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Many organisations are looking at developing more effective agile working strategies to enable their people to work with more flexibility, freedom and time/cost efficiency. The immediate focus for these organisations is often on the technology and work space solutions to ensure their teams are equipped to work anywhere with WiFi and a power source.

What often gets overlooked or ignored – sometimes because it is simply too difficult – is the way that people respond and adapt to agile working. The psychology behind agile working is interesting and not at all straightforward, and so in this article I will explore some of the important findings from our own research and work with leaders in this field.

Over a period of five years we were invited, by one of the world’s leading technology companies, to get involved in researching the impact of agile and remote working on their leaders and teams.

We looked in particular at the psychological impact on team members and their leaders, as well as the performance implications and productivity. Through a series of interviews, live observation of interactions between teams that were using video and telecoms technology, as well as gathering data on the personality and attitudes of leaders and their teams, we built a picture of what it takes to be successful in an agile environment.

So, lets examine in more detail one of the key findings, which is that there are definite characteristics that enable some people to be better and more effective working in an agile environment.

While everyone is capable of working in a more agile way, we found that there are certain personality characteristics that relate to greater effectiveness and higher levels of productivity in agile and remote environments. What are these characteristics?

● Workers who demonstrate higher levels of ‘conscientiousness’ (a need for rules, regulations and structure) tend to be rated by peers as being more effective in working remotely. At the start of our research, we predicted that we would find the opposite. We believed that workers who are lower in ‘conscientiousness’ (and therefore more flexible in their interpretation of rules, more expedient and less structured) would be quicker to adapt. Instead, it is those who put in place clear and structured processes for themselves who tend to emerge as being better suited to remote working. Clearly, working in an agile way is not about constant flexibility and freedom from rules, but instead requires a great deal of organisation, personal discipline and self-control to be most effective.

● Workers who demonstrate higher levels of extroversion (those who are sociable, outgoing and talkative) are more effective in working remotely than ‘introverted’ peers (those who tend to reflect and think inwardly, and prefer space and time to reflect). Again, based on what we know about the nature of remote and agile working, we believed that those who are more introverted are likely to adapt to remote working better than those who need the stimulation of others’ company. It seems that the opposite is true. Workers who demonstrate higher levels of extroversion are also considered more effective in remote and agile working. Why is this? We would suggest that they are better at seeking others out, better at using a range of different methods to communicate, and better at proactively getting in touch with others and maintaining contact.

● In addition, our research found that those who are more effective in agile working are typically more open to new experiences and willing to experiment with new ideas and new ways of working. So no surprises there, particularly as agile working is all about finding new and different ways to achieve objectives while maximising the efficiency of time.

This is not to say that employees need to have these attributes to be effective in agile or remote working. But the findings may well help to explain why some people take to agile and flexible working more easily - and effectively - than others. They may also provide team leaders with some useful insights about the individuals in their teams, their preferences for agile working and where they may need some additional support and guidance.

To read more of Stuart Duff's blogs on business psychology topics, click here. For more information on Pearn Kandola's research into agile working please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Leading agile and dispersed teams requires many of the qualities that you would associate with leaders of centralised teams. Without doubt, however, agile working throws up an additional set of challenges and risks that are not always obvious.

Our research with agile teams also enabled us to look at how leaders successfully engaged and supported their teams when they were dispersed and agile. We looked at the leadership skills and behaviours that were considered to be the most important for leading remote teams and looked at some of the specific strategies that leaders adopt to make sure that they provide the direction, communication and support needed. We also identified the risks that remote and agile working brings to teams. Here are some of the key findings from our report.

The first and perhaps most important finding was the role that trust plays in effective work in dispersed teams. Trust is clearly a vital ingredient in any successful relationship, but it was consistently recognised as being the most important – and the most challenging – aspect of leading remote teams. Indeed, the greatest risks identified by leaders of dispersed teams are a fragile trust and the risk of being misunderstood or misinterpreted by others. Through our research we pinpointed two quite different aspects of trust. There is cognitive trust (where trust is given to someone on the basis of their knowledge, expertise and decision making skills) and there is emotional or affective trust (where trust is given to someone on the basis of how open they are, how supportive and how caring they are in building relationships).

Both aspects of trust are important in a productive relationship at work, but we found that less effective leaders over-emphasised cognitive trust at the expense of building emotional trust. Meetings were focused tightly on agenda, facts and decision making, rather than also inviting perspectives or sharing how people were feeling about the issues they were working on. Those leaders who made time for both were seen as being much more successful and effective in their role.

Another remarkably consistent finding was that nothing replaces the value and importance of face-to-face contact. This may sound obvious to some, but nowadays there are many easy and efficient ways to communicate through technology. We found that the less effective leaders over-relied on email and voice calls, without making the effort to meet face to face or to use video conferencing wherever possible. What is lost are subtle yet vital elements of communication and contact: body language, tone and many of the factors associated with affective trust.

One other important aspect of effective leadership (and something that we hadn’t anticipated) is just how much more organised and planful leaders of remote teams need to be. When teams meet regularly, it is easy to have spontaneous, off the cuff discussions to keep colleagues up dated on what is going on. When meetings are infrequent and remote, however, it becomes essential to invest more time in preparation in order to ensure that time spent as a team is as valuable as it can be.

To read more of Stuart Duff's blogs on business psychology topics, click here. For more information on Pearn Kandola's research into agile working please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Those of you in the UK may be aware that last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. This has been great for raising awareness about mental health and for challenging some of the stigmas associated with anxiety and depression, with many public figures sharing their experiences. It’s important we keep talking about it. As business psychologists, we also think about how we can promote positive mental health and well-being as well.

I was watching a BBC documentary on sleep the other night, which estimated that a third of us are still getting less than the recommended 7 hours sleep a night. While watching it, it struck me that we’re not very good at looking after ourselves, particularly when we’re busy.

The results are plain to see. The latest Labour Force Survey in the UK revealed that mental health issues (including stress, depression and anxiety) were responsible for 15.8 million working days lost in 2016 alone.

So it’s worth reminding ourselves of the some of the things that we can do to help keep us resilient in the face of our daily pressures.

Which of these are you currently doing?

● Getting 7-8 hours’ sleep - a recent meta-analysis of 152 studies found that quality of sleep was associated with feelings of personal control, reduced levels of anxiety and attitudinal outcomes such as engagement. It’s one of the most important bits of self-care we can invest in.

● Having regular social interaction - we’re social creatures and psychological research is increasingly telling us that our interactions throughout the day contribute to our self-esteem and resilience. This includes chatting to a colleague in the kitchen or exchanging pleasantries with someone in the lift. If you’re a remote worker, think about how you can turn an email into a phone call. Make a more personal connection. Quicker isn’t always better.

● Regularly detaching from work - I talked about this before, but detachment fuels our recovery from the demands of work. Making time for an activity completely unrelated to your work can help you to bounce back (e.g. going for a walk). Combining this with the social point, we have a table tennis table at our Oxford office, which we use for micro breaks throughout the day and to increase our interaction. This helps us to re-charge and refocus when we return to work.

● Protecting time for the things you enjoy - spending time on things that you have intrinsic motivation for (the stuff you enjoy – not chores!) has been found to increase your rate of recovery. How do you spend your evenings? Are you making time for the things you enjoy?

● Scheduling time for relaxation - recent research has that practicing relaxation techniques such as mindfulness can reduce feelings of emotional exhaustion – one of the hallmarks of burnout. While seen by some as a ‘fad’, the science is increasingly showing that mindfulness meditation has its place in the modern world. As an example, our colleague Tracey runs weekly mindfulness sessions in our office to help us re-focus.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list – any nutritionists will talk about the importance of diet, and any runners will testify to the impact of exercise. However it’s these simple things that can really add up. We may not be able to control all the pressures we face at work, but we can enhance our ability to deal with them.

To read more of Jonathan Taylor's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

Following the shock triumph of Donald Trump people are still asking themselves, how did he win? One group of the electorate that Trump failed to win over and certainly did not help him to become President were the Millennial’s - those born in the period of 1982-2000. A survey conducted before the election showed that if only Millennial’s voted Clinton would have a 504 – 23 vote crushing victory, gaining 41 out of 50 states. In contrast the same survey found that if only those 65+ voted Trump would have 298 – 214 vote victory. This phenomenon of difference between generations has not only been seen over the pond but also in Britain. In the 2016 Brexit referendum 73% of Millennial’s voted to remain whereas 60% of those over 65 voted to leave.

The vast differences between older generations and the Millennial generation may hold potential difficulties in the workplace. While much of the current knowledge about Millennial’s is anecdotal what follows is an examination of the limited empirical research on this topic.

Communication
Millennial’s have been shown to engage in different forms of communication to the generations before them. Research has discovered a constant need for continual feedback, compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers – possibly down to a “trophies for all” upbringing and overprotective parents. When negative feedback is provided Millennial’s have been shown to respond best to assertion, but also sensitivity, and are most receptive when positive feedback accompanies.

An interesting point is that Millennial’s do not like the top down method of communication currently employed by many employers. They are far less intimidated by their leaders than previous generations and work best when they feel they are ‘in the loop’.

Values
This new generation places far more value on their home life, compared to their work life than any generation before them. Research has shown that increased media coverage of key events during their development, such as terrorist attacks, has caused an increased mortality salience (reminders that we will eventually die) and in turn a revaluation of priorities.

In line with this emphasis on home life research has indicated a preference for flexible working. PwC found that the companies with strong flexible structures such as Apple and Google, who do not have historical restraints of “how it used to be done”, have the best Millennial retention.

Expectations and Aspirations
There seems to be a general conception that Millennial’s have high expectations of the workplace, relating back to their sheltered upbringing in a time of relative prosperity. Research by Ng (2010) has shown that in terms of salary expectations new graduates do not have high expectations of their initial wage, but expect a 68% increase in 5 years, which is unrealistic.

Millennial’s want leaders who are forward thinking, looking for continual innovation and aren’t afraid to take risks. They also expect their leaders to offer them development opportunities, with research showing higher retention of Millennial’s when they perceive they are being invested in with learning and professional opportunities.

How to be an Employer of Choice for the Millennial Generation?

● Encourage open-communication. Create ‘bottom-up’ channels of communication which allow individuals to give feedback regardless of their position in the organisation.

● Introduce flexi-working. Allow individuals to work from home and give them more control over and trust in their roles. Oseland (2012) found that flexi-working actually increases productivity and staff satisfaction.

● Create realistic career development opportunities. Be clear on development opportunities from the start of employment and keep staff informed when these change to help create more realistic expectations.

● Increase staff engagement. Provide job autonomy, performance feedback, task variety and responsibility.

To read more of Laura William's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

If you’ve struggled to maintain a New Years’ resolution, you’re certainly not alone. Whether it was trying to give up smoking, get in shape, or change the way you work, behavioural change can be difficult.

So why is it so difficult?

We like to think that we’re consciously in control of everything we do, but much of our behaviour is unconscious, shaped by our experience, and triggered by our surroundings. Habits are ultimately what drives much of our behaviour, and are key to sustaining a new behaviour. It’s somewhat ironic that the habits we don’t want are often those that we form. However it’s not too late to give your New Year’s resolution another go – here’s some psychology that may help you make the change:

Introducing a new behaviour

We start with intentions, but recent research shows us that intentions by themselves are not enough. We form lasting habits when we repeat a behaviour consistently in a specific context, so to make a behaviour automatic, we need to also think about context - where and when we’re doing it.

If you’ve attended our diversity training, you’ll be familiar with an ‘Implementation Intention’ as a method of encouraging new behaviour. These go beyond intentions (the what) to also pin down the context (the when). And we know that the simple act of making these specific, ‘If-Then’ statements in our minds (e.g. ‘when I see the turning for the gym, I will turn left’) can increase the likelihood of follow-through.

How do they work? When we create these ‘If-then’ statements, our brains begin to associate the situation with the behaviour in our minds, much in the same way that established habits work (albeit weaker). So when the situation arises, it’s much easier for us to trigger the behaviour – it requires less conscious effort or deliberation.

Once you have a clear ‘If-then’ intention in your mind, keeping the context the same as much as possible (i.e. same time of day, location) each time you repeat the behaviour will help to form a habit. And research shows that people with strong habits are more likely to have a regular routine. For example, one study looking at gym users found that 90% of regular gym users had a regular time and location that triggered their behaviour.

Breaking an old habit

Whilst habits are key to sustaining new behaviour, they’re also the reason why changing existing behaviour can be such a pain. If you’re trying to change an existing habit, research suggests that Implementation Intentions are less effective as they’re having to compete with the more established associations. So how do we change our old habits? In summary there are two approaches:

● Where possible, remove the temptation. Remove whatever it is that is triggering your behaviour. Do you procrastinate by clicking on email pop-ups? Disable the pop-up. Do you buy a coffee when you walk past the coffee shop on the way to work? Try a different route. If you can’t remove completely, can you change the context? Habits are very context-dependent. This is also why many organisations find that office moves are a great time for behavioural change interventions – old cues are disrupted, freeing up people to act on their new intentions.

● Change the context. Sometimes you can’t remove the cues. Perhaps you can’t magic yourself to a different office, or remove the vending machine. If that’s the case, try changing the context as much as possible and investing your effort on deliberately replacing your usual response with a better one (e.g. when hungry at your desk, grabbing an apple rather than walking to the vending machine).

There’s no doubting behaviour change can be difficult, but investing your effort in the right way will eventually pay off.

To read more of Jonathan Taylor's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

Anyone using Assessment or Development Centres (ADCs) for promotions, selection into new roles or benchmarking employee capability, will be well aware of the challenges of creating a realistic, meaningful and valid (i.e. accurate) process. Providing the right level of challenge for participants, while giving regular opportunities for feedback and learning, is a difficult balance to strike.

With this challenge in mind, we have been working with our clients to design progressive, innovative, fair, flexible and accurate assessment and development centres to support talent management. We have designed centres with our clients that deliberately vary the context, the situation and the timing of meetings in order to achieve more realistic and varied measures of capability. For example, we have used short meetings, standing meetings, meetings that are frequently interrupted and difficult teleconference calls. And by doing so, we have been achieving stronger outcomes, increasing the realism of situations and improving the quality of observations and the usefulness of the feedback. None of these alternative designs reduced the validity of our observations – they only enhanced the flexibility and improved the experience for participants.

So it wasn’t a great surprise when, at this year’s BPS Occupational Psychology conference, a number of speakers questioned whether traditionally structured assessment centres were likely to be inconsistent or even inaccurate in what they claim to be measuring. These questions emerged based on recent studies into the effectiveness of assessment centres. Using a new and well regarded approach to analysing all of the possible effects that may contribute to variance in assessor ratings in a standard assessment centre, the studies indicate that less than 2% of the variance in ratings from that assessment centre could attributable to the actual measurement of competencies (see Dewberry, 2017 (in press)). In other words, the final ratings that came from the assessment centre bore little, if any, relationship to the behaviours that they claim to measure.
Why is this? It’s difficult to say exactly, but it would appear that assessment centres are actually better at measuring behaviour within a specific context (i.e. how somebody handles a particular one-to-one meeting or group situation) than trying to do so across a range of different contexts. This perhaps reflects the view that behaviours – and leadership behaviours in particular – are far more ‘situational’ than previously thought by most practitioners.

Our approach has been further backed up by the research of Filip Lievens (2016), which questioned the traditional format and construct of assessment centres. This research proposed that an assessment centre could break with the traditional format of two role plays, each lasting for 30 minutes, and instead run eighteen interactive role plays, each lasting three minutes. For an experimental approach, the results demonstrated good validity and identified, in particular, those most extravert and agreeable, which is ideal if the assessment centre is for a people or sales role. Other methods tested open-ended video responses, rather than written responses, and webinar facilities – in the same way that many employees work on a day-today basis.

All of this raises some critical questions for any organisations using standardised, off the shelf exercises in their assessment and development centre processes. It is impossible to ignore these findings. Instead, we need to embrace it as an opportunity to further question the approach and look at ways to reflect the constant changes in work environments.
Most importantly perhaps, as we make changes to assessment and development methods, we have to continue to improve fairness, reduce the bias that is so inherent in so many processes, and give everyone an equitable starting point, whether they are being assessed for a role or developed for a future position. We have a very interesting time ahead.

To read more of Stuart Duff's blogs on leadership and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

It’s that time of year again - a new year, a new you. No doubt your social media feeds have been filled with advice on how you can unleash your inner Richard Branson and be more productive in 2017. Rather than talk about working, I’m going to focus on the other side of the coin – rest and recovery. You see we’re not the machines that we try to be – in fact, much of our performance can be attributed to how well we rest and recover when we’re not working.

Let’s start with sleep…

As a workforce we’re tired. During the week most of us don’t get enough sleep – and when we’re busy it’s often the first thing that we sacrifice. An estimated 1/3 workers get less than 6 hours sleep a night1. But sleep matters. Decades of research tells us that the quality and quantity of sleep we get has a profound influence on our memory, attention, our ability to process information and capacity to manage our emotions. While the amount of sleep we each need varies with age and from person to person, if you’re currently getting less than 7 hours a night, forming a new habit where you go to bed earlier could have a dramatic impact on how you experience your work.

Recovery during your down time

During our working day, we’re constantly responding to various pressures and demands, drawing on our own physical, psychological and emotional resources to be able to respond effectively. However these resources are finite – and recovery is a physiological need that we all have. The quality of the rest we get during our evenings and weekends can have a profound effect on our performance back at work.

Rest is important – for example, one study found that individuals who returned to work feeling well rested were more productive, showed greater personal initiative, engaged in more organisational citizenship behaviours (voluntarily going beyond what is expected in your role, such as helping out a colleague), and reported that their work felt easier to complete2. But feeling rested is not simply a function of how long we stay away from the office – but rather what we do with the time. In particular, engaging in activities that draw on different resources to the ones we use at work, or that replenish those we have lost during the day can support our recovery. Three types of activity have been associated with greater recovery:

● Psychological detachment
Mentally ‘switching off’ from work – thinking about something else, rather than continuing to ruminate on what happened during the day. Research shows that this can improve mood, reduce negative emotions experienced during leisure time and increase performance once back at work2. But detaching from work can be difficult – very rarely do we end the day with everything neatly tied off. However, simple changes to how you structure your time – such focusing on bigger tasks in the morning, and tackling the smaller tasks towards the end of the day can make a difference. When you do run out of time, writing down where, when and how you will finish any incomplete tasks before you leave work can help you switch off3.

● Relaxation
Any activity that does not place any further demands on you and that allows you to feel calm. This can include activities such as mindfulness meditation, yoga or listening to music, all of which you can do during the working day or at lunchtime. A study in Germany found that individuals who engaged in Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) during their lunchtime experienced a significant reduction in their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, both in and outside of work, compared to their colleagues4.

● Mastery experiences
These are any activities that give a sense of achievement or personal development. This can include activities such as learning a new language or instrument. Or exercise - for example going for a run, or resistance training. It could even include successfully assembling some flat-pack furniture! Essentially any tasks that give a sense of accomplishment or progression can count as mastery experiences. Research shows that these even simple tasks can be critical for maintaining self-esteem and self-efficacy – particularly when encountering setbacks at work2.

We’re not designed to work continuously – we need regular recovery to perform at our best. By giving some thought now to how you spend your downtime, and by resting smarter, you’ll notice a big difference this year.

References:
1 Luckhaupt, S. E., Tak, S., & Calvert, G. M. (2010). The prevalence of short sleep duration by industry and occupation in the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep, 33, 149–159.

2 Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., and Mojza, E. (2010). Recovery during the weekend and fluctuations in weekly job performance: A week-level study examining intra-individual relationships. Journal of Occuptational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 419-441.

3 Smit, B. (2016). Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 493-514.

4 Krajewski, J., Sauerland, M., Wieland, R. (2011). Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunch breaks – an experimental longitudinal worksite field study. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84, 382-394.

To read more of Jonathan Taylor's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

The old adage: “no news is good news” means that if we hear nothing then nothing is wrong. In other words silence is good. There is a deep assumption that people only share with others the details of events that conflict with their expectations: where something has failed, disappointed; broken; shocked or at the very least surprised them. If things are going as expected or hoped then there is, it is assumed, nothing to report that would interest anyone else.

The idea that only negative stories are of interest has led our news media to be heavily skewed towards tales of doom and gloom and it has been argued, in fact, that “good news is no news”. In spite of the world being happier, healthier and more prosperous than ever before, we are bombarded with the stories of war, disease and criminality gathered from around the globe to fill up our TV News schedule. Good news stories are too often relegated to “The One Show” or other light entertainment programmes: they are treated as less important.

This bias is no surprise. Humans are programmed to attend to threats; this helps us either avoid or deal with the threat and keep ourselves safe. We are also hard wired to attend to whatever is new. From babies we notice when a new toy is introduced, or a new sound is heard and our attention is re-awakened. This helps guide our learning through exploration of our environment. New things are not necessarily bad; but they are those things that surprise us as different to the norm.

The problem is, our preference to treat good news as less worthy of attention results in a fundamental weakness to how we manage people’s performance. “Giving feedback” is usually seen as synonymous with giving negative feedback. After all, if the person is doing well or doing what you expect them to do then what is there you can actually say that would be of any interest.

The difficulty here is that if feedback is either not given at all, or only given when there is something negative then the overall impact, for the receiver, is to feel demoralised, discouraged and to lose trust with the feedback giver. With children, we can see disruptive behaviours increasing if these are the only behaviours that are noticed and rewarded with the parent’s attention. More generally, through a process of “learned helplessness”, people stop exploring and trying to learn or improve if their efforts only result in further negative responses; in other words they become depressed.

Within the workplace, managers must turn this core bias on its head. The truth is that “no news is most definitely bad news” for people if you want them to feel motivated and to grow. Performance management feedback cannot simply consist of the main dramatic headlines: the things that have gone wrong. Feedback must principally focus on developing a person’s sense of worth and their self-efficacy – their belief that they can do well. And this means constantly reinforcing good performance by noticing, discussing and planning how to repeat and extend the successful behaviours. It is assumed that when someone does something right they will know this and understand why and therefore do this again. However, through a combined lack of self-awareness and recognition from others; it is just as likely that good behaviours will ultimately be abandoned. Furthermore, when the manager really does need to deliver some bad news; the receiver is more likely to fixate on this and potentially experience a deterioration in performance and motivation.

When sharing feedback, make it:

● Regular

● Principally focussed on what went right and how to do this again

● Only offer negative feedback as an additional way to build on past success.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

The City of London Police announced they will be launching an investigation into corruption in football. This was in response to the Daily Telegraph’s claim of Premier League managers (current or former) having taken bribes while buying and selling players.
To many fans the allegations held against those honoured with managing the teams they love are surprising. However, with an understanding of the psychology of behavioural ethics, it shouldn't be a great surprise as these individuals operate in an environment consisting of many of the factors understood to promote the growth of unethical behaviour. So what are these factors that can be hypothesised to account for the turn to corruption, not just for football managers but for the individuals of any organisation and how can we reduce their effect?

  1. The root of all evil
    With Paul Pogba returning to Manchester United for a fee of £89.3m, while Premier League spending reached £1.165bn the same summer, it is evident that English football now increasingly exists in a culture of which money is ever salient.
    It therefore comes as little surprise that we can place money atop of the list of factors influencing unethical behaviour. This theory is supported in research conducted by Kouchaki, Smith-Crowe, Brief & Sousa (2013). They demonstrated that the mere-presence of money as an environmental cue leads to motivate the objectification of others, with self-interest pursued over the interests that are not in line with our own.
    Kouchaki et al. (2013) proposes that a lesson must be taken from their research: “that organisations be aware of the potential of environmental cues (such as money) influencing employees’ unconscious ethical behaviour”. Therefore, rather than assuming employees’ awareness of the ethical reality of their decisions, leaders should highlight what are the potential moral obstacles related to their organisation functioning as a business e.g. for a football manger, taking bungs.

  2. Stress
    It is easy to entertain the idea that there are few jobs more stressful than to manage a failing football club. This can be seen to arise though the pressure to perform applied by fans, board members, and media, while your peers are sacked (their reputation in tatters) around you.
    Research by Kouchaki & Desai (2015) demonstrated a mechanism connecting anxiety to unethical behaviour. In this experiment it was shown that anxiety leads to cognitive resources to be temporarily diverted to our own basic needs and self-interests (e.g. money). Therefore, we are less mindful of principles that guide ethical behaviour, thus, increasing the likelihood of such behaviour occurring.
    The need to reduce the anxiety levels of employees is already a practice for many organisations. This is seen in the introduction of flexi-hours, playful furniture, sponsoring gym-memberships and realistic expectations etc. The adoption of such anxiety-reducing practices may indirectly reduce unethical behaviour in organisations.

  3. Justification though upward social comparisons
    According to the Daily Express, in the English top flight, the highest paid manager (Pep Guardiola) is on £15,000,000 for his services while the lowest (Aitor Karanka) is on £355,000. There is therefore an apparent and large pay gap.
    The potential relationship between this inequality and corruption was highlighted by John, Loewenstein & Rick (2013). They demonstrated that by increasing the attention paid to upward social comparisons (in relation to pay rates) they would also observe an increase in unethical behaviour in those “looking up”. This is believed to occur as the perceived inequality allows the individual to rationalise their own wrong-doings as required to close the gap. This observation can be seen to support the notion of fair and equal wages within all organisations as the effects of inequality of pay can have unexpected and costly consequences.
    This blog is not seeking to relinquish accountability against those who are found to be guilty of corruption,rather, it aims to highlight that the problems do not just lie with the accused. Instead we can observe that there are a number of psychological influences (of which three are mentioned here) which can be seen to have developed as a result of the way an organisation is run. Once understood, the effects of such psychological phenomena can be mitigated and managed. If done this can lead to a reduction in unethical behaviour not just for English football but for other at risk organisations.

  4. References:
    John, K. L., Loewenstein, G., Rick, S. I. (2014) Cheating more for less: Upward social comparisons motivate the poorly compensated to cheat. Organizational behaviour and human decision processes, 123, 101–109.

    Kouchaki, M., Desai, S. D. (2015). Anxious, threatened, and also unethical: How anxiety makes individuals feel threatened and commit unethical acts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, 360–375.

    Kouchaki, M., Smith-Crowe, K., Brief, A. P., Sousa, C. (2013). Seeing green: Mere exposure to money triggers a business decision frame and unethical outcomes. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 121, 53–61.

    To read more of Harry Verner's blogs on business psychology topics, click here.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, and perhaps, the business year, there is for many a sense of dread as we contemplate the prospect of annual performance appraisals. As an integral part of an organisation’s performance management system, the appraisal has been a key tool used to motivate people. However, if anything it often achieves the opposite.
Performance Management (PM) has had an increasingly negative press over recent years. This is a pity as we genuinely need it: people want to feel they are progressing in a positive direction and that they are doing the right things to stay on track in their careers; and companies want to attract, keep and develop their talent to achieve their vision. Aon Hewitt tell us the companies with the highest levels of employee engagement are also those with the most effective PM processes, and that PM is a direct driver of engagement.

Twenty years ago I was part of a mini-industry designing complex PM processes with annual timetables anchored to the business planning cycle and decisions about pay. A central goal was to ensure a structured and standardised approach that would enable people to be rewarded fairly. The assumption was that people would be motivated to develop in order to achieve these rewards. As an add-on feature, PM processes gave support in how to achieve this development through ongoing feedback and coaching.

However, our faith in such processes is falling away. The link between pay and motivation is not nearly as strong as we had assumed. It seems it’s not the financial reward that matters but the quality ongoing support and involvement of a line manager in helping someone improve that really counts. This is what drives loyalty and motivation and which underpins the development of personal performance. Sadly, linking PM to pay, only serves to undermine the more important benefits.

As a result many large organisations are shifting their focus; cutting loose the decisions about reward and using PM first and foremost as a vehicle to help people develop. Obviously people still need a sense that their salary is competitive and calculated in a fair and transparent way. However, there are other ways to deliver that without linking it directly to the achievement of annual performance objectives.

There are major problems in using PM for reward:

1) It creates mind-numbing bureaucracy. Deloitte estimated that 2 million hours were spent per annum largely by their managers trying to agree ratings. HR can become pre-occupied with processes that prove how ratings and reward decisions were derived rather than focusing on what will actually make the greatest difference to performance and motivation.

2) It focuses on the past. There is a demand for evidence of what people have DONE to justify reward decisions. Therefore PM looks backward with a view to analysing and assessing the value of past performance. This does not encourage open and honest conversation about what and how to improve.

3) It comes too late. Due to the above two points, PM activities become loaded towards the end of the year. By this time the objectives established the year before are often irrelevant as the organisational world has moved on. The more useful performance conversations will need to have taken place in the moment, throughout the year, to keep pace with change.

4) It encourages the wrong behaviours. Offering financial reward based on an individual’s performance, encourages self-serving behaviours, rather than doing what is best for the long term success of the team. It also encourages people to focus on the activities they can measure and prove rather than those that genuinely add value.

By decoupling decisions about pay, organisations can unleash the true potential of Performance Management. In practice this means ensuring that PM is no longer associated with the dreaded Annual Appraisal. Rather it is all about what happens along the way. This means:

● Building trust through regular positive and informal interaction

● Learning from successes in order to develop confidence

● Quality coaching conversations with managers to find ways to improve

● Real-time feedback after key events and as a day-to-day norm

● Honest interpretation of multiple and diverse feedback

● A focus on what is needed today and tomorrow rather than what has been done before

● Embracing a team ethos and seeing success as a joint endeavour Less Inclusive?

This comes with risks. By truly focusing on managers’ conversations with their team members rather than a bureaucratic process we are forced to acknowledge the reality that success is dependent on management skill and motivation. Unfortunately, managers, like all of us, are subject to bias. In fact, the more informal the process, the greater the risk of bias with the result that Performance Management becomes less inclusive over time. We know that managers will naturally have more frequent interactions with those people they feel more comfortable with and whom they identify with due to homophily. This immediately creates more frequent and possibly richer opportunities for certain team members to gain developmental support and can become a relative barrier for others. As this type of bias is largely unconscious, new style performance management needs to work hard to give managers strategies to ensure the same opportunities to learn and grow are extended to everyone and that everyone feels engaged and enabled.

To read more of Laura Haycock's blogs on performance management and and other related business psychology topics, click here.

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