I recently had the privilege of joining Coach Matt Doherty on his webcast where we talked about a variety of workplace training topics. My first conversation with him was probably one of the most memorable moments of my career to date, as it revolved around two of the things I care most about in the world: leadership and UNC basketball. For those of you who weren't blessed from birth to be a Tar Heel, he played on the 1982 National Championship team alongside Michael Jordan. He's coached at a variety of schools (including my alma mater, Davidson College), but he's best known for his three-year tenure as the head coach of the UNC men's basketball team.
After the webcast, Coach sent me a copy of his book Rebound: From Pain to Passion as a token of thanks. I read it cover to cover the next day. In it, he discusses his rise as a coach to one of the most prestigious jobs in the game, the loss of that job, and how he was able to emotionally and professionally recover in the aftermath. He describes the feelings of loss, pain, and betrayal associated with falling off a high pedestal in an extremely public forum. I do not know many people who could recover from something that ego-shattering with grace.
Inherent to leadership is learning to be comfortable with people watching and evaluating you. You're on a stage all the time, even on work-from-home Fridays and during happy hour. Even for those of us who like the limelight, it takes a toll. One thing we never talk about is how, as leaders, to manage emotional pain while we're on that stage. It's one thing for a team member to go through a hardship; leaders rally around them, give them the space and support they need, and are patient while life is uncertain. But when it's you? Do you tell your team what's going on, and risk freaking them out? Do you try to model strength in the face of adversity and act like nothing is wrong? Will they think you're making excuses? Will they be scared? Can you handle your whole world knowing that you're not OK?
Basketball teams play a lot of games, which is great for people like me who like to watch them. If you're the coach, that means you have the potential to take a lot of "Ls." In the government contracting space, we do too. I lose a lot more than I win, and that's hard. When you add personal loss on top of that, the cracks start to show. Throw in a pandemic, political tension, and everything else, and honestly, there are some bad days. How do I deal with it? I tend to share in the hopes that the crew will know when it's them, they're in a safe place to ask for help. I also think they have a right to know if I'm not at 100%, and they should understand that this job is hard because one day, it might be theirs. But it's also just as important for them to see me trying to take care of myself, giving myself some grace, and getting better. Is this the right way to handle it? I don't know. But I do know that the world isn't getting any kinder, and this should be a topic we talk about a lot more.
Thanks to Coach Doherty for having the courage to write about his experience, and for sharing the lessons he learned from it. You can order Rebound: From Pain to Passion here: https://amzn.to/3Tl8vFV and watch to the Rebound Live Webcast here: https://coachmattdoherty.com/webcast/
I recently attended the 13th Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) Conference in New York City. Like a busy NYC street, the topics covered were an eclectic mix of human factors solutions highlighting advances in training, performance, safety, and usability in nearly every human endeavor. The presentations I saw at AHFE emphasized that human factors has embraced new technologies as tools for investigation and as objects of study. Here are just some of the interesting things at AHFE 2022:
Like the massive screens in Times Square, the above items were certainly attention-grabbing and my first reaction to much of what I saw was “cool.” Then, questions began to go through my mind as I started to think about what’s beyond this first impression. Is the alphabet instructional game enjoyable and thus motivating children to stay engaged? Is it intended to supplement parent-child interaction? Or replace it? The AR laser-based project system may improve productivity, but does it improve safety? Do the workers understand the system and enjoy using it? Are autopsies currently being done poorly and, if so...how? You get the idea.
The AHFE keynote address by Dr. Michael van Lent, President and CEO of Soar Technology, discussed the 4th Industrial Revolution. This revolution is brought about by a combination of technologies that afford the opportunity to blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological, allowing new information, products, and services to emerge. This led me to think about technology's intended and unintended uses and how humans are changed simply because of their interactions with technology. Often, we focus on the obvious, albeit “cool”, intended use without considering secondary and even tertiary human-centered benefits and consequences. For instance, I hope that a children’s game for teaching the alphabet is motivational and effective while also promoting rich social interaction among parents and children.
As human factors researchers, we should consider how to measure the unintended benefits and how humans are changed because of technology interaction. For example, how does adaptive lighting in automobiles influence not only driver emotions but also driver focus and reaction time? While no single study can examine every effect, intended or unintended, our methods and measures must be expanded to account for the ever-increasing complexity of human systems interaction. What are the types of questions you ask when you see new tech or research? Are you able to move beyond the cool?
The Olympics concluded last week and some of you may have watched the fascinating sport of curling. I don’t know about you, but when I watch curling, I have many questions. Questions such as” “What the heck is going on?” and “How do they keep score?” But the aspect of curling that intrigues me the most is how the curlers communicate. There are moments of silence punctuated by abrupt yelling, and soft talking that becomes full on screaming. It is exciting to watch! But it still begs the questions, what are they communicating and how does this communication help their performance?
Let’s start with some basics. Curling is played on a long, narrow sheet of ice with a marked target area, called the house, at each end. Teams typically consist of four players each and each team takes turns sliding heavy granite stones to the opposite end of the ice. The goal is to get your team’s stones closer to the center button of the “house” by pushing the stone and sweeping the ice in front of the stone to keep it moving at the speed and direction you want. The friction from the “sweepers” sweeping polishes the ice, which makes the stone travel farther and straighter (Reich, 2014). However, for sweepers to know how and when to sweep, effective communication is required from the thrower to the sweepers.
Before the stone is thrown, the skip (the team strategy leader) should communicate the delivery of the stone with the thrower and sweepers. It is key for the delivering player and the sweepers to make sure they understand this guidance from the skip. If needed, they will discuss and confirm with the skip their understanding of the upcoming shot. The thrower and the sweepers will typically discuss the speed of the ice prior to throws as well. Once the stone is moving, constant communication should take place between the sweepers and the thrower. The sweepers will be responsible for judging the weight of the stone and will regularly communicate their estimation to the skip. The thrower is responsible for judging the stone’s course and should regularly inform the sweepers of that course and their need to sweep or not. Various codes and methods of communication exist to describe the path and weight of the stone. Table 1 provides examples of phrases used in curling between the thrower and the sweepers.
So how do we know if a curling team is communicating effectively? We can begin analyzing the communication in terms of an established framework (Jeffcott & Mackenzie, 2008). QIC is currently doing this with Army squad communications during execution of a common battle drill. In this effort, communication between squad members is classified as one of five possible factors: communication quality, leadership, monitoring, cooperation, and coordination. See Table 2 for a description of each factor. Squad scores within each factor are analyzed relative to squad performance metrics.
A similar approach can be applied to curling team communications. Communication Quality can refer to the extent that team members are yelling clearly and sufficiently often. Leadership can be measured through whether the skip is making sound decisions and providing clear direction to the thrower. Monitoring may consist of whether the thrower is constantly monitoring the speed and position of the rock, and if the sweepers are actively listening, responding to, and acknowledging the thrower’s direction. Cooperation can be measured by the degree to which the sweepers are working together. Coordination can refer to the implicit coordination between the sweepers and if the skip is providing direction at the right time.
Once team communications are organized according to the five factors and validated, the formal analysis comparing communications to curling performance can begin. For instance, how does communication within each of the five factors explain differences in curling team’s performance such as points scored, wins and losses, and time to complete a match? With enough data from different curling teams, a predictive model could be developed to better understand how different types of communication, according to the five-factor framework, can predict actual curling performance. This can have major implications for training and team member selection.
What other Olympic sports did you watch where team communications appeared to be an important factor?
Jeffcott, S. A., & Mackenzie, C. F. (2008). Measuring team performance in healthcare: review of research and implications for patient safety. Journal of Critical Care, 23(2), 188-196.
Reich, B. (2014, February 13). Here's everything you ever wanted to know about curling. Mic. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.mic.com/articles/81947/here-s-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-curling
Sticking to my exercise regime. Keeping up with those Spanish exercises on DuoLingo. Stop binge-watching “The Office”. Eating healthily. It’s only a few weeks into the new year and l’m already re-thinking my new year’s resolutions.
Most of us would agree that behavioral change is elusive. Two thoughts come to mind, one, “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays motion, unless it is acted upon by a force” which is Newton’s 1st law of motion (Britannica, 2021). Two, "we are just creatures of habit." Creatures, i.e., driven more by instinct with minimal prefrontal cortex (PFC) action. The PFC being associated with executive functions such as cognitive control, attention, planning, decision-making, impulse inhibition, reasoning, and problem-solving (Fuster, 2015).
So it seems like short of a compelling external force, I can’t help but fall back on old behaviors without some purposeful activation of my higher-order cognitive functions to steer me away from my path of least resistance. It also doesn’t help that in today’s digital age, we all have too many options for things to do at any one time. This means staying on a task requires an intentional decision every time we’re tempted to do something else.
Resolutions can either be approach-oriented goals such as eating more vegetables and keeping up with exercise, or avoidance-oriented goals such as spending less or quitting a bad habit. Studies show that approach-oriented goals are more effective than avoidance-oriented ones (Oscarsson, Carlbring, Andersson, & Rozental, 2020), suggesting that when possible, we should perhaps reframe those “quit” goals as new habits to be formed instead. Another consideration for forming resolutions is applying one of the seven principles of highly effective people: begin with the end in mind (Covey, 2020). This means I shouldn’t just resolve simply to exercise more or eat more healthily. The goals need to be specific and tied to a realistic vision of what the end looks like. For the exercise goal, this could be an ongoing one like jogging 2 miles three times a week.
Here are some commonly cited pointers to help us new year resolvers along:
1. Watch those cues and lower the bar for the good habit to form
Many of our behaviors are based on and triggered by cues which can be an event, emotion, place or person. For instance, when I come home after work and turn on the TV, this is the end-of-the-day signal to wind down, and for me, it is a cue to take a trip to the fridge or pantry and reach for that bag of chips. Feelings of boredom can also cue mindless snacking. To counter this, I’ll need the cues to signal the new behavior. Instead of turning on the TV the minute I get home, I should do something else that takes me away from the TV, e.g., go out for a walk or tend to my plants. Cues should also be used to encourage us to form good habits. Some suggest putting running shoes by the bed as a cue to exercise early the next day. I’d also suggest lowering the bar for the new habit and wearing my running socks to bed, or replace the chips with readily accessible healthy snacks, so I don’t quit snacking, but snack more healthily.
2. Use frequent reinforcements and immediate feedback
Once we have started on the behavior, we need frequent reinforcements to see it through to completion. In the midst of my jog, I’m always tempted to quit and so must be fueled by frequent reinforcements such as encouraging self-talk, or immediate feedback of my incremental gains provided by the upward count of the number of steps or distance displayed on my fitness app. Listening to music to distract from the monotony of the jog also works well. The feeling of accomplishment at the end of the exercise can also be rewarding.
3. Get support or make a social commitment.
Sometimes we all need an extra push to stay on top of our resolutions. This is where others come in. In a large study conducted on new year’s resolutions, participants who had more support with their goals were more successful in attaining them. Compared to the no support group, these supported participants named at least one person that would support their progress and were given support in the form of follow-up emails and information and exercises on how to cope with potential hurdles when working towards their goals (Oscarsson, Carlbring, Andersson, & Rozental, 2020). If you can’t find anyone to exercise with, then at least create a social contract by letting a friend or family member know of your goals. This will count as support if you feel obliged to keep our word and follow through.
4. Just keep on keeping on, there is no fail
It is inevitable that we’ll have bad days, so we shouldn’t ditch the resolution just because we failed once, or twice, or thrice, or however many times. The important thing to do is just to keep moving. Besides, there are benefits in making new year’s resolutions:
So if you haven’t done so but still want to, it’s not too late to make some resolutions. Let us know how you're doing with your resolutions!
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, July 23). Newton's laws of motion. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/Newtons-laws-of-motion
Covey, S. R., & Covey, S. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people. Simon & Schuster.
Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2014). The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Management Science, 60(10), 2563-2582.
Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2015). Put your imperfections behind you: Temporal landmarks spur goal initiation when they signal new beginnings. Psychological science, 26(12), 1927-1936.
Fuster, J. (2015). The prefrontal cortex. Academic Press.
Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS One, 15(12), e0234097.
While failure is no fun, it is a part of life. Whether summitting mountains or managing projects, there are times when one must recognize the signs of failure, make the tough decision to call it a day, and learn from the experience to return smarter and stronger next time.
This past summer, I took a vacation to Colorado which was a blast. Three days on the agenda consisted of backpacking into the Chicago Basin, camping, and summiting 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet). I had no prior mountaineering experience though was with someone who did, and we planned extensively. I had the right gear, was in good shape, and the conditions were ideal; I was feeling confident. On the second day, as I attempted a second summit, I began feeling fatigued, making mental errors, and falling behind. Though I tried to press on, I was aware that poor decisions and continued mistakes, especially near the summit, could be catastrophic (see Wickens, Keller, & Shaw, 2015).
I made the difficult call to abandon the summit bid and hiked down to lower elevation. Watching the beautiful sunrise over the basin lakes, I began to reflect on the failure, thinking about it in terms of project management given a summit bid, like a project, is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique…result” (Project Management Institute, 2008, p. 5). Though a project manager (PM) never plans to fail, they do identify the risks and notice the potential signs of failure so that they can correct course. As a last resort, a responsible PM may decide it is best to call it quits before stakeholder and company losses become too great.
Recognizing the Signs
In a Project Management Institute (PMI) published article "Managing Troubled Projects", Alaskar (2013) outlines signs that a project may be in jeopardy. Several of these apply to my summit bid:
Learning from Failure
In another PMI published article, Ranganath (2006) presents a learning from experience (LifE) cycle for project management that applies to dealing with project failure. The cycle involves:
Though it may be a bit painful, tell us about a project failure whether work related or not. If you like to climb mountains, tell us about that too!
Alaskar, A. H. (2013). Managing troubled projects. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2013—North America, New Orleans, LA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide) (4th ed.). Project Management Institute.
Ranganath, P. G. (2006). LIfE—learning and improving from experience. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2006—North America, Seattle, WA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Wickens, Christopher D.; Keller, John W.; and Shaw, Christopher (2015) "Human Factors in High-Altitude Mountaineering," Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments: Vol. 12 : Iss. 1 , Article 1.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!