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Posts tagged ‘Research’

Organizations like to describe women as “abrasive”

The gender bias in performance reviews can be pretty ridiculous.

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How old and experienced is an average CEO?

In the fall of 2012, I had a semi-interesting conversation with a kid I was going to graduate school with. At the time, I think I was 31; the other person in question was 24. We were both males. The topic was, essentially: when is our career peak? I try not to think about this too much, because while I like most of the jobs I’ve had to some extent, I still ultimately view work as a means to an end — as in, I don’t necessarily like to professionally define myself by it. Anyway: I’ve heard a male’s career peak starts around 47 — some have argued it’s much younger — so in this context, I was 9-16 years away from it and this other kid was 16-24 years away from it. Big difference in how you look at things if you’re really into work as a defining element, right?

I don’t think I’ll ever become a CEO, nor do I think I’d necessarily want to ever become a CEO, but … I do find some of the data around when people make that big career push interesting. There are obviously a lot of different ways one can become a CEO, and a lot of different-sized companies at which this can happen, so it’s hard to generalize across a wide variety of situations. That said, this is interesting: the CEO of Burger King is 33 right now. (He was a partner at 3G Capital Partners, which was a private equity firm that already owned about 70 percent of Burger King; he moved over to BK in 2010 and became CEO last year.) In the same article, you learn that — for the S&P 500 — the average CEO age is 57.

In Britain, an FTSE 100 (one public exchange) study saw the average CEO age at 55; for the FTSE 250, it was 52. Globally, an average CEO is 54, and probably went to Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford with a degree in economics or engineering. (Remember, that’s a global average.)

Interestingly, that same British study last year saw an average age of 46 on one exchange, meaning that are leaders are seemingly getting older — or the stats are being misread.

Think about this broadly, then: if your average career is from about 22 to 70 (let’s say that in the most generic sense possible), that’s 48 years of working. (Shudder.) If you are in that CEO boat and you get there around 54 (the average globally), that means you’ve been working 32 years before you get there — assuming you didn’t go back to school or anything (globally, many CEOs do have advanced degrees). Let’s say, then, that in an average global context, it takes about 30 years of work + 2-3 years of additional education to grab the top rung of the corporate ladder.

Well then:

  • 30 years is a long time, meaning that whether you’re job-hopping or sticking it out across 1-3 organizations, you need to play it pretty close to the vest for about three decades so as not to politically slip up.
  • Across 30 years, there’s a huge body of work on a person — which leads you to wonder what the central characteristics leading to promotion really are.
  • If you become a top dog at 54 and don’t intend to relinquish it, that means you might hold the post somewhere on order of 11-15 years. (That almost never happens; average CEO tenure is rising, but it’s still under about five years.)

I guess the biggest thing I took away from this statistical picture is that your career is ultimately a marathon and not a sprint; you have a lot of people you interact with (and need to impress / kiss the ass of / step on / etc.) over the arc of a career between the starting point and the potential peak point, and you basically need to contextualize yourself as rising throughout that entire period. That can be challenging, even for the very career-focused.

Here’s a final thing I wonder about: performance reviews are mostly a train wreck; at higher levels, they’re not even really done (and if they are, it’s more of a ‘scorecard’-type system). You could argue that people receiving performance reviews are probably still kinda down the chain — so another study that would be interesting is this: how many years after your start date are most future CEOs out of the general pool that gets evaluated annually in a haphazard way? I’d bet that no future CEO is still getting standard performance evaluations by 33; they’re probably onto something much bigger or being handled in a different way, etc.


White attitudes on African-Americans in prisons are a never-ending circle

The whole topic of racial attitudes around incarnation is very fraught — and also very complicated, as entire bodies of research are penned on it across people’s careers. I can’t begin to scratch the surface. I do know this, as does seemingly everyone: African-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but represent 40 percent of those incarcerated. That flat-out seems wrong (is wrong). Again, it’s a very complex issue, but it seems to be a never-ending circle as well, per this new research from Stanford University (paper link here):

Although African-Americans constitute only 12 percent of America’s population, they represent 40 percent of the nation’s prison inmates.

But informing the white public of this disproportionate incarceration rate may actually bolster support for the very policies that perpetuate the inequality, according to a studypublished in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Stanford psychology researchers Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt found that when white people were told about these racial disparities, they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities.

So … let’s get this straight.

If you try and use really imbalanced stats (the 12-40 split above) to inform white people about how imbalanced it is, instead you scare them — and they want black people (or any violent offenders, I guess) to go away even more.

Phrased another way:

“Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality,” Hetey said. “But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.”

So … you can’t fight racial disparity with information, because information can lead to more fear. What options do you still have, then?

There’s an additional context here that’s relevant; you can make the argument that one of the big problems with reforming the criminal justice system — which is also a problem with reforming anything else, really — is that so many different people have so many different approaches to what needs to be done, as summarized by Vox:

As depressing as it is that telling white people about structural racism makes them support the structure more, what makes this study particularly interesting is that the criminal-justice reform movement isn’t just made up of people concerned about racism. Some fiscal conservatives want to reform the system to spend less money on prisons; some cultural conservatives are motivated by Christian notions of mercy and forgiveness. And some of the states that have most successfully worked to reform their prison policies are red states.

I do think it’s a little depressing that we’ve gotten to a place in American history where it’s nearly impossible to use actual information to solve problems (this goes into some of the issues around Big Data truly being a revolution). I wonder why that is often. Some theories:

  • We’re too partisan (people listen to what they like/understand)
  • Our attention spans are completely shot (we can only focus on one thing for so long)
  • We’re all so busy with our own stuff that it’s hard to really stop and think about these broader, bigger issues
  • We assume we’ll never have connection to/with inmates in our own life, so this isn’t something we really need to consider
  • Everyone, at the end of the day, likes to prioritize their gut feeling/passion over actual information

I’m honestly not sure of the answer — but it is sad that if you present information about a major racial disparity in incarceration rates, rather than inspiring action against the inequality, it actually can make Caucasians support the inequality. Awkward.

That said, I guess if you went around the streets of a major city talking about CEO pay and how many weeks it takes the average worker to make what the CEO makes in an hour, I’m not sure suddenly everyone would line up and start trying to re-do the American corporate compensation system; rather, they’d probably get their lunch and go back to their own job, focusing on their own stuff. So maybe information isn’t the key — maybe it’s connecting around human stories and thinking about different ways to get people to listen to you.



Want influence? The six factors are reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, likability and consensus.

If you look at the business world of 2014, the idea of being an influencer is pretty important. After all, social media has played a role in adjusting the conventional marketing funnel — and the standard relationships between advocacy and adoption are different. Think about this, as a small example: American Airlines let people into their club lounges last year if they had a Klout score of 55 or higher. Influence matters, especially social influence. In fact, if you were to sit through a wide variety of business meetings/presentations, probably a good deal of people would mention the term “influencer.”

So it helps to stop and think — what are the core components that make someone an influencer? (This is a little bit similar to how to get people to listen to you, or how to approach habit formation and re-formation.)

These are the six key factors:

  • Reciprocity: Giving back what you have received from others.
  • Scarcity: People want more of what there’s less of.
  • Authority: Be credible, have knowledge.
  • Consistency: Deliver what you say you will, and when you will.
  • Likability: People like to say yes to those they like.
  • Consensus: Looking to the actions of others to figure out your own actions.

These are all pretty basic things, but it’s a helpful way to look at the idea of “influence.”

In strictly business terms, “scarcity” is probably one of the easiest for an organization to achieve — think of ‘Limited Time Sales’ — as is “reciprocity” (maybe a little bit further down the chain). There was a big movement in social strategy around late 2012 / early 2013 to have social become a place where fans/customers’ concerns and needs were addressed; I’ve seen less of that recently, but there are still some companies that do a pretty good job with it. Authority and consistency come with time, as do likability and consensus (“consensus” in a business sense somewhat correlates to “market share”).

This is all based on the work of Robert Cialdini, for the most part:

Another way to look at this: tell your story, be humble, and gain consistency and authority through those means over time. If you want a more visual way to consider this, look at the following infographic:


This 430 million days of unused paid vacation a year is so sad for Americans

You may have seen some of these stats — they’ve been on morning shows and evening news for a couple of days now. Basically, Americans don’t take as much vacation as they should; 430 million days of paid vacation time is left on the table every year. Here’s the report; the first part of the title is “Overwhelmed America.” This has led to a bunch of discussions about being a “work martyr,” and quotes like this:

“We found that people have this whole busyness as a badge of honor thing,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “We’re becoming a nation of work martyrs. People really wear it on their sleeves how they don’t take time off. Everyone around the world looks at Americans like we’re crazy.”

That quote made me feel smarter than I really am, because I’ve written about the same topic before.

Now, a personal story — and a bit of a sad one at that, but bear with me. Last fall, my aunt passed away fairly young (about 60). It was a tragic situation because it happened pretty quickly; she essentially got sick in July and passed away in October. At the end of her life — I wasn’t there day to day, but I know people who were — she never talked about work and spreadsheets and clients and bookings, but she talked about memories and experiences and trips. For example, her and my uncle had gone on a genealogy trip in the last 18 months of her life, and also gone to the Caribbean with friends. That’s what was on her mind at the end.

I’m not trying to argue that you should make life decisions based on how you might feel when you’re close to the end of your life, but I do think you need some context around how to think about things. Too often, we get caught up in the day-to-day of what we do and what our responsibilities are, and we don’t realize the bigger picture. First off, vacations let you re-charge and reflect and relax; all of those are good things in terms of your professional existence. If all you do is grind, you’re basically grinding yourself to a nub. You need those periods of breaking away; weekends are good, but they’re not everything. Weekends become errands and stuff too.

Quotes like this are ridiculous:

Managers didn’t set a very good example either. The survey found that nearly half answer emails on their vacation, three in 10 return work calls and just 37 percent of senior managers surveyed fully unplug from work while they’re away.

Get awayHave experiences. The work will be there when you come back.

In this same study, I read something like 30 percent of people were “afraid” to take vacation because they thought other people might jump them at work, or something like that. Asinine. If someone is going to jump you because you’re gone for a work week or maybe a little more than a work week, then you live in a politically-fraught environment where someone might jump you when you’re there doing your work. If the people making promotion decisions are going to penalize you for taking some time off, that’s not a place you want to become a manager anyway; I don’t care how high the salary is. Life isn’t about Excel.

Here’s some common excuses and rebuttals. Look it over and make some notes.

Final thing: as people are living longer, there’s this idea that “what” generations leave to the next generation will change. For years, that model was “money” (as in, inheritance/etc.) Now the idea is the grandparent generation does OK for itself, and they take big family trips — in the travel and leisure industry, they call that “multi-generational” — and in the process of spending some of the nest egg, they’re giving their children and grandchildren experiences as opposed to cash on the barrel when they’re gone. I think you’re going to see more and more of that, especially as “real wealth” is probably going to get harder to accumulate.

Look, life is about the value of the experiences and the connections you make; work is a part of that, but it’s not something that should define everything. Travel is a way to experience life and gain context. Do it. You’ll still have a job to get after when you get back.



Humans and Neanderthals may have overlapped in Europe for 5,400 years

These numbers are way different than what we thought earlier, and speaks to the idea of interbreeding.

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Home Depot just taught you something about the housing market

That video above is from a year ago, but the current Home Depot fiscal situation is seemingly a lot better — their second-quarter profit just climbed 14 percent and they’re trading at around $88/share now (that’s up!). Check out this chart of their overall quarterly profit, too:

Home Depot Profits

Here’s the interesting aspect, via Quartz. Home Depot calls larger contractors “pros.” They classify smaller contractors as, well, “smaller contractors.” Apparently sales to the former are doing well:

Home Depot executives noted that sales to larger contractors—known as “pros” in Home Depot lexicon—are outpacing sales overall at the company, which is a good indicator of the health of Home Depot’s housing-related business. However, sales to smaller contractors aren’t growing as fast. “We think a lot of these smaller pros in the depth of the housing recession really exited the business, to start to work for some of the larger pros,” a Home Depot executive told analysts.

Larger contractor sales are outpacing overall sales? The company has $23 billion in sales. You’d have to figure that if you take the high-volume of overall sales in concert with the “outpacing” idea, it means that Americans are (for the most part) investing back in their houses again. That has to be a generally good sign, right?

That said, there are widespread variations at the local level:



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