Monday December 9, 2013
You're familiar with the placebo, a pill or treatment with no intrinsic therapeutic value that's administered to a control group in medical research. Then there's the placebo effect, through which people become convinced of the efficacy of the phony therapy and get better strictly through the power of mind over matter.
The placebo also has a "dark twin," in the words of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter. This is called the nocebo. Just as positive thoughts can make people feel well, negative thoughts can make them sick. In medical research, it has been found that people warned about the side effects of medication are more likely to develop them than people who are not. Moreover, people given a placebo and cautioned about imaginary side effects often manifest them, though there is no physical reason why they should.
How does all this tie into financial careers? Financial organizations are constantly fielding urgent demands for data and analysis from senior management. The pressure is compounded by the unrealistic expectations behind many of these inquiries, and high-level executives' poor understanding of the realities of how their companies actually function. From firsthand experience, I can attest to how working under a financial manager with a positive, can-do attitude translates into high staff morale and effectiveness, even under such trying conditions.
I also have firsthand experience with working under and among managers who foster an atmosphere of crisis, panic and finger-pointing. They often act surprised about dismal employee morale and the resulting high employee turnover. This is the human nocebo, a denizen of many organizations.
While a departmental controller in an environment like the latter, I had the added unofficial title, I kid you not, of departmental morale officer. My main challenge in this regard was to convince my boss (otherwise a fine person) to check her tendency to react in a panicked fashion to every new ill-thought demand or directive from above. An equally tough task was opening her eyes to how a trusted lieutenant of hers was the source of most of the negative energy in the group, and most of the finger pointing.
In a flash of inspiration, I devised a means to neutralize the human nocebo in our midst. See my case study in using an employee survey to discredit a politically-entrenched negative influence.
Thursday December 5, 2013
Checking or verifying resumes presents a huge challenge for hiring managers and human resources staff who seek to vet potential outside hires. The problem is not nearly as acute with internal candidates, since their accomplishments and records within their current firms normally are known quantities.
Accordingly, people seeking to change employers often have many temptations to bend the truth in their resumes and job applications. Follow the link for details, including a case study, on how this form of employment fraud can be perpetrated. If you are contemplating hiring an outside candidate whose resume seems too good to be true, perhaps it is, for the reasons discussed in this article.
Sunday December 1, 2013
During my career at Merrill Lynch, my eyes were opened to the value of hiring a personal publicist as a method of career enhancement. Much against typical corporate policy at the time, the firm hired an inveterate job hopper into a highly visible position, just below the executive level. From day one stories emerged about how this person seemed to have remarkably little insight or expertise to offer, yet somehow kept getting press mentions as a leading light in the industry, much to the consternation of one and all.
How was this possible? Another fact that soon surfaced was that this person had a personal publicist on retainer, and a very adept one at that. Follow the link for details on how this strategy can work for ambitious people on the move.
Wednesday November 27, 2013
One of the traditional symbols of Thanksgiving is the cornucopia, or horn of plenty. This gets me thinking about Critical Few Objectives, a.k.a. CFOs. Too many managers, especially senior executives, do a terrible job of keeping such lists of objectives focused and short. Instead, they have an annoying tendency to add objectives during the year without deleting any. The result is chaos.
When I was a departmental controller, the head of this group attended a weekly staff meeting hosted by her boss. Without fail, each time she'd return breathless, telling me that I had to add at least two more items to our group's CFOs. I'd then ask the same tough question each week: "OK, what comes off the list?" Stunned silence would ensue.
My stock response? "When everything's a priority, nothing is." Indeed. When a list of the "critical few" has metastasized into a 100-item blob, it is beyond comprehension and control. Actually, it never quite got that bad, but without my constant badgering (which was not entirely appreciated, as you might guess), it very well might have.
If you ever become a controller with chief of staff responsibilities attached, beware of unfocused bosses thus prone to mission creep. Attempting to rein them in may be difficult and frustrating, but letting them add indiscriminately to CFOs is a recipe for disaster down the road. This is a big, yet rarely commented-upon, problem in the corporate world.