Social Signals

  Harvard Business Review’s January issue features an interview about charisma and social signals that people send. Research by MIT’s Alex Pentland who directs the MIT Human Dynamics Lab found that social signals or charisma can be measured and matters (better to have than not). He and fellow researchers found that it’s not what you say but how you say it. High energy and a positive point of view can drive success. “Honest signals” such as people’s gestures, expressions and tone change the receivers of those signals and change their behavior. “The more successful people are more energetic. They talk more, but they also listen more. They spend more face-to-face time with others. They pick up cues from others, draw people out, and get them to be more outgoing. It’s not just what they project that makes them charismatic; it’s what they elicit. The more of these energetic, positive people you put on a team, the better the team’s performance,” says Professor Pentland. I am a big proponent of more face-to-face communications from CEOs and senior officers. To me, the best reputations are built that way.  After all, aren't we social creatures? In the HBR interview, a fact jumped out at me which business leaders should think twice about. The professor said that some of their research is showing that being face to face with colleagues is 2.5 times as important to success as additional access to information. In their research with call centers, they are finding a 10% increase in productivity by restructuring the environment to enhance more employee interaction. More positive or employee face to face and social interaction, listening and engagement delivers a higher return on investment. Although I am fairly “social” myself (have a blog, twitter and use email like crazy), I believe that the mix of face to face and electronic needs to find a better balance. CEOs really do need to walk the halls and send the right signals that show that they are listening to what’s on people’s minds. If I recall, there is a CEO who has “office hours” like teachers do. Not a bad idea.

Pentland ‘s research is not saying that charisma and energy alone can change company culture and performance. But he is saying that charisma and positive energy impact others, send positive signals that can charge up people and foster greater cooperation and collaboration. At least, that is how I read it.