Saturday, 20 October 2012

Plead Guilty Everytime

If you are looking to hire a leader, a hard worker who will be looked up to, what personal traits would you short list?

How high up that short list would 'Guilt' be? Probably not very. However some research conducted in 2011 by Francis J. Flynn at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has put forward the idea that Guilt should be near the top of the list.

In the Harvard Business Review, Flynn describes how he gave 150 workers in the Finance Dept. of a Fortune 500 Company a standard psychological test. The test (TOSCA - Test of Self-Conscious Affect) measured the workers tendency to feel guilt. The results were then compared with actual performance reviews. The results were clear, the more an employee was prone to guilt, the higher the rating they got from their boss in reviews.

Flynn found this very interesting as the TOSCA and the performance ratings were completely independent but the link between performance and guilt was well established. Flynn and his colleagues conducted some follow up research which showed that the guilt prone were also more committed to their organizations and were seen as stronger leaders by their peers.

The research also suggested that guilt-ridden people were more likely to accept layoffs and carry them out. Flynn explained that it was not that they don’t feel guilty about laying people off, "it’s that they feel obligated to support their employer, so they accept layoffs as a way to reduce costs".

So next time you are hiring someone whom you want to be a hard worker, be leadership material, can be counted on to be fully committed to the organisation and if necessary conduct the unattractive business of redundancies, select the guilty.

You could give a TOSCA test, or have a chat about their previous experience, or have candidates involved in some role play scenario, where they will have to confront a potentially guilt laden situation and comment on how guilty they feel.

You probably know your own staff pretty well, especially if you work in a small or medium size company. Think of the people you know that would be the type to feel guilty. Are they also committed and hard-working, are they people the company can count on? If so then perhaps add 'Guilt' to the attributes for your next hires.

Just to note: The article in the Harvard Business Review was well contested and the comments section has several points taking issue with the research.

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