Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category
I was driving my pre-teen daughter to school this morning when it occurred to me to ask her to collect some data for me. I was wondering about how her friends would characterize their lives. Would they say that they live a G, PG, PG-13, or R rated lives? Given the circle of friends my daughter hangs out with I was expecting a G or PG rating to emerge. What I got instead was a rolling of the eyes and a “oh…dad”, telling me that I was not going to get any data at all.
I did start to think about organizations that I have knowledge of and came to the realization that various organizations could be given a rating in terms of the degree of civility and tone of their discourse and how they handle discussion leading to decision-making.
Now let me begin by saying that while organizations may vary by degree of formality of conversation, most are very civil places that encourage professional discussions to occur and disagreements to be aired, but there is some wiggle room in that civility. And some of that wiggle room may lead to higher organizational performance. I am of the mind that organizations should shoot for a PG-13 rating in their discussions to maximize a good airing of the issues and hopefully lead to higher performance. If organizational discussions hover around G you would have to wonder if any real disagreements are aired, and if aired whether any real degree of emotional sentiment on the part of those who disagree with someone else would be expressed. A PG-13 rating would seem to lend itself to a good degree of decorum and civility but also to some bluntly honest conversation and disagreements without being abusive.
We all have heard of R rated organizations where people regularly go around saying #$&^@S! that, or !!&##@), and while I have to honestly say that I don’t care about the swearing, in fact I mostly don’t really even notice it, I know that others do. When I do notice it, my immediate thought is that I am listening to someone with an impoverished ability to express themselves and therefore they must resort to simple swearing to convey their emotions or depth of feeling about an issue. I can remember a meeting I was attending where the CEO of an organization decided to make a point by using some swearing, he sounded silly to me perhaps impoverished linguistically, but his senior managers who were also in the room were all atwitter at the chosen language. Ok, it was the mid-west, but still you would think that the management team would not be so reactive to a few chosen words.
I am going to try again, I am looking for some data. How would you characterize the discourse and discussions around decision-making in your organization? Would you give it a G, PG-13, or R rating?
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
“Questions seeking well thought out answers. Must be optimistic, relevant, definitive, in-line with my preconceived notions, not too onerous to implement, and guaranteed to show results within an unrealistically short period of time. Silver or magic bullets welcomed. Simple clichés allowed. Historically tried and true methods or responses requiring hard work and sacrifice will be returned.”
When the National Weather Service puts out warm weather advisories and tells the elderly that they should stay indoors with air-conditioners or go to cooling centers a very large percentage of those who are older than 70-75 ignore the advice. Why? When those who are then stricken with heat related illnesses are questioned, many of them state that the advice was for the elderly and they did not consider themselves to be “elderly”.
In the NY Times this morning there was an article about some, who are critical of societal safety nets, making increasing use of those safety nets. One part of the article described a man who stated that too many taxpayers are not living within their means and are relying on federal handouts to get by. This person signs his children up for a federal free-meals-at-school program (breakfast and lunch), and receives an earned-income tax credit of several thousand dollars, which is a federal subsidy for lower income households. In his mind the assistance he received was not a safety net, but the kind of assistance others receive is.
It reminded me of the angry crowds during the health debate attending town halls meetings holding up signs that stated, “Keep the federal government out of my Medicare”, an oxymoron as Medicare is a federal government program. The protestors clearly did not see the connection between their well thought of federal program, called Medicare, and other federal programs.
These disconnects are startling and do not seem all that rare, and one has to wonder if in our work organizations such disconnects happen as routinely. I am afraid they do. Sometimes the disconnects happen due to poor communications, sometimes due to comments having differing saliency between the speaker and listener, sometimes they happen because people want to hear what they want to hear, and sometimes they happen because of a willingness on the part of some to mislead others by leaving out relevant information or through outright deception.
I was speaking to a manager at a fairly large organization, whose manager had told him that his performance was outstanding and within a year he would be a director if his performance continued. Well a year went by and nothing happened. He went to his boss and gave notice that he was leaving. His boss asked him why he was quitting; he seemed to enjoy his work, his colleagues and was even recently given a raise. He reminded his boss about the promised director position, a statement that the boss could not even recall. He was going to become a director as predicted he stated, as he had accepted just such a position; it was going to be at another company however. The boss used a throwaway line, at least to the boss, in a poorly thought through attempt to motivate performance. The subordinate waited in vain for the promised promotion to come through. This communication had widely different saliency for the speaker and listener, and caused the organization to lose a valuable contributor.
I went to a lecture last Thursday given by the head of a philanthropy organization. It was a great speech about the challenges facing the community in today’s environment and what the organization was doing to help meet those challenges. At the end of the lecture time was left to answer any questions those of us in the audience might have. While the speech was fairly broad ranging due to the speakers depth of knowledge, in no way did the speech cover the topics asked about in the questions. Each question took the speaker further and further afield on topics that while important to the crowd, were clearly outside of the philanthropic organization’s ability to influence. I was waiting for someone in the crowd to ask what the speaker was going to do to achieve world peace! Those in the crowd were desperately seeking answers.
What many of these instances share is that the people involved were seeking answers to issues of import to them. What does the future hold? What actions should I take? How can we improve our situation? But beyond that it seems that many of those posing questions or having points of view, whether they are holding up signs about Medicare or are wondering how the world situation can be improved, are somewhat scared. They are scared about uncertainty, that events are out of their control and they are looking for someone, anyone, to provide some assurance that events can be brought under control.
Organization have an obligation to be as transparent as possible, to provide assurance where they can, but organizations also need to say so when there are no answers, or at least easy answers, and that we as a group will work through this together and find solutions. At the same time however, those kinds of responses will leave some people feeling very uneasy and they will need additional support and communications, open honest communications, to deal with their uncertainty.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
-Isaac Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics with the additional Zeroth Law-
I just finished reading a science fiction book by one of my favorite writers, Greg Bear. Hull Zero Three is about a massive ship that is sent to colonize another planet in our galaxy, that colonization being the last best hope for mankind’s survival after having systematically exploited and destroyed the Earth. That makes it a fairly typical story as these things go, but when one of the colonists wakes early to find the ship badly damaged, he determines, over the course of the novel, that a civil war had occurred on the ship while he “slept”. Most of those who were to colonize the new planet were kept unaware of the methods and goals that the designers of the ship were willing to employ to assure mankind’s survival and when those goals and methods were uncovered dissention in the ranks ensued. The civil war, internal to the ship, was fought over differing visions of what the ultimate goals of the ship should be and how they should be accomplished.
So here you have a senior group, the designers/managers of the mission, who felt it was necessary to keep overall organizational goals and methods secret from those who were to carry out the mission, the “real” goals being on a “need to know basis” in order to assure success of the mission. Sounds like fiction doesn’t it? Who could believe that senior managers of an organization would not be clear to others within the organization regarding ultimate organizational goals and methodologies? Hidden agendas, ulterior motives, political manipulations, or simply poor communications are the makings of a good story, unless of course that story unfolds in the real world in your company or organization.
The pursuit of efficiency and the corresponding breakdown of work into its subcomponents, with each subcomponent being performed by an expert in that task was one reason that people lost sight of the bigger picture, what the organization stood for, its goals and how it was going to go about accomplishing those goals. Craftsmanship can be lost when an individual’s tasks are performed in isolation of the other tasks required for ultimate organizational functioning. It then can become very easy to perform blindly, overlooking or literally not seeing ineffective or perhaps even distasteful, illegal or immoral practices occurring elsewhere within the organization. A sales group who has no idea what operations can actually deliver upon, marketing being similarly divorced from an organization’s actual capabilities are not rare occurrences. Overall operational quality can go by the wayside if the view I have of my job is to simply put bolt A into slot B and my perception is that quality will be delivered by the quality control department, or that others will be the ones to worry about things that are beyond my own task. Conversely, those in operations/engineering/service delivery may be oblivious to the need to manufacture or provide what will actually sell or to stay closely in tune with what customers want. What you begin to develop is O Robot, the organization acting in a robotic-like fashion to develop, market, sell and deliver its products and or services, with each simplistic robot/employee doing the individual element for which it was organizationally programmed or because of interest, skill, or willingness to expend effort, programs itself.
But I feel like I might be doing robots a disservice. Isaac Asimov’s fictionalized robots were much more advanced than those notions and behaved according to the laws of robotics stated above. And large advances are being made in the real world to make robots behave in a more human-like fashion. According to a paper in the journal Interaction Studies (2007) among the traits a robot will need to exhibit to be viewed as more human-like are:
- Acting with autonomy
- Containing intrinsic value – being valued for simply being, not only for what it can do
- Being held morally accountability for its actions
- Engaging in reciprocal relationships – adjusting its expectations and desires as it interacts with others
- Demonstrating creativity
- Imitating other’s behaviors normatively– because of a desire to fit in socially
- Distinguishing or identifying actions that break social conventions.
It might be considered a step up if humans operated consistently or valued others according to a similar list of what we expect from our future robots to make them seem more human.
In the 1970s, there was for a time the notion of job enrichment. It was all the rage. Organizations, it was felt, had gone too far in breaking down jobs into elemental components, and in order to achieve happier, more satisfied or engaged workers, what was necessary was to enrich their jobs to make them less robot-like. Workers therefore were given more of a “whole” piece of work to do. You don’t hear much about job enrichment today, do you? It was not carried out very well in the majority of cases and in some cases workers whose jobs were enriched were not happier, but went on strike for higher wages and/or benefits, since more was being expected of them. This occurred not because enriching jobs was wrong, but because of fundamentally poor management practices or poor implementation of the job enrichment schema. In some cases workers were given new skills and responsibilities, but were in many ways still treated and compensated as unskilled labor, destroying any sense of fairness or equity they may have had.
An organization’s ethics is a broad and somewhat nebulous definition, but can generally be stated as the values to which the organization subscribes. How it behaves from a legal perspective is only one piece of the ethics equation. Over the years I have found that each organizational member’s view of ethics can be quite varied and is very dependent on where within the organization that member sits. The definition of ethical behavior by a blue collar worker is indeed different than the definition of ethics by management and ethical definitions will differ between professionals and administrative assistants or supervisors etc. And there are often differences in understanding or saliency of communication as different groups think about what is ethical to them. Forgive me, Isaac Asimov, for taking liberties with your Laws of Robotics, but given the way some organization attempt to operate in a robot-like fashion, I could not help but adapt the Robotic Laws into Organizational Laws that might just form a basic foundation for big-picture ethical behavior in organizations.
- An organization may not harm the Earth, or, by inaction, allow the Earth to come to harm.
- An organization may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- An organization may not harm a constituent (e.g. employee, customer, citizen, supplier, member), or through inaction allow a constituent to come to harm.
- An organization must follow societal laws and regulations except where such laws and regulation would conflict with the First, Second or Third Law.
- An organization must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the other Laws.
One has to wonder that if these relatively simplistic Organizational Laws were widely followed would we be better off today in terms of our environment and society? Or are these notions too simplistic? How do rewards and punishment fit into the organizational role? What is the role of the organization if it decides to punish one member for harming another? And what is the role of rewarding members differentially based on merit? Etc. Possibly too simplistic, but I have to say I am intrigued by the overall framework. Thoughts?
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“From the children’s point of view it was hard to tell a neighbor from a relative. She is like a sister to me was said in all sincerity. Door-to-door living over long periods of time made these people true kin to each other. The only difference between neighbors and relatives was that the neighbors went home to sleep; the relatives could climb into bed with you.” (Sam Levenson, Everything but Money).
The fact that neighbors went home to sleep and relatives could climb into your bed was information that helped a small child differentiate relatives from neighborhood friends in a crowded, confusing world encompassing the tenements of East Harlem in the early 1900s. Information, we are always searching for more in order to help us make sense of our world, to help us interpret the events by which we are surrounded, to help us make better decisions, but then we are often selective about which pieces we are going to view as credible, accepting some bits while seemingly randomly rejecting others.
There is an old tale coming out of the Middle East that is often spoken of in terms of conflict resolution, but seems to have more to do with information or the lack thereof. It goes something like this. There was a nomad who sensed he was nearing the end of his life, and so called his three sons together. He spoke to them, “I want to tell you how I plan on bequeathing the family’s 17 camels. To my oldest son I give half of my camels. To my middle son, I give a third of my camels and to my youngest son I give one ninth of my camels.” A week later the old nomad passed away and the 3 sons took to fighting over how to split the herd of camels between them. They went to the wise woman of the tribe, who mediated disputes and described the situation. She said to them, “I don’t know how to resolve your dispute, but here, I have one camel, take it and see if it makes you happy.” So now the three sons had 18 camels to divvy up. The oldest took half of the camels, or 9 of them. The middle son took a third of the camels or 6 of them and the youngest took one ninth of the camels or 2 of them. Well, 9 plus 6 plus 2 equals 17. So they had one camel left, which they gave back to the wise woman. It is a fun math exercise and makes you stop and think. What is the missing piece of information that helps you understand the story? The old nomad did not bequeath all of his camels in the first place, only 17/18th of them (1/2+1/3+1/9 = 9/18+6/18+2/18 = 17/18), which of course was impossible to do if you only had 17 camels to start with.
The conflict resolution part of this comes from an outside observer, the wise woman, being somewhat removed from the situation, being able to see a way forward from the impasse – how to divide up the 17 camels according to the nomads desires. The information part of this comes from the understanding that what was originally specified was not mathematically possible. But what is possible, and what needs to get done anyway is not always in alignment. We often need to think beyond what conventional wisdom says is possible and figure out ways to accomplish goals and mankind, in spite of our inherent flaws, is pretty good at that. And information helps, it can help a lot, but sometimes information, even compelling information is not only rejected but triggers a response of trying to get everyone else to reject the compelling information as well.
Some messages carry more effective information than others. Information that is unexpected or surprising tends to have more impact. Sean Carroll, a noted physicist, writes in From Eternity to Here, “If I tell you that the Sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow morning, I’m not actually conveying much information, because you already expected that was going to happen. But If I tell you the peak temperature tomorrow is going to be exactly 25 degrees Celsius, the message contains more information, because without the message you wouldn’t have known precisely what temperature to expect….Roughly speaking, then the information content of a message goes up as the probability of a given message taking that form goes down.” So out of the world of physics comes the notion that if a piece of information, a message, is unique, unexpected, or novel, it carries with it inherently more content, and more important content than often repeated, or completely expected information and messaging.
David Brooks produces a column summarizing notable social and psychological research, and in his December 7th column he wrote, “Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science, call “When in Doubt, Shout”, in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.” (NY Times, 12/07/10). This coping process was originally proposed by Festinger, the father of cognitive dissonance theory, which states that when people’s behavior and thought patterns are incongruent, I advocate one thing verbally, but actually behave not according to those beliefs, that dissonance sets in which must be resolved by changing beliefs or behavior. So here is a notion that appears to go against the world as physicists know it. In the human mind, or at least among some of us anyway, if strongly held beliefs are challenged to the core, rather than giving up on that belief and saying, “Oh well, I now have better information, it was very meaningful since it was unexpected, going against my core beliefs and now I can make a better more informed decision”, there is a tendency to not only hang on to those core, now challenged beliefs but to actively try to get others to sign on to the belief as well, a belief that the person who is proselytizing about it may no longer fully believe him or herself. By getting others to embrace the shaky belief it shores up one’s own doubts and the dissonance that exists can be resolved.
Think of the implications of this in the business world. For instance, say I was selling lousy, junk mortgages. I am presented with information that says “if you proceed on this path you will put not only your own company at risk by the entire economy.” My reaction could be, rather than stopping my behavior, to try to get others to emulate my risk taking to resolve any dissonance that has set up within myself.
Think of the survey that was just conducted on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the US military. Each time the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those in the military feel that repeal of the legislation would have no effect on battle readiness, there are members of congress who raise additional barriers and continue to try to persuade others, to proselytize others, to their point of view. When faced with clear evidence that threatens their core beliefs, rather than accepting that evidence and changing they simply try to be more convincing to others in order to resolve potentially dissonant feelings. As an aside, I took a look at the survey itself that was used to collect the information on feelings towards Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and my professional judgment is that the survey took a very conservative approach, asking questions in such a way that would lead to the least favorable result possible. Not that the research team was trying to bias the results, on the contrary, it appeared that they were setting the bar very high so that when the data did come in the results would be uncontestable, but contested the results are regardless.
Let’s say you are working in a company where an executive has an idea regarding how the future of the company should unfold. He or she has a lot of skin in the game regarding that idea or concept. That executive is presented with incontrovertible evidence that the idea is a dud. Given what we have just reviewed what might be the executive’s course of action? And more importantly how can organizations of any type overcome the bias that might arise?
Some of the techniques that can be used in these instances to overcome the inherent bias include:
- Oversight – of the individual by others within the organization who can pass informed judgments on the concept or idea.
- Checks and balances – on the absoluteness of power. Rather than one person having the authority to send the organization off in a new direction, a board-type approach can be of benefit, especially for big decisions and especially if the board solicits from its members…
- Independently arrived at judgments – one method to derive better decisions from a group is to have each member of the group develop independently arrived at judgments prior to comparing notes.
- And, independent assessment of the concept or decision by an outside group without a special interest in the outcome. Using what is perceived as an unbiased outside party, who can pass professional judgment on the concept, can lend additional credence to the conclusions drawn.
Even with these techniques, and even with the best of intentions you will still have some people without the ability to let go of their cherished beliefs and notions even when the facts indicate that those beliefs are clearly in error. The behavior by some will be to dig in their heels and to do their upmost to convince others of the correctness of their unsubstantiated beliefs as they struggle to come to grips with the information that they have received.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
I am feeling somewhat cynical at the moment so forgive me if this seems a bit one-sided.
What organization has not tried to present itself in as favorable a light as possible through their marketing and promotional efforts? A question for deliberation is, how far can they go before they cross the line into what could be called deception and falsehood? And what causes them to do so? The pursuit of profit? Fear of failure? A win at any cost mentality? The need to attract organizational members? A desire to maintain a harmonious employee or customer base? Simple goal attainment? Hubris?
False statements by an organization fall broadly into two categories, those that are ignored or “winked” at by society and those that carry formal penalties. For instance, false statements made by a representative of the organization during the hiring of a new employee are generally viewed as not rising to the level of needing legislative remedy to prevent, though there is the occasional civil court case. Those kinds of errors when proven, which can be very hard to do, are usually explained away as being made by an errant individual and not routine or systematized throughout the organization. False or exaggerated statements to customers about the goods and services the organization provides rarely results in formal action. And while there are classes of products, such as pharmaceuticals, that are controlled to “protect” the consumer, there are many products sold as remedies or preventatives for this and that which are largely unregulated. Many of those are worthless, and some are truly dangerous. It certainly is a buyer beware marketplace, whether you are purchasing or buying into a physical thing, a service or a point of view. False statements made to investors or regulators are assumed to be more insidious, perhaps because they are harder to pass off as simply an errant individual, and fall into a very different category, a category which carries penalties which can rise to the level of threatening the existence of the organization itself. Arthur Andersen, LLP the accounting firm which made the Enron debacle possible found that out the hard way.
An organization’s behavior and reputation are determined from an aggregation of the behaviors that those inside the company deem acceptable. You want your company to have a reputation of honesty? Then get the employees within the company to behave in an honest fashion. Reward honesty, not those behaviors that lead to dishonesty. So many organizations miss this basic point. A organization that presents falsehoods has people inside of it that feel, for some reason (perhaps they are rewarded for it), that presenting falsehoods is ok. Organizations and their resultant reputation are, to a great extent, driven by the behavior of those residing within. You don’t interact with an organization; you interact with the people of the organization. Maytag, the company, has never shown up to repair the washer, not because the washers are so reliable, but because it is the Maytag repairman or woman who shows up to fix those unbreakable machines. It is the people of the organization that define the organization. The organization itself is an abstraction.
Some companies unfortunately it seems are looking for plausible deniability. They want to claim that one set of standards are in place, say honesty, while not looking too closely at the behaviors that actually get rewarded, say dishonesty. If they officially looked too closely at it, uncovering that the system actually promotes and rewards dishonesty, they might be compelled to do something about it.
And there are those that present false information not because they are rewarded for it, but because they simply don’t have the capacity to differentiate correct from incorrect information. Justin Kruger and David Dunning coined a term, the Dunning-Kruger effect, for when a person of limited ability comes to erroneous conclusions or makes poor decisions, and their limited abilities or incompetence also prevents them from being able to recognize their mistake. Due to this, these incompetent people tend to rate their own ability as above average and suffer from what is called “illusory superiority” and live blissfully in ignorance. This is not limited to people with lower intelligence as this effect has also been demonstrated among those with significant intellectual power. It is more about a shortcoming in perception. Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average comes to mind.
The degree to which this is happening in our society is documented in a new book by Charles Seife called “Proofiness”. The main theme of the book is that while we are used to being lied to with words, various organizations today have taken the art of lying to us with numbers to a new level. “Proofiness” is defined as “the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true — even when it’s not.” And it is related to “truthiness” which Stephen Colbert popularized and means “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”
Dr. Seife documents case after case of bogus numbers being used in an attempt to persuade, attempting to convince someone to sign onto a point of view, to purchase a service or product, or to simply join an organization. Those caught in the act include Supreme Court judges, (who are supposed to be above that sort of thing), politicians (which I guess is unfortunately expected), and providers of goods and services (which is called marketing).
In thinking about all this, I can’t help but be reminded of the Iraqi Information Minister at the time of the American conquest of Baghdad in 2003 who claimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad, and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city’s gates. At that very moment, I remember seeing news feeds of Americans patrolling the streets of Baghdad, with all opposition having apparently crumbled.
Saying something simply does not make it so, which is a concept we seem to have largely forgotten these days.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
One of the basic fundamentals in achieving high performance from individuals is to provide them recognition for a job well done, sincere meaningful recognition. Being given recognition becomes part of the equity equation as people consider whether they are being treated fairly by an organization. Recognition can consist of psychological recognition, monetary rewards, advancement, development opportunities as well as a host of other possibilities.
There are two classes of rewards and recognition – those that can be tied to performance, such as merit increases, and those that should be independent of performance – those that are a standard that should be made equally available to all. For instance, if you were running a mining operation you would not hand out safety equipment as recognition for good performance, rather all miners would be given equal access to the safety equipment available. The ability to operate safely on the job and access to safety equipment is independent of individual performance.
I had one client that had tied recognition, the score you received on your performance appraisal, to the health care benefits you received. If you scored highly on your performance appraisal and got sick you were flown to Singapore where you received the best medical treatment available. If you did not score highly on your performance appraisal local health care was made available, which was definitely below world-class status. After a few conversations with the management of this organization, I convinced them that these 2 elements should not be tied together.
This was a clear example that recognition on the job (in this case the ratings on your performance appraisal) could have an impact on your life expectancy. But there has come to light additional new evidence. Matthew D. Rablen and Adrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick, found that winning a Nobel Prize can add as much as 2 years to your life. When candidates are nominated for a Nobel Prize they do not know it, as the lists of nominees are not released for fifty years after the Prize is awarded. This sets up a situation where the winners (who know they won) can be compared against those nominated (who don’t know that they were nominated). Those who won and received the associated recognition lived longer. “The only possible explanation is that the enhanced status conferred by a Nobel somehow improves a person’s health. Walking across the platform in Stockholm does wonders” said Andrew Oswald, one of the authors of the study. Remember that the nominees are no slouches, they are all very well thought of in their respective fields, but the status associated with the Nobel, somehow provides a little bit extra.
Given that many organizations are keen on improving the health of the workforce to reduce health insurance rates and to raise productivity, I wonder if they have ever viewed providing recognition as a health related practice. Also importantly can organizations make their rewards and recognition confer that little something extra? Could the budgets associated with recognition be offset against health insurance increases? Or on the flip side could organizations that provide no recognition be blamed for ill health or hastening the death of an employee? The human brain’s impact on internal bodily processes is simply not to be underestimated.
Sometimes recognition comes from unexpected sources. Abraham Lincoln when faced with many rivals within his own party for the position of President decided that the best place for them was within his cabinet. By keeping his rivals close to him, he could keep an eye on them but he was also telling them something. He was providing them recognition of their abilities and saying that he wanted them working with him, because he valued their input, rather then being at odds with them.
There is a myth that exists around brilliant people (maybe even just smart people) and recognition. It is that these people are intrinsically motivated and that means that they do not need or desire recognition for a job well done. Doing good work by itself is rewarding enough. (I get this feeling that this myth was developed by people who feel somewhat intimidated by really smart people). While there may be a few people like that out there, my experience is that the vast majority, while they may be intrinsically motivated, like nothing more than a pat on the back and other recognition for doing good work. They, like us, put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning (assuming you are wearing pants) and while they may really like their independence, they really like people recognizing their contributions as well.
Recognition is one of those fundamentals that cut across organizations, cultures, occupations, geographies, generations and genders. It works and has an impact on your work environment as well as in your personal space. The next time you have an opportunity, and want to tell someone that they did a good job and you appreciate them, don’t hold it in, let it out and see what kind of benefits you can spread.
© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
There are those who think only they know best when it comes to organizational decision making. And while it is perfectly ok to have strongly held opinions, it also behooves one to know when to listen to the wisdom of the crowd. Assuming that you have crossed the Rubicon and are ready to heed or at least consider the advice of those who are usually more than willing to share some, there are some guidelines that if followed can make the process not too overwhelming and perhaps increase the probability of success. This is a quick summary and the highlighted links will point you to more detailed discussions on each topic.
- Don’t try to do too much. If every manager within an organization once a year picked one meaningful thing that went above and beyond and actually made it happen, significant positive change would occur. If two things were chosen, one should support an overall organization-wide initiative and one should focus on local conditions. By limiting the number you also eliminate excuse-making. You either did it or did not. Reference: The One Thing.
- Every organization has strengths. Sometimes picking actions that build off of and are natural extension of the strengths, the skills and talents already in place will be more successful than actions that come out of left field. If you are trying something new as an action and do not know how to accomplish it, set a learning goal – how you will learn more about and develop the skills that enable you to succeed on the action. If you are very familiar with how to improve on a particular issue then set a specific measurable goal. Reference: Increasing the Wealth of Organizations.
- People are people. We can spend our time searching for the differences between us, but when it comes to the world of work and what people fundamentally want and expect out of the work environment we are all much more similar than we are different. We all more or less want the same things. Find me a person on this planet, of any age, of any gender, of any ethnicity for instance, that does not want to be treated with respect and dignity. (I exclude those with pathology). Think about how the actions you are considering can help fulfill these basic universal needs. Reference: People at work: or it is Life and Searching for a gang in Nebraska.
- There are no magic bullets – success, most of the time, boils down to some brain power, hard work and a dose of being in the right place at the right time. Those who spend their lives searching for magic bullets, elixirs, quick fixes will spend their lives searching in vain. Reference: Models, Representations of Reality
- Don’t prematurely shut down the creative process. Create a lot of good ideas in a brain storming mode. On a second or third pass through the ideas generated, narrow the field. Pick the one thread that can be most leveraged, the thread that could unravel or hold together the whole organizational tapestry. Reference 40:1
- Your actions are at risk for failure. As you plan them out, understanding common reasons why actions fail can help you avoid pitfalls. Actions can fail because of a. lack of knowledge/training, b. lack of correct business processes, c. lack of desire/support. Reference: Errors
- It can be good to measure, to create metrics to measure your progress, but just because you are not measuring does not mean what you are doing is not good. Where you can create metrics, do so. Reference: Managing what you are not measuring, and Measuring what you are Managing.
- You will make mistakes. It is a given. Mistakes and errors will occur as you pick and execute on your action plans. Don’t be so consumed with making the absolute right decision that you make no decisions or miss opportunities because of decision delays. Reference: Peanut Butter Anyone?
- Change happens- look forward not back. Reference: Well I Guess that is not Going to Grow Back.
- Openness and transparency regarding what you are doing is the best policy. If you cannot be open and transparent about it ask yourself if you should be doing it. Reference: Transparency and Organizational Success.
- Aim High. Reference: Abnormal Change.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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Speed Limit 30 MPH, my daughter instructed me from her booster seat in the back as I maneuvered down the road at a speed slightly higher than that. I slowed the car down. Her sense of right and wrong, sometimes somewhat misplaced, is very strong. Once when I had to pick my wife up at the train station at about 9:00 pm or so, I pulled into a deserted parking lot and parked next to the stairs from which she would descend and proceeded to wait for the train and her to put in an appearance. My young daughter pointed to a blue sign in front of the car with a wheel chair on it and asked me what it meant. I told her that it meant that the space was reserved for handicapped people. She told me to move the car. I told her we were the only car in a lot that could hold several hundred cars, which had about a half-dozen other handicapped spots, all empty, and if someone pulled in looking for a handicapped spot I would move. My daughter, who was 6 or 7 at the time, gave me the eye. I moved the car. Now that she is a pre-teen instead of the “eye”, I get the “rolling eyes”, usually followed by an “oooh…dad.”
Signs, messages, warnings, suggestions, advance notices, advice, rules, regulations, commandments, moral codes, prohibitions, commentary, talking heads, pundits, product labels, warning labels, calories counts, advisories, report cards, performance appraisals, performance management systems, traffic tickets, parking tickets, parables, all of these things have something in common. While some document current behavior or aim to punish or reward current behavior, to inform or increase your safety and perhaps extend your life, all of these things also aim to influence our future behavior.
We are surrounded by scads of information and processes that are squarely aimed at influencing our future behavior. A speeding ticket for instance is not only punishment for going too fast (or at least faster than the rules say you should), but it is also trying to send the message that the behavior of speeding should not be repeated. The point system, whereby if too many violation points accumulate on your license leads to suspension of the license, simply reinforces the behavior change aspects of the process. Warning labels on some products are there to inform and attempt to influence – use this product at your own risk, as are performance appraisals which attempt (most rather poorly) to document current performance and to influence future performance – sort of like attaching a warning label to a person’s forehead. Warning: this person’s current performance is sub-par; please keep clear so as not to be unduly influenced yourself.
What if all this information which bombards us and attempts to influence our behavior was to suddenly disappear? Would we be floundering in a sea of confusion, not knowing how to behave? Would civilization, as we know it, collapse? What if every stop sign, every speed limit sign, every prohibition, every code of conduct, every warning label on every product you purchased, every pundit who interprets events for us were to disappear. Would we be better off or worse off? Would we be walking around in a stupor wondering which actions we should be taking? Would we have no sense of direction, not being sure of what to eat or how to interact with others? Or are we more capable than the way we have developed as a society gives us credit for?
When someone moves from one country or culture to another, how much of the assimilation process, and the success or failure of that assimilation, is due to successfully understanding and knowing how to behave regarding all of the messages that bombard you in everyday life? What if I had no idea that the guy wearing the orange vest and standing in my lane waving the red flag was telling me to stop so that cars could make it safely through a construction zone? What if, based on my experiences, that particular set of symbolic indictors all pointed to a robbery or carjacking attempt was about to occur? Might I react differently? How about when one moves from one company or organization to another? The information flows are likely more subtle, but a portion of whether that new employee will be successful or not in the new organization with its own unique culture may depend on how successfully that person is at interpreting and heeding the information flows that impinge.
Fundamentally, searching out information to help you interpret and guide you through the events surrounding you is likely an in-born survival mechanism, fulfilling a need in humans to create order out of disorder. We automatically develop rules-of-thumb or heuristics to help us interpret events, situations and people. As our environments get more and more complex the need for information to successfully navigate that environment grows. Yet it was not too long ago that we got by with substantially less information flows than what we experience today. A farmer just 50 years ago, living in a rural area, making a living from the land did not have nearly the amount of information stimulus that we have today. But the farmer’s children might dream of moving to the big city where life would be more “interesting”. And those in the big city dream of a vacation, “getting away from it all”, and perhaps unarticulated in that notion of “all”, is away from the constant bombardment of information and its attempted influence on us which needs interpretation and digestion.
I have spent a good deal of my career collecting information from employee or customer surveys and helping organizations interpret that information as a way of dealing with the environments in which they find themselves. I work to increase their performance and to help them and their employees thrive. For me, having information is a critical component of my success in working with clients, and in fact when I am asked questions about the usefulness of employee survey data to achieving business success, my response usually includes the notion of increasing the chances of success by managing with information rather than without. And while I may find the amount of information and processes that impinges on me daily at times to be intrusive, the lack of that information would likely leave me looking for sources of information to help me interpret the complex environment in which I find myself.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.