If Your Employees Aren’t Speaking Up, Blame Company Culture

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Companies benefit when employees speak up. When employees feel comfortable candidly voicing their opinions, suggestions, or concerns, organizations become better at handling threats as well as opportunities.

But employees often remain silent with their opinions, concerns or ideas. There are generally two viewpoints on why: One is the personality perspective, which suggests that these employees inherently lack the disposition to stand up and speak out about critical issues, that they might be too introverted or shy to effectively articulate their views to the team. This perspective gives rise to solutions such as hiring employees who have proactive dispositions and are more inclined to speak truth to power.

By contrast, the situational perspective argues that employees fail to speak up because they feel their work environment is not conducive for it. They might fear suffering significant social costs by challenging their bosses. This perspective leads to solutions

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How Masculinity Contests Undermine Organizations, and What to Do About It

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From Uber to Nike to CBS, recent exposés have revealed seemingly dysfunctional workplaces rife with misconduct, bullying, and sexual harassment. For example, Susan Fowler’s 2017 blog about Uber detailed not only her recollections of being repeatedly harassed, but what she described as a “game-of-thrones” environment, in which managers sought to one-up and sabotage colleagues to get ahead. A New York Times investigation described Uber as a “Hobbesian environment…in which workers are pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.”

Why do companies get caught up in illegal behavior, harassment, and toxic leadership? Our research identifies an underlying cause: what we call a “masculinity contest culture.” This kind of culture endorses winner-take-all competition, where winners demonstrate stereotypically masculine traits such as emotional toughness, physical stamina, and ruthlessness. It produces organizational dysfunction, as employees become hyper competitive to

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Sexual Harassment Is Rampant in Health Care. Here’s How to Stop It.

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Many factors make an organization prone to sexual harassment: a hierarchical structure, a male-dominated environment, and a climate that tolerates transgressions — particularly when they are committed by those with power. Medicine has all three of these elements. And academic medicine, compared to other scientific fields, has the highest incidence of gender and sexual harassment. Thirty to seventy percent of female physicians and as many as half of female medical students report being sexually harassed.

As we wrote in a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, “Imagine a medical-school dean addressing the incoming class with this demoralizing prediction: ‘Look at the woman to your left and then at the woman to your right. On average, one of them will be sexually harassed during the next 4 years, before she has even begun her career as a physician’.”

The efforts of many healthcare organizations and medical

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How Storytelling Can Help Young Doctors Become More Resilient


I recently stood in front of a group of emergency room residents at my hospital and asked an unusual question.  “Has any of you ever judged your attending physician for not trying hard enough to save a patient’s life?” Then I looked around the room. But like every time I’d given this presentation, there were no takers.

I can’t say I was surprised. I was piloting a new program which uses storytelling to help young doctors reflect on how they handle the emotional and psychological toll of caring for suffering patients. In my experience, engaging in honest exchange about these dimensions is rare in medical culture—in fact, it is tacitly discouraged.

“Well, let me tell you about a time when I was that attending,” I said.  Then I steeled myself, and launched into my story.

The patient was a young woman, healthy up until the moment of her

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How Peer Coaching Can Make Work Less Lonely

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A near-constant stream of business and scientific news reminds us that 50% of Americans are lonely. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s powerful HBR article notes that half of CEOs suffer from loneliness. In addition to its personal toll, there is also an economic cost: workplace loneliness causes burnout, affects job satisfaction, and lowers both performance and retention. It also increases health care costs.

The Causes of Loneliness at Work

Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. Number of coworker interactions and whether or not you work remotely are not causal factors. What matters is the quality and meaningfulness of relationships. It’s common for employees to feel lonely while surrounded by colleagues with whom they don’t genuinely connect. Indeed, do your colleagues see the real you or just a carefully managed, work-safe persona — a brilliant disguise? If the latter, then you’re likely to suffering some degree

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Staying Focused in a Noisy Open Office

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Let’s face it: The open office can be a nightmare, especially when you’re working on something that requires your undivided attention. To make matters worse, your colleagues can be distracting — maybe they’re having loud conversations or their cell phones are constantly chirping. How can you make peace with your open office? How should you handle loud coworkers who are disturbing your focus? What’s the best way to cope with the noise and distractions in your office without coming across as antisocial or rude?

What the Experts Say
There is an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of open offices. Some research indicates they spark creativity and camaraderie, while newer studies suggest that open offices encourage employees to avoid one another. When designed well, these spaces can foster collaboration by “offering opportunities for serendipitous interactions with people all over the company,” says David Burkus, an

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The Problem of Visibility for Women in Engineering, and How They Manage It

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Women engineers have a visibility problem. Like women in other ultra-masculine sectors, they are often excessively visible as women, but overlooked when it comes to their technical expertise. This paradox gets in the way of forming relationships at work and hurts their advancement.

We wanted to know how women deal with this. In 2014 we interviewed 50 women engineers in three leading FTSE 100 organizations in the UK. All three organizations said they were committed to diversity and were attempting to hire, retain, and promote more women engineers. However, numbers remained persistently low, and in all three organizations attrition was high, especially among junior women. But the women we spoke to had remained in their companies, and several had advanced to senior positions. We asked them about their day-to-day experiences of work, opportunities for career progress, and how they overcame the challenges they faced.

The Power of Curiosity

Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, shares a compelling business case for curiosity. Her research shows allowing employees to exercise their curiosity can lead to fewer conflicts and better outcomes. However, even managers who value inquisitive thinking often discourage curiosity in the workplace because they fear it’s inefficient and unproductive. Gino offers several ways that leaders can instead model, cultivate, and even recruit for curiosity. Gino is the author of the HBR article “The Business Case for Curiosity.”

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Keeping Human Stories at the Center of Health Care

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Caring for the health and well-being of our fellow humans has always been viewed as a combination of art and science. With all the recent advances in technology, there is no doubt the health care industry as a whole gets an “A” in science. The tradeoff, however, is that we’ve become so focused on using the technology (as this HBR article points out) that we spend far less time listening to individual human stories. The result: The industry’s letter grade for the art of healing is more like a “C-” or even a “D.” This disparity has contributed to staggering and demoralizing statistics about the absence of empathy and caring for patients, and burnout, fatigue, and depression among clinicians. It’s time for that to change.

Some dysfunction may always exist in our health care systems. But administrative and bureaucratic hassles that keep doctors and nurses away from

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The Virtual Work Skills You Need — Even If You Never Work Remotely

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Maintaining strong, productive relationships with clients and co-workers can be challenging when you never see the person you’re working with. Yet, it is common to have ongoing work relationships – sometimes lasting years — with people you’ve never met in person.

We often think of “virtual work” as working with someone located outside an office, or in another city or country. This type of work is on the rise: a 2017 Gallup report found 43% of American employees work remotely; in another survey, 48% of respondents reported that a majority of their virtual teamwork involved members from other cultures.

However, virtual work also encompasses how we are turning to technology to conduct business with nearby colleagues, sometimes within the same building or campus. At a large consumer-products firm where we’ve been conducting research, an HR director recounted the changes she witnessed in employees located in two

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6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture

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Companies have been trying to adopt customer centricity for nearly 20 years now. But the CMO Council reports that “only 14 percent of marketers say that customer centricity is a hallmark of their companies, and only 11 percent believe their customers would agree with that characterization.”

Why do so many companies struggle to get customer centricity right? The volume, velocity, and variety of customer data that now exists overwhelms many organizations. Some companies don’t have the systems and technology to segment and profile customers. Others lack the processes and operational capabilities to target them with personalized communications and experiences.

But the most common, and perhaps the greatest, barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. At most companies the culture remains product-focused or sales-driven, or customer centricity is considered a priority only for certain functions such as marketing. To successfully implement a

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Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Health Care Leadership

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Female physicians continue to face myriad challenges in medicine ranging from implicit bias to gaps in payment and promotion to sexual harassment. So it is not surprising (though it’s still appalling) that although equal numbers of men and women now graduate from medical school, only a small fraction of female physicians become medical leaders. Currently in the US, only 3% of healthcare CEOs are women, 6% are department chairs, 9% are division chiefs, and 3% are serving as chief medical officers. This is despite women comprising 80% of the healthcare workforce and evidence that having women in upper management and on corporate boards is associated with improved financial performance and enhanced accountability.

These numbers point to a clear need for better representation of female physicians in leadership. How exactly to achieve this given the many barriers they face is less clear. Yet bright spots have emerged, both

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How Winning Organizations Last 100 Years

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The average lifespan of a U.S. S&P 500 company has fallen by 80% in the last 80 years (from 67 to 15 years), and 76% of UK FTSE 100 companies have disappeared in the last 30 years. In stark contrast, organizations in other sectors celebrate their 100th birthday and look like they’ll be here forever. How do they do it? And what can business learn from them?

To answer these questions, we identified seven celebrated Centennials who’ve outperformed their peers over the last 100 years and are admired by everyone. From the arts, we looked at the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Art and the Royal Shakespeare Company (originally the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre). From education, Eton College, from science, NASA (initially part of the US Army), and from sport, the New Zealand All Blacks and British Cycling. Then, we spent five years

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How Companies Get Creativity Right (and Wrong)

Beth Comstock, the first female vice chair at General Electric, thinks companies large and small often approach innovation the wrong way. They either try to throw money at the problem before it has a clear market, misallocate resources, or don’t get buy in from senior leaders to enact real change. Comstock spent many years at GE – under both Jack Welsh’s and Jeffrey Immelt’s leadership – before leaving the company late last year. She’s the author of the book Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.

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Is Office Politics a White Man’s Game?

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Love it or hate it, office politics is an inevitable part of organizational life. Many people associate political behavior with backstabbing and manipulation — but there is a constructive side to being politically savvy. Being able to negotiate, influence, engage, convince, and persuade others is how things get done in organizations — and how organizations decide what’s worth doing at all. Developing political skill reduces stress and enhances performance, reputation, promotability, and career progression at work. A 2008 survey of 250 managers in the UK revealed that 90% of them believed that political skill is required to succeed and to improve one’s career prospects. This has been further supported by numerous research studies that make the case for engaging in office politics. While the link between political skill and career success is firmly established, there is a problem: Office politics doesn’t work for everyone in the same way.

Although current

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Give Your Team the Freedom to Do the Work They Think Matters Most

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Since at least the time of Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,” control has been central to corporate organization: Control of costs, of prices, of investment and—not least—of people.

Control, even a perception of it, can be comforting. Moreover, it feels like what a manager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures, directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feels essential—especially if you are the boss.

Except it turns out that far from being vital, top-down control carries serious costs, many of which have been hiding in plain sight. What is more, there is an alternative. And not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy conjured up on a whiteboard, but a real, working alternative. It has been practiced to varying degrees in companies around the world for decades. And in France in particular, it is taking on the character of a movement. Companies as

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Why Bcc-ing the Boss Is a Bad Practice

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Imagine you’re drafting an email about a sensitive project when you realize you need to keep your supervisor in the loop. You decide to Bcc her on the email. Later, the rest of the team finds out. How does this make them feel?

Email continues to be one of the most common ways people communicate at work — and one of the most common ways people miscommunicate at work. The Cc and Bcc functions can corrode trust and cloud intentions. To explore how senders and recipients interpret the use of these tools, we conducted a series of five experimental studies in which a total of 694 working adults participated.

In our first study, we wanted to explore how people perceive the use of Bcc relative to the use of Cc. We invited working adults (75 females and 41 males; average work experience of 10.75 years) via

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How to Motivate Frontline Employees

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One question that has long plagued organizations is how to improve performance among frontline workers, the people who actually drive customer experience. Our work with hundreds of companies offers a clear and simple answer.

To show how it works, we’ll walk you through an example. In 2016 the leadership team of a national retail organization asked us to help boost their frontline performance. They wanted to improve revenue, cost, risk, and customer satisfaction all at the same time. (They reached out to us because we wrote a book describing how these performance outcomes would be improved with an operating model that increases motivation.)

We’ve written before that why people work determines how well they work — that someone’s motive for doing a task determines their performance. Our work has shown that if a person’s motive is play (for example, excitement from novelty, curiosity, experimentation), purpose (the work

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How Discrimination Against Female Doctors Hurts Patients

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In August 2018 officials from Tokyo Medical University admitted to systematically altering medical school admission test scores to disadvantage female applicants. Since 2006 the university had been subtracting points from all exam scores, then adding up to 20 points to those of male applicants, with the explicit goal of reducing the percentage of women entering medical school. (The percentage of enrollees who were women had reached 40% in 2010, and now stands at approximately 30%.)

This systematic discrimination against female medical school applicants is not only sexist and scandalous in its own right — not to mention devastating for the women denied access to the profession they desired — but it constitutes a potential threat to patient safety and public health.

Accumulating evidence shows that women deliver superior care. For example, one study of over 1.5 million Medicare patients found that those who were treated by a

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4 Ways to Create a Learning Culture on Your Team

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Technology is disrupting every industry and area of life, and work is no exception. One of the main career implications of the digital revolution is a shift in demand for human expertise. For instance, LinkedIn’s talent research shows that half of today’s most in-demand skills weren’t even on the list three years ago.

As a result, there is now a premium on intellectual curiosity and learnability, the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable. What you know is less relevant than what you may learn, and knowing the answer to questions is less critical than having the ability to ask the right questions in the first place. Unsurprisingly, employers such as Google, American Express, and Bridgewater Associates make learning an integral part of their talent management systems. As a Bersin report pointed out: “The single biggest driver of business

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