Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Will Disruptive People Answer Honestly?

When developing the questions for the Workplace Attitudes Test I was concerned that problem employees would not provide extreme responses. For example, take the following options:

Q. When someone insults or slights me . . . (select one of the following answers)

A. I tend to remember it a very long time.
B. I can hold a grudge, but not often.
C. at first I get irritated, but soon forget it.

Turns out, I did not need to be concerned because they did select some extreme answers. In this case, the extreme answer is “A.” In follow-up interviews I discovered that people with strong or extreme attitudes are proud of these attitudes. They tend to believe in absolutes. Later, correlating extreme answers with job performance suggested that attitudinal rigidity inclines one to disruptive behavior.

I am reminded of Lee Marvin’s line in the movie, Paint Your Wagon. He said, “When I was conceived, my parents did not have the benefit of marriage but you, sir, are a self-made man.” It turns out that there are a lot of self-made men (and women) out there and they are proud of their status.

If you listen carefully you can often hear, “You’ve got to watch your back all the time,” “You can’t trust anyone,” and “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.” Yep, people will tell you what they really think if you just give them a chance.

Skilled interviewers can sometimes pick up on attitudinal rigidity but most often the interviewer concentrates on “can do the job” rather than “will do the job.” Also many interviewers may feel it is not polite to ask these types of questions. That is why the Workplace Attitudes Test is so valuable. It asks questions that you may not be inclined to ask face-to-face, and people are willing to answer accurately. For more info see, http://www.workplaceattitudes.com.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Are Ya Feeling Lucky Punk, Well Are Ya?

These immortal words were uttered in the “Dirty Harry” movie played by a gun-wielding Clint Eastwood whose gun may or may not have been out of ammunition. Eastwood also uttered the words “Make my day” in a similar situation. Such is the work of cinematic policemen administering quick and final justice to what David Brooks of the New York Times called “The mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

Truth be told, some police spend their entire careers without firing their guns outside of the firing range. Most like it that way. Police work is difficult, and oftentimes dangerous. They go where there are problems and they often see the seamier side of life. It is a challenging career and I am happy to say that the Workplace Attitudes Test has been utilized to help screen people for this profession.

The Test assesses nine work-related attitudes and I’d like to discuss a few of them here. These include judgmental versus accepting, vindictive versus forgiving, adversarial versus accommodating, and egocentric versus people oriented.

In most professions one does not want a person who is judgmental, vindictive, adversarial and egocentric. But when looking at work-related attitudes it is important to understand your own work environment, and some organizations may prefer a certain combination of attitudes. For example, law enforcement may want high judgmental which is defined as a strong sense of right and wrong yet it should be coupled with moderate or low egocentric. We want police to enforce rules and regulations. That is their job. We also want police who have people skills, a sense of forgiveness, and the ability for accommodation.

This is expecting a lot, but thousands of law enforcement people do just that every day.
For more information see http://www.workplaceattitudes.com.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What if Hillary and Barack Took A Pre-Employment Attitudes Test?

After all they are applying for the Ultimate Job. Specifically, if they took the Workplace Attitudes Test (WAT) that focuses on bad attitudes or warning signals related to disruption in the workplace how would they do?

Unfortunately, they haven't taken the test and probably won't. They have, however, given a lot of speeches, written a lot, and participated in many debates. I think we can treat these like job interviews and we can draw some attitude-conclusions.

On some WAT attitudes there is no problem. For example, both are very self-disciplined and hard working. And we don’t have to worry about insubordinate because the President doesn’t have supervisors. Also, to be fair, let’s assume that anyone running for President has a strong ego.

But how about some of the other attitudes on the list?

Judgmental versus accepting
Vindictive versus forgiving
Adversarial versus accommodating
Entitled versus unassuming
Risk-Inclined versus cautious
Non-Traditional versus traditional

A look at some of these might prove critical and might reveal how well they would get along with others in the workplace or as one might say in the political world.

Let’s start with Hillary. I think it is fair to say that she believes that she has paid her dues and is entitled to be president. Slogans like “Ready on Day One” and “When I am President” suggest a modicum of entitlement. When commenting on the recent, heated debate in South Carolina she said that it was Obama (not her) who came ready for a fight. A bit of adversarial projection? During the debate she used a jutted jaw, finger-pointing, and aggressive statements. The “Washington Post” newspaper on January 23, 2008 has a column entitled “The Fact Checker” which rated some of her statements and gave them “Two Pinocchio’s” meaning “significant omissions or exaggerations.”

A look at Obama suggests a person who may be somewhat risk-inclined and non-traditional and both of these may be a good thing at this time and place in our history. He is not afraid to talk about change. He is not afraid to use boldness in his oratory. This can suggest leadership if the public is ready. Obama’s speech patterns tend to be reflective and non-assertive. He appears to be uncomfortable when attacked and appears to be reluctant to go on the offensive. This suggests that he tends not to be very judgmental or vindictive.

Why is this important? A President cannot know everything. He or she must depend on advisors and must work with Congress to be effective. At times those advisors or representatives are going to say things that are unwelcome. The voter needs to ask if they want a President who has attitudes that are accepting rather than judgmental, forgiving rather than vindictive, accommodating versus adversarial, unassuming versus entitled, cautious and traditional versus somewhat risk-inclined and non-traditional. For more information on workplace attitudes see http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/

Monday, January 21, 2008

Workplaces Are Social Environments

Charles Schultz, the famous cartoonist and I might add philosopher, was once asked, “How optimistic are you about the future of America?” After all, Charlie Brown, his erstwhile protagonist suffered an inordinate amount of frustration. Year after year Lucy would promise to hold the football only to yank it away at the last moment. Suffering catastrophe after catastrophe a disillusioned Charlie would utter, “Good Grief.”

Nevertheless, concerning optimism and America, Mr. Schultz was very optimistic. When asked why, he said because every day millions of hard-working Americans went to work, did their job, took care of their children and met their obligations. The simple fact is the vast majority of people do us proud.

As the developer of the Workplace Attitudes Test, I was recently asked, “What percent of employees have problem attitudes?” This is difficult to answer with precision. I would say that usually among a group of job applicants, approximately one out of twenty has shown at least one very high warning signal on the test. This usually comes as a surprise to the interviewer because it is difficult to identify these problem attitudes in a regular job interview.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that there are a lot of turkeys out there. If you drove to work today, you probably witnessed someone honk at you, cut you off, or run a yellow light. You have probably experienced a cashier who was on their cell phone or had some other similar experience.

Most people follow the rules, are invariably polite and easy to get along with. Unfortunately, it is the turkeys that have a disproportionate impact. I sometimes think that it is the job of a manager to reign in the five percent so that the other ninety-five percent don’t get totally disgusted.

There is no question that one problem employee can pollute the workplace. It is even worse if that one person is a supervisor. We have probably all witnessed workplaces that were happy, then with a change in managers they became a neurosis-driven dysfunctional environment.

I am thinking of a sewing and fabric store that had a low-key, tolerant supervisor who was primarily concerned with keeping customers happy. As often happens, this manager was promoted and replaced by an individual with a different agenda. Neatness became the new top priority. In a fabric store, scraps of fabric were not tolerated and employees picked up scraps of cloth while customers were ignored. When the scraps were gone, then everything needed to be folded properly. Complaints increased, employees were blamed, and longtime employees quit. Hello neatness, goodbye profits.

The lesson is that workplaces are social environments. Ninety-five percent of the employees can be good, but that ain’t enough. All it takes is one turkey . . .

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thank Goodness for Gratitude

When I did the initial research to discover attitudes related to disruptive behavior in the workplace, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of turkeys.

This includes embezzlers, back-stabbers, bad-mouthers, imposters, malcontents and job-hoppers and I also talked to a few people who liked to threaten their former employers with law suits. Individuals in this rouges gallery had bad attitudes in the extreme. These same bad attitudes were generally absent in good or non-disruptive employees.

Turkey attitudes include judgmental, vindictive, entitled, disrespect for authority, undisciplined, egocentric and so forth. Again, to be a turkey, one has to hold at least one of these negative attitudes strongly. If you want to know more about these bad attitudes visit the Workplace Attitudes website at www.workplaceattitudes.com.

These work-related attitudes were discovered from a series of open-ended interviews but one other underlying attitude or characteristic seemed to be present in good workers and absent in problem employees—that is, gratitude.

Gratitude explains a lot. If you decide that a pre-employment test is not for you, you may want to look for gratitude in your job candidates. If you find evidence of gratitude, I believe you may be fairly sure that this person will get along well with others.

Wikipedia provides the following definition: Gratitude, appreciation, or thankfulness is a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude
One of my favorite quotes is by Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Melodie Beattie talks about gratitude as follows:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity . . . It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_gratitude.html
If you’re looking for an employee who will get along well with other people, you can’t go wrong by asking them “What are you grateful for?”
If you want to learn more about research related to gratitude and good health, I suggest that you look at some comments made by Charles Osgood in his Osgood File (CBS Radio Network) The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network): 7/12/02The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network): 12/19/01

Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Look for Bad Attitudes in the Workplace Rather Than Good Attitudes?

After all, if you are looking for good employees why not look for people with good attitudes? The simple answer is--it tends not to work. Looking for good attitudes does not identify individuals with bad attitudes.

I am reminded of a speech given by the president of a gold-mining corporation who stated “Our company must process two tons of dirt to find one once of gold.” An audience member then asked, “How is that possible?” The executive replied, “Well, you look for the gold, not the dirt.”

This is not as obvious as it first appears. For example, the goal of mental therapy is and was to develop well-adjusted happy individuals. Since Sigmund Freud, psychologists and psychiatrists tended to assume that the simple absence of mental illness equated to happiness.

It was Professor Martin E. P. Goldman of the University of Pennsylvania who did empirical research and turned this upside down. He developed a system that showed that happiness is not simply the absence of mental illness, rather it is a proactive phenomena based upon an individual’s beliefs and actions. He did not believe that happiness was the absence of mental illness and he began to look for the factors related to happiness, and a new branch of psychology was born called Positive Psychology. There is more info in his book “Learned Optimism” that was published in 1992.

I suppose it is possible to use Dr. Goldman’s system to identify individuals who score high on the happiness scale and this would likely produce happier workplaces. In fact, this may a good idea but there can be a few legal issues because pre-employment tests must be related to the workplace.

The Workplace Attitude Test focuses on identifying individuals who possess bad attitudes or warning signals that are related to disruption in the workplace and the test looks at a total of nine attitudes.

Without going into great detail, here are three attitudes that I found can be critical problems in the workplace. These include “judgmental” which involves a strong sense of right and wrong; “vindictiveness” which involves a zero-sum approach to relations with customers, fellow employees or supervisors; and “entitlement” which is somewhat self-explanatory. During our research to develop the Workplace Attitudes Test, when problem employees were interviewed it was discovered that these attitudes were almost always present in the extreme. Therefore, these attitudes - judgmental, vindictiveness, and entitlement – are included (among others) when we look for warning signals.

It would be wonderful if we could hire happy well-adjusted individuals every time but a more reasonable goal is to find people who don’t have a chip on their shoulders. For more details on Dr. Goldman’s research, see http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx. For more details about our Workplace Attitudes Test please see http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Job Interviews: Do Ask, Don't Tell

What is the purpose of the job interview? The interviewer wants to know if the prospect is right for the job. The employer gives money and benefits for time and devotion; while the prospect wants the money and benefits. The interviewer hopes to ask the right questions; the prospect hopes to give the right answers.

This reminds me of a great Saturday Night Live routine called Subliminal Man. Subliminal Man spoke in undertones. In a clear stentorian voice he stated what was expected, then in a quiet staccato voice he said what he really thought. Would it be nice if this is the way job interviews worked?

Let’s see how Subliminal Man does in a typical interview. First assume that the job interview is being conducted by a twenty-something svelte attractive former cheerleader, possibly an imported-wine drinker.

Our optimistic job candidate, with beer gut, has been somewhat happily unemployed for the past two years. His presence at this interview can best be explained by the insistence of his full-time working wife and his recurring back ache from sleeping on the couch. Our Bud man has a decided preference for hunting, fishing and watching football.

The Interview:

Good morning Mr. Johnson.
It’s Johnston.
Oh, sorry, Mr. Johnston.
Oh no problem, it happens all the time. (Subliminal Man kicks in—“What a twit”)
What attracted you to our company, Mr. Johnston?
I saw your ad in the newspaper. (“Actually my wife cut out your ad and put it on my tackle box”)
How much experience have you had driving a semi with a triplex transmission?
Five years, yeah was five years. Now that I think about it, it could have been six. (“None whatsoever, what the hell is a triplex?”)
Did you enjoy over-the-road driving?
You bet, ten-four back at you.
You obviously know your way around trucking.
Thanks (“Yeah, my kid has a little red one, what a dork”)
What are your salary requirements?
I understand that this type of job pays around 45 thousand per year. (“Three paychecks and I got that bass boat sweetie”)
Do you see this as a long term commitment?
Absolutely (“At least until duck season”)
Do you have any questions for me?
When would I start if I got the job? (“What are you doing Saturday night, my wife will be working”)
We should be making a decision within two weeks.
Thank you, I look forward to hearing from you. (“Great, two more weeks on the couch, take your time you wine-sipping twit”)
As you may have guessed, I tend to consider the job interview a somewhat inexact science. That’s why I recommend the Workplace Attitude Test in addition to the interview plus a background check. See http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Would You Like Coffee, Tea or Milk . . . You Jerk.

I am probably betraying my age but I remember when airlines were concerned about your comfort. The friendly flight attendants really wanted to know what you preferred. Today, when the overhead luggage rack looks commodious and you find your knees in close proximity to your nose, those days seem long gone. Nowadays the flight crews, working under stress, have more important things to do.

But back in the day, airline executives were more concerned about service. I remember reading an article about an airline finding that most of their complaints were directed at 10% of their personnel and they actually wanted to know why. The reason I am relating this is that their solution was one of the inspirations that lead me to develop the Workplace Attitudes Test that screens for employees with bad attitudes.

Their pre-employment interviews clearly did not work and turkeys were getting through. If you’ve read the other parts of this blog, you know that I define a turkey as someone with bad workplace attitudes. For example, “Would you like coffee, tea or milk . . . you jerk.”

The airline needed a system to weed out the turkeys. Like the Workplace Attitudes Test, they wanted to identify bad attitudes in potential flight attendants. I think that their solution borders on genius.

They had each of the prospects go to the podium and tell about their hobbies, their pets, and their aspirations. Each candidate could go on for as long as they wanted and it oftentimes was up to twenty minutes. The presentations were not video taped, instead the camera was focused on the audience.

The goal was not to evaluate the presenters but to evaluate how tolerant or patient each member of the audience was. Some were doing their nails, frowning, or talking to colleagues. Others would show great patience and respect. Guess which ones got the job? And guess what happened to the number of complaints.

It was a happy ending for many years, at least until the airlines started to pack people into airplanes like sardines and the entire industry went into the crapper. Did I mention that I fly coach? For information on weeding out the turkeys see http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/

Monday, January 7, 2008

Enter the Worst-Employee-Story Contest and Win a Chocolate Turkey!

Yes, you can really win a chocolate turkey covered in tinfoil. You can eat it right away, display until it goes stale or freeze it and forget about it. The turkey will be sent to you by FedEx, UPS, or the US Post Office, whichever is cheaper. You can pose with your new little friend and I will post the picture on this blog.

First, the rules. To protect the guilty, I don't want the name of your company or the name of the employee. You may refer to them by nickname. For the company you probably shouldn't use something like Starbutts or MicroFluff. For the employee, smuck, schlemiel, jerk or turkey would be allright. Just send in a brief description of their behavior on the job. This doesn't need to be of the scope of Enron. I want ordinary, rude, boorish behavior. You know, self-centered crap that makes us want to strangle someone. I have to limit it because someone like Donald Trump would win in all categories.

Now, the categories:

  • Most insulting to customers
  • Most costly in terms of dollars and cents
  • Most difficult to supervise
  • Biggest PR disaster
  • Worst lawsuit
  • And . . . I can't believe this jerk.

That's it. Send in your entries as a posting to this blog and I'll try to figure out how to select a winner, or loser depending on your point of view. Learn more about turkeys on the job at http://www.workplaceattitudes.com/

Sunday, January 6, 2008

How to Hire Really Bad Employees!

If you wanted, for some unknown reason, to hire the worst possible employee how would you proceed? I'm talking the worst, the absolute worst. The type of person with their own agenda, impossible to supervise, petty, quick to take offense, and on their best days hinting that they have a great lawyer and that they know their rights.

But how do you know that you've found a really bad employee? Much like jury consultants who ask prospective jurors about their attitudes related to our legal system, you should ask prospective employees about their work-related attitudes.

Some problematic work-related attitudes include the following: an over-developed sense of importance; a sense that they are special; and a belief that they don't have to do anything extra because they are already there. We see this in the former beauty queen who refuses to give up her tiara. It's called deservedness or a sense of entitlement.

As we continue our search for the bad employee, we look for a lack of empathy. The inability or disinclination to see things from the other person's perspective. Rhett Butler's famous comment, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" is humorous in movies but not so good on the job. "Do you have this in a size five?" "Frankly, my dear . . ."

We also need some pettiness and a good memory for remembering slights. If you can't hold a grudge, you don't qualify here. "Tower, this is Aardvark 551, requesting permission to proceed to runway one eight." "Aardvark 551, do you remember what you said to me the last time you were at this airport?"

There you have it, some contextual attitudes that identify bad employees. Remember, just because Ben Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird doesn't mean you have to hire one! Visit www.WorkplaceAttitudes.com to learn more.