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Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Oct 3, 2016 in Career Path
, Lessons Learned
When a company uses an unlimited leave plan to attract people, what’s really going on behind the scenes is a culture that drives the highest performers higher and enables lower performers to fall by the wayside into a professional quagmire.
Webster’s dictionary defines quagmire as: “an area of soft, wet ground: a situation that is hard to deal with or get out of: a situation that is full of problems.”
Companies who have this policy are generally known as high performing companies. Top spots are competitive and expectations are high. Work assignments are distributed to those employees who have proven themselves as reliable, dependable and willing to put in the extra time necessary to get a job done on time and within budget. High performing professionals do an excellent job of prioritizing work and combining that with balancing their personal lives, vacations and family commitments.
Lower performers choose personal life over work, and work to live, not live to work within a balanced framework. Employees who are seemingly unavailable are often passed over for both prime assignments and promotions which often leads to them being laid off or let go for circumstances that are actually easy to avoid.
Having a clear and complete understanding of what the employer’s expectations around deliverables is the number one contributing factor to an employee’s success and to prevent themselves falling into a performance quagmire they most likely cannot emerge from.
Use your performance review process to clearly identify and establish what both meeting and exceeding expectations looks like with your supervisor. Use common language and have both qualitative and quantitative goals that both parties agree to in writing. Avoid using generalizing terms like always or regularly and replace them with terms like daily weekly or monthly which are clearer for both parties.
Should your supervisor change, having these in writing to discuss with your next supervisor will ensure a smooth transition and allow as a starting point for discussions around their expectations as your new boss.
Remember, there is no free lunch, and unlimited leave does, in fact, have limits. Meeting expectations is good, but exceeding them is great.
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Aug 10, 2016 in Self Improvement
Within the Job Jungle, plenty of animals work in packs. Wolves, monkeys, many kinds of birds – all of these rely upon group coherence to survive. And the most successful packs are the ones which can work together effectively. In order to work together, pack animals need to be able to communicate clearly and well, without conflict or confusion. If you want to join one of these successful packs, you, too, will need to demonstrate these exemplary communication skills. Here’s why communication is important, and how you can improve your working communication skills.
Without Effective Communication, There Is Chaos
Every company, and everyone working within a company must balance the needs of the collective with the needs of the individual. Humans are social animals, and a large part of our brains is given over to working with others. However, we’re also individuals, and our own individual needs and desires often clash with the needs and desires of others in the group. When this happens, conflict occurs. In most cases, conflicts within organizations work to the detriment of the organization as a whole. Conflict can sometimes be an essential precursor for necessary change – but in order for this to be the case, the conflict needs to be framed within civilized communicative boundaries. On a lesser level, failures to communicate effectively can result in tense working environments, frustrations, and even damage to the fabric of the company. A surprising amount of insurance claims result from people misusing equipment etc, simply because what they were supposed to be doing and how they were supposed to be doing it had not been communicated effectively. In order to create and preserve constructive working relationships, companies need people who are good at both talking and listening. If you can prove that you’re good at communicating, you’re more likely to get the job than someone who’s otherwise highly qualified but can’t communicate as effectively as you.
When people think of ‘communication’, they tend to think of chatter and words. However, a huge part of what makes someone an effective communicator is their ability to listen. This doesn’t just mean staying quiet while someone else talks – your mind really needs to be on what they’re saying, absorbing their words, and considering the implications of them. Listening is as much a character trait as a practical skill. If you’re the kind of person who decides on their line and sticks to it whatever the other person says, you’re not really listening, however much you ostensibly hear their words. Chances are that you’re using the time while they’re talking to think up counter-arguments, rather than critically and open-mindedly assessing what they’re telling you. Listening well does not necessarily mean agreeing with your co-converser. But it does mean giving their words a chance. It’s also worth noting that good listeners tend to be more respected and liked than those who are less skilled at listening A good listener will:
- Not talk over other people. Don’t interrupt, and don’t finish their sentences for them. If you really feel the need to engage while they’re talking, do so through non-verbal cues like nodding and smiling.
- Encourage the speaker. They won’t display disinterest or frustration. They will signal that they are interested and focused and wish the speaker to get their point across.
- The listener will not let their attention stray from the speaker, either visibly or invisibly. They will concentrate on what the speaker is saying, and let their meanings fully sink in.
- The listener will do their best to understand and empathise with the other person’s point of view. This does not necessarily mean agreeing with them – simply appreciating where they’re coming from, and the experiences or considerations which have led them to this viewpoint.
- Be patient. Sometimes it can take a while for speakers to get their point across. A good listener will have the patience to wait this process out and remain engaged throughout, even when they feel that they know where the speaker is going.
- Listen to volume, tone, and body language as much as words. Non-lexical cues can tell a good listener a lot about what the speaker is really saying, and add a valuable dimension to their comprehension of the speaker’s point of view.
- Work out the bigger picture. Rather than snatching isolated soundbites, a good listener will try to look at the bigger picture which the speaker is painting.
Speaking is, obviously, another aspect of effective communication. To properly engage with your colleagues, you will need to be able to talk to them in an equable and clear manner. People who can’t make themselves clear through speech, or whose speech isn’t received well will not be as able to get their ideas or points across as well as they might, which can cause conflict-creating frustrations. Nor will they be as able to make friend and form effective team bonds. If you wish to be a good speaker, try thinking about the following things:
- The pace of your words. Often, if we’ve grown up with our words marginalized, we may speak in a rush to try and get our points out before someone else speaks over us. There is no need to do this. If someone speaks over you, that is a problem with their listening skills – do not make it become a problem for your speaking skills. Pace your speech comfortably, so that people have time to absorb your words, and you don’t come across as desperate, harried, or panicked.
- The thought behind the speech. Don’t launch in without thinking first about what you’re saying, and the implications of that. One well thought-out piece of speech is worth a thousand vague and inconsequential words!
- Get to the point. While a good listener will stick with you while you go off on tangents and beat around the bush, it’s still best to avoid doing this as much as possible. If you’ve thought out what you’re going to say, you should know the point you’re trying to make. Get to the point while talking, and don’t waste unnecessary words. You can explore avenues arising from your point in ensuing conversation.
Also – be yourself. Ok, so we’ve just told you to control what you’re saying, and now we’re telling you to ‘be yourself’. What if the ‘real you’ speaks quickly, beats around the bush, and doesn’t think before they speak? Don’t worry – you can still be the genuine ‘you’ while taking care to make your speech clear and concise. Simply make sure that you’re staying true to your own ideas, and keep your mannerisms and tone natural. People appreciate and will listen to someone with integrity – and staying true to your own self is a great way to demonstrate integrity.
This Guest Post was contributed by Gemma Matthews.
If you have a great idea for a jungle-themed post, let us know! Guest writers or requests are always welcome!
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jan 22, 2016 in Building Confidence
, Executive Coaching
Successful leaders have a certain “Je ne sais quoi” – an air of authority, trust, confidence and knowledge that inspires others to follow them and move towards the goals they have set. Jungle guides are the most valuable members of the excursion party. Without them, the group may become hopelessly lost, run out of food, or become food themselves. If the guide effectively projects their knowledge and authority, the group will follow the guide safely through the jungle.
As someone moving up the ranks towards leadership, it’s imperative to create your leadership presence early on. In order to be the one that’s tapped to take on new leadership assignments you need to assume the presence of a leader before you can actually be one.
Consider what you say, how you say it and how you look saying it.
WHAT YOU SAY
Leaders phrase things positively. They move as quickly and efficiently as they can through a process to a successful conclusion. Listen to great leaders who choose their words wisely and adjust your delivery to mimic theirs. Researching great speeches of the past is a good place to start to learn to frame your comments positively. Rarely do great leaders talk about all the problems they have had and what they are trying to avoid, they only speak about where they are going and how they are going to get there. Avoid negativity and find the positive in every situation first and only talk about the positive which will eliminate any appearance of negativity.
HOW YOU SAY IT
Contrarians are never the leader – they are the outliers. There are many times you may not agree with something, or have a differing opinion, which is how creativity and growth are often generated. But how you deliver the message is the difference between someone who is considered a leader and someone who is branded as not supportive of the company’s goals. The best way to offer a new idea that may not be in alignment with others’ thinking is to present it as a “brainstorm” by starting off the introduction with something like, “I don’t know if we’ve ever looked at it this way, but what about the possibility of…”, or “These are really important and great ideas, can we brainstorm for a moment here?”. Avoid blurting your disagreement directly out for risk of alienating others in the room. Remember, it is possible that your ideas have been explored in the past and were overlooked or avoided for some reason you are not aware of.
Don’t take it personally if others don’t like your ideas every time. Remember, it takes a village, so do your best to contribute AND collaborate when it’s time for you to support someone else’s ideas that are being adopted.
HOW YOU LOOK SAYING IT
Even if its casual day, a put together look is key. No matter how crazy their morning was, leaders never come in and talk about chaos in their lives, they just manage it. If others view you as unable to manage yourself to be where you need to be and looking ready, you won’t be the one they choose to be a leader. Always putting your best self forward will ensure others view you as a leader at all times. Leaders don’t make excuses, either. They take responsibility for what they do, where they are and their outcomes. They embody this by making it to meetings and appointments on time, dressed appropriately and being organized and ready for the meeting or conversation. Traffic doesn’t keep them from being on time. Their kids don’t prevent them from getting somewhere they need to be when they need to be there. They get it done, consistently and build confidence in others by being reliable and dependable.
Wondering if you are on the right track? Look at people in the hallway – are they making eye contact with you? Are they saying hello? Do the big bosses know you by name? Take the lead and greet others as they pass you in the hall; introduce yourself in the elevator to someone you know that may not know your name. Leaders are natural connectors, too – introduce others you are with to the people you are meeting to take the lead and position yourself as a leader.
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Nov 9, 2015 in Building Confidence
It really is a jungle out there in the business world. Finding the right people for the job can seem near impossible sometimes and therefore retaining and improving the people you have has become so important. So with this in mind, here are some top tips to be the best possible leader, taking after the leader of the animal kingdom and making your roar count.
Round up the pride
As a leader it’s your job to bring your team together. Make sure each member of your pride is working well together and most importantly all working towards the same goal. It’s no good if half the team is chasing one gazelle and the other half are making plans to chase another halfway across the savanna.
Get everyone pumped
Just like the pre-game speech before a match, a good motivational roar can really get your employees on the same page and motivated to do their best for the company. Make sure people know what they’re fighting for and why.
Know your obstacles
Throughout the business kingdom there are many branches, pot holes and obstacles that could trip you up on your way. If you know what these obstacles are, how they might affect you and when, you’ll be able to make a plan of action so you and your team can leap over these with ease. Then if something does go wrong, you have the solutions in place to put it right and your staff will stay motivated.
Get your roar right
It isn’t the loudest roar that is listened to, it’s the roar that explains both positive and negative results in a clear way. As a leader you must ensure you’re communicating with your staff on every level so no one is left behind and everyone understands what they’re meant to be doing, what they’ve done right, what’s gone wrong and how to prevent this happening in the future.
Know your pride
A good leader knows what gets the team going. This means as a group and on an individual basis. Uncover what motivates them, what their goals are, what their values are and how they currently feel about the team. Employee assessments can help with this, as a way to ask employees the right questions and come out with the ways to help employees develop and succeed.
Being a leader in the world of business requires thorough communication throughout the whole journey from briefing to following up with useful feedback. Most importantly, a leader needs to understand the values of the business and ensure everyone understands and shares these.
So good luck all you leaders out there and keep retaining and developing your staff to be the best for your business.
This Guest Post was contributed by Terry of Collingwood Search.
If you have a great idea for a jungle-themed post, let us know! Guest writers or requests are always welcome!
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jun 26, 2015 in Building Confidence
, Self Improvement
Our office has recently seen many individuals make significant employment changes from one large company to another; leaving behind the teams they built over the last 5-10 years for the unfamiliar terrain of a new executive position filled with fresh faces to groom and lead. The conversations about how the new role is going seem to center around a common theme – the first priority of building a new team that they can trust. This begs the examination of what is really the definition of trust.
Webster’s Dictionary says, trust is the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective.” Wikipedia offers a social definition as when the “trustor” is willing to rely on the actions of another party (“trustee”).
It takes time for people to build credibility with each other. You must exemplify trustworthiness in order to receive it from your team and build your own trust in them. Consider these 5 tips for making a daily effort towards building your leadership trustworthiness offered by Jennifer Miller from SMARTBLOGS:
- Get to know people’s minds and hearts.
- Keep promises.
- Maintain confidences.
- Ask, “How are you doing?” Then shut up and listen.
- Back your people up.
Jennifer stresses as her first point that building and promoting your team’s skills is not enough, you also need to understand their motivations. Recognize the underlying influences that drive your team beyond the technical so that you can better position them for success in the group, and in their career path. This will solidify your team’s confidence in your abilities as a leader. Ask your team members what gets them to work in the morning beyond salary and social aspects.
Equally important is keeping your promises, both positive and negative. Creating a track record of consistency will allow you to ask the same of your team. Nothing erodes trust in a leader faster than broken promises and false hope. Be especially careful about assurances that could be undone because of a lack of information or support from senior leadership. It will be viewed by your team as a significant weak point in any future promises you make no matter how much they trust you.
Get to know your team and their individual personalities to maintain confidences. Your team’s observance on how you treat privileged information about them builds, or destroys, a foundation of trust in what they are willing to share about themselves to you. This can extend to simple praise and criticism where one employee may not mind being corrected or complimented in public and another may prefer to receive any feedback in private.
In this age of technological progress where communication is faster than ever, people seem to have less and less time to truly listen. This is especially true the further you are in your career. Asking how someone is doing and then being able to take the time to truly listen to the response is very rare. Schedule time on your calendar for members of your team to discuss ideas and concerns with you to avoid only half listening while writing an email or having to cut them off to rush to a meeting. Making yourself available to be able to respond with your whole attention will help you develop a deeper relationship with your team.
To err is human and to pass the blame is the mark of a team’s shaky confidence in its leader. If the team makes a mistake, correcting that mistake in the work product should take precedence over whose individual fault it is. If the fault is yours, own it. Even if your only mistake was not catching the error before the project was submitted. When your team is comfortable knowing they won’t have to waste time and energy constantly covering their own rears at the expense of the team’s cohesion, they will be able to get back to business more quickly after a minor slip-up. A single team member can be coached in private if they are the source of reoccurring issues.
Trust must be built over months and years but it can be shattered in an instant. Maintaining trust requires continual investment in the leader-employee relationship. Show your trustworthiness by getting to know your team personally to position them for success, keeping your promises, maintaining confidence, and really listening to and backing your group is the fastest way to develop a team that you will be able to trust. In the wild Job Search Jungle, your team may be your only hope for survival so make sure the trust you build can get you through any obstacle.
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Mar 7, 2014 in Executive Coaching
, Lessons Learned
, Self Improvement
Lisa Nirell of Energize Growth LLC writes in her blog, The Wealthy Business, about her experience at the Febraury Washington Women’s Leadership Initiative (WWLI.org) Luncheon where Arianna Huffington presented the Third Metric to attendees. Lisa uses Arianna’s message and urges her readers to build a lifestyle around frequent moments of being “unplugged” from technology to improve health and quality of life. “It takes a leap of faith to unplug. Several senior marketing leaders and CEOs whom I have met think of their lives as an “either/or” proposition where they are either relaxed and unplugged, OR overworked and hyper-connected. Today, I believe it’s about living a “both/and” life. We are human beings, not human doings.”
Read the rest of Lisa’s article “How Successful Marketing Leaders (Like Arianna Huffington) Unplug” on her blog.
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Aug 13, 2012 in Building Confidence
, Thinking Positive
As busy professionals looking to move our practices and careers ahead, we can lose sight of how important empowering others around us can contribute to our own success. Sometimes, we view training someone on a task or area of technical expertise as a time consuming activity when ultimately it can be a timesaving investment if we give that person responsibility for something that we don’t necessarily have to do ourselves and empower them in the process.
In the planting technique known as “companion planting”, three complimentary crops are planted close together in a cluster which fertilizes the soil and helps the plants grow stronger. For instance, grouping corn, beans, and squash is the traditional planting method of certain Native American groups. The corn acts a natural pole for bean vines to climb, while the beans add nitrogen to the soil improving the fertility of the plot. Bean vines can also help stabilize the corn stalks which keep them from blowing over in strong wind. Squash acts as a living mulch that provides shade to emerging weeds and helps to retain soil moisture. The prickly squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure. The plants, in effect, empower each other to grow.
In the traditional situational leadership model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, empowerment is used as a cooperative form of personal power as compared to competitive or self-protective power. It is also proactive, positive, and constructive. An effective leader should actively seek to increase the readiness level or capabilities of those around them and within the groups they are leading.
Empowerment is the power to accomplish your own goals, or helping others achieve theirs, through the process of group potency, meaningfulness, autonomy and impact.
Groups, as a whole, profit from their members gaining the ability to succeed together and be effective as a team. The team also needs to have the perception that the tasks they perform are necessary and valuable, not menial and trite. For a group to accomplish their goals, independence allows members to voice ideas and opinions that will aid in the ultimate success of a task. Autonomy does not imply that you abandon supervision entirely, but that such supervision is not constraining to the group. Finally, the thoughts and reflections of outside individuals on the group and its accomplishments are also significant and if sentiments of the group and its work are not positive, this will eventually duplicate in the minds of the members and can withdraw empowerment.
Business owners and leaders have often withheld empowerment because they have concerns about employees having the confidence and skill to leave and take the business with them. The question becomes, if those people felt empowered by their leaders, would they leave in the first place? People need to learn and grow, no matter their job title or level. Empowering someone could take the form of transitioning a simple activity like a weekly or monthly report from your workload giving the employee responsibility and accountability for that action. Or, it could be something more daunting like turning over a portion of client service on a large account. No matter what specific tasks you choose to relinquish, helping someone else learn and grow in their current position will help your practice learn and grow over time.
What steps can you take this week to empower someone around you, fertilizing the soil, which will ultimately increase your own productivity and personal success?
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jul 13, 2012 in Job Search
, Lessons Learned
“The Bare Necessities of any Job Hunt”
Whether you’re fresh out of college or a veteran of the workforce, establishing expectations is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself when you’re searching for a job.
Many people are so consumed with obtaining a job they may have to forgo considering whether it’s a good job. Settling for a good enough for right now job is likely to be a poor investment, but unfortunately it is sometimes unavoidable. With so many dangers and pitfalls in the job search jungle, a survey of the landscape in any position will give you enough information about what kind of employment is right for you.
If you find yourself in a less than favorable position, turn it into a learning experience. Write down what you dislike about your work life, and consider what circumstances would make it better. This can give you a better sense of what you will want in your next position, and it could possibly inspire you to suggest changes in your current job.
For those young, bright-eyed college graduates who are not expecting the pitfalls such as office politics and income taxes, it’s easy to get blindsided by a job that seems appealing in the interview stages. The challenge is, without work experience, you may not know what you want.
In the jungle, you will need food, water, and shelter to survive. In the work world, salary, coworkers, and work environment are among the bare necessities. Here are some questions to help you whittle down your expectations to the bare necessities.
But first, let me explain that the bare necessities are different for everyone. Some people crave order and instruction, while others crave creativity and independence. Some people prefer benefits over salary, and some prefer great personnel dynamics.
How much money will I take home?
The least romantic (but most practical) question is often the first and only question that eager potential employees will ask. The answer to this question is more complicated than it seems. In addition to the salary, you will need to factor in the state’s income tax, cost of benefits and other costs such as commuting and purchasing new clothes. All jobs come with a price.
Employers are rarely upfront with starting salaries in the preliminary interview, which means you can be excited about a position only to be disappointed with the amount of money offered. Also, the opposite is possible. The job could sound iffy, but the money may be appealing.
Money is the bare necessity of any job, but it can’t realistically be your only gauge for whether a job will be a good fit. Before you step foot in an interview, know the absolute lowest amount you can afford to accept and be willing to negotiate based on the above factors.
Who is on my team?
This question isn’t just about who is on your team; it’s also about how your team operates. Office dynamics can ruin or strengthen a good work experience.
If you haven’t had enough experience to know what type of office environment suits you, consider what types of organizations or circumstances have allowed you to excel.
Think back to your strongest relationships among peers, employers, mentors, coaches, parents, teachers and professionals. Did you feel that the motivation was coming from a superior, your team or yourself? Chances are, you’ve found motivation in all three; but pick the one that made you feel the most successful and brand it as a bare necessity.
- I respect strong leadership from my superiors.
- I need a strong support system and open communication from my teammates on all levels.
- I prefer minimal supervision for maximum creativity and success.
Depending on which type of communication you prefer, you can use an above statement to open up a dialogue with your interviewer about team dynamics. The right communication is vital to feeling motivated, inspired and fulfilled at your job.
What are the working conditions?
Considering the job, you could be on the road, at a desk or under the sun. Asking this question in advance can help clue you in to overtime expectations. It can also prepare you for the challenges of the office environment. (No office environment is perfect.)
In this instance, your health is the absolute bare necessity. Make sure your work environment offers plenty of breaks and that it won’t strain existing medical conditions. If you feel it’s appropriate, inquire about social activities (sports teams, happy hours or charity events) that allow for a sense of community beyond the office.
Whatever landscape you prefer, keep your salary, coworkers, and working conditions on your mind for your next position.
This blog post was contributed by Mariana Ashley. Mariana is a freelance blogger who primarily writes about how online education and technology are transforming academia as we know it. Having spent a good portion of her professional career trying to reform high schools in East St. Louis, Mariana is particularly interested in how online colleges in Missouri make higher education a possibility for students of all backgrounds. Please contact her at mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com if you’d like to discuss this article or education in general.
If you have a great idea for a jungle-themed post, let us know! Guest writers or requests are always welcome!
Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Apr 3, 2012 in Executive Coaching
In the jungle, there aren’t many signs to direct you away from danger. Beautiful plants can be poisonous, lethal fungi can sneak in and kill an entire species of trees in a short period of time, and if you lose your bearings without a compass, you only have your instincts to help you find your way out… but the right guide can help tremendously.
At lunch this week, I was discussing a particularly difficult leadership situation with a Director at a publicly traded company and we got on the topic of transformational leadership. Anyone can take on the traits of a transformational leader and be effective in the right situations where that type of leadership is particularly successful.
According to leadership researcher Bernard Bass, Transformational Leadership occurs when a leader transforms, or changes, his or her followers in three important ways that together result in followers trusting the leader, performing behaviors that contribute to the achievement of organizational goals, and being motivated to perform at high levels:
- Transformational leaders increase subordinates’ awareness of the importance of their tasks and the importance of performing them well.
- Transformational leaders make subordinates aware of their needs for personal growth, development, and accomplishment.
- Transformational leaders motivate their subordinates to work for the good of the organization rather than exclusively for their own personal gain or benefit. (1)
Let’s suppose you are a leader in an organization that, like many, has gone through extensive change due to external economic influences. Consider that the people leading the organization are doing as much as they can to attempt to adequately predict the next quarters’ results and have worked with you to ensure you understand your responsibilities within the overall execution of the strategic plan. You, as the leader of your group, need to steer your team to achieve the pre-established benchmarks despite the undercurrent of uncertainty.
It’s not easy. (If it was easy, everyone would do it!)
Realize that you are not alone and many companies and managers are in the same situation. Leaving your job because of these circumstances may not solve the issue at hand. Instead, think about what you can do personally to create stability within an environment of uncertainly. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on around you every day and lose sight of the big picture. No matter what interpersonal drama is happening in your office, take a moment to take stock of yourself in relation to the traits of a transformational leader. Consider what both your subordinate team and executive team need from you and the answers will become clearer. Remember, you can’t change other people, only how you react to them. If you need more leadership directives from the executive team, selectively seek out the proper person to mentor you. Those with more experience than you have just that….more experience. There is a lot to be learned from others’ experience and style. Recognizing both positive and negative traits in others helps you mold yourself to be a better leader overall. Make yourself transformational no matter your personal set of circumstances and find yourself to be the jungle guide your team needs.
(1) Jones, Gareth R.; George, Jennifer M. (2011-04-26). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior (6th Edition) Pearson HE, Inc.