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Professor Mark Snyder, social psychologist from the University of Minnesota, joked that he would not like to have a boss who seasoned his meals prior to tasting the food. Why? Professor Dariusz Doliński, social psychologist from SWPS University in Wrocław, explains what salt and seasoning have to do with management style.

“Salt Experiment” and Personality

A team of researchers from Columbia University, under the leadership of Stanley Schachter, had shown that eating habits may provide data about internal and external control. Professor Mark Snyder decided to research this matter further and test whether behavior is conditioned by a given situation or whether it is influenced by internal factors and one’s personality. The test was conducted with the use of the most common seasoning - salt.

In a restaurant, the researchers observed diners who had ordered more than two courses and used salt to season their dishes. The researchers assumed that diners, who seasoned their dish with salt after tasting the food, did it in response to the given situation, i.e. a bland taste of the dish. On the other hand, the diners who seasoned their food prior to tasting the dish, did it as the result of their own need or a pre-existing desire of having a salty dish, i.e. in response to the factors that had nothing to do with the taste of the served food.

The results confirmed the researchers’ assumptions. After the meal, all diners were given a list of personality traits and were asked to select the characteristics that best described them. The people who seasoned their food before tasting, chose twice as many characteristics from the list than those who salted their dishes after the first bite. It was an indicator that the people from the first group were more focused on themselves and that in other social situations their behavior might be influenced by internal factors. Their behavior indicated a style of exercising control influenced by the their character, while the behavior of the second group (the people who salted their dishes after tasting) indicated a style of exercising control, which took into account external factors.

“Salt Experiment” and Innovation

The results of the “Salt Experiment” can be translated into business environment, specifically to the implementation of innovations and change management. Every change in business activities or processes impacts the functioning of the business team, modifies responsibilities of the employees and shifts their focus onto new business goals. Those situations often stress the employees and push them outside of their comfort zone. Therefore, the personality of the manager is an important factor in planning and implementing organisational changes.

Taste First, Salt Later - Basic Mistakes of Managers

The lack of communication is the most common mistake that managers make when introducing changes in the organization. Instead of engaging employees in the process, they simply communicate the changes as already established, i.e. they season their dish before tasting it.

Another mistake involves communication that does not take into account the specifics of the team or the situation. Taking into consideration the current business environment and introducing changes in the organization without sufficient communication to employees may hinder the success of new initiatives. Although these are rookie mistakes, many seasoned managers still make them, regardless of the industry or years of experience under their belts.

Manager’s Personality and Success of the Project

If one begins a new project based on available and confirmed information, ensures that the required resources are available and the team is engaged, it means, most likely, that one belongs to the group of individuals, whose behavior is influenced by the environment. However, if one makes decisions, judgements and plans based mainly on one’s own thinking, ambitions, gut feelings, experiences, needs and knowledge, one most likely belongs to the group of people, whose behavior is strongly impacted by their own ego rather than by the environmental factors.

A manager who acts based on the information provided by an environmental scan, is more likely to be successful in managing change in the organization. A manager who acts based on his/her own needs or feelings (for example “(I) need change”, “(I) see the need to do X, otherwise Y will happen”, “(I) have the knowledge, therefore there is no need to check the data”), puts the project in jeopardy or significantly risks a successful outcome.


Dariusz Dolinski

About the Author

Professor Dariusz Doliński - specializes in social psychology (mechanisms of submitting to external pressures and social manipulation), psychology of emotions and motivation, and marketing psychology. He is an author of over 200 publications, including Przypisywanie moralnej odpowiedzialności [Assignment of Moral Accountability], Orientacja defensywna [Defensive Orientation], Strategie samoutrudniania [Self-Sabotage Strategies], and Psychologia wpływu społecznego [Psychology of Social Influence].