so asking for a raise three months in shows you didn't negotiate properly or do your homework when you were first hired," says Lynch. "A year is usually a good time, but nine months would be ok–especially if you have a hot job or skills that are in high demand."

Be ready

Before the meeting, do your homework. Research salary ranges for your job online and among your friends and colleagues to find out what is reasonable. These figures will ultimately strengthen your case for a raise in the conversation with your boss. Lynch recommends using any online compensation analyst or salary comparison site. Your industry's local organization can be a valuable resource, too.

Next, practice makes perfect: rehearse. Rehearsing the conversation will help you get everything out that you want to say. You'll be more relaxed and less likely to trip over your words.

During the conversation, be polite but direct. Lynch advises that you ultimately focus on your career trajectory rather than just the money. You can start the conversation with, "I love what I am doing here and it would be great to know what my options are for the future." Next, use your research. Don't be afraid to cite what you've learned about competitive salaries. "I have done some research for my job in this market and I found that the typical salary range is $45,000-50,000, but I am receiving $42,000 for this work." Finally, you may name your target amount—"I would like a $5,000 raise"—but you should never name a range. By being direct, you provide your employer the opportunity to counter, for example, by offering you a different amount.

What happens if your boss says no? Don't get embarrassed or upset—you had every right to ask. Your boss should provide a reason why, but if not you can ask, "Help me understand why?", says Lynch. Ultimately you want to end the conversation on a positive note. Even if you don't receive the raise, you can ask, "What can I expect for this role going forward?" This provides your employer the opportunity to tell you if a raise could be in your future, and enables you to leave the conversation with a better sense of where your role is headed.

Thanks to Pretty Young Professional


Why Cross-Cultural Training Could Be A Waste Of Money

I'm amazed how often we default to seminars, conferences, and training as if they're the panacea to all things cross-cultural.
  • Our sales people are struggling with how to negotiate effectively in China: "Let's hire someone to train them about China."
  • Our personnel don't know how to accept people from other faiths: "Let's offer a workshop about respecting religious differences"
  • Our teachers don't know how to deal with diverse classroom: "Our next in-service day should focus on this topic."

You get the idea. And as one who does a fair amount of this kind of speaking and teaching, I could be shooting myself in the foot here. I see great value in education—both formal and informal; but I'm not convinced one-off training events do a whole lot to change the way we work across borders—at home or abroad.

In fact, the research shows that in some cases, training by itself, even if done well, could actually be counterproductive. Individuals may have had just enough training to think "I'm good to go. I 'get' those people."

I wish I could tell you in good conscience that bringing in an expert for a day is all it takes. I certainly think speakers, workshops, and books can play a part in both enhancing awareness and offering some practical tools for how to respectfully and effectively work with people and organizations from different cultures. But as with any systemic change, improving the way we do so requires a long-term strategic process.

Some of the things to include in a long-term approach to becoming more effective across borders include:

1. Assess the cross-border effectiveness of the organization as a whole.
Some questions to begin with are:

  • What's our level of success working internationally and/or across different ethnic cultures domestically?
  • What's the level of satisfaction from personnel and clients/constituents who come from different cultural backgrounds?
  • To what degree do cultural differences inform our strategic decisions?
  • What's our plan for retaining our core identity/brand while also adapting to various cultures?

2. Assess the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) of Key Personnel
Cultural intelligence. CQ. is a globally recognized way of assessing and developing an individual's cross-cultural effectiveness. Begin assessing the CQ of strategic leaders in the organization and associates who have the most interaction with culturally diverse contexts. Then eventually develop CQ assessment into the regular HR processes. Effective assessment requires attending to the four research-based capabilities of cultural intelligence:

  • CQ Drive: What's my level of motivation for cross-cultural assignments?
  • CQ Knowledge: What's my level of cultural understanding?
  • CQ Strategy: How well can I plan for doing the same task in different cultural contexts?
  • CQ Action: Can I effectively adapt to various cultural situations and still be myself?

You can find more information about CQ assessments at

3. Create a Developmental Plan for Improving Cultural Intelligence
Don't put everyone through the same one-size fits all cross-cultural training plan. Some have plenty of knowledge but not a lot of motivation. Others are very motivated but aren't quite sure how to translate that into effective behavior. Empower your team to develop personalized plans for developing their CQ based upon their CQ strengths and weaknesses.

Bringing in speakers, offering workshops, and distributing books to offer a common language and vision can be very helpful within this context. However, education and training fit within a larger plan; whenever possible, provide personnel with individualized coaching to help them in this process.

4. Integrate global effectiveness into the Strategic Plan
Rather than simply relegating cross-border effectiveness to the "international sales" division or to the "diversity and inclusion officer," make it part of the overall strategic plan for the organization.

  • How does culture need to inform the way R&D do their work?
  • How does a globally dispersed workforce and/or clientele need to shape the way IS develop their processes?
  • How will the targets identified at the C-suite level be informed by cross-border issues?

I'm only scratching the surface here. More often than not, training should be part of the mix in improving the way we work and relate across borders. I'm simply cautioning us against seeing training as the panacea to all things cross-cultural.

Increase the return on investment you get from your training dollars by using it within a more holistic, sustainable plan. Then know that your lecture series and lunch n' learn sessions are not the end-all but simply another important piece of how you can effectively embark on the challenges and opportunities of today's globalized world!

To learn more about Cultural Intelligence—a research based way to predict cross-cultural effectiveness—see The Cultural Intelligence Difference (AMACOM, 2011). The book is packed with dozens of strategies proven to increase your CQ and includes access to the only academically tested CQ assessment in the world.

About the Author(s):- David Livermore, PhD, is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, MI, and a visiting scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He's written several books on global leadership and cultural intelligence including Leading with Cultural Intelligence and his newest release, The Cultural Intelligence Difference. For more information, visit:

Thanks to David Livermore, PhD / AMA—American Management Association

How Great Leadership Traits Can Squelch Employee Commitment

Three leadership capabilities—strategic vision, supreme confidence and top-notch communication skills—go unquestioned as ones necessary to become the business world's next Jack Welch. However, this troika of traits actually can be toxic for business leaders.
Leadership books abound these days, imploring managers to be agile, set stretch goals and focus on execution. Three leadership capabilities—strategic vision, supreme confidence and top-notch communication skills—go unquestioned as ones necessary to become the business world's next Jack Welch.

Yet our experience in coaching leaders during the past 20 years actually shows that this troika of traits actually can be toxic for business leaders. When a CEO, business unit general manager or a functional head wants employees to embrace and adopt a new strategy, those who take their vision, confidence and communication skills to an excess can actually erode the commitment of their people.

How can that be? Doesn't every great leader have to know exactly where his organization needs to go, exude assurance that he will get them there, and eloquently explain the destiny and the path? Not if he wants employees—from his senior leadership team to the frontline worker—to pull out all the stops in making the strategy work.

By the way, rest assured that leaders increasingly need their people to go beyond the call of duty these days in implementing new strategies. Initiatives to improve operational efficiency, increase organic growth and achieve other key goals are increasingly complex and have shorter time windows to hit.

To understand why these three leadership traits can be damaging to securing employee commitment requires dividing leaders' job of gaining commitment into two categories: issues of content and context.

Every leader of a large-scale strategic initiative must sell his followers on the plan itself—what we call the content of the strategy. There are two basic content issues for leaders: demonstrating to employees that the plan is valid (that it is necessary and the right plan) and communicating the plan in language and concepts they understand (in other words, having clarity).

If employees don't feel the plan is valid or don't understand it (and therefore can't determine whether it is valid), they will not commit themselves to implementing it. That doesn't mean they won't appear to commit themselves. They will, in fact, nod in agreement when leaders tell them the plan is critical, and they will outwardly accept their responsibilities for executing it.

But even if the plan appears valid and clear, if leaders don't address the context issues employees won't embrace their duties. The context issues are the perceptions of those who must implement the strategy—their views about leaders themselves. Four fundamental perceptions set the context: leaders' credibility and sincerity; their courage to raise and address difficult problems and make difficult decisions; their competence in creating and executing the strategy; and their care and concern for those who will be affected by it.

Most leaders believe that getting the content issues of the strategy right is all that's required. Hence, they ignore the context issues. However, if employees have doubts about the honesty of their leaders, they will question just about anything they say about a new strategy—the need for it, how it must be done, when it must be accomplished, etc.

Employees also won't get behind leaders whose courage and resolve they question. By this we mean the leader's willingness to address the problems that will confront a new strategy and to make tough decisions (like removing people who are roadblocks).

If employees believe their leaders are courageous but not competent, they too won't get behind the strategy. That's because they won't believe that management will make the right decisions. And employees who question whether leaders care about them will ask themselves, "Is it worth it?" and "What's in it for me?"
Leaders who possess a grand vision for their strategies tend to make the development of the strategy an exclusive process, often blocking out key members of the top management team. When the strategy is wrapped up and handed to other management team members (and people below them) in a pretty box and bow, they will wonder what's ticking inside.

The CEO of a $1 billion company felt his HR, IT, finance and legal department heads had little to offer in developing the firm's strategy. Instead, he brought in five business unit heads to create the plan. This came back to haunt him.

The failure to get the support functions involved upfront resulted in their dropping the ball when it came time to implement the plan. They had neither the understanding of nor commitment to the plan that was necessary for it to be adopted rapidly. Rather than speed up the whole process by excluding the support functions from it, the CEO's exclusionary habits actually slowed down the organization's adoption of his strategy by a factor of two.

Contrast that with the style of Dave Mezzanotte, chief operating officer of CHEP. In 2004, to get his $3 billion pallet and container leasing company to implement a strategy of operational excellence, he purposefully included a broad range of managers up and down the organization in determining how to make the company's sprawling operations more efficient. Mezzanotte never told them he had the grand plan. Instead, he explained that he needed their help in coming up with it.

"It's foolish for any CEO to think he or she has all the answers," he says. "Increasingly, business leaders have to use the knowledge of the entire company to set a good direction—and make midcourse adjustments to it."

Two years later, CHEP's operating and financial improvements have been remarkable, including a 15 percent increase in return on capital (to 25 percent), and a $220 million increase in free cash flow.

The leadership trait of supreme confidence can worsen how employees perceive their leaders' sincerity, competence and courage. Leaders who exude confidence at all times tend to minimize problems or discourage them from being discussed (often unconsciously).

When he is convinced that every aspect of the strategy is correct, the leader sends off signals that he isn't open to feedback or criticism. Employees thus correctly believe that their leaders will dismiss problems that occur in implementing the strategy or fail to adjust it. That brings leaders' competence into question: Will they make the right decisions? Leaders who wear their confidence on their sleeves are not likely to make corrections to their strategy for fear it will reflect poorly on the original plan.

The CEO of a large services company displayed supreme confidence in just about every employee interaction he had, which had the effect of making him virtually unapproachable—particularly when he was wrong. When he unleashed a major initiative on his executive team to increase revenue and cut costs, their real commitment (i.e., what they say behind his back) was nearly zero. The initiative did not reach its goals.

Finally, leaders who are brilliant communicators can find their oratory and writing skills a commitment barrier as well. The more scripted and polished their communication is, the more those troops will wonder about what's not being said, especially about the impact on them. Authentic—not slick—communication commands the attention and respect of employees.

A large financial institution's cultural change initiative shows what happens when communications get too fancy. The company spent a million dollars on videos, banners, brochures, posters and town hall meetings to change the firm's culture. Everything was scripted for the CEO, who merely lent his name to the effort.

Big Mistake!

The executive team and managers levels below it were turned off by all the packaging and no live, direct words from the CEO. Not until the CEO took hold of the campaign and made it his own, including articulating the culture values he wanted the firm to uphold and talking directly with his management team, did his employees put stock in it.

In 2003, the way Steve Linehan, head of treasury operations at financial services giant Capital One Financial Corp., got his beleaguered staff to get behind a two-year plan to significantly improve treasury performance was to speak plainly about the challenging working conditions within the group and take meaningful actions to improve them. His associates were far less concerned about the way he expressed his plan—and far more concerned that he recognized and understood their issues.

"People in this business are way too smart for corporate-speak," Linehan says. "They want honest, from-the-gut answers. You'll lose them with anything else."

During the next 12 months, his function's environment and performance improved dramatically. Associates worked hard to "fortify funding," one key area of focus. They bolstered processes and risk management controls and worked closely with external investor groups. All this helped Capital One achieve an upgraded investment rating and significantly decrease cash management costs.

Grand vision, great confidence and eloquent communication skills are certainly leadership traits to admire. But in times when a company or a business function within it must change course dramatically, leaders who take those traits to excessive ends will find few employees who will truly get on board.

Letting the management team (and even workers below) help craft the vision, admitting that one doesn't have all the answers, and speaking genuinely will go much farther in getting employees to embrace and adopt the strategy.

Thanks to Gershon Mader and Josh Leibner / Crain Communications Inc. / Workforce Management


Adding It Up: Research Shows How Early Math Lessons Change Children's Brains

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have demonstrated that a single year of math lessons is associated with unexpectedly big changes in the brain's approach to problem solving and that these changes can be seen in the brain scans of second- and third-graders.

The latest findings are part of the ongoing effort by Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurology and neurological sciences, to understand how children develop problem-solving skills in order to find better methods of teaching those who struggle with numbers.

His latest study, published online May 18 in the journal Neuroimage, is the first to ask how one year of early math lessons changes brain function. After third grade, tackling arithmetic problems engages striking new patterns of neural communication between brain regions involved in numerical thinking and those involved in working memory, the research showed.

"The surprise is that you would see significant changes within one year," said Menon, senior author of the study. The findings were surprising in part because the study tracked changes over a one-year interval between second and third grades, rather than examining developmental changes between children and adolescents or adults, Menon said. "In spite of many individual differences, a year of schooling does have, on the average, a major impact on brain function and skill," he said.

The study reveals that the way the brain is activated is different from one year to the next. "The brain regions haven't changed — it's the way they respond to simple and to complex arithmetic tasks that have changed," Menon said. "Doing this type of developmental research allows us to examine the neural basis of skill acquisition much more precisely."

Knowing that the brain changes so much — and understanding how it changes — provides a foundation for addressing children's problems with math learning, Menon said. His lab is currently conducting studies of math anxiety, math abilities in children with autism, math learning disabilities and intensive math tutoring.

The new findings build on another recent study from the Menon lab, published April 25 in Developmental Science, that explored how children's brains change as they adopt a more sophisticated strategy for solving arithmetic problems. That study divided second- and third-graders into groups according to the method they used to solve problems — counting on their fingers vs. retrieving facts from memory — and compared the brains of the children using the different approaches.

"We want to know how brain activity patterns change as children acquire more math proficiency and deeper knowledge," Menon said. It is particularly important to look at small time intervals, such as the one-year interval of schooling his team examined, because prior research that compared children with adults inevitably missed many details of the developmental changes that take place as the brain matures.

The newest study examined 90 children recruited from a variety of schools. Half had just completed second grade; the other half had just completed third grade. All children had normal intelligence and had math reasoning scores between the 25th and 98th percentile. On average, the third-graders were one year older than the second-graders and had significantly better math-reasoning skills.

The children took standardized tests of their math abilities, reading abilities and working memory. They then had their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they did four tasks: complex addition, simple addition and two control tests. Complex addition used problems where one number in the sum ranged from 2 to 9 and the other ranged from 2 to 5 (such as 7+2=9). Simple addition used problems where one number was 1 (e.g. 5+1=7). Children were asked to indicate whether the sums they saw in the scanner were correct or incorrect.

The scientists found that children in third grade showed much more differentiated brain responses between complex and simple problems. They found significant change in the responses of two key regions of the brain to the different types of addition problems.Greater responses to complex addition problems were seen in third-graders' brains in both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area responsible for manipulating information in working memory, and in the intraparietal sulcus, a posterior brain region essential for representing numerical quantity.

The study also points to greater cross-talk along pathways that integrate information between these regions and facilitate more efficient numerical problem solving over that one-year period. "Our study informs us about the anatomical regions and functional pathways where the plasticity is greatest," Menon said.

The findings could eventually be applied to help develop better methods of learning, and as a foundation for remediating skills in the brains of children with math-related learning disabilities, such as dyscalculia. The ability to intervene with math difficulties early in a child's school years could greatly help those who might otherwise not be able to pursue career paths that require math skills.

Menon's collaborators at Stanford were postdoctoral scholar Miriam Rosenberg-Lee, PhD, and research assistant Maria Barth.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Information about the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which also supported the work, is available at

Thanks to Erin Digitale / Standford School Of Medicine



Pioneering Stanford Study Shows How Children's Brain Signaling Differs From Adults

STANFORD, Calif. — The first-ever comparison of synchronization of brain signals in children and young adults helps explain why children are less adept at multitasking, emotion regulation and other behaviors that come with maturity, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study, published July 21 in PLoS-Biology, offers unexpected insights into how the brain matures. It also lays the groundwork for understanding neurodevelopmental problems such as autism and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

"We were surprised to see that by the age of 7 to 9, the brain's overall basic architecture is already so well-formed," said senior study author Vinod Menon, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neuroscience. His team demonstrated that school-aged children's brain traffic is already organized along a general, efficient and fault-tolerant network plan found in adults' brains. Their findings also uncovered new information about how signaling develops between distant brain regions.

Marsel Mesulam, MD, a professor of neurology, psychiatry and psychology at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, called the results "exciting." The findings, he said, "provide entirely new ways of thinking about how brain connections become remodeled as children become adolescents and adults." He noted that no one had previously compared the functional integration between different regions of the gray matter in children and adults. "This work will be able to frame and guide our thinking on these issues for many years to come," he said.

Earlier studies showed that in adult brains, neural signals are synchronized in a way that resembles a small-world network, Menon said. In these networks, each part of the brain is connected to nearby brain regions by lots of short, local fibers, similar to city streets. Distant brain regions are linked by a few large "highways" of connections. The connections meet at many hubs, or intersections, and signals are efficiently transmitted along the shortest path to their destinations. This organization allows detailed communication in local, specialized parts of the brain, and efficient signaling between regions.

By measuring changes in brain structure during development, scientists had previously deduced that the immature brain has excess connections that are selectively pruned away as it matures. "This structure reduces the wiring cost for communicating signals between different parts of the brain," said Kaustubh Supekar, a graduate student in biomedical informatics who is the paper's first author.

However, no one had examined the functional development of the brain's communication networks. Adults often draw on many brain regions simultaneously. Menon and his colleagues wondered if children's brains make the same synchronous functional connections.

To watch brain networks interact with their near and distant neighbors in real time, the team used two kinds of brain scans in 23 awake but resting children aged 7 to 9 and 22 young adults aged 19 to 22. Functional magnetic resonance imaging tracked neural activity, allowing the team to calculate an overall map of the organization of brain networks. Diffusion tensor imaging traced the anatomical pathways to help the team infer how the interaction of brain regions changes with wiring distance.

The brains of children showed stronger short-distance synchronization while adults had stronger long-distance synchronization. Adults also had stronger synchronization between multiple cortical regions responsible for complex information processing and decision-making. Children, in contrast, drew more upon links between the sub-cortex and various regions of the cortex. The findings help explain a wide range of prominent changes observed in children's behavior as they mature, Menon said.

"For instance, links between the paralimbic system, which governs emotional and motivational regulation, and the emotion-processing region in the limbic system get significantly stronger in young adults," Menon said. "We know that emotion regulation is one of the key functions that develops in late childhood and adolescence, and our findings provide a new approach for understanding this."

And the strengthened functional links between cortical regions could explain why adults are better than children at multitasking, said Mesulam. "There's that phrase, 'Think globally, act locally,'" he said. "It's that sort of distinction. In the immature brain, local processes dominate, and as the brain matures, it creates this ability to react globally."

The next step in the research, Menon said, will be to compare the brain signaling and synchronization in children with neurodevelopmental disorders to that of typically developing children. Such comparisons could eventually illuminate the origins of autism, ADHD and schizophrenia, for example.

Menon and Supekar collaborated with Mark Musen, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at the Center for Biomedical Informatics Research at Stanford. The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Thanks to Erin Digitale / Standford School Of Medicine


How Do We Decide? Inside The 'Frinky' Science Of The Mind

Michal Bortnik, a second-year MBA student, was one of 14 who had arrived on campus before the start of classes to attend Professor Baba Shiv's intensive week-long elective seminar on "The Frinky Science of the Human Mind." Bortnik, who had been a computer science major, had no particular interest in psychology or neuroscience; he was there for one reason: He'd heard that Shiv is "awesome." The award-winning teacher, an associate professor in the marketing area since 2005, didn't disappoint: In the first session alone, after instructing everyone to call him "Baba," he took apart a model of the human brain and gave a whirlwind tour of its emotional circuitry, presented the intellectual history of emotions in decision making, and managed to tie it all in with, among other things, emotional branding in Coke and Pepsi TV ads, Best Buy's problem with product returns, and Google's $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick. Throughout, Shiv wove in research results that he calls "frinky"—not a dictionary word but one his son made up to mean counterintuitive and funky. Case in point: The Shiv study that became fodder for a Jay Leno monologue.

The study, which aimed to see the effect of emotions on making simple investment decisions, examined how well healthy adults performed compared to patients with damage to the emotion-processing regions of the brain. The rules were simple: Participants each got $20 they could use to place $1 bets on 20 tosses of an ordinary coin. Each losing bet would cost $1, while each winning bet would earn $2.50. From a cool-headed distance, the right decision is a no-brainer: Given the payout and the odds of winning, of course you should bet every time. But anyone at all familiar with prospect theory in behavioral economics, developed by legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman of Princeton and the late Amos Tversky of Stanford as an alternative to theory on expected utility, knows that's not what most people actually do. Irrationally, we're risk averse, finding the pain of loss much greater than the pleasure of equivalent gain. And, sure enough, in Shiv's experiment the healthy participants passed up several chances to place a bet—and, as fear mounted with each subsequent coin toss, were less and less likely to take the gamble. As a result, they earned an average of only $22.80. A typical demonstration of loss aversion? Perhaps, but here's the frinky part: The Mr. Spock-like ("Vulcan") patients earned $25.70, on average, because they remained unswayed by the fear of loss throughout the game.

Enter Leno. "If you've been banging your head against the wall, frustrated with your investment returns," he advised on the Tonight Show, you should "keep banging your head against the wall." Bada-Bang, Bada-Boom. Needless to say, that won't work, even when you strip away the enormous complexity of real-world investment markets, as this study did. (Nonetheless, for good measure, Shiv and his colleagues — behavioral economist George Loewenstein and neuroscientists Antoine Bechara and Hanna and Antonio Damasio — also had tested patients with other forms of brain damage and found that their performance was about the same as for normal individuals. In other words, blunted emotions are the key.)

But this research doesn't simply confirm what philosophers from Plato through Descartes and beyond have said about emotions as the enemy of reason. In fact, in the complex world outside the lab, people with impaired emotional circuitry tend to be terrible decision makers. Without benefit of fear, regret, embarrassment, or other visceral cues to guide them, they careen from one poor choice to another, repeatedly failing to learn from their mistakes. What's more, as Antonio Damasio described in his book Descartes' Error (and as Malcolm Gladwell further popularized in Blink), these lesion patients are crippled by a bizarre—you might even say irrational—tendency to vacillate over the most trivial decisions, such as which appointment slot to take or which $15 gift (a wallet or a pen) to accept for participating in a study. They're a little like the proverbial ass who starved to death for failing to choose between two equally good stacks of hay. Compound all this poor decision making by the countless choices our lives demand and it's clear why life with severely impaired feelings doesn't work: Humans evolved emotions for good reason.

"The belief in the academic field is that emotions are essential to decision making, otherwise you'll end up making bad decisions," Shiv says. "But," he adds, explaining his huge contrarian streak, "I can show the opposite as well, that brain-damaged patients can make better decisions than normal individuals."

So what's going on—are emotions beneficial or detrimental to good decision making? There's no simple answer except, "It depends." But on what? In making choices, when is it better to think things through and when should you go with your gut? And given that we have both modes of decision making at our disposal, why do we sometimes give in to our impulses even when we know better, while other times we show more self-control?

These sorts of questions fascinate Shiv, a major player in the field of "decision neuroscience," the study of how the brain makes decisions. Since becoming interested in the role of emotions in decision making as a doctoral student at Duke, Shiv has sought out a variety of collaborators and just about every research tool available to probe the workings of the human mind as it makes decisions. His findings have not only offered clues to interesting theoretical questions but also given practical insights to marketers and consumers hungry for real-world applications.

Shiv came to Duke after a brief marketing and sales career in his native India, where he earned his MBA in consumer marketing. For his PhD thesis he studied advertising. But his focus gradually shifted, in part through the influence of his dissertation co-advisor Jim Bettman, a leader in the field of consumer decision making. By the time he got his PhD, Shiv was interested enough in decision making and the brain to take a job at the University of Iowa mainly on the strength of its neuroscience program.

Because of the rapid progress in neuroscience over the past decade or so, the field of decision making has boomed as well. "It used to be you could think of decision making as a separate kind of process: There was perception and there was decision making," explains Stanford psychology professor James McClelland, who heads the University's multidisciplinary Center for the Mind, Brain, and Computation. "But when you think of the neural mechanisms involved, the boundaries between them start to become more vague. When you open your eyes and you see an object and end up thinking it's a cup instead of a bowl, that's a neural process that ended up with one interpretation or another."

In that sense, all aspects of our daily lives involve constant decisions, whether or not we're aware we're making them. Do you put on a bicycle helmet before you hit the road? Do you opt for the salad over the cheeseburger in the cafeteria line? Even quick, often unconscious choices like these can have important consequences, which is one reason scientists studying everything from mental health and addiction to law and public policy are interested in decision neuroscience. And that's why Shiv and some of his colleagues find the term "neuroeconomics" too limiting, though it's been used to describe Shiv's work. "This research applies to all fields where people have to make decisions," says Bechara, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California.

One area of particular interest is the interplay between deliberate, analytical processes and the more primitive, visceral paths to a decision, and Shiv has been a pioneer in the growing understanding of these issues, says Bettman, a long-time marketing professor at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. "Baba did his empirical work early on, before it became a cottage industry as it is now," he says. "He was one of the first to come up with a nice empirical demonstration illustrating the tug between more automatic or emotion-driven or intuitive processes versus more thoughtful, cognitive processes—the immediate tug of the chocolate cake versus the cognitive tug of the salad."

Bettman is referring to a 1999 paper based on one of Shiv's characteristically elegant experiments. Shiv and his coauthor, Alexander Fedorikhin, showed that participants who had been asked to memorize a seven-digit number were much more likely to choose chocolate cake over fruit salad than those who'd been asked to memorize only a one-digit number. Carrying a lighter cognitive load, the one-digit group had more brain power left to resist the lure of the cake.

Shiv has done many such experiments, both in the lab and in more natural in-store settings. But when it comes to deeper questions about emotions, these experiments can take you only so far, Shiv says. For one thing, emotions are by nature fleeting. Not only that, but people have limited insight into their own feelings, so self-reports aren't a great measure. That's why Shiv has turned to neuroscience—both through his work with lesion patients and his use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, currently the most precise way of telling which brain regions are active moment to moment during a particular task. "With brain imaging, you can start to get a toehold into how emotions are influencing decision making," explains Stanford psychologist Brian Knutson, Shiv's most frequent collaborator on campus.

Not all psychologists are as comfortable with neuroscience research as Shiv is. Sometimes, says Bettman, "the thinking is, 'Oh my God, somebody's got to know how to run these machines, there's a whole different way of analyzing the data, there's all these brain regions,' et cetera. But Baba showed that you can work with people in these other disciplines and have partnerships where people bring different things." Shiv is working with scientists at CalTech, MIT, USC, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, and elsewhere—and spending any time with him makes it easy to see how he's attracted so many collaborators. In person, he has an upbeat, big-hearted, genuine way about him, like a favorite uncle who is always interested in your life and eager to talk about new, exciting ideas. "As academics we are many times looking at the negative things," says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT's Sloan School of Management and a close friend of Shiv's, "and we have to do it to some level, but many of us have taken it on as a hobby in addition to our work. And Baba …," he says, pausing to inflect his voice for contrast, "is full of enthusiasm, curiosity, and positivity." Ariely has identified what he calls a "Baba placebo," whereby Shiv's mere presence makes everything around him seem better.

The question of when you should go with your gut remains complicated, but Shiv has an answer, and it hinges on first figuring out your definition of a good decision. "An economist would say there's a normative answer and the closer you are to the normative answer, the better your decision," he begins. By "normative," he means not what normal people actually do, but what they should do if they made optimal choices. In the coin-toss study, for example, the normative answer is to keep investing because the expected value of investing is higher than of not investing. But what about more complex decisions, where each option has pros and cons that can't be quantified, let alone compared? Take the choice between buying a small house in a great neighborhood but with a long commute versus a larger house close to work but near a noisy freeway. "There's nothing normative about buying a house," says Shiv. And most real-world decisions are like that—from choosing between job offers to picking a life partner.

So what do you do when there's no normatively correct answer? Here, you must use a different yardstick: A good decision is one in which the decision maker is happy with the decision and will stay committed to the decision, Shiv says. And that's where emotions come in: They're mental shortcuts that help us resolve trade-off conflicts and, unlike the vacillating Vulcans who can't even decide between a pen or a wallet, happily commit to a decision. "When you feel a trade-off conflict, it just behooves you to focus on your gut."

This kind of analysis is typical of Shiv's approach. "If somebody is greedy, I want to know which part of the brain lights up and why it matters," he says. "How can I come up with an intervention that will change people's behavior?" But there's more.

"Many people in the field of decision making are interested in exploring the ways that people are irrational and some of the implications of this," says Ariely, who's written the forthcoming book Predictably Irrational that deals with precisely those themes. And Shiv is interested in irrationality too, but he also wants to know what's behind it. This deep interest in the underlying process, including what goes on at the brain level, sets him apart from many behavioral economists and others studying irrationality. As Ariely puts it, "Baba has a very high standard for 'Why?'—and is willing to do lots of experimental manipulations to understand the Why."

For example, Shiv worked with Ariely (and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD) on a series of studies that found a strange price-placebo effect: When participants bought an energy drink at a discount, they actually performed worse on a puzzle-solving task than participants who had paid full price for the same drink. "It turns out you end up becoming dumber if you buy the product at a discount," Shiv says. That's an astounding result in itself, and it also suggests the possibility that drugs bought at a discount, such as drugs from Canada or generic versions of brand-name medications, might be less effective even when they're otherwise identical. But what's behind this effect? The answer, it turns out, is our unconscious belief equating low price with low quality—a belief that works even though we know on some level that it's not always true. "So when you get a drink at a reduced price, global beliefs get involved without you being aware of it."

Though Shiv is interested in academic questions, he keeps his feet firmly on the ground. "He brings knowledge about which questions really matter to people in the business world," Knutson says.

In the "Frinky" seminar, Shiv discusses how decision research might reduce the rate of product returns, a problem that can be, for a chain like Best Buy, the difference between turning a profit and coming out in the red. The key question here is how to get customers not only to buy a product but to stick to that decision. Shiv's research suggests that product packaging that's harder to open lowers the return rate from 12 percent to 3 percent because taking time to open a product seems to increase the customer's commitment. To introduce this idea of perceived commitment, Shiv shares an anecdote from his own corporate career: He tells the class that salespeople at industrial equipment maker Caterpillar, where he worked as a sales engineer in the 1980s, were taught to ask clients to sign a pro forma invoice, a legally non-binding document that increases the chance the customer will eventually sign the real thing.

At the end of each day in the week-long seminar, Shiv asks his students to present ideas for monetizing that day's teachings. For example, Shiv's lesson about the value of gut instincts included the idea that quick impressions tend to be as reliable as judgments formed over a long time. So one group of students proposed a "speed-shopping" website to help customers make more satisfying clothing choices. The class liked the idea so much that Shiv offered to put the group in touch with Zappos, the online shoe retailer.

Kelly Sortino, Class of '08, who was part of that group and is pursuing a master's in education along with her MBA, sees a personal benefit from Shiv's teachings. "It seems relatively counterintuitive that complicated decisions would in fact be better served by gut reactions as opposed to logical deliberation," she says. "This has given me a slightly new take on the big decisions I need to make this year." Bortnik, her classmate who had started the seminar with no particular interest in psychology, agrees: "Relying more on my gut is going to save me a lot of time and guilt," he says. He's further along than he may realize: Choosing the seminar based on Shiv's reputation was as good a mental shortcut as any.

Thanks to Marina Krakovsky / Stanford Graduate School Of Business

Bad Facts Make Bad Law

The governing party in Washington may change but the tendency to pass new laws that place undue burdens on HR leaders never seems to change. The latest potential legislation would give unemployed workers rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

I've spent most of my career working in and around the nation's capital. I've seen the House, Senate and White House change party control many times, and the politics of the town get ever-more partisan.

But with all that has changed, one thing that hasn't is a pattern that repeats itself regularly. It's a pattern of events that leads up to enactment of a new law, regulations to implement the new law and employers scrambling to figure out how to comply with a new mandate they think is really unnecessary.

What's the pattern? Bad facts make bad law.

Here's what happens. Someone working for an employer has a bright idea that they think will save money or improve the company's competitive position. So they implement the idea, which turns out to be just plain stupid. (With apologies to my mother's memory, since she taught me it wasn't nice to call anyone stupid.)

When the public or special-interest groups find out about the stupid idea, they react negatively, and push for legislation to ensure that no other employer can ever have the same idea. In other words, they seek legislation to address the lowest common denominator -- and good employers that would never do anything so stupid are saddled with a new law guaranteeing this fact.

An example of this, in my mind, is federal legislation passed a few years ago that makes it illegal to discriminate in employment based on genetic information.

I've never met an HR professional who wanted to collect or know about someone's genetic information. The legislation was, in large part, precipitated by a railroad company that decided to conduct genetic tests on its employees without their informed consent, as a means of counteracting workers' compensation claims for job-related stress injuries.

Cost control is certainly a worthy goal, but use of genetic tests was also certainly a stupid idea.

This case, combined with progress being made on mapping the human genome, ultimately resulted in enactment of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The vote in favor was pretty one- sided. And employers didn't put up a big fight about it, because who really wants to say it's OK for employers to collect genetic information about their employees?

Employers did, however, voice concerns the bill would do little to rectify inconsistent state laws and might increase frivolous litigation and/or punitive damages as a result of ambiguous record-keeping and other technical requirements.

Bad facts, bad law.

But the purpose of this column isn't to revisit GINA. It's to suggest that HR leaders have an obligation to ensure that their employment practices don't lead to bad facts, and therefore bad laws. And I'm particularly concerned about a practice I've been reading about in the press that may repeat the pattern.

Last month, Time magazine reported on "Jobless Discrimination? When Firms Won't Even Consider Hiring Anyone Unemployed."

The article reported an incident that happened last year, when contract recruiters working for Sony Ericsson posted "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all" on an online job listing. Sony Ericsson said the listing was a mistake and pulled the listing, but here we are, more than a year later, reading about the incident once again.

I'm confident that experienced HR pros had the same reaction I did when I read the listing: Boy, that's a stupid idea. Why on earth would you eliminate a whole class of potential candidates from your recruiting efforts on such an arbitrary basis?

And why do it in the midst of the worst recession in decades, when there's a lot of great talent looking for work? Why assume that someone unemployed will have rusty skills, when they may have been using their spare time to up-skill their resume?

If, faced with a hiring manager who assumes someone unemployed would be too rusty to do the job, HR should take the opportunity to educate the manager, and remind them that it makes good business sense to look at the candidate, whether employed or unemployed, to determine if they're a fit.

If you don't, you risk missing out on a great candidate who could help the company succeed.

But, remember the pattern of bad facts make bad laws? Beginning on June 1, 2011, a new law goes into effect in New Jersey prohibiting employers from discriminating against the unemployed in job advertisements.

Under the new law, job postings can't say that current employment is a job qualification, that currently unemployed candidates will not be considered or that only currently employed job applicants will be considered. Hopefully, since few, if any, HR professionals post such ads, this shouldn't be a difficult law to comply with.

At the federal level, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a hearing on the issue where it heard mixed messages. Some said it was not common to exclude the unemployed from consideration; others shared anecdotal evidence of qualified but unemployed people being unsuccessful in their job search. (HREOnlineTM wrote about the issue here.)

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., introduced the "Fair Employment Act of 2011," which would amend Title VII to add "unemployment status" to those protected by the law.

"Unemployment status" would mean "being unemployed, having actively looked for employment during the then most recent 4-week period, and currently being available for employment." So far, the bill has 48 co-sponsors.

Consider the impact if unemployed candidates become a protected class: HR leaders who have always recognized the value of considering qualified candidates, whether employed or unemployed, would face greater risk of litigation under Title VII each time they consider, and reject, a candidate who just happens to be currently unemployed.

Remember. Bad facts make bad law. Are you excluding the unemployed from your applicant pool?

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.

Thanks to Susan R. Meisinger / LRP Publications / HRE Online


8 Simple Ways To Trigger Your Creativity

8 Simple Ways To Trigger Your Creativity

Stuck in a rut? Need new product or marketing or management ideas? Relax and keep it simple. Doing the same things you've always done may not seem like a great way to trigger creativity. But if you slow down and delve deeply into what seems everyday and ordinary, frequently you can make fresh discoveries and ignite new ideas you can apply to your business.

1. Engross yourself in a favorite hobby.


Dig deep into whatever diversion fascinates you. Consider the innovative products and technology applications that your hobby has spawned. See how business owners reach their narrowly defined target audiences.


A craftsperson might analyze the landscape of selling fine crafts and one-of-a-kind handmade items. How do large retailers market and sell low-priced crafts? How have craft shows changed over the last decade? How do sellers promote their unique offerings?


A runner may consider product innovations: Performance apparel commands premium prices, how GPS technology has become integrated into training devices, how community races attract hundreds and thousands of people.

The types of ideas that pursuit of a hobby can trigger: 

  • Design of new products
  • Applications of technology for improved performance
  • Methods of packaging and delivering services
  • Unique pricing structures
  • Techniques for creating and selling experiences

2. Shop around in a single retail niche.


Pick a niche that is served by several stores in your area. You might choose ice cream shops, hardware stores, or consignment shops. Make a real-life visit to see how business owners differ in their tactics. Take your time to observe and scrutinize various approaches.


Contrasting methods of delivering the same product or service can generate ideas about how you can differentiate your own business from its competitors, such as: 

  • Product selections and display
  • Methods of managing employee-customer interactions
  • Ways of promoting the value of independently-owned businesses rather than national chains

3. Simmer happily.


Creative thinking may be spontaneous but it is not always instantaneous. It's true that some creative offer brilliant ideas within minutes of hearing strategic concepts. But others need hours or days to let thoughts simmer. Give yourself time instead of rushing to get results.


Contemplation can work especially well to elicit these types of ideas: 

  • Creating strategies to capitalize on new business opportunities
  • Resolving long-standing problems
  • Discerning whether opportunities or problems need to be reframed in order to trigger the right response

4. Talk with smart people, and listen.


I am amazed at how much information smart people are willing to share. Toss out a topic and you can garner insights on historical perspectives, current trends, and predictions for the future. Listen and probe to gather wisdom relevant to your business.


Solicit advice to produce ideas on: 

  • Determining next steps for your business in critical areas such as innovative products, use of technology to deliver services, and messaging targeted customers
  • Pinpointing areas in which resources can be allocated to support these next steps

5. Take a break.


Fixation on one topic can cause frustration, which is counterproductive to creativity. Taking a break allows you to move from laser-like focus to broadened understanding.


Time away can benefit your creative thinking and help you: 

  • Redefine a problem, or recognize that a certain issue is inconsequential
  • Realize that a certain path to develop a new product or reach a new market isn't worth pursuing
  • Start asking different questions that yield the answers you need

6. Consume media.


Witness creative expression or find examples of ineffective communication by checking out videos, watching television, playing games, reading news, listening to podcasts, etc. Learn cultural references of many generations and groups.


Critical evaluation of all kinds of media can activate thinking about: 

  • Reaching new audiences
  • Conveying a message through images, dialogue, words, and interactivity
  • Describing ways of sharing stories that compel people to action

7. Keep up with a blogging superhero.


Find the blogger who shares your values, wrestles with ideas that excite or trouble you, and gives both high-level and practical insights relevant to realizing your vision.


Read blog posts to provoke thoughts on: 

  • Discovering what's missing from your strategic plan and its execution

8. Watch your kids, who are unencumbered by fear.


Before he became a teenager, my youngest son was never afraid to try anything. Buttons were pushed endlessly and while electronic devices were broken, new computer applications were discovered. His experimentation was unnerving to me but illuminated the process of testing ideas in order to learn how actions create reactions.


Since reading Poke the Box by Seth Godin, I am even more comfortable with the concept of unleashing creative thought, refraining from filtering ideas too early in the brainstorming process, and using idea testing to gain wisdom.


Observe your children making discoveries or ask your friends who have kids about how their children go about understanding their world. Use these insights to create your own Poke-the-Box action: 

  • Encourage your team to generate ideas that you may have previously considered outrageous or impractical
  • Figure out methods of testing ideas
  • Assess outcomes and refine ideas to achieve desired results for your business

Thanks to Julie Rains / Open Forum



In Challenging Times, Leadership Skills And Leader Development Matter

The Duke Executive Leadership Survey examined the relationship between organizations' financial performance and assessed senior leadership skills, and between financial performance and leadership development investments. The survey found that those skills associated with inspirational and ethical leadership were most strongly associated with organizational performance.

Reports suggest that many employers are cutting their training and development budgets in response to the recession. At the same time, there are reports of other organizations that are responding by retooling their human resources departments to enhance the skill sets required to succeed under new market realities. These kinds of contradictory responses are familiar. In times of crisis, leadership development is commonly seen as simultaneously crucial to organizational success and also as a luxury that must be sacrificed while the organization focuses on the situation at hand.

Both responses seem potentially sensible but need to be finely honed to focus on the aspects of leadership that are most crucial. In particular, organizations need to discern which leadership skills are most important under these circumstances. They must also be able to assess whether training programs and other leadership development activities are effective in building needed skills. While there is much anecdotal wisdom about these issues, rigorous research can provide a more valid guide for those deciding which investments in leadership development will be most beneficial to their organizations.

Assessing which leadership skills matter most
In the fall of 2008, the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business conducted The Duke Executive Leadership Survey. The survey of 205 executives covered a number of leadership issues. The leadership skills identified by executives as being most important included:

  • Promoting an ethical environment

  • Acting with authenticity

  • Accurately interpreting the competitive environment

  • Developing trust

Collectively, these skills are associated with a leader's credibility.

The Duke Executive Leadership Survey also examined the relationship between organizations' financial performance and assessed senior leadership skills and between financial performance and leadership development investments. The survey found that those skills associated with inspirational and ethical leadership were most strongly associated with organizational performance. Inspirational leadership skills included such behaviors as engaging employees in the company's vision and inspiring employees to raise their goals, while ethical leadership skills included such behaviors as promoting an environment in which employees have a sense of responsibility for the whole organization, its mission and constituencies..

Ongoing research being conducted by the center's researchers sheds additional light on the survey's findings by explaining why leader credibility and inspirational and ethical behaviors may be especially critical aspects of leadership that affect organizational performance.

Specifically, researchers at the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics have found that followers who see their leaders as more competent and trustworthy also evaluate those leaders as being more inspirational. In essence, leaders who are seen as more competent and more trustworthy are perceived as offering a more compelling and more valid inspirational impetus for followers. The research has also established that there is a connection between inspirational leader behaviors and follower performance. Inspired by their leaders, followers pursue more challenging goals, which in turn leads to greater organizational success.

Researchers from the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics also have found that leaders who display ethical leadership behaviors—that is, those who place the long-term interests of a group ahead of their personal goals—are more likely to ensure the long-term survival and success of the organization. Displaying such stewardship involves considering the trade-offs between short- and long-term objectives. Leaders who are able to do so take personal accountability for their influence on stakeholders within and outside the organization.

The underutilized potential of leadership development activities
If specific behaviors affect organizational performance, it is worthwhile to see which activities organizations are using to develop leadership skills. Given the impact of leadership actions on performance, the Duke Executive Leadership Survey looked at whether such leadership skills were being actively developed. The survey asked respondents to identify the leadership training and development activities currently being used by their organizations.

Performance evaluation discussions were the most commonly identified developmental activity used for senior managers, followed by training programs that were internally developed and delivered and then training programs that were externally developed and delivered. The least frequently used activities included executive coaching provided by individuals outside the organization and formal internal mentoring programs. 

Because developmental activities often require intensive use of money and employee time we wished to explore not only whether organizations were using a particular activity, but to what extent these activities involved significant numbers of managers. We found that senior manager participation rates were significantly lower for externally developed and delivered training programs relative to other resource-intensive activities.

Specifically, only 30 percent of organizations using external training programs reported having more than half their senior managers participate in those programs over the past fiscal year. By comparison, 52 percent of organizations using internal training programs reported having more than half their managers participate over the past fiscal year. For formal mentoring and executive coaching activities, higher participation rates were reported by 45 percent and 39 percent of organizations, respectively.

To further explore executives' perceptions of different leadership training activities, we also asked respondents to evaluate certain activities based on how effectively those activities develop leaders for their organizations. We found additional evidence on why organizations may not be investing more heavily in training and development programs of all types: They don't find them particularly effective. Specifically, we found that most programs are perceived to have significant room for improvement (see Table 1). In fact, no type of program evaluated achieved an average rating of very good or excellent. The findings did show some minor differences in program evaluation for executives who reported higher performance for their organizations over the past year when compared with those who reported lower performance for their organizations. Specifically, executives from higher performing organizations had slightly more favorable evaluations of their organizations' training and development, performance evaluation, mentoring, and executive coaching programs. The results did not show any significant differences between how executives from higher and lower performing organizations viewed external training, such as MBA programs and non-degree courses.

Finally, we sought to examine executives' perceptions regarding the amount of time organizational leaders spend on leadership development. We found that senior executives are believed to spend less than 25 percent of their time on leadership development activities. Moreover, this perception holds true even for positions typically associated leadership development (i.e., more than half of executives whose firms have a Chief Learning Officer and more than 40% of executives whose firms have a Head of Leader Development indicated that no more than 25 percent of that individual's time was spent on leadership development). However, executives indicating that their CEO, CLO or Head of Leader Development spent more time doing leadership development activities were more likely to report higher firm performance (either higher profits, revenues or both) in the current fiscal year relative to the previous one.

In difficult times, organizations should not ignore the positive effect that a leader's behaviors can have on organizational performance. In these situations, people turn to their leaders to inspire them to reach for higher goals, and aspiring to higher goals, in turn, improves organizational performance. Employees also look toward leaders to model ethical behaviors that promote the long-term welfare of the organization. While these leader behaviors appear to be critical influences on organizational performance, our research also found that firms seem to be inadequately emphasizing programs that could enhance this positive leader effect and even senior executives tasked with leadership development are often not believed to be doing so. Thus, focusing leadership development activities on behaviors that promote higher aspirations among employees and that emphasize accepting responsibility for the whole organization, its mission and constituencies are specific actions that organizations can take with regard to leader development that can improve performance in these trying times.

Thanks to James Emery, Sim Sitkin and Sanyin Siang / Crain Communications Inc. / Workforce Management


How To Inadvertently Sabotage Your Job Search

Several decades ago, clear employment laws were put in place in the U.S. to ensure employers would make hiring decisions based only upon information directly related to the requirements of the job. But despite these laws, many excellent job seekers sometimes still get passed over based on personal information the hiring managers should never have known in the first place.

If we assume most employers abide by these laws, how do they get this information? It's actually very easy. For the most part, it is given directly to them by candidates themselves. Ironically, candidates will (albeit unknowingly) cause their own demises by providing various details about their personal lives–without anyone ever asking them for a single detail.

How Can Employers Use Personal Information to Make Hiring Decisions?

Legally, they can't. Unfortunately, while most employers tend to follow the law when it comes to what they can ask candidates, many find it difficult to overlook personal information that is voluntarily provided to them by the candidate. Most often, this information isn't related to race, religion, nationality or any of these larger protected classes, but moreso on smaller scale details most people do not think twice about when mentioning it to a potential employer.

While most HR professionals try to educate managers who practice this behavior and have likely even swayed some to act otherwise, the facts still remain – once candidates have left the building, and as long as nothing was said directly to them, who knows what type of discussions go on behind closed doors or even within someone's own thoughts?

Part of the reason these type of hiring practices exist is because of various beliefs and assumptions that hiring managers might hold or make. But it is also partly because while job seekers can voluntarily share personal details about their life, managers still cannot ask questions about this information even if they really want to know more information.

Ironically, if the personal information provided would have been expanded upon a bit further, it may not have even had the same result. Without having all the information, hiring managers are left to draw their own conclusions to answer their own questions. As would be expected, their own conclusions almost always err on the "safe" side–the company's side.

So that begs the question, what types of details are job seekers revealing that cause hiring managers to turn them away? Below are some examples of details that commonly get disclosed:

Random disclosure: "I am a single parent so I have learned…"
Hiring Manager's thoughts: "A single parent? I wonder how old the kids are? The fall and winter are our busiest time periods. I bet she'll miss a lot of work when the kids get sick and we can't really afford to have this person out so much."

Random disclosure: "I only have a 3 year old son so I am free to…"
Hiring Manager's thoughts: "She only has one son but she looks pretty young. I am sure she will have more kids soon as this one is already three. This is such a key position though, I would hate for whoever we hire to go out on maternity leave because we wouldn't have anyone to fill that role. We should keep looking."

Random disclosure: "I recently went through a divorce…"
Hiring Manager's thoughts:
"I wonder how long ago that divorce was? He could really be going through a rough time right now. We should probably find someone who we know for sure can fully commit to the job without distractions."

Random disclosure: "My spouse/other family member (or even worse, him/herself) was having all sorts of medical problems back then."
Hiring Manager's thoughts: "I wonder how long ago that was? I wonder what the problems were and if they are over and if it will affect his work." And this one, mostly applicable to smaller businesses, "Can you imagine what that could do to our health insurance premium?"

All of these random disclosures are typically revealed in an innocent way and for the most part, do remain that way and are not acted upon in a negative manner. But unfortunately, since employers can't ask for further details, sometimes the ramifications can be far more than one would ever imagine. And sadly, the job seeker will never find out that it was a disclosure like this that caused the opportunity to slip away.

How do Job Seekers Avoid this Demise?

There is good news on that front! Since most employers do follow the letter of the law and do not ask questions about personal topics, job seekers can easily prevent themselves from falling into a situation like this by not revealing any personal details about their life. It's that simple. And never list any personal information on a resume either. It is very important to either be intentional about not disclosing any personal details or if a disclosure has to come up to explain a circumstance, it needs to be detailed enough to explain away any future concerns.

Although much less common, it is also important to keep in mind that some disclosures could even cause prejudices to arise. We all know that some people do have very extreme opinions toward certain issues (divorce, single parenting, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political views, age,etc). It should go without saying that some of these people might be in a capacity to make hiring decisions and could very quietly discriminate against those who disclose anything that goes against their personal, moral, or religious views despite the fact it is not legal to do so. Since no person can ever really predict what other people might think or believe, it is best to not provide that information in the first place.

Lastly (and as always), job seekers should always do a Google review of their online content to assure that personal life details and circumstances are not viewable to the general public. Online content can easily prevent a job seeker from even getting an interview in the first place, so this is definitely a step that should never be overlooked.

Jessica Simko, is a senior level human resources professional and a leading career brand and job search expert/strategist. She is also the founder of Career Brand Authority. You are invited visit her blog to download her FREE e-book, Top Strategies that Get Job Interviews.

Thanks to Jessica Simko / Careerealism


How To Make People Choose Right Over Wrong

Until his recent conviction on 14 criminal charges, Raj Rajaratnam (who translates his name as "King of Kings"), the founder of the Galleon Group, epitomized professional and financial success. Yet his conviction on insider trading charges proved that at least some of his success had depended on illegal, unethical acts. His case may be an extreme example, but such behavior is not rare. Leaders face ethical challenges all the time, in particular conflicts between money and morality. And those challenges can take a tremendous toll. Rajaratnam faces sentencing in July, and his hedge fund is already defunct.

Choices between right and wrong have been around since Adam and Eve, and even when ethical standards are straightforward it's not always easy to choose a hard right way over an easy wrong one. The best leaders know the potential consequences of their unethical choices, and they create policies that discourage overstepping moral bounds. However, recent efforts to dampen unethical behavior in organizations, with codes of ethics, compliance departments, ethics training and the like, have often been stunningly ineffective, to put it bluntly. Moral scandals keep emerging, and trust in business keeps falling. Remember, Enron had an industry-leading code of ethics.

What can leaders who want to encourage ethical behavior actually do? Our research, which will appear in the Academy of Management Journal, suggests that simple, psychological interventions can have a potent effect, perhaps as potent as costly compliance initiatives. We have found that contemplation and conversation--just thinking and talking--can help people choose right over wrong. Thus our research suggests that simple changes to how people decide can yield substantial improvements in ethicality.

In our study we asked people to choose between money and morality, using the economist Uri Gneezy's "deception game": We had them each send one of two messages to another person. Message A was a direct lie that would likely earn them $10; Message B was the truth, but it would likely earn them $5.

Before they made this choice, we asked one group of participants to "spend three minutes thinking 'very carefully'" about their decision. We asked another group to exchange an e-mail with a stranger who faced the same decision with a different counterpart, and who indicated that he or she would probably tell the truth, because it was the right thing to do. People knew that they would never meet their conversation partners and would receive only one e-mail from them. Thus, the conversations were kept as minimal as possible.

Our results indicate that 84% of the participants who experienced a contemplation period or had a truly minimal moral conversation sent the truthful message. In contrast, 53% of the participants who made their decision without contemplation, or exchanged e-mails with a stranger who indicated that he or she would probably go for the money, lied.

In addition, whatever their choice, people consistently explained their actions as natural and obvious. Truth-tellers said it was a matter of morality; liars portrayed it in terms of self-interest.

These findings have important implications for leaders and organizations. First, they suggest that how people choose can have a dramatic impact on what they choose. In other words, organizations might spend at least as much time designing how people make decisions as they spend training them on what they should decide. Codes of ethics, compliance departments and ethics training undoubtedly provide important guidance about what choices people should make, but a well-designed decision process can dramatically increase the chances that they will actually make them. Encouraging people to think and talk about their tough decisions can have remarkably positive consequences.

Second, our results suggest that both ethical and unethical behavior can become accepted. Today's justifications become the reasons for tomorrow's choices. Thus, a seemingly minor unethical act can encourage increasingly unethical behavior, as conversations ("everybody does this") easily rationalize subsequent action. In particular, leaders' explanations for their decisions may become justifications for their employees' future choices.

Finally, our study also suggests that people do not necessarily have strong, stable moral compasses. That fact spells trouble for organizations that are not aggressive about ethics; they may need only a few bad apples to start the formation of unethical norms. This is good news, however, for organizations that devote serious attention to encouraging ethical behavior. It suggests that they can have a big effect on their employees' behavior. Thus, our research suggests, leaders should definitely devote time and resources to actively encouraging ethical behavior.

What, specifically, can leaders do? Organizations can easily adapt our contemplation and conversation ideas to their own contexts. Leaders know what types of decisions raise moral red flags in their organizations: if people make these decisions electronically, their computers might be programmed to require contemplation time before their choices can be finalized (and even to fill this contemplation time with reminders of the organization's ethical values). Alternatively, decision protocols might require multiple approvals, an obvious way to foster conversation among employees.

Fortunately, leaders already use many of these tools, though usually for non-moral purposes. The challenge, in many cases, is placing ethics high enough on their priority list to adapt existing tools toward encouraging what's right.

Brian C. Gunia, Long Wang, Li Huang, Jiunwen Wang and J. Keith Murnighan all teach at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Thanks to Brian C. Gunia, Long Wang, Li Huang, Jiunwen Wang and J. Keith Murnighan / Forbes