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Why men cannot think straight in the presence of an attractive woman!

I suppose many read the story the other week about research that showed men who spend even a few minutes in the company of a very attractive woman perform less well in cognitive tests designed to measure brain function. Apparently when men are intensely focused on an attractive female such is the extent that cognitive resources are used up that it is almost impossible to think of anything else – in this case one researcher could not remember his address when asked by a particularly impressively built young lady. The effect does not work the other way women I’m afraid – women are more focused on status and potential in a mate and on much more practical matters such as how much dosh she can squeeze out of the hapless jerk when they get to the divorce courts

This effect is well known in fact in the psychology self-regulation area. It is thought that the cognitive resources we have to apply to particular tasks are actually finite and get used up as we carry out tasks – particularly demanding thinking jobs at hand deplete these resources quickly. In this case the young man in question was intensely studying a potential mate and the brain power needed to do this zapped his thinking powers and blood rushed to the head and elsewhere and the thinking power simply was not available to carry out easy declarative tasks like giving her his phone number (yer dummy!). The findings have implications for the performance of men who flirt with women in the workplace or even better using attractive women in negotiating situations. When an attractive female manager is presenting the product plan and talking about market penetration there is a finite chance that her males colleagues are not thinking about marketing strategies at that moment and are thus unable to come to rational judgments about the approach. There we have it – at a stroke (forgive the pun) – the reason for the lack of seriousness given to female presenters is apparently down to innate and unalterable sexual drives due to the reproductive orientation of men when confronted with an attractive potential mate – and is not due to any socialisation process (oh no its not – this is more of your sexist claptrap ed.)

By way of balance I found this up to date picture on the functional MRI breakdown of the cognitive process in male human brain that goes a long way in explaining the key aspects of behaviour described above.


The male brain

England fail again and now the search for the scapegoat is on

I am on my way to the trichologist today to see if there is any chance of sticking my hair back into the bald patches that resulted when I started pulling out my hair in frustration at eleven half-witted over paid Muppets again dismally failing at the World Cup. Yup this is one of those England dismal failure rants again. In passing did you know that a player such as Wayne Rooney is paid five centuries (500 years!!!) worth of the national minimum wage a year for this claptrap.

I feel for those who travelled out to see this debacle – most on benefits or on the national minimum wage – gutted I am sure by what happened but never-the-less I guess they will be back for more next time. Perhaps it’s the identification with the players who if it were not for the ability to kick a ball up against a garage door would also be on benefits and the minimum wage and alongside them in the terraces. Anyhoo that’s not the subject of this half baked rant today.

In period of national crisis our nation pulls together and takes stock before starting to look around for a scapegoat to blame. By way of a slight diversion (again ed.) the actual derivation of the word scapegoat is based on a ritual purification ceremony that actually took place during a king’s wedding in the ancient middle east. In this story a she-goat with a silver bracelet hung from her neck was driven out by the whole community into the wasteland. In such ‘elimination rites’, in which an animal, becomes the vehicle of evils (but not sins) that are chased from the community – and as a result the community can then carry on in the belief that it has expunged itself from all blame and evil.

What will probably happen to poor old Capello now is he will be ritually expunged and sent off into the wilderness with a silver bracelet around his neck (and a big bag of money in his pocket) – and we all think that will solve the problem. Then it will be another search for another leader who can pull this rabble into some sort of shape – which will not solve the problem at all. We call this in consulting ‘faulty diagnosis’ by the client – when they come up with an irrational statement of the problem that avoids any sort of culpability. In this case the faulty diagnosis is that the problem is the question of leadership. The king is dead so long live the (new) king so the story will unfold.

What is surprising is that organisations such as the FA buy into this discredited leadership model that is so prevalent in western management thought. The idea goes that the players must be OK (we pay them enough for gods sake) so it must be a matter of discipline and charismatic leadership – ergo lets buy someone who has apparently had great success elsewhere so he can repeat it here – surely he can take us to glory based on his success from past times. But the answer from evidence is NO – and we are going to start another re-run of history in a few weeks.

There is no evidence that leadership has any real sustained impact on performance. Leadership does not make a great deal of difference to how organisations or teams perform or survive – it is in fact a myth and team dynamics is much more complicated than this. Most reports that extol leadership are attributions – an organisation is a success therefore in western management thought it must be due to something that is good at the top. And nothing to do with how well the people in the organisation work together. Now good stewardship is important for sure but the role of a single person in yielding success (or failure) is over exaggerated and it come to our minds due to a process of recency and selective recall in the way we make sense of the world. We remember only the recent successful outcomes – and block out inconvenient truths.

So in a few weeks another England manager is on his way – the guilt expunged blame allocated and we can get on with another build up to disappointment again. The problem is we have to understand that despite high salaries our players are on average about the same in skill as those across the world – team dynamics vary and what is more important is the drive to success for the players. Perhaps it has been all too easy for the England team – young men with riches beyond their dreams who are simply not hungry enough to play well for the glory of their country.

For them there is no value in it so there is no effort.



Why do people let their barriers down online?

Why do people let their barriers down online?  The psychology of Internet Disclosure

Research suggests that many people are disclosing extremely personal information online, that they would not tell others normally – why?

A number of factors lead to this type of behaviour:

Firstly, online communications are more ‘sparse’ than face to face (e.g. no body language) and so people try to add in more information to build relationships.  One of the elements of relationship building normally is shared disclosure – as you get to know people better you give away more private information about yourself, and there is turn-taking as people build trust.  With an online system people can become what has been termed ‘hyper-personal’ – they give away more information than they would face to face to speed up the building of the relationship and develop trust with their ‘friends’.

Secondly, the open context of online networking is not clear.  You are sitting in the comfort of your own room, or office, and it feels more like having a private conversation, perhaps similar to in a pub, rather than broadcasting the information worldwide.  Research shows people have a limited understanding of privacy issues and tend not to use their privacy settings as well as they should.  They are also far more likely to assume that the risk is to other people, not themselves, (known as  ‘the perceptual hypothesis’).

Linked to that is the issue of defining a ‘friend’.  Face to face it is much more obvious to us who our friends really are – we would tend not to view 200 people in a large party a ‘friend’ and tell them all our private thoughts.  However, online many people view any contact as a ‘friend’ and indeed there is some competition around having a large number of these.  Again research shows that people have a relaxed approach to accepting ‘friends’, and tend to forget that these people are actually strangers yet can see everything they post.

Finally, there is gratification to be found from being online and sharing personal information – for some to the point of addiction. This gratification includes diversion and entertainment, identity construction and of course, building social relationships (or at least, the perception that you are building these).  You can be socialising without being social.  It can feel as though a great deal is being achieved very quickly and with little effort – you don’t even have to leave your house.  The whole process becomes routinised (and indeed expected by others).  Our own research suggests many young people keep updated online ‘because their friends expect them to’. 

As females have a tendency to be more ‘social’ and to have a stronger desire to build relationships, are more likely to divulge (or be the first in the relationship to divulge) personal information to build trust, this may be a particular issue for women.  However, research so far indicates that women spend more time in ‘offline’ social networking and less time online than men – this may be changing.

The assumption of systems such as twitter, is that people are starved for attention and/or starved for meaningless detail about people’s social lives – and humans (men and women) do like to gossip – again it becomes, at least for the technically savvy, something very simple to do ‘announcing to the world’ your current actions.  Updating your profile, or your twitter box, and being ‘followed’ can make some people feel as if they have achieved a level of social interest they do not experience in their ‘real’ lives.  On the other hand, the information given is not always flattering to themselves, although perhaps sometimes a disparaging comment about the self is intended to promote oneself as ‘fun’. There remains a buz from updating a profile to promote desirable social impressions – look I am busy/fun/interesting.  Women are potentially displaying the self in a more conscious way to a mass audience as if on a stage but are probably not totally aware of the size or nature of the audience.

Second Life adds another dimension to this for those who become immersed in their virtual life can identify very strongly with their avatar and feel as if they are really experiencing these virtual adventures (including affairs).  Again so much time may be ‘wasted’ online that the offline world starts to suffer.

An advantage of online social networking is that you can increase the regularity of contact with some more distant true ‘friends’ and can increase your ‘social capital’ – this can lead to feelings of well-being and can be very useful with business networking, for example.  (Although people tend to keep business networking separate to social, even using different sites – LinkedIn being most popular for developing business contacts – unfortunately they again forget that business contacts will also often see their ‘social’ activities on the other sites and many problems have arisen because of that.)

Further disadvantages (on top of the wrong people getting private information that you would not normally have shared) includes the risk of actually reducing the amount of ‘real’ socialising we do.  Online socialising has been called ‘para-social’ as it is does not give us the same levels of (social) support and does not, for example, reduce loneliness.  If women are privatizing their leisure time by excessive use of the internet they may be losing out on those important ‘real’ relationships.

Furthermore, it is possible that we become less reserved in the real world too – although the

Of course as always the evidence is unclear – in some studies there has been a positive relationship between online and offline social networking, in other words, the more you do of one the more the other increases!

Implications for society are that some people are reducing their face to face communication, living almost totally ‘online’ to the extent that they may even lose the ability to socialise well in person, using perhaps inappropriate online terminology face to face or becoming more introverted?  There is also a view that these more privatised forms of entertainment and socialising reduce trust and lead to a fragmented society – important changes that need to be considered…

A lot of the research has been done on teens or on older people (60+), more needs to be done on the remainder of the population.  For example some studies have suggested that the brains of younger people are changing and they are much less able to concentrate on one large document (or long conversation) as they spend so much time jumping between websites and texting.  Whether this is also an issue for more mature people has not been assessed.

Put managers and employees to work on the change to reduce resistance

Involve Managers and Staff in the work of change management

Many Change Managers assume that if the rationale for change is made clear to the organisation then they will go along with it. In the process of demonstrating the need to change and an understanding of the impact (on themselves and their group) employees will buy- in and thereafter work actively to realise it. There is an assumption behind all this that ‘Change’ is negotiated and develops over time and that the change agent’s task is merely to make clear the imperatives and the people will fall into place.

Whilst this approach has been criticised for ignoring political and social aspects within organisations it is also inaccurate when talking about major system changes, outsourcing or mergers/acquisitions where we are faced with transitioning organisations against a strict deadlines. Here the degrees of freedom are limited and failure to successfully implement can result in stiff penalties for time and cost overruns. In such circumstances our room for ‘negotiation’ is constrained, the change outcome is a given and the people affected are faced with a forced change.

Also we see that the complexity of change is increasing as many major programmes consist of several, in their own right, substantial tasks. For example, in one major change programme I worked on the client was disentangling from a parent company and implementing an IT system with new standardised processes. All of these forcing substantial changes in role and responsibilities right across the organisation – and this programme also included the outsourcing of substantial parts of the finance function!

As well as the staff managers are affected – with perceived loss in autonomy and the need to acquire new skills key concerns. In another change programme in which the author was involved the financial controller had a significant change in job scope as a result of a system implementation and outsourcing which involved the loss of fifty percent of her staff. This resulted in prevarication and concentration on detail, non-acceptance of the rationale for change and question/problem raising that came over to the central project team as structural resistance.

The focus of our intervention in this case was on a country unit that had specific change issues that made their changeover have high perceived business risk. This unit for example had already gone through several changes of ownership in the last few years and was heavily impacted again. Our first step was to understand how the change impacted on the group, department and individuals within the business. Change needed to be thought through and the changes in role and task for these three areas were worked through in detail.

The intervention strategy we considered was based around thinking through to what the changed organisation would look like when we were finished. The patterns of communication, the new roles and responsibilities, and the impact on individual jobs were considered then the transition needed to bridge from the current situation to the future mapped out. This defined the necessary training and coaching for the individuals over and above that already covered in the formal training programmes. The transition management was trickier and this was handled by facilitating the cutover planning at group level. This acted to involve the organisation in the changeover (it’s on ‘its’ way) and engaged them in participating in the design of the move process itself. Defining in detail the roles, tasks and timings during the cutover were key aspects of this intervention. Further, interviews and group meetings around the changeover allowed ‘voice’ to be given and concerns and issues to be fully surfaced – they raised the resistance and helped solve them.

Key learning points

Do not interpret all resistance as opposition to change. Opposition can often be a sign of interest in the outcome and an expression of legitimate concern Capture the concerns and rationale. It may be that someone has identified a flaw in our reasoning and may have identified a route to possible failure, perhaps from the last time this occurred. To find out why it did not work last time may reveal some interesting lessons. However, be cautious about agreeing with an issue as this may be interpreted as a sign that the change can be negotiated – capture without judgement.

The assumption that all employees will go through the same cycle of resistance is false and too simplistic. Often there are winners in a change process. Identify these and build coalitions to build a success culture. Also some departments or groups of people are more successful with handling change than others – building on these winning groups can help bring the whole organisation along.

We all know the value of clear communication but do not forget to include the need for relevancy. Exhortations of the value of the change at a high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected. The communication must be tuned to the hearers specific needs – general broadcasts are discounted and people will provide their own rationale for change processes.

Avoid the ‘Englishman on Holiday’ change strategy – ‘if they don’t understand speak slowly and more loudly!’ At a feedback meeting for research into the situation at a French plant the consultants gave a withering overview of the impact of the various initiatives, changes and improvement programmes a major high technology company was imposing on the factory. The response from the senior team – ‘the management have not explained this clearly enough therefore “they” do not understand it – they must do it again’. People in change need focused information – how does this new system affect me. Will I still have a job? Will I be able to cope – will they train me? This means communications must be relevant, focused and bespoke aimed at a segmented audience – don’t treat people as the same with the same vanilla information requirements.

Some interventions

Local briefings at department or group level to strengthen team feelings of unity and develop focus on the task in hand.
Cutover process – form well managed meetings to act as a resolution point for raising and solving problems.

Tighter linkage to the changeover (particularly for the management) to expose the organisation to the task and encounter change.

  • Activate processes to resolve/close personnel issues — close these issues managers often have difficulty in handling these.
  • Mentor the management to actively participate and lead change via the consultant is an essential task.
  • Visible presence of change manager to emphasise the company’s commitment to making the change.
  • Reflect listen but not judge issues — allow self-reflection.
  • Ensure communications is done (Watch for gate-keeping in one project when I checked the communications had got no further than the secretary)
  • Provide recognition of improvements ideas and try to push upwards any ideas the team have that have value however small.
  • Recognise that resistance is a legitimate concern for the well-being of the business.
  • Ensure communication channels are open and deployed (again this is sometimes not done).
  • Hire consultant to act as change focus (reflecting with support but not judging or leading)
  • Tighter engagement of the organisation into the change process — they will switch to solve mode.

Finally don’t assume managers know how to manage change or know how to help their people change – because often they do not. Special training and development is necessary. Also be sure that the management has bought in, in one case the stiffest resistance came from a senior leader whose scepticism fed the resistance of the whole team.


Team Role Testing – Belbin Typology

The Belbin Team Role Test

According to this approach all team members have a so-called team role. This role is formed by a combination of personal character and talents and describes the characteristic way someone contributes to the team in conjunction with other members. This team role changes over the years as a person develops and is not a fixed construct (such as personality traits which are assumed to be more or less stable over time).

The objective of a Belbin team role test is to determine the characteristic roles that individuals possess and to find the strengths and weaknesses in the team composition. Another objective is for team members to gain an understanding of and have respect for the team roles that other people play – which perhaps is the main benefit from this approach.

The basic idea is that each team needs its own mix of different team roles in order to perform successfully and there needs to be a balance in the roles the team members play. If a team is unbalanced possibly the following symptoms could arise:

* Not goal-oriented enough and too much freewheeling,

* Re-inventing the wheel too much and not making enough use of the available information,

* Not enough focus on internal organization and finishing of activities started,

* Being too nice to each other and not really tackling and solving problems,

* Too much preparation and not really getting started.

A test like Belbin’s can give an insight into the team roles normally played by the team members and what the balance of the team is like – and thus explain some aspects of poor team performance. Unfortunately the idea that one can design teams is a controversial one – and open to much debate. Some years back as part of an experimental exercise within a major company in Europe I was a participant in a management game where team organisation was devised based on Belbin and we had to perform over a long weekend running a virtual company being stressed with all sorts of problems. There were obviously control groups put together at random and the outcome of the test was measured based on the survival of the virtual company as well as profits made. As expected little difference was seen between the designed and random groups in terms of outcomes was seen although I felt at the time a better understanding of fellow team members was a useful outcome. Overall there is little peer reviewed evidence that such approaches work.

There are also problems with this approach from a more theoretical perspective. Firstly the original concept was meant for individuals to gain an insight into their own propensities which is fine but when we switch to considering the categorisation of team members prescriptively that is where issues start arising – this can even extend to some HRM people using such approaches for selection and assessment. Which is very risky thing to do given that the team role test for all its apparent face validity has limited criterion related validity – and using such tests might have problems if you cannot objectively justify the outcome. Type tests can also be a crude pigeon-holing mechanism for fitting people into a number of boxes, grossly over-simplify a personality profile (MBTI has only four scales for example), smaller scales can miss out on important details and  cut off points from one category to another can mean a very small difference in score can result in being moved from one category to the next. Also Belbin is an ipsative test where each item is simultaneous concerned with more than one dimension and the dimensions are not independent as a score of high along one scale necessarily means a lower score is achieved on another. As a result an ipsative test can show what dimensions are relatively important for an individual but cannot be used to compare across individuals. This is because it is possible to have a profile where the secondary characteristic score is ‘higher’ than another person’s primary tendency – accordingly such comparisons have little meaning. Moral of the story use such test only for what was intended.

Belbin’s original research devised around eight major team roles: and lately have added an extra dimension of ‘specialist’: Company worker, Chairman, Shaper, Innovator, Resource investigator, Monitor-evaluator, Team Worker, Completer- Finisher

Here is the link to the Belbin Site where you can get further information and take a full test: Belbin: The home of Belbin Team Roles