Managing Through

Kevin Lewis

November 03, 2020

To build efficacy, eat the frog first: People misunderstand how the difficulty-ordering of tasks influences efficacy
Rachel Habbert & Juliana Schroeder
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


Achieving competency and autonomy in one's life - in other words, being efficacious - is a fundamental human need. A commonly endorsed strategy for building efficacy is summarized by a popular quote: “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing.” The current paper tests this “eat-the-frog-first” strategy, examining whether completing tasks in increasing-easiness order builds efficacy more than increasing-difficulty (or randomized) order. We propose that the eat-the-frog-first strategy does indeed enhance efficacy, but also that people will prefer the opposing order (preferring to complete more difficult tasks later) because they inaccurately believe that doing so will enhance their efficacy. Six experiments and one supplemental experiment (N = 2013) support these hypotheses. In Experiments 1a, 2a, and 3a (predicted efficacy experiments), people believed that completing tasks in increasing-difficulty (vs. increasing-easiness) order would enhance their efficacy, and hence preferred to complete tasks in increasing-difficulty order. But in corresponding Experiments 1b, 2b, and 3b (actual efficacy experiments), completing tasks in increasing-difficulty (vs. increasing-easiness or random) order reduced self-efficacy (or did not meaningfully change it; 3b). We provide evidence in a final study (Experiment 4) that this misunderstanding is due to people simulating the beginning of a sequence (e.g., the struggle of completing the most difficult task) more than the end (e.g., the ease of completing the simplest task). We conclude that people's tendency to delay the difficult incurs unexpected costs to self-worth. To build efficacy, people should start with their hardest task, even though doing so may violate intuition.

Seeing Oneself as a Valued Contributor: Social Worth Affirmation Improves Team Information Sharing
Julia Lee Cunningham et al.
Academy of Management Journal, forthcoming


Teams often fail to reach their potential because members’ concerns about being socially accepted prevent them from offering their unique perspectives to the team. Drawing on relational self and self-affirmation theory, we argue that affirmation of team members’ social worth by trusted people outside the team helps them internalize an identity as a valued contributor, thereby reducing social acceptance concerns and facilitating information sharing in teams. We devised three intervention studies to demonstrate the causal effect of social worth affirmation in teams. In Study 1, senior executive teams in which members experienced social worth affirmation performed better on a crisis simulation that required information sharing in teams (compared to control teams). In Study 2, with U.S. military cadets, we examined social acceptance concerns as a mechanism by which social worth affirmation influences information sharing. In Study 3, we showed that social worth affirmation improves virtual teams’ ability to share information by exchanging unique information cues. Our results suggest that affirmation of the social worth of team members through their personal relationships broadens their sense of self, thereby reducing their social concerns about being accepted by other members. This, in turn, leads to better information sharing in teams.

Worker Empowerment and Subjective Evaluation: On Building an Effective Conflict Culture
Bentley MacLeod, Victoria Valle Lara & Christian Zehnder
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


Although conflicts typically lead to a waste of resources, organizations may still benefit from a corporate culture that tolerates or even encourages conflicts. The reason is that coordinated conflicts may help to enforce informal contracts and foster cooperation. In this paper we report results of a series of laboratory experiments designed to explore whether and under what conditions an efficiency-enhancing conflict culture can emerge. Using a principal-worker setup with subjective performance evaluation, we show that establishing a functional conflict culture is a delicate matter. If conflicts are encouraged in a careless, hands-off manner, the destructive side of conflicts is likely to dominate. To be successful a conflict culture requires a careful management of fairness norms. In our experiment we find that conflicts have positive net effects on efficiency only if an explicit code of conduct is established and conflicts are institutionalized through a grievance process. Thus, providing workers with more power may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for improving productivity when performance evaluations are subjective.

How a gratitude intervention influences workplace mistreatment: A multiple mediation model
Lauren Locklear, Shannon Taylor & Maureen Ambrose
Journal of Applied Psychology, forthcoming


Despite wide-ranging negative consequences of interpersonal mistreatment, research offers few practical solutions to reduce such behavior in organizations. Given that interpersonal relationships are strengthened and desired employee behaviors are more frequent when individuals purposefully cultivate feelings of gratitude, the present study tests the effectiveness of a 10-day gratitude journaling intervention in reducing workplace incivility, gossip, and ostracism. Because research has not examined the mechanisms by which gratitude interventions influence outcomes, we draw on theory and research from the gratitude literature to propose and test a multiple mediator model. Specifically, we examine the moral affect theory of gratitude, find-remind-and-bind theory, self-regulation theory, and social exchange theory as possible explanations for the effects of the intervention. Two field experiments involving 147 (Study 1) and 204 (Study 2) employees demonstrated that the intervention decreased mistreatment (as reported by coworkers) by enhancing self-control resources. We also found that the effects of the intervention were stronger for individuals who perceive higher norms for gratitude in their workplace. The findings support the resource-building nature of gratitude interventions and demonstrate that a gratitude intervention is one effective way to decrease interpersonal mistreatment in organizations. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Make Way for the Algorithms: Symbolic Actions and Change in a Regime of Knowing
Stella Pachidi et al.
Organization Science, forthcoming


When actors deem technological change undesirable, they may act symbolically by pretending to comply while avoiding real change. In our study of the introduction of an algorithmic technology in a sales organization, we found that such symbolic conformity led unintendedly to the full implementation of the suggested technological change. To explain this surprising outcome, we advance a regime-of-knowing lens that helps to analyze deep challenges happening under the surface during the process of technology introduction. A regime of knowing guides what is worth knowing, what actions matter to acquire this knowledge, and who has the authority to make decisions around those issues. We found that both the technologists who introduced the algorithmic technology, and the incumbent workers whose work was affected by the change, used symbolic actions to either defend the established regime of knowing or to advocate a radical change. Although the incumbent workers enacted symbolic conformity by pretending to comply with suggested changes, the technologists performed symbolic advocacy by presenting a positive side of the technological change. Ironically, because the symbolic conformity enabled and was reinforced by symbolic advocacy, reinforcing cycles of symbolic actions yielded a radical change in the sales' regime of knowing: from one focused on a deep understanding of customers via personal contact and strong relationships, to one based on model predictions from the processing of large datasets. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings for the introduction of technology at work and for knowing in the workplace.

Managers’ Affiliation Ties and Subordinates’ Inter-firm Mobility: Evidence from Large US Law Firms
Seth Carnahan, MaryJane Rabier & Jose Uribe
Washington University in St. Louis Working Paper, June 2020


We hypothesize that employee mobility between organizations will be lower when the organizations’ managers share affiliation ties. We test this idea by examining inter-organizational employee mobility between large corporate law practices. We find that a practice area is less likely to hire attorneys from a rival practice area when leaders of the two practice areas attended the same law school at the same time, our proxy for the presence of an affiliation tie. The negative relationship is stronger for the hiring of higher-ranked attorneys and when the rival law firms have similar measures of organizational culture. Exploiting appointments of new practice leaders, we find a sharp and immediate decline in inter-organizational mobility following an appointment that creates an affiliation tie between the leadership of the practice areas. Our theory and results shed light on the previously unexamined role of rival managers’ ties in their subordinates’ inter-organizational mobility.

Elaborating or Aggregating? The Joint Effects of Group Decision-Making Structure and Systematic Errors on the Value of Group Interactions
Steffen Keck & Wenjie Tang
Management Science, forthcoming


We explore when group interactions will have a positive effect on the accuracy of quantitative judgments. The results from three laboratory experiments revealed that the value of group interactions, compared with a statistical aggregation of individual judgments, differed strongly between groups in which decisions were made based on consensus, compared with groups with a randomly assigned group leader, and that this effect was moderated by the level of systematic error among group members. In particular, when systematic errors were low, group interactions generally provided little value, and groups’ decision-making structure (consensus versus leader based) did not have a significant effect on the value of group interactions. However, when the level of systematic error was high, the value of interactions in groups with a randomly designated leader was strongly positive and significantly higher than in groups with a consensus decision-making structure where interactions still provided only little value. Moreover, we found that this effect was mediated by information elaboration - which was higher in leader groups but only had a significant effect on the value of group interactions when there was a high level of systematic error. Finally, we also identified two important boundary conditions for these results. In particular, leader groups did not provide more value than consensus groups in the presence of strong systematic errors when leaders were assigned based on prior individual performance rather than randomly or when group members had only little expertise in the task.

Artificial Intelligence Coaches for Sales Agents: Caveats and Solutions
Xueming Luo et al.
Journal of Marketing, forthcoming


Firms are exploiting artificial intelligence (AI) coaches to provide training to sales agents and improve their job skills. The authors present several caveats associated with such practices based on a series of randomized field experiments. Experiment 1 shows that the incremental benefit of the AI coach over human managers is heterogeneous across agents in an inverted-U shape: whereas middle-ranked agents improve their performance by the largest amount, both bottom- and top-ranked agents show limited incremental gains. This pattern is driven by a learning-based mechanism in which bottom-ranked agents encounter the most severe information overload problem with the AI versus human coach, while top-ranked agents hold the strongest aversion to the AI relative to a human coach. To alleviate the challenge faced by bottom-ranked agents, Experiment 2 redesigns the AI coach by restricting the training feedback level and shows a significant improvement in agent performance. Experiment 3 reveals that the AI-human coach assemblage outperforms either the AI or human coach alone. This assemblage can harness the hard data skills of the AI coach and soft interpersonal skills of human managers, solving both problems faced by bottom- and top-ranked agents. These findings offer novel insights into AI coaches for researchers and managers alike.

Personnel Mobility and Organizational Performance: The Effects of Specialist vs. Generalist Experience and Organizational Work Structure
Erin Fahrenkopf, Jerry Guo & Linda Argote
Organization Science, forthcoming


This study advances understanding of the conditions under which a new worker improves organizational performance. We argue that the extent to which new group members have experience working as specialists or generalists is a critical factor in explaining performance after the new member joins. We conceptualize specialists as those who concentrate on a particular component of an organization’s task, whereas generalists perform all components of the task. As such, a specialist must coordinate with other group members to complete the group’s task, which makes a specialist more interdependent with other members and in possession of more organization-specific knowledge than a generalist. We predict that (1) groups receiving specialist new members do not perform as well after the new member joins as compared with groups receiving generalist new members and (2) groups with new members whose work experience and recipient group structure are aligned (i.e., generalist movers into generalist groups and specialist movers into specialist groups) perform better than groups with new members whose experience and recipient group structure are not aligned. We test our hypotheses using a laboratory study in which we manipulate the extent to which new members and incumbent members of recipient groups work as specialists or generalists. Participants work as generalists or specialists in three-person groups and receive a new member who acquired experience as a specialist or generalist in another group. We find support for our hypotheses and provide evidence on mechanisms through which potential new members’ backgrounds enable them to contribute significantly to their recipient groups. New members who acquire experience in a structure similar to that of their recipient organizations report that they experience greater fit with their new groups, which enables their recipient groups to perform better than groups where new members’ experience and recipient group structure are not aligned. Additionally, our results suggest generalists may be more likely than specialists to transfer knowledge to their new groups.

Wages and labor productivity. Evidence from injuries in the National Football League
Ian Gregory‐Smith
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming


Empirical studies face severe difficulties when identifying the relationship between wages and labor productivity. This paper presents a novel identification strategy and demonstrates that the connection between wages and labor productivity is remarkably robust even when institutional constraints serve to distort the relationship. Identification is achieved by considering injuries to professional football players as an exogenous shock to labor productivity. This is an ideal empirical setting because injured players in the National Football League cannot be replaced easily because franchises are constrained by the salary cap. Injuries are shown to play a major role in franchise success and a tight connection between wages and marginal productivity emerges. This is in spite of regulatory frictions that serve to hold down wages for some workers.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.