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March 2019

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The Simple Secret to Achieving Goals – Mental Toughness

“Talent is overrated, mental strength is critical”.  This is the opening quote to an interesting article by James Clear, a noted Author of the New York Times best seller Atomic Habits.  Many view top performers in the workplace, in athletics, and in life, as gifted or talented.  While talent may have something to do with success, it is likely not the universal key ingredient.  According to scientific research, one’s talent and intelligence do not play nearly as big a role in business and life success as one might think.  In fact, many studies have found that intelligence only accounts for 30% of a person’s achievement.

So, if it is not talent or intelligence, what is it?  It turns out, according to James Clear and the research he follows, the simple secret is mental toughness.  What is even more interesting is that mental toughness can be developed and improved.  Your talent, and certainly your intelligence, are difficult to work on and driven more by genetics, thus largely out of your control.  But mental toughness can be learned and improved throughout one’s entire life.

Clear uses an example of mental toughness in the military.  The study was conducted with cadets at West Point.  Researchers developed a series of questions to score performance on what they termed “Grit Scale”. It turned out that scoring just one standard deviation higher on the “Grit Scale” resulted in cadets being 60% more likely to finish the toughest mental and physical tests West Point could dish out.  The Grit Scale effectively measured mental toughness.

Angela Duckworth, the researcher and study’s author at the University of Pennsylvania used her Grit Scale to measure mental toughness in several other areas and came up with the following findings:

  • Undergraduates at an ivy league university who had more Grit, achieved higher GPAs than their peers even though they may have entered with lower SAT scores;
  • Comparing the score on the Grit Scale of two different individuals of the same age (but not the same intelligence), the higher score on the Grit Scale will predict which person will be higher educated;
  • National spelling bee competitors who scored higher on the Grit Scale outperformed because of their mental toughness and more consistent practice than those who were considered more “intelligent”.

“Our hypothesis is that Grit is essential to high achievement evolved during interviews with professionals in investment banking, painting, journalism, academia, medicine and law.  Asked what quality distinguishes star performers in their respective fields, these individuals cited Grit (or a close synonym) as often as talent.  In fact, many were awed by the achievements of peers who did not at first seem as gifted as others, but whose sustained commitment to their ambitions was exceptional.  Likewise, many noted with surprise that prodigiously gifted peers did not end up in the upper echelons of their field.” (Angela Duckworth – Researcher)

Significance

The bottom line of this research indicates that talent is overrated.  This makes sense in that we observe that the smartest people do not always rise to the top of their fields, perform best, or find success in life pursuits. Instead, in almost every area of one’s life, from health, to education to work performance, it turns out that mental toughness and perseverance are the highest predictors of success that researchers could find.

The good news is that you can develop mental toughness, unlike the God given gifts you were born with. This means you can choose to become more consistent and you can develop successful habits.

James Clear summarizes his research findings and conclusions by stating, “When things get tough for most people, they find something easier to work on.  When things get difficult for mentally tough people, they find a way to stay on the schedule…. toughness simply comes down to being more consistent than most people.”

For more self-improvement tips based on this research, visit JamesClear.com.

Paul Finkle, SPHR, CMC – Executive Vice President

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services

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Can AI Be Used to Enhance Worker Happiness and Satisfaction?

A tech start-up, Humu, founded by three former Google executives is using artificial intelligence (AI) to change worker behavior towards a happier workplace.  Most people think AI is used to address some of the most complex problems, but Humu is founded on the basis that using analytics and some proprietary communication tools, worker satisfaction and happiness can be enhanced at almost any company.

Humu’s CEO, Laszlo Bach, led many HR analytics efforts at Google and decided to tackle worker happiness using AI in his own startup.  Humu aggregates data such as behaviors and success traits of great managers and fostering better teamwork.  Humu uses the information to develop a set of reminders to make behavioral changes that are likely to increase worker satisfaction at the job.

The concept behind Humu is to use machine learning to tailor the timing, content and techniques of messaging on how a unique workforce will respond and to support particular managers in better decisions and more consistent actions.

Humu started in 2017, has raised over $40 million and has 15 current customers ranging from 150 to 65,000 employees.

The company has developed a proprietary communication tool it calls a “Nudge” which is really a well-timed email giving a manager or employee a reminder to engage in the desired behavior.  The tool is based on Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize winning research in to how people make decisions.  The Nudge is designed to help employees make the right kinds of decisions at the right times.  Bach first experimented with a concept while at Google where employees were coached to save more for retirement, waste less food in the cafeteria, remember to take training courses and other important behaviors.  AI helps Humu tailor the content and the timing.

One critic of the concept states that only senior management knows what the purpose of the Nudge is, and it may be used purely for corporate interests as opposed to employee welfare and happiness.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the CEO of Sweetgreen, a salad restaurant chain, is one of Humu’s customers.  He stated that if he had not been convinced with evidence of a successful track record at Google, he would consider the Humu’s concept a bunch of “hocus pocus happiness non-sense”.  After signing with Humu, the CEO, Sanjiv Rezdan, has become a believer and reported that he himself received a Nudge and was encouraged to timely communicate, which he might not otherwise have done.

Sweetgreen suffers from high turnover.  Humu pinpointed employee retention is a key issue and has focused its activities based on data, to remind managers to do the sorts of things that increase retention.  One example was a series of a reminders to encourage managers to set developmental goals for their teams.

Significance

AI is fueling what many call the next industrial revolution.  AI is being used in most areas of our lives and some argue HR or people operations is late to the party. Humu is an interesting new type of organization seeking to use big data and machine-learning to address some of the most slippery and vexing problems in human resources. Tangible financial measures, such as reduced employee turnover would be the sorts of things to validate the premise of Humu’s approach. In a highly competitive environment for talent, ideas like Humu are on the leading edge of concepts that appear to be increasing retention and employee satisfaction by helping managers and employees make the right choices at the right time.

Paul Finkle, SPHR, CMC – Executive Vice President

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services

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