Wednesday, June 25, 2008

head2head: A sweet dilemma - One Hershey's kiss at a time.

Arguing from a socio-cognitive perspective, I'll point out why candy (or some other forms of a serotonin-raising food treat) can be vital to a happy and productive workforce. [Full disclosure: I myself am a manager and a candy dish junkie.]

The office candy dish by the boss's desk provides a way to gauge average mood of your team members, establish trust and routines at a very basic physiological level and encourage creative risk taking and improve collective problem solving on a team wide basis.

We'll start with human physiology. Most cubicle dwellers spend somewhere between 7 and a half and 9 hours at the office and during that time face emotional and physical pressures and highs and lows of energy. Candy is consumed at both extremes of this process. No one is eating candy when they are a busy and engrossed in a project or laying low and procrastinating; they either eat when they have completed a task or when they need a break from a project. As manager, seeing who comes to the bowl, when and in what mood helps you gauge their productivity and their daily working style.

It also places you at the forefront of two very critical processes that go on in your employee's work day: At the Success Update: "I've finished Step 3 and I'm ready to move to step 4" or at the Sticking Point: "I am trying to come up with a solution," "I just got a nasty stressful e-mail," or "I'm having trouble getting started on this piece of an assignment." In either case you'll want to intervene either with kudos and next-step instructions for a Success Point or resources or motivation for a Sticking Point.

In many cases your employees will become used to coming to your desk to reward themselves with candy to report on progress or to console themselves with candy to seek your advice. In the latter situation will not become a whine session due to the heroic candy dish – it is socially unacceptable for one person to take more than two pieces of candy in one trip. Thus they have to go away for a period of time and return with something new to report in order to receive more candy.

This routine establishes a trust model between individuals. Coleman defines trust as an action that involves a voluntary transfer of resources from the truster to the trustee with no real commitment from the trustee. In other words establishing trust is a great way to get your employees to do work on your behalf without expecting immediate financial compensation. It's important to note that trusting another party when one is compelled to is essentially reliance, lacking a belief in benevolence and competence. However I would argue that by providing a regular supply of candy a manager can display consistency and benevolence, thus deepening the trust beyond standard a traditional trust schemas based solely on power.

Deeper trust communities encourage the individuals within them to take greater risks. Risk taking employees innovate more often, which can lead to better results for the projects they undertake. The candy dish is just one tool in an overall approach to supportive, trust-building management however it is a simple and effective one that should not be taken lightly.

Read Optimistic Skeptic's take.

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