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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!

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).

Gary Dumais Assessment Tools Metaphor

Best Practices for Assessing Job Candidates | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

What is a “candidate selection assessment”?

When I moved to Philadelphia about ten years ago, I was surprised to find that many companies had never heard of a “selection assessment”.  Instead, they were using only traditional candidate screening methods such as interviews and reference checks.  I found this to be especially interesting given that surrounding cities like New York and Washington, DC were saturated with management consulting firms, and many of the best companies nationwide require a selection assessment for any candidate seeking to be hired or promoted into an important role.

Put simply, a candidate selection assessment uses certain “tests” or other evaluative measures to gauge how effective an applicant will be in meeting the demands of a role.  These assessments can take many forms, ranging from “paper-and-pencil” questionnaires, to online surveys, or live simulations where candidates are observed while engaging in staged scenarios that reflect job duties (e.g., like coaching an underperforming employee or responding to an inbox full of emails).

The idea of using psychological assessments to screen candidates has been around for much longer than most people think.  Many textbooks cite the United States Military during World War I as being one of the first to use personality assessments to screen out applicants unsuitable for combat.  The benefits of implementing such a practice (e.g., saving thousands of lives and countless other resources) goes without stating.

What are some best practices for assessing job candidates?

As alluded to previously, there is a wide variety of candidate selection measures, spanning written questionnaires to online surveys and role-plays complete with actors and trained observers.  An exhaustive review of every kind of assessment available could easily fill a book, and is therefore beyond the scope of this article.  However, I will provide some useful advice that Human Resource professionals and others (e.g., hiring managers) can utilize when considering methods:

Use a “multi-assessment” approach

Human beings are complicated.  In fact, the human brain is the most complicated “thing” ever known.  No single test could ever fully evaluate a person’s personality, talents, skills, and so on.

This is perhaps most evident in clinical psychology’s approach to measuring intelligence or IQ.  IQ tests are comprised of several smaller “subtests” that span math, vocabulary, non-verbal reasoning, etc.  A person’s performance on each subtest is taken into consideration when deriving an overall IQ score.  In comparison, it’s easy to see how making conclusions about people’s intelligence based only on their math skills would be inaccurate.

The same principle holds true when assessing a candidate’s suitability for a role; multiple assessment measures are needed to uncover the full story.  I typically include at least two different tests of peoples’ reasoning skills, two personality assessments, a measure of their approach to conflict resolution, and assessments of their motivation and emotional intelligence, among others.

Using more than one assessment may seem like overkill, but in my experience, it’s truly necessary for arriving at valid conclusions.  For example, imagine a person performs in the below-average range (in comparison to other managers) on a timed test of their problem-solving abilities (e.g., he’s given fifteen minutes to complete it).  Based on that one test result, you may conclude that the person’s problem-solving abilities are not very good.

Now imagine the same person is given an untimed test of his problem-solving abilities (e.g., he can take as much time as he wants), and he performs in the above-average range.  What would you now conclude about his problem-solving abilities?  Are they below-average or above-average?  The testing results seem to conflict.

Next, imagine the person is also given a personality assessment, and the results indicate he is much more meticulous, detail oriented, and concerned about making mistakes than the average manager.  Now the real story begins to unfold; the person likely has above-average problem-solving skills, but his tendency to be careful and meticulous slows him down and detracts from his performance when taking a timed test.

So, in conclusion, the person will be adept at problem-solving, except in situations when he must make decisions quickly.  -That’s very useful information to have when deciding the best role for a candidate, and it was found by taking a multi-assessment approach.

Clearly define the competencies required for success in a role, and use assessments that measure those competencies

It’d be impossible to know if a candidate is suited for a role without knowing what’s needed for success in that role.  With that in mind, it’s crucial to 1) define the competencies a position requires, 2) ensure the assessment measures used will provide sufficient information about a candidate’s proficiency in each of those competencies, and 3) have a summary report that clearly describes how a candidate performed in each competency so conclusions can be drawn about his or her strengths, weaknesses, and overall level of fit for the role.

In addition, it’s important to ensure that the number of competencies are balanced across job requirements and are not too numerous to be practical.  For example, I’ve seen instances where the job description lists only thinking-related competencies such as problem-solving (e.g., for an engineer role), or only results-related competencies such as delegating (e.g., for a manager role), or only people-related competencies like relationship building (e.g., for a sales role).  With that in mind, I recommend that each job description (and candidate selection assessment) cover competencies in the areas of Thinking, Results, and People to be comprehensive.  At the same time, however, it’s also important to ensure that the list of competencies is not excessively long.  In my experience, three to four competencies in each area (Thinking, Results, and People) is ideal.

Use an external consultant or consulting firm

While it may seem more cost-effective and convenient to do candidate selection assessments “in-house” (e.g., by using your company’s Human Resource department), it’s prone to result in complications and biased hiring decisions that end-up costing the company far more.

No matter how objective hiring managers, human resource professionals, and other people within a company may endeavor to be, they feel pressure to fill open positions as quickly as possible.  Likewise, organizational politics are always a factor.  For example, a Vice President or Director may favor a candidate, making it difficult for anyone lower in the organization to disagree, even if they have assessment information that indicates the candidate would be a poor fit.

In comparison, it’s easier for outside consultants to be objective and make recommendations that “go against the grain”, when necessary.  This is especially important because, most often, selection assessments are only conducted on finalists (e.g., candidates who have great resumes, passed the preliminary interviews, have been nominated for promotion, etc.).  With that in mind, it can be particularly challenging for an internal employee to advocate against hiring a candidate based on assessment results when their coworkers already favor the candidate and are eager to get the position filled.

In sum, outside consultants are less impacted by organizational politics, and are therefore better-equipped to make objective/data-driven decisions (which is the goal of using candidate selection assessments in the first place).

Leverage assessment information beyond the selection decision

Finally, I recommend that you use the wealth of information that comes from a properly conducted candidate assessment for more than the selection or promotion decision.

Just like many other aspects of the selection process, such as reference checks, no information is shared with candidates who are not selected.  However, after a decision is made to hire or promote, it can be tremendously useful to review the assessment information with candidates as part of their onboarding process (e.g., so they are aware of the strengths they can leverage in their new role and what weaknesses they’ll have to address).  Ideally, the assessment information would be incorporated into an onboarding plan or a development plan to maximize the person’s professional growth.

Moreover, selected candidates feel rewarded for the time and effort they put into the process by receiving the information and gaining helpful insights.  Likewise, they begin their new role knowing the company cares about their success and has equipped them to excel.

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

How to Give Negative Feedback | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Gary Dumais giving feedback

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when giving negative feedback?  Well, to fully experience and understand the tip I’m about to share with you, I invite you to think about a time when somebody really helped you out.  Maybe recall an instance when your car broke down and a friend picked you up, or a team member helped you meet a deadline, or someone gave you support during a difficult time.  Now think back to how you felt when that person helped you out.  Feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and even relief probably come to mind.

Feedback can have a similar impact, even if the feedback is “negative”.  Just like how you’d feel if a friend quietly let you know before attending a big meeting that you had a piece of salad stuck in your teeth; you might be slightly embarrassed initially, but overall, you’d be very thankful for the helpful feedback.

And that is the most important thing to keep in mind when giving negative feedback.  Our thoughts have a strong influence on how we behave.  For example, if you’re thinking about the happiest moment in your life, people will likely notice a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  Likewise, if you’re thinking about helping someone with feedback, your tone, choice of words, and mannerisms will reflect that, and the person you’re speaking with is more likely to be open to what you have to say.

It may sound simple, but it’s much easier said than done.  In my experience as an executive coach, I’ve noticed that many managers have difficulty giving negative feedback because they get caught-up in thinking about how others will become upset, disappointed, or even volatile.  Those thoughts are then unconsciously transmitted through the managers’ tone, mannerisms, and so on, and the people receiving the feedback sense it and become defensive.

With all that in mind, before giving negative feedback, I recommend you take a moment to get in the right frame of mind by recalling an instance when someone truly helped you, and remembering how good that felt.  Then, think through how your feedback will be helpful to the person you’re delivering it to (e.g., make them more effective, help them to advance, etc.) so you can be sure to explain and emphasize those points (e.g., by using the “What’s In It For You” principle).

Finally, if you ever find it difficult to identify how a piece of feedback would be helpful to a person, that’s a clear indication to reexamine if the feedback really has merit or is truly worthwhile to share.

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