Tag Archives: personality

Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes

Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes

I want to share with you my model of Creativity that provides practical steps to enhance Life and Career changes.  I will describe the model in this post, and in subsequent ones discuss each of the steps in greater detail.

Here is the Beyond Personal Mastery® model.

 

Beyond Personal Mastery® and its brother Beyond Corporate Mastery® are really two related models comprising Action and Mind steps.  The Action steps, as the name implies, describe the actions that lead to creativity.  The Mind steps are attitudes and dispositions that have been shown by research to support and promote the Action Steps and hence creativity.

The Action Steps model is based on the following ideas derived from the research into creativity:

  • Little “c” creativity involves combining ideas in a new way that has some amusement value, novelty, or modest utility for the person creating and perhaps their immediate circle
  • Big “c” creativity involves combining ideas in a new way that solves or contributes to solving a problem deemed important by others and society generally
  • Ideas are combined when previously stored knowledge is combined in a new way, or old knowledge and new experiences are combined to form a new idea
  • Innovation occurs when Strategies are developed and Implemented to put the creative idea into practice or practical use
  • Creativity starts with the Inspiration stage – meaning literally breathing in or taking in new ideas or experience. In my model this does not mean being impressed, excited or energized that comes later. The Inspiration stage is about taking in new information and experiences. There are a series of ways of improving your Inspiration. I’ll address these in another post.
  • The new information coming into the system is processed into Patterns.  This often happens automatically and unconsciously.  However consciously examining the new information for patterns will yield richer, more subtle and complex patterns.
  • Once the structure of the new information is understood in terms of patterns, the Learning stage classifies patterns into pre-existing categories, schema and mental models. or generates new categories for information deemed novel.   (The more rich the Patterns generated in the previous stage, the greater the chance of new categories being generated).  During this stage, new information can be rehearsed to ensure it is fully understood.  There are, of course, myriad different ways of enhancing learning. See future post.
  • Emulating or copying or leveraging is the stage where one has mastered the new information and can repeat it, play it, do it, understand it, explain it or use it.  Once this stage is reached, you have attained Mastery.  One of the biggest barriers to creativity is people trying to avoid Emulating, but it is an essential step. See later post.
  • Combining and Adding is the step when we go beyond mastery into creativity, hence the name of the model. It is in this stage that we take some mastered idea, knowledge or practice and combine it either with another previously mastered idea or with a current Inspiration.  When this happens – a solution or new pathway appears, often suddenly, and it gives rise to the “Aha” moment.  This is often the exciting and energizing time.  There are lots of techniques to help people with the combining and adding.
  • Once we have the new solution, it is the appropriate time to enter the Strategizing stage to develop plans and goals to implement the creation.  Nearly all personal and business change models start at this point and tend to neglect the previous steps that should now be quite obvious as being essential.  The solution/creation determines what can be a goal, a goal does not provide the solution. This is often misunderstood.  See a future post for more on how to do this.
  • Finally, we must execute our plans in the Doing Stage.   This again is non-negotiable.  Because inevitably given the complexity of the world, something will go not strictly according to the plan, and sometimes things will go very differently indeed.  These “failures” or “unexpected by products” provide new Inspirations, and so the cycle can start again.

The Action Steps explained in general terms. (click on the graphic to open in a new window where you can zoom in and enlarge image)

The Mind Steps model

The Mind Steps are likely to be more familiar to many people as the terms used here are commonly used and understood in counseling and coaching.  I will briefly explain here why they are included.  I will go into greater detail in future posts.

Optimism

The great contribution of the Positive Psychology movement, and its champions like Martin Seligman is that we now know that optimism can be learned, developed and enhanced.  Optimism is an important predictor of people’s willingness to change or an organization’s ability to change.  People who believe that things can be better in the futrure are more likely to be motivated to try to explore possible futures. The are ways of boosting optimism that I’ll cover in future posts.
Openness

Creative people and organizations are open systems.  That is they are curious about the world, and accept that there are always interesting things to learn, and different ways of doing things.  This mindset increases their chances of having new inspirations and patterning them in novel ways. It also increases their chances of combining and adding in novel ways.  Some of the ways you can increase openness will be covered in a later post.

Self-Efficacy

Is defined by Bandura as the degree to which a person believes that they are capable of achieving in a particular domain.  Self efficacy has been shown to be a strong predictor of success in a range of different areas such as completing training, preparing for a big event etc.  Increasing self-efficacy can be a useful way of fostering change.  Ways of increasing self-efficacy will be covered in a later post.

Vision

Vision refers to a collection of qualities such as Purpose, Spirituality, Connection, Limits, and Imperfection.  It is about fostering a sense of a bigger picture, and encouraging people to ask questions such as Why am I doing this?  To whom am I connected?  Whom do I serve? How can I be useful?  What place can I or do I occupy in society/family/friends? How can I serve others?   Do I have a choice? What matters to me? Research shows that fostering this type of thinking can sustain people and reduce stress. It can help people persist, or even try in the first place.

Playfulness & Risk

Increasingly research is showing that play is a potent form of learning, and that many western educational systems have under-valued its central importance.  Furthermore risk-taking is often misunderstood or characterized in pendulum attractor terms as
“risk-free or reckless”.   Nearly all creartivity has arisen from play, risk taking or both.  There are ways to develop appropriate playfulness and risk taking and I’ll show you how in a future post.

Flexibility

In a world that is rapidly changing, uncertain, complex and chaotic, the ability to be flexible is very important.  Flexibility of mind is centrally important for playfulness, inventiveness, creativity, overcoming barriers, seeking inspiration, combining and adding, strategizing and doing.

Persistence

The importance of keeping on going, in the face of adversity, loss of enthusiasm, boredom, obstacles, set-backs, criticism, despondency, ennui and the rest cannot be over-estimated.   Others prefer to capture some of these ideas under the term “Resilience”.  Much of what is done under this term would fit in the Persistence category.  I prefer the term Persistence because the word more strongly implies movement, and movement in a self-determined direction.  I’ll post more on how to develop resilience later.

And this is Life Creativity – Applying Beyond Personal Mastery® to Life Changes!

 

 

 

Oppositional Thoughts…Volume 4

Here is Volume 4 of my Oppositional Thoughts…They are designed to gently puncture some of the slightly precious life advice out there, and to complexify overly simplistic homilies, that make life appear a lot simpler than it is in reality.

You can find Volume 3 here and Volume 2 here and Volume 1 here

Oppositional thoughts…There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you..never read Dan Brown obviously….

Oppositional thoughts…if you enrol in a stunt academy do they put you on a decelerated learning program?

Oppositional thoughts…Life has no limitations, except the ones you make…so if I jumped off a building I could fly if I tried hard?

Oppositional thoughts…Letting go of your dreams results in mediocrity….not if you had the dreams I’ve been having….

Oppositional thoughts… Why do I feel like I need a stiff drink after hearing a “sobering account”?

Oppositional Thoughts.Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.sorry, what was that again?

Oppositional thoughts…Let go and it will be yours forever…I let one go and it’s true, it hung around forever…

Oppositional thoughts…Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter…unless they are the police or a judge….

Oppositional thoughts…”Arrogance, immaturity & lack of experience are unattractive at work”..so presumably save all that for your friends

Oppositional thoughts…procrastination explained…later, perhaps tomorrow

Oppositional thoughts…I don’t have a career story, actually it is just a sentence. I got life….

Oppositional thoughts… Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools. -Napoleon Bonaparte” ..before lose & Waterloo

Oppositional thoughts…flash mobs are all very entertaining, but I wish they would stop flash flooding

Oppositional thoughts..I was sitting in my underpants when I opened the job offer letter. I was so excited, they asked me to get off the bus

Oppositional thoughts…I saw this man with the worst wig ever, I was so helpless with laughter, that the panel terminated my interview

Oppositional thoughts…you know when a job interview is going badly when they tell you to put them back on….

Oppositional thoughts…when I read that reality is perception I could not believe my eyes

Oppositional thoughts…I was busy completing an online job application, when my supervisor interrupted to continue my 1st day induction…

Oppositional thoughts..I was doing a stress imagery exercise at work with my eyes shut. It failed when my fare grabbed the steering wheel

Oppositional thoughts…@davidawinter #question yourself..why does he want me to question myself, can’t he be bothered asking me questions?

Oppositional thoughts… After six hours of questioning myself I reluctantly had to let myself go due to a lack of evidence or witnesses

Oppositional thoughts… what if I did it all because the lady loves milk tray, and then I discover it was all a Twix?

Oppositional thoughts…after my marathon effort all I heard was snickers and wispas. It mars my efforts to Hershey said I was fruit and nut

Oppositional thoughts…only a fool tries to climb the corporate ladder.  Smarter folks take the stairs, and the smartest take the elevator

Oppositional thoughts…employee engagement is just intention, but employee marriage is commitment. Is your employer prepared to do it?

Oppositional Thoughts…In life you are either a passenger or a pilot, it’s your choice…but on a plane, one of those is called hijacking

Oppositional Thoughts…the harder it is to get into a school the better it is…Mine must have been brilliant, I needed a Judge to send me.

Oppositional thoughts…authenticity is essential for professional speakers and that goes double for the ghost writers of their books…

Oppositional thoughts…There are no mistakes in life, just lessons…but what if your life has been one long playtime (trans: recess)?

Oppositional thoughts…be thankful for what you have…but I have deeply ingrained ingratitude, should I be grateful for that?

Oppositional thoughts…Life is 2 short 4 U 2 B pulled down by negative, jealous, cynical people…so how long would be about right?

Oppositional thoughts…live badly today, for tomorrow it will become your past and make the present seem better than what went before…

Oppositional thoughts…there’s always a way if you are committed…Well first I got myself committed, but there was no way out after that

Oppositional thoughts…to succeed at work try something new each day, and if that fails you can always try actually working

Oppositional thoughts…I tried it out, but was told by a policeman to put it away or risk getting arrested…

Oppositonal thoughts… It is never a good idea to have your work spread over many fields lest people confuse it for manure….

Oppositional thoughts…I have been described as the superglue of our team..not to be trusted near lavatory seats and always the sticking PT

Oppositional thoughts…getting into medicine: careers seminar. . ? It is simple to get into medicine, just push down and twist the cap

Oppositional thoughts…I worked hard to get my team engaged, but now I am, having second thoughts about marrying them? Big of me or bigamy?

Oppositional thoughts..Work on what you love and it won’t feel like work.. I used my life partner as my desk, but the pens kept rolling off

Oppositional thoughts…Just because there is a screen between us doesn’t mean you, or I, are less human.. just that one of is incarcerated.

Oppositional thoughts…”If we don’t start, it’s certain we can’t finish.” Not True. I didn’t start and the boss said I was finished!

Oppositional thoughts..if you believe you can do it, the odds go way up..True.  I believe I can fly: odds of me being an idiot went way up

Oppositional thoughts…do you remember how unique you once were?…true everyone was unique once except me…..

Oppositional Thoughts…be nice to the people you meet on the way to the top…if you are not serious about getting to the top that is.

Oppositional Thoughts…SWOT – Silly Way Of Trying…to convince everyone that the future is less complex and more ordered than it really is

Oppositional thoughts…to be a good singer you need to be able to hold a note, but the only ones I held were to ransom….

Oppositional Thoughts…I finally found myself, but when I found out what I was doing, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

Oppositional Thoughts…I thought I’d found myself, but I was unable to pick myself out at the identity parade

Oppositional thoughts…Identity Parade…is that like a Mardi Gras parade for people with multiple personalities?

The Seven Myths of Stress

Here are a range of different everyday experiences. How might you feel in each of these circumstances?

  • You are having your family to stay for Christmas
  • Your partner of the last twenty years announces they are leaving you for your best friend (you might feel relief!)
  • You go to hospital for a major and risky procedure (trying to find a parking spot?)
  • You are about to give a public presentation with your Boss in the audience

It is easy to imagine a range of reactions to these life events or experiences and a review of the popular literature suggests they can be all summed up by the word ‘stress’.

The implications of stress needing a ‘cure’

This view that stress requires a cure is a very common one and has lead to a situation where many different approaches have been proposed or are currently marketed.

Scientific approaches

There are the Scientific approaches such as the use of drug therapies to control anxiety or depression.  Prozac is a particularly popular example in this category.  A drug that is seen by some in society as providing the crutch that helps them deal with the daily grind of life.  A second major scientific approach can be seen in the psychological therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy which addresses the reasoning and appraisal processes that may be related to dysfunctional behaviour.

Alternative approaches

There are countless alternative approaches to the problem that enjoy varying levels of scientific and popular support such as aromatherapy and laughter therapy.  The ABC, of course, recommends doing a Sigrid Thornton, and packing up your frazzled city life and moving to an alternative diet-stress bucolic country life.

Consumer therapies

If of course, your taste or budget does not run to giving it all up, salvation may be at hand in your own bathroom, bedroom or kitchen via the purchase of any manner of contrivances such as bubble baths, massage oils or low stress foods all guaranteed to address your stress!

What is a myth?

The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines myth as “a widely held (esp. untrue or discredited popular) story or belief; a misconception, a misrepresentation of the truth”

When I use the term ‘myth’ I am not using it in its strongest form to mean an untruth, rather something that is commonly believed that may be a misrepresentation of the truth.  Many of the myths identified deserve more rigorous investigation.  Some of the myths are controversial in the sense that large bodies of evidence have been presented in their support. However, even in such cases, there are reasonable grounds to be cautious due to a variety of conceptual and methodological shortcomings.

Myth 1: Stress causes illness

It is a commonly held belief that stress leads to illness.  A survey of 114 adults in the UK in the late eighties and found that stress was commonly believed to be associated with heart attacks and nervous breakdowns.  There is little reason to think that these commonly held beliefs have changed much since then.  Here is just a tiny fraction of the evidence.

Stress and coronary heart disease (CHD)

Evidence of the link between stress and coronary heart disease is also confused and beset with methodological difficulties.  It is commonly believed that high work demands lead to stress and CHD, but this doesn’t appear to be the case.  In a recent review of 25 studies, 17 of the 25 studies showed an association between job control and CHD, but only 8 of the studies showed an association between job demands and CHD.

Stress and breast cancer

Another apparently commonly held belief is that stressful events are associated with the onset of breast cancer.  Baghurst et al (1992) found that 40% of South Australian women surveyed believed this.  Futhermore Steptoe & Wardle (1994) reported that almost half a sample of medical experts were either undecided or confident that stress caused breast cancer.

There are published studies supporting this link, however equally there are many studies that have failed to confirm this link.  Even the recent study finding a link concluded that ‘the results speak against the conventional wisdom that .. Stress factors influence the development of breast cancer”

While some links seem to be weak, contrary or non-existent such as the link between stress and work demands, or stress and breast cancer, there does seem to be some evidence linking stress to job control and CHD.

Myth number 2:  Executive stress causes Coronary Heart Disease

Myth number 2 seems to be a little easier to nail as a just plain wrong! Despite the widespread view, even seen  in Medical reference texts as recently as the 1980s, that executives are more prone to stress it is almost certainly wrong, and indeed probably precisely opposite to the truth.

A major UK study measured new cases of angina, severe pain across the chest, and diagnosed ischaemic heart disease in 10, 308  senior and junior ranking British Civil Servants and found precisely the opposite relationship – that those occupying the lower ranks in the organisation were far more likely to be experiencing stress than their more senior colleagues.

Indeed in a related earlier study by the same team, they found males in the junior ranks of the civil service to have 3 times the 10 year risk of coronary mortality compared to their senior counterparts.

Perhaps the ultimate Executives –are the various prime ministers and presidents around the world.  A quick comparison of the UK, USA and Australia shows that if they can avoid assignations in the US, foot in mouth disease in the UK or swimming outside the flags in Australia, they tend to live a lot longer than their male counterparts see figure 1.

Figure 1 Longevity of Prime Ministers and Presidents born and dying around C20th compared to average male life expectency during the century: UK, USA and Australia

This comparison, also holds for Prime Ministers and Presidents born in the 19th century.  Clearly this elite group differ on a range of factors including wealth, education, social support, access to health care and so on, but these types of differences are also found when comparing CEOs and their employees.

Myth No 3: People respond differently to stress as a result of differences in personality

There is some good evidence to suggest that people vary in their experience of stressors, both in terms of whether a stimuli is perceived as stressful and the perceived intensity of the stressor.  (So two people subject to the same nasty boss might perceive it as a nuisance or really stressful). However there is little good evidence that their reactions differ greatly (ie both may people might experience similar increases in blood pressure when the boss is around).

Myth No 4: That stress can be measured by a simple questionnaire scale

It is a seductive proposition for many people whether they are purchasing the services of a consultant to conduct a stress audit in their organisation or whether they are completing a check list in a magazine or training course to believe that these scales will somehow provide an accurate measure of your levels of stress.

There are many measures of stress.  These range from inventories of psychological or physical symptoms, life event check-lists  and scales assessing the number or intensity of stressors in the work environment.  These are assessing diverse and often different factors which come under the umbrella term of stress, but cannot be said to be measuring ‘stress’ itself. A measure which actually asks people directly to rate their level of stress is open to a wide range of different interpretations and is therefore not meaningful.  Thus, even the measure known called ‘The Perceived Stress Scale’ mentions the word stress only once!  In fact, it is doubtful that it is possible to develop a valid or reliable questionnaire of anything like reasonable length that will really encompass everything that different people mean when they to  ‘stress’. However there are varyingly accurate and reliable measures of more defined concepts such as anxiety or depression.

Myth No 5: Stress can be cured or managed through relaxation, meditation and exercise

There is some reason to believe that some interventions may have some beneficial effect – both exercise and stress management courses can lead to improvements in mood and physiological indicators.   We do not know the mechanisms for these effects, that may work because you are taking time out of your schedule to relax or are thinking of other things. If so, it may be that expensive courses are not required: a regular walk with the family dog of an evening, or a hot bath away from the children may have the same effect.  Alternatively it could be that just having a person taking an interest in your problems helps. Nor do we know how long such mood effects last.  Furthermore, while some interventions can be shown to have benefits, it is not entirely clear that this has anything to do with improved ability to manage in the face of stressors.

Myth No 6: Stress can be cured by changing the way we work

The idea of preventing stress by removing the stressors (e.g. by reducing job demands and increasing job control) is certainly logical and has moral and ethical advantages over the alternative of training people to tolerate stressful environments.  However, the evidence we have  suggests that these interventions seldom work.

In a recent study, 2 matched pairs of departments were compared.  In the work redesign group the employers participated in problem solving committees that identified workload and communication as key stressors.  They developed plans to address these issues. The other (control) group did nothing. One year later the departments that had attempted change showed no improvement over the control group and in some cases negative results.

There were several mitigating factors such as a change in personal and other organisation wide changes that impacted upon the workers in the study which only serves to underline the difficulties in implementing these types of solutions.

Myth No 7: Stress is increasing

It is fitting to conclude the list of myths with this one, as this is perhaps the most popular starting point for many stress management programs and newspaper articles on stress. We have all read about the ‘increasing pace of life’, the ‘increased job insecurity’, the ‘lack of the old certainties’ etc etc.  However, those few commentators that actually try to justify such remarks generally turn to figures for compensation claims and the like.  However, whether such figures genuinely represent a rising tide of stress problems or merely increasing awareness of both the concept of stress and the availability of compensation is difficult to determine

Typically this myth is established by listing a variety of stressors from modern life, but how can we compare the impact of the telephone ringing all day with the risk of infectious disease or infant mortality (both of which are lower today). It is a bit like trying to determine whether Bath Ruth is better than Sammy Sosa, whether Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles Cricket Team was better or worse than Steve Waugh’s team, or whether Dixon of Dock Green was better than The Bill! It is not to suggest that we experience less stress today than earlier generations, rather, it seems that comparisons between then and now are highly likely to be unreliable, and may lead to over simplistic theorising about the causes of stress based upon spurious comparisons with the past.

Adapted from my book Stress: myth, theory and research (also available in UK )co-authored with Dr Fiona Jones.

Note: This article is designed to encourage a critical consideration of what we think we believe. I acknowledge that research in this area has advanced since the book was written for instance in linking stress and CHD. However much remains remarkably similar.

Job Hopping- are claims it is bad for your career justified?

Human Resource Management Professor Monika Hamori’s recent report published in the Harvard Business Review in July 2010 (http://bit.ly/byC0ZY) casts doubt on the conventional wisdom that moving jobs can accelerate your promotion through the ranks. In particular she argues this casts doubt on the Boundaryless Career idea (see David Winter’s piece on the Careers in Theory Blog).  Indeed Profesor Hamori identifies 4 “myths” associated with advancement. They are a) Job Hoppers prosper; b) A move should always be up c) Big fish swim in big ponds and d) Career and Industry switchers are penalized. On the face of it, such findings appear to cast doubt on the ideas behind the Boundaryless Career. Lets take a look at each of these arguments in their turn, because clearly such provocative conclusions demand closer consideration.

The Research

The first thing to say is that Professor Hamori is not some opinionated commentator hollering from the sidelines. She has an impressive evidence-base upon which she draws her conclusions. Specifically, she considered 14,000 career histories of non CEO executives in four sectors of the financial services industry. These records were stored by a large multi-national search firm. She also looked at the career histories of CEOs of Financial Times top 500 European companies and Standard and Poor’s top 500 US firms. In addition she collected interview data from a relatively small number of executive recruiters (45) and Business School alumni (20).

The Job Hopper Fallacy

Hamori’s case for rejecting the notion that job hoppers prosper faster rests on several lines of evidence.

  • Firstly she reports that her CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers (with 25% having been with the same company throughout their careers).
  • Secondly amongst her 14,000 non CEO executives, she reported that inside moves produced a “considerably” higher percentage and a faster pace of promotions compared to external promotions.
  • Thirdly, Hamori provides a couple of selected quotes from her interviews with recruiters to support her speculation that companies prefer to see “stability” in their executives’ career paths.

A closer look at the numbers

On the face of what is presented in the Harvard Business Review Article, it is difficult to make any precise arguments about the interpretation of the data, because too little is presented to do this (this is simply a reflection of the demands of writing for a non scientific audience and not a shortcoming of the work upon which the article is based). However I did locate an earlier paper by Hamori and Kakarika (2009, Human Resources Management, June) that reports the CEO data in great detail. This helps to clarify some of the findings.

Firstly according to Hamori & Kakarika (2009) “We found that CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead (% of career spent with organization…or have spent their entire professional career with the organization… take almost one and a half years less time [my italics] to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization, other factors being equal (Models 2 and 3). In addition…specifically, for each additional employer the predicted time to the top will increase by more than half a year, other factors being equal….On average, lifetime CEOs reached their current position in 23.1 years, while those who had six or more employers took 26.75 years to get to the top.”

For example, the statement that “CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead… take almost one and a half years less time to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization” does not specify “one and a half years less time compared to who?”. In fact, looking at the units in which % of career is assessed, it turns out that one and a half years is the difference between someone who has spent 0% of their career with the organization compared to someone who has spent all their career with the org, which is a fairly extreme comparison. (As an aside, note how this relationship doesn’t quite make sense conceptually. Effectively, it says that someone who has spent all their career with the organization that they lead will have gotten there more quickly than someone who has spent none of their time with the organization that they lead?!).

Also, when you look at the size of the correlations, they are less than .10 for two of the three IVs, which is the benchmark below which Cohen says things start to get trivial.

An alternative interpretation of the data: Job hopping is good for your career

So if we compare the most rusted on CEOs with the most fickle regular movers in the sample, staying put provides a time advantage of at the very most 13.64% over about quarter of a century. Whilst these figures provide no support on the face of it for those who advocate moving to enhance a career, the benefits of staying put are hardly so large that it is self-evident that staying put is the best strategy. Does getting to the top three years earlier real mean very much over such a period of time? When set against some of the plausible benefits of moving around such as greater diversity of experience, and perhaps a richer more storied personal history, three years seems a small price to pay. Indeed it amounts to little more than accrued sick leave and a few other days off every year.

A more serious concern is whether the conclusion that not moving is better for advancement can be substantiated. This is based on correlational data showing a negative relationship between the number of moves and the time taken to make CEO. It makes the assumption that those who leave had an equal shot at the top job compared to their colleagues who remain. This is a very dubious assumption to make.

Consider this: suppose a town has an Easter egg shortage, such that each of the seven shops have only one egg for sale. There are seven shoppers who turn up at the first store. Only one is going to get the egg. The remaining six walk over to the next store, where five miss out. These five move on to the next store. Eventually we have a pattern that shows the person who did the most walking (the hapless customer who had to go to all seven stores before securing their egg) also took the longest time to get their eggs. Moving stores and time to get eggs shows exactly the same relationship as moving organisations and time to get to CEO in Hamori and Kakarika’s work. However nobody would advise the customers who have missed out to hang around in the first store because they might never get an egg.

There are far more executives in any one company than there are CEO positions, and if the company has good succession planning in place, then there will be more executives suitable and capable of being CEO than there are CEO roles (one). So even putting aside the very important fact that not all executives are equally capable or suitable of being CEO, the data does not provide any evidence to support the author’s conclusions that staying within the organisation is a good move for anyone other than the person who ultimately makes it to CEO. Now you could argue in the Easter Egg example, that those shoppers who missed out in the first store and move on actually have to join other shoppers already milling around in the next store waiting for the egg to be tossed into the crowd. However, this is still a better option than staying in the first store that has run out of eggs. Indeed the person who moves will secure an egg faster than had they not moved.

The problem lies in the notion of all other things being equal. If the selection process of CEOs was essentially random and also regular within each company, then all other things are cancelled out (are equal), and so you may as well stay and take your chances. However this is a huge and unjustifiable assumption to make in any top 500 organisation that all have very explicit and structured processes for identifying and developing talent. It illustrates a type of “ecological fallacy”, where a relationship observed at the between-person level (i.e., “people who move jobs more often take longer to become CEO than people who move less often”) is used to make an inference at the within-person level (i.e., “for a given person, moving jobs will increase the time to become CEO”). As the two levels (between-person and within-person) are statistically and conceptually independent of each other, findings from one level do not necessarily generalise to the other level.

Consequently, it is entirely possible for the negative relationship to exist at the between-person level while at the same time for job hopping to be beneficial for some (or even all) people. The important point is that the job hopper fallacy is a within-person (or individual level) phenomenon that isn’t necessarily going to be adequately tested using a between-person analysis. At the individual level, which is where the Career Counsellors work (the ones that are explicitly singled out for perpetuating “myths” about advancement and movement), advising an executive who has been overlooked for a key promotion that precedent indicates is the pathway to the CEO position to remain with the company rather than looking elsewhere makes little sense. The research as presented is not powerful enough to pick up such career reversals or plateaus.

So if the executive has been identified as the “most likely to”, then advising them to stay with the organisation makes sense. Indeed the advice may well be superfluous because that executive is far more likely to enjoy a range of benefits, bonuses, perks, recognition, feedback and training that all serve to enhance engagement. The moving to enhance your career may be a myth for that very select group. But for everyone else, given that everything else is not equal, their chances within their current company are not equal to everyone else’s, moving may be the quickest route to a CEO role, even if it takes longer than those who remain because they’ve already been identified as going places.

Staying with the company does not cause a person to become a CEO quicker, it is merely associated with that promotion for those who made it. Clearly if one included all the executives who didn’t move irrespective of whether they made it to CEO or not, the correlation between not moving and time to make CEO would show a very strong positive relationship between time served and time waiting to become CEO. One final point is that the fact that CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers doesn’t really tell us anything about the usefulness of job hopping unless we also know how many employers the people who didn’t make it to CEO worked for. For all we know, the latter group may have only worked for one or two employers, which would support the job hopping idea.

A limited view of promotion and career advancement

In Hamori’s work, promotion (other than attaining the CEO role) is defined as “a better title with more responsibility or propelled the executive to a larger firm”. This is a very narrow definition. It does not, for instance take into account remuneration or other benefits and conditions. It equates the size of a firm with managerial complexity which may be an over-simplification. Managing a large group of people in a well established and otherwise well run and successful organisation may be a lot simpler than managing a small dysfunctional team in a complex, competitive and rapidly changing environment. It also doesn’t take into account a whole swathe of work rewards such as autonomy, altruism, quality of co-workers, surroundings, skill development, freedom, work-life balance, and lifestyle factors to name just a few.

It doesn’t take into account job satisfaction either. People often move jobs because they are frustrated. The ambitious do so because they often perceive their ambitions are being frustrated. It is questionable whether advising such people to remain with their employer is going to result in positive career outcomes in all or perhaps even most cases.

The focus and privileging Fortune Admired and top 100/ 500 companies may well reflect the client-base of the Executive search firm that provided a lot of interviews and career histories for analysis. This may promote the notion that only moves to the higher echelons of these lists can be deemed promotions. If broader conceptions of advancement that go beyond the narrow confines of market indexes are considered, what would be the impact upon the data? A move should be up – is this really a myth? This brings me to the “second myth” – which is that “A move should be up”. This myth came as a surprise to me, because I am not sure how many credible authorities are pushing such a message. Indeed I would argue anecdotally that most credible careers professionals promote privately and publicly the view that “side-ways” moves often provide opportunities, and indeed “moves-down” can provide, as Norm Amundson would say the “backswing” momentum to propel one forward. So this myth seems to be of the straw-man variety.

Performance is overlooked

The study has nothing to say about how the individual CEO’s actually perform. Granted this is a complex and contentious area, however it is important to have a sense of relative performance, because there is a possibility that those who move perform better than those who stay. There is no evidence in their data for this proposition, but supposing it were true, where does that leave the conclusion that moving for advancement is a “myth”? There are several possible confounds that could account for Hamori & Kakarika’s (2009) findings not least of which are ability and personality (e.g., highly able, conscientious and emotionally stable individuals are more likely to stay at a firm and also more likely to become CEO). Another big confound relates to people in the sample who started their own corporations early on (see H&K, 2009, p.361 under Dependent Variable).

For example, a person who starts his own corporation out of grad school would score 0 for time taken to become CEO (i.e., the minimum score) and would score 100% for % of career with organisation (i.e., the maximum score). Obviously this greatly inflates the observed negative relationship!

Big fish and big ponds

Here Hamori uses lists like the Fortune’s most Admired lists to judge whether executives are moving from bigger name to smaller name companies. It would be intriguing to get a close look at this data, because such lists have very significant volatility and turnover. The so called “stumble rate” of companies knocked off their most admired perches from one year the next is quite high (49%), and even in the highest echelons of the top 50 all stars, only 17 companies remain on the list that appeared on the initial one in 2001. Consequently with all this volatility, trying to say anything definitive about moves from big names to smaller names seems fraught with difficulty. Afterall Apple’s market value was $7.09 billion in 2001 (when the Fortune list began), and Microsoft’s was $332.73 billion. So leaving Microsoft for Apple presumably was seen as a bad move. In 2010 the Apple’s capitalization was $225.98 billion to Microsoft’s $225.32. Things change and rapidly.

Anecdotal Data

The arguments are supported with appeals to interviews with executive search recruiters, who reinforce the view that too many moves are a bad thing. They claim they and their clients prefer to see only a few moves perhaps interspersed with periods of stability (e.g. An “eight-year run”).

CONCLUSIONS –

There is nothing here to support the claim that moving advances your career is a myth. Hamori’s work is interesting, well presented and thoroughly analysed. It makes a provocative contribution to our understanding of career advancement. However her criticism of the idea that movement can lead to success as being a “myth” is premature, and is not supported by the data she presents. There are too many other variables that plausibly might be at play here that are simply not considered within the narrow definitions of career success or within the dataset.

The size of the effects she reports in practical terms seem underwhelming over the period of time it takes to become a CEO. Another way of looking at this data would be to say, if your path to the CEO route looks to be blocked in one company then moving a couple of times may only delay you by about 12 – 18 months in the worst case scenario that you would have made it to CEO had you stayed put. If, however, you wouldn’t have made it had you stayed put, then moving has probably got you to the CEO role faster than staying put. Given there can only be one CEO (in nearly all companies), then my alternative scenario is more likely to apply. In other words this data can just as easily be interpreted to draw precisely the opposite conclusion.

There are valid criticisms that can be levelled at the Boundaryless career idea, for instance Rodrigues and Guest (2010) review evidence suggesting that moving jobs is not on the increase to the degree that some commentators claim but has always been part of the scene. They conclude that “what we seem to be witnessing is not the demise but rather a redefinition, a growing complexity, and a more subjective perspective on career boundaries (Heracleous, 2004).” pp 1170. I’d agree.

References

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hamori, M & Kakarika, M. (2009) EXTERNAL LABOR MARKET STRATEGY AND CAREER SUCCESS: CEO CAREERS IN EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES Human Resource Management, May–June 2009, Vol. 48, No. 3, Pp. 355– 378

Heracleous, L. (2004). Boundaries in the study of organaization. Human Relations 57(1): 95-103.

Rodgrigues, R.A. & Gust, D. (2010). Have Careers become boundaryless. Human Relations, 63, 1157. DOI: 10.1177/018726709354344

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my colleague Dr Amirali Minbashian for his feedback and comments that have helped to shape my thoughts for this piece. I’d also like to thank David Winter from the Careers in Theory Blog http://bit.ly/aPBGq9 for agreeing to us posting our thoughts simultaneously on The Factory Blog and the Careers in Theory Blog.

Communication and Engagement in the workplace

I learned the hard way that communication in the workplace is all about in-groups and out-groups. I had just got my first proper job as a management consultant in the greed is good 1980s. I entered the office of a colleague (who had been university friend). Our boss was in there with my friend, and looked up and simply said “F___ Off” James” and my friend, in a supine gesture reiterated the instruction in precisely the same terms. Some friend.

Welcome to the world of those in the know and those who don’t matter. On that day I clearly did not matter. However I came to realise that I mattered a little, because the following Monday I arrived at work to find all the desks rearranged in my office and a memo asking me to see the Boss at 9:30am. I soon discovered that I was the last employee to see the boss. Of the 23 that went before me, 12 were sacked. I was given a motivational talk, that essentially said that I would have been sacked if it had not been for the fact that I was “cheap”!!

One of my senior colleagues clearly did not matter, because soon after my interview the boss was personally removing this guy’s name plate from what was his office door with a screwdriver! The colleague was obliged to see out a notice period sharing the general office with the administrative staff. Needless to say, I took the first opportunity to get out of the company and made a vow to avoid working in secretive and bullying work environments where possible.

Despite the torrent of rhetoric about open communication in the workplace over the last 20 years, my observation is that there are still many organisations where information is withheld from people either to bully or manipulate them. In nearly all of the cases I see, there is no good business case for keeping people in the dark, indeed it inevitably breeds insecurity, suspicion and resentment.

In companies that announce sudden layoffs, the excuse for the surprise element is often some vague reference to the market and competitors or management were worried about staff leaving prematurely. Rarely have such reasons got any merit, and often they simply mask a desire to manipulate staff for managerial advantage, to avoid any discussion or justification, or simply because the management is incompetent.

The problem with the “just get on with your job” approach to employees wanting to know what is going on, is that it is often the very job they are being told to get on with that is about to disappear or alter radically. The questions that many ask when kept in the dark, is what are they up to and why am I not being consulted? These are not the questions that engaged and productive people ask, they are the questions that disengaged and alienated people ask.

Communication difficulties are not restricted to management failing to keep staff informed, equally problematic are cultures where feedback is discouraged or it results in over-reaction, personalisation and vindictive reprisals. Sadly, it is not uncommon for overly sensitive managers to use performance evaluations or disciplinary policies as methods of stymying open and frank communication.

Engagement is probably the buzz word of the moment for employers operating in a tight labour market, yet one of the most effective ways of creating engagement is to take the radical step of talking to staff openly, honestly and regularly. When I get called in to help companies with people issues, one of the first problems I typically encounter is a culture of poor or mis-communication. Employment is a relationship, and like all human relationships they thrive on good communication.

which personalities perform best at work?

What sorts of personalities perform best at work? Is there one “best” personality? It is a question that seemingly all of us have an opinion about, but this deceptively simple question has no straight answer.  Organisational psychologists often use five personality labels to describe the differences in people’s temperament. They are Extroversion, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and Emotional Stability. Collectively they are called the Big Five.  The Extrovert is outgoing and has high levels of energy to make things happen, the Conscientious type works diligently towards a goal, the Open type is a flexible and creative thinker, the Agreeable type is warm and easily makes friends, and the Emotionally stable type is even-tempered and resilient in the face of stress.

The nature of the job also plays a big part in determining what personalities might succeed.  For instance people who are in the early stages of a new job, or those dealing with a job that has changed or is continually changing may face quite different challenges to those who are trying to maintain a level of performance having established themselves in an unchanging role. To make matters worse it is very likely that differences in personality will influence how people perform in these different stages of their work.

When advising clients about changing jobs, I encourage them to consider whether they are Builders or Maintainers. The Builders are people who like to take new challenges and create something from where nothing existed before. Maintainers are people who are not driven by the need to build something brand new. Maintainers are much more likely to find their challenge in keeping something going well, avoiding trouble, elongating the life of something.  Put a Builder type in a Maintenance role and they might deliberately undermine the process just to give them the challenge to build it up again. Put a Maintainer in a Building role, and marvel at the total lack of progress!

Carl Thoresen from Tulane University and his colleagues Jill Bradley, Paul Bliese and Joseph Thoresen reported recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a very clever study that demonstrated the truth in the Builders and Maintainers argument. They used the terms “Maintenance pattern” for people in unchanging roles and “Transitional pattern” for those in new and changing roles.  They studied 99 pharmaceutical sales staff who were in a maintenance pattern of work (they promoted a range of primary care products and had done so for some time) and 78 who were in a transitional stage (they were launching a brand new hormone replacement medicine and their pay was related to their success with this new product).  They found that high levels of Conscientiousness and Extroversion predicted high performance of those in the unchanging (Maintenance) roles but high levels of Openness to experience and Agreeableness did not. For the changing role (Transitional) employees it was exactly the opposite: high levels of Extroversion and Conscientiousness did not predict performance, but high levels of Openness to experience and Agreeableness did.

So different personalities may be successful at work at different times and under different work conditions.  When the work is unchanging and the employee may be susceptible to complacency, the energy of an extrovert who is also very dependable and reliable (conscientious) is required to keep up the performance levels, whereas, if the job is undergoing change, then an employee who is creative and a flexible thinker (openness to experience) who is also able to create new and warm relationships and get their foot in the door (agreeableness) perform better.

To understand why you are performing or feeling the way you are in your current role, it is a good idea to consider your personality and also the nature of the role you are in or the one you are considering moving to. The good news is that there is no one ideal personality for work success, it is a case of finding a role that suits yours.

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and a Partner in Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy.

Does a limp one (handshake) harm your job prospects?

Today I turn my attention to the vexed issue of limpness on the job – that is a limp handshake.  Now before you all think I have turned into some orrid little oik peddling pills of dubious provenance, I am, dear reader, of course talking about the role of the handshake in employment interviews.  Most of us have a notion that the handshake is a potent form of communication, and you do not need to be a member of the Masons to understand that a handshake can convey a lot about a person.

Personally I have extreme difficulties with handshakes because I am blessed to born into that elite club that are left-handers (recall Leonardo Da Vinci was left handed, Adolf Hitler was right handed – I rest my case!!!). Seriously I am often confronted by the handshake, because it is my habit to carry briefcases/papers etc in my right hand, and so on meeting someone – say just as I arrive at a speaker’s podium with notes or props, it is my left hand that is free.  Instinctively offering the left hand to a right-handed shaker ends up like some bizarre game of  scissor paper rock.  It is awkward.

limp handshake dead fish

But despite all my speculations that my shaking form provokes deep suspicions in my colleagues about my essential character, is there really anything in it?

Well, Greg Stewart, Susan Dustin, Murray Blount and Todd Darnold recently published an empirical investigation of the effects of handshakes in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  They rated men and women’s handshakes, and linked these to their measured personalities and also independent raters evaluations of their employment interview performance.

For men it turns out that a limp one is a very big deal that could have serious impacts on their future prospects. However that same does not apply to women. Firmness it turns out is very much a male issue.  A firm handshake for men was associated with a greater likelihood of being recommended for hire, and it seemed to work by influencing extroversion.  The effect was not observed for women.

So here is yet more evidence of the importance of non-verbal behavior in employment interviews, and yet more evidence that interviews are influenced by non job relevant factors, and also that male and female candidates are often treated in different ways in these social interactions.  So men, get a firm grip on your recruiter, and recruiters, here is yet another potentially biasing factor to consider when using interviews.