Are your Twenty-Something Employees Full of $%^&
I received a call from a client asking if there was something wrong with PsybilⓇ, our assessment system. He had just assessed a set of candidates and 7 of the 8 had self-deception scores higher than the 80th percentile. After making sure our system was working, I called him back and asked him if there was anything unique about this particular group. He stated that they had started a junior executive program and that all of the candidates were between the ages of 25 and 30.
Why were they so worried about these scores? Because self-deception among leaders is one of the core causes of a toxic culture.
Could it be that the baby boomer complaints about Millennials’ misplaced self-confidence is true? This caused me to look through all our assessment results and gather as many ages of users as possible.
I had over 800 self-deception scores and the ages of the test takers. The 800 were virtually all professionals with many in, or applying for, executive positions. All were assessed either as part of a hiring or succession planning process or for development. Importantly, in the case of my client as mentioned above, the assessment takers were all from a narrow age group (25-30).
Analysis of Self-Deception Scores and Ages
To make sure that what I saw in the data truly represented a significant difference, I entered the data into SPSS and used a Chi Square Statistic to determine the difference between the two groups. The screen shots of the SPSS analysis belows reveal that the difference between 20 somethings and the rest of the age groups is real (statistically significant).(For those of you who have not cracked a stats book lately, the asymptotic significance shows that the difference we found was extremely unlikely to happen by chance)
The results are outlined in the graph below. Note that we have a spike of scores among Twenty-Somethings at the 80th percentile with the rest of the curve remaining flat. The Thirty-Plus group tends to be flatter across the board with peaks in the middle average and high average.
Equally interesting is the rate of scores above the 90th percentile is relatively similar between Twenty-Somethings and Thirty-Plus.
What Does this Mean?
- The difference between those who score in the 70s and 80s is qualitatively different from those who score 90 or higher.
- The 70s and 80s reflect naive overconfidence and is common in successful sales people and entrepreneurs. The 90s reflect the level of self-deception common in toxic leaders who honestly believe they are significantly superior to others.
- It’s normal for Twenty-Somethings to be overconfident.
- There are a lot of theories ranging from the “participation trophy generation” to normal human development to explain this phenomenon. Managers of people with these scores will need to focus on the issue in coaching. For example, when the employee says “I can do that”, the manager needs to make sure the employee has the skill, not just the confidence, to do it.
- A score of 90 or higher is likely to identify someone who will cause significant culture problems.
- Since the rates of scores above 90 are similar across the two groups, this reflects a potential personality defect that people rarely grow out of. This is unlikely due to too many trophies as a child.
Our data suggests that there are two different phenomena going on:
- Overconfidence may be annoying but if not extreme, it is something an organization can live with and may have some upside.
- A score above 90 suggests a personality defect and may result in significant cultural problems if the person is hired or promoted. See our article on toxic cultures for more insights.
While reviewing our data, we found a couple of other insights that we will write up in future blogs. Send us a note if you are curious now — we would love to hear from you and use your comments in future blogs.
Note: Thank you so much to our clients who helped. Although far from the perfect randomized study, they provided the ages of 824 users.