Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Concept Vocabulary: Sophomore Diva


Have you heard of the term sophomore slump? It refers to a perception that the second try results in an inferior outcome than the first. For example, if the first book is a huge best seller, and the sequel doesn’t do as well, people might say that the author suffered a sophomore jinx. It actually is a cognitive dissonance, and it can be explained statistically as regression toward the mean.

The sophomore diva syndrome is something I observed and coined, because it seemed to keep happening. I don’t think it can be explained by statistics but rather a tendency for certain human behavior to emerge given a set of initial conditions.

I noticed that right around the 12th month, my staff would start complaining about new hires who otherwise went through our orientation period well. Their complaints were similar: the new(er) staff seemed to have gotten arrogant. The end result was that the older staff would want to distance themselves from the newer staff.

The first couple of times, I brush it off as a personality conflict or their patience wearing down after a honeymoon period. When it kept happening, I realized that the supportive environment we had established to nurture the new staff was creating the sophomore divas.

Here’s how I saw it.

After we evolved to a new hiring culture where everyone had to sign off on a new hire, and the group interview was made mandatory for candidates of any level (and everyone in the organization was allowed to drop in), the staff really grokked the idea that it was like adopting a puppy. We have a say in getting the puppy, but if we all decide to get it, we are all responsible for it. If it pees on the carpet, as untrained puppies would, we can’t just point at it and reject it as stupid puppy, but take the time to show the way we want the puppy to pee. Because puppies can pee at any time, and the instruction must be done immediately to be effective, you can’t wait until Mom or Dad shows up to correct the puppy. We all have to do it. We adopted an attitude that we had to be part of making this puppy a success.

As a result, the staff bonded with the new hires more quickly and welcomed them as part of the team. Because they wanted the new hires to gain confidence, they set them up for success by taking care to assign tasks in a steady stream in slowly increasing order of difficulty and complexity. By the end of 12 months, whether they went through the first few months of orientation period with flying colors or not, they were fully confident and ready to take on the world.

But what the new hires didn’t realize was that the world was not black or white as they were initially taught, nor were their teammates the only folks they had to be responsible to. As they graduated to the sophomore level, there were external meetings and speaking with vendors. Because we believed in showing new things to them first so they can learn how we do things, sometimes the meetings they were invited to were purely for their education (through observation). But because they were so confident and their confidence made them hungry for more (and they thought they were perhaps better than they really were at their jobs at that point), they would start giving suggestions to our clients without our knowledge, derailing our goal to have our clients focus on certain tasks. They would take matters into their own hands (a good thing) without realizing that an introduction of social media feed on the company webpage would require a discussion (a bad thing).

As soon as we could coin the term, the rest of the staff knew what to do. One solution was to set up a situation where they would likely to fail but in a controlled environment (like setting off a bomb under the supervision of a bomb expert to diffuse it). By letting them fail, their diva delusion will be shattered, without any harm to the organization itself. If we couldn’t set up such a situation, or the diva went on stage for the real show, we made sure to remember back to the” train the puppy to pee” stage, where we confront the issue directly and immediately, and displace kindly and respectfully, their hubris with humility.

Photo: Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy






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This entry was posted on December 16, 2015 by in Communication, Management, Vocabulary and tagged , , , , , , , .
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