Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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5/30/2014
10:25 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Pizza & Leadership: 4 Lessons

If you want to be a good leader, treat your team members in a way that makes them want to buy you a pizza. Allow us to explain.

If you're reading this during lunch, you might find it useful for two reasons: You might get free pizza out of it, and you could learn to improve your leadership skills.

A Stanford research team recently examined social media sites, particularly the Reddit community Random Acts of Pizza, to determine successful strategies for inspiring altruistic behavior in online communities. What does this research have to do with leadership? Leaders in every line of work need to inspire altruistic behavior at times in order to inspire their teams.

According to Harvard Business Review, organizations with a higher level of employee enthusiasm report 22% higher productivity than their less-involved counterparts. Such companies also can be more innovative, more collaborative, and more successful than those that have low employee-morale scores.

[IT admins aren't happy with their jobs. Read IT Pros Stressed Out, Looking To Jump Ship.]

Think of it like this: You might have the power to order your team to burn the midnight oil to finish a project, but you know that the project will be more successful if your team is happily participating. Where does the pizza fit in? It doesn't hurt to order some for your team the next time you work late, but it's more than that.

The Random Acts of Pizza community on Reddit is devoted to giving pizza to people in need. People who are struggling, financially or otherwise, tell the community why they need help and hope that a kind community member will send them pizza based on their pitch. The pizza requesters on the site range from students seeking a midnight snack to the long-term unemployed fighting to make ends meet.

The Stanford team examined the posts from various perspectives, including politeness, length of post, wording, gratitude, and time of post, to see which communication strategies worked best. What they found out serves as a primer for more than how to nab free pizza. It's a guide for IT leaders who want to boost morale by appealing to their workers' sense of altruism.

Try incorporating these four lessons next time you need your team to go the extra mile:

1. Show evidence of need.
Successful pizza requests usually explain the need in detail (lost jobs, hungry kids, unexpected bills), according to the Stanford study. The longer the request, the more likely it was to be fulfilled. It also helped to add pictures, especially if they were of hungry kids or of cars needing to be fixed.

This shouldn't be surprising, and yet it's easy for leaders to hide behind seemingly arbitrary concepts, such as deadlines, rather than explain

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:19:17 PM
Re: Pizza & Leadership
@Zerox203: Well said indded: Maybe ultimately, the real lesson is that you ought to try and learn from everything that you do, and be mindful of where else in life you can apply those benefits to maximize your time here on earth.

And, yes, pizza can be a VERY profound thing..

Dave's post, and your comment here, were like lightbulbs going off in my head, and you've made obvious what I hadn't before considered, which is how fundamentally most of us really do want to support one another. 

What I wonder, then, is what happens to leaders in particular, but really to so many in the workplace, where the innate human qualities of altruism and empathy get so far removed from how people behave at work.

Is this evidence of yet another evolutionary trait of establishing dominance over turf, as wolves and the big cats would do, for example? Why doesn't the desire to good in business outweigh the compulision to push others out of the way?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:13:11 PM
Re: When the Moon Hits Your Eye
@Lufu: this is even more true for me now that I'm gluten-free. 

I've been thinking alot about what Dave talks about here, though, as far as how many leaders I've worked for that I would sincerely want to buy a pizza for. Fortunately, at the moment I'd buy pizza every week for my leaders, but it hasn't always been like that. 

It also makes me wonder if I've been the kind of leader in my management posititions that would inspire my people to want to buy me pizza...

(don't worry, Dave, Curt & Sara--you don't have to answer that.)
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 6:15:38 PM
When the Moon Hits Your Eye
While I enjoy a good pie as much as the other person, what I always found more rewarding and encouraging was a sincere "Thank you" or getting "Credit where credit is due" from either my boss or my co-workers.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/2/2014 | 4:14:07 PM
Re: Pizza & Leadership
Basically, what we can glean from this is really not all that surprising. If you keep looking at social research like this, you'll run up against a common theme pretty often; most human interactions are related. Just like with wolves and their baring of teeth, we're prone to a small set of reactions that we use for a variety of situations. Maybe you wouldn't think that a manager ought to seek altruism from his team members, but the truth is that 'charity' comes from a sense of community. I've read that our desire to help other people is the same desire that drives primate family groups - the idea is that, someone else's family being healthy is almost as important to your children's future as your family being healthy. In that sense, it makes perfect sense that managers ought to try and drum up a healthy environment of charity and community in the workplace!

Funny how you can always draw parallels from two seemingly unrelated things - and sometimes they can even help you see things you couldn't otherwise. Curt (Franklin) wrote on article last year on EnterpriseEfficiency about applying lessons from woodworking to IT, and the results there were just as useful as the ones you have here, Dave. Maybe ultimately, the real lesson is that you ought to try and learn from everything that you do, and be mindful of where else in life you can apply those benefits to maximize your time here on earth. Maybe that's a little melodramatic of a lesson to get out of pizza, but then again, I think we all know that pizza can be a very profound thing.




Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 4:12:40 PM
Re: Free Pizza
It really is smart. Innovative and it would make people smile, for a low cost.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 2:51:10 PM
Re: Free Pizza
@SaneIT- Wow, that's a really smart idea. People are less grumpy when fed. Pizza is the perfect food. People listen better when they have something in their hands. This is brilliant.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 2:48:06 PM
Re: Productivity
@Gigi3- I would agree with you. I think even most managers would agree with you in the abstract. It is one of those self-evident points of management that managers always get wrong in real life. I wonder where we get the disconnect? And how do we fix it?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 2:44:06 PM
Re: Show evidence of need
Every team member ideally sees her or his contribution as needed.


@moarsauce123- How is that accomplished? Are we supposed to assume it? Is management supposed to help us realize it? I'm willing to say maybe we're all whiny brats and should just assume we are all needed or we'd be fired. But that seems like a tough life (though maybe i'm a whiny brat).
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 2:33:38 PM
Re: Be one of the gang
@susan- I'm glad I helped the pizza industry. :)

I didn't put "Be One of the Gang" first, because I felt like a manager's ability to do that all the time depends on what level they are at. I do agree with Rob who posted earlier that the higher up you go, there needs to be a persona associated with being a leader. That said, there's still a way to relate that works at every level. I just didn't want people to think all I was really suggesting was that if you pretend you are not the boss it is enough.

But you are right, I think, that if you never forget your team is made up of people you are going to be successful with the rest.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 2:29:24 PM
Re: Looking forward to lunch
They would occasionally order pizza for the whole office or barbecue as a way to say thanks.


Out of curiosity, Michelle, does that work just as well as saying thank you? My general impression (and my experience reading Dilbert) says that "trinkets" don't repalce actual gratitutde. But it seems like company pass out the t-shirts, food and "perks" like candy (they even pass out candy), but that the words thank you are much more rarely used.
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