Execs don’t care about “trust.” They want the legacy widget to sell.

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I love me some Paul Zak; back in the day, I used his research in this blog post on employee turnover. Well, now he’s got some new-ish research on Google’s reWork site, including this visual:

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At one level, I look at that and say “Cool.” At another level, I look and say “Oh, he created an acronym to sell more books, courses, and speaking engagements.” I guess both have validity.

So, in this post I linked above, he gives an example on how you’d use this OXYTOCIN idea:

One company my team worked with scored lowest on Natural (being authentic and vulnerable). We launched a three-month intervention to raise Natural that started with ten days of microlearning videos sent via email, followed by ten weeks of pulse questions that collected data on Natural and subtly reminded them to focus on bringing their true selves to work. The company measured organizational trust six months after the intervention and found that the proportion of colleagues reporting a favorable Natural environment increased by 53%, in turn increasing favorable views of trust by 17%.

This is mostly cool stuff, although 92% of executives would have fallen asleep around the third line, only to be roused if you said “Hey, margins look good this week, boss!” (That’ll make an executive jump out of a coffin.)

The stuff I don’t get

First of all, “bringing your true self to work” is a total joke of an idea. If you do that at most companies, you will get fired.

“Micro-learning videos?”

“Pulse questions?”

Six months later?

Look, there are about 8–10 hours in a workday for most people. Much of that is taken up with banal small talk, meetings, calls, and a small sliver of productivity. Who the fuck has time for “micro-learning videos” when everyone is on the cross about how busy they are?

This stuff is interesting to academics and a few people in a few workplaces; to most people, this would instantly go into the “Ugh, this is another thing I need to manage” bucket. And the sad irony of the whole deal is that whoever is making, and sending, those micro-learning videos? That’s their job, probably. Like their entire job. So when a down-turn hits or revenue drops, they will also be fired.

And why’s that, Ted?

Because executives care about none of this stuff, broadly speaking. Executives want this, typically:

That’s about it. “Learning?” Yea, it’s important, and it sounds good in speeches. “Trust?” Same deal, and they inherently know that trust underscores relationships. I mean, they’re likely married, right? So they get it in that context, or so you’d hope.

But biz is biz, baby. Biz ain’t about the soft and fluffy stuff. It ain’t about micro-learning videos and pulse surveys. That seems like stuff that #HRCathy takes care of, right? I’m a big dog. I swing my balls around and make big dog decisions. And that legacy product better sell…

True story: I went to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast once about a year ago. I met a CEO of a company that makes parts for bigger defense companies. That space was getting crowded, so he put his engineers on some amazing HD video to cloud deal, and they sold it to gas station chains for surveillance purposes. So I asked him, “Whoa, that’s cool. That’s a pivot. How did you go from making parts for jets to streaming high-quality HD stuff?” He says, “I have no idea how it works. I just know it sells, man.”

Right. Try talking to that guy about micro-learning videos and “measuring organizational trust.” Within 15 seconds, he will either stab you, leave the conversation, or say something about “keeping the lights on.”

Work is very simple at the high levels → “This shit matters, and this shit does not. I can deflect this shit and I need to spend time focusing obsessively on this shit over here.”

It gets confusing because at the low and middle levels, we are made to believe every single thing is important and urgent. Nope. Things about finances and core products are important; golf outings might be urgent. Most of what we’re peddled is false.

It’s cool to talk about this stuff, and periodically we need to really get down and think about it, but all these surveys and studies and approaches are largely the domain of academic thinking. Executives think very differently than academics. You need to absolutely understand that in order to understand the different pieces of information coming at you as an employee trying to sort through the mess of the current economy.

So yea, I still love me some Paul Zak, but I just don’t know if this stuff — his stuff and others — really matters to the guys running the big joints.

Your take?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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