One of the problems with low-unemployment is that young workers find it too easy to quit and find another job. What they do not understand is that quality employers recognize this pattern as a symptom of low resiliency and often pass on hiring them.
Photo by REUTERS/Brian Snyder
At least that used to be the case.
Many employers are getting so desperate today they ignore this symptom and hire candidates knowing they might be short-term solutions. And, of course, all this does is enable the low-resiliency job jumpers unless you add resiliency-building to your work culture.
What Can Employers Do? Resiliency is a very important quality we look for in team members. Why? Because we know everyone will encounter challenges at work and we want to know how they are going to react to it. Resilient people understand they will bump into adversity and want to fight through it and learn from it, not run from it.
I think there are three things an employer can do to help construct a resiliency-building culture. First, ask two important interview questions. Second, introduce effective coaching in first few days on the job. And, three, practice actions that help people build “grit”, a phrase coined by Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Photo by Tim Gouw
Two Interview Questions. If you are not a professional interviewer, you might not think to ask these two questions that get right to the heart of resilience –
Tell me about the biggest obstacle you faced, what you did, and what you learned from it?
Tell me about the toughest feedback you have received and what you learned from it?
The answers to these two questions give us wonderful insight into the resiliency capacity of the person. If it becomes clear they have little proven resilience-capacity, and you want to take a chance and hire them, then you should focus on coaching them in a way that helps them build this capacity.
Effective First Week Coaching. Whoever will be supervising this new hire should practice Connector Coaching and beginning on day one include objectives the new hire will need to learn to achieve and receive feedback about. When they learn to receive feedback, they are building resilience.
If you read my article No More Negative Waves, Coach you might remember that younger workers often only want feedback that “confirms” their strengths. Here is one of the steps I wrote about that can help coaches during that first week –
Before a coaching session begins you should have at least three clear objectives for yourself, the Coach. First, address how you will act in a relational way during the session. This means how you will behave to strengthen your relationship with the person (eg. they feel valued, confirmed or validated). If stumped, think back to when a motivating coach made you feel valued and confirmed – what did they do? Second, develop in advance an opening “problem framing” question that leads to an objective. And, third, develop a closing “next steps” question.
To give an example for the second and third steps let me use one from one of our business units. In this business we provide personal services to individuals with disabilities and the writing of “progress notes” is critical. A “problem framing” question could be, “Why do you think we need to write progress notes for the individuals we serve?” A follow-up question could be, “What skills do you think you need to write an effective progress note?”
A closing question could be, “What are a few things you need to do beginning this week to master this skill as soon as possible?”
You likely noticed how these questions put responsibility for development back on the person. This subtle, but important step, helps to build resilience.
Actions that Help People Build Resilience or “Grit.” Angela Duckworth also refers to resiliency as “grit” and defines this as “having the passion and perseverance to achieve especially long-term goals.” If you missed my articles a few years ago on Duckworth called The Link Between Grit and Success here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
One of the interesting concepts I took away from Duckworth’s book is how parents and team leaders or coaches can help others develop grit. Here are four you might find helpful.
Follow-through. A personal quality coaches and parents should teach and model themselves is “follow-through.” Many studies including the Personal Qualities Project conclude that children who develop a follow-through capacity are grittier and become successful team members and workers.
Practice the “hard thing” rule. While Duckworth writes about this in terms of families, I think it can apply to the workplace. The “hard thing” rule means everybody in the family or on the team, including parents/supervisors, work on one specific hard thing at a time. In the family this could be music lessons, a new sport, language lessons, tougher exercise, or college classes. In the workplace it could be a stretch project. No one can quit the “hard thing” until a long trial is complete. And you cannot quit the one hard thing until you have another hard thing to replace it. Although Duckworth writes that for teenagers every hard thing should last more than a year because it helps build resiliency, follow-through, and grit, I think this also applies to the workplace.
Conserve your praise. While you should encourage children and your team members, be careful not to always praise them for doing something well when the they did not. (I would guess Duckworth is not a fan of programs where all the children get trophies.) Teach the team member to try something a second or third time to make it better. The sooner you do this with very new workers, the more it becomes part of their natural behavior.
Don’t be an overbearing coach. As I wrote about in the Connector Coaching article don’t be an overbearing coach, this erodes intrinsic motivation. Leave space in a team member’s schedule for learning and exploration.
In conclusion, if you are a job-jumper yourself, I suggest you explore why you are switching jobs. Perhaps you need to add resiliency-building to your list of development goals, it will make all the difference in your long-term professional development.
I think it is a good time to celebrate entrepreneurs because without them the world would be a far darker and undeveloped place. Since this month The Walt Disney Company will celebrate both Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday and Disney World’s 55th anniversary, I thought it would be a perfect time to revisit the life of Walt Disney, arguably the world’s most creative entrepreneur.
Mickey Mouse continues to be one of the top one or two best known characters in the world and is the image most closely connected to Disney. What many people don’t know is that Disney is the largest entertainment business in the world and owns such well-known businesses as ABC, ESPN, Disneyland, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and now 21st Century Fox.
I enjoy talking about Walt Disney, the entrepreneur, because his passionate creativity never accepted “no” or “you can’t do that” as an answer. In fact, those responses often inspired him. Disney was a man who never saw “barriers”, only new opportunities.
A few years ago I read Walt Disney – An American Original by Bob Thomas. From stories in Thomas’ book I’ve noted here 10 examples of Disney’s entrepreneurial determination, optimism, and creativeness.
When he was 20 In 1922 in Kansas Walt quit his $60 a week job (this was 3 times the average wage in America) to launch his own animation business called Laugh-O-gram Films. He raised money from investors and took a huge pay cut. By 1923 the company had failed and he had no money. Deciding to head to California he worked to raise cash for the train ride. With $40 and one suitcase he bought a first-class ticket and headed west. Who would buy a first class ticket in this situation? An optimist.
By 1928 Disney successfully produced his first animated cartoon Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. What he didn’t know was his New York distribution company unethically hired away his animators so as to force Disney to reduce the value of his contract. It would not be the only time his “partners” would hire away Disney workers to try and gain leverage. As usually happened, Disney remained positive and sent a positive message to his brother, Roy, “Keep your chin up…we will be able to laugh last – that’s the best laugh of all.”
On the trip back to California Disney put the finishing mental touches on what would become Mickey Mouse. He then inspired his remaining team, dealt with serious financial challenges, and created Plane Crazy, the first Mickey cartoon based on Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. He then went against all the leaders in the movie industry and became the first animator to add voices to another Mickey film called Steamboat Willie.
In 1932 after his chief animator had been hired away by his distribution “partner”, Disney again decided to go in new direction – add color to the cartoons at a much higher cost. Disney was the only one who saw the potential. His brother thought the cost would get no return. Walt knew that color would mean their short animations would have longer runs in theaters and they would earn more money downstream. He was right.
In 1934 short animations were becoming unprofitable so Disney wanted to make a full feature film. The cost was at least $500,000, a huge sum for their small studio. All his advisors told him he was crazy. He held a meeting and personally acted out and told the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The team understood his vision and they made the film, which grossed $8,000,000 worldwide ($100,000,000 today.)
In 1940 the company’s financial condition was in peril. Roy Disney had a meeting with Walt in which he started to outline the seriousness of the problem – Walt started laughing. He couldn’t believe how much they had grown from the days when they had trouble raising a few dollars and now they owed banks 4.5 million dollars. The mood shifted and the Disneys decided to go public and raise extra funds.
World War II seriously impacted the Disney Company. Throughout the difficult period Disney stayed positive and helped the government by making many military films and even used Donald Duck to convince Americans to pay their income taxes.
By 1952 Walt Disney knew that a high-caliber amusement park could be created using many of the Disney characters that had been created over the past 25 years. Again his family, advisors, and Board of Directors didn’t agree – the Board argued it was a different business. Disney countered with, “Disney is in the entertainment business and that is what amusement parks are.” So he created a separate business and funded it initially by borrowing on a life insurance policy.
At the same time, Walt thought television would also provide a great extension for Disney. He then wondered if he could get television to effectively fund the development of Disneyland. Yes they would. ABC agreed to invest in Disneyland if Disney would produce a weekly show, which started as Disneyland and then became Walt Disney Presents. Around 1960 Disney switched to NBC because it would allow Disney to broadcast in color. Many years later after Walt Disney’s death Disney would buy ABC, which it still owns.
Walt Disney knew that Disneyland was really only serving people west of the Mississippi. So he thought they needed to build another amusement park, on a much larger scale, in the east. One of his last significant entrepreneurial acts happened during a secret flight east in November 1963. During that flight he and a few other executives flew around mid-Florida, often at low altitudes, in search of land. That night they stopped in New Orleans and learned that President Kennedy had been shot. By the time they got back to California, everyone knew the vision for Disney World.
Walt Disney was a man whose optimism and “can do” attitude defines the word “entrepreneur” and inspires us still today.
I have been a defendant in only one court case. Sadly, that case contributed to my loss of interest in teaching college and is directly related to today’s topic. I’ll tell you that story later.
When our founding leaders formed the United States, they wrestled with this paradox – How to protect individual rights and protect individuals from themselves. Well-educated in the history of mankind, these founders knew that humans are naturally social beings and very susceptible to going along with the crowd. They worried how misguided crowds could destroy the great country they envisioned.
One social trend that really concerns me is the growing disregard among people of all educational backgrounds for people with real expertise. I see well-educated people all around me readily dismiss valid research from experts they believe reside in a different political house. And I have seen personally how colleges have watered down the curriculum and enabled children coming into universities to “feel” they know as much or more than their professors and instructors.
The Death of Expertise. Lucky for me our daughter’s good friend, Emily, who does some work in the publishing field, recently gave me Tom Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise. Let me admit right now that this Nichols’ book confirms my bias I described in my last paragraph. However, if this important topic intrigues you as much as me, I strongly recommend it.
While Nichols’ includes hundreds of well documented and researched examples of what he means by the death of expertise, I’d like to share a few that I found interesting and ones that impact how leaders lead their teams.
Cliff Clavin and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Do you remember Cliff Clavin? Cliff was the know-it-all character on Cheers who knew everything about everything. His facts were made-up and viewers quickly knew when he delivered his signature line “studies have shown” that Cliff was just dumb and uninformed.
In 1999 two research psychologists, Dunning and Kruger, completed a landmark study that concluded, according to Nichols, “That the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb.” The researchers wrote, “Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.”
I think there is a little Cliff Clavin in me and you. I know that sometimes when I don’t have much time and skim something, I might think I’m better informed than I really am. The difference between me and Cliff, I hope, is that I have a skill Nichols’ refers to as “metacognition”, which is the ability to know when you might be wrong, uninformed, or “not good at something.”
People Believe Celebrities over Experts. Nichols describes several examples where people believe the opinions of celebrities over experts. While some examples are harmless, others like believing Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey when they say vaccines are bad for your children or Gwyneth Paltrow and her odd women’s health tips, are disturbing. A worrisome trend Nichols’ points out regarding the anti-vaccine resistance movement is that support is largely coming from educated suburbanites – people who should know they need to search for and read multiple research sources before making-up their minds.
Confirmation Bias and the Internet. All of us experience confirmation bias, which is when we look around for information that confirms what we believe or feel. Nichols reminds us that this is a survival instinct. For example, if my wife, Patti, sees our bird feeder is laying on the ground, she looks around to confirm there are no bears nearby.
However, when it comes to our beliefs and opinions, we tend to look for information that confirms these positions. The internet and social media, especially, has made this quick and easy to do. And when we find something that confirms our belief, we latch onto it. And even if the source is invalid, it deepens our belief.
Nichols points-out that before the internet people had to work hard to find information – good or bad. And the probability was much higher that they would find good information, if they looked at all.
However, now that we have the internet, and referring to the amusing Sturgeon’s Law (90 percent of everything is crap), Nichols’ points out that when you search over a billion websites for information most of what you find is wrong. This is especially true for those people who do not know a valid from an invalid or opinion-based source.
To make matters worse, most people (not you, thank you) only read the first few lines or paragraphs of an article. If that’s not enough, 95 percent of us never go past the first page of Google search results – and we all know those search results have nothing to do with whether the listed articles are valid or not.
News Sources and Confirmation Bias. Nichols reminds us that in 1960 the average home received three television networks, as many as eight radio stations, one newspaper, and three or four magazines. By 2014 we had 189 television stations and most consumers clicked between about 17 of those channels. Today there are many news stations and most consumers watch only one or two of these channels and choose ones that most closely confirm their core beliefs.
Nichols also notes that today more and more Americans dismiss any scientific research not published on their choice of news source. He sees that people often are not able to separate the research from the media source. I have a close and very well-read friend, who, when I tell him about an interesting piece I heard on public radio, says sarcastically, “Oh, if it’s on public radio it has to be true!”
Many Colleges Have Surrendered to the Consumer Demands of Children. Nichols, who is no stranger to higher education, shares many examples and insights into how universities are contributing to the decline of expertise. If you are hiring college graduates, here are four notable college trends that are affecting the quality of these students as new hires:
Colleges have virtually eliminated the need for students to learn how to think critically in real life. Nichols defines critical thinking as “the ability to examine new information and competing ideas dispassionately, logically, and without emotional or personal preconceptions.” The number of courses where students present their thoughts/papers, answer questions, and adjust their thinking have declined greatly. Also, with more and more courses taught on-line, students don’t learn how to have face-to-face interaction and experience the natural conflict this brings. The result of this for employers is that we are seeing far less critical thinking skills coming into the workplace.
Because of on-line courses and e-mail systems, most college communication systems have reduced the roles of instructors to someone a student might meet on a help line. And because students are used to calling adults by first names, their perception of the instructor is more like a peer-to-peer relationship. Not one where the student respects the instructor for an acquired level of expertise. The result is that students are not learning how to seek out and engage experts to explore new ways of thinking and solving problems. Everyone is their knowledge equal.
Almost all colleges now rely on student feedback to evaluate instructors/professors. And outside feedback systems, like Yelp, also allow students to get insight into an instructor or professor. Unfortunately, some of this feedback from people who are really children can be very petty. The result is that many instructors/professors are now softening course requirements and rarely give honest personal feedback to the students. Thus, many students are not ready for receiving real feedback when they get into their first careers.
Many students come to college without experiencing strong personal feedback or receiving grades that reflect an accurate level of knowledge or understanding. As Nichols’ writes, “Incidents where students take correction as an insult are occurring more frequently. Unearned praise and hollow successes build a fragile arrogance in students that can lead them to lash out at the first teacher or employer who dispels that illusion, a habit that proves hard to break in adulthood.” Many employers are experiencing this in the workplace today – straight feedback can cause younger employees to quit and search for an employer who thinks they are awesome.
Nichols’ Suggestions for Us. At two spots in his book Nichols pauses and gives the reader several suggestions for things we can each do to be well informed about issues we care about and supporters of people with expertise.
Be humble. If an article is from a valid expert, begin your reading assuming she or he knows more than you do.
Be ecumenical and vary your news diet. If interested in national politics, read one or more foreign papers to see what others think. Follow two major newspapers. Watch two different news networks. Subscribe or read one on-line journal with which you often disagree.
Be less cynical – or don’t be so cynical. Most people are not deliberately lying to you, they just may have a different perspective. Yes, they will sometimes get some facts wrong, but that doesn’t make them liars.
Be more discriminating. If a story doesn’t seem right to you – ask who are the writers? Do they have editors? Is this a research-based article or an opinion piece? Then look for another reliable source to verify the story and make sure you ask the same questions about that website story.
My Court Case. About seven years ago an undergraduate student sued me and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) because she earned a failing grade in my Strategic Management course.
At that time this course was considered a “capstone” business course and most students saved it to the very end of their undergraduate experience. The course required critical thinking, analysis, and extensive written case reports. It was taught as an “hybrid” course – half in a classroom, half on-line. When students finished the class I could see the joy in their faces and each had a grand sense of accomplishment – they knew they had learned something and applied it.
One particular student did not turn-in any of the written assignments and never did any portion of the final industry study. Her final score was about 40 out of 100. I personally offered lots of support and she never followed-through. She failed. She was the only student who failed my class in over 15 years.
However, she then enrolled in SNHU’s on-line Strategic Management course, which was significantly watered down. It was no longer a complex capstone course and, quite frankly, after I later reviewed the syllabus, any reasonably smart high school senior could pass it. She earned an A in the course and she was outraged – outraged at me and SNHU for making her waste her time and money taking the “old” version of the course.
When the case finally got to court something funny/sad happened that shows that just because you can do a Google search doesn’t mean you are smart. Among the student’s claims was that I was not competent to teach the course because I failed her, and the other instructor passed her. Her grade was my fault. The judge, who was a woman, discovered through her questions that the other instructor was teaching the on-line course for the first time, was usually a marketing instructor, and was just using the pre-designed materials developed by the emerging distance education team at SNHU. The judge confirmed I had been teaching the course for 15 years and had over 20 years of industry experience.
The student asked the judge if she could call the other instructor as a witness. When the instructor came forward he was white as a ghost and looked scared. The judge asked him how he was contacted to appear in court and he said, “Because I received a subpoena.”
Surprised because she had not seen or authorized one, the judge asked to see the subpoena. After she reviewed it she looked up and asked the student, “Where did you get this subpoena document?”
The student, looking quite proud of herself, said, “On the Internet.”
The judge looked at her firmly and said, “This subpoena is a federal court subpoena, and this is a state court. Did you know that what you have done is against the law and I could have you arrested right now?”
The student actually tried to argue with the judge, who immediately cut her off and scolded her for wasting everyone’s time. The judge first excused the instructor, who almost ran out of the courtroom, and then ruled in our favor and did something very rare – ordered the student to pay all our legal fees and court costs. (Last I heard she never paid and SNHU never pursued it.)
As we all left the courtroom that day I remember feeling sad. While I didn’t know it then, I guess I knew deep inside that respect for expertise was dying. And, perhaps, Nichols is right, expertise is dead.
This week a Senate hearing will explore an allegation by Christine Ford involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Did you know you have something in common with them that you should think about as you listen to their testimony?
More about that in a moment.
One of my favorite writers is Malcolm Gladwell and now he has a podcast called Revisionist History, which I highly recommend. Recently he did two podcasts that focused on human memory and how flawed it is. One podcast called Free Brian Williams is quite remarkable. In this podcast he evaluates the very public mistake Brian Williams made when he said certain things about flying in a combat helicopter that he said was fired upon.
What Gladwell does very well through interviews with cognitive psychologists and playing audio clips is show how Williams is a human being – one who recalled an incident perfectly clearly in his mind that other factual accounts proved was wrong. When Gladwell was finished, he and the guest psychologist concluded that Williams was not a “liar”, as the mainstream media claimed, but was a human being who experienced what all human beings experience – partial memories that are filled-in and “completed” with other stuff.
Two terms Gladwell introduced to me were flashbulb memory and “time slice” memory errors. A flashbulb memory is moment for someone when they experienced or heard a piece of surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news and can provide a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of where they were and what they remember. Using 9-11 as an example, Gladwell described how immediately after 9-11, and for up to 15 years afterwards, cognitive psychologists studied hundreds of people, who were personally involved with those horrendous 9-11 events.
What they learned was how the memories of people personally traumatized by events change over time. And, most interestingly, solidify – they become more confident of their memory even in the face of facts that defy their beliefs. I was especially intrigued by the subjects whose interviews were recorded over time. When these 9-11 subjects, many years later, gave different accounts of the 9-11 facts and were then played their own interviews from dates near the traumatic event, they often said, “I must have been mistaken then.” They believed their current recall more than their old recall. WOW!
Cognitive experts refer to this process of how we change our memory over time as time slice adjustments – we unconsciously take slices of old memories, add slices of new information we learn about the event, and then move things around to best fit our preferred narrative.
In a reading last week for teachers I also read about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. This curve, which was developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, shows the “transience” rate at which humans forget information over time. This curve shows that at best we retain 25 percent after 6 days. And this extra memory space is filled-in with other “slices” of information.
Photo by Genevieve Dallaire
If you put aside politics and personal emotion for a moment, the Senate Judiciary Committee has a real, human challenge ahead – without clear facts, how do they make the right decision based on the 37 year-old memories of two, hopefully well-intentioned people?
This is the ultimate irony for Judge Kavanaugh, isn’t it? Because no doubt as a judge he has had to make many decisions after hearing people testify with contrary memories. Now, his future rests with how others judge his actions based on the memories of two different people.
And that is what you and I likely have in common with Christine Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh – we have well-intentioned memories that contains truth as we remember, like footsteps in the sand.