Archives 2024

5 Essential Tips for New Graduates Struggling to Land a Job

Once the excitement of graduation fades, the season of new beginnings can become a challenging period for many fresh graduates. While some head off to new jobs or further education, others face uncertainty about their next steps. Should you stay in your college town, move back home, or venture to a city with better job prospects? How should you fill your days now that classes are over? And how do you explain your activities to potential employers?

Even though the class of 2024 avoided the recession some feared, they still face a job market that prioritizes skills over degrees and part-time roles over full-time positions. If you’re among the new graduates still seeking a job, here are five key tips from career experts to help you navigate this transition.

  1. Recognize Your Value Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate for recent graduates was lower than that for the general population. Since 2021, however, new graduates have faced higher unemployment rates.

“I don’t want [the state of the economy] to discourage grads,” said Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live, and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand and CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting. McGovern emphasized that not having a job lined up is neither normal nor abnormal. “It’s just where we are, looking at the greater scheme of the market,” she added.

In other words, the demand for labor is constantly fluctuating and varies between sectors. When the economy is in a lull, the job search can feel discouraging, but ultimately, such factors are out of your control. To stay motivated, it’s helpful to acknowledge this and regularly remind yourself that it’s not a reflection of your individual value or abilities.

Pro tip: If you lack long-term work experience, don’t let it get you down. Everyone starts somewhere, and often, being a “newbie” can have advantages. “I would rather hire somebody young and hungry and full of fire in their belly, than somebody that has 15 years of experience, who’s going to rinse and repeat,” McGovern said. “But sell me on the fact that you’ve got the fire in the belly.” She explained that you can teach someone skills, but you can’t teach them motivation.

  1. Clarify Your Goals Entering the workforce might tempt you to rush into the first job offer you receive or follow friends to major cities where opportunities seem plentiful. While securing a strong role is important, taking the time to reflect on your desires and strengths can be more beneficial, according to Liz Sastre, a professional coach with RKE Partners.

Your first job out of school likely won’t make or break your career, but it can still be a step in the right direction. On average, it takes three to six months to find a job — plenty of time to pause and reflect on what you might want. Try writing down your greatest skills and strengths — as well as how you’d like those to manifest in this role. Think about the type of projects you enjoy most, the tasks that come naturally to you, and any results you’ve generated using those skills (whether that be in class, internships, or past work). This information can give your search a little more direction: What kind of roles and responsibilities best align with what you’ve written down?

In addition, Sastre suggested being “realistic” (financially and otherwise) when considering where and when to move for work. This could mean living at home and saving until you land a stable position, or being open to relocating somewhere unexpected when you find work that feels exciting or meaningful.

Pro tip: As you reflect on your strengths and the quantifiable outcomes they’ve generated, be sure to include those numbers on your résumé (for example: “My actions led to a 25% increase in profit”). If that data isn’t available to you, share examples of your accomplishments and the positive feedback you received from past managers or professors.

  1. Keep Building Your Network For the class of 2024, who started their college experience virtually, the career-building relationships that often naturally form between peers and professors were delayed, Sastre said. That’s why fresh graduates need to make a real effort to grow them.

“You can know 15,000 people on LinkedIn, but how many of them are engaging with you, supporting you, and advocating for you?” McGovern added.

A great way to get started is by contacting employees at companies you’re interested in working for, or who work in industries you’re exploring, and asking for informational interviews. When you reach out, let them know how you found them, who you are (for example, a recent graduate), and why you want to chat. An example of what you can say is:

Hello, my name is [Name] and [Name] referred me to you. I recently graduated from [school] where I studied [major]. While in school, I interned with [former employer/internship] where I [duties and responsibilities]. I’m looking to broaden my expertise and build a career in the field of [industry].

Would you be available for a 30-minute Zoom chat to share your knowledge and experience in your field? [Name] says you are the go-to person to speak with. Please let me know, and thanks so much for your time!

Don’t use these conversations to ask for a job. Rather, think of them as learning opportunities. Sastre recommended conducting these conversations before applying for jobs. That way, if during your job search, an opportunity opens at a company where one of these connections works, you already have a relationship to tap into.

Pro tip: Today, when everyone can create a clean and thorough résumé using AI, your network is how you can stand out. “Applying randomly is kind of like throwing your résumé outside and hoping that someone gets hit by it and knocks on your door,” Sastre said. “Intentionality is so important.”

  1. Embrace Resume Gaps When you have a gap between your education and employment due to an unlucky job hunt, common interview questions may include “What did you do in the last year to improve your knowledge?” and “From your résumé, it seems you took a gap year. Would you like to tell us why that was?” Answering them can be intimidating.

The good news is, these gaps are not as uncommon or stigmatized as they used to be. It’s important to frame them as purposeful — whether it be for family, for the sake of self-growth, or for the sake of finding an opportunity that truly fits your skills — and share what you learned during that time. “The key is to show that this was not a gap in the progression of your personal development, but rather, a pause on the professional track,” McGovern said.

Pro tip: Use the time to gain new skills, volunteer, or take on freelance projects. These activities can fill the gap on your résumé and demonstrate your initiative and commitment to continuous learning.

  1. Leverage Online Learning The digital age has made it easier than ever to acquire new skills and knowledge from the comfort of your home. Platforms like Coursera, edX, and LinkedIn Learning offer courses across a wide range of subjects, often taught by industry experts from leading universities and companies. By taking these courses, you can enhance your qualifications, stay current with industry trends, and make your résumé more appealing to potential employers.

Pro tip: Choose courses that align with your career goals and add the certifications to your LinkedIn profile and résumé. This not only shows that you are proactive about your professional development but also helps you stand out in a competitive job market.

How Family Drives People to Excel at Work

Tennis legend Serena Williams recently revealed her new venture, Wyn Beauty, after stepping away from the sport. Williams’ decision to retire from tennis to prioritize her family extends to her focus on beauty, which is also a family-driven choice. As Williams expressed, “Motherhood has given me a new perspective on beauty through my daughter, Olympia’s eyes. We love experimenting with makeup together, and I think about how these moments will shape both of our beauty journeys… I hope my daughters see my varied passions — from tennis to beauty — and learn they can pursue dynamic careers and diverse interests.”

Williams’ daughter, Olympia, has been a source of motivation for her mother since before her birth. Williams was two months pregnant when she won the Australian Open. In a public letter to her newborn daughter, Williams highlighted how much she anticipated her daughter watching her from the stands, saying that “you gave me the strength I didn’t know I had.”

In the same year Serena found strength from her daughter on the tennis courts, we published our study on family motivation, examining how family inspires individuals to excel at work. In a very different setting — the arid desert of northern Mexico near the U.S. border — we observed 97 employees working in a low-cost factory processing coupons. Through conversations with these workers and systematic surveys, an interesting trend emerged: those who excelled did so not for personal gain, but for their family’s benefit.

Family is a cornerstone in most people’s lives, transcending cultures and geographies. However, the notion that family can motivate work performance has been largely ignored. Historically, family has been viewed as competing with work for an individual’s limited resources, such as time and energy. A significant body of research on work-family conflict has supported this notion, illustrating how work and family demands can clash and interfere with each other.

Our research, and the experiences of the workers in Mexico we studied, suggest otherwise. Contrary to the belief that family primarily drains energy from work, we discovered that family can energize one’s work. These findings prompt a reevaluation of family as a crucial source of motivation in the workplace.

Since our initial publication in 2017, subsequent studies have supported and extended our findings. We now understand how family influences work motivation and how managers can implement these insights within their organizations.

Family as a Work Motivator Research on motivation has shown that people work harder if their job provides financial rewards and status (extrinsic motivation), joy and fulfillment (intrinsic motivation), and a sense of contributing to others (prosocial motivation). However, one often overlooked reason for working is family. Many individuals are driven to work each day out of a desire to support their family and because their family benefits from their employment. This family motivation can enhance work performance, inspiring individuals to put forth their best effort.

The low-wage employees we studied spend their workdays scanning discount coupons sent to Mexico from U.S. retailers. This tedious, manual task involves removing each coupon from its container, scanning the barcode, and ensuring the system processes it correctly. We found that those motivated by their family had more energy for their work. This increased energy, in turn, helped them achieve their daily work targets. Further studies among both low-income and high-income employees in China also found that family motivation boosted work effort, leading to higher productivity.

Family motivates work effort for various reasons. The most straightforward is the desire to ensure financial stability for the family. However, family motivation extends beyond finances. Parents often strive to excel in their jobs to serve as role models, demonstrating a strong work ethic and teaching their children positive career strategies — much like Serena Williams’ wish to show her daughters the value of pursuing multiple interests. These dynamics were evident in qualitative interviews conducted in South Asia. One employee stated, “My kids mean everything to me. I want to give them the best and be a role model. I want to teach them to honor their responsibilities and earn a respectable living.”

Work can also be a source of pride, as employees share their achievements to make their family proud. As another South Asian employee noted, “My family takes pride in my work, my earning capabilities, and my career growth. Their encouragement and support motivate me to grow.” Just as Serena Williams cherished the thought of her daughter watching her work, these employees found joy in seeing their family’s pride in their accomplishments.

Family can also provide a broader perspective that helps employees navigate work challenges. Mark Buckingham, a physiotherapist who worked with athletes who became new parents, observed: “Babies put a bad day or poor training session into perspective. They make athletes better at time management. People don’t overtrain as much because they lack the time. Athletes often improve after having babies because they gain a better sense of balance.”

These focus and time management skills also translate to the workplace. Ironically, mothers are often advised not to mention their children during job interviews to avoid being perceived as less committed to their careers. Yet this traditional thinking contradicts research findings: family can enhance work focus and absorption. Employees with family responsibilities anticipate after-work duties that will consume their time, leading to greater focus and commitment during work hours. Far from being a distraction, research shows that employees with family obligations report higher work absorption compared to single, childless employees.

A fulfilling family life can enhance work performance in various ways. For instance, family motivation boosts employees’ self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to accomplish tasks at work. Positive family events also strengthen a leader’s prosocial motivation, promoting effective leadership behaviors such as approachability and inspiration.

How Employers Can Leverage Family Motivation Given that family motivates work, organizations can benefit from integrating family into the workplace. This could involve allowing children into the office through events like “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” which provides children with career insights and fosters pride in their parents’ work, or offering on-site childcare. Employees can also personalize their workspaces with family-related items like photos, children’s drawings, or letters. Having family memorabilia at work can also reduce unethical behavior, such as inflating expense reports.

Mitigating the Risks of Family Motivation While family motivation can drive work performance, it can also lead to potential challenges. For instance, employees may stay in unfulfilling jobs to avoid disrupting their family’s stability, which can hinder personal and professional growth. Additionally, employees with high family motivation may experience increased stress and burnout. Our study in the Mexican factory found that employees with higher family motivation reported higher stress levels at work. Similarly, a study on Chinese employees noted that family motivation led to increased work pressure and reduced creativity.

Organizations must be cautious not to exploit family motivation, as it can lead to employees enduring poor working conditions or overworking. Employers have a responsibility to support employees with caregiving duties by offering stable pay, predictable schedules, and resources for mental health and well-being. Policies such as parental leave, flexible work arrangements, and designated “family and loved ones days off” can signal an employer’s support for employees’ personal relationships, leading to increased motivation and gratitude.

Employers should ensure family-motivated employees feel secure and supported. Offering benefits like savings programs, mortgage assistance, and student loan payments can alleviate financial pressures. Creating a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks without fearing job loss can also encourage innovation and engagement.

In conclusion, family can be a powerful motivator for work, driving individuals to excel for the benefit of their loved ones. By recognizing and supporting this motivation, employers can foster a more engaged, productive, and satisfied workforce.

The Impact of Diversity in Marketing

Since the 1950s, advertising agencies have recognized the value of marketing to minority groups, particularly Black consumers, who were a significant demographic at the time. Over the years, marketing strategies and the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have evolved considerably. This evolution has led to a wider range of advertisements featuring minority actors, models, and celebrities aimed at appealing to minority audiences. But does this representation truly matter in marketing?

Research indicates that it does — significantly. A study examining television commercials for mortgage refinancing found that as minority representation in ads increased from 15% to 25%, advertising effectiveness, measured by advertising elasticity, rose by 14%. Advertising elasticity measures a campaign’s success in driving new sales.

Interestingly, the study found that ads featuring diverse casts didn’t just boost sales among minority borrowers but also positively affected white borrowers.

This research sends a powerful message to marketers: genuine efforts to attract minority customers can yield unexpected benefits.

“When considering DEI in marketing, we often think we are sacrificing something to feature more diversity. We see it as a trade-off,” the study noted. “But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a positive message that companies can achieve both higher sales and the societal goal of increased inclusion and representation.”

Representation and the Racial Wealth Gap in Marketing

Focusing on consumer finance, the study examined mortgage refinancing ads due to the racial wealth gap in the U.S. With home equity being the largest contributor to household wealth, refinancing can be a crucial tool for Black and Hispanic homeowners — two groups historically underserved by lenders.

“Mortgages are the most significant financial decision consumers can make. If they don’t refinance when interest rates are lower, it can be very costly,” the research highlighted. “The long-standing racial disparity in consumer finance makes this issue even more critical.”

The researchers collected loan origination data from 2018 to 2021, including information on borrowers’ race and political affiliation at the census tract level. This data was merged with TV mortgage advertising data from the same period, which included ad spending and video files. A double machine learning model was used to control for various factors, including image and text embeddings, lender, location, and the time of year the ads were aired.

To further test their theory, an experiment was conducted where participants were randomly shown commercials featuring either minority or white families. Those who saw ads with minority families reported being more likely to apply for refinancing from that lender.

“The long-standing disparity in consumer finance makes this issue even more critical,” the study emphasized.

Three Reasons Why Minority Representation Matters in Marketing

The study suggests three main reasons why minority representation is so effective in marketing. First, minority consumers feel connected when they see themselves represented in commercials, though racial homophily doesn’t explain the increase among white consumers. Second, the portrayal of minorities reflects the brand’s inclusive values, which might explain why the increase among white consumers was highest among those with liberal-leaning beliefs. Third, ads featuring diversity may stand out to viewers simply because they are less common.

“While definitive proof is lacking, these three factors likely work together to create an overall effect,” the research indicated.

The study demonstrates that companies don’t need to completely overhaul their marketing campaigns or spend significantly more money to see benefits. Choosing minority actors instead of white actors costs similarly. Producing different versions of the same ad can also be cost-effective.

“Maintaining the same ad spending while increasing minority representation results in a more effective ad,” the study concluded. “From a practical marketing standpoint, this is a lever that companies can use to enhance minority representation in ads.”

Additional Insights

Research from McKinsey highlights that companies with diverse boards are 27% more likely to have superior financial performance. Similarly, another study found that inclusive ads affect consumer behavior positively, with 69% of Black consumers more likely to purchase from brands that reflect their race/ethnicity in advertising​ (McKinsey & Company)​​ (Think with Google)​.

For further reading on this topic, you can explore detailed studies and reports on the impact of diversity in marketing from McKinsey and Think with Google.

Transforming Difficult Performance Conversations into Opportunities for Growth

As a leadership and team coach, I frequently encounter situations where managers feel unprepared to provide their team members with critical performance feedback. These discussions can be particularly challenging because the stakes are high for both parties. Negative performance reviews and ratings can significantly impact an employee’s compensation and career trajectory. Additionally, if the negative feedback comes as a surprise, it might prompt the employee to consider seeking employment elsewhere.

However, these challenging moments also present opportunities to strengthen the manager-employee relationship. Here’s how to approach difficult performance conversations not as fault-finding missions but as chances to work together towards shared goals of growth and development.

Foster a Collaborative Atmosphere

When there’s a gap between your expectations and an employee’s performance, begin by clearly defining what success looks like and who will be involved in improving their performance. This goal must be mutual for the employee to feel valued and supported. You can initiate this by saying, “We need to have an honest and open dialogue. My aim is to provide you with clear feedback and ensure we are jointly working towards your development.”

Reflect on the Past

During the conversation, take a moment to review and understand the situation. Start by inviting the employee to self-reflect and evaluate their own performance. For example:

“Let’s take a moment to understand how we arrived here and what factors influenced our path. I’d like to invite you to self-reflect and assess your own performance. Did you accomplish all your goals and meet the expectations set? Can you share your perspective on what’s working well and what isn’t? Looking back, if you had the opportunity to change or improve anything, what would you do differently and why?”

Understand Their Values

Research has shown a strong connection between employee engagement and performance improvement. Employees often prioritize purpose, impact, and meaningful work, which influences their sense of engagement and commitment to the organization. Before initiating a conversation about performance improvement, take the time to understand the employee’s values. This helps ground the conversation in personal and professional growth, aligning organizational goals with their individual aspirations.

During the feedback process, also discuss how their current actions and performance connect to their long-term career aspirations. Consider these prompts:

“When you think about your long-term goals, how does your current role contribute to your professional growth? Which aspects of your work do you feel align most with your career aspirations, and how can we build on those strengths? Could you talk about any experiences or skills you’re hoping to gain soon to support your career path?”

Provide Constructive Feedback

Deliver feedback with clarity and specificity. Provide clear examples to ensure the employee understands exactly how their work isn’t aligning with what’s expected of them. Avoid ambiguity.

Solicit insights from various stakeholders and cross-functional team members to provide the employee with a comprehensive understanding of the situation. Doing so not only gives the employee a broader spectrum of viewpoints to consider but also demonstrates your commitment to fairness and inclusivity, fostering an environment of openness and transparency.

Moreover, when feedback comes from multiple sources, it becomes harder for the employee to blame you solely. Instead, it emphasizes that the feedback reflects broader observations and perspectives within the team. The focus shifts from assigning blame to collaborative problem-solving and growth, as everyone involved is invested in helping them improve. This stakeholder-centered approach empowers the employee to recognize the need for change, take accountability, and assume ownership of their performance improvement.

It’s also crucial to leave judgment aside and approach the discussion as an inquiry, acknowledging the emotional aspect of the conversation. For example:

“You’re meeting your project deliverables, which is fantastic! However, this success appears to come at the expense of your cross-functional relationships. Several team members have expressed concerns about your ability to perform your project management responsibilities. They have had to step in and cover for your missed deadlines by accelerating their work to meet the project delivery. In addition, I’ve noticed that you seem distracted and aren’t engaging as much as you could in virtual meetings. This behavior comes across as disinterested and disrespectful to the rest of the team, and the 360 feedback you’ve received reflects this perception.”

Create the space for a vulnerable conversation, keeping in mind that non-work-related issues might be driving your employee’s lackluster performance. It’s essential to display empathy and openness. You can do that by sharing a relevant personal experience. For example:

“I don’t know if you realize I’m an introvert. Large meetings are very draining for me, especially when poorly organized. To self-manage, I architect a well-structured meeting. I prepare a clear agenda and assign sections of it to specific team members. Giving everyone a role in how the meeting runs makes everyone feel involved, sets the expectation that everyone is accountable for coming prepared, and ensures no one dominates the conversation. It also allows me to lead by example: The team sees what a well-run meeting looks like and how they can adapt the structure for their own meetings.”

Ask your employee to share their honest opinion about what is leading to this feedback, then sit in silence and give them space to share their thoughts. More often than not, they will take some accountability for their results. If they don’t, they may not be coachable.

Offer Positive Reinforcement

After reviewing and assessing the situation, refocus on the present. Set the tone by acknowledging the employee’s strengths and desire to do well. Emphasizing empathy and understanding will show them that the discussion is about growth and development rather than criticism. You want to communicate that you believe improvement is possible and that you and the team are here to support them through their self-improvement journey. As Charles Schwab said, “The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.”

Provide an Actionable Path Forward

Consider providing feedback that focuses on the future and allows you as the manager to ask the employee to imagine “what if.” For example, “How would you handle a situation if…?” This forward-looking reframing of feedback helps remove the stigma of criticism and puts your direct report in a state of mind where they’re able to accomplish a different result; after all, we can’t change the past.

Reset Expectations

Clearly communicate your expectations moving forward. Ensure the employee understands the standards and aligns with the organization’s goals. As an author, sales expert, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

To encourage dialogue, consider asking questions like:

“What specific actions or behaviors do you think are needed to align your performance with the organization’s goals and expectations? How can we collaborate to ensure a clear understanding of performance standards going forward? How can I support you, and what resources do you require from the organization (such as training, continuous feedback, check-ins, etc.)?”

Approaching a conversation about improving an employee’s performance requires preparation, empathy, and a focus on collaboration. Creating the space for self-reflection and understanding that change is possible can help the employee move from feeling victimized to feeling empowered. Even though hearing the truth about their current performance will be tough and potentially hurtful, it’s a teaching moment managers must embrace to help them become more resilient and adept at problem-solving and developing professional relationships.

Four Common Patterns of Team Disputes and Strategies for Resolution

If you’ve ever led or been part of a team, you’re familiar with the inevitable and often disruptive presence of internal conflicts. Many leaders tend to avoid intervening in these disputes, hoping that rational team members will resolve issues on their own. However, studies indicate that leaders often devote about 20% of their time to managing such disputes.

Take the example of Barbara, a senior executive, who after a tough day of setbacks, called for a team meeting to strategize a comeback. Instead, the meeting quickly devolved into a blame game, forcing Barbara to rethink her approach to avoid further chaos.

Over the last 30 years, we’ve analyzed a myriad of team disputes across various settings—from executive teams in global corporations to production lines in China, and business students at leading universities. Our goal has been to characterize these conflicts, understand their progression, and develop strategies to enhance team performance.

Despite cultural and contextual differences, we’ve identified four primary types of team conflicts. Our findings suggest that proactive conflict resolution by managers, which considers the interests of the entire team, can foster trust, lead to better decisions, and enhance implementation. Below are the identified conflict patterns and management strategies.

Isolated Dissenter: Occasionally, conflict centers around a single team member who may be viewed as difficult or uncooperative, or who challenges the status quo. Such conflicts are seen in about 20-25% of cases.

If a team faces this type of conflict, it’s crucial not to alienate the individual. Using them as a scapegoat or suppressing their views with a majority vote can obscure underlying issues, such as personal difficulties or an unclear role. Instead, adopting a perspective-taking approach, where sincere questions are posed to understand their viewpoint, can alleviate tension and enhance team insights. This exposure to different perspectives can lead to broader, more innovative thinking.

Avoid general team-building activities aimed at addressing issues caused by a single disruptive member. Instead, targeted one-on-one interventions can be more effective in fostering understanding and cooperation.

Dyadic Disagreement: The most frequent conflict, occurring in about 35% of cases, involves disagreements between two team members. This situation often does not escalate to involve others, as team members typically refrain from taking sides.

If the conflict is personal, private mediation might help the individuals express and reconcile their viewpoints. If it’s task-related, however, such disagreements can actually benefit team performance, as they encourage the refinement of ideas. Facilitating these discussions in smaller, informal settings can be particularly productive.

Subgroup Rivalries: When two subgroups within a team clash over goals or decisions, a conflict involving 20-25% of teams arises. This division can create a polarized environment where compromise seems unreachable.

Introducing new ideas or alternatives can help break the deadlock by aligning subgroup interests and encouraging compromises. This approach can lead to a more comprehensive and mutually acceptable solution.

Collective Discontent: Though less common, occurring in less than 15% of cases, conflicts may involve the entire team. These often arise from poor performance and the subsequent blame-shifting.

In such situations, it’s essential to focus on collective goals and identity rather than individual faults. Team discussions should concentrate on future improvements rather than past failures.

In advising Barbara, who was dealing with a full-team conflict, we recommended shifting the focus from blame to collaboration, which changed the meeting’s tone to a more constructive and solution-oriented discussion.

Customized Conflict Management Understanding the specific pattern of team conflict helps in effectively addressing it. It’s important to tackle conflicts at their source and ensure that solutions are tailored to the involved parties. Avoid generic solutions like team-building retreats unless the issue involves the entire team. When dealing with evenly split factions, introduce creative alternatives to foster the integration of viewpoints.

By addressing conflicts close to their origin and tailoring interventions accordingly, leaders can mitigate long-term negative impacts and enhance team dynamics.

Expanding Operations: Key Strategies from Amazon’s Growth Journey

Amazon’s remarkable expansion has served as a prime case study in business scaling, evolving from a small startup in Jeff Bezos’ garage to a global powerhouse with over 1.5 million employees. Recently, Amazon announced plans to recruit 250,000 employees for the upcoming holiday season, marking a significant increase from the previous year’s 150,000 new hires. This decision reflects a strong U.S. economy as we approach the festive period, according to Gad Allon, a professor at Wharton specializing in operations, information, and decisions.

During a Wharton Business Daily interview on SiriusXM, Allon emphasized the importance of seizing the moment, especially when economic conditions are favorable and unemployment rates are low. Missing out on adequate staffing could mean missing out on critical business opportunities.

In his executive education course at Wharton, “Scaling Business for Profitable Growth,” Allon uses Amazon as a prime example to dissect the complex layers of strategy, marketing, finance, and leadership required to scale a business successfully. Despite Amazon’s consistent growth in net sales revenue, which might make scaling appear straightforward, Allon highlights the intricate and challenging nature of scaling for any business.

Understanding market trends and consumer behaviors is crucial, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies had to quickly adapt to sudden changes; some succeeded, while others struggled. Allon pointed to the fintech company Stripe, which had to lay off 14% of its workforce after a pandemic-driven hiring spree proved unsustainable.

Allon also discussed the challenges and inefficiencies that accompany rapid expansion. Although Amazon began as a centralized operation, it had to decentralize to offer faster delivery options, like same-day and next-day services. This required a substantial increase in the number of employees and warehouse facilities. Now, in 90 U.S. metropolitan areas, an order can be processed for shipping within just 11 minutes—a feat that involves significant human labor despite advances in automation.

He noted that rising shipping costs are a key metric of inefficiency that Amazon is looking to address. Moreover, even with sophisticated robotics like Amazon’s Sparrow, which can handle 65% of product SKUs, there remain significant challenges in streamlining the picking and packing process.

Looking ahead, Allon believes that technological advancements, particularly in generative AI and machine learning, could play a pivotal role in enhancing operational efficiency. Yet, until these technologies become more affordable and integrate smoothly, hiring more human workers remains a more viable option.

Retailers recognize that the holiday season is critical for sales, and being well-prepared with sufficient stock and staffing is essential. According to Allon, this period leaves little room for error, as consumers are quick to switch to competitors if their needs are not met promptly.

The Unexpected Charm of Imperfect Entertainment

There exists a peculiar phenomenon where audiences find themselves drawn to what might be considered by many as substandard or downright terrible content. This curiosity spans various media, from the absurdity of movies like “Sharknado,” to the groan-worthy humor found in dad jokes, all the way to the infectious dance beats of songs such as “Macarena.” Despite their questionable quality, these examples have garnered significant attention and affection from the public.

Intrigued by this paradoxical trend, a marketing professor from a prestigious business school embarked on a research journey to decipher why and when consumers might intentionally opt for what could be seen as inferior entertainment choices. The research, co-authored with colleagues now serving as professors at other notable business schools, delves deep into the consumer psyche through a series of experiments.

The findings suggest that people often gravitate towards these low-quality choices not in spite of their badness, but because of it. In a world cluttered with options where the pursuit of quality is often paramount, there seems to be a niche carved out for content that is so bad, that it becomes good in its own right. This phenomenon creates a unique cultural and social currency, where being ‘in’ on the joke or part of the viral conversation provides its form of satisfaction.

One key aspect identified in the study is the low stakes involved in consuming such content. The choices made in this regard are often seen as benign, lacking in any significant cost, be it financial, emotional, or time-related. This enables consumers to engage with the content in a light-hearted manner, free from the burdens of expectation and the demands of high quality.

The implications of these findings are broad, touching on aspects of consumer behavior, social dynamics, and even the nature of entertainment itself. It underscores a communal desire for shared experiences and the joy found in the collective reveling in content that, by traditional standards, might not measure up. So, whether it’s through the laughter elicited by a corny joke or the communal groans at a B-movie’s implausible plot, there’s a unifying thread in the human experience that finds pleasure in the imperfect, the flawed, and the downright bad.

For those intrigued by the underlying mechanics of this phenomenon and the detailed insights garnered from the study, further exploration into the academic research on consumer behavior might provide a deeper understanding of this curious aspect of human nature.

The Hidden Costs of High Employee Turnover: Lessons in Workforce Stability and Product Quality

The insight Henry Ford demonstrated over a century ago, by offering his employees a notably high salary to ensure their retention, echoes a modern finding: a consistent workforce significantly contributes to product quality, even in settings where tasks are simplified, such as factories. This notion is supported by a comprehensive study conducted by researchers from Wharton, Stanford University, the University of California Irvine, and Apple University, which linked high employee turnover rates directly to the decreased reliability of products, specifically smartphones manufactured in China.

The study meticulously tracked the failure rates of 50 million smartphones over a span of four years, correlating these rates with the turnover rates of the workers who assembled them. The findings were stark: a mere one percent increase in worker turnover corresponded to a nearly 0.8% uptick in product failures. Particularly after payday, when turnover rates spiked, product failure rates were significantly higher by over 10% compared to periods of lower turnover. This pattern suggested that the stability of the workforce directly influenced the quality of the assembly process, impacting the company financially by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The implications of these findings extend beyond the immediate financial repercussions. They challenge the traditional managerial perspective that focuses solely on the costs associated with hiring and training new employees, underscoring the importance of team cohesion and the nuanced interplay between workers’ tasks. The research suggests that even in environments where individual tasks might seem isolated, the collective coordination and tacit knowledge shared among workers play a crucial role in maintaining quality and efficiency.

This revelation led the participating company, a large-scale manufacturer known for its emphasis on quality, to reconsider its approach to employee management and workflow design. Despite the logistical complexities inherent in managing a vast workforce, the company recognized the value of retaining experienced employees and the hidden costs associated with high turnover rates.

The broader applicability of these insights is also being explored in environments beyond manufacturing, such as healthcare, where the stakes of employee turnover and burnout are equally high. Through innovative methods like bio-sensor tracking, researchers aim to uncover deeper connections between work conditions, employee well-being, and organizational efficiency, with the ultimate goal of creating more sustainable and effective work environments across various sectors.

Enhancing Leadership by Embracing Off-Hours Downtime

Are you a leader who frequently finds your thoughts occupied by work matters well into your personal time? The habit of persistently mulling over work issues or mentally preparing for the next day’s tasks during your off-hours might seem like a dedication to your role. However, recent findings from a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggest that this non-stop engagement with work can actually be detrimental to your effectiveness as a leader. Particularly for those new to leadership positions, failing to mentally disconnect from work can lead to a significant depletion of mental energy. In contrast, leaders who manage to mentally disengage from work during their personal time tend to be more refreshed and better aligned with their leadership identity the following day.

Our investigation involved a 10-day diary study with 73 leaders and their direct reports, where leaders were asked daily about their level of detachment from work the previous evening, their rumination over work-related issues, and their energy levels and identification with their leadership role the following day. The results were clear: leaders who successfully detached from work in the evenings reported feeling more energized and more connected to their leadership role the next day. This detachment not only benefited the leaders themselves but also positively influenced their followers’ perceptions of their leadership effectiveness.

The study also highlighted that the negative impacts of after-hours work rumination were more severe for those newer to leadership roles. For these individuals, establishing a routine that includes time to unwind and recover after work could be particularly advantageous.

Based on these findings, we offer several actionable strategies for leaders:

  1. Cultivate Post-Work Detachment: It’s crucial for leaders to find personal activities that can help shift their focus away from work-related matters after hours. Engaging in hobbies, physical exercise, or quality time with family and friends can provide the necessary mental break.
  2. Set Clear Work-Life Boundaries: Especially for leaders who are setting the tone for their teams, it’s important to communicate clear expectations regarding availability outside of work hours. This can help ensure that both leaders and their teams have sufficient downtime.
  3. Value Recovery Time: Leaders should be mindful of the importance of rest and relaxation for maintaining their ability to connect with and fulfill their leadership roles. Effective leaders are those who approach their work refreshed and ready to embrace their responsibilities.

In essence, our study challenges the notion that constant connectivity to work is a prerequisite for successful leadership. Instead, it underscores the importance of downtime for the development of effective leadership.

Streamlining Your Company’s IT Framework for Enhanced Performance

In the competitive landscape of various industries, many corporations suffer from the pitfalls of an unreliable and inefficient IT framework. This issue often stems from leadership’s intense focus on innovation, neglecting the crucial task of streamlining and consolidating their IT frameworks. This negligence leads to inefficient operations, unstable environments, and high operational costs, with most leaders oblivious to the detrimental effects of expanding IT complexities on their business operations and customer relations.

Recognizing an Overextended IT Landscape

Drawing from over two decades of experience in global IT across diverse sectors, I’ve identified several indicators of excessive IT expansion:

  1. Integration Challenges: The attempt to amalgamate a plethora of technologies, variations, and services into a unified system often results in an unwieldy IT landscape.
  2. Talent Acquisition Difficulties: The prevailing IT skills shortage, compounded by the complex nature of an organization’s IT systems, makes it exceedingly difficult to recruit specialized staff.
  3. Complex Service Agreements: A multitude of products and systems within the IT environment can lead to contract complexities and frequent revisions.
  4. Escalating Costs: The more expansive the IT landscape, the greater the per capita IT expenditure, which varies significantly across different industries.
  5. Underutilization and Data Segregation: Often, infrastructure is not fully utilized, leading to inefficiencies and redundant capabilities, with segregated data storage being a prominent sign of IT sprawl.
  6. Unofficial IT Operations: The emergence of shadow IT, where non-IT staff manage IT assets without official oversight, further complicates the IT landscape and introduces various risks.

Factors such as mergers, acquisitions, decentralized IT departments, and fluctuating CIO priorities often contribute to this sprawl. Companies with a history of numerous acquisitions may inherit disorganized IT infrastructures, while decentralized management complicates governance.

Strategic Approach to IT Optimization

Prior to embarking on IT optimization, thorough discovery, inventory, and stakeholder communication are essential:

  • Future-Proofing: Understanding current and future business needs is crucial for making informed IT decisions.
  • End-User Considerations: Awareness of how end-users interact with IT resources is vital to avoid business disruptions during transitions.
  • Emphasis on Rationalization: Progress hinges on the rationalization of IT usage before any automation initiatives.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Keeping all stakeholders informed throughout the process is critical for smooth transitions and acceptance of new systems.
  • Technical Complexity: Technical leads should be involved from the outset to ensure that business decisions are technically sound.

Case Study: A global infrastructure firm faced risks and outages due to outdated servers. Our intervention involved refreshing, consolidating, and virtualizing its global server and storage infrastructure, leading to reduced outages, automated troubleshooting, improved network latency, and standardized network technologies.

Five-Step IT Optimization Strategy:

  1. Discovery: Catalog servers, storage, applications, and services to create a comprehensive IT inventory.
  2. Analysis: Assess the inventory for capacity, age, utilization, and performance.
  3. Review: Discuss analysis outcomes with users to pinpoint rationalization, consolidation, and decommissioning opportunities.
  4. Planning: Develop a detailed plan and design for a modernized, streamlined IT framework, including new capabilities and services.
  5. Implementation: Carry out the plan to overhaul, migrate, decommission, and centralize IT resources.

Achieving a streamlined IT framework demands commitment from IT and business leaders, recognizing that initial and ongoing investments are necessary for sustainable benefits. These investments might encompass new hardware, labor for remediation, and updates, potentially requiring adjustments in user behavior to phase out shadow IT practices.

Conclusion: In an era of constant organizational evolution, whether through mergers, divestitures, or digital transformation, optimizing your IT infrastructure through consolidation and rationalization is imperative for enhancing efficiency and resilience. This strategic approach not only liberates resources for innovation but also better aligns your IT operations with your business objectives and customer needs.