Performance, Strategy

Bear Hugs are not good for your health – Large alliance partners for small firms


Startup companies are generally advised – and are typically celebrating –  to embrace the opportunity of partnering with large companies. It is good for access to resources, and it conveys social status. Two things startup companies typically don’t have. In their research note, Vandaie and Zaheer call these partnerships “Bear Hugs”.

Their hypothesis: The positive relationship between a small firm’ s capability and growth is weaker the higher the number of large partners in the firm’ s alliance portfolio.

In their research sample of 150 independent production studios over 10 years they find strong support for this hypothesis including the moderating factor of the number of large partners (i.e. more bear hugs provide less growth relatively).

Interesting research with a common sense ring to it: bear hugs are not so good for your small company’s health.



Learning, Performance

Affective Forecasting: mental time travel to feel what it will be like

We all do it.

When faced with opportunities, we tend to make predictions about what these futures will feel like. About how these will determine the content and the quality of our lives. Whether faced with a potential partner, a potential job or a potential move we anticipate the experience as positive or negative and we anticipate the intensity of this experience.

Research demonstrates that our affective forecasting is generally accurate when it comes to our association with an event’s positive or negative feel. However, both the impact and the intensity of our positive or negative feeling is generally overestimated.

  • We neglect to account for coinciding events
  • We neglect to account for our adaptation in response to this future event
  • We overemphasise earlier “outlier” episodes
  • We overemphasise specific “outlier” moments within episodes

In their recent research article, Dane and George connect this so-called affective forecasting to work situations where we do not really have a choice in whether we will do the work or we do not. One could argue that if we cannot really influence the outcome our “mental time travel” would not really make a difference.

Instead, Dane and George find that is does make a difference: it is not whether but how we approach the work – our attitude. Indeed, our affective forecasting leads us to either have a promotion focus or a prevention focus. The former is concerned with advancement, achievement and ideals, while the latter is concerned with prudence and safety.

Through our affective forecasting, when…

  • we envision project success and make a positive affective forecast, one is likely to engage through a promotion focus;
  • we envision project failure and make a negative affective forecast, one is likely to engage through a prevention focus;

Our affective forecasting is influenced by the level of prestige we attribute to the organisation we work for, the strength of relationships in the teams we work in, and the level of creativity needed in completing the project (all these are linked to more promotion focus).

Question: how is your affective time travel influencing your work right now?


Performance, Team

Better teams have a heterarchy rather than a hierarchy

Problem Solving Team

Again and again, we find in our team workouts the adverse effect of (strong) hierarchical leaders on team performance. This is also confirmed by empirical research. However, the typical response we get when this is demonstrated in the lower performance of these hierarchical teams is: “what else should we do – no leadership?”

Even though our workouts also demonstrate that the ‘no leadership’ approach provides a higher performance than the hierarchical approach, no leadership is not the answer either. A better answer is heterarchy! 

Aime and others import this originally neurobiological concept because it clearly conceptualises the fact that power among team members may shift depending on what resources and skills are most relevant to the situation.

Heterarchy is defined as “a relational system in which the relative power among team members shifts over time as the resources of specific team members become more relevant (and the resources of other members become less relevant) because of changes in the situation or task.”

Even though existing theories on power assume shifts in power within teams are undesirable and dysfunctional this research demonstrates that as long as the team considers the shift in power as legitimate (i.e. the team member  has the ‘right’ to express power based on the value it provides given the changed situation).

Aime and others found a positive relationship between heterarchy and team creativity.

What is necessary for a heterarchy to work?

  • A general attitude of professionalism,
  • Focus on the team objective, and
  • An understanding of what each team member has to offer.


Leadership, Performance

Take a lunch break… for real and relax!


With the recent news of France supposedly “banning people from checking work email after 6pm” there is a renewed interest in the effect of recovery breaks during and after work (in fact the French ban was “only” a labor union agreement involving 250,000 people).

Trougakos and others focused in their research on the impact of lunch breaks on so-called end-of-workday fatigue. It turns out employees often do not have the freedom to use the lunch break to their liking feeling pressure to work through lunch, eat lunch at their desk, or not even have a lunch break at all.

A real lunch break in which you relax and have the freedom to determine the use of your time is good for recovery and really helps to reduce end-of-workday fatigue. 


  • Higher levels of social activities during the lunch break result in higher end-of-workday fatigue;
  • Higher levels of work activities during the lunch break will result in higher end-of-workday fatigue; but
  • Higher levels of relaxing activities during the lunch break will result in lower end-of-workday fatigue.


  • lunch break autonomy will moderate the negative effects of social activities and work activities (i.e. more fatigue when autonomy is low and less fatigue when autonomy is high).

So, make sure everybody can take a good and relaxing lunch break with the freedom to determine their use of this time.

Leadership, Learning, Performance

What to do before adopting the next big management idea…

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 12.09.51

If you talk to people about Google most will know  about their 20% innovation time policy. If you have heard about Semco, you will know about their radical no-hierarchy management system. And when talking about Toyota, we will quickly talk about lean and mean production systems. There are many really impressive and radical management ideas out there!

However, when you are managing (in) a company your primary concern is not how to be or look cool and trendy with the latest management fad. You want to be effective and productive. Julian Birkinshaw in the Harvard Business Review provides two ways to go about the next big thing:

  1. Observe-and-apply: See if and how a new approach works and then apply it to your own company;
  2. Extract the Central Idea: Only extract the essential principles of practice and apply this within the context of your company.

The latter approach is more effective and provides less risk of needing to abandon the management idea halfway through.

However, whatever method you choose, the first thing is to know your company. Corporate self-awareness helps you to adopt those innovations which can be right for you. Another important element is to understand the source-company of the prospective management innovation. Is it an upstart?, is a “certified weird” company?, Is it a dancing giant (big traditional company)?, or is it not a business organisation but of a ‘related species’?

Birkinshaw advice is to follow some practical steps when importing new innovations:

  1. Bide your time: wait a while before adopting a management idea to see it stand the test of time;
  2. Deconstruct the management model: what is the underlying logic?, what are unusual assumptions?, what was the inspiration for the model?
  3. Understand the hypotheses: what was the company testing or proving to be true?
  4. Look for results: what were the outcomes and how do these line up with the hypotheses?
  5. Experiment: before introducing it to your entire company, test drive it on a pilot project.

Good advice!

Leadership, Performance, Team

Use tryouts to build great teams


When you recruit and hire people you really want this to be successful. A “bad hire” is bad in so many ways. So, we would engage in competency-based interviewing, run countless assessments, perform reference and background checks (even asked references if they knew other references – the extra mile). Candidates would go through a week-long engagement process to better understand us and our organisation. At the same time this was for us to better understand them in terms of who they are, any knowledge gaps, necessary development plans, training plans and how and where they would best fit.

Only then we would make an offer and (if they accepted) the new employees would go through a serious on-boarding and specific assignment training program. All this would be guided by a dedicated experienced mentor. Needless to say, perhaps, we are really serious about building the best teams and organisation possible.

However, at Automattic they use something we all should add to our best hire practices… Matt Mullenweg (CEO of Automattic) calls it: tryouts. It is as simple as it is effective.  He says: “At Automattic we focus on what you create, not whether you live up to some ideal of the ‘good employee.’ [...]  every final candidate [is] to work with us for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. [...] they can work at night or on weekends, so they don’t need to leave their current jobs. [...] They can size up Automattic while we evaluate them.”

The results are great (in 2013 they hired 101 people and only 2 did not work out).

Something to add to your best hire practices!

PS: the final interview is with the founder… by text message! 



Interesting and Amusing Research on Sexual Cues

Defend your research!

Defend your research!

One of my favourite sections in the Harvard Business Review is “Defending Your Research” where researchers literally have to defend their (PhD) research to the reader. In April Anouk Festjens had to defend her research.

The challenge: “Does touching men’s underwear really make women more likely to indulge in risky, rewards-seeking behaviour?”

Ms Festjens indicates there is a long history of research showing that Men clearly indulge in more risky economic decisions after exposure to sexual cues (pictures of female models, etc.) BUT women did/do not. However, her research project uses touch as the trigger of a sexual cue (touching grey or black boxers vs. touching grey or black T-shirts). Women who handled boxers were more likely to spend money on wine and chocolate.

So, next time you are folding laundry… be careful what you touch last before you go online to manage your investment portfolio or pursue some serious online shopping!