Tag Archives: Jennifer Aaker

Concrete Helping Acts Increase “Helpers High” Happiness more than Abstract Goals

Melanie Rudd

Melanie Rudd

People experience greater happiness when they perform specific “prosocial” actions, like trying to make someone smile, rather than pursuing an abstract objective like “trying to make someone happy,” according to University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford and Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Fifty volunteers were asked to “make someone happy,” or to “make someone smile,” in exchange for a gift card.
When they completed the task, participants described how they accomplished their assignment, and the degree of happiness they experienced.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Participants who completed the specific goal, “getting someone to smile,” reported greater happiness than those who worked toward the more abstract, “higher construal level” goal of “making someone happy” – no matter which action they performed to achieve the goal.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Specific goals have a “low construal level”, according to Construal Level Theory (CLT), discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University.
CLT distinguishes concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal actions from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.
Team Rudd’s findings demonstrate the emotional impact associated with completing specific prosocial tasks.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Rudd and team posited that concrete goals reduce the gap between expected and actual impact of one’s actions, and increase goal clarity, measurability, and achievability while setting more realistic outcome expectations.
The team evaluated this speculation by asking participants to rate the degree of similarity between the actual outcome and their expectations before they performed the specific or general task.
Those who performed the more specific action also reported greater similarity between expectations and actual outcomes, as well as experiencing more happiness as a result of their prosocial actions.

Edwin Locke

Edwin Locke

Abstractly-framed goals focus on “why”, broader meaning, and larger purpose, whereas concretely-stated objectives target the “how, found University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and Gary Latham of University of Toronto.

Gary Latham

Gary Latham

Similarly, smaller expectation-reality gaps were linked to greater satisfaction, happiness, and well-being in research by University of Leiden’s Riël Vermunt and Herman Steensma. 

Riël Vermunt

Riël Vermunt

Rudd’s group replicated Vermunt and Steensma’s findings, for people had a previous friendship or no previous relationship with the beneficiary, and when the prosocial acts varied in magnitude.

Herman Steensma

Herman Steensma

Participants experienced similar degrees of happiness in performing small or large kind deeds, as long as thee specified actions like “increasing recycling of unneeded materials” instead of “supporting environmental sustainability.”

Volunteers were consistently inaccurate in predicting which charitable acts would make them feel most happy 24 hours after they completed the task.

Gal Zauberman

Gal Zauberman

Participants predicted that performing the abstract, “high construal level” task of “making someone happy” would make them happier than the specific task of “trying to make someone smile” – but they actually experienced greater happiness after they did a specific good deed.
Likewise, Wharton’s Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch of Duke also found that volunteers had inaccurate expectations about future outcomes.

Anyone who has been disappointed when ambitious goals to help others did not result in the desired outcome understands the problems of “donor fatigue” or “helper burnout,” when there is a significant discrepancy between helper expectation and actual outcome.

Carolyn Schwartz

Carolyn Schwartz

This anecdotal experience is confirmed by University of Massachusetts Medical School’s University of Massachusetts’s Carolyn Schwarz, Yunsheng Ma, and George Reed, with Janice Bell Meisenhelder of Emmanuel College, who found that discrepancies between expectations and outcomes are linked to giver unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Allan Luks

Allan Luks

Rudd and team’s research suggests that much-needed helpers can experience a Helper’s High instead of “helper burnout” when their goals are concretely defined.
Helper’s High is even associated with improved physical health in addition to happiness, according to Fordham University’s Allan Luks.

Helping others is also associated with higher levels of mental health, found Schwartz’s group, although they found less relationship with physical health than Luks.

William Harbaugh

William Harbaugh

The Helper’s High has a physiological basis: “Pleasure centers of the brain” are activated when people make voluntary charitable donations as well as after receiving money for oneself, and even more than when individuals agree to a tax-like transfers to a charity, reported University of Oregon’s William T. Harbaugh and Ulrich Mayr, with Daniel R. Burghart of NYU.

Individuals can increase their experience of happiness by engaging in specific kind acts toward others, and philanthropic organizations can increase volunteer retention by framing requests as concrete, “low construal level” actions.

-*To what extent do specific prosocial actions increase your personal happiness?

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What is Your Signature Story in Behavioral Interviews?

Behavioral interviews require advance preparation for both the interviewer and the job applicant, in contrast to the frequently unplanned volley of unstructured Q&A intended to assess candidate fit and potential effectiveness in a work role.

Tom Janz

Tom Janz

Behavioral Interviews, developed by Tom Janz, now Chief Scientist at peopleassessments.com, ask job candidates to provide examples of past behaviors in specific situations deemed relevant to the target role.

The questions are typically framed as an invitation to tell a story about a situation, a challenge, the candidate’s action or solution, and the outcome:

  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem
  • Think of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it
  • Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you implemented it
  • Tell me about a time you went “above and beyond the call of duty
  • When was the last time you handled interruptions to your schedule?  How did you do it?
  • When and how did you convince a team to work on a project they didn’t like?
  • Provide an example of handling a difficult situation with a co-worker
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure

Sometimes the questions are structured to explicitly request that the candidate reply in the “STAR” format:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Results

Candidates increase odds of memorably and skillfully conveying relevant qualifications by preparing “Signature Stories” – theirs alone – to demonstrate how they resourcefully and innovatively:

  • Solved challenging problems
  • Improved strained work relationships
  • Met deadlines and budget
  • Applied “Lessons Learned”
  • Initiated transformational change
  • Demonstrated courage and integrity
Gary Oliphant

Gary Oliphant

Besides being noticed and remembered, signature stories told in behavioral interviews can help both the candidate and interviewer evaluate whether the fit between the role requirements and the candidate’s skills would likely lead to strong future performance.

Becky Oliphant

Becky Oliphant

Evidence for the predictive validity of signature stories told in behavioral interviews was provided by Gary Oliphant and Becky Oliphant of Stetson University with Katharine Hansen of quintcareers.com in their evaluation of 10 Gallup Organization “Life Themes” relevant to loan sales.
From these signature stories, the researchers accurately predicted post-hire performance and retention at a large financial sales organization.

Katharine Hansen

Katharine Hansen

Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts or figures alone,” contends Jennifer Aaker of Stanford, and she offers four elements that increase the impact of signature stories:

  • Goal: Defines a clear purpose and Call to Action, conveying what the listener should think, feel, do
  • Interest: Attracts focused attention by using a “hook” of surprising truth, visual effect, unusual problem-solving approach
  • Caring: Establishes empathic emotional connection with the storyteller’s challenge and journey to reach a meaningful goal
  • Memorable: Makes the story compelling, unforgettable, “re-tellable” and worth “going viral.”
Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Aaker suggests testing stories by asking others to what extent the story:

  • Changed the listener’s perspective
  • Resonated with the listener’s experiences, values, interests
  • Delivered “Moments of insight”
  • Had incomprehensible, inconsistent, or disjointed parts

She says that the mark of an effective “signature story” is that “others look at you differently” and the story moves you closer to a goal.

-*How do you craft dramatic, memorable Signature Stories to illustrate your values and capabilities?

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Why Organizations Care about Employee “Happiness”

“Command-and-control” managers of the past might have scoffed at current business research on happiness.
Under their spans-of-control, employees ought to have been happy to have a job from which they derived an income.
This view has been supplanted by widespread recognition that desirable outcomes like innovative problem solving, flexible decision making, and workplace productivity are associated with employees’ positive mood.

GallupResearch by the Gallup Organization offers further justification in its finding that disgruntled employees disengage and cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.

Therefore, organizations can increase financial performance by improving operational efficiency in the many processes involving people.

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School of Business contributed to the investigation of happiness’s impact on organizational productivity.
She found that positive moods prompt “more flexible decision-making, wider search behavior and greater analytic precision,” which enable the organization to take considered risks.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

On the other coast, Jennifer Aaker, award-winning professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, links workplace happiness and a sense of meaning.

She asserts that having a meaningful impact on the world is a strong predictor of happiness and that it’s possible to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of meaning in work and personal activities.
This cultivated awareness, she said, influences people’s subjective well-being and may positively affect that of others in a contagion effect.

Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt

New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist in the Stern School of Business, takes a more philosophical view of happiness.
He redefines “wisdom” – other might say “leadership” or “self-management” – as the ability to adapt, shape the environment, and know when to move to new environments.

His moral and ethical framework includes high-level philosophical “virtues” associated with a sense of well-being and shared across cultures:

  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

The Happiness HypothesisHaidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom , specified contributors to well-being:

  • Strong marriages
  • Physical touch
  • Meaningful relationships
  • Religious affiliation
  • Autonomy
  • Meaningful engagement in work
  • Contributing to a community through voluntary effort

Engineering organizations analyze issues according to “Is-Is Not.
Using this approach, Jonathan Haidt’s research offered some surprising happiness detractors or “is-nots”:

  • Persistent noise
  • Long commutes
  • Lack of situational and person control
  • Shame
  • Dysfunctional relationships
Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona offered an additional contributor to happiness: Interpersonal dialog.
He found that volunteers who engaged in a meaningful conversation create shared meaning, strengthened their connections, and reported feeling happy.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht’s The Happiness Myth, offers a framework for types and levels of happiness:

  • Good day, awareness, savoring, and gratitude for the fortunate conditions of one’s life
  • Good life, engaging in meaningful and challenging tasks that help provide a material quality of life and doing one’s best in any endeavor
  • Peak, choosing experiences that inspire awe and a sense of the eternal, connect to families and communities.

The Happiness MythShe cites familiar recommendations to:

  • Cultivate self-knowledge
  • Develop a clear view of one’s worth
  • Moderate desires
  • Appreciate mortality and time limits
  • Try new things
  • Increase involvement with others and the community.

Organizational policies can contribute to employees’ sense of well-being through establishing:

  • Opportunities for career movement and development
  • Regular acknowledgement and praise for a job well done
  • Focus on well-being as individuals through health and work/life integration programs

The payoffs to organizations include increased productivity, innovation and engagement.

-*How have you seen efforts to increase organizational “happiness” result in improved employee engagement, productivity, or decision-making?

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