What is the price of confidence?

By in Development, Opinion

“We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears” – François de La Rochefoucauld

In an experiment carried out in the US, the effect of criticism revealed intriguing results.

Participants were asked to play a simple board game for four year olds. It consisted of putting nine shapes into matching sized holes before the time ran out. As I say, simple!

Yet, when participants were criticised while doing the board game, only 20 per cent completed it successfully. Compared to 80 percent of participants who completed it while being praised.

If when criticised 80% of us can’t efficiently complete what is essentially a toddlers’ jigsaw puzzle; what else are we no longer capable of when criticised by a manager or when we have a disagreement with a colleague?

Do we need to have full emotional control in order to be able to concentrate well enough to get our job done? Quite simply, yes!

This raises an important question regarding the costs of emotions in the workplace as well as an organisations effectiveness.

Many CFOs have had the experience of interviewing and hiring someone who came across extremely well, and started the job with great gusto. But then, after a while, results started to slip and vary; with the common assumption that the candidate is over familiar or bored with the role.

However, a recent survey carried out across the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the US, looked at the links effecting levels of productivity in the workplace and found that the cause might be more than engagement levels slipping over time and more to do with self-confidence.

Of the 2000 respondents who completed the survey; over half stated that their level of self-confidence reduces their ability to contribute to their organisation. Furthermore, over half of the respondents also said their ability to concentrate is negatively affected by an unhappy boss (72%) or colleague (60.9%). A surprising 57.3% of respondents also reported that they keep quiet about problems at work, rather than dealing directly with them.

This self-confidence extends the boundaries of employee’s internal networks, but is also evident in the external relations employees build. One area of immediate concern for CFOs, is the ability of their people to do business effectively with suppliers, clients and customers. Close to two-thirds of respondents report that they would be able to negotiate better deals if they were more confident. This is a crucial finding. It clearly suggests that all sales and negotiation training and coaching should include a specific focus on self-confidence.

These findings alone clearly suggest there is much room for improved organisational productivity purely through increasing individual self-confidence, and more emphasis needs to be placed on fostering emotions in the workplace.

The biggest question this raises for a CFO is, what might these ignored problems and loss of self-confidence be costing the organisation and how can this be rectified?

The question is even more pertinent in the current times of turbulent change due to technological disruption, and where human emotion has never been more important.

In today’s disruptive environment, open communication within an organisation is a necessity. Innovation and creativity are widely accepted as crucial for ongoing business success in the 21st century. Not only the ability to generate new ideas, but the power to constantly change.

The results of the survey showed that fostering innovation is still underdeveloped; with half saying that when they have an idea at work, they keep it to themselves because of low self-confidence. Participants also stated they feel they don’t have the confidence to deal with new situations, with only a quarter stating they were confident when dealing with non-routine work and over a third reporting they sometimes struggle to remain calm in challenging situations.

Organisations need to provide a place where people feel confident to share the ideas and feel comfortable with change.

Apple currently remains the world’s most valuable company due to its extraordinary ability to innovate, along with providing supportive, collaborative environments for its people. What organisations need to realise is that supportive environments need to be created and be part of the long-term planning process.

This research doesn’t enable putting a dollar estimate next to the lost potential for innovation. But it does suggest that the untapped potential is considerable. Any company looking for increased innovation should surely factor this in to their future-plans.

Along with innovation, a more diverse workforce is a necessity to grow. The value that a diverse workforce brings to the bottom line is no longer questioned. Yet, with diversity comes the need to create a workplace where diverse workforces add value. To do this, staff members must feel comfortable in expressing opinions from their own cultural standpoint. They must feel comfortable “bringing their whole self” to work. The diversity movement has had a high profile in western business for years. Yet 29% of survey respondents state they only sometimes, hardly ever or never feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work! It begs the question; If self-confidence is lacking in general terms, what are the implications in a diverse work environment? While the diversity movement will continue to work to improve this, self-confidence provides another angle of opportunity. Individual self-confidence cuts across culture to offer another way to improve organisational openness and effectiveness.

This new research also suggests low self-confidence cuts into organisational productivity and effectiveness in a more significant way than those of us used to concentrating on numbers have been aware.

This article is based on the book “Unshakeable Self-Confidence: Why Organisations Should, and How Individuals Can, Develop Higher Self-Confidence”, due to be launched in February 2018.

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