• Is greed good?

    December 4, 2020

    2 minute read

    I’m a very successful Wall Street investor, and I’ve always said that ‘Greed is good.’ I think it’s a pretty cool thing to say…but it’s also true, right?  Sincerely, G. Gekko

    No – greed is not good. Or at least not in the way you might think.

    What I suspect you’re trying to do, is say something profound about the concept of self-interest.

    This idea—which you have mistaken for ‘greed’—is in fact useful in specific circumstances, given certain pre-conditions. Indeed, it is considered fundamental by most economists to the efficient functioning of the market. Adam Smith would be amongst them. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he writes:

     

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

     

    Simply put, it is in the self interest of producers (such as butchers, brewers, and bakers) to charge as much demand will allow for their offerings. Likewise, it is in the self interest of consumers to pay as little as possible in return. The interplay of these two opposing  forces is believed responsible for any and all of the efficiencies that markets have to offer (at least under perfectly competitive conditions). That much is true.

    But not all acts of self-interest are necessarily ‘good’.

    In Give and Take (2013), organizational psychologist Adam Grant distinguishes  between various types of self-interested acts. The selfish act is recognized as being in an individual’s own best interests, and theirs alone. A selfless act is that which benefits someone other than yourself, while you do not benefit at all. It may even come at your expense.

    Grant also describes a third, perhaps less widely acknowledged action which he refers to as ‘otherish’. This is an act or behavior which benefits not only oneself, but others as well. Kind of an ‘everybody wins’ scenario.

    For example, acquiring, and then breaking up a successful airline after deceiving its union in order to raid its pension fund is by almost any measure an act of pure selfishness. Obviously, you—the investor—stand to profit. But the (former) employees who lose both their jobs and pensions do not.

    A selfless act, by comparison, would be to hatch a scheme to re-purchase the airline from the soulless corporate raider who initiated the takeover, then re-hire those same workers, and make the company whole again. It would be especially selfless if, in the process, you chose to violate insider trading laws in order to pull off the deal, all the while knowing this would likely land you in federal prison.

    But such an action could be considered ‘otherish’ too.

    Say, for instance, the airline were to commit to hiring you once you’re released from jail, insuring that your career would not be sacrificed as a result of your effort. It might even benefit.

    Or—stay with me here—what if you had somehow unwittingly contributed to the hostile takeover in the first place? Maybe you were duped into thinking that it was in company’s best interests, not realizing that your evil boss had other, more nefarious plans? If that were the case, going to prison to undo the deal could be considered otherish if it simply allowed you to sleep better at night.[1]

    Anyway, I trust you see what I’m getting at.

    Self-interest—aka, ‘greed’—is not always good. Some acts of self-interest benefit not just you, but others as well.

    Others are just plain selfish, and to no one’s advantage but your own.

     

     

     


    [1]  Or [SPOILER ALERT] perhaps you could hatch a scheme to buy back the company and bankrupt the Wall Street investor who executed the takeover as well. Then, maybe later, you could secretly wear a wire so that when he berates you in Central Park for screwing up his illegal scheme, the feds could use this as evidence to put him in prison too, and offer you a lighter sentence in return. Or something like that.

     

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  • 4 minute read

    I have a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, and I’m having trouble finding a job. Part of my problem is pandemic-related for sure; it’s tough for anyone looking for work right now [November 2020]. In my case, I also took a couple years off after graduating to ‘find myself,’ which probably doesn’t help. Basically, I spent the time traveling and working jobs unrelated to my major (like bartending). I guess I needed a break, and wanted to do some things I might not be able to once I settle into my career. Now I’m ready though, and motivated to work.

    My more immediate problem, however, appears to be my lack of on-the-job experience. I find this sooo frustrating! I’m applying for ENTRY-LEVEL positions, and employers STILL want to see some prior experience – in most cases, 3+ years. How does this even make sense?? I’ve already done an internship (my program required it), and I’d really prefer not to do another. But it’s been about 9 months since I started looking, and I’m getting desperate. I have a degree in a high demand field, and I feel marketable. I even hired a headhunter. What more can I do?? – Name withheld

     

    You’ve hit upon what is, in my opinion, one of the more confounding and unfortunate realities of the modern job market.Increasingly, employers seem unwilling to train their new hires for the work they’ll be tasked to do. Better to recruit someone experienced, who knows what to do already, and be done with it.

    It wasn’t always this way.

    Back in the day, a career would begin with an apprenticeship, often for a guild. In exchange for the appropriate training, workers would stay on for an agreed upon period of time once a certain level of competence had been achieved. The practice still exists, but it is by no means common. It’s estimated that only about 0.3% of U.S. labor force receive their training in this way. [i]

    More recently, a college education was enough to secure gainful employment in the working world. In The Organization Man (1956), William Whyte observes that the typical graduate might have 8 or 9 job offers from which to choose. The expectation was that on-the-job training would be provided by the employer:

    “What [the new graduate] wants, above all, is the guarantee of a training program.”[ii]

     

    Needless to say, things are a bit different now.

    Consider your own experience: You’ve recently spent tens of thousands of dollars (possibly more) on the education necessary to secure a high skill, high demand, 21st Century job. (And if you’re like most new graduates, you’ve gone into considerable debt to do so.[iii])

    Now, however, you’re finding out this in itself is not enough. Not only must you possess a general knowledge of the field you are about to enter, prospective employers expect you to have somehow acquired the specific experiences unique to the position you’re applying for. Yet, as you say, you have absolutely no way of meeting this criteria. It would appear these positions aren’t really entry-level at all. Perhaps ‘Experienced, But Willing to Start Over on the Lowest Rung of the Organizational Ladder’-level would be a more accurate description.

    So what can you do?

    You mentioned you’ve hired a recruiter/headhunter, so I won’t bore you with what he/she is likely to suggest (ie. tidying up your resume, polishing your interview skills, etc.). And I probably don’t need to tell you to keep applying. Although if you’re like most human beings and need to work for a living, you really don’t have much choice.

    There are a couple of other things to keep in mind as you forge ahead, however:

    (1) Don’t sell yourself short on experience

    By my count, you actually do have three(ish) years of experience under your belt: One year in your field (your internship), and two or so in an unrelated, yet nevertheless professional environment (service industry). I get why you might not want to tell prospective employers about your bartending gigs, but keep in mind that experience will nevertheless serve you well in the future. Undoubtedly you worked with a diverse group of people, with a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds. You also probably learned a thing or two about navigating a hierarchy. Both are invaluable.

    (2) Spin your “time off” as a positive

    Most graduates go straight from college to their career, almost as if they’re on autopilot. That’s not necessarily good for them, or their employers. They may wish they’d taken a moment to explore some pent-up interests as you did, and their doubts (or regrets) at not having done so may linger for years, potentially impacting their motivation levels. You, on the other hand, have satisfied these curiosities. Your career choice is therefore more deliberate, thoughtful, and informed than it might otherwise have been. Prospective employers may appreciate this – if you frame it appropriately. Some recruiters may even be jealous of your meanderings.

    (3) The fact that you worked in sales is to your advantage

    The capacity to deal with customers—and therefore people—will prove useful to you no matter where your career leads. Take it from someone who worked in the sciences for years. Many of your future, technically-minded colleagues lack this competency, and will never acquire it. That’s to your advantage. It sets you apart – so work it. And if you ever do decide to become a manager, that experience will serve you very, very well, I assure you. Increasingly, businesses are waking up to the fact that the best managers treat employees as customers, not ‘subordinates’.

    (4) Hiring is a pain for employers too

    Having done some hiring myself, I can assure you that this whole interview/hiring dance is no fun for employers either. Yes – recruiters are looking for reasons not to hire you. They’re likely swamped with resumes, and anything they can do to whittle down that pile makes their job easier. Asking for previous job experience is an easy filter to apply. Importantly, it is a pre-screening technique that is not likely to be questioned. Companies still need to hire someone, however. The sooner they do, the sooner the ordeal is over for everybody. So do your best to give employers an excuse to hire you. Maybe it’s talking up your unique non-work experiences?

    (5) Be creative in your job search

    My last idea is perhaps the lamest, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Please feel free to send me your name and credentials, as well as a brief description of the sort of job you’re looking for. I’d be happy to post that information for you here.

    Maybe your future employer will find you that way?

    Best of luck, hang in there, and keep me posted.

    Update 8/9/2021: NW has since found a full-time, salaried position in his degree field. His only complaint: He had to take a significant pay cut relative to his bartending days. Otherwise he reports being happily employed. Congratulations!


    [i] Krupnick, Matt. “US Quietly Works to Expand Apprenticeships to Fill White Collar Jobs.” Hechinger Report. Teachers College at Columbia University. September 27, 2016. https://hechingerreport.org/u-s-quietly-works-to-expand-apprenticeships-to-fill-white-collar-jobs/. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2021.

    [ii] Whyte, W. The Organization Man. 1956. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 109.

    [iii] According to the Federal Reserve, in 2016 the average student loan debt in the US was $32,731. [https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2017-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2016-education-debt-loans.htm. Retreived Feb 19, 2021.]

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  • 5 minute read

    As a manager, you’re ‘in charge.’ Right?

    You’re the boss – the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho. You’re ‘the decider.’

    This means you do the telling, while your employees do the listening – and then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when. That’s for you to decide (or at least approve), not anyone else.

    Of course, your own management style may not be nearly as authoritarian as that sounds. Perhaps you’re perfectly happy to ‘empower’ your employees on occasion – that is, give them the freedom they need to do their jobs as they best see fit. Maybe you only offer your input or weigh in when you’re asked to, or when it’s obviously needed.

    Nevertheless, should push come to shove, both you and your employees probably agree that it’s your opinion that rules the day should their be any difference of opinion, not theirs. After all, this is how things need to be if your organization is to have even a chance of succeeding. The alternative would seem to be organizational chaos, and undoubtedly lead to the failure of the business.

    Or so you probably think.

    Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

    In fact, according to the best available research just the opposite is true. Google, The Gallup Organization, Harvard Business School, and researchers associated with The Wharton School have all determined that managers are far more effective—and their organizations are far more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around. You’re better off, in other words, acting like your employees are the boss of you.

    Consider Google’s study. Their most effective managers were found to possess most, if not all, of following traits[1]:

    (1)     Is a good coach

    (2)     Empowers the team and does not micromanage

    (3)     Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being

    (4)     Is productive and results-oriented

    (5)     Is a good communicator – listens and shares information

    (6)     Supports career development and discusses performance

    (7)     Has a clear vision/strategy for the team

    (8)     Has key technical skills to help advise the team

    (9)     Collaborates across Google

    (10)  Is a strong decision maker

    Workgroups with more effective managers scored higher on a variety of productivity measures, including collaboration, ‘getting work done,’ and innovation, according to Google. These workgroups also experienced lower turnover, and greater job satisfaction.

    Gallup investigation resulted in similar conclusions. Well-managed employees—that is, workers who are more engaged in their work—were determined to outperform their industry peers in a variety of measurable ways, including[2]:

     

    ·      Among publicly traded companies, earnings-per-share of organizations employing highly engaged workers was 18 percent higher than that of their competitors, and over time progressed at a faster rate.

    ·      Better managed, and therefore more engaged teams were more than twice as likely to succeed as their counterparts. Teams in the top quartile of engagement were also three times as likely to succeed as those in the bottom quartile, averaging 18 percent higher productivity and 12 percent higher profitability.

    ·      High team engagement correlated strongly with higher customer service scores.

    ·      Engaged employees averaged 27% less absenteeism than those considered to be actively disengaged.

    ·      Workgroups whose engagement put them in the bottom quartile averaged 62% more accidents than workgroups in the top quartile.

    ·      Workgroups with an inordinately high number of disengaged workers also lost 51% more of their inventory to ‘shrink’ (employee theft).

    ·      In high turnover industries, business units with a surplus of disengaged employees suffered 31 percent more turnover. In low turnover industries (where the cost of losing one person is often higher than in high turnover industries), business units with actively disengaged employees experienced 51 percent more turnover.

    Critical to ‘great managing’ then, is getting employees engaged. Gallup determined this is best accomplished by adopting various managerial practices and behaviors, which they refer to as the ‘12 elements’ of great managing. Their list is not so different from Google’s, however. Copyright prevents me from reproducing it in its entirety, but, for example, Gallup argues that having a manager who provides workers with clear job expectations, encourages career development, and taking employees’ opinions seriously.

    Ultimately, however, what is critical is the common, underlying theme of both lists; the specifics of each is unimportant. And that theme is: Good management consists of doing things for your employees, not doing things to them.

    That’s worth repeating.

    Good management means doing certain things for your employees – like listening to them, getting them the things they need to their job, and being ready to help them when they ask for it. It is not about attempting to direct, control, or otherwise tell employees what to do.

    Research associated with The Wharton School reinforces what may already be obvious to you. Again, these investigators recognized that ‘enthusiastic’ employees—or those highly engaged in their work—outperform their less motivated counterparts (by anywhere from 20 to 40 percent by some measures).[3] Critical to getting these hoped-for levels of enthusiasm from employees, they determined, is to satisfy three (3) basic employee ‘needs’. This includes the need for:

    ·      Equity – Employees expect to be treated fairly and respectfully by their employers, these researchers found – particularly regarding compensation. But equitable treatment also included a desire for a safe work environment, and humane working conditions.

    ·      Achievement – The opportunity to take pride in one’s work is also important to most workers, according to these researchers. Human beings possess an innate desire to experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done, and to receive recognition for those efforts. They also want to take pride in the efforts and achievements of their organization as a whole.

    ·      Camaraderie – Workers are happier and more satisfied when warm, interesting, and cooperative relationships develop between themselves and their co-workers. That feeling, these researchers determined, is often the consequence of successful cooperative effort.

     

    Again, doing things for your employees, not doing things to them.

    Consider that none of these studies suggest that issuing more directives is the key to being a better manager. Nor is telling your employees how to do their job, or delegating more work to them, or evaluating their performance seen as important – even though these behaviors are amongst those most closely associated with the management role. No – effective management appears to consist almost exclusively of doing things for employees—that is, supporting them.

    The results of Harvard’s study might be summed up with this one word as well: Support.

    For this investigation, freshman managers were surveyed as they transitioned into the role, and it was support that they specifically singled out as being absolutely critical to their being effective. In fact, this was the term these managers frequently relied upon in their survey responses (my emphasis in each case):

     

    “You have to…listen to and support your people.”

    “What does he [the employee] need from the manager? Support, guidance, training…”

    “I’m paid for making my quota, but my job is to support and develop my people…”

    “It is best to lead by example and with support.” 

    “You have to let them go out and do their job and not get in the way. Be helpful and supportive…”

     

    They also realized this is what their employees expected of them too (again, my emphasis):

    “I think the first thing they [subordinates] expect is support. They expect that if they’re out doing their job as they think it should be done and as it has been outlined for them, that they’re going to get my support.”

    “I guess the key underlying thing is: Is [a manager] a caring person and supportive?” 

    “I didn’t get religion right afterward [promotion]. But there was a greater awareness that they [subordinates] thought that I should work for them.”[4]

     

    According to some of the best available research, in other words, good management means avoiding most of those stereotypical managerial behaviors.

    Directing, delegating, monitoring, and criticizing have little if anything to do being a successful good manager.

    Nor is flexing on one’s authority. Instead, managers are most effective, and their organizations more successful, when they view their role as one of support.

    So what does this means for you, as a manager?

    Well – maybe it’s time to re-think how you approach the role.

    Unless you already recognize that your job is to support your employees—not expect their unquestioning obedience—then the one thing you think you know about managing is wrong.

     


    [1] Google’s ‘Project Oxygen’ Report was first made public in 2008, and later updated in 2018. It is available as a free download at https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/the-evolution-of-project-oxygen/

    [2] Wagner, Rodd and James K. Harter. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press.

    [3] Sirota, David,  Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [4] Hill, Linda. 2003. Becoming a Manager. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

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  • My manager drives me nuts

    October 9, 2020

    3 minute read

    I work for a small biotech company. For the most part, my manager is fine. He pretty much leaves me alone to do my work, and is generally supportive. But some days he drives me nuts! Thoughts?  – Name withheld

    According to The Gallup Organization, only one out of every 10 humans has the ‘God-given’ talent to manage a team of people. They also estimate an alarming 82% of all supervisors have been ‘miscast’ in the role.[1]

    So consider yourself lucky. That you like your manager at all suggests you’re amongst the fortunate few.

    Still, I get your frustration. Most ‘bosses’ can be tough to work for, even the very best. That’s not to excuse their (mis)behavior, though. Nor is it meant to suggest they can’t improve – perhaps even dramatically. In other words, Gallup might claim that the capacity to manage, and manage well, is something you’re either born with or not, but I would disagree. Inept or otherwise bad managers are not beyond salvation. Their real problem, I’d argue, is even more fundamental than that:

    Most managers struggle because the one thing they think they know about managing is wrong.

    Here’s how your manager probably views his role: As manager, he’s ‘in charge.’ That means he does the telling, and you and everyone else who reports to him does the listening, then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s for him to decide, not you. And while he may be willing to leave you well enough alone on occasion, as you say, undoubtedly you both understand that should push come to shove and the two of you disagree on something, it’s his opinion that rules the day, not yours. That’s what being ‘the boss’ means, to him— and probably to you, too—and seemingly for good reason. This sort of understanding is would seem to be absolutely necessary if the business you work for is to have even a chance of succeeding.

    Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

    In fact, according to the best available evidence managers are more effective—and their organizations are more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around.

    I’ll say that again: Managers are more effective when they see their function as one of support, not power, control, or authority.

    Research by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and a study associated with the Wharton school all demonstrate as much.[2] But the underlying logic isn’t hard to follow. Engaged or ‘enthusiastic’ employees are more productive than their less motivated counterparts (by some measures, as much as 40 percent more[3]). This gives the businesses they work for an advantage in a competitive marketplace. The key then is to get the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Or, as one study bluntly puts it, managers are more effective when they ‘give employees what they want.’[4]

    Needless to say, most managers don’t really see things this way. Again, your manager considers himself to be ‘in charge,’ and behaves accordingly. He wants to tell you what to do, because to him that feels more ‘managerial.’ And he’s likely bristle when you try to tell him what you want, or need, because he feels it’s not his place to listen. That might explain why the best thing you have to say about him is that he leaves you alone.

    So don’t be too hard on your manager. If he drives you to distraction on occasion, it’s not really his fault.

    I’m guessing nobody’s told him the one thing he thinks he knows about managing is wrong.


    [1] The Gallup Organization. 2015. The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders.

    [2] The Google study, termed ‘Project Oxygen,’ is available as a free download at the company’s website. See also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press; Hill, L. 2003. Becoming a Manager, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [3] Pfeffer, J. 1998. The Human Equation, Boston: Harvard Business School.

    [4] Sirota, et. al.

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  • 3 minute read

    I’m a manager at a small biotech company. I have four employees reporting to me at the moment, and for the most part they’re great. But some days they make me want to pull out all of my hair, and I don’t have much left! Thoughts? – Name Withheld

     

    According to The Gallup Organization, managers report experiencing more workplace stress than the individuals they manage.[i]

    So take heart – you’re not alone. For most managers, it’s a trying experience.

    And for good reason. It’s time-consuming, emotionally draining, tough to do well,  and demanding even when you do get it right. Undoubtedly you are well aware of this. What you may not realize, however, is that much of your frustration—maybe even most of it—can be attributed to the following:

    The one thing you probably think you know about managing is wrong.

    Let me say that again. What most of people think it takes to be a ‘good manager,’ and what it actually takes are two completely different things.

    Look at it this way:

    If nothing else, as a manager, you understand that you are ‘in charge.’ You’re ‘the boss,’ in other words – which means you do the telling, while your employees do the listening, and then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s all up to you to decide (or at least approve), not those you manage. And this is how things have to be if your organization is have even a chance of succeeding. The alternative would seem to be organizational chaos, and business failure.

    In fact, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

    According to the best available research, managers are far more effective—and their organizations are far more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around. Studies conducted by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and research associated with the Wharton School all suggest as much.[ii]

    Not that the logic is terrible hard to follow. Motivated and engaged employees are demonstrably more productive than their less enthusiastic counterparts; up to 40% more, by some measures.[iii] This gives the businesses they work for an advantage in a competitive marketplace. The key then is getting these hoped for levels of engagement from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving your employees the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Or, as one study bluntly put it, managers are more effective when they ‘give employees what they want.’[iv]

    But think about your own career for a moment. Can you honestly say you’ve been happier working for managers who are controlling and punitive, as opposed to someone who listened to you, and supported you in your work? Would you really rather be managed by someone who sees you simply as a pair of hands to do his/her bidding? Or would you prefer—and therefore be more engaged, and consequently more productive—working for a manager who appreciates your unique skills and aptitudes, recognizes your contributions, sees you as intelligent and capable, and listens to, and takes your opinion seriously? (I certainly know who I’d rather work for.)

    Unfortunately, however, this awareness has not yet made its way into most people’s—managers and employees alike—understanding and appreciation of what ‘good management’ is.

    Despite their own obvious preference for a manager who support them, most people still expect to see a top-down, ‘command-and-control’-type approach to management at their places of employment. Managers tell, employees do; that’s the assumption. Yes – there is a growing awareness of the benefits of so-called ‘employee empowerment’—that is, allowing workers a degree of decision-making freedom, and some self-control over their job. Otherwise it’s management according to the principles of hierarchy, which means that you’re the boss.

    Unfortunately for everyone involved, that not nearly as effective as behaving as if your employees are the boss of you.

    So don’t be too hard on yourself. And certainly don’t tear out all your hair. It’s not really your fault. How were you to know that the one thing you probably think you know about managing is wrong?

     


    [i] According to the same study, the also experience more burnout, poorer work-life balance, and worse physical well-being. See: Clifton, J. & Harter, J. 2019. It’s the Manager, New York: Gallup Press.

    [ii] Google’s Project Oxygen report is available as a free download at the company’s website. See also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press; Hill, L. 2003. Becoming a Manager, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [iii] Pfeffer, J. 1998. The Human Equation, Boston: Harvard Business School.

    [iv] Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

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