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How to Use Obama’s Academic ‘Dream Team’ for Organizational Results

Benedict Carey,
science editor of the NYTimes, recently revealed Obama’s leading-edge use of social
scientists to win the election. In contrast to Republicans, who relied largely
on the insights of their pundits, Obama’s success is tied to the work of nerdy
professors. You can be very certain that both political parties will be using
nerdy profs for the next election. After reviewing the research by Obama’s
team, I saw that the lessons are not exclusive to politics: they are also
immediately applicable to every business culture.The group of social scientists from UCLA, Harvard, Princeton,
UCSD and Arizona State, which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral
scientists,” or COBS, showed how to use “little things” to win.1.      Princeton’s
Susan Fiske’s research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people
generally focus on both competence and warmth. “You can’t just run on the idea that
everyone wants to have a beer with you. Some people care a lot about competence.”
Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, but was often portrayed as
distant and unable to relate to the needs of ordinary people.In business, it’s more and more important to hire someone
who’s both competent and likably warm. Stanford’s Bob Sutton has written about
the “asshole theory,” managers who’re competent but not at all likable. They’re
destructive to both the organization and their people. Company recruiters need
to look not only for the necessary competence, but also for warmth in their
candidates. Finding candidates with both those characteristics will inevitably improve
organizational success. It’s competence that gets the task done, and warmth
that gets the people’s support.     2.      When
it comes to rumors, the best strategy is not to deny the charge (“I am not a flip-flopper”), but to “affirm
a competing notion.” Rather than deny that Obama was a Muslim, they constantly
affirmed that he was a Christian.Managers often find that the rumor mill is at work,
resulting in employees checking out various conclusions. For example, “I’ve
heard that a layoff is in the works.” A strategic response might be, “As you
know, we’re facing a difficult economy. We’re currently looking at the best
strategies for resolving our financial problem and maintaining effective client
relationships.”     3.      Identifying
a person as a voter–“Mr. Jones, we know you have voted in the past”–acts as a
subtle prompt for future voting. The
persuasion specialist, Robert Cialdini, pointed out that “People want to be
congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that
commitment is public.”On many business occasions, you’ll need the support of organizational members to achieve your objective. That might sound something like this,
“Joe, last year when we tried to get this project through the management team,
you supported the objective and worked very hard, but it failed. Now that we’ve
reframed the issue but are still focused on last year’s objective, we’d like to
be able to count on your support.”    4.    Making even a simple plan to vote, including
specifying a time.  Dr. Susan Fiske of Princeton said that she
received a generic, mass market e-mail from the Obama campaign before the
election. It said, ‘People do things when they make plans to do them; what’s
your plan?’ Recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely
to prompt people to vote than literature.Business project objectives should usually result in
action plans. Thus, as team leader, you say to Jan, “Jan, you’re on board with
this objective. Would you lay out a couple steps and a specific timeline for
this phase of the project?”    5.      Informing
supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. This activity trades on the human instinct
to conform. In one piece of research, testing different messages to reuse hotel
towels, the message ‘the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels’
resulted in a 41% increase.Many organizations have found success with complex
projects by using clearly defined protocols and processes for working between the
relevant groups. So the manager might say to a new employee, “Gina,
historically projects like this one that’s complex and spread across several
different organizations only succeed when there is a clearly defined mechanism
for handling information and tasks between the organizations.”The success of the Obama strategy is an announcement of
significance. It informs us that by better understanding how social reality—the
organizational culture—works, a person or an organization’s objectives can more
effectively be met, even with “little things.”Flickr photo: rolandin  
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Benedict Carey, science editor of the NYTimes, recently revealed Obama’s leading-edge use of social scientists to win the election. In contrast to Republicans, who relied largely on the insights of their pundits, Obama’s success is tied to the work of nerdy professors. You can be very certain that both political parties will be using nerdy profs for the next election. After reviewing the research by Obama’s team, I saw that the lessons are not exclusive to politics: they are also immediately applicable to every business culture.

Obama by rolandin
The group of social scientists from UCLA, Harvard, Princeton, UCSD and Arizona State, which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral scientists,” or COBS, showed how to use “little things” to win.

1.      Princeton’s Susan Fiske’s research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people generally focus on both competence and warmth. “You can’t just run on the idea that everyone wants to have a beer with you. Some people care a lot about competence.” Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, but was often portrayed as distant and unable to relate to the needs of ordinary people.

In business, it’s more and more important to hire someone who’s both competent and likably warm. Stanford’s Bob Sutton has written about the “asshole theory,” managers who’re competent but not at all likable. They’re destructive to both the organization and their people. Company recruiters need to look not only for the necessary competence, but also for warmth in their candidates. Finding candidates with both those characteristics will inevitably improve organizational success. It’s competence that gets the task done, and warmth that gets the people’s support.

     2.      When it comes to rumors, the best strategy is not to deny the charge (“I am not a flip-flopper”), but to “affirm a competing notion.” Rather than deny that Obama was a Muslim, they constantly affirmed that he was a Christian.

Managers often find that the rumor mill is at work, resulting in employees checking out various conclusions. For example, “I’ve heard that a layoff is in the works.” A strategic response might be, “As you know, we’re facing a difficult economy. We’re currently looking at the best strategies for resolving our financial problem and maintaining effective client relationships.”

     3.      Identifying a person as a voter–“Mr. Jones, we know you have voted in the past”–acts as a subtle prompt for future voting. The persuasion specialist, Robert Cialdini, pointed out that “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public.”

On many business occasions, you’ll need the support of organizational members to achieve your objective. That might sound something like this, “Joe, last year when we tried to get this project through the management team, you supported the objective and worked very hard, but it failed. Now that we’ve reframed the issue but are still focused on last year’s objective, we’d like to be able to count on your support.”

    4.    Making even a simple plan to vote, including specifying a time.  Dr. Susan Fiske of Princeton said that she received a generic, mass market e-mail from the Obama campaign before the election. It said, ‘People do things when they make plans to do them; what’s your plan?’ Recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely to prompt people to vote than literature.

Business project objectives should usually result in action plans. Thus, as team leader, you say to Jan, “Jan, you’re on board with this objective. Would you lay out a couple steps and a specific timeline for this phase of the project?”

    5.      Informing supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. This activity trades on the human instinct to conform. In one piece of research, testing different messages to reuse hotel towels, the message ‘the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels’ resulted in a 41% increase.

Many organizations have found success with complex projects by using clearly defined protocols and processes for working between the relevant groups. So the manager might say to a new employee, “Gina, historically projects like this one that’s complex and spread across several different organizations only succeed when there is a clearly defined mechanism for handling information and tasks between the organizations.”

The success of the Obama strategy is an announcement of significance. It informs us that by better understanding how social reality—the organizational culture—works, a person or an organization’s objectives can more effectively be met, even with “little things.”

Flickr photo: rolandin  

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