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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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2014 | 7:07:13 AM
Re: Free Pizza
I haven't taken them up on the offer yet because they haven't had a seminar that I was interested in but the first one that comes up that sounds interesting to me I'm going to give it a try.  It does make me wonder how many people are out there doing this though since there seems to be some solid experiences with food and meetings.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
6/2/2014 | 9:51:06 PM
Re: "thank you"
@snunyc It's been my experience that this is a more common struggle for female managers. I think the most common reason this is the case is because there are fewer women managers, period. In other words, when something's not really unique, there's no associated pressure to be a good representation of a new trend; you can just take on the style that you believe works for you and your organization and that's that.

One of the things I've observed is that you can have a male manager that can be a nightmare to work for, but he's not likely to get labeled as much as a famele manager who people may not like. When a male is like that, it's just sort of taken as a given that a certain percentage are that way. But when women are like that, it's seen as a problem they need to remedy.

The other basic reason this is a struggle is we in America tack on all these extra things to workers and managers besides their performance. If you got rid of most of it and just looked at whether a person or manager was good at their job and if they could get along with the necessary people, then life would be much simpler. And, in reality, those are the things that should really matter.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:33:40 PM
Re: "thank you"
@Pedro: Good for you, you are lucky. Now, I am too. I've long since left that organization and walked away with important lessons about human behavior that I would have rather not had but I am probably better off for knowing them. 

What also troubles me is how some employers seem to feel that they can take advantage of difficult economic times - when the job market is weak - to treat their employees poorly, knowing they have few options to walk away. These same employers will tend to treat people well only when there are too many jobs and too few people to fill them.

This to me, is the most egregious behavior of all. Because it has nothing to do with inherent humanity and everything to do with the bottom line. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:27:40 PM
Re: Show evidence of need
@moarsauce123: entirely relate to the frustration you're experiencing. In some organiations, it seems, only a select few are "allowed" to have ideas, and the rest are considered as simply meant to do the work that the "idea people" tell them to do. This is an unfortuante reality in many organizations. In fact, a good friend of mine just quit her dev job of 8 years for this very reason, after a while it becomes too much of a fight.

I recommend buying your bosses pizza and then calling a meeting in which you get to tell them all your ideas while their mouths are full of pizza, so they can't interrupt or shoot down your ideas.

;)
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:23:48 PM
Re: Free Pizza
@Lorna, @SaneIT: This is genius marketing and with the availability in certain cities of services such as SpoonRocket, pretty soon we won't be limited to just pizza. Although, of course, pizza is a can't-miss favorite, second only to coffee IMHO.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:22:08 PM
Re: "thank you"
@Alison: yes, if a suitcase full of cash is not an option, a heartfelt Thank You is always my second choice.
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.




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