Losing Your Mind? Ask the Boss

Here’s a provocmichael schrageative suggestion for discussions about an aging workforce:

“You’d be remiss if you knowingly allowed employees with propensities for physical injury to move heavy machinery. The economic risks of cognitive liability call for comparable precaution.”

The comment came from Michael Schrage (left), research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, and Harvard Business Review blogger. In an article titled, Are Your Most Talented People Losing Their Minds? Schrage notes how easy it is for employers to track time, attendance and location.

Meanwhile, tests for cognitive impairment, and tests for the onset, or prediction of, cognitive diminishment continue to improve. With an aging workforce and a more reliable battery of tests, can employers ignore potential predictors of reduced performance? In a knowledge-based organization, in fact, Schrage asks: “Aren’t you ethically obligated to find that out?”

That’s quite a dilemma, and the implications are scary. As a manager, do you continue to carry people whose productivity will diminish? Or as an employee, do you find yourself sidelined, or worse, because you fail some stupid head test?

Although not addressing Schrage’s specific issue, authors Bill Jensen (@simpletonbill) and Josh Klein (@joshuaklein) say business is “aggressively monitoring and capturing your digital footprint.” Their book, Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results, says that even with the “best intentions, anyone who tracks your data without really knowing you can misinterpret what they’re seeing and really mess up your life.”

They argue that even with reams of data, companies still cannot use it effectively. They cited a Human Capital Institute survey that found half of the firms they looked at can’t connect performance data on employees with skills required for the job.

So should employers be trusted with your information, Klein & Jensen ask. Their answer:

“Remember, this is the gang who thought they were on top of financial and credit risks just months before the bottom fell out!”

Sign to beware of old people in vicinityNoting information about you is streaming in from hundreds of data points, the authors recommend three core strategies to reduce your digital footprint to your employer.

  • Negotiate the deal: Most companies hide how they build employees’ digital profiles. Although still rare, new hires are beginning to ask up front.
  • Up the positives: Most people know how to finagle positive reviews on their personal social networks. Do the same at work. If response times are tracked, get good comments about response time from your most important customers. Then, send those to the boss or, better yet, put them online where they can be found.
  • Reduce the size of your digital footprint: Use non-company tools such as open source software, Google Docs, etc.

Clearly, their next piece of advice needs to be how to hack cognitive prediction tests.

More about Hacking Work can be found on this site here.

Photo of Michael Schrage courtesy of Mikel Agirregabiria on Flickr. Photo of sign by Richard Riley on Flickr.


15 thoughts on “Losing Your Mind? Ask the Boss

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » Hack Work. Detach from Work. Just be Careful.

  2. Wow – quite the food for thought John. You’ve addressed a subject that I think most employees don’t even think about – their digital footprint and how much confidential data is being trusted to their employers. I especially like your point about getting comments from customers (both external and internal customers) that can be presented to their boss! If you don’t ask, you likely won’t get!

  3. And if a guy is brilliant at his job but really lousy at completing stupid psych tests?

    And on the other side of the coin, if your employees are going out of their way to hide things from you, should that not at least raise concerns in your mind? Of course, that works both ways and you, as an employer, should not be hiding things from your people.

    This idea seems completely stupid to me. You cannot generalise with a test. Each person deserves to be considered individually on a case by case basis. If they can do the work, great.

    Kind regards,

  4. Danielle,

    Your are right that most employees do not give their digital footprints much thought. But they should because employers usually take the view that the company’s IT infrastructure is for work-related purposes only. They also take the view that the output of our time and effort is the property of the employer.

    So, without agreeing or disagreeing with their viewpoint, you can see how they see themselves entirely within their rights poring over emails, logs, etc. Interesting stuff with scary implications.

    As for the customers, that is from the book, Hacking Work. Another one of these simple ideas that had me wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

    Oh, well, but thanks for the feedback.


  5. Steve,

    That’s a real problem, to be sure. How many people are good at things and then fluff exams due to nerves? Predictive testing of mental ability is an area where real care needs to be taken. However, I can still imagine many cases ultimately being decided in court.

    Thanks for the comment,


  6. Hello John,
    I see from your bio that you are attending school in Dublin. My wife and i just spent a 2 weeks based in Dublin and travelling around Ireland. Loved it (friendly people and beautiful scenery). My initial response to your blog is that everyone should have a plan to avoid the confining nature of large organizations and overly involved bosses who major in micro-management. That is why I’m a self employed entrepreneur who believes everyone should strive to gain the necessary financial skills ( a regular saving plan, understanding the power of compound interest and learning basic investment skills to name a few) to eventually achieve the necessary wealth to be free and independent. Doesn’t happen overnite but you do need a plan.

  7. What uuuuup John,

    What an interesting point here. I am a firm believer that in this “new economy” we need seek out the linchpins – people who irreplaceable . Not only that, but it is of greater importance to spot these up and coming linchpins as early as possible and nurture them and let them grow. I believe it is better to create a culture with in a business that encourages and develops an individuals strengths rather then differentiate people according to a benchmark or set of norms. Every one is different and potentially has something to add to the company.

    In a nut shell : scrap the ‘automated’ battery of tests and take a more personal approach.

  8. Ryan,
    The individual approach is certainly favored in education. Why drop it in the office?

  9. Hey John

    Got a agree with Ryan on this one. Everyone is different each with their own qualities.

    Personally, I’m one of those who do fluff when it comes to exams and tests due to nerves but this doesn’t mean I’m not good at what i do.

    It’s totally unfair to label people.


  10. John-

    Very interesting post. It can be scary not knowing all the information that is digitally available about yourself. You really do have to be cautious and watch what you put out there.


  11. Hi John,

    Wow, what a post. I am SO thankful I’m no longer out in the work force because when I was there, it wasn’t pretty.

    I believe that the tests are misleading because there are those, and that includes me, that don’t test well. But I always made up for it with my dedication to not only the job, but to the company as well. I’ve worked with those who have had no work ethic at all so to be passed up because people are younger is not the way to build a successful and productive organization. Just so thankful that I’m not in that environment where they are tracking your every move digitally now.

    Definitely an interesting post though so thank you for sharing this with us all.


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