Category Archives: Commentary

Vividness of Future Self Predicts Delinquency

As a follow-up to the study I posted about last week, there was an interesting study recently published called “Vividness of the Future Self Predicts Delinquency.”  As noted last week, there is a great deal of research that shows that younger persons are more likely to engage in risky and unethical behavior than older persons.  There are many reasons for this but one of the strongest individual-level correlates of delinquency is the failure to think through the delayed consequences of behavior as opposed to “living in the moment.”

This study looked at two options for influencing participants towards more ethical behavior.  In one study, the participants were instructed to write a letter to their “future self.”  In the second study, the participants interacted with a realistic digital version of their future, aged-progressed selves in a virtual environment.  In both studies, participants were less likely to engage in unethical behavior or make delinquent choices.  In fact, in the second study, participants who gazed at their 40-year-old selves in virtual mirrors were 74% less likely to cheat for extra cash on a subsequent trivia test.

What implications might this have for you and your organization when it comes to how you induct and train your employees, especially your younger employees?

Millenials Suffer Ethical Lapses at Work

It seems in recent years that it has become almost politically incorrect to make negative observations about younger generations.  In fact, there are many stereotypes that are made about all generations that are not based in the truth but have become accepted “wisdom” in the business world.  As a result, I watch for data-based reports that might get to real issues.

In June, the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) published a new study that conclude that America’s youngest workers are almost twice as likely as Baby Boomers to buy personal items with a company credit card, almost three times as likely to blog or tweet something negative about their company, and about two and a half as likely to take company software home for their own use.  

But, before anyone gets too excited about these conclusions, I find that many of the questions were worded in a manner that allowed for multiple interpretations and that the gap between Millenials and their older colleagues was not very significant on many questions.

For instance, the report concludes that the youngest employees were more likely than their older colleagues to feel pressured by others to break company rules.  But when you look at the numbers, we are talking about 15 percent of Millenials reporting pressure to compromise standards compared to 13 percent of Generation Xers and 9 percent of Baby Boomers.  Not exactly a significant number in either absolute or relative terms.

The other aspect that was not addressed in the report was whether this particular cohort of young workers – the Millenials – were particularly challenged in regards to ethics or whether this is simply a recurring issue where younger workers are almost always prone to workplace deviance – a fact that is pretty well established in research literature.

So, while I am always interested in seeing research in our areas of interest, I don’t find this report to be particularly useful.  If you’d like to read more about it, click here.



Best Buy, BusinessWeek, and the Rest of the Story

Yesterday, the new CEO of Best Buy made one of the silliest announcements I’ve seen in the last couple of months when he announced that they were reassigning about 2,000 loss prevention employees to focus on selling customers more merchandise.  The reason it sounded so silly was in the explanation for the move – “Customers told us they did not like having their receipts checked when they left the store.”


Retail analysts have already detailed the significant, fundamental issues that Best Buy faces in its market segment, but this move is going to help solve those issues?  Now, I would have had more appreciation for the move if they simply said, “Hey, we are grasping at straws here!  Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Costco are kicking our butts, we’ve thrown billions of dollars away in failed international expansion, our management team is in turmoil here, and our stock price is in the pits.  We are trying to cut as much expense as possible and willing to roll the dice that shrinkage won’t go up too much.”  That might have made at least a little bit of sense, but the idea that their sales issues are because customers are staying away from their stores because of rabid receipt checking?

How are Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s doing so well then?  They check receipts.

As a Best Buy consumer, I can’t remember the last time my receipt was checked.  What I can remember is my experience in their Tinley Park, IL store a few weeks back when I popped in to buy the latest Zac Brown Band CD that was at the top of the charts.  First, there might have been four customers, counting myself, in the store at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Second, when I went to the music section, I had plenty of opportunities to buy those $6.99 specials but not a Zac Brown CD to be found.  Surely, if you are going to carry music, you need to have the best-selling CD’s available?

But, yesterday’s announcement would suggest that in the mind of a new CEO, the reassignment of loss prevention employees is more important than looking at their buying and distribution issues.  At least that’s what it looks like to me when I read the BusinessWeek article.

Now, here’s the rest of the story..

The changes Best Buy is making in regards to its loss prevention strategy are more thought-out than the article suggests, driven by different factors, and probably shouldn’t have even been publicized in the business press.

Best Buy has operated their front-end control model for a number of years.  Originally, it was focused on improving accuracy and integrity of the POS area through receipt checking and presence in that area.  As a side benefit, it also put the loss prevention personnel in a place where they could monitor the flow of customers in and out of the front doors.  Personally, I think they managed the process pretty well.  I typically found their front-end loss prevention associate to be friendly and knowledgeable about where to direct customers for certain product categories.

However, a few years ago, the leadership team of the Loss Prevention group began to explore how they could focus their personnel more on process related issues that affect shrink and have a bigger impact throughout the entire four walls of the building.  One option given consideration was to change the front-end model.  In fact, not only was it given consideration, it was tested in several markets to see if it might help accomplish the shifting goals of the organization.

The test results showed them that by un-tethering their people from a fixed location in the front of the building, it did, in fact, allow them to have greater engagement and impact on shrinkage throughout the building.  In the process, they were also able to give a few hours back to the sales efforts and they feel good about supporting the efforts of the organization to increase top-line growth.

Back to the BusinessWeek article..

Without knowing the rest of the story, it is easy to read the article as an indictment of the loss prevention group.  It would be easy to think the loss prevention department was going away.  It would be easy to view the senior leadership as being short-sighted and grasping at straws to fix their sales problems.

This is the reason I received quite a few inquiries from people in our business asking for my take on the reports.  It was seen as a very negative view of loss prevention and a simplistic view of the role that loss prevention strategies play in relation to sales.  Unfortunately, this type of thing happens pretty regularly.  When a senior executive says, “Our customers don’t like it when our high-end product is spider-wrapped,” I want to ask them how they know that to be true.  Have they done customer intercepts?  Have they done behavioral observations where they saw this behavior manifested?  Have they surveyed non-customers to find out why they are not shopping in their stores and heard a consensus that it is because of the organization’s merchandise protection standards?

In my years of retail experience, I’ve seen this time and time again.  Companies who are struggling with fundamental issues start to focus on minor issues that only distract them from their larger challenges.  But, from what I understand of the situation, this is a deliberate strategy shift, led by the Loss Prevention team, that will show its results in time.

Your Most Valuable Resource..

At the recent RILA Loss Prevention Conference, we finished with my session on “Survival Skills in the Era of Doing More with Less.”  In this session, we spent quite a bit of time discussing the importance of knowing where you and your team spend their time.  Almost everyone has a perception of where they spend their time based on their mental model of where they should spend it, but many are shocked when they actually track their time. 

For example, I shared some data from one organization that discovered one of their field positions spent approximately 50 days a year on conference calls.  Think about that statistic, that is 20% of their total available time for the year and does not include other meetings, email, other calls, etc.  And, this is a field based position. 

Is this unusual?  There is a good article over at Fast Company about how much time process activities can account for in organizations.  For instance, Boston Consulting Group studies show that “ the most complicated organizations, managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.”

Do you know where your people really spend their time?

Five Myths About Generation Y

There is a great article over at strategy+business (free registration required) that highlights five myths that continue to be perpetuated about generational differences, especially when it comes to the “Millenials” or “Generation Y.”  The cited research specifically addresses five myths:

  1. Millenials don’t want to be told what to do
  2. Millenials lack organizational loyalty
  3. Millenials aren’t interested in their work
  4. Millenials are motivated by perks and high pay
  5. Millenials want more work-life balance

For several years now, research study after research study have shown that generational differences have largely been over-hyped by training companies, consultants, and a whole cottage industry of companies that seek to make money on this premise.  Most studies find that employees, across generations, are seeking the same things in the workplace.  Of course there are differences in styles between older workers and younger workers, but that does not infer different motivations.

In fact, most differences in attitudes are more closely associated with age and tenure in the workforce themselves.  Yes, younger, lower paid employees are more concerned about compensation as they don’t make much money in the first place.  Yes, younger employees tend to change jobs more quickly – just like most of us did in our early 20’s.

I’m not suggesting that organizations don’t explore how they communicate to different demographic segments of their employee populations whether that be along the lines of age, culture, gender, etc.  However, it is time to question trite and oversimplified premises advanced by those who to seek to profit from them.