Monday, July 27, 2015

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count Just a Few Ways

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” is a famous line from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem. Counting the reasons you love someone (or like a friend, enjoy your car, prefer a certain store, etc.) is only good advice if you don’t have to count too high. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say don’t have people count past one hand. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been rereading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. If you want a great overview of how your subconscious and conscious minds work then you’ll want to pick up his book. He touches on our irrationality, similar to Dan Ariely’s work in Predictably Irrational, heuristics (click-whir responses) as mentioned by Robert Cialdini in his classic Influence Science and Practice, as well as many other concepts about how our minds work.

As I’ve been reading I’m struck by the reality that our minds work in ways that are quite often opposite of what we might expect. For example, who would be more persuaded to buy a BMW? The person who is asked to list a dozen reasons BMWs are great cars or the person who is asked to list just three reasons? Most people would intuitively guess the person who lists a dozen reasons. After all, if you can come up with 12 reasons it must be a good car, especially when considered against just three reasons. Unfortunately you’d be wrong.

In several different studies cited in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman clearly show people who are asked to generate fewer reasons are more persuaded than those who have to come up with many more. Why is this the case? If you can easily come up with three reasons you are probably pretty confident a BMW is an excellent car. However, if asked to come up with lots more, and you do so but struggle in the process, you start to wonder if the BMW is really as good as you think. The struggle allows doubt to creep in.

This feature of thinking is common to all people. When we can quickly come up with a few reasons we are for gay marriage or against it, for a political candidate or against the candidate, for tax increases on the wealthy or against them, or for or against anything else, we will be even more confident that our position (for or against) is the correct decision. However, if asked to list many more reasons we might just wonder how strong our case really is.

Pause to consider this if you happen to be in marketing or sales. Inundating people with reasons your product or service is the best might not work as well as hammering home three to five reasons because your prospective customer will probably easily recall two or three of those reasons. However, a laundry list of why your offer is so great will only work against you!

There’s a saying, “Sometimes less is more,” and it’s certainly the case when you want someone to believe your product or service is the right one for him or her. By the same token, when it comes to love, “How do I love the? Let me count the ways,” will work much better if you save your loved one some time and energy and just ask them to tell you two or three things they love about you!

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Secret to Motivating a Slacker on Your Team

This week’s guest post is from Mike Figliuolo, the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. 

An honor graduate from West Point, Mike served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. 

Mike regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog. His latest book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results, has just come out and you can get your copy by clicking here. On a more personal note, Mike has been a good friend for many years and has generously shared his blogging expertise with me.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

The Secret to Motivating a Slacker on Your Team

Dave has a great résumé with the right education and expertise from brand name schools and employers. When he accepted your job offer, you felt like you made one of the best hires of your career.

Since Dave got the job, however, his talents haven't translated into the results you expected. He's a smart guy with great communications skills – at least his verbal communication skills. He's outspoken in team meetings and has many ideas, most of which seem to have potential. Interestingly enough, however, those ideas relate to other peoples' responsibilities. Dave's willingness to comment on how others are doing or not doing their jobs is drawing complaints from your team. He has much less to say about his own area.

You hate the thought of losing someone as talented as Dave, but his lack of results is alarming. His teammates have picked up his slack. You've dedicated more of your leadership capital than you'd like harping on him to get his work done. There's no doubt that Dave is a "Slacker."

Approaches for Leading a Slacker

Leading Slackers requires you to "Unlock Motivation" within them. Slackers have the capability to do their jobs well. If they applied themselves, Slackers could be Exemplars on your team. Turning a Slacker around reduces the team conflict they create when they talk about everyone else's work instead of doing their own. To be sure you've got a Slacker on your hands, assess their performance and see if they're delivering the results you expect.

To turn Slackers around, first let them know their behavior isn't acceptable. If they've avoided deadlines in the past, give them a real deadline to hit or face the consequences. Connect with your HR representative to start the performance improvement plan process. Document the expectations for the Slackers’ role, their performance against those objectives, and the specific goals they need to accomplish.

Set deadlines for completing their performance improvement plan and keeping their job. Make it clear that delivery of results is a condition of their employment. You're not looking to threaten them – you're merely explaining the cold, hard facts of their situation. Coach them that being smart isn't enough. Reassure them you believe they have the ability to do the job – if they set their mind to it. Provide them a picture of what success could look like for them.

The painful first conversation with Slackers might be enough to turn them around. Other times they say they'll improve but they never do. That behavior requires you to escalate the situation and put them on a formal performance improvement plan.

After putting your Slackers on a formal performance improvement plan, have a frank discussion with them about how they want to rectify the situation. Don't limit the discussion to their role on your team – discuss their career aspirations too. Let them know if they plan to keep slacking by relying on their smarts and reputation to get them through, they're going to have a performance crisis that will be hard to recover from. If they don't change their behavior, it will kill their career at some point.

If the combination of being put on a performance improvement plan and getting your frank assessment can't motivate them to behave differently, ask them what it will take to get them to change. If they're not interested in helping themselves, you can't do it for them. These are potentially high risk, high return leadership investments.

Slackers have a decision to make that will determine your approach to leading them. If putting them on a performance improvement plan gets through to them, find the root cause of their problem. All that's holding them back is their motivation. They could be bored with their work. Maybe they lack the skills required to plan their work and manage their time. Perhaps someone else on the team is stealing credit for their work. Your discussion about root causes could provide you insights on how committed they are to change.

If they're not going to work hard in their current role, help them find their next one. Work with them, in consultation with your HR team, to see what kind of referral you can give them. For external referrals, you can point to the Slackers’ strengths. Leave it up to them to explain why they're leaving their role.


Monday, July 13, 2015

You’re Sure You’re Right? Really Sure?

No doubt you’ve heard Donald Trump is running for president. It seems as if The Donald has said he might run each of the last four presidential races but he surprisingly took that step this time. The bigger news story came with his remarks about illegal aliens, especially people coming from the Mexican-American border, and the fallout with several organizations he did business with.

Trump’s remarks were incendiary and not worth repeating but now with the death of a San Francisco woman at the hands of an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times, Trump’s views have people talking even more. No doubt many people will take the killing as “proof” of Trump’s claims but is that viewpoint accurate?

There are two psychological concepts at work right now between Trump and this murder story: confirmation bias and the recency bias. Confirmation bias occurs when someone seeks information that only confirms what he or she already believes to be true. Recency effect bias occurs when our attention is drawn to something - like recent news stories - and we give more weight to that information than it deserves.

For example – the chance of being killed by a shark are incredibly small compared to the odds of dying in an automobile accident. However, with the recent shark attacks dominating the news (recency effect bias) many more people will stay away from the ocean than will stay away from cars. Each time another shark encounter is mentioned in the news people say, “I told you so” (confirmation bias).

The same phenomenon is taking place with Trump’s comments and illegal aliens. The comments are mentioned multiple times each day (recency effect bias) and the San Francisco killing is proof (confirmation bias) for many people that Trump is right. The danger is giving undeserved credibility to Trump’s racially insensitive remarks, which only perpetuates the problem of racial tension in our country.

We are all subject to the effects of confirmation bias and recency bias but unfortunately too often we’re unaware of it. He is another example – global warming / climate change. For the majority of people their experience dictates their view on the issue. A couple of very cold winters make many say, “Global warming is a farce. We’re experiencing record colds here!” On the other hand, people in parts of the country experiencing drought or unusually hot temperatures will take that as “proof” that global warming exists. In neither case can you prove or disprove the issue based on your limited experience. Each instance only confirms the bias many people already have on the issue.

So you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” or “Why is this of any importance?”

If you happen to go before a jury wouldn’t you hope the people making a decision in your case would not be swayed by evidence solely because it confirmed what they already believed? Sure you would.

Would you want people making public policy decisions on something as important as global warming based on how hot their summer was or how cold their winter was? Of course not!

Making the best decisions possible entails understanding how our minds work. Sometimes the shortcuts we rely on don’t always lead to the right conclusions because more critical thinking is necessary. It’s hard work but when the stakes are high it’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, July 6, 2015

When the Good Becomes Bad

Have you ever noticed how something good can slowly become bad? I’m thinking of things we start for good reasons that end up getting distorted and becoming bad. Here are some examples:

In the Bible, the Pharisees, a religious sect of Judaism, aspired to be right with God. They knew the commandments but wanted to understand them more deeply. They knew “Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath” but wanted to understand exactly what work was. They set out to define it and laid a heavy burden on people in the name of God. It became work just to keep the law!

Public schools have set standards for graduation because people thought our education system was slipping on the world stage. However, rather than bolster learning we started hearing about teachers "teaching to the test" and in some districts misrepresenting student scores.

On the topic of school, grades are used to measure performance. After all, “What gets measured gets done.” Seeing a student with a high GPA is usually a good thing unless students are more concerned with the grade than what they’re learning.

Faithfulness to marriage vows is a good thing. But what about couples who “stay together for the kids” and end up exposing them to a toxic environment at home?

In business, bonuses are used to incent people to do certain things like increase profits or sales. Offering people incentives to work harder, longer or more creatively is good unless people begin to do some unethical things to hit the numbers.

As I noted in the opening, many things start out with a good intention but end up getting perverted in some way as people lose sight of the original intention. So what are you to do?

I believe we all need to understand why we’re asked to do what we do and occasionally we need to remind ourselves. I work in the insurance industry and I’m proud of that. Insurance isn’t a sexy industry like banking or financial investments but it’s every bit as necessary. When people ask me about what I do, I tell them I’m proud to be in insurance because we do two important things:

We help people. If someone has a loss (car accident, home damaged, business destroyed) we step in to help them get back on their feet and lessen the financial burden they would face otherwise. No one ever said, “Darn my insurance agent for selling me the right coverages and limits” after a loss but many have said, “Darn my agent for not selling me the right coverages and limits!”

We help the economy. What bank will lend you money to build a house or buy a building if you can’t guarantee to repay the amount in full if the property is damaged or destroyed? No financial institution would do that but with an insurance company promising to make that guarantee, money is lent, buildings are bought, which employs people to build them and building materials are sold. This creates a positive ripple throughout our economy.

This brings me more specifically to what I do at work 9 to 5 and with Influence PEOPLE. I teach people how to ethically persuade others. The driving force for me in this endeavor is to help people professionally and personally. I believe:

Professional success depends in large part on your ability to get others to say yes to you. Sales are not made without getting to yes. If you’re a manger your success depends on your team buying into your vision and strategy – getting a yes! Even if you’re not in sales or management you’re asking people to do things all day long. Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human discovered through a survey of more than 7,000 business people that the typical non-sales employees spend upwards of 40% of their time trying to persuade others!

Personal happiness is quite often a result of getting a yes. Most people I know find that life is more pleasant when their spouse, significant other and/or kids willingly say yes to them. Understanding how to ethically persuade others can go a long ways toward making this happen.

If you’re like most people I’ve met, and including myself, then you may have things in life you started for the right reasons but may have “lost that loving feeling” and slowly slipped into a bad place. If that’s the case, step back and take time to remind yourself about who you are and why you choose to do what you do. If you can’t regain that old feeling and have the ability to let go of some things, then do so because you’ll enjoy what you pursue with passion more than what you have to drag yourself to do.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.