BLT McMuffin Ruined My Morning and Possibly My Career

BLT McMuffin Ruined my Morning and Possibly my Career
steak mcwheel. Photo courtesy of jordanalexduncan.

The new Egg BLT McMuffin nearly ruined my life.  I have data, I can prove it.  Don’t get me wrong, it tastes good.  But if you’re trying to get some morning mojo by picking up something in the drive-thru, do not buy this sandwich.

The bacon is an inconsistent shape and flatness, and the lettuce has a springiness that makes things unstable.  After three bites, my McMuffin started to fall apart, and the mayo ended up on my shirt and pants.  My first experiment with this horrible sandwich was on the day I met my new top client for the very first time.  When the moment came, I started talking before she had finished her sentence.  Twice.  My first impression with a very powerful person happened the day that McDonald’s chose to ruin my career.  I hereby call for a boycott of the Egg BLT McMuffin.

Your morning mood, prior to arriving at work, has a measurable impact on your workplace effectiveness.

Nancy Rothbard from University of Pennsylvania wrote an meaningful article in July 2016 in Harvard Business Review.  Rothbard was summarizing a paper she co-authored, “Waking Up on the Right or Wrong Side of the Bed: Start-of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, And Performance,” by Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk.  Academy of Management Journal, 2011, Vol. 54, No. 5, 959-980.

The study looks at customer service representatives in an insurance company — which had good performance metrics to begin with — to which they added surveys about employees’ moods.  They found that people who started their day happy “…stayed that way throughout the day, and interacting with customers tended to further enhance their mood.”  Those with a good start “…provided higher-quality service: they were more articulate on the phone with fewer “ums” and verbal tics, and used more proper grammar.”  And I bet they don’t cut people off, either.

By contrast, those who started their day in a bad mood “…didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day…”  The negative moods caused people to take more breaks, and the breaks were significant, “…leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.”  In my case, I struggled in the bathroom trying to get the oil out of my shirt with paper towel and hand-soap.  I am paid to do metrics, not laundry.

What can managers do to help?  Rothbard suggests that not sending evening emails will improve the employees’ recovery time, improving the likelihood of a good mood the next day.  And managers “…can allow employees a little space first thing in the morning, for example to chat with colleagues before an early meeting.”  Beyond Rothbard’s comments I think there is much more that can be done.

Managers are first and foremost the leaders of the mood of their team.  They need to share inspiration and positivity, since their mood has a contagion-effect on those who look up to them.  The manager needs to decide to be in a good mood, organize their life accordingly, and use their emotional contagion for the better.  If you are a leader, you might not be free to control the home life of your staff.  But you can finesse your own morning routine, and boost your team indirectly with a contagion-effect.

In a helpful article in, Allison Davis suggests that in order to have an effective morning, we need to take care of morning tasks the night before.  Your gym bag, your lunch, and your wardrobe must be in place before you wake up.  You need to plan your week or month prior to arriving at work, so that you arrive with a clear game plan.  You need to think through your “worry” items ahead of time, then write them down, forget about them, and arrive at work with a clear mind.

For this reason I ensure my shirts are cleaned and pressed on the weekend.  All I need is for McDonald’s to put a McMuffin into my hands, and I’m ready to get to the office a few minutes early and rock my day.  Just another perfect morning, with a spotless shirt and an Egg McMuffin in my hand.

I once took a great course on emotional intelligence through Coursera, taught by Richard Boyatsis from Case Western Reserve University.  The course is called Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence, and you can find it here.  Emotional intelligence is a complex field because it’s not just about being positive.  There’s significant brain science involved, and your understanding how the brain works in aclinical sense has a big impact on understanding and managing your gut response.

My favorite take-away was the distinction between two modes of thought.  The sympathetic nervous system is the mode where you are under some stress.  This mode is good for rules compliance, cranking-out large volumes of identical outputs, and – in my experience – a certain kind of perseverance.  By contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system is a relaxed state where you are open to new ideas; grateful and hopeful; and superior at creative thinking, strategy, and looking at the future.

In terms of how to get into this positive state, you should know that you typically wake up that way.  As frustrations and annoyances pile up through your morning, your blood thickens with stress and your mind narrows.  You’re usually done by noon, ready for an afternoon producing large volumes of rules-compliant outputs.  You can minimize these frustrations if you can plan a good morning routine.

Managers under significant stress are routinely pulled into the sympathetic nervous system.  They become uncivil.  They display a lack of emotional intelligence as they rise through the ranks.  Their reduced ability to understand those unlike themselves has an adverse effect on inclusion.

To be a good leader you need to control your stress, not just on-the-fly, but also in terms of how your life is organized.  Your get-out-the-door errands are typically thoughtless and mundane.  Therefore, it is best to take care of them when your sympathetic nervous system is active anyway, such as on evenings and Fridays.

Early in your day and early in your week is the natural time for creating great new ideas.  By contrast, bad decisions are typically made on a Friday afternoon.  How many really bad ideas can you think of that happened on a Friday afternoon?

I can think of one.  The sandwich-that-shall-not-be-named.  The Egg BLT McMuffin from McDonald’s.  I’ll bet five bucks it was invented on a Friday afternoon.  Because that’s the worst idea that has ever existed.

Love Will Keep Us Together, Even at the Office

Hugging Zebras. By Nicole Doherty
Hugging Zebras. Photo courtesy of Nicole Doherty.

Sexual dynamics in the workplace can be troublesome even when they turn out well, and the worst-case scenarios can be a disaster.  Yet, if you think about your experience and look at the stories in the news about workplace sexual harassment, there is a recurring theme that harassment displays a lack of love.  We live in a pivotal era when harassment is rightly being called-out on a mass scale. At the same time, emerging research indicates that workplaces with love are higher functioning.  What shall we do?

This is a longer post than usual because the well of love is deep.

One of the main studies is aptly named “What’s Love Got To Do with It? The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting” by Sigal G. Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, Administrative Science Quarterly, May 29, 2014.

Barsade & O’Neill conducted research on the work environment in long-term care facilities.  Their research is summarized in a Harvard Business Review article, concluding that:

“Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.  They showed up to work more often.  …this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life, satisfaction, and fewer trips to the ER.”

For those skeptical that long-term care facilities are too focused on care to embody a larger workforce trend, these findings were repeated in a follow-up study of seven different industries.

Barsade & O’Neill make a distinction when describing companionate love, which is “…based on warmth, affection, and connection rather than passion…”

In analytics, data definitions are extremely important because people can apply a word to multiple meanings, causing errors before they run the numbers.

The School of Life has a four-minute YouTube video asserting that “love” is a troublesome word which creates confusion and unrealistic expectations.

The video notes that the ancient Greeks used three different words with better meaning: eros is passionate love, philia is a warmer and more-loyal type of friendship, and agape is a charitable love that we feel for those who have acted badly, are in pain, or whose faults and weaknesses are endearing.  I interpret that companionate love it is a blend of philia and agape.

In a Harvard Business Review article from 2016, Duncan Coombe discusses people’s tendency to use euphemisms to avoid saying the word love.  “You might prefer to use words like compassion, respect, or kindness.  That’s okay.  They all speak to the core idea, which is intentionally expressing concern and care for the well-being of another.” (emphasis added)

A lot of business leaders are nervous about love being connected to lust.  Barsade & O’Neill tell an interesting story:

“…we talked with employees at a large aerospace defense contractor who told us about a newly acquired division that had a strong culture of love.  Employees there routinely greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek. Visiting executives from the parent company were alarmed to see this gesture, finding it not only inappropriate but possibly an invitation to sexual harassment lawsuits. Although they initially tried to prohibit such displays of affection, ultimately they decided to allow the culture to flourish within the division…”

Reflecting on the different types of love, it is important to consider that passion and concern for others are two very different things.  Sexual harassment largely consists of advances made with little concern for the well-being of others.  One of the central problems with our sexual culture is that women are often perceived as objects devoid of perspective, opinions, and feelings.  The opposite of this would be a world in which men are sincerely curious about, and interested in, the perspectives and opinions of women in the workplace. 

Men are reading the news, reflecting on their past, and getting nervous about whether they are going to be accused of harassment.  But this is healthy, since they can’t feel nervous without cultivating a concern for the feelings of others.  It is not so much that our culture needs to be de-sexualized, rather that we should all be aspiring to greater concern for one another’s perspectives, emotional state, and general wellbeing.  As such, organizational love — a combination of philia and agape — complements a harassment-free workplace.

Andrew Rosen at has a humorous blog post, asserting that the co-worker crush is good for the office.  In brief, people work harder, dress better, communicate more clearly, and have more spring in their step getting out the door on Monday morning.  Mind you, this is a description of outward behaviours.  Entry-level attempts to create a harassment-free environment include prescriptions about how we ought to behave.  Don’t stare at a colleague’s cleavage, say firefighter not fireman, don’t ask people where they are from.  But you have to go deeper.

I once spent several years reading manuals on good manners.  I was raised by hippies and I needed to up my game.  It turns out that etiquette is the display of behaviours that adhere to certain rules.  By contrast, manners are good behaviours arising from a concern for the other person, with the goal to not cause harm or discomfort.

Looking closely at each prescribed behaviour, you learn that each of the correct behaviours are intended to prevent the social pain of others.  When you “get” manners, you do not get a high score for memorizing rules.  Instead, you learn to feel the other person’s feelings and choose your behaviour accordingly.  Once again, it comes back to love.

For example, I hold the door open for people all the time.  There’s a secure door in my workplace, and I feel the other’s person’s frustration about having to fumble for their key-card.  I put a small effort into relieving them of this frustration, not because of rules, but because I sincerely want them to be free of discomfort.  I think they know I feel this way, and that may be why I have never been asked me to stop opening the door for strong women.

Once you know yourself a little better, and get to know others as well, you also have a shot at influencing the collective wellbeing.  One of the books that Coombe referenced is Love Works (by Joel Manby) which veers into religion-based love.  I was starting to think this was taking me off-topic.  But then Coombe noted:

“I have previously suggested that love is indeed the underlying impulse behind corporate citizenship and sustainability. We believe that love is a much-needed antidote to many of the challenges facing our communities and planet.”

That is, if we reach into our hearts to find motivation to make a better world, we can’t help ourselves to live our values and apply our best efforts.  Coombe noted:

“…founder-led businesses, family businesses, and the military are where we have seen the most frequent references to (and comfort with) love. Why is this? Our understanding is that love requires high levels of personalization — it is the opposite of the detached corporate automaton.”

If you did a double-take when you saw references to the military having a lot of love, remember our more nuanced Greek definitions.  Philia is a warmer and more-loyal type of friendship, which includes the collective sense of brotherhood.  As Shakespeare described it in a speech in Henry V, “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”  Let’s love each other as a group, march forward into our best efforts, and share our victory or defeat, together.  This loving sense of sisterhood is also noticeable in the #metoo movement.

It’s not all unicorns and cupcakes.  Some people have had a difficult history with love.  Bringing up love in the workplace can make some people uncomfortable, and preaching to such people about love doesn’t work, according to Coombe.  This makes sense because you would only connect with them if you were considerate about where they were coming from.

Love is something you can give; it is not something you can ask for. But, if you add a little nuance, watch your manners, and give freely of your understanding and compassion, maybe a little love can make your workplace better.

Cheap Labour May Soon Be a Thing of the Past

Migrant Worker Style. By Matt Ming
Migrant Worker Style. Photo courtesy of Matt Ming.  (In communist China, being a labourer is considered dignified, hence they often wear nice coats)

What would happen if the world ran out of cheap labour?  It’s a threat, or an opportunity, depending on your perspective.  But it could happen in our lifetime.  In an earlier post I described how unemployment was low but wages weren’t rising.  If job growth were to continue all around the world, we could soon be surprised that there are few people left on earth who will work for low wages.

In a January 2018 New York Times article from January 2018, the article points to a global economic up-swing.  The reason why the economy is improving is different in every country.  The global economy has been recovering for a decade, since the 2008 recession arising from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the U.S.  This time around, the thriving economy is different.  Economists note that because the growth is broad-based, there are fewer star performers.  If any one country slips into a recession, the rest of the global economy could keep things going strong.  The world economy is forecast to grow by 3.9 percent in 2018 and 2019.  This growth includes a lot of developing countries.

However, this may be a house of cards about to come crashing down once you factor in the “Lewis turning point.”  The Lewis turning point describes when a developing country grows enough and creates enough jobs that there is no more surplus labour.  That means that in order for businesses to grow they must offer higher wages than other employers to draw people away, such that economic growth causes wage growth.  Before the turning point, investors grow their businesses taking for granted an unlimited supply of cheap labour.  After this turning point, the country sees notable changes in their society.  People suddenly stop working in the very lowest-paid jobs.  Employers offering benefits and job-permanence develop an edge over the competition.  Workers get picky about where they want to work.

In this interesting article on a website called The Diplomat, researcher Dmitriy Plekhanov looks into the speculation that China’s era of cheap labour has come to an end.  The methods of measurement are complicated and confusing, but in brief:

“No matter which indicators are employed, they all point out that wages have more than doubled since the year 2009. Such a pace of growth obviously has serious implications for the Chinese labor market and its international competitiveness in terms of relative wages.  The pool of cheap labor has definitely dried up.”

These changes narrow the wage gap between Chinese labour and the rest of the world.

There has been an active debate for some time about whether China has reached, or is about to reach, the Lewis turning point.  One paper from 2011 asserted that it had already happened.  Over at the International Monetary Fund a paper in 2013 estimated that the turning point “will emerge between 2020 and 2025.”  The paper notes that demographics will be a major issue.  Due to the aging of the population and their drop in fertility a few decades ago, China’s labour market is now at its peak size and will start to shrink in the near future.

It’s important to consider China in the context of the global economy.  For some time, globalization has been perceived to be a phenomenon of manufacturing job disappearing in the industrialized world and then re-emerging in China.  Yes, there were other low-wage countries to relocate to, but China was the big kahuna.  If this low-wage option disappears for investors, they must suddenly look to other countries with fewer workers.  Switching countries for a second, an article from January 2017 notes that India needs to create 16 million jobs to reach the Lewis turning point.  The article interprets that this is a lot of jobs, but that’s almost nothing in the global scale.  We’re not very far away from both China and India running out of surplus labour.

This means that investors must go farther afield.  The Times article describes a major investment being made in Rwanda, which might have been a no-go zone in years gone by.  In those cases where investors stick with their domestic populations, they need to change their perspective and seriously consider hiring ex-convicts, people with limited education, people with disabilities, and those who have experienced prolonged bouts of unemployment.  Employers can find contractors in the gig economy, but those contractors can also become scarce given that gig workers are part of the labour market.

All around, it is employers themselves that must put on a good show at the selection interview.  So if you ever thought human resources was a support function, think again.  Your competitive pay position, the quality of the employment experience, and the effectiveness of your recruiting function might become critical to business success.  Oh, and by the way …don’t tell the unions.

Technology Can Reverse the Pecking Order

Photographers expand horizons in 2010 Army Digital Photography Contest 110311. By U.S. Army
Photographers expand horizons in 2010 Army Digital Photography Contest 110311.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

It’s funny how a small change in technology can disrupt hierarchy.  As new technologies collect better information about employees, it puts management under increased scrutiny.  In my last post I summarized Josh Bersin’s 2018 forecast of disruptive technologies in HR.  While it is interesting to see that there are tools available that allow us to be more effective, there are dramatic implications to the way we work.

After much delay, it appears that the long-awaited labour shortage has finally arrived.  Bersin notes that this will make an appearance as a “war for talent” with recruiting becoming more competitive.  Chatbots are automating parts of the recruitment process, applicant-tracking systems are making things simpler, there is a wider range of tools for assessing candidates, and I would note that it’s possible to use technology to reduce bias (assuming the AI has been taught to not pass forward pre-existing bias).  Many of these technologies have been pioneered already, which means 2018 will be a year of diffusion.

I think there is a social element of this war for talent that warrants more discussion.  That is, when good employees are being fought over they are more likely to ask for pay increases, apply for promotions, and leave their current workplace for something better.  But it can get even more dramatic when employees are bold enough to sign union cards, tell-off their harasser, and speak openly about how to improve management.  These shifts oblige managers to change.  We can’t pretend that everything is normal.  Hiring managers must start treating employees like they are valued, respected, and deserving of growth.  That’s what it looks like amongst managers who are keeping pace.  By contrast, it may suddenly look odd that there are managers who lack this collaborative orientation.

In the discussion of continuous performance management, Bersin references goal-setting and coaching.  We can’t really slip these items into a discussion of performance management without acknowledging that ground-up performance conversations are not yet fully established.  If emerging research recommends that good managers take a coaching approach, what are the implications for managers using a prescriptive approach running off a forced-distribution scorecard?  Simply put, command-and-control managers need to change their style.

For decades, the research has been bubbling just beneath the surface.  The reality is that for employees, true motivation comes from within, and their ability to align personal motivations to their employer’s strategic environment is key.  Engaged employees achieve two-times or three-times the productivity of other employees, and leadership style is a major factor in achieving high engagement.  The new technology is designed to help managers with that leadership style, but there aren’t a lot of apps that will help advance an archaic style.

On the wellbeing side, there is a variety of new tools to monitor cognitive overload and nudge people to exercise, sleep better, and eat better.  We have so overburdened people with meaningless and counter-productive work obligations that we have to reduce workload to improve productivity.  Deloitte has a good model that describes how engagement, productivity, and wellbeing are integrated into a unified concept.  Wellbeing is not really about fruits-and-veggies advocacy any more; it is integrated into peoples’ ability to focus on their best work.

I’m fascinated by the way this trend up-ends the hierarchy.  As a result of the wellbeing imperative, the people who need to “work harder” are management and leadership who are obliged to clarify goals, cultivate a positive work culture, and encourage employees to seek growth opportunities.  Looking back, it seems like a manager-driven culture which obliges employees to follow orders and be happy with their lot in life is hopelessly archaic.

Thankfully, we don’t need to debate the best leadership style because transformational leadership simply out-performs the alternative.  Just wait a few years and the only teams left standing will be the ones that have stayed at the forward edge.  Lucky for us, this collaborative style makes work more fun.

In my next post we will explore how subjective and qualitative information are making technology and analytics whole.

Look at Her Go! Achieving the Perfect Quit

Sigrid practicing. By Victor Valore
Sigrid practicing.  Photo courtesy of Victor Valore.

This is a provocative article suggesting that it’s a good thing if an employer loses good people.  To be clear, it’s not a good thing if an employer loses people who quit in disgust.  Rather, if you are cultivating an engaged work environment in which everyone is encouraged to move onward and upward, then there is a price to pay.  That price is that sometimes employees take advantage of external opportunities.

The author of the article is Drew Falkman from a firm called Modus Create, a technology services company with a soft spot for people development.  He suggests that if you are losing good people it is a sign of an engaged work environment that attracts transparently ambitious people.  Ambitious people will regard your workplace as an exceptional diving board into the pool of life.  These can be good people to work with.

What do you think? Could your new employer brand be “diving boards are us”?  The reason I ask, is that most people are only familiar with what competitive diving looks like moments after the diver has taken flight.  But in the years prior to jumping the diver will have put much effort into developing courage, strength, and skill. Would you have a better workplace if a larger fraction of your employees were constantly building towards a visible and transparent goal?  This spirit of growing and striving would be a great workplace culture for employee and employer alike.

This change of attitude on the employer’s part redefines performance excellence as an act of motion amidst a growth mindset, not a final accomplishment that presumes a fixed state.  A workplace that is always striving performs better than one in which managers treat their best staff as collectibles.

Managers are notorious for trying to hold onto their top-performers and keep them at their current level.   It’s so convenient for the manager, having excellent people who are prohibited from seeking new opportunities, locked into place just-so, delivering double the productivity.  These people practically manage themselves, and the manager doesn’t need to spend extra hours training them or replacing them when they leave.  If the manager can cultivate a team like this, perhaps the manager should get the biggest bonus.

But thinking about the whole institution and the economy in general, locking-down high performers is a recipe for stagnation.  Perhaps the millennials were right?  Maybe we should stop tolerating mediocrity and take for granted that generalized career ambition is part-and-parcel of performance and workplace engagement.

Employers are increasingly desperate for good hires into the senior ranks, and they’re blunt that they should always be free to bring in good people from other institutions.  So, as a society, the “correct” opinion is that employers and employees alike should be moving everyone upward and onward.  Therefore, career-growth exits are a good thing.

But it gets better.

Falkman suggests that former employees are valuable to your organization as well.  Former employees can speak highly of their work experience at your organization, improving the employer and customer brand.  Supportive former employees can also become committed customers, suppliers, or investors.  You can go the extra mile and organize this resource of boomerang employees, building current staff to eventually be part of an alumni pool who continue to grow, keep in touch with their peers, and make themselves available as boomerang employees.

Every now and then a contrary opinion comes along that you really need to take seriously.  This is one of the good ones.

Hippos Need a Devil’s Advocate

Hippo II, by Andrew Moore
Hippo II.  Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore.
Hierarchy is the enemy of information-sharing.

In this Linkedin article by Benard Marr the author identifies that people are extremely reluctant to express views contrary to Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion, or HiPPO for short.  Marr cites the book Web Analytics: An Hour a Day, by Avinash Kaushik, in which that author describes the dynamic;

“HiPPOs usually have the most experience and power in the room.  Once their opinion is out, voices of dissent are usually shut out and in some cases, based on the culture, others fear speaking out against the HiPPO’s direction even if they disagree with it.”

Marr references the Milgram experiment in 1963 in which obedience to an authority figure overpowered peoples’ personal conscience.  There is an additional study that finds that projects led by senior leaders fail more often, because employees “…didn’t feel as able to give critical feedback to high-status leaders.”

What is the solution?  Marr asserts that relying on data is critical; we must line up the data to inform a decision prior to gut decisions being expressed by high-ranking people.  There is also an example of Alfred Sloan of General Motors who insisted that a decision should not be made until people have considered that the decision might not be the right one.  Sloan fosters the devil’s advocate in the process of decision-making.

I think this critique and the related research implies that modesty is mission-critical.  It’s an important contrary idea because it implies that confidence might not be a leading indicator of effectiveness.  We wish our leaders were strong and brave and looked the part, but it’s far better when our leaders are right… because they thought twice, and waited for new information, and new opinions, from people with less status.

I also think that a properly organized social network of knowledge is usually superior to the thoughts of any one individual.  With education and access to information, it should become evident that you barely know one percent of what could be known.  However, if you aspire to having a diverse network of people with different backgrounds, contexts, professions, and knowledge, you can bundle together better insights from those who each know a different one percent.

Finally, a pro-social spirit of dissent is key to getting the information moving.  When information goes up the hierarchy there are problems of posture, reprisals, hubris, and corrosive office politics.  If you love knowledge, you should develop a sense that all those things are silly little power games that have nothing to do with wisdom or effectiveness.  To be good at your job, is to regard your superiors as capable agents of decision-making who are morally your equal.  And it’s your job to make them stronger, whether they like it or not.

It’s a troublesome attitude, but that’s part-and-parcel of disrupting decision-making with new and relevant information.