Eliminate the competition?


Have you ever wondered why groups become so competitive, or what could possibly cause the atrocities that occur when a central government, tribe, nation, or other group chooses to attack another group, and get rid of them?  In the most recent issue of the journal Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, McPherson and Parks (2011) provide a provocative look at this topic.  The findings are not only important for understanding much of the conflict that we see in the world today, but I believe they are also applicable in the business world.  First, we will review the findings, and then we can apply them to workplaces today.

Multiple contributors to aggressive, and sometimes dangerous, competitiveness are evident such as potential for loss of resources, difference in values, perceived threat to in-group values, perceived in-group superiority/perceived out-group inferiority, and challenge to status.  These findings are well documented in other studies, and McPherson and Parks (2011) take it further with results indicating that groups are more inclined to eliminate an individual or other group than individuals are, and will make the decision to do so much faster.  No surprise that those with less connection with the other group(s) or individual(s), higher levels of competitiveness, and those scoring higher on Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are the quickest and most likely to try to dominate what they perceive to be the lesser group(s) or individual(s).

So what does this mean for business?  In organizations, especially in large, diverse organizations with a workforce that increasingly is spread around the globe, understanding the way that issues such as this work can assist in reducing inter-group issues.  This means being aware of healthy lines and boundaries for competition, but understanding that each group has needs for resources, and making those available as equally as possible.  It further means helping groups to understand the interconnectedness between each other, and the collaborative ability available for use when recognized.  Organizational and group leaders either can function as warlords, encouraging conflict and negative actions, or can be a peacemaker contributing to the collaboration and understanding of equality between groups.

References

McPherson, S., & Parks, C.D. (2011). Intergroup and Interindividual Resource Competition Escalating Into Conflict: The Elimination Option. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(4), 285-296. doi: 10.1037/a0024938

Creating Engagement Within The Work Family


There is a tremendous amount of literature available today that addresses employee or worker engagement, and organizations such as Gallup have spent large amounts of money, time, and other resources to identify components and impacts of engagement.  It’s so important that organizations such as retail giant Best Buy and bottling and drink company MolsonCoors, Inc. have reported impacts to their respective businesses due to an increased focus on and measured increase in employee engagement.  It can be quite confusing to read through all the available information without some guidance about what it all means, or what theory is correct.  Unfortunately, the answer is slightly more difficult than a simple “this or that”.  In a recent edition of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2011), there is an excellent article that discusses these myriad theories of employee engagement.  The title of the article is “Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce” and it covers some really important topics.  Most importantly the authors, Shawn Serrano and Rebecca Reichard, add some definition to the definition of employee engagement.  So let’s start with that here.

The two components that seem to overlap no matter which theory is used are energy and involvement.  As Serrano and Reichard (2011) so eloquently put it, “energy is displayed as individuals fully deploy their physical, cognitive and emotional resources into a work role or task,” and “involvement occurs as individuals display competence and a positive attached response to the job, thus resulting in remarkable dedication and intense absorption in the task at hand.”  So now we have a relatively clear idea of what represents employee engagement, but how do we achieve this?

Again, Serrano and Reichard (2011) have some excellent suggestions; ultimately, leaders are tasked with:

  • Designing Meaningful and Motivating Work
  • Supporting and Coaching Employees
  • Enhancing Employee’s Personal Resources
  • Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations

Most of us would agree that if  these things were in our workplace, we would feel more engaged.  I think there is a really good reason for this, going back to when we were very young.  The role of parents, our leaders through childhood, provided many of these things for us to get us where we are today.  Most parents provide activities and tasks for children to do and accomplish that will help them feel good about what they have accomplished, and will support and coach them along the way.  Even if the task is challenging parents are there to help them, but not necessarily complete the task for them.  Organizational leaders serve the same role.  Ensuring that children have the necessary components to succeed in their daily tasks, school projects, sports endeavors, or other activities is truly crucial as most children can not achieve these things on their own.  Again, organizational leaders must provide that same type of support to their workforce.  In many cases, workers do not have the ability to get the necessary resources on their own.  It doesn’t mean giving someone everything that they ask for, but rather providing them with what they need to accomplish what they are working on and striving for.

The last component, Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations, is very similar to the act of parents facilitating “play dates” or other social activities for their children to become more socialized.  Ultimately, parents are responsible for assisting their children in achieving this development, and organizational leaders have much of the same responsibility.  This teaches people to communicate and interact successfully, which can help across many facets of business.

This isn’t to say that business leaders need to treat employees like children, but we need to have the same type of compassion for one another as we would for children and leaders especially need to understand the great responsibility that they have for their employees.  When thinking about what the workforce needs, ask if they have the components above and if you are helping them to grow and develop, or if perhaps you are viewing them as simply a part in a process.  How are you engaging your workforce family, and how are you being engaged?

References

Serrano, S.A., & Reichard, R.J. (2011). Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 176-189. doi: 10.1037/a0025621

Change is good for our government too.


As I was reading an article on Yahoo and then began reading the comments associated with the article I came upon a few excellent words of wisdom.  I felt as though one in specific was important enough to pass along and save for future sharing as well.  Here is what I read:

REAL CHANGE will ONLY happen if WE make it happen!!

Politicians, ALL politicians will not serve the common people of this nation until they ARE common people of this nation. Politicians are RICH to begin with or else they cannot run as an “effective” candidate. They do not relate to common people and speak only in euphemistic idealism and platitudes of populist idealism. None of which they have any intentions of following through with. Bush did it. Clinton did it, Obama is definitely doing it. There will be NO CHANGE with him, or anyone under the current “system” of government we now endure!

The truth is simple: REAL CHANGE will ONLY happen if WE make it happen!!

Time for us to get control of the incredibly dysfunctional form our government has devolved into and hit the “reset button.” This will require an effort equal to what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and trying to happen in Libya. Until we have common people in the legislature and running the government, you are just going to change the faces but NEVER SOLVE THE PROBLEMS. You may think these are unrealizable goals, but then, how realistic was it when the Colonial Army took on the British in the war for independence? We won that one, too, in case you’ve forgotten….

Here’s were we begin “budget reform”….

Congressional Reform Act of 2012

1. Term Limits.
8 years only, one of the possible options below..
A. Two 4-year Senate terms
B. 4 Two-year House terms
C. One 8-year Senate term and Two 4-Year House terms
D. One 8 year term for Supreme Court Justices
If term limits are requisite for the President, Vice-President, and State Governors, then they most certainly are equally imperative based on the same principles for ALL of our legislators and even the judicial high seats.

2. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make these contracts with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

9. Make all lobbyists and special interest groups illegal. They have no basis or rights for their existence except the greed of the oligarchs they represent. This is the heart of our dysfunctional government system. This is “legal bribery” in America and the Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

10. All campaign contributions, corporate or private, cannot exceed $250 max. No candidate can use their OWN money to campaign with. This violates the constitutional principles of equal opportunities for ALL people in the nation. If candidates qualify for federal campaign monies, then that is what they can use. Otherwise, they hit the trail like everyone else for the last 200 years.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

This was written by a poster named Triad (I want to make sure to give credit where it is due).  I believe that our government, for all it is run as a corporation, needs some serious restructuring, process improvement, ethics and cultural training, leadership development, and constant 360 feedback processes.  Triad’s posting speaks to that eloquently, and I think as the American people we need to take the responsibility back for running our own government if we want to see real improvement.

Lessons Abound for Businesses in the Wake of Civil Unrest


With the number of major world events happening over the last 6 months, I have to believe that people are starting to take notice and ask why. In many cases perhaps there is no reason to ask why, such as the overturn of the Tunisian government, or the similar situation in Egypt. Even as we speak the unrest in Libya is building to a crescendo, with people around the globe starting to feel the impact at the gas pump and in the stock market. Not to mention there are plenty of people, myself included, that are waiting to see the outcome, and what it means for not only the Middle East and African countries, but for all peoples and countries around the world. Business should take lessons from these situations as well, not only of the impact to them, but for what it means in the country of “YourBusinessToday”.

We often look at situations in foreign countries and think that it could never happen to us, and what we certainly don’t think about are the similarities between a country and a business. Any time you have a population of people being governed by a body who has greater and greater power and control in the eyes of those people, you really walk a fine line. It is the responsibility of those in power to take a step back, listen to their people, and ensure that not only do they understand them but are working on their behalf to make things better for them. Without people to lead, and people who want to follow you, you have no authority and can and will lose much. Whether that much is a company or a country is based on your situation, but the result is generally still the same.

In tribes such as the Trobriander and others around the world they have this concept correct. There are even companies such as Gore that get it right. You have to keep groups small, allow the people to have a voice, base authority on merit, and truly have your people’s best interest at heart because your people are you and you are your people. When you create a hierarchical system, giving greater and greater authority while separating the leaders and people from each other, you often end up playing a huge game of telephone to understand what is really going on with the people. Authority and respect needs to be earned by leaders, and voluntarily given by followers. When you try to force it, or demand it, you degrade the entire structure of trust and communication. We see this when we look at world leaders who are killing their citizens to maintain control, or taking money out of their pockets in one form or another to fill their own, or even in the case of working over their people’s heads and behind their backs on “diplomatic policies” that are really about making the leaders power and money greater (sometimes at the expense of the people they serve).

Unfortunately we fail to notice, or do anything about, the actions of business leaders that are equally egregious. We as human beings tend to view it as a greater tragedy when bad things happen to a people of a country, but accept it more when it comes from a business. While business leaders may not be mowing down their employees (and who knows, perhaps some do!) there are certainly cases where they are making deals for their own benefit, and lining their own pockets because “they earned it”. I’m sure that many of the world leaders out there being overturned and ousted believed the same thing at one time or another.

The time may not have come yet, but I believe that if current events are any indication, the time will come when people around the world will begin to become infected with the pandemic virus of “we won’t take it any more”. As this day draws near businesses better take heed and make changes, because as the global economy changes, the global environment changes, and one only knows how many governments change there will certainly be the possibility of a target being painted on the front and back of every business leader. Again, we’re not there yet, but that day may not be too far in the future.

Do you see yourself?


Although I keep intending to get much more written and posted here, I admit that my time is simply at an absolute premium and committed in large part to my new job as a federal contractor and my school work.   Not to mention spending time with my wonderful family.  With that being said, I still want to do the best that I can to add new content here as much as possible.

For a project in my Cultural Anthropology class, I conducted an ethnographic research project.  I chose to conduct my research in a suburban shopping mall and found some extremely interesting patterns and behaviors.  I’ve attached my paper to this posting, and hopefully as you look at it you will find it to be as interesting as I did, and perhaps you will even see yourself  in some of the observations recorded.

As always, I appreciate any feedback and comments and hope you enjoy.  Look for more to come soon!

Ethnographic Research Project

Transitions Are An Important Part


Again, it has been longer than I would like since my last blog entry; this is primarily due to my underestimating the amount of time that I would be committing to working on my degree.  Hopefully that will change once I complete the shortened winter semester, and get into the regular spring semester.  I will certainly be trying to get at least one entry a week here, and more if I can.  Thanks to those that continue to stop in!

One of the major school projects I just finished was an essay for my cultural anthropology class on the state of transition, or “liminality”, as shown through the comparison of burial rituals between three different cultures (I chose the Mongols, Kiribati, and Khasi).  While my paper was focused on the concept of transition as related to death and burial ceremonies, I think there are some very important conclusions that we can draw.

Overall, the concept of liminality is the transition phase just before a change.  This is true in coming of age ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc.  The purpose of these events is to show a definite change from what once was, to what will be.  Knowing that this happens in so many situations, I have to wonder why we don’t pay more attention to the transition phase in business.  It is a natural process that needs to happen, and can be seen around the world in many cultures and many forms, but for whatever reason when we get into business we tend to go against what is natural instead of using it to help us and our people be more successful.

The next time you are working to figure out how to motivate and engage your employees, ask yourself what natural transitions you have built-in to your processes.  Do you have levels of employment at each level to create goals and small wins, and do you celebrate those transitions?  (Both of these steps are necessary for a truly successful process.)  What lets people know that a project is at the end, or has completed?  How do you transition people from individual contributor to leader/manager?  If you have these processes, how do you celebrate these transitions?  Do you make it special and recognized?  People thrive on natural processes like this, and I truly believe that if you make these changes you will see improvements in the excitement, enthusiasm, and success of your business.

It may not be the first thing that we think of but we need to be aware of the natural tendencies of the crazy creature that is Homo sapien, and utilize those natural tendencies instead of fighting them.

When and where does choice end?


As with any new year there are new laws going in to effect around the globe.  Today I managed to stumble across an article on CBC News that was posted through Twitter by @SocialPsych called, aptly enough, “Spain’s tough anti-smoking law takes effect.” As someone who smoked for many years, but thankfully quit about 7 years ago, I am always intrigued to see the social trends in smoking, and even more so I am interested to see how governments, especially outside of the United States, handle it.  When I was in the US Navy and had the chance to travel the world, I found that the acceptance of smoking was quite common.  Anyone and everyone, and for that matter just about anywhere, was smoking.  Of course, so was I so it was very convenient.  Now, as a non-smoker and a father of a small child, I am more aware of smoking and of course have my own dislikes revolving around it.  Like most non-smokers, I hate walking in to a building and having to walk through a cloud of smoke as the smokers congregate outside of the door to “burn one” for a minute.  I also dislike going to restaurants where smoking is still allowed; there’s just nothing enjoyable about eating my food while breathing in smoke.  Even being in a line somewhere with a person or two smoking around me can really cause me some irritation, especially when I have my wife and son with me.  But with all of that being said, I think I have a hard time agreeing with the government trying to control things in a manner such as Spain.

While I think we all agree that smoking is unhealthy, and lays an undue burden on those that are non-smokers, I’m not sure that the government, any government, stepping in and banning it makes much sense.  If it is found to be such a nuisance and health hazard, shouldn’t it just be made illegal?  If not, then I think there should be slightly better choices made for how to deal with smokers and associated problems.  As one commenter said on the aforementioned article explains, it might be a better idea to impose certain penalties for being a smoker instead of trying to outright ban it.  A reasonable penalty could include something such as higher insurance rates, even when on a group policy; this should be considerably higher, and there should definitely be testing yearly to verify.  What about restaurants, parks, and other public facilities?  I think it should be the choice of those that own the business as to whether or not they allow smoking, and as human beings with an independent brain we should be able to make our own choice as to whether or not we are comfortable in that environment.  This is of course with one caveat: places that allow smoking should be required to post visibly and publicly that they allow smoking.  This would be either on the outside of the facility, or on the sign.  This would save those of us who don’t want to patron a place like that from even having to park and get out to determine if they allow smoking or not.  If their business suffers because of allowing smoking, then they would need to make the conscious decision whether or not to continue to allow smoking in the facility.

Obviously I don’t believe that smoking is a good decision, but nonetheless a decision it still is.  While governments have the responsibility to make sure that the financial burden falls on the correct parties, and that people follow laws, I’m just not sure that I can personally support the idea of taking away a decision from someone on something that is considered legal.  As I said before, if it is truly considered to be as dangerous as we all know it is, outlaw it completely and put it in the same category as any other drug.  Otherwise discourage it, educate on it, place warnings on packages, and penalize for it as a poor health decision, but don’t try to control it if it is still a choice.