Monday Mornings with Madison

How Companies deal with “Bad Employees”

Word Count: 1,233
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

When Employees Don’t Work Out

Even the best companies have some ‘bad hires’ from time to time.  That doesn’t mean the person is bad… just not a good fit for the company or job.  Employee weaknesses – and every person has some — usually surface within weeks or months after being hired.   Sometimes a new hire simply cannot do essential parts of the job for which he was hired.  Or is too slow in their work speed.  Sometimes a new hire has a bad attitude and cannot get along with others.  Or a short time after being hired, the employee starts getting to work late and taking a lot of time off.  Or perhaps a long-term employee gets moved to a position that is beyond her ability.  Or maybe the company recruits a reputed superstar only to learn that the luminary’s reputation shines brighter than what he can actually do.  It doesn’t take long for the bad employee’s supervisor to know the employee is not performing adequately.  And yet, the person is not let go.  Why?  There are a multitude of reasons why a bad employee might still be on the job.  Some are legitimate considerations and others not.   Here are a few of the most common. Continue reading

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Penny Wise and Pound Foolish in Business

Word Count: 1,551
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

The Search for Spending Balance

Most companies – not including big tech companies like Google, Apple and Netflix — watch their expenses carefully to ensure that they aren’t leaking profits, like a boat with a hole.   After all, business owners should always be looking for ways to maximize revenue while minimizing expenses to ensure the business makes a profit.  That is obvious.  But, deciding how much money a company spends on a myriad of expenses is often an exercise similar to walking a tightrope.  A company that spends freely and lavishly can result in a culture of excess that leads to employee waste and carelessness, while a company that is excessively vigilant and tight with the purse strings can create a culture that is demoralized and discouraged, and ultimately unwilling to go the extra mile or contribute big ideas.  The goal, then, should be to spend adequately… enough to keep morale and motivation high while keeping turnover and frivolousness low.   That is great, in theory, but what does that look like in practice?  How money is allocated is a proxy or indicator for what the leadership values.   It sends a message.  The only question then is what message a company wants to send to its people through money.  There are various options, from one end of the generosity spectrum to the other. Continue reading

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Building a Team with Depth and Backup Support

Word Count: 1,461
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

The Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors went head to head in the National Basketball League’s Championship Finals this month.  To hear those two names in the Finals shocked just about everyone.  On the one hand, the Warriors were very familiar with Championships since they were in the Finals the last four out of five consecutive years and won.  For good reason.  They have some of the all-time best players in the NBA including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson.  It’s a team that really favors promoting from within and home-grown talent.  And, the organization fosters an extremely close-knit team culture where the hardest workers are invariably the best players.  This approach allowed them to develop a nearly unstoppable team.  Nearly. Continue reading

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The Biggest Driving Force is a Hunger to Succeed

Word Count: 1,593
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

What is hunger?  Meriam-Webster Dictionary calls it a strong desire or craving; an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food.  When it comes to food, every person knows firsthand what hunger feels like.  In a way, it is like an itch that needs scratching.  You know it when you feel it.

In the case of hunger for success, that is a deeper kind of need not just to survive but to thrive.  And, it functions like a type of rocket fuel for human drive and determination.  Hunger is the “je ne sais quoi” trait – a quality that cannot be adequately described – that propels a person to never quit… to persevere against daunting odds.  Hunger allows a person to dig deeper within themselves even when tired or discouraged.  It helps the person to keep going in the face of adversity and challenges.  Hunger for success isn’t always driven by poverty or scarcity.  It often comes from a more fundamental need to prove one’s worth and value.   And that kind of hunger can make a person achieve what might otherwise seem impossible. Continue reading

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Best Advice for Entrepreneurs Starting a Business

Word Count: 1,718
Estimated Read Time: 7 min.

By most accounts, the economy is doing well.  Unemployment and inflation are low.  And, the new tax laws are definitely ‘pro business’.  Indeed, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) now allows many
owners of small proprietorships, trusts and S corporations to deduct 20% of their qualified business income.  That tax plan also features an abundance of new deductions, tax credits and tools for entrepreneurs to use to reduce their tax burden. Continue reading

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Stay in Your Lane, Part 2

Word Count: 1,299
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Management by committee is often ineffective.   And, empowering a person to evaluate work who is not knowledgeable about the work product is not just pointless, but can actually be damaging.  At best, it can come across as overstepping bounds to specialists who did the work.  At worst, it can come across as disrespectful, dismissive and threatening.  This can cause deep rifts in professional relationships and is an underlying cause of employee turnover. Continue reading

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Stay in Your Lane, Part 1

Word Count: 1,444
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

In the recent running of the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security — the horse that crossed the finish line first and was initially proclaimed the winner — was disqualified 23 minutes later by the judges.  The second-place finisher, Country House, then became the winner.  The disqualification was a result of something Maximum Security did.  It was an action that was visible on the video footage of the race and was not disputed by anyone including the jockey riding Maximum Security.  Midway during the second turn of the track, Maximum Security jumped out several paths and dangerously impeded the progress of multiple other horses.  That is viewed as a foul in the sport in any race, on any track, any day of the year, and, it is grounds for disqualification.  That it happened to the horse who was favored to win the prestigious Kentucky Derby and cost him a $3 Million prize was tragic.  It was also the right call, despite all of the opinions to the contrary. Continue reading

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Making the Most of LinkedIn – Part 2

Word Count: 1,657
Estimated Read Time: 6 1/2 min.

Avoid the Common Mistakes Made on LinkedIn

If sharing and contributing is key to getting the most out of LinkedIn, it is also the trickiest thing to navigate.  Here are some things you may want to avoid as you spend more time building a network and nurturing those connections. Continue reading

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Making the Most of LinkedIn – Part 1

Word Count: 1,451
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Leveraging LinkedIn to Supercharge your Career

Launched in 2003 and acquired by Microsoft in 2016, LinkedIn has grown into one of the premier professional social media websites in the world.  Of its current roughly 610 million users in over 200 countries, about a quarter of LinkedIn users — 146 million – are located in the U.S.[1] Keep in mind that of the 326 million people in the U.S., about 157 million are employed.  So one could deduce that most working people are on LinkedIn.  And for those wondering how many of those 610 million are “regular users”, note that LinkedIn has 260 million “monthly unique active users”.[2] That’s about 44%.  There’s no way to know how many of the active users are in the U.S. vs. the rest of the world, but one could speculate that the percentage of U.S. users is likely somewhat higher than those in other countries.  That means that probably at least half of all U.S. workers on active on LinkedIn every month.  That is a HUGE potential network. Continue reading

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Perception and Reality

Word Count: 1,387
Estimated Read Time: 5 ½ min.

Cambridge English Dictionary defines perception as a thought, belief, or opinion often held by many people and based on appearances.  So a perception is based on how things appear… how we ‘see’ them with our senses and interpret that information with our minds. However, what we perceive is not always fact.  Depending on the context, our interpretation of what we see can give an impression that is different from reality.  These can happen with or without malice or intent to deceive.

This happens a lot with design.  Something might be made to look either much bigger or much smaller depending on the context in which it is presented.  That would be considered an illusion, and there are many different kinds of illusions.   Here are some common ones.

The Delboeuf Illusion – is an optical effect related to relative size perception. If the same circle is placed inside two different concentric circles, its size will apparently vary.  This illusion is named after Franz Joseph Delboeuf, a Belgian philosopher, who first recognized the effect.  In the best-known example of the illusion, two circles of identical size are placed near each other.  One is surrounded by an annalus (or little ring) which is a region bounded by two concentric circles.  The surrounded circle then appears larger than the non-surrounded circle if the annulus is close, while appearing smaller than the non-surrounded circle if the annulus is distant. 

How might the Delboeuf Illusion be applied in business in a positive way?  One positive application might be for weight loss apps and programs.  The Delboeuf Illusion has been found to help people moderate how much food they put on their plate for a meal.  A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that due to the Delboeuf illusion, participants overestimated the diameter of food on plates with wider rims compared with those with thinner rims.  And, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, in which researchers asked participants to serve themselves soup in bowls of different sizes, found that individuals poured more soup in larger bowls, on average, than in smaller bowls.  The researchers believed the Delboeuf Illusion explained the different behavior.  By advising clients to use smaller plates and bowls, weight loss apps could help clients put less food on their plates, thereby eating less and possibly reaching their target weight faster.

Now, how might the Delboeuf Illusion affect businesses and consumers in a negative way?  In the case of food packaging, the effect could be used to make something smaller seem bigger.  A decade ago, peanut butter manufacturers did just that… not with a circle but with a half-sphere or dimple.   In 2008, Skippy peanut butter added a "dimple" in the design of their jars.  Instead of having a flat bottom like any normal plastic jar, their jars were suddenly concave — denting inward. The weight of the jar, which had previously been 18oz, became 16.3oz. However, the price did not change.  The buyer received 9.44% less peanut butter.  Providing nearly 10% less peanut butter in one jar meant the buyer would run out sooner than usual, and buy it more frequently throughout the year without knowing why.  In quick succession, the rest of the major peanut butter manufacturers copied Skippy’s design dimple.  This is a classic example of the Delboeuf Illusion… making something that was smaller seem bigger by altering the space around it.[1]  This benefited manufacturers and grocery chains who had customers returning to the store more often.  It did not, however, benefit consumers or businesses that used peanut butter as part of what they provided to customers. 

Peanut butter manufacturers weren’t the only food packagers who made use of the Delboeuf Illusion.  In Priceless: The Hidden Psychology of Value, William Poundstone explained that consumers might switch peanut butter brands if the price went up, but did not switch brands if the jar shrunk but the price stayed the same.[2]  That would explain why, that same year, Kellogg also made thinner cereal boxes for brands such as Cocoa Krispies, Fruit Loops, and Apple Jacks.  However, they kept the width, height, and price the same.  The result is that no one really noticed.  There was no major public outcry.  Consumers did not examine the label to see how much food was in the box compared to before.  People trusted their eyes and the price seen over and over again.

The Ebbinghaus Illusion – Another common optical effect is the Ebbinghaus Illusion, also referred to as the Titchener circles.  This effect is related to relative size perception.  When two circles of identical size are placed near to each other, and one is surrounded by large circles while the other is surrounded by small circles, the result of the juxtaposition of the circles is that the central circle surrounded by large circles appears smaller than the central circle surrounded by small circles.  

 

This illusion was named after its discoverer, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909).  However, it became well-known in the 20th century when Professor Edward Titchener added it to his 1901 experimental psychology textbook. 

There seems to be two critical factors involved in the perception of the Ebbinghaus illusion.  These are the distance of the surrounding circles from the central circle and the completeness of the annulus, similar to the Delboeuf Illusion.  Regardless of relative size, if the surrounding circles are closer to the central circle, the central circle appears larger and if the surrounding circles are far away, the central circle appears smaller. While the distance variable appears to be an active factor in the perception of relative size, the size of the surrounding circles limits how close they can be to the central circle.

The Ebbinghaus Illusion is often used in a negative way in TV and printed media advertising. In 2008 in the UK, a furniture store owner was told by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to withdraw his advertisement from TV broadcast because of the false impression it gave to the viewers about the true size of the sofa. DFS used green screen technology to manipulate the size of actors superimposed into the advertising video, which made the sofas placed next to the actors look larger than they really were. However, interventions by government entities in the U.S. and abroad on the grounds of an illegitimate use of Ebbinghaus Illusion in advertising is rare.  Advertisers get away with similarly blatant manipulation of product size for marketing purposes.  That said, the use of the Ebbinghaus Illusion is not limited to marketing.

Also, it has been used in a positive way by companies to reflect the value of money.  The perceived value of money is determined by the comparison between the subject (money) and the anchor or context in which a valuation takes place. Therefore, the perceived value of money can be affected by influencing the context in which the valuation takes place. For example, a brand-name purse priced at $100 might seem expensive in a suburb of Newark.  But, if that same purse were sold in Manhattan, then it might seem like a bargain if found at a shop on Fifth Avenue.

Perception versus Reality
Given that what we see, hear and read in the world is just a perception – one that can be distorted by our own experiences, thinking errors and optical illusions of which we are likely not aware – then leaders must careful with the decisions they make based on what seems to be real.  The key is to seek other validation that confirms that what seems real is in fact true.  As companies look to shape perception of their own brand and make business decisions based on perceptions, the key is to dig a little deeper – and look beyond the surface – to validate if the perception is reality.  After all, things are not always what they seem.

Case in point.  Recently, Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse – a career platform and job discovery tool serving more than 5 million professionals — said “People actually aren’t moving on from companies much more quickly than in the past, but there’s a perception that they do, so companies are investing less in talent on the assumption that young employees won’t stay long.”  The perception of high Millennial turnover is causing companies to invest less in people, which could in turn increase turnover thereby turning a perception that was not true into an unfortunate reality. 

Quote of the Week
"Your opinion is your opinion, your perception is your perception – do not confuse them with “facts” or “truth”.  Wars have been fought and millions have been killed because of the inability of men to understand the idea that EVERYBODY has a different viewpoint." John Moore


[1]September 28. 2016, Lee Breslouer, You’re Getting Cheated Out of Peanut Butter, Thrillist, https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/peanut-butter-jar-size-prices-explained

[2] Poundstone, William, The Hidden Psychology of Value, Published by Oneworld Publications, 2010.

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