Instructors with Style

I know it’s been a long time since I put a post up here, but I saw this in a journal this morning and it made me really happy to see it. 

In about the middle of 2008, some of the top researchers in the training field published a meta-analysis in the APA‘s and I/O psychology’s top journal (Journal of Applied Psychology) about trainee reactions. Basically, a meta-analysis is when researchers take all of the published and unpublished research they can find and pull it together in one big report. Essentially, they’re using some high-level statistics to use all of the participants in all of the studies into one large meta-study. By the time they were done, they had looked at 136 studies which encompassed 27,020 trainees. They looked at a lot of different variables and relationships to see what all affects trainee reactions. 

The top predictor of trainee reactions?

Instructor Style, which accounted for about 37% of the variance in trainee reactions, which is over and above the effects of trainee characteristics and organizational support. That’s not to say that organizational support and trainee characteristics aren’t important, but the instructor who conducts the class can be a huge factor in whether or not the reactions that trainees have to a program is positive or negative. And, that reaction can be a big part of whether or not trainees are willing to transfer new knowledge to the workplace.

So, the upshot of this is that if you want to make sure that your training dollars are well-spent, you need to make darned sure that the instructors you use are top notch facilitators. They can’t fix a bad training program, but if you’ve done all of the right stuff to create a good program, instructors with style can be the deciding factor in the color of your training ROI ink being red or black.

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Proud to be an American…

I have to admit, I’m damned proud to be a SIOP member today. The president of the organization wrote a letter to President-elect Obama about how people like us can help the economy. If you want to read it, it’s here.  

But, this is the part that I really like… 

“Arguably one of the administration’s most important challenges is creating a strong organizational culture with a “high purpose” that reigns in selfish motives and fosters organizational citizenship behavior. Such cultures have internal governance and learning systems that enable “truth to speak to power.” SIOP members have completed research and models for corporate culture, decision making, and knowledge transfer, to name a few.”

It’s not often that I get to really explain what I do, or what I want to do in the future. But, that’s the differentiator between “us” and “them.” The “them” are the people who work in HR who just got business degrees. Straight business degrees usually just teach people how to do what’s best for the company in the short term, and usually that just involves dealing with the symptoms of a problem, and not the problem itself. We’re trained to start digging and go after the problem. 

To use a medical model, HR people with straight business degrees are like general practitioner doctors. They’re the ones who prescribe something for you when you have a cold or the flu. We’re the surgeons who work to eradicate cancer in a patient. 

One really telling experience is when we were in our first year and taking an organizational behavior class with a bunch of MBA students. We were 6 of about 25 or 30 students, so we were totally in the minority. We had to do projects as a team of 3, where we dealt with some sort of organizational problem. The one that my team had was a problem employee on a team. We talked about using methods of communication, conflict resolution, and trying to find out if the employee had a problem that was affecting his work life (since it had been noted that his abrasiveness had increased over the last year). When it came time for Q&A, one of the MBA students lit into me about how “you just can’t deal with people like that,” and that “you just have to fire them and get a new person in there,” and how “all that psychology just takes too much time and money.” When I looked around, a lot of the other MBAs were just nodding their heads in agreement. I really just wanted to hand her a business card and tell her to call me in about 6 years, so that I could buy a new Ferrari on what I’d make off of her screw-ups. 

But, that’s the difference. “They” are the people who will ignore your past performance and fire you with a “what have you done for me lately” attitude; we’re the ones who will look deeper to see what lies beneath the surface, because not only is it the ethical thing to do, it’s also best for the company in the long run.

Posted in evidence-based business, i-o psychology, selections | 1 Comment

Using “No,” “Not,” and other negatives better (Part 3 of Learning to Fish)

I’m going to give you two sentences to think about.

  • “Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.”
  • “Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions.”

Those say the same thing, don’t they? Technically, they do. But the problem comes in with how they’re worded and how the brain deals with them.

When psychologists do research on memory and processing, they usually have some sort of a stress component. They’ll use a task to put the brain under a load, because that’s how the brain is usually working. You’re rarely fully focused on a task. You’re probably thinking about something else while you’re working, or you’re having to work quickly. As a general rule, you’re not perfectly focused on a task and nothing else, especially at work.

A very pertinent example of this and how this post fits in very well is linked with how long people spend reading a web page. On average, a typical person browsing the internet actually reads only about 28% of the information on the screen. In most cases, people scan what’s on the screen. This becomes more important as you consider how the brain processes negative modifiers.

Negative Modifer Processing

When your brain encounters a sentence like “Please feel free to contact me, if you have any questions” it processes the noun (“me”) and the verb (“contact”) for meaning before it processes anything else. When the brain is under a cognitive load, (for instance at work, scanning a web page) the brain may stop there. So, when you toss in a negative modifier (“not”), then the brain might miss it. So, the big take-away for a scanner from the sentence “Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions,” can be “hesitate.”

The brain has to process the first phrase to be able to apply the negative modifier and understand it, so in cases where the brain is under a cognitive load, the negative modifier can be missed. A number of researchers have tested this and found that this holds true in written language, as well as spoken language. So, the fix here is to take care in how often you use negative modifiers and in what situations. If you’re in a high stress situation and you’re giving someone instructions, teach yourself to give positively worded instructions, not ones using negative modifiers. The chance that you’ll be misunderstood will be much lower, and your stress level should be decreased as well because of fewer mistakes.

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