“Computer programmers have emotions?”
This was the common – and only semi-joking – response Gleb heard behind closed doors from managers and HR staff of a large business-to-business computer software consulting firm to which he provided consulting. Indeed, computer programmers frequently do not display strong emotions in the workplace, and thus it’s natural to ignore their underlying motivations and believe they only follow logical and rational incentives. However, forgetting that computer programmers are driven primarily by emotional incentives made it difficult for this company to motivate computer programmers both to sell their expertise to potential customers and to provide outstanding customer service after the sale.
The company tried offering programmers more money to do selling and customer support, but these financial incentives did not result in any substantial improvement in internal indicators of computer programmer involvement in sales and customer service. They also tried to motivate programmers by talking about how improved performance by programmers in these areas would result in greater profitability and client retention by the company, but that failed to move the programmers as well.
That’s when they brought in Gleb. After interviewing and observing computer programmers, it became clear that they were primarily interested in writing code and solving technical problems, not sales and customer service. To motivate computer programmers to do these activities required using research-based emotional and social intelligence strategies to align employee incentives with organizational priorities. Gleb’s interactions with programmers revealed two promising emotional drivers: desire for 1) positive personal reputation outside the company, and 2) social status due to peer recognition from fellow programmers within the company.
To address the motive of personal reputation in the industry, Gleb’s advice led the company to change its messaging to programmers about the goal of selling their services. Instead of making it about the company getting additional revenue, the communication became about individual programmers getting a higher reputation and gaining the status of thought leaders through writing expert blogs and presenting at industry conferences (which was the main way that the company wanted programmers to sell their services). The company also provided programmers with paid time for doing these activities, and covered their travel costs.
To address the desire for social status from peers within the company, Gleb’s advice led the company to undertake several steps. First, internal communications such as the weekly company newsletter began to highlight programmers who excelled in customer service as rated by customer satisfaction service, and in marketing their services via getting hits on their blogs and presentations at industry conferences. The company also changed the “employees of the month” awards to highlight these accomplishments, as opposed to solving complicated technical challenges. These short-term, easier changes were accompanied by more fundamental, deeper ones, such as transforming the promotion process to put more weight on customer service and marketing excellence. The company also changed the performance management system for engineers to a team-based evaluation system, with each team’s score depending on its overall rating in customer service and marketing, as well as programming. That way, each team encouraged its members to do well in customer service and marketing, making social status dependent in part on this criterion.
As a result, over the course of 15 months the firm more than doubled their internal indicators of computer programmer involvement in sales and customer service. These changes resulted with an increase of customer inquiries of over 30 percent, about 20 percent more sales volume, and a boost of more than 30 percent in current customer satisfaction.
Do you want these kinds of benefits for your own organization? Gleb can help you if you get in touch!
The dangers of fallacious planning
One department within a large auto company had a tendency to make decisions very slowly in comparison to other departments. Even worse, the outcomes of decisions was poor in comparison to other units of a similar size. This negatively impacted the performance of this department, and thus the whole company.
Gleb’s observation of team decision-making and interviews with stakeholders revealed a series of flawed decision-making patterns. First, employees within that department suffered from information bias, the tendency to seek much more information than needed to make decisions, which slowed decision-making to a crawl and hindered delivery of outcomes. Second, they tended to fall into planning fallacy, a flawed pattern of thinking and feeling where we assume that our plans would all go perfectly, and not plan sufficiently for contingencies by building up extra resources of money and time to address unforeseen events. These two built on each other, with plans going wrong leading to the unit to seek even more information next time to ensure their plans did not go wrong, instead of seeking only sufficient information to make the decision and building in additional resources to deal with unexpected events.
After identifying these problems, Gleb collaborated with the senior staff of that department to optimize their decision-making processes to account for these errors. He also provided training to all employees in that department on effective decision-making strategies and helped them integrate research-based team decision-making processes into their policies. As a result, the department from September 2014 through October 2016 made up over 60 percent of the gap in performance and productivity it had to similar departments of its size.
Do you think anyone in your organization might be suffering from such problems? Hire Gleb to help them!
How do we face difficult truths?
Did you know that one of the top reasons CEOs get fired is “denying reality” – failing to recognize bad news in the market and respond to them adequately? The problem stems from various emotional drivers that cause us to flinch away from bad news, for instance by interpreting all information as fitting their preconceived notions of reality, a thinking error known as confirmation bias. Research illustrates how the confirmation bias and other similar biases harm our financial decision-making. Leaders who are not sufficiently aware of various emotional patterns that will lead them astray result in companies under-performing expectations, losing money, market share, and reputation.
One leader of a mid-size nonprofit tended to deny his emotions about concerns over the state of the organization’s financial well-being. He would throw himself into working on addressing those concerns by focusing his efforts on fundraising and grant-writing. He focused so much on accomplishing the organization’s mission that he did not stop to consider whether the current costs of the organization were in line with its financial reality. Over time, he grew increasingly burned out through such activities, and the organization’s Board of Directors grew increasingly concerned about the mismatch between revenue and costs.
Through a series of coaching conversations with Gleb, this leader realized that he had exceedingly high expectations for accomplishing the organization’s mission that were not in line with financial reality. These expectations came from an emotional desire to serve the organization’s beneficiaries, and a consequent confirmation bias that did not acknowledge growing evidence about the unrealistically high budget. As a result of these conversations and insights, the leader managed to avoid the fate of many CEOs who failed to face reality and instead implemented a series of cost-cutting measures that resulted in the organization’s budget coming into line with financial reality.
Do you know of anyone who needs similar coaching? Gleb can help!
Why do leaders need emotional intelligence?
The emotional expression of leaders is vital to company performance, as scholars have found. The emotions that leaders express – frustration, anger, kindness, optimism – sway the attitudes of others through a process known as emotional contagion. These emotions are crucial for employee motivation and engagement. The wrong emotions expressed at the wrong times lead to poor performance by employees: no wonder research demonstrates that one’s emotional management and projection grows more important the higher one rises in the organizational hierarchy!
Gleb was asked to consult for a start-up whose angel investors noticed that the start-up founder’s emotional expression tended to sabotage employee performance. While projecting confidence when she talked to external stakeholders and thus successfully raising money for her company, she expressed a great deal of anxiety about the company’s future performance when engaging with employees. This resulted in employees experiencing a great deal of anxiety themselves through emotional contagion.
While a little anxiety can drive productivity in the short term, excessive anxiety decreases productivity, undermines employee mental and physical health, contributes to workplace accidents, decreases motivation, and increases turnover. That is what research shows, and that is what happened to the start-up. The founder failed to recognize that she needed to be “on” and managing her emotions well not only when engaging with external stakeholders, but also when she engaged with internal stakeholders such as employees, since subordinates are especially strongly impacted by a leader’s emotions. Furthermore, her emotional expression had established an emerging culture within the start-up of more senior staff expressing negative emotions to junior staff.
Gleb’s intervention involved both coaching for the founder to ensure she managed her emotions well, and shifting the culture via training for people within the start-up on the importance of emotional expression for the start-up’s success. Gradually, the culture of the start-up shifted to more positive emotional expression, which contributed to higher employee motivation and engagement, less turnover, less sick days, and increased productivity. Since he completed that consulting in January 2016 through his last contact with the start-up in November 2016, the start-up’s internal indicators of employee engagement and productivity improved by 38 percent, turnover decreased by 20 percent and sick days by 18 percent.
Are there any leaders you know who might unknowingly be harming employee engagement? Gleb’s subtle and nuanced coaching and consulting can help if you don’t delay and bring him in!
Why should you care about creating a meaningful and purpose-oriented workplace?
Research shows that organizations that cultivate strong emotions of meaning and purpose among their employees have higher employee motivation, better employee engagement, improved productivity, less turnover, better employee physical and mental health and thus fewer sick days, less team conflict and better integration into the organizational culture – all leading to lower costs and higher profits! Even a small investment in this area can lead to a large pay-off, and it’s relatively simple to do. Scholars find that a combination of aligning one’s goals with the organization’s priorities, a practice of workplace self-reflection, a sense of community belonging, and an orientation toward others leads to a much strengthened sense of meaning and purpose.
Gleb worked with a major hospital to help its employees cultivate a stronger sense of meaning and purpose. That involved navigating complex relationship hierarchies of medical and non-medical staff in a variety of units that often had tense inter-unit interactions. These relationship dynamics inhibited a sense of community belonging, and his intervention focused on this area.
Through a variety of mechanisms and incentives that proved appealing to people’s emotions, the hospital substantially increased its sense of community belonging and consequent sense of meaning and purpose for its staff, as measured by before and after evaluations on this science-based questionnaire. Since Gleb completed his consulting there in August 2015, through his last contact with that hospital in July 2016, the hospital reported 15 percent fewer staff sick days, 25 percent lower turnover, and 28 percent higher employee satisfaction on internal surveys, along with anecdotal evidence of less team conflict.
In another example, Gleb worked with an organization that combines 12 of the UK’s leading charity and a number of industry partners and experts, to develop a new financially lucrative social enterprise themed around helping people develop a sense of meaning and purpose. This involved coordinating with a number of charity organizations with differing missions and getting them on board with a science-based, data-driven framework of cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose. Next, the framework was used to create potential ideas for new and massive commercial enterprises. Finally, one enterprise was chosen and implemented. Gleb’s role was providing the framework, helping sell the charity partners on this project, helping shape the conversation about potential ideas for social enterprises, and then providing advice and feedback on the choice and implementation of the social enterprise.
Help yourself avoid the dangers of subpar decision-making in your organization and misalignment of employee incentives with organization priorities by reaching out to Gleb!