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Woman thinking in the shower

How To Be More Innovative? – take a shower | Gary Dumais, Psy.D., SPHR

Have you ever heard someone say, “My best ideas come to me in the shower”, or experienced something similar yourself?

In my work as an Executive Coach, managers and business leaders often ask me how they can become more innovative, as their success depends on thinking creatively and generating “out-of-the-box” ideas.

So, I usually begin by reminding them that innovative thinking requires thinking, and thinking requires time, and time to think is something people no longer have in modern society…except, perhaps, for a few minutes in the shower.

For example, consider some of the most prolific inventors throughout history, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Nicola Tesla.  They lived in eras free from time-wasting distractions such as television, or time-sucking responsibilities like sixty-hour workweeks and responding to emails on nights and weekends.  In other words, they had time to wonder, ponder, tinker, experiment, and build upon their ideas.  -And that’s exactly what they did.

Now consider the everyday lives of most people today.  Especially when you add-in family obligations on top of work responsibilities, there isn’t even enough time left for sleep, let alone thinking and innovating.

And what do we do when we do get a moment to ourselves?  Scroll endlessly through social media?  Binge watch Netflix?  Whatever it is, it isn’t letting our minds wander freely while observing and contemplating our thoughts…until, perhaps, we take a shower.

Although with the advent of waterproof smart phones, it’s possible those precious few minutes to think in the shower will disappear as well.  Heck, cell phone use is already commonplace in the bathroom!

With all that in mind, the first step to becoming more innovative is to make time to think, free from interruption and distraction.  -Far easier said than done, given our busy lives.

Yet, in many ways, carving out time to think (and I mean literally scheduling an hour on your calendar to do nothing but stare out the window) is just as important as taking an hour to respond to emails, especially if people look to you to generate innovative ideas or new perspectives.

So, I invite you to give it a try after reading this article, even if only for a few minutes.  Turn off all distractions (like your cell phone and computer), relax comfortably in uninterrupted silence, let your thoughts wander freely, and simply observe them as they unfold…it’ll facilitate innovative thinking, and you may be surprised about what comes to mind!

Experts vs. Tools | Employee Assessment | Gary Dumais, Psy.D., SPHR

Swiss army tool Gary Dumais

If you had a serious medical or legal problem, you’d seek the best physician or lawyer you could find.  Notice you’d be focused on finding the right person; ideally an expert with the right credentials and experience to resolve your problem.  Especially when matters are complex and there’s a lot at stake, consulting with experts is the smart way to go.

The same is true when a company seeks to reduce the costs of bad hires by using employee assessments (e.g., psychological tests) to gauge a candidate’s fit for a role.  Understanding a candidate’s personality characteristics, reasoning skills, and suitability for a job is very complex, and there’s a lot at stake.  As such, it’s wise for a company to seek an expert with the credentials and experience required to evaluate applicants and minimize bad hiring decisions.

And that’s exactly what many successful companies do – utilize the best person/expert they can find to assess their job candidates, especially for mission-critical roles (managers, senior leaders, etc.).

However, in my work as a business psychologist, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in which some companies are mistakenly shifting their reliance away from experts and on to tools.  By “tools”, I mean online tests that companies can administer on their own (e.g., without expert consultation and interpretation).  These assessments usually produce computer-generated reports about an applicant’s personality characteristics, and are marketed as being quick and inexpensive.

While I support companies’ ongoing endeavor to reduce costs, doing psychological profiling without a psychologist is like diagnosing a medical condition without a doctor or going to court without an attorney: it’s likely to be far more costly in the long-run.

With all that in mind, I recommend that companies consider the following when looking for an expert to help them with job candidate assessment and selection:

Education and credentials –  Most people wouldn’t take legal advice from someone without a law degree, or medical advice from someone without a medical degree.  The same principle holds true when seeking advice about evaluating candidates’ personality characteristics and cognitive abilities: look for professionals with advanced degrees in psychology, as it is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions.

Further, certain disciplines within psychology tend to have a greater focus on personality and cognitive assessment than others, such as clinical psychology, school psychology, and neuropsychology.  Psychologists educated in these practice areas usually have deep expertise in use of psychological tests.

In addition, be careful not to assume that a consultant is well-credentialed because she or he works for a well-established consulting firm.  For example, as there are relatively few doctoral-level psychologists working in the business sector, some consulting firms try to cut-corners by hiring people with business degrees and then training them in specific psychological assessments.  Here again, there is a shift away from experts and on to tools.  Especially if you are a Human Resources professional or business owner, I strongly recommend that you do your due diligence and ask consultants (and assessment vendors) about their education and credentials.

Experience and wisdom –  One of my favorite proverbs is: “Knowledge is knowing what to say.  Wisdom is knowing when to say it”.  Having the right education, credentials, and technical knowledge are not enough to be an expert consultant in job candidate assessment.  Rather, true experts also need to be adept at considering things such as a company’s culture, team dynamics, business strategy, etc., when interpreting the results of psychological testing and drawing conclusions about a candidate’s fit for a role.

Similarly, it’s important for a consultant to have business experience, and to understand how psychological test data applies in business contexts.  With that in mind, I caution against relying on consultants with limited employee assessment experience (e.g., less than five years), or with “lopsided experience” (e.g., all academic, or all business, rather than a balance of both).

Tailored solutions – Finally, a person who tries to convince you that his or her product/test is exactly what you need is essentially a salesperson.  In contrast, a person who listens to your needs and then tailors a solution to meet them is a consultant.  An expert in candidate evaluation (like a business psychologist) will seek to understand your needs, challenges, and goals, and will recommend the right psychological assessments and process accordingly.

For more information about candidate assessment, business psychology, and the like, please visit my website.

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What is Weaponized Feedback? | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Businessman with bat symbolizing weaponized feedback

Has so-called “constructive feedback” ever been used to undermine you or someone you know?  If so, you’ve probably experienced what I refer to as “weaponized feedback”.  And from what I’ve observed during my work with companies as a business psychologist, weaponized feedback is a widespread and ongoing problem.

The most important element (and litmus test) of truly constructive feedback is that it’s helpful to the person it is given to.  Even other well-accepted components of constructive feedback, such as including specific examples, delivering it in a timely manner, etc., are effective because they contribute to making the feedback helpful to the person receiving it.

In contrast, however, weaponized feedback is used to undermine the person it is given to, usually for someone else’s gain.  For example, imagine a low-performing manager who feels outshined by a direct report who is doing exceptionally well, and fears he will soon lose his job to the high-performing employee.  Now imagine that the manager gives negative feedback to the high-performing direct report about being “too assertive”, “setting goals too high”, or “overstepping boundaries”.  While the manager may present the feedback as helpful, it isn’t actually rooted in helping the employee.  Instead, the feedback stems from the manager’s fear of losing his job to his direct report, and is intended to keep the direct report from advancing.  Moreover, it’s possible that the manager doesn’t even realize he is giving negative feedback for his own gain.  Rather, by looking through the distorted lens of fear, he may perceive his direct report to be problematic and deserving of the negative feedback.

Similarly, weaponized feedback can be difficult to discern from constructive feedback because it is often presented under the guise of being well-intentioned.  As such, it’s important to critically evaluate feedback before giving it merit or acting upon it, especially if you are a manager or Human Resources professional who receives feedback about your direct reports or company employees.

With that in mind, the context or situation associated with the feedback can provide useful clues for determining if the feedback is undermining.  For example, here are a few contexts or “watch-out” situations that can contribute to weaponized feedback:

Competition –  When employees compete for promotions, salary raises, or even praise from their managers, weaponized feedback can proliferate.  Just like the example provided earlier about the low-performing manager being concerned about losing his job to his high-performing direct report, negative feedback can be misused to gain an unfair advantage in a competitive situation.

Social Cliques – Social cliques within organizations, almost by definition, tend to create an “us versus them” mentality (e.g., if you’re not an accepted member of the group, you’re perceived as an outsider).  Similarly, some social cliques tend to breed gossip and even coordinated efforts to undermine people outside of the group (e.g., “smear campaigns”).  If negative feedback or criticism stems from members of a social clique and targets a person outside of the group, it’s wise to consider if the feedback has been weaponized.

Envy – Instances where one employee wants what another has can also lead to weaponized feedback.  A corner office, higher pay, a reserved parking spot, etc., can incite others to become envious, and in turn, lead them to conjure negative feedback about the person who has the desired accolades.

Mistakes and Failures – As you probably know, situations in which mistakes or failures occur can quickly lead to finger-pointing and blame (e.g., a lost client, botched product launch, etc.).  Worse, that blame can often take the form of negative feedback levied upon people associated with the failure, regardless of whether something they did actually caused the mistake.  With that in mind, it is especially important to carefully consider the validity of negative feedback associated with an incident of failure, as many people assume that negative feedback is true when it is linked to a negative outcome.

In sum, it is important to consider 1) if feedback is helpful to the person receiving it, and 2) the context from which feedback stems, when evaluating if it is genuinely constructive or weaponized in disguise.

More tips can be found in the article How to Give Negative Feedback or the video version of the article, both by Dr. Gary Dumais, Business Psychologist at Select Human Resources in Philadelphia.

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Customer annoyed by complacency

Complacency Kills Customers | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Remember your first day on that job you worked so hard to get?  Maybe you felt lucky to have the opportunity, or that all your hard work was finally paying off.  Either way, you probably aimed to shine by doing your best and going the extra mile to impress your boss and internal customers (i.e., coworkers).  A similar thing happens with business owners, consultants, attorneys, etc; when they first open their doors for business, they usually go out of their way to win-over and delight customers with exceptional quality, thoroughness, responsiveness, and so on.

Then time passes…and you get accustomed to working that “new” job that isn’t so new anymore.  You forget about how you had to contend with other candidates for the position, how diligently you prepared for the interview, and how you prayed for that “one shot” that would lead to your “big break”.  Similarly, you stop aiming to beat deadlines.  Rather, you feel making deadlines just-in-time is good enough, and lower your efforts accordingly.  The same thing can happen with business owners, consultants, etc.  At first, they may even question if they can be successful in the marketplace.  Then, as a result of their efforts (and perhaps a little luck) they start to gain customers.  Before long, they have more requests than they can easily deal with, profits increase significantly…

…and that’s when complacency sets in.  For example, business owners, consultants, etc., stop looking for opportunities to improve products or services.  As demand increases, they may even raise prices without offering anything more in return.  Worse, they may be less responsive to customer requests or complaints, especially from “smaller” clients with whom they do less business.

As a business-to-business consumer (I own a consulting firm in Philadelphia), I’ve personally experienced the impact of complacency from a few vendors (e.g., IT consultants, marketing professionals, accountants, etc.).  In some instances, it’s been enough for me to cease doing business with them and venture over to their competitors.  Here’s a few examples of the most prominent forms of complacency:

Broken promises – Once, when looking for a vendor to help my business with IT needs, I came across a firm that took the initiative to start resolving my issue before I even agreed to contract with them!  I was impressed, and they won my business.  However, over time, that initiative eroded into empty promises such as “I’ll get that to you by the end of the day”, which routinely required me to follow-up days later to ask, “What happened to that thing you said you’d do”?  Make no mistake, customers take note of what you promise, and you can be sure they notice even more when you fail to meet your promise.  If a client or internal customer has to chase after you to rectify a missed commitment, you have succumbed to complacency.

Excuses – Broken promises are usually accompanied by excuses.  For example, an advertising professional I used to do business with would often cite personal reasons for delays.  “I’m moving this week”, “It was my birthday this week”, etc.  It was as if the vendor forgot that I had paid for his service and the promises he made were business commitments (rather than favors).  If you find yourself making excuses with clients or internal customers, complacency has probably set in.

Low priority – I recently had a vendor cancel a call with me about thirty minutes beforehand, stating, “I’m working on a big deal right now, let’s talk this evening or tomorrow”.  By doing that, the vendor inadvertently conveyed that I was not a big deal.  Similarly, I often did not receive responses from the vendor until nights and weekends, which made me feel like a side-project.  Unfortunately, I see this type of complacency all too often with businesses who have a wide range of client account sizes (e.g., law firms that work with individuals as well as large corporations).  If you’re not treating each customer as if they were your most important client, then complacency is probably an issue.

Interrupting – Talking over a customer is one of the best ways to convey that you do not care about their needs or perspectives.  I once did a real-time experiment by continuing to talk when a vendor interrupted me.  Can you guess what happened?  The vendor kept talking over me; we were literally speaking at the same time!  To push the experiment further, I disconnected the call and waited for the vendor to call back.  When he did moments later, he simply stated, “I don’t know what happened there”, and then continued with his one-sided discourse!  It was apparent that, in his mind, whatever I had to say was not important.  If you find yourself interrupting your clients or internal customers, you may have become complacent.

Neglect – Business relationships with clients and internal customers require ongoing maintenance; if you don’t give them attention periodically, the relationship usually withers away.  For example, a contract my business had with a vendor was nearing the end of its term.  As the end of the contract drew near, and eventually passed, I was surprised to see that the vendor made no mention of it while we still conducted business.  I let an additional week pass to see what would happen…and still nothing.  Finally, when I raised the issue, the vendor responded with a gamut of complacency (excuses, low priority, interrupting, etc.).  Then, to top it all off with a broken promise, the vendor stated they would get the contract renewal over to me the next day, but it arrived late.  Discussions about renewing the contract should have been initiated by the vendor well before it was due to end.  If you find you are no longer taking actions to maintain relationships with clients, you have likely become complacent.

In summary, the saying that the best employees are the ones who “apply” for their job every day rings true.  Likewise, if you’re a business owner, consultant, etc., you should be working to win-over your clients every day.  Otherwise, complacency creeps in and customers are lost.

Goldilocks Chooses a Consulting Firm | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

This article is most helpful to anyone seeking to hire a consultant or consulting firm to provide psychological assessments for employee selection, promotion, and development.

Like the children’s story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, psychological assessment providers can be grouped into three main categories to choose from.  The following information can help you decide which one is “just right” for you and your company’s needs.

Assessment Publisher “Associates”

Essentially, the providers in this category tend to be sales people with certification/training in a specific psychological test designed by the assessment publisher they’re affiliated with.

They usually offer online assessments that are relatively quick, easy, and cheap to administer.  Similarly, a computer-generated report about the applicant is created instantly based on how the candidate answered the online questions.  The report is then used to make hiring, promotion, and development decisions.

These vendors strive to win you over with proposed cost-effectiveness, time-savings, and convenience.  Typically, their goal is to sell you an annual subscription or volume of assessments (e.g., one hundred tests per year) that you or your department can use with minimal consultation or follow-up.  This creates a “passive income” for the vendor (e.g., they provide a tool that is mostly “self-serve”).         

On the upside, if used in the correct manner, these assessments can save time, money, and effort.  For example, they could be used in a team-building exercise where participants identify and discuss the implications of their personality styles in the workplace.

On the downside, if used incorrectly, these types of assessments can cost you far more than they save.  Assessments of this nature are relatively quick to complete because they tend to only measure a few aspects about a person.  As such, the usefulness of the information is limited.  Similarly, while providers often tout the reliability, validity, and legal defensibility of their assessments, the assessment can quickly become invalid (and not legally defensible) if used improperly or under the wrong circumstances.

For example, imagine you have a gauge that measures the air pressure in a car’s tires.  The gauge is inexpensive, quick, and easy to use.  It’s also reliable and valid; it accurately measures the air pressure in each tire, every time.  If you want to know if a car’s tires are inflated properly, there’s no reason to use anything more complicated.  …But, what if you want to know how well the car will perform on the road…or if it’s worth buying?  The air pressure gauge can’t tell you anything about the engine, suspension, etc., and it’d be foolish to make a decision about buying a car based only on its’ tire pressure.  Likewise, as human beings are the most complicated entities ever known, you’re prone to encounter serious problems (e.g., bad hires, legal issues, etc.) if you use only one assessment to make important decisions about candidates’ suitability for hire or promotion.

Boutique Consulting Firms

The providers in this category tend to be psychologists or similar professionals with advanced degrees.  They’re akin to physicians in private practices or attorneys in small law firms.

These consultants typically have access to a wide range of assessments from a variety of test publishers.  Likewise, they often have expertise in psychological assessment construction, application, and validity, and are highly skilled at interviewing, coaching, and delivering feedback.

Boutique consulting firms strive to win you over with expert advice, quality, thoroughness, and solutions tailored to your needs.  They usually take a “multi-assessment” approach, meaning they first identify the competences required for success in a certain role and then utilize a series of psychological assessments to measure those competences.  Likewise, their consultants are adept at integrating and interpreting the information from multiple assessments into a summary report that provides insight into a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall suitability for a role.

On the upside, the expertise, best practices, and tailored approach offered by boutique consulting firms are big benefits.  In addition, as they are often small businesses, the dedication to customer service and quality are typically high.  Further, as turnover tends to be low at boutique firms, their consultants develop strong relationships with customers over time and gain a deep understanding of their clients’ people, culture, and challenges (which are crucial factors to consider in conjunction with assessment information when making hiring and promotion recommendations).  Combined, you’ll likely receive the most useful assessment reports, candidate recommendations, and advice from boutique firms.

However, on the downside, boutique firms are not equipped to handle large volumes of work.  If you need to have a thousand supervisors assessed across your Fortune 500 company within a month, a boutique firm is unlikely to have the resources.  In addition, their multi-assessment approach takes time, including hours for candidates to complete the testing and days for consultants to complete reports and furnish recommendations.  Boutique firms are also likely to be more expensive than the assessment publisher associates described earlier (yet less expensive than large consulting firms). 

Large Consulting Firms

The providers in this category tend to be large management consulting companies with offices located across the country or in several countries around the world.  They offer a wide variety of services and products, including their own proprietary assessments, training and coaching programs, books, etc.

These large firms strive to win you over with their brand, marketing, and the caliber of their intellectual property (e.g., the aforementioned books, programs, and other products).  Like boutique consulting firms, they tend to take a best practice, multi-assessment approach to assessing candidates for hire, promotion, and development (although they often use only their own proprietary assessments).  In addition, large firms have the resources to conduct “Assessment Centers”, or programs where groups of candidates participate in live job simulations (e.g., with actors, role-plays, and other exercises) to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for a role.

On the upside, the sophisticated intellectual property and vast amount of resources large consulting firms possess provide clear advantages in certain circumstances.  For example, if you need to assess many candidates (e.g., hundreds) across several competency areas in a short amount of time, a large consulting firm is likely to be your best option.

On the downside, large consulting firms suffer from many of the typical drawbacks associated with big corporations.  Foremost, they are very expensive.  Their target market is usually Fortune 500 companies with big budgets.  Further, keeping their numerous offices open and adequately staffed adds-up to a tremendous amount of overhead expenses, which get passed down to clients in the form of higher fees.  In addition, consultant turnover tends to be relatively high at large firms, and they are often less dedicated to meeting clients’ needs.  As a result, you’re more likely to feel like “just a number” when working with them.

Summary

In conclusion, each psychological assessment provider (i.e., assessment publisher associates, boutique consulting firms, and large consulting firms) have important advantages and disadvantages.  Choosing the one that’s best will depend on you and your company’s needs.

You can learn more about me by visiting garydumaispsychologist.org and selecthumanresources.com.  Also, free tips and advice can be found at my blog (garydumais.net) and on my YouTube channel (youtube.com/channel/UCmRvjywXN9_9f4F5GNl3Sqg).

Communication Tip: “The Medium is the Message”

Gary Dumais Select Human Resources Paper and Pen

Surprisingly, the most important part of communication is NOT what you say or write.  For example, imagine you’re walking down a busy city street and see a disheveled man holding a sign saying, “The World Ends Today”.  Most likely, you wouldn’t be too concerned about the world ending.  In contrast, imagine you turned on your favorite news channel and saw the exact same words (“The World Ends Today”) on the screen.  You’d probably be extremely alarmed.  In both instances, the words are the same, yet the resulting message is very different.

This principle is described in the works of professor Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message”. “Medium” refers to how the message is conveyed, such as through TV, the internet, in a book, or a whisper in your ear from a friend.  And the medium by which a message is conveyed can carry greater meaning than the words the message is comprised of.  For example, imagine you receive a beautifully written poem about love…but it’s written on a used napkin from a public trash can.  It wouldn’t matter how well the poem was written, the resulting message is, well, trash and likely to be considered offensive.  Now imagine the same poem was written on rose petals.  The resulting message would be very different, and much better.  Moreover, the poem itself doesn’t even have to be very good; the fact that someone took the time to write it on rose petals (i.e., the medium) conveys a very positive and powerful message.

So how can you apply this principle at work and in everyday life?  Well, with your understanding of how the medium is the message, I recommend you take a moment to consciously consider and choose the best medium to convey your message (especially if it’s important).  For example, if you’d like to praise an employee for great work, I encourage you to consider what impact you’d like the message to have, and then choose how to convey it accordingly.  Saying, “Great job, I appreciate your effort” via email, or in-person, or through an announcement at a team meeting will have very different impacts.

Finally, I recommend you keep the “The medium is the message” principle in mind when evaluating communications and choosing sources of information.  For example, taking a moment to consider why certain mediums were chosen to convey a message (e.g., Twitter tweets vs. a press conference) can provide you with useful insights about who is communicating and what message they’re really sending.  Similarly, you’d be wise to place greater importance on information published in a credible medium (like Harvard Business Review) rather than to something posted on a questionable website.

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