When Google recently admitted that the baffling brainteasers it posed to interviewees were utterly useless at predicting which ones would make good employees, it was another example of the power of what Google calls “people analytics”—the mixing of Big Data with management science to come up with smarter ways to work.
The company’s obsession with human data is perhaps best known for producing the rule that no employee should sit more than 150 feet (46 meters) away from a micro-kitchen, and that in those kitchens the chocolate M&Ms be kept in opaque jars while healthier food is in clear containers, to encourage healthy eating habits. Google’s often controversial culture of omniscience about its users is mirrored, inside its posh campuses, by a team of industrial-organizational psychologists, behavioral economists, consultants and statisticians who survey and experiment with Google’s staff.
Too often new collaborative technologies — though intended to connect employees seamlessly and enable work to get done more efficiently — are misused in ways that impede innovation and hurt performance.
Age-old wisdom suggests it is not what but whom you know that matters. Over decades this truism has been supported by a great deal of research on networks. Work since the 1970s shows that people who maintain certain kinds of networks do better: They are promoted more rapidly than their peers, make more money, are more likely to find a job if they lose their own, and are more likely to be considered high performers.
But the secret to these networks has never been their size. Simply following the advice of self-help books and building mammoth Rolodexes or Facebook accounts actually tends to hurt performance as well as have a negative effect on health and well-being at work. Rather, the people who do better tend to have more ties to people who themselves are not connected. People with ties to the less-connected are more likely to hear about ideas that haven’t gotten exposure elsewhere, and are able to piece together opportunities in ways that less-effectively-networked colleagues cannot.
If bigger is not better in networks, what is the actual impact of social media tools in the workforce? The answer: They are as likely to actually hurt performance and engagement as they are to help — if they simply foist more collaborative demands on an already-overloaded workforce. In most places, people are drowning in collaborative demands imposed by meetings, emails, and phone calls. For most of us, these activities consume 75% to 90% of a typical work week and constitute a gauntlet to get to the work we must do. In this context, new collaborative technologies, when not used appropriately, are over-loading us all and diminishing efficiency and innovation at work.
The expert performance framework distinguishes between deliberate practice and less effective practice activities. The current longitudinal study is the first to use this framework to understand how children improve in an academic skill. Specifically, the authors examined the effectiveness and subjective experience of three preparation activities widely recommended to improve spelling skill. Deliberate practice, operationally defined as studying and memorizing words while alone, better predicted performance in the National Spelling Bee than being quizzed by others or reading for pleasure. Rated as the most effortful and least enjoyable type of preparation activity, deliberate practice was increasingly favored over being quizzed as spellers accumulated competition experience. Deliberate practice mediated the prediction of final performance by the personality trait of grit, suggesting that perseverance and passion for long-term goals enable spellers to persist with practice activities that are less intrinsically rewarding—but more effective—than other types of preparation.
Do you think you know how to get the best from your people? Or do you know? How do investments in your employees actually affect workforce performance? Who are your top performers? How can you empower and motivate other employees to excel?
Leading-edge companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated methods of analyzing employee data to enhance their competitive advantage. Google, Best Buy, Sysco, and others are beginning to understand exactly how to ensure the highest productivity, engagement, and retention of top talent, and then replicating their successes. If you want better performance from your top employees—who are perhaps your greatest asset and your largest expense—you’ll do well to favor analytics over your gut instincts.
Harrah’s Entertainment is well-known for employing analytics to select customers with the greatest profit potential and to refine pricing and promotions for targeted segments. (See “Competing on Analytics,”HBR January 2006.) Harrah’s has also extended this approach to people decisions, using insights derived from data to put the right employees in the right jobs and creating models that calculate the optimal number of staff members to deal with customers at the front desk and other service points. Today the company uses analytics to hold itself accountable for the things that matter most to its staff, knowing that happier and healthier employees create better-satisfied guests.
Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy -- and our own self-awareness.
Expanding upon Simon's (1955) seminal theory, this investigation compared the choice-making strategies of maximizers and satisficers, finding that maximizing tendencies, although positively correlated with objectively better decision outcomes, are also associated with more negative subjective evaluations of these decision outcomes. Specifically, in the fall of their final year in school, students were administered a scale that measured maximizing tendencies and were then followed over the course of the year as they searched for jobs. Students with high maximizing tendencies secured jobs with 20% higher starting salaries than did students with low maximizing tendencies. However, maximizers were less satisfied than satisficers with the jobs they obtained, and experienced more negative affect throughout the job-search process. These effects were mediated by maximizers' greater reliance on external sources of information and their fixation on realized and unrealized options during the search and selection process.
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In order to produce a beneficial result, professionals must sometimes cause harm to another human being. To capture this phenomenon, we introduce the construct of "necessary evils" and explore the inherent challenges such tasks pose for those who must perform them. Whereas previous research has established the importance of treating victims of necessary evils with interpersonal sensitivity, we focus on the challenges performers face when attempting to achieve this prescribed standard in practice.
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