Restrictive Work Policies: Gaining Employee Buy-In

Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2013)
Article: Response to restrictive policies: Reconciling system justification and psychological reactance
Reviewed by: Rachel Williamson

In this day and age, many managers are finding themselves in the tough position of enforcing restrictive work policies on their employees. For example, a company may no longer allow vacation days to be taken during a busy week or on specific days of the week. This can be a tough position. Getting employee buy-in on restrictive work policies can prove quite challenging. Yet, the manager has to enforce what is best for the company, while at the same time keeping the employees content with their job. So, when enforcing a restrictive policy is necessary, how can managers simultaneously keep their employees happy?

This article looks at four studies that examined enforcing restrictive work policies in different scenarios, and how they helped or hurt employees’ adoption of the policies. Ultimately, these studies suggest that employees can be more hostile to policies, when the policy is presented as restrictive. However, when employees learn of a similarly restrictive policy, but aren’t given any indication that the policy is restrictive, they will not respond as negatively.

For organizations, this means, when enforcing a restrictive work policy, careful phrasing and presentation is important. If the policy is introduced without indications that it is restrictive, many employees will justify the organization’s need for the policy.

The authors of this article did not specifically argue organizations should always use this tactic to enforce restrictive policies on their employees more easily. However, it a good tool, allowing management to do what is best for the organization, without triggering negative feelings in those affected. Of course, this tactic should be orchestrated in the background and not openly discussed. It is important to note too, that even if this tactic is employed, employees may still arrive at their own conclusions that a policy is restrictive. Rather than this being the go-to tactic for restrictive work policies, it may be a better fit for organizations having a difficult time with employee buy-in. If organizations are able to sell restrictive work policies to employees without identifying that the policy is restrictive, the employees may subconsciously justify the policy, allowing the organization to have an easier time putting the policy into action.

Implementing Creative Ideas at Work

Publication: Academy of Management Journal (2012)
Article: Putting creativity to work: The implementation of creative ideas in organizations
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

Creativity is an interesting thing. It tends to strike people differently at different times. For me, I am most creative in the air; generally while enjoying my micro-pretzels from Delta.

But creativity is completely useless unless you can make your ideas a reality. In my job, I am lucky that I have a cool boss who lets me bring my weird, atypical ideas to life. (I’m also hoping I get props from my boss for calling her “cool” in print.)

Sadly, the implementation of creative ideas at work is not simple. Creativity challenges the status quo. Change can make people uncomfortable, even combative. People often resist creativity, because they aren’t sure the results will be worth the risk.

In this study, researchers wanted to learn what factors lead to creative solutions. Specifically, they found that individuals with many creative ideas were more likely to have those ideas implemented when they also possessed a high motivation for successful completion, strong ties within the organization (for buy-in), and robust networking abilities. But when the researchers dug a little deeper, they found some factors predicted implementation more than others. Overall, the findings suggest that the link between creative ideas and their implementation is very complex, and must take into account individual, relationship, and situational factors.

Creativity does not equate to implementation; just as micro-pretzels do not equate to being in first class.

What do you think helps get creative ideas at work implemented?

Good Stats Make Us Uncomfortable (IO Psychology)

Topic: Organizational Performance, Statistics, Strategic HR
Publication: Harvard Business Review (OCT 2012)
Article: The True Measures of Success
Authors: M. J. Mauboussin
Reviewed By: Megan Leasher

Down2In striving for profitability, companies often rely on key indicators of organizational performance.  Common indicators like sales growth, customer loyalty, and earnings per share often guide strategy decisions and resource allocation.  But sometimes key indicators may not be that “key” after all.  They may have little or no true connection to profitability.

Organizations might not be aware of this and continue to rely on these same measures because they feel as though they matter.  Their intuition overrides everything else and as a result they don’t do the due diligence to determine what actually leads to profit.  They become overconfident, grab onto any numbers that are easily available, and rely on things they have always looked at in the past.  They choose what they like and what feels comfortable.  But they don’t actually analyze.  So how can we know if something truly predicts value?  We cannot leverage something we don’t know.

This article focuses on identifying indicators that serve as true statistical predictors of value.  The author emphasizes that for an indicator to be truly connected to value it must be both predictive and persistent.  Indicators that are predictive demonstrate a statistical link to value; a link strong enough that we feel confident saying there is a connection that has meaning and is not due to chance.  Indicators that are persistent stand the test of time; they reliably show that that an outcome is controlled by applying skill or knowledge, and is not random.

The author advocates several steps in selecting the best indicators of organizational performance.  These steps include defining a clear business objective, developing theories to determine what measures might link to the objective, and statistically testing the relationship between the measures and the objective.

As I read these steps they made complete sense to me, but my data-happy left brain went nuts, thinking about others questions that should be considered.  Like: “What else do we already measure?…Could it matter?” and “What else can we measure?…What else should we measure?” and “What other viewpoints are we not taking into account?” and “What curveballs could come our way?”

Sometimes a meaningful statistic can push us out of our comfort zone.  Actually, sometimes a meaningful statistic should push us out of our comfort zone.  It might not make automatic, inherent sense to us, especially at first.  If all statistics made complete, gut-happy sense to us we wouldn’t need them.  We could always rely on our intuition because it would always be correct.  But statistics are useful because they not only tell us how meaningful things might be related; they can surprise us with the sheer fact of what things might be related.

If a predictor of success isn’t pointing in the direction of success, it’s not a predictor.  It’s simply a number.  And a useless one at that.

Mauboussin, M. J. (October 2012).  The true measures of success.  Harvard Business Review, 46-56.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management





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Inviting the Inquiry of Science into Strategic Planning (IO Psychology)

Topic: Business Strategy, Creativity, Strategic HR
Publication: Harvard Business Review (SEPT 2012)
Article: Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy
Authors: A. G. Lafley, R. L. Martin, J. W. Rivkin, and N. Siggelkow
Reviewed By: Megan Leasher

Strategic planners sit down once a year.  They pride themselves on their scientific rigor in how they analyze and shoot down every idea they generate.  They then proceed with a less-than-stellar, not-so-innovative idea, and they wonder why the organization doesn’t swoon with delight?  Lafley and colleagues (2012) assert that a key component of science is missing in these proceedings: the inquiry.  They argue that the scientific method must first begin with the brainstorming of novel hypotheses, then proceed into the design and testing of these hypotheses.  The authors detail a series of steps that incorporate the inquiry of science into strategic planning to achieve a more creative, successful, and efficient direction.

The first step is the key differentiator of the entire process.    This step entails identifying at least two mutual exclusive options to resolving the issue at hand.  All options must be framed as pure possibilities, devout of criticism, skepticism, and analysis.  This is where the invention and inquiry of science comes into play.  This is where we all get to be creative designers and dream into the realm of pure possibilities.  The authors describe possibility as any “happy story that describes how a firm might succeed” (p. 59).

Then the list of possibilities is broadened and time is taken to identify what conditions must hold true in order for each possibility to succeed.  Conditions may include things like customer support, market sustainability, or feasibility of supply.  All conditions must be framed positively, so that everyone feels confident in success if all conditions were to hold true.  Judgment, skepticism, and analysis are not yet allowed, so that all possibilities continue to be framed as positive.  After this, barriers that would prevent each condition to hold true are identified and ranked.  We now allow judgment and skepticism through the door, but analysis must still wait outside.

The next step is where experiments are designed to test the barriers to each condition.  We must ask: What are the right questions that will lead us to answers that we can have faith in?  As the authors mention, tests can be as simple as talking to a supplier, or as complicated as surveying thousands of customers.

We then conduct the tests and allow the scientific analysis to begin.  It’s time to put on our goggles, get data happy, and crunch the numbers.  The authors assert that the first test should always be of the condition that the group feels will least likely hold true.  If the test fails and the barrier is confirmed true, no further testing is needed and the possibility is rejected.  If the condition passes the test, move on to the next condition unlikely to hold true, and so on.  Tests for a possibility should only be conducted sequentially, never in parallel, to conserve effort and resources.

Lastly, the final possibility is selected.  After reviewing the results of all tests of the barriers, the group simply picks the solution with the fewest serious barriers left standing.  It is a relavitvely simple, anticlimactic step; all of the hard work has already been completed and we are left with practically a simple tally count.  It is important to call out that testing barriers to conditions provides evidence, not proof.  Evidence still requires human judgment that is fully aware that risk is always present.

I feel this framework has such potential and would love to see its value play out first hand.  But controlling the judgment and skepticism early on is a monumental challenge; this process requires a shift in mindset and determined, focused group leaders who can direct participants to frame all choices as possibilities for success.  Plus, a geek like me wants to jump right into the test design and analysis.  But to be “scientific,” we must inquire.  Science isn’t just analysis; it’s play, and brainstorming, and invention beyond your brain’s current capacity.

Lafley, A. G., Martin, R. L., Rivkin, J. W., Siggelkow, N. (Sept 2012).  Bringing science to the art of strategy.  Harvard Business Review, 57-66.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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Improve service climate to retain customers and increase profitability

Topic: Organizational Performance, Strategic HR
Publication: Human Resource Management (MAY/JUNE 2011)
Article: The service climate-firm performance chain: The role of customer retention
Authors: Towler, A., Lezotte, D. V., & Burke, M. J.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

When an organization wants to improve customer retention and therefore its profitability, it will often turn to marketing. But could HR provide another option? In this study, Towler, Lezotte, and Burke (2011) tested a model of the way in which service climate (conceptualized and measured by concern for employees and concern for customers) affects profitability.

The authors hypothesized that showing concern for employees would lead to employees showing concern for customers, which in turn would lead to customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are more likely to return, so customer satisfaction was predicted to lead to customer retention, which in turn was predicted to lead to store profitability. This model was tested using a huge sample of over 12,000 employees in 1,500 tire retail/vehicle service stores. The authors found full support for the model.

The results of this study indicate that if you want your employees to show concern for customers, you must first show concern for your employees. Their subsequent showing of concern for customers leads to more satisfied customers, who in turn become repeat customers, and that means profitability. Marketing therefore is not the only group that the organization should turn to for advice on customer retention – they should look to HR as well!

Towler, A., Lezotte, D. V., & Burke, M. J. (2011). The service climate-firm performance chain: The role of customer retention. Human Resource Management, 50, 391-406. Doi: 10.1002/hrm.20422

Is Bureaucracy Bad for Creativity? That Depends on You

Topic: Creativity, Strategic HR, Teams
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: How does bureaucracy impact individual creativity? A cross-level investigation of team contextual influences on goal orientation-creativity relationships
Authors: Giles Hirst, Daan Van Knippenberg, Chin-Hui Chen, & Claudia A. Sacramento
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

Bureaucracy and creativity. They might seem like mortal enemies—we often think of red tape and paper work as the killer of creative thinking—but it doesn’t have to be! Really, it depends on your employees. When we talk about goal orientation (why people do what they do), we usually take about three types of people. First, you have your learning-oriented workers. These are the ones who do what they do for sheer enjoyment of the work. They are intrinsically motivated. Second, you have your performance-prove-oriented employees. These workers want to show you how good they are. Third and finally, you have your performance-avoid workers. These are your risk-adverse employees—the rule followers. They all respond to bureaucracy differently, particularly when it comes to creativity.

We can divide bureaucracy into two dimensions—centralization and formalization. Centralization deals with the amount of decision making ability team members have. The more centralized decision making is, the less team members have opportunity to add their input. Formalization deals with the paperwork. It’s the policies and procedures employees have to adhere to in their job. Like centralization, the more formal the procedure, the less wiggle-room there is for workers.


Increase generic human capital to increase unit-specific human capital

Topic: Organizational Performance, Talent Management, Strategic HR
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (APR 2011)
Article: Acquiring and developing human capital in service contexts: The interconnectedness of human capital resources
Authors: Ployhart, R. E., Van Iddekinge, C. H., & MacKenzie, W. I.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

It is widely acknowledged that human capital is important, but does it matter whether the capital is generic (transferable to other organizations) or unit-specific (valuable to that particular work unit and not to others)? In this article, Ployhart, Van Iddekinge, and MacKenzie (2011) assessed both generic and unit-specific human capital in a large fast-food organization. They created and tested a model for how the two kinds of human capital relate to each other and to performance and effectiveness outcomes.

The level of generic human capital was based on the cognitive ability and personality of hired applicants, while unit-specific human capital was based on employees’ additional training.  The authors found that changes in generic and unit-specific human capital were positively related over time; that is, as generic human capital increased, so did unit-specific human capital. In addition, changes in unit-specific human capital were positively related to changes in unit service performance behavior (efficiency, service, quality), and changes in unit service performance behavior were positively related to changes in unit service effectiveness (unit financial success).

In other words, hire employees who are smart and whose personalities fit with their jobs.  This will establish strong bench strength and will set the organization up for success as employees are trained to build the skills necessary to excel in specific roles. 


Do you care about human capital? You should!

Topic: Organizational Performance, Talent Management, Strategic HR
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAY 2011)
Article: Does human capital matter? A meta-analysis of the relationship between human capital and firm performance
Authors: Crook, T. R., Todd, S. Y., Combs, J. G., Woehr, D. J., & Ketchen, D. J.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

It is often assumed that human capital is related to organizational performance, but the research literature provides mixed support for that assumption. In this article, the authors conducted a meta-analysis of 66 studies to clarify the seemingly contradictory research on the relationship between human capital and firm performance.

The authors found that human capital was positively related to firm performance, but that the relationship was moderated by the type of measure used and the type of human capital. The relationship was stronger when performance was measured with operational performance measures (e.g., customer service satisfaction or innovation), as opposed to global performance measures (e.g., returns on assets or returns on sales). The relationship between human capital and performance was also stronger when the human capital was firm-specific as opposed to being general human capital.


Building successful and sustainable HR interventions

Topic: Change Management, Strategic HR
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (JUN 2011)
Article: HR interventions that go viral
Authors: Yost, P. R., McLellan, J. R., Ecker, D. L., Chang, G. C., Hereford, J. M., Roenicke, C. C., Town, J. B., & Winberg, Y. L.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Why do some HR interventions fail while others succeed? In this article, Yost et al. (2011) attempt to answer that question by using three different methods: a literature review, a case study, and interviews with senior I/O and HR professionals. The authors provided a case study of a successful HR intervention. They noted five important characteristics of the intervention:

  1. It was strategic. Resources and tools were written in alignment with business strategy.
  2. It was systemic. The intervention complemented and enhanced other company initiatives.
  3. It was simple. Resources and tools were simple, easy to read and understand, and written in the language of business leaders (not that of HR).
  4. It was sustainable. The intervention was created with the explicit intent to sustain it for a long time.
  5. It was sneeze-able. It was designed to be interesting and passed on to others.

The authors also reviewed the literature and interviewed 16 senior I/O and HR professionals about both successful and unsuccessful HR interventions.


As with Fine Wines, Motivation Matures with Age

Topic: Motivation, Strategic HR
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (JAN 2011)
Article: Age and work-related motives: Results of a meta-analysis
Authors: D.T. Kooij, A.H. De Lange, P.G. Jansen, R. Kanfer, J.S. Dikkers
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

You’ve most likely read the following headline, “The US workforce is aging.” Whether organizations like it or not this change is coming and with it comes the possibility of skilled labor shortages and “brain drain”. To prevent this, companies have often turned to offering financial or other economic incentives to persuade employees to stay on.Does this work? What job qualities motivate a maturing employee?

The current research on motives suggests that as we age, our priorities change in regards to our need to develop ourselves professionally (growth), be emotionally connected to others (social), and maintain our personal resources (security). Our focus on intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards can also fluctuate. Kooij and colleagues (2011) recently analyzed the cumulative findings from 86 studies that explored the relationship between age and the motivation umbrella of needs, values, and motives. In general, older employees were found to be less motivated by growth opportunities (e.g., training and learning; depended on job type), work-related security, and extrinsic motivators.

A closer look at the individual work-related motives showed that older employees are MORE motivated by jobs that allow for accomplishment, interesting work, autonomy, helping others, and job security (intrinsic security). They also revealed that older employees are LESS motivated by jobs that focus on development/challenge, advancement/promotion, working with people, recognition, and compensation/benefits.