Areas of Expertise (10)
Innovation & Creativity
Conflict in the Workplace
Ethan Burris is an expert on the human behaviors that impact the productivity and creativity of organizational teams. He is a negotiations expert, and studies management behaviors that encourage or discourage innovative idea sharing. Why do some organizations encourage and act on fresh ideas while others promote only silence and conformity? How can organizations and managers more effectively handle conflict?
Burris is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin, and the co-director of the school's Center for Leadership Excellence.
He teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and is also a popular corporate trainer with Texas Executive Education, helping to foster workplace cultures of innovation and creativity. He has an appointment to work with Google on creativity and employee voice (summer 2015).
His research has appeared in several top management and psychology journals, such as Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and has been covered in major media outlets such as the Harvard Business Review and the Houston Chronicle.
Dr. Burris has collected data from and served as a consultant for a variety of professional firms, including a Fortune 100 insurance company, and a Fortune 500 company in the casual dining industry.
Cornell University, S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management: Ph.D., Management 2005
Cornell University, S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management: M.Sc., Management
Washington University in St. Louis: B.A., Psychology, Organizational and Human Resources
Media Appearances (11)
How to Manage an Insecure Employee
Harvard Business Review online
Insecure employees are “hard to evaluate, hard to coach, and hard to develop,” says Ethan Burris. “The challenge is that insecure people are so concerned with how they look and how they are perceived that they either fail to solicit critical feedback or completely ignore it when it’s given."
The most important United Airlines policy change after its dragging fiasco could also be the hardest
"This isn’t just a matter of empowerment, it’s a matter of cultural change," says Ethan Burris, a professor at the University of Texas's McCombs College of Business. "And with a rules-based culture, saying 'empowerment' is very counter-culture.
How to Build Bonds for Successful Digital Transformation
Collaboration is especially important when facilitating change, according to Ethan Burris, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.
When It’s Tough to Speak Up, Get Help from Your Coworkers
Harvard Business Review online
When you feel it’s risky to share concerns with your manager you sometimes ask people of higher authority to voice your opinion or ask others to join you in advocating for change.
Why Silence Really Is Golden
The question, says Ethan Burris, associate professor of management, allows you to weigh the cost-benefits of speaking. He adds: “The costs usually come down to two different barriers. The first is the feeling of safety. Are there any repercussions for speaking up? And will this result in any change? So it’s a constant weighing the scales. Where you really want to change things, are you going to get kicked in the process and do you actually stand a chance at really making a difference?”
Employee Suggestion Schemes Don’t Have to Be Exercises in Futility
Harvard Business Review online
McCombs management professor, Burris, explains how moving up in a business makes you gain power but lose visibility into what should change. While many companies implement electronic suggestion boxes, they typically do not work because people forget to use them or the ideas are not considered.
Nonverbal Cues Get Employees to Open Up—or Shut Down
Harvard Business Review
Studies on power posing show that intentionally adjusting your body posture, facial expressions, and voice can help you express your ideas and concerns and win greater influence. This is true no matter what title or position you hold.
Speaking While Female: Why Women Stay Quiet at Work
The New York Times Sunday Review print
A University of Texas researcher, Ethan Burris, conducted an experiment in which he asked teams to make strategic decisions for a bookstore. He randomly informed one member that the bookstore’s inventory system was flawed and gave that person data about a better approach. In subsequent analyses, he found that when women challenged the old system and suggested a new one, team leaders viewed them as less loyal and were less likely to act on their suggestions. Even when all team members were informed that one member possessed unique information that would benefit the group, suggestions from women with inside knowledge were discounted.
Research: Insecure Managers Don't Want Your Suggestions
Harvard Business Review online
Organizational studies show that employee voice — speaking up with ideas for improvement to those with the power to make changes — helps managers and companies perform better. This is not a controversial finding, nor is it particularly surprising that organizations in which people speak up outperform those in which ideas are stifled. After all, those on the front lines are typically best positioned to generate ideas to make the organization more effective...
Getting GM Employees to Speak Up About Safety
The Washington Post online
Ethan Burris, a management professor at the University of Texas at Austin, studies what makes people call attention to issues in organizations and how managers respond when they do. He says it's one thing to hold the safety group accountable for following through on ideas; it's quite another to have a systematic and rigorous way of handling what could be a flood of ideas.
Ethan Burris: Great Ideas Bosses Never Hear
The Wall Street Journal online
Leaders need to hear from employees on the front lines—those who interact with customers, who collaborate across organizational boundaries or with suppliers, who face the challenges of developing new products. Many of these employees have relevant things to say. But they don't speak up, either because they fear repercussions or they think it's pointless.
Sample Talks (1)
When Managers are Insecure, Employee Voices Aren't Heard
In a study, Burris and his fellow researchers tested the theory that getting people to practice self-affirmation can mitigate threats to their egos. The researchers asked study participants to think of, and then write about, a deeply held personal value. That simple act had impressive results. Regardless of whether that personal value related to the manager’s job, “they felt more comfortable with who they are — and then they were more likely to solicit voice,” Burris said. His research offers a lesson for managers. “It doesn’t matter how competent or incompetent you actually are,” Burris said. “It matters how competent you feel.”
- Workshop Leader
Listing of top scholarly works by Ethan R. Burris.
Previous research on employee voice has aimed to understand the antecedents and outcomes of the frequency of speaking up. Yet, how these antecedents translate into outcomes may depend on what employees speak up about and its implications for implementation. We engage in three studies to explore what individuals speak up about, why they speak up about those things, and the consequences of voicing such content. These results offer meaningful theoretical implications for the literatures on employee voice and identification.
No matter how approachable you may be as a manager, chances are good that your employees are withholding valuable intelligence from you. Research shows that many people are more likely to keep mum than to raise important questions or suggest new ideas. But there are several ways to create a much more vocal culture. To make idea sharing less intimidating, tone down the power cues with employees, and gather feedback in regular, casual exchanges. Be transparent about the processes for gathering and following up on ideas. And if you really want to know what people think, go ask them. Research shows that when employees do speak up, organizations see increased performance. So getting all this right pays off—both for workers eager to make contributions and for their firms.
The authors underscore how recognition of employee voice by supervisors matters for employees. It carries (mediates) the effects of voice expression and status onto performance evaluations 1 year later, which means that demographic differences in the assignment of credit for voice can serve as an implicit pathway for discrimination.
Soliciting and incorporating employee voice is essential to organizational performance, yet some managers display a strong aversion to improvement-oriented input from subordinates. To help to explain this maladaptive tendency, we tested the hypothesis that managers with low managerial self-efficacy (that is, low perceived ability to meet the elevated competence expectations associated with managerial roles) seek to minimize voice as a way of compensating for a threatened ego. The results of two studies support this idea.
This paper contributes to research on the outcomes of employee prosocial voice to managers by focusing on the relationships between voice and two managerially controlled outcomes: managerial performance ratings and involuntary turnover. Past research has considered voice from either the managerial or subordinate perspective individually and found that it can lead to positive outcomes because of its improvement-oriented nature.
This research advances understanding of the psychological mechanisms that encourage or dissuade upward, improvement-oriented voice. The authors describe how the loyalty and exit concepts from AO Hirschman's (1970) seminal framework reflect an ...
We investigate the relationships between two types of change-oriented leadership (transformational leadership and managerial openness) and subordinate improvement-oriented voice in a two-phase study. Findings from 3,149 employees and 223 managers in ...
The authors studied the effect of 3 modes of managerial influence (managerial oversight, ethical leadership, and abusive supervision) on counterproductivity, which was conceptualized as a unit-level outcome that reflects the existence of a variety of intentional and unintentional harmful employee behaviors in the unit...
In a series of four studies, we examined whether and how negotiators' task-related self-efficacy affects their performance. In the first two studies, we identified two theoretically meaningful self-efficacy constructs—distributive self-efficacy (DSE) and integrative self- ...
In 2 studies the authors show that the quality of deals negotiators reach are significantly influenced by their previous bargaining experiences. As predicted, negotiators who reached an impasse on a prior negotiation were more likely either to impasse in their ...