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September 2017
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Real genius.

The common wisdom is to not put up with talented jerks in the workplace. Who needs to work with know it all jackasses whose behaviour is usually met with eye rolls in meetings? Yet you still find them in every organisation. There is a reason for their ongoing ubiquity and that reason is a lottery jackpot.

There are three genetic super lottery jackpots in life. Being physically more attractive to others, having a level of physical prowess beyond the ordinary or having superior cognitive ability (IQ). If a person cannot make a living from their appearance or from professional sports it is IQ that is by far the best predictor of their performance at other types of work.

In The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis (O’Boyle, Humphrey, Pollock, et. al, 2011) researchers examined more than 1000 studies to see if Emotional Intelligence (EQ) had an impact on job performance. Having examined EQ, personality traits and cognitive ability it was their conclusion an increased level of EQ did improve job performance. While their study identified interesting things about EQ, in the table below you should note the outsized performance resulting from cognitive ability, IQ, relative to what they were testing for with EQ. IMG_2537

While the social sciences are undergoing a replication crisis, studies whose results cannot be replicated correctly being tagged as being suspect at best if not out rightly fraudulent in other cases, IQ as a performance predicator replicates consistently. The higher your IQ the greater the chance you will be one of the few employees that makes a contribution so substantial to the organisation around you that it will be a lasting contribution.

Just as many of us do not look like models or movie stars, nor can we break sporting records, there are levels of workplace performance below extraordinary. The trick to optimising your performance is finding the best environment to do what you are good at and then do it consistently. This can be personally rewarding so long as you keep stretching yourself to do things currently just beyond your grasp.

The higher the IQ the more ambiguity you can deal with in your job and jobs with high levels of ambiguity at their frontiers pay quite well. As you move down the IQ scale it is unambiguous repetitive jobs which deliver the best workplace performance from individuals with lower IQs. Like those with higher IQs there is satisfaction from doing such jobs well, but repetitive jobs pay modestly or poorly.

Automation will decimate most repetitive jobs and there is no pathway to jobs with higher ambiguity for those of a lower cognitive ability. Last week in the US at the Dallas Fed conference executives from Fortune 500 employers admitted that they are targeting repetitive, low ambiguity jobs for elimination by automation.

Realising this means hard times for many there was mention of providing Nano-degrees to move people to higher skilled jobs, but we already have colleges pumping out as many highly skilled new graduates as the work market can absorb. Automation is the next major social problem looming on the horizon.

Now we come to the talented jerk. Books have been written as to why you should not hire super smart people with noxious personalities and those books raise good points. Jerks can wreak havoc with teams they are in and make cross team collaboration more like trench warfare rather than a mutually productive relationship. But here is the crux of it, while you cannot make substantial changes to a person's cognitive capability (IQ) you can make them much more rewarding for other people to deal with (EQ).

Properly designed coaching interventions focused on EQ have been found to improve the social and interpersonal skills of those being coached by about 25% (Peterson, D.B., Measuring change: A psychometric approach to evaluating individual coaching outcomes., 1993.) These results also replicate consistently making them science and not wishful thinking.

Accepting that a higher IQ does translate to higher workplace performance we can say that while you cannot take a talented jerk with a major psychological issue and fix them, you can take one and sand down the rough edges enough that they do not jab people when handled. Getting the talented jerk to accept the coaching is where you might need to use finesse but with those with a higher IQ demonstrably out performing others at work your EQ coaching investment today might pay off in measurable high performance for years.

Of course if the talented jerk does not acknowledge feedback from different sources telling them that change is required, does not accept the coaching or does not improve as a result of coaching they should be handed their hat and shown the door.

A tool that cannot be used effectively should be discarded, it only makes the worker harder.

Fear itself.

Not everyone who survives a layoff is grateful. Being laid off is a distasteful experience even when you know it is coming but when you have been made unemployed by a company your life changes immediately. You are no longer a member of a tribe you may have expended years of your life working to maintain, you are now a job seeker.  Pennywise

Job seekers know that their path only moves forward but towards what is unknown. If you survive a layoff you have not moved anywhere and are expected to carry out your duties like little has changed but your working life may be now dramatically worse.

You may have to pick up new work which you may or may not be suitable to carry out. Co-workers who you enjoyed working with are gone, they should be soon ready to put the company in their rear-view mirror. Eventually when they get a job, a process that now takes months and not weeks, they will be enthusiastic about the new company and their new role. This heady enthusiasm will be transmitted to the former co-workers who survived the last layoff and who will look at their own working life and ask if they are truly happy?

Happiness and contentment binds an organisation together. High performing employees want to work with people they feel make them better and more productive. Take those people away as a company goes into employee starvation mode and the result is employees who are not only unhappy but also fearful.

If you want to destroy any organisation make the people who work there afraid. Fear can be healthy; fear of professional obsolescence or fear of a competitor can serve to keep you and your organisation sharp. Bone chilling fear, a sense of absolute dread, can slowly move into the minds of employees who survive layoffs. "When will what I have just seen happen to people I enjoyed working with happen to me?"

In Downsizing and Survivor Syndrome: A Study of HR’s Perception of Survivors Responses (Sahdev and Vinnicombe, 1998), it was found that fear began spreading like a virus through people who had survived a layoff. Loyalty to immediate superiors and co-workers was observed to be unchanged but loyalty to the company plummeted. The response to the increasing sense of fear was to the see company as the opposition and co-workers as your allies.

Those who survived layoffs reported increased levels of stress, felt grief over losing valued co-workers and feared losing their jobs. They also resented the company and its leadership more, all of which are harmful to employee productivity. Waves of layoffs will do more damage to your company than many of your competitors can as waves of layoffs break the spirit of your best people.

Layoffs happen but cutting deep and cutting only once, while horrific at the time, is a better way of handling layoffs. It is terrible for those who are laid off, you will have a lot more job seeking competitors in a dysfunctional job market for a time, but for layoff survivors it allows their organisational leadership to look them in the eye and say "That was it. The layoffs are over and now together we must rebuild and move forward."

Until you can tell people with certainty the organisation is in rebuild mode they will be fearful and when you make them fearful you can be certain they will resent you.