Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The World Needs Humanely-Designed Organizations

Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash
Dhiman (2007), summarizing arguments from Margaret Wheatley (2006), has a radical goal for organizations: “to create organizations that are ‘worthy of human habitation’” (p. 58). As I speak with people who are, from the outside, trying to work their way into organizations through the recruitment process, organizations have a long way to go if companies’ rejection letters are any indication:
  • Should things look like a match, we will reach out…
  • …unfortunately, we have chosen to move forward with other candidates whom we feel best fit our needs…
  • This position has been filled.
  • …if your qualifications are commensurate with the posting requirements, we will contact you.
  • …you will not be among the finalists…
  • …your application will not be considered further…
  • …we have decided to move forward in a different direction and will not be offering you employment with [company name]
Themes emerge in these responses, such as “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” “Thanks, but no thanks,” “you’re not what we’re looking for,” and “just kidding, we’re not hiring.” These are just snippets of responses applicants receive. Organizations who do poor jobs of communicating bad news may simply be adopting the perspective of a rather famous anecdote: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

Organizations have one principal, overarching, and ethical responsibility: to treat stakeholders well. This includes employees, clients, shareholders, and community members. In the spirit of creating organizations that are worthy of human habitation, organizations have several ways to make this happen through leadership and organization development, organizational metrics, recruiting and selecting, training and development, and incentives, to name just a few.

To run organizations humanely, compassion should be interwoven in the aforementioned and other organizational initiatives. Compassion has two parts: (a) understanding others’ unpleasant emotional, cognitive, and physical states, and (b) desiring to diminish, mitigate, or, when possible, eliminate unnecessary adversity which lead to unpleasant states (Atkins & Parker, 2012). Atkins and Parker empirically linked compassion linked with several favorable individual- and organizational-level outcomes, including healing, relationship quality, relational resources (e.g., trust, value, respect), and interconnectedness. When we adopt an it’s-not-personal-it’s-just-business attitude toward others, it removes the humanity from organizations and excuses its members from feeling for and, when possible, appropriately responding to others’ difficulties. Compassion, sympathy, and empathy in organizational work may be ways to counteract tendencies to be transactional rather than transformational in our relationships.

As you inventory your personal tasks and responsibilities as well as those within the group of which you are a part or lead, aim to align your practices on the side of compassion. This does not mean that you will meet every need for every person all the time. Rather, it means that you will instill in yourself and others a culture of compassion, where you proactively anticipate and rise to meet the needs of others. Your increased efforts will have multiplicative effects both within and outside the organization.


Atkins, P. W. B., & Parker, S. K. (2012). Understanding individual compassion in organizations: The role of appraisals and psychological flexibility. Academy of Management Review, 37(4), 524–546. doi:10.5465/amr.2010.0490

Dhiman, S. K. (2007). Running successful organizations humanly: Lessons from the trenches. Journal of Global Business Issues, 1(1), 53–58.

Wheatley, M. (2006). Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Two Heads Are Better Than One

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Have you ever asked, “Are two heads better than one?” If so, you may have asked this question in the midst of a team-based project. Likely, things were not going as well as you wanted and you were convinced that you, working on your own, would have had greater success. It turns out that, under the right circumstances, the collective intelligence and efforts vastly outdo the individual intelligence and efforts (Woolley, Aggarwal, & Malone, 2015).

What are the “right circumstances” that bring out the best in collaboration? Here are some evidence-based suggestions to get you started.
  • For the sake of what am I collaborating? For collaboration to be effective, it is imperative that you, with the team, (a) set the collaborative goals, and (b) identify the purported deliverables that will evidence effective collaboration. Consideration should be given for both the quantity and quality of outcomes and follow good goal setting principles. For example, strive that your aimed-for outcomes are difficult enough such that they require the skill sets of more than one individual. Next, be as specific as you can in defining for what you are aiming. Third, have mechanisms in place to measure your progress and, when needed, allow for course corrections when things get off track. When the goals and deliverables are established, decide if you have something meaningful to contribute and the bandwidth to give your best (the next bullet point tackles this concern). 
  • What do I have to offer? Great collaboration requires the right people providing the right resources at the right times. Not all resources can or should be shared all the time. Let me explain. There are three basic types of resources: personal, knowledge, and social (Alsharo, Gregg, & Ramirez, 2017). Personal resources are those things of limited quantity or duration, such as one’s time or energy. In your 24 hour day, if you have zero discretionary hours available for collaboration, you will make a poor collaborative partner if you are unable to the make sufficient time. Knowledge resources are the nuggets of facts and information you have formally or informally acquired. A company’s intranet or an employee handbook may be good examples of pooled knowledge resources: collections of information and facts that are indexed in ways that individuals can access on demand. Knowledge resources are ripe for collaborative endeavors, especially when one’s personal resources are running low. If you have valuable knowledge, skills, or abilities that can benefit others, make these available. Social resources are the interpersonal networks that each of us have that can be made available to others. These are especially powerful resources to take when our personal and knowledge resources are running low. For example, perhaps you are aware of an upcoming professional conference but have no time to actively contribute to its success. Tapping your social resources, you could consider those in your network who may be looking for greater opportunities to serve and could make the connection with the organizing committee. Thus, when considering what you have to offer, consider first your knowledge and social resources. When these are insufficient and you have adequate personal resources, you’re a good candidate for collaboration. 
  • Am I collaborating material? A basic collaboration requirement is that people trust you. To earn trust, have a history of doing three things well (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). First, demonstrate excellence in all that you do. If your work is substandard or even mediocre, you call into question your competence and ability. Put your absolute best foot forward every time. Second, prioritize others’ interests at least as much as you do your own. If you are always asking “What’s in it for me?” you may be showing your true intentions. This does not mean, however, to permit others to take advantage of you. Rather, it means to ground your work in common interests such that while you are looking out for others’ you are taking care of yourself, as well (i.e., a “win-win”). Last, ascribe to and live by a code of conduct that others find acceptable and desirable. For example, if you are consistently late in meeting deadlines, your code of conduct runs contrary to a purported group value of punctuality. Doing these three things well (high ability, other-oriented interest, and personal integrity) sets you up well for collaborating. 
  • How do I make it happen? Once you’ve decided on what to collaborate, identified the value you bring to the table, and made a commitment to earn the trust of of your team members by excelling in your work, adopt design processes that facilitate your work together. For example, consider the various decision making styles that can help or hinder your efforts. A strictly autocratic approach with a central leader has its strengths and weaknesses just as will a strictly participative approach where decisions are made through discussion and consensus. Another example is the modality that is chosen to facilitate your work: face-to-face, virtual, or hybrid approaches. Face-to-face approaches, perhaps technologically mediated, may align well with a participative decision-making style approach when significant discussion is needed. Virtual approaches permit asynchronous collaboration from many different stakeholders but also requires that those stakeholders be self-disciplined when one’s contribution is not strictly monitored by others in the group. An appropriate level of documentation, too, needs to be selected in order to keep all team members, regardless of the aforementioned considerations, apprised of the project’s status. Documentation of team processes and outcomes is a double-edged sword in that too much of it may implicitly send the message that team members cannot be trusted (Breuer, Hüffmeier, & Hertel, 2016). 
There you have it: basics of collaboration! Of course, there is much more that could and should be considered for projects requiring collaboration. As you navigate through the ins and outs of the four bullet points above and in context of the collaborative project you have in mind, you’ll uncover many additional contingencies. What you cannot do is let any collaborative failures of the past keep you from the collaborative successes just waiting to be experienced in the present and future. With so much to gain and relatively little to lose, identify good people around whom to surround yourself and, together, get to work!


Alsharo, M., Gregg, D., & Ramirez, R. (2017). Virtual team effectiveness: The role of knowledge sharing and trust. Information & Management, 54(4), 479–490. doi:10.1016/j.im.2016.10.005
Breuer, C., Hüffmeier, J., & Hertel, G. (2016). Does trust matter more in virtual teams? A meta-analysis of trust and team effectiveness considering virtuality and documentation as moderators. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(8), 1151–1177. doi:10.1037/apl0000113
Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, D. F. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709–734. doi:10.2307/258792
Woolley, A. W., Aggarwal, I., & Malone, T. W. (2015). Collective intelligence and group performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(5), 420–424. doi:10.1177/0963721415599543

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Culture Change May Not Always Be The Answer

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash
An organization’s culture is the product of and owned by the organization and, collectively, its members. As such, first understanding the culture is a promising way of getting to changing the culture.

Edgar Schein (1990, 2004, 2006; Schein & Bennis, 1999) is arguably one of the most well known of organizational culture theories. Schein proposes three levels of organizational culture: (a) artifacts, (b) espoused beliefs and values, and (c) basic assumptions. Artifacts include many of the physical and tangible aspects of organizational life (e.g., pay structure, reporting hierarchy, dress code) but also include intangible rules that govern behavior (e.g., expected norms for behaviors). Espoused beliefs and values include the commonalities in work philosophies and ideals that are largely shared by the group and to a large extent put in place by the leaders of the organization. These beliefs and values may not always represent what actually happens in the organization by way of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors but rather represent ideals toward which the organization and its members strive. Basic assumptions are the underlying organizational drivers (e.g., common problems experienced by group members and the preferred ways in which the organizational approaches and solves those problems).

Failing to consider the three aforementioned levels of of culture, as experienced by members of the culture, will derail your culture change efforts before you even get start. Assuming you have not made this all-too-common mistake, here are three questions to ask and answer for yourself before embarking on culture change initiatives:

Photo by Marlon Lara on Unsplash
  1. Does the organization really and truly need culture change? Consider organizational culture change to be akin to major and invasive surgery. Physicians, when contemplating surgery, consider less drastic measures first as means by which to (a) cure ailments or, at the very least, (b) manage the short term symptoms and effects of ailments. Major and invasive surgery becomes the option when every other intervention (a) will be ineffective, or (b) has already failed to achieve the desired outcomes. Similar to a training needs analysis (e.g., Brown, 2002), invite organizational members to discuss the organization and their respective roles in it related to the challenges the organization is experiencing. Identify and implement more conventional interventions first to address pressing business problems (e.g., adjusting work procedure, creation/elimination/merging of positions, realignment of resources). With evidence to support the failure of these interventions, move to more aggressive interventions (e.g., change in leadership, organizational restructuring). When these more aggressive interventions fail, it may then be appropriate to consider culture change efforts. 
  2. Are leaders paying attention to, measuring, and guiding business outcomes by the examples that are set for members to follow? Inevitably, leaders set the tone for members’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This includes emotional management, conflict resolution, resources allocation, recruitment, selection, promotion, and dismissal of organizational members, to name a few. The degree to which organizations’ leaders exemplify the prescribed artifacts, espoused beliefs and values, and basic assumptions sets the bar to which other organizational members can strive to live. For example, although an organization may believe in and value punctuality, seniors leaders’ frequent late meeting arrivals and the lack of consequences for this behavior may inadvertently signify contextual complacency to on-time project delivery. In other words, as long as one has good excuses for missing deadlines the organization’s value of punctuality is negotiable. Ensure that your organization’s members have good examples to follow, embarking on leadership development for leaders whose behaviors and attitudes are falling substantively short of the culture’s expectations. 
  3. Are we incentivizing behaviors that are consistent with our culture? As much as we would like to think that organizational members will autonomously and authentically adhere to the three levels of organizational culture as a function of who they are as individuals, the fact is that many, if not most, organizational behaviors are initiated and maintained because they are directly or indirectly incentivized (e.g., Kerr, 1975, 2009; Kotter, 1995). This is especially the case when rewards are scare (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978). For example, consider performance management and compensation systems and their congruence with an espoused value of teamwork. If the top 10% of sales people qualify for end-of-year bonuses, it makes perfect sense that salespeople will not go out of their way to be “team players” to onboard, orient, and mentor newly-added salespeople. To do so is in competition with the desire to earn bonuses. Performance management and compensations systems that evaluate and reward individual efforts are likely to foster behaviors that put individuals first at the expense of teamwork. To use a basketball metaphor, changing performance management and compensation to recognize and reward the assist and not just the basket will encourage behaviors that are in alignment with the organization’s value of teamwork. As you look at elements of your organization’s culture, which are incentivized and which are punished? This may be an important key to understanding why organizations’ members fail to live up to the things for which the organizations stand. 
Depending on your answers to the above questions, culture change may not always be the answer. Rather, small and more simple options may be at your disposal to get more desirable individual, leader, team, and organizational outcomes.

When it becomes apparent that a change in culture may be necessary, consult and acquire the services of a knowledgeable and skilled culture change agent to help you assess, initiate, evaluate, and manage the change process. Just as you would never take a scalpel and perform major and invasive surgery on yourself, strongly and seriously consider the imperative of calling in, listening to, and following the counsel of a culture change agent. Just as success after surgery can never be guaranteed, no culture change initiative is without its risks and side effects. Although there will be discomfort, pain, and sometimes scars before, during, and after the culture transformation, when culture change initiatives are successful, these beat the alternative of maintaining the status quo.


Brown, J. (2002). Training needs assessment: A must for developing an effective training program. Public Personnel Management, 31(4), 569–578.
Kerr, S. (1975). On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Academy of Management Journal, 18(4), 769–783. doi:10.2307/255378
Kerr, S. (2009). Reward systems. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 59–67.
Pfeffer, J., & Salancik, G. R. (1978). The external control of organizations: A resource dependence perspective. In The external control of organizations (pp. 1–22). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Schein, E. H. (1990). Organizational culture. American Psychologist, 45(2), 109–119. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.45.2.109
Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. doi:9780787975975
Schein, E. H. (2006). So how can you assess your corporate culture? In J. G. Gallos (Ed.), Organizational development: A Jossey-Bass reader (pp. 614–633). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Schein, E. H., & Bennis, W. (1999). The corporate culture survival guide: Sense and nonsense about culture change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Monday, December 24, 2018

21st Century Working Relationships

Pixabay | CC0 | https://pixabay.com/en/workplace-team-business-meeting-1245776/
When I get sets of data, I cannot help but look for compelling stories in search of ways to improve the workforce. While doing a deep dive through nearly 3,900 employee satisfaction responses, one thing became apparent in the factor-analyzed data: high-quality working relationships are a noteworthy key to employees experiencing work satisfaction. With this data set, greater than one-quarter of satisfaction was accounted for by how employees experienced workplace working relationships. As you look to gift yourself something for this holiday season and new year, look to improve the relationships you have with those whom you work.

What does a high-quality working relationship look like, you ask? While there is no shortage of theories on the topic (e.g., leader-member exchange [LMX]; Graen & Schiemann, 1978), one of my favorite is the working alliance (WA; Bordin, 1979). The working alliance identifies two key components to successful, change-oriented, and transformative relationships.

  • Meeting of the minds. For most situations, you are not hired to simply obey managers’ directives. Rather, you’ve been hired because of your expertise. In light of this, negotiate with your manager (a) the goals of your collaborative work together, and (b) the means by which you’ll achieve the stated goals. Be prepared to listen to your manager’s ideas on what your work should accomplish and how it should be accomplished but also be prepared to have unique and value-adding ideas of your own. As a manager, take into consideration the ideas of those you lead. With your minds in sync, you’ll experience a wonderful and welcoming upgrade to your relationships.
  • Interpersonal connection. While the meeting of the minds is crucial to working relationships, it’s also imperative that you and your manager have an interpersonal connection. In other words, your relationship needs to built upon foundations of mutual trust, respect, liking, and value. When you authentically care about your manager as a person, things click between you. As a manager, when you have genuine concern for those you lead, you indicate to them that they are more than what they can do to make you look good.
This holiday season and in preparation for the new year, take an inventory of your working relationships. Which ones are the healthiest such that they show these two key components previously mentioned in action? Which ones are in need of some attention along the two key components? To help you, reflect on these statements (substituting the names of your colleagues in the provided blanks):

  1. With _____, I have identified and am working on mutually agreed upon goals.
  2. I respect, like, appreciate, and care about _____.
  3. I believe that what I am working on together with _____ has us moving in the correct direction.
  4. I add value to my work with _____.
  5. Even when _____ does things of which I do not approve, I still show that I care about him/her.
Now comes the harder part of looking for evidence to support your reflections. For example, identify and describe situations in which you have worked together with a colleague to formulate your work together. Are there situations in which you have failed to do this? As you stack up evidence in favor of against your reflections, you’ll have great options for making course corrections to strengthen your working relationships.


Bordin, E. S. (1979). The generalizability of the psychoanalytic concept of the working alliance. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 16(3), 252–260. doi:10.1037/h0085885
Graen, G., & Schiemann, W. (1978). Leader–member agreement: A vertical dyad linkage approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63(2), 206–212. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.63.2.206

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Calling in Work

Pixabay | CC0 | https://pixabay.com/en/answer-business-calling-3423801/

Is your professional calling found in your career? If not, you may not be benefiting from better life-, job-, and health-related outcomes that are yours for the taking.

Calling in work refers to “a transcendent summons, experienced as originating beyond the self, to approach a particular life role in a manner oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness and that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation” (Dik & Duffy, 2009, p. 427). There are three parts to this definition. First is the transcendent summons – that something greater than yourself inspires you to aspire to your career. This force can be Deity, nature, societal needs going unmet, and/or fate interacting together to confirm and re-confirm that you belong in a particular career. Second is the sense of purpose or meaningfulness that your work provides. With purpose of meaning in your work, you see how what you do matters into broader contexts of purpose and meaning. Third is an other-oriented values and goals aspect to your work. You do what you do principally because of the impact it has on the common good and well-being of society as a whole.

Research (Gazica & Spector, 2015) found stark differences between those (a) living an occupational calling, (b) perceive an unanswered occupational calling, and (c) perceive no calling at all. Not surprisingly, those who answered their occupational callings, on average, reported improved job attitudes, satisfaction, and less withdrawal intent. Additionally, those who perceived no calling at all had, on average, better life-, job-, and health-related outcomes than those who were experiencing an unanswered calling (i.e., those who knew they were called to do something else but, for whatever reason, were not acting on that calling).

As you reflect on your work (be that in a professional capacity in a place of employment or informally as you work in service of your family, neighbors, community, etc.), recognize:

  1. The agentic nature of what you do! With the 24 hours you have each day, you have the capacity to intentionally, reflectively, and actively chosen your life’s path. Choose that path well.
  2. Your inherent need to find meaning! While some of life’s work may seem rote and mechanical, strive to bring meaning to what you do – remembering for the sake of whom and what you do it.
  3. The obstacles you overcome! Nobody’s work comes without prices to be paid – financial, interpersonally, physically, emotionally, etc. Some obstacles will be rather easy to beat while some of us, in the short term, will seemingly be beaten by our obstacles. Build a support network of resources to help you play the long game of calling in work. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
  4. The sometimes circuitous route of calling! If you find that you are not on your calling in work path currently, you always can get there...with time, patience, effort, and exploration. Calling in work is not a destination at which to arrive but rather a journey on which to proudly be. If you haven’t yet arrived at your calling, you are in excellent company!
  5. No profession has the calling “monopoly!” You may think that what you do – or want to do – for work is not worthy of the title of calling. Little else could be farther from the truth. The janitor at the local supermarket can experience as much calling in his or her work as the neurosurgeon or teacher. It comes down to how the three elements of calling (transcendent summons, sense of purpose/meaningfulness, and other-oriented values and goals) play out in each of their respective work. Do not permit others’ career choices make you feel inferior because of your career choices. Likewise, do not permit your career choices to make others feel inferior because of theirs. There is enough calling to go around for everybody!

If you have not yet answered your career calling, perhaps it’s time.


Dik, B. J., Duffy, R. D. (2009). Calling and vocation at work: Definitions and prospects for research and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(3), 424–450. doi:10.1177/0011000008316430
Gazica, M. W., Spector, P. E. (2015). A comparison of individuals with unanswered callings to those with no calling at all. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 91, 1–10. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2015.08.008

Monday, November 26, 2018

There are Goods...and There are Goods

Blackboard Words Learning | CC0

I do not read a lot of Aristotle’s work, but when it finds its way into my daily learning, it does not disappoint. I was recently reminded of Aristotle’s concepts of goods of first and second intents (Metaphysics, Book XII, ~350 BC).

Goods of first intent are those things that are, by their very nature, good and should be chosen “just because.” Learning, awareness, intellect, etc., may be among the purest examples of such goods – that their acquisition is inherently desirable. Goods of second intent are things we pursue with goals of obtaining something else. Clothing, homes, automobiles, etc., may be among the purest examples of these goods – that their acquisition lead to the obtaining of other outcomes (e.g., clothing = warmth, protection; homes = shelter, safety; automobiles = transportation). Obtaining goods of second intent can, many times, be mechanisms through which to obtain goods of first intent just as obtaining goods of first intent can, many times, be mechanisms through which to obtain goods of second intent.

As the new year is right around the corner and the infamous setting of new year resolutions is upon us, take some time to consider the goods of your professional intent. While I don’t think Aristotle would argue that doing what we do for the sake of goods of second intent is inherently wrong, I do think he would ask us questions about whether or not we are leaving space for acquiring goods of first intent.
  1. Are we developing lasting relationships with family and friends?
  2. Are we helping those who do not have as much as we have?
  3. Are we healthily and continually learning, growing, and developing our minds?
  4. Are we building community with, understanding of, and love for those who think differently than we do?
  5. Are we reserving judgment in situations of ambiguous rights and wrongs?
  6. Are we exercising forgiveness and mercy towards other?
I know I have a lot of work to do! How about you? If so, let’s do it together!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Embracing the Imposter Within

Daniel Carlmatz | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I had a conversation this week with a newly-hired employee of a fast-growing Human Resources (HR) support firm. I’ll call this new hire John. In that conversation, John told me of his first week on the job and, more specifically, his meeting with the Vice President (VP) of HR. In that meeting, the VP entrusted John with what was, in John’s mind, a very important project. Somewhat reluctantly, John admitted to the VP his hesitance in being (a) thrust too quickly into the spotlight, and (b) not knowing what to do, how to get started, etc. In short, John experienced the phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. The VP, however, reassured John that he had the necessary skills to accomplish the task and a support network to help him. His first week on the job, the VP made John feel like a million bucks!

Have you ever felt like an imposter? I know I have. When I took my first academic role, I did so with a handful of days notice: I was offered the position on a Thursday, completed my new-hire paperwork on Friday, and was in class and in front of 50 students the following Monday. I was in charge of their learning and development for the next ten weeks. Knowing how much education meant to me, I sure felt the weight of that position on my shoulders. Similar to John, I had champions who believed in and helped me find my path (thanks Craig Cowden and Pam Costa). I am thrilled that I embraced being an imposter as that role provided significant opportunity to grow, learn, and stretch in ways that I would not have by choosing a more comfortable path.

Comment below and:
  1. Describe how you have experienced imposter syndrome.
  2. Share the growth (e.g., knowledge, skills, abilities, other characteristics) that has come about as you have embraced the imposter within.
  3. Identify (not by name, though, to maintain confidentiality) and describe an imposter in waiting. In other words, describe someone who needs you to entrust them with something so great that they they will feel like an imposter by accepting your challenge.
Across the next three to six months, put into place plans to help the person you have identified and generally described to join the imposter club.