“Computer programmers have emotions?”
- This was the common – and only semi-joking – response I heard behind closed doors from managers and HR staff of a large business-to-business computer software consulting firm to whom I provided consulting on emotional and social intelligence. With that attitude, no wonder they had trouble motivating computer programmers both to sell their expertise to potential customers and to provide outstanding customer service after the sale. Computer programmers intuitively are interested in writing code and solving problems, not sales and customer service. To motivate computer programmers to do these activities required research-based emotional and social intelligence strategies.
- My advice helped the company set up up effective incentive structures designed to speak to the emotions of engineers. 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 70 percent, about 40 percent more sales volume, and a boost of more than 30 percent in current customer satisfaction.
- Organizations of all types – corporations, nonprofits, churches, government agencies, and others – are usually structured as if people are rational creatures ruled by reason and logic. This is highly problematic, as about 70-80 percent of our decision-making is guided by our emotions. No wonder that organizations, especially ones trying to implement internal change or experiencing disturbances in their external environment, suffer from internal tensions and conflicts.
- These organizations suffer from lower employee morale and engagement, higher turnover, more workplace accidents and sick leave, decreased productivity, all resulting in higher costs and less profits and loss of market share. To address these problems, I provide consulting and coaching to organizations on research-based, pragmatic strategies for emotional and social intelligence, wise decision-making, and meaning and purpose in the workplace. Most of my consulting takes place for mid-size and large corporations, but I have also worked with nonprofits, government agencies, and other organizations, as well as a few start-ups.
Consulting and Coaching in Wise Decision-Making
- When was the last time you regretted a decision made by an individual or team in your organization, or even perhaps yourself – one that cost money and time, brought about unnecessary stress and conflict, hurt reputation and team morale? Do you know what led to the decisions you now regret? Have you figured out how to avoid such regrettable decisions and harmful outcomes in the future?
- We all have a tendency to place blame on the individuals or teams that made the decision for the negative outcomes – including ourselves. However, the large majority of the time, the blame lies with the decision-making process and the lack of training in decision-making skills. Scholars have discovered many dozens of thinking errors, called cognitive biases, in our brains that cause us to make poor decisions. Fortunately, wise leaders can draw on recent research to improve decision-making processes in their organizations and train their employees and themselves in effective decision-making skills. In fact, scholars have found that de-biasing strategies, when applied effectively, can substantially improve decision-making in the workplace, thus greatly improving the bottom line.
Caption: Cognitive bias codex (By Jm3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)
- I have consulted for a number of organizations to help them improve both their decision-making processes, and provided training and coaching in decision-making skills to teams and leaders in these organizations.
- For instance, one department within a large insurance company had a tendency to make decisions very slowly in comparison to other departments, and the outcomes of decisions were poor in comparison to other units of a similar size. This negatively impacted the performance of this department, and thus the whole company. My analysis revealed a series of flawed decision-making patterns. First, folks 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, I collaborated with the senior staff of that department to optimize their decision-making processes to account for these errors, and also provided training to all decision-makers in that unit on effective decision-making strategies. While the change took time and effort, the department has, since my consulting engagement ended in September 2014 through my last interaction with them in October 2016, made up over 70 percent of the gap it had previously had to similar departments of its size.
Consulting and Coaching in Emotional Intelligence
- 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.
- “It’s so frustrating when other people don’t deliver on their commitments: handing in a project late, doing sloppy work, or otherwise. It’s even worse when they bend or even break the rules to get what they want. What jerks!” I encountered this attitude in many consulting and coaching situations. Our emotions tend to notice when other people act in ways that we perceive as bad, and assign blame for their behavior to their personality, labeling them as jerks. Interestingly enough, when we don’t deliver on our own commitments, or bend and break the rules, we don’t think of ourselves as jerks – we excuse ourselves by assigning blame for our behavior to our circumstances. This common thinking error – assigning negative behaviors by others to their personality and our own to our circumstances – is called the fundamental attribution error by scholars. It spurs a cycle of workplace tensions, hostility, and conflict, without anyone realizing why this atmosphere arose in the first place.
- Intuitively, we perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is like a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions. The latter represents the Autopilot System of thinking, also known as System 1, one of the two systems of thinking in our brains. It makes good decisions most of the time, but also regularly makes certain systematic thinking errors. The other thinking system, known as the Intentional System or System 2, is the deliberate, reflective system. It’s takes effort to turn on but it can catch and override the thinking errors committed by System 1. This way, we can address the systematic mistakes made by our brains, in our workplace and other areas of life.
- I have provided consulting and coaching to a number of mid-size and large organizations and also a couple of start-ups on emotional intelligence – managing one’s own emotions internally, and understanding the emotions of others in a way that accomplishes one’s goals.
- For example, 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 me, 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.
Consulting and Coaching in Social Intelligence
- “Why don’t they just get? It’s so simple!” I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard a variant of that phrase from my clients. It indicates a deep frustration with other folks within the organization due to them failing to behave in a way that the speaker believes they should behave. This is typically seen as a problem in communication, and the typical solution proposed is more clear and extensive communication. While that may help, the actual problem usually lies deeper. People tend to overestimate greatly the extent to which they can understand others, and to which others can understand them, as they usually focus on rational and logical communication, and fail to speak to other people’s emotions. This problem, known as “failure at other minds,” is not solved by more clear logical and rational communication, which does not address the main factor in how we make our decisions and behave – our emotions.
- The emotions of leaders are especially important, as they tend to impact the whole organization, 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!
- To address these types of problems, I provide consulting and coaching in social intelligence, the ability to not simply understand the emotions of others but also manage those emotions effectively, through a combination of projecting one’s own emotions and setting up appropriate incentives that address other people’s emotional needs.
- As one case study, I 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. My 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 I completed that consulting in January 2016 through my last contact with the start-up in November 2016, the start-up’s budget has grown by 125 percent and its staff grew by 60 percent.
- The example I described at the very top of this page about computer programmers is another example of coaching in social intelligence.
Consulting and Coaching in Meaning and Purpose
- Why should you care about creating a meaningful and purpose-oriented workplace? Well, research shows that organizations that cultivate a strong sense of meaning and purpose for 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 serving others leads to a much strengthened sense of meaning and purpose.
- How do you specifically institute these to help cultivate a rich sense of meaning and purpose among your staff? You can check out my online class or book about doing so.
- Or you can bring me in to help you set up best practices in your organization, whether organization-wide or within a single department or team.
- As one example, I 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 my 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 I completed my consulting there in August 2015, through my last contact with that hospital in July 2016, the hospital reported 15 percent fewer sick days for staff, 25 percent lower turnover, 20 percent higher employee satisfaction on internal surveys, and anecdotal evidence of less team conflict and better alignment of individual activities with the organization’s priorities.
- In another example, I 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. My 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. This is an ongoing project, and I do not yet have sufficient
Video Testimonial from August Brunsman IV, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance
- This is a video testimonial from August Brunsman IV, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance, for coaching provided to him and consulting provided to the Secular Student Alliance by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. For more about August Brunsman IV, see his LinkedIn profile. The Secular Student Alliance supports a network of over 250 groups at high school and college campuses that sets students on a lifelong course of moral leadership based on philosophical naturalism. August Brunsman IV has executive oversight of strategic and operational responsibility for the Secular Student Alliance’s staff, budget, program, expansion, promotion, legal, and fundraising functions. He transformed the organization from an all-volunteer start-up being run by current and recent college students to an organization with over $900,000 in annual revenue since 2012. For more about the Secular Student Alliance, see its website.
Written Testimonial from Laura Williams, Head of Front-End Innovation at the Good Lab
- “The Good Lab worked with Gleb to understand his philosophy and approach through his 4 key components to living with meaning and purpose. These 4 components were used as a framework in our innovation workshop, to identify new and massive commercial opportunities that could help people live with meaning and purpose. Gleb helped convey this framework in an accessible and engaging manner to our charity partners and industry experts, who responded well and used this framework to generate a multitude of ideas for commercial opportunities. Gleb’s combination of scholarly expertise around meaning and purpose, and savvy in understanding how to tie people’s needs and desires to commercial opportunities, was crucial to achieving our outcomes.”
- This written testimonial is from Laura Williams, Head of Front-End Innovation at the Good Lab, for consulting provided to The Good Lab by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. For more about Laura Williams, see her LinkedIn profile. The Good Lab is a core team of innovators who collaborate with 12 of the UK’s top charities and industry experts to design and prototype radically different ways for charities to raise more funds. It co-creates, develops, and tests new methods of raising funds by focusing on various industry sectors through fast-moving development cycles. For more about the Good Lab and its partners, see its website.
Written Testimonial from Senior Manager at Large Insurance Company
- “Working with Gleb was eye-opening. We had never considered the importance of decision-making skills in our work. He helped us recognize that the essence of our department’s problems came from our decision-making processes and practices. The manager of that department brought in people who had similar decision-making practices to himself, resulting in a really problematic dynamic. Gleb’s insights were very valuble in helping us break out of that dynamic and improve our processes and practices by dealing with the biases within that department.”
- This testimonial was provided anonymously, due to the sensitive nature of this consulting project. For further details, contact Dr. Gleb Tsipursky by email.
Written Testimonial from Mark Matson, Vice President of Human Resources at EWI
- “EWI is an engineering services consulting firm. We contacted Gleb to acquire some insights in how to motivate scientific people to ‘sell’ themselves – a constant challenge of the business. Gleb used his researched-based approach to behavioral psychology to engage us in a conversation that provided several very helpful insights into how we communicate with our people. We were using far too much business-speak that was not connecting emotionally with our people. For example we have stopped using the word ‘brand’ and now use the word reputation – which resonates with scientists. Glen has been an unexpected and practical resource for us.”
- This written testimonial is from Mark Matson, Vice President of Human Resources at EWI, for consulting provided to EWI by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. For more about Mark Matson, see his LinkedIn profile. EWI is the leading engineering and technology organization in North America dedicated to the research and development of materials joining and welding. It provides expert materials joining assistance, contract research, consulting services and training to hundreds of members in the aerospace, automotive, government, energy and chemical, heavy manufacturing, medical and electronics industries. For more about EWI, see its website.
Other testimonials are available through email, as many of my consulting and coaching clients deal with sensitive emotional matters and are unwilling to have their testimonials shared publicly. Please contact me if interested in having those testimonials, as well as references to past clients so you can chat to them directly.