Saturday, March 19, 2011

Press the Thumbs for Your Staff

I'm often skeptical of studies such as the one highlighted in this Harvard Business Review Daily Stat. Basically the study shows that wishing people luck can improve and speed their performance. (It also reveals that "press the thumbs" is the German equivalent of "cross my fingers.")

Why am I often skeptical? There are frequently more variables involved than they believe they're testing, such as positive selection. In this study's case, they took away a lucky charm from half the participants to prove that having lucky charms improved performance in the other half. I wonder if the first half of the participants would have performed less well if they had taken away anything from them, such as one sock.

Why did this study catch my attention? Since I interpreted the finger crossing to actually be a sign of encouragement, not simply a superstitious act, and I do believe that wishing someone well is motivational. If I cross my fingers for your success, it shows that I support your success, not solely that I am invoking lucky spirits on your behalf.

There are so many toxic workplaces, where people are afraid of making mistakes and receive attention only when they screw up. Or, at best, receive kind words only if they succeed. And there are far too few workplaces where bosses send their staff off with encouragement.

While I have not done any analysis of the success rates within the two types of workplaces – and there are so many other variables – I expect that the ones with bosses "pressing the thumbs" for their staff's success would have better "luck" and greater productivity.

So ... next time you give someone a job to do, also give them a little motivation on the way out. It might lead to better and faster success.

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