Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ideal Organization Exercise

During graduate school an excellent exercise we explored related to figuring out our ideal organization, meaning what type of industry, culture and goals you'd definitely like to work for our create (like designing or buying your dream home).  It was an excellent idea and construct I keep referring to in my research on hiring retention models (self-selection) and why people choose the type of work and organizations they ultimately end up working with.  Here's my answer:

Ideal Organization Exercise: Learning Posture
Jack Be Nimble
Face-to-face, client interaction fires me up.  This is a role that has suited me well in the past and something I would like to strive towards in the future.  Thus, my ideal job function a position that requires human interaction, large project management, and a solid, overarching (difficult, but attainable) goal.  This foundation leads towards my ideal organization – while client-facing work can be done anywhere, in my experience, working with small to medium size companies in this capacity is much more rewarding than in larger enterprises.
                  Smaller companies also respond quickly to market conditions and run lean, which is sometimes not as rewarding as a larger organization, but I feel that the intrinsic rewards are worth the hard work.  The problem I have had with working in big companies (Microsoft and Amazon) is that the division of labor is so thinly sliced that it is quite easy to get bored, quickly I might add.  Plus, smaller organizations have a clear focus because they are focused on one specific service and segment of the population.  This means they typically do one or two things well.  Large organizations tend to do lots of things in a mediocre manner.
                  As for industry, I find myself leaning towards biotechnology and higher technology companies which serve a specific base of scientists, not necessarily broad consumers.  But, the products I hope to sell or market will directly affect a broad base (say, rapid DNA testing for the masses).  The other industry I hope to return to at some point is sustainable real estate development.  My time working with Gerding Edlen Development, LLC, based out of Portland, OR was amazing.  It is a place I would work at again in a heartbeat.
                  All the companies I have thoroughly enjoyed working with employed less than two-hundred people, but certainly more than twenty.  Ideally, I would like to find myself within this spectrum: not too small that too much work load is heaped upon one individual, but not to large that job functions are defined too narrowly. 
                  Culturally speaking, I see a relaxed culture at the surface with a strong current and drive underneath.  Also, I am attracted to cultures where the posture aligns with the work of Carol Dweck.  Companies which see failure as a learning exercise motivates me to work hard and find the right path or answer rather than just any path to succeed.  Research supports this attitude in spades, pointing out that motivation increases and people don’t beat themselves up any longer when they face setbacks (Aronson and Tavris, 2007).  In other words, a company which has adopted an incremental approach to learning would attract me.  So, a learning attitude is the most important value I look for in an organization.
                  With regards to management, I prefer a long leash, meaning that I like a larger set of parameters to work within and figure out my own path to the end.  The word “equifinality” sums it up well.  I believe there are many ways to accomplish and goal.  Managers who let their employees figure it out, I believe, will foster creativity and innovative ways to tackle future problems as well as the present setbacks.
                  I would also like a company which gives immediate, real-time feedback to employees.  The latent 360 process bugs me to no end – it is slow, cumbersome and irrelevant unless the point is documenting employees (which I agree is a good thing).  A company which values its employees also invests enough time to make sure they are thriving in the space they’re living in the moment, not just the future.  Specific and timely feedback is necessary to help steer a ship which can easily drift off course.
                  This leads me to name two companies which I know hold values and cultures very similar to what I have described.  First, the aforementioned green real estate development company, Gerding Edlen, was a an amazing place to work.  The culture was relaxed, but people worked hard.  Amenities such as a car allowance, a Nintendo Wii, foosball tables, and a very rewarding beer hour on Fridays drove home the fact that management valued the forty-five employees. 
                  Also, a company I have not worked for, but know quite a bit about, is Affymetrix in Santa Clara, CA.  This medium-sized biotech corporation is working hard on bringing DNA tests to the masses.  They harbor a strong organizational development culture and believe in fostering change to stay competitive. The team-based culture is aimed at fostering creative and new avenues in research and development.
                  In the end, I want work in a setting where development matters, but also where the goals are clear and the culture believes their people will get the job done.  But when people fail, there is enough of a psychological safety net that rebounding is entirely possible.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Workplace Training's Roots & the Purpose of Business

All four premises of Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology proposed by Koppes et al. (2007) play out in the history of workplace training, but out of the four, two are substantially connected.   The four themes are as follows: productivity and efficiency, confidence in qualitative methods, employee selection, and the relationship between researchers and practitioners (p. 61).  In the analysis of workplace training I hypothesize that efficiency and the relationship between researchers and practitioners unite considerably with this topic, much more than the other two themes.

                First, the roots of workplace training are without a doubt the work of efficiency experts.  Munsterberg, Myers, Burt and Viteles, early vestiges of I-O psychology, tried to make mass production workers more effective in their movements and the control of their exertion (Koppes, p 282).  This foundation carries through today in every job which exists.  Entire work philosophies are dedicated to the links between efficiency and productivity such as Lean manufacturing or statistical process control.  So, of the four common themes in I-O, workplace training certainly finds its voice in efficiency and productivity measures and the early mass manufacturing environs. 
During this time, 1900-1930, is when training changed from one-on-one apprenticeships to large-scale instruction.  This meant that supervisors were responsible for many employees efficiency, but as a result, experts in training were spawned to train the trainers.  Modern companies like Microsoft have taken these theories to their logical conclusions.  Training at Microsoft begins on day one with New Employee Orientation (NEO) and beyond, all the way through to senior employees who receive training on a regular basis (or are at least offered the opportunity).
                 This leads to the second of the puzzle, or the relationship between researchers and practitioners.  This is also a pertinent pillar in workplace training which owes much of its existence to “detailed a training program for chocolate factory workers” photographing the motion of a glowlamp strapped to experienced worker’s hands and then showing the results to new recruits on how they ought to move (p 283).   The bridge between psychologists in the field like Myers and those in academia proved fruitful for workplace training.  However, it would seem that work in the field was more important, or at least more accepted, than lab trials.  The refinements in methodology have been driven by field experts, helping prove the reliability and validity of tests by using them in the first place. 
Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, and Cognitive Influences
                Three paradigms of psychology: behavioral, psychoanalytic, and cognitive all weigh in on selection workplace training.  However, behavioral and cognitive psychology have more influence on this topic than psychoanalysis merely because they’re both measureable – behavioral always has been and new tools in cognitive psychology like the MMPI and other intrinsic tests allow researchers to see which training interventions work.
The earliest research in workplace training was perpetrated by behavioral-functionalist psychologists running the “scientific management” era between 1900 and 1930.  The fact that the environment could be manipulated to make any person more productive, more satisfied, or less likely to leave was a straightforward and approachable modus operandi for training experts.  Appropriate behavior for the job, for instance moving a factory worker’s arm a certain way to reduce fatigue, could be demonstrated and copied in a standard manner.  Stimulus-response theory was directly applied to learning and training.
From there, workplace training did not stray too far from its roots, but added a hybrid of cognitive behaviorism during the dubbed “humanistic” era from around 1930 to the 1960’s.  Worker attitudes and beliefs were worked into training models as more jobs left the factory floor and entered the modern corporation with its new challenges. 
Workplace training continues to rely almost entirely on these two methods.  Modern businesses want their employees to be both efficient and cognitively appropriate for their work.  The ultimate goal is to meet the needs of both the corporation and the worker realizing a mutually beneficial contract.
The Purpose of Business
Argument: the purpose of business is to “serve customers by providing for their legitimate needs and to serve employees by providing opportunities for creative work” (Erisman & Duzer, p. 1, 2007).  I completely agree with this, but my reasons are not research-driven answers.  I think what Erisman and Duzer proposed was actually a philosophical framework rather than an intact argument.
                After reading the chapter 12 by Koppes et al. (2007) it seems that very little workplace training research has been focused on anything but efficiency and productivity.  So my first argument against what I hold true is to follow the money.  Groundbreaking research in I-O psychological has had little to do with service, servant-leadership, or how to help employees with creative work.  From an empirical standpoint, employers who exhibit this kind of behavior are few and far between.  Yet as a counter-argument, the companies I have worked for which do share the philosophical view of Erisman and Duzer are profitable and successful businesses.
                Still, the companies I can think of that are the most “successful”, at least monetarily, seem to squeeze workers to burn-out without any thought of replenishment. As we know, the tide can change, but for now the reality is that shareholder value is king, whether that’s the ultimate reality or not.

Erismann, A., & Van Duzer, J. (2007). The purpose of business. Manuscript from SPU Business School.
Koppes et al. (2007). Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology.  London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spirituality on the Job: It Has a (Researched) Place!

Business settings are a tough place for well-being. The long reigning philosophy of "leaving your emotions at the door" remains entrenched in the American business landscape. Yet tumultuous financial times and generational shifts (Borkowski, 2005) have resulted in questions about "meaning" and "purpose" in the workplace. Employees are less interested in stock options and more focused on the integration of overall well-being, health and spirituality in the work setting (Coombs, 2002).
As more corporations see the benefit of integrating work and life into a more complete package, spirituality has risen to top of researchers' and human resources professional's minds. In an attempt to reduce stress and maintain high levels of motivation and satisfaction, top management is looking at the value in meeting workers' spiritual needs.

Spiritual well-being correlates positively with a number of indicators of psychological adjustment and overall well-being. Researchers Wolf and Stevens (2001) found that higher levels of spirituality are linked to "marital satisfaction, physical health, social adjustment, possession of strong coping skills, and resiliency in times of stress and personal crisis" (p. 67). However, until around 2006, research on the effects of spirituality and its overarching ties to job satisfaction have remained scarce.  While the topic is still in its infancy compared to other aspects of satisfaction literature, spirituality looks likely to continue as a subject of increasing interest in the corporate mindset as well as the healthcare profession (Koenig, 2008, p. 22).

The notion of spirituality in the corporate and work settings is a relatively undiscovered research area.  Its connections with productivity, worker well-being, and job satisfaction have come to light in the literature on management only recently (Ashmos & Duchon, 2000). Previous studies conducted in the workplace pertaining to spirituality were exploratory in nature and few in number (Milliman, Czaplewski, & Ferguson, 2001).
Spirituality, as defined by Harold Koenig (2008) in Medicine, Religion, and Health, is "a personal relation to the transcendent" (p. 16). Koenig's work has focused primarily on the healthcare industry's relationship with spirituality, religion, and well-being, but his definition is clear and straightforward compared to other classifications.  The notion of spirituality is complex and multidimensional - something that is subjective and difficult to measure - thus the corporate world may have a difficult time measuring and otherwise characterizing why it is so important to employees.  However, as the research on the subject of job satisfaction and its link to spiritual matters multiplies, the definition has been refined significantly, down to a measureable variable and one appropriate for conducting research (Koenig, p. 22).
Early research linking the overall psychological well-being to both spirituality and job satisfaction (Adams et al., 2000) provided little empirical evidence to describe the relationship between these two variables. The lack of support is surprising given that spirituality and spiritual well-being has been described as central to an employee's overall wellness.  To remedy this researchers Robert, Young, and Kelly (2006) utilized the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire Short Form (MSQ) to examine the direct relationship between two-hundred workers throughout seven different industries and their levels of job satisfaction as predicted by their spiritual well-being.
What they found, based on the SWBS construct sub-scale was that Spiritual Well-Being (SWB) accounted for 10.4% of job satisfaction variability (as recorded by the MSQ) whereas Existential Well Being (EWB) predicted approximately 21% (R2 = .209) and Religious Well Being (RWB) only explained 3.3% of variation in job satisfaction.  While they did find a significant correlation for each of the sub-constructs, the spiritual well-being subscale indicated that SWB is important to adult workers, but that EWB is twice as meaningful in job satisfaction levels.  Therefore, this finding may indicate that adult workers who report meaning and purpose in life will also report high levels of job satisfaction.  Still, employees with high levels of spiritual well-being will be more satisfied than those with low levels of SWB.
To compliment this work, Clark et al. (2007) studied the link between levels of spirituality in hospice workers and their reported job satisfaction. A survey of 215 hospice interdisciplinary team (IDT) members revealed a 22% variation in job satisfaction as explained by spirituality.  They also used the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS), but correlated it with the Job Satisfaction Scale. While statistically significant bivariate relationships were found, the researchers concluded that "job satisfaction is more likely to be related to the transformation of one's spirituality into the process of integrating spirituality at work and self-actualization rather than spirituality having a direct impact on the job satisfaction" (p. 1326).
On a side note, an interesting fact from the Clark et al. study was that Protestants are more likely to integrate spirituality into the workplace than groups of people who defined their spirituality as "other" on the SWBS.
In 2008, an article in Journal of Gerontological Nursing looked at the effectiveness of a spirit at work program in long-term care. The research provided strong support that the program "increased spirit at work, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational culture (particularly teamwork and morale)."  The study suggested that recognizing spirituality at work is a relatively inexpensive way to enhance the work satisfaction of employees. (V, K., & BJ, S., 2008).  All manner of conclusions about this could be used by human resource professionals and upper manage to meet the needs of a changing workforce.

Another promising study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly (Benda, DiBlasio, & Pope, 2008) examined a random sample of 600 homeless male veterans, aged 46 to 65, who served in the military during the Vietnam War. Among the strongest predictors of whether the sample population would relapse into troubles with alcohol and drugs was their level of spiritual well-being.  It should be noted that readmission (or lack thereof) into the treatment program was also related heavily to the strength of family relationships, friendships, and work satisfaction.

The findings surrounding job satisfaction and the variability explained by spirituality are significant.  While different studies have found a range of correlations, it should be noted that it is conclusive that spiritual well-being plays a role in the way people interact with their jobs.  At the low end, spiritual well-being accounts for approximately 10% of job satisfaction and as high as 22%.  These numbers should give managers and human resources pause.

The lesson behind these findings is that to improve employee commitment or engagement, managers should not rely entirely on extrinsic forms of motivation (i.e., monetary). Employees are searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in the work itself, which if discovered, leads towards higher levels of productivity and positive levels of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB).

Corporations can improve both their bottom line and the health of their employees by focusing on the inner lives of the people that work for them.  Top leadership must provide a culture that encourages a high level of spiritual support and exploration for all employees (Morrison, Burke & Greene, 2003).  However, if spiritual well-being is treated as just another method to improve productivity it will not work.

Adams, T. B., Bezner, J. R., Drabbs, M. E., Zambaratio, R. J., & Steinhardt, M. A. (2000).
Conceptualization and measurement of the spiritual and psychological dimensions of
wellness in a college population. Journal of American College Health, 48, 165-18
Benda, B., DiBlasio, F., & Pope, S. (2008). Spiritual Well-Being, Relationships, and Work Satisfaction in the Treatment of Homeless Veterans with Alcohol/Other Drug Problems. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 24(1), 109-124.
Borkowski, N. (2005). Organizational behavior in healthcare. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.
Clark, L., Leedy, S., McDonald, L., Muller, B., Lamb, C., Mendez, T., et al. (2007, December). Spirituality and job satisfaction among hospice interdisciplinary team members. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 10(6), 1321-1328.
Coombs, A. (2002). The living workplace. New York: Warwick House.
Morrison, E.E. 3rd, Burke, & L, Greene (2007, 2007 Summer). Meaning in motivation: does your organization need an inner life?. Journal Of Health And Human Services Administration, 30(1), 98-115.
Robert, T., Young, J., & Kelly, V. (2006, April). Relationships Between Adult Workers' Spiritual Well-Being and Job Satisfaction: A Preliminary Study. Counseling and Values, 50(3), 165-175.
V, K., & BJ, S. (2008, October). The promise of spirit at work: increasing job satisfaction and organizational commitment and reducing turnover and absenteeism in long-term care. Journal Of Gerontological Nursing, 34(10), 17.
Wolf, C. T., & Stevens, P. (2001). Integrating religion and spirituality in marriage and family counseling. Counseling and Values, 46, 66-75.