Friday, June 27, 2008

What’s Up Down Under

Recently I received an e-mail from Fiona Smith, Work Space Editor of the “The Australian Financial Review” who wanted to interview me about the Workplace Attitudes Test. We scheduled a call for 4:00 pm in Washington, DC two days later. When I got the call I said, “Good morning, you’re up early,” and she seemed pleased that I knew that there was a 17 hour time difference. I try to sound moderately intelligent with reporters and invariably nice because I remember the quote, “Never argue with a person who buys ink by the barrel.”

Fiona Smith was very nice (I hope you read this Fiona) and was writing about some companies in the Australian workplace where jerks and bullies are less tolerated than they used to be. Her article is entitled “Now be nice – there’s no place for bullies” and it is in The Australian Financial Review, June 17, 2008. She starts her article by saying, “At Arup Australasia, there is a ‘no dickheads’ policy. If you can’t treat others with respect, you won’t be tolerated.”

She is quoting the managing director of this engineering consulting firm, Robert Care. Robert, I couldn’t have said it better myself. The article goes on to cite examples of intolerance for intolerance, or as the fine folks down under might say “We are not going to dick around with dickheads.”

Then Fiona went on to describe how to identify these people and she got to me - well, what I mean is she got to my Workplace Attitudes Test. The following four paragraphs are from her article.

“There are many consultancies offering psychological testing to make sure that new recruits will fit into the culture of their new employer, but one company in the U.S. is selling a test specifically targeted at weeding out jerks.

The president of Allegiance Research Group, Dale Paulson, says his Workplace Attitudes Test has not yet been picked up by the big corporations – ‘HR people are not as receptive’ – but is proving popular with small businesses, franchises, associations, and even a policy academy.

‘About ninety percent of problems come from ten percent of employees – people who have chips on their shoulders’ he says. The 45 question test, developed nine years ago, is very effective at the lower levels of the organization and for supervisors, he says, but, realistically, is unlikely to be used at the top of the organization. ‘If you are making ten million dollars you get to be a jerk’ he says.

But wouldn’t people with a history of difficulty working with others be tempted to lie about their attitudes in a test? ‘No, they are actually proud of their attitudes. They come in and say things like, ‘it’s a dog eat dog world,’ ‘you can’t trust anyone,’ and, ‘if you step on my toes and you don’t apologize you are going to get broken toes.’ he says.”

And so folks, I’m here to tell you that in addition to shrimp on the barbie and Foster’s beer, there are jerks in Australia, except they are generally referred to as “dickheads.” See

Friday, June 20, 2008

Some Thoughts on Vindictiveness

I remember the old Kingston Trio song, “I shot the Sheriff, got ninety-nine years and it sure has been a lesson to me.” Problem is, I don’t think vindictive people feel much regret. What is it with this mind-set? Vindictive people seem to feel compelled to “Get even.” This suggests that they see life as a zero-sum game where some people win and others lose. If they see themselves losing, they must do something to balance the game. Most people see the world in terms of cooperation where win-win possibilities dominate.

Vindictive people are quite proud of their assumptions. They tend to agree with these types of statements: “If someone insults me, I remember it for a very long time,” “Don’t get mad, get even,” and “I’m the wrong person to cross.” Vindictive people tend to be mad most of the time.

I’ve been told that they get more ulcers, have higher blood pressure and tend to have more heart attacks. I have even read somewhere that evolution hasn’t had enough time to eliminate these types of people. In the meantime you might want to avoid hiring them by visiting

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some Thoughts on Entitlement

One of the values tested in the Workplace Attitudes Test is a sense of entitlement. Of course some people feel very entitled, others not at all. I believe that a strong sense of entitlement makes a person more difficult to work with. In the workplace, problems arise because the highly entitled may assume that they are not being sufficiently rewarded, they tend to see work as an obligation rather than an opportunity, and they often feel put upon if they are asked to do anything extra.

Entitlement is an interesting value and it has, on occasion, been a source of humor. I am reminded of Woody Allen’s lament, “Oh Lord if you could only give me a sign—like putting 10 million dollars in a Swiss bank account in my name.” Or the story of a man named Joseph who prayed every day for thirty years to win the lottery. One day on a hilltop he beseeched God “God, why have you not honored my prayer? I attend church every week, I tithe, I am good to my family and my fellow man and yet you don’t honor my prayer.” And God spoke to Joseph, “So Joseph, buy a ticket.”

Why do we find this so funny? I think that it is because we all feel entitled to some degree. But like the other values measured in the Workplace Attitudes Test, values that are extreme and inflexible cause problems.

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about generational differences concerning entitlement. It has been argued that when you raise children where everyone gets a trophy, you area fostering entitlement. A recent generation has been labeled the “Me Generation.” The proportion of people from different generations may differ on a variety of values, but I caution you to remember that entitlement is an individual characteristic. We hire individuals not generations. This is where skilled interviewing and a good pre-employment test will help. See:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Why Does the Workplace Attitude Test (WAT) Work?

I think that the WAT test works for some very simple reasons: it has a limited objective; it is based on understanding values from the right cohort; people are fairly open about their beliefs and values and extreme or disruptive behavior results from holding certain values in the extreme. Let’s look at each point.

WAT’s limited objective. When I set out to develop the WAT I sought to answer a simple question. Do disruptive workers share certain identifiable attitudes? I made the assumption that the workplace is almost always a social environment and I wanted to understand individuals who do not get along well with others. This is much easier than trying to understand personality or trying to match people to a certain type of job. Personality has many components and jobs can be done in a variety of ways but there appears to be a limited number of ways to be disruptive in the workplace.

The right cohort. A cohort is simply a group of people that share some characteristic. I refer to them as turkeys or jerks. Fortunately they’re not hard to find and they tend not to be bashful. Part of my research included going to supervisors in various types of organizations and asking if it would be possible to interview some present or past employees about their work-related beliefs and attitudes. I didn’t say I was looking for jerks and I interviewed all kinds of employees but, in truth, it was a turkey hunt. I correlated problem employees with many variables such as job-hopping, negative work experiences, dislike of work in general, involvement in law suits, etc. As you may appreciate, it is not hard to find problem employees.

Beliefs and Values. Short of saying, “Yes I am a jerk,” turkeys or jerks are quite willing to talk about their beliefs and values. Often this is to amplify their low opinion of others. You’ve heard of the term “a people person,” well these are “anti-people persons.” Where Will Rogers said he never met a person he didn’t like, these individuals almost never met people that they do like. I am reminded of the pundit who said, “I love humanity, it’s people I don’t like,”

Now to understand values one must ask open-ended questions. This is much like the jury-consultant approach. They ask questions like, “What do you think of the justice system?” This is followed up with such questions as “Why do you think that?” or “Why do you feel that way?” Now, I’m not going to go into the exhaustive set of questions that I asked jerks and non-jerks but I am going to tell you about some of their answers and attitudes.

Here are some of the scintillating insights found in their answers. “Most people are stupid.” “You can’t trust anybody.” “My boss is so stupid, he couldn’t find his ass with both hands.” “I spend my nights lying awake thinking of ways to get even.” “Work sucks but you have to do it.” “I never get a break.” “I should be making more money.” And one of my favorites, “Step on my toes and forget to apologize and I’ll kick your ass—I don’t care who you are.” I was wise enough not to suggest steel-toed shoes for the last one. I could go on, but you get the idea. Next let’s look at some of the attitudes that underlie these sentiments. To name a few, the problem attitudes include judgmental, vindictive, adversarial, egocentric and entitled.

Extreme values. I found a strong correlation between disruptive behavior and holding the above mentioned values in the extreme. For each value, five test questions were developed. Each question had three options, one weak, one moderate and one strong. For example, for the judgmental attitude the following question is an example:

When I feel I have been treated unjustly …

* I will do whatever is necessary to defend my rights.
* I seldom feel I have been treated unfairly.
* I probably should do more but oftentimes just let it go.

It is only when the respondent answers four of five questions like this it is deemed that they hold that attitude in the extreme.

Respondents have strong (belief-related) rationales for their extreme answers and these extremes are strongly related to disruptive behavior. This test works because people tend to be proud of their values and they use those values to justify their behavior. Although job candidates may not reveal this information in a job interview, they are willing to express themselves in the test.

There you have it. The WAT works because it doesn’t try to do too much, it is based upon understanding the right people, they are willing to reveal their beliefs if given the chance, and strongly held disruptive values are related to disruptive behavior in the workplace See: