Archive for the ‘Goal Setting’ Category
Employee Engagement is often viewed as a magic bullet. All we have to do is increase our levels of employee engagement and all will be well. Is your engineering done poorly? That is because your engineering employees are not engaged enough. They would exceed your customer’s expectations if they were more engaged. Putting your stores in under-performing locations? That would not happen if your real estate people were more engaged. Are your customers unhappy with the quality of your products? If only you could make your sales people were more engaged. This kind of thinking is of course nonsense, but there is a deeper issue here.
Some, if not many organizations have bought into the notion that increasing employee engagement should be part of an organizations’ strategy. But that is like saying reducing an ill person’s fever should be the strategy to get them well, without addressing the underlying cause, like the tumor that is spreading rapidly in their pancreas. Maybe if we brought the fever under control that tumor would resolve itself? Not likely.
As we conduct employee surveys there are several distinct kinds of questions that are used to gage what is happening within an organization and how it is functioning. One question type is called an independent variable. These are items like “do you have the training you need to get your job done?” They are directly addressable if the response scores are low. Another question type is called a dependent variable, such as “I am proud to work for XYZ”. These kinds of questions are dependent on other things driving them high or low, such as, we were just caught up in a bribery scandal, so I am not so proud to work here. How would you address pride in that circumstance? While there may be other underlying issues, simplistically, you would address ethics in order to bring pride back to higher levels. There are other kinds of questions we use in surveys but discussing these two types will make my point.
Good strategy for an organization is strategy that is simply stated, easily understood and directly addressable. Good strategy could be thought of as independent variables. Is your engineering done poorly? Good strategy may be to upgrade or bring resources to your engineering group. Maybe you hire or maybe you acquire or maybe you outsource, but the hallmark of a good strategy is that you can directly address the improvement needed of the engineering function. The engineering employees will become engaged when they have what they need to do their jobs well, are treated in an equitable fashion, with respect etc.
A strategy that states, we will increase employee engagement as the strategy itself, is not directly addressable and does not give the management team any insight into specifically what needs to be done to accomplish that goal. Without insight into the direct strategic actions that must be taken you get warm and fuzzy words that are not directional and will be impossible to accomplish.
Having high levels of employee engagement is a good end result, but it is an end result of other strategic actions you take and is simply not strategic by itself.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: http://www.orgvitality.com
“You are going to have to help me with this people thing.” That was what the ex-McKinsey consultant turned CEO of a major Fortune company told me years ago. He was the nicest guy. He explained to me how he could handle all of the financials to run his company but this whole people thing, what motivated them, what concerned them, he just couldn’t get his arms around that. He was baffled. What to him seemed like simple business decisions, trim here, reorganize there, in order to fine tune his company’s financial performance resulted in all sorts of emotional morale issues. “Why didn’t people see the obvious?” He thought that there should be no emotions involved in financial business decisions, that if he did what was best for the company, to ensure its survival, that people should not mind (or at least not get emotional about) being moved around like pieces on a chess board, even if it meant losing their jobs. While this company had solid financial performance, it also had a fairly high degree of turnover, with some employees after a pretty short period of time feeling burned out and not being able to continue with the firm. Yet this company also had a high degree of employee commitment and employee loyalty. How was that possible?
I participated in a graduation recently. A group of MBA student’s to whom I taught a leadership class were graduating with their degrees in hand. It was extremely emotional in a positive way for the students, their families and friends that were present. The students were smiling from ear to ear and the parents were beaming. As each student came across the stage, amid the flashing of cameras, I rose shook their hands and congratulated them on their achievement. As each student passed me, I wondered “what direction will their lives now take?”
Sense of Direction. Having a clear sense of direction, a sense of mission regarding what the organization (an organization can be anything from a poker club to a nation state) is going to accomplish, and how people can personally and meaningfully contribute to that goal will affect one’s overall sense of well-being and happiness. It helps to increase a sense of purposefulness which in turn can greatly impact people’s sense of commitment and loyalty to the organization. Most people struggle with this, looking for a sense of direction and purposefulness for at least a portion of their lives, others struggle with this for most of their lives. For the newly-minted MBA’s, they are at an inflection point, where they will be examining the decisions they have made so far and will be reflecting on a host of choices they now have which will affect their own sense of direction and sense of purpose.
For an organization, clarity on this subject allows members to self-select, for if I don’t agree with the goals of the organization (stated or otherwise), or what the organization perceives as my role in helping it to achieve those goals, it is pretty clear, that if I can, I should leave. Over time, with a clear sense of direction (stated or otherwise), what an organization can achieve is a fairly tightly knit core of people who are extremely dedicated, ferociously loyal to helping the organization achieve its goals. And yes, there is a risk that too tightly knit of a group will put goal achievement and gain for this core above all else including societal or customer well-being, potentially bending or breaking various articulated operating standards, societal rules, regulations or laws. An inner core can arise, and as C.S. Lewis pointed out a long time ago, people will do almost anything to become part of the inner circle. As with everything there needs to be a sense of balance, swinging too far in any direction is generally not good for people, the organization or society at large.
Knowing where an organization is going, what it stands for and the values it will employ while getting there can be critical to actually getting there. Each person having a sense of direction and knowing how they can contribute to that direction is a fundamental building block for organizational performance and morale.
One aspect of sense of direction having a positive impact is movement, or the direction of the sense of direction. People tend to get frustrated with stagnation and get unhappy pretty quickly about what is perceived as a backward slide, even if that slide is relatively small and from a very high place or performance level. People notice and feel positive or negatively about the direction things are headed, oftentimes more than the absolute level of the measure suggests that they should.
For instance, as we have measured Employee Confidence over the years, what we see are increases and decreases in Employee Confidence on a national level that are related to the direction of a nation’s economy and not the absolute level of economic performance. Employee Confidence goes up if conditions (e.g. unemployment levels, GDP growth) are seen as improving and it declines if conditions are perceived as dropping, regardless of the absolute levels of those conditions. Employee Confidence can be very high in rapidly developing economies as people feel that conditions are improving and that their economy is on the rise, even if the absolute economic standards are pretty low. Likewise, Employee Confidence can be low in highly develop economies with high standards of living if economic performance is seen as in decline.
As humans, we tend to perceive events and make judgments on a relative basis and not on an absolute basis. What tends to becomes normal is relative to what we routinely experience. But every once in a while we are able change the standard dramatically when a critical mass of organizational members compares what they are experiencing to other extra-organizational standards.
Let me illustrate relative decision-making in a simple fashion. Say you needed a pair of shoes and had your eye on a pair that normally costs $300. You are prepared to spend $300 on those shoes. You open the Sunday paper and see that a store 40 minutes away across town has those same exact shoes that you have been thinking of purchasing for half-off or $150. Would you be motivated to drive across town to buy your shoes at half-price? Many people are inclined to do that. Now say you needed to purchase a new car. You are looking at a car that costs $27,900 at a new car dealer near your house. You are prepared to spend $27,900 on that new car by financing it with the bank and paying it off over 5 years. You open the Sunday paper and see that same exact car for $27,750 at a new car dealer 40 minutes away on the other side of town. Would you drive across town to buy that car? Many would say no. Yet in these two examples in each case the buyer would save $150 on the purchase price. You could use that $150 to purchase the same exact things, regardless of where the savings came from, 2-tickets to a Broadway show (partially obstructed view), or a hot dog at Yankee Stadium. Yet there is a tendency for people to be more willing to save $150 when it represents a larger portion of the purchase price, rather than when it represents a smaller percentage. We make relative and not absolute judgments on how worthwhile the savings are.
The same holds true at the organizational level. If organizational performance is seen as improving relative to where it currently is, employees tend to be more upbeat regardless of the absolute starting level of that performance and if it is perceived as in decline, employee spirits will also be in decline (even if you are still the best in your industry). So how could the CEO I mentioned lead a company that achieved high levels of employee commitment and loyalty, even as people were burning out? The answer is that it was an exciting place to be, they were cutting edge, an industry leader with rapidly rising levels of performance, beating the competition and with a clearly articulated vision of where the company was going.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: http://www.orgvitality.com
“But if you will it, it is not fantasy” – Theodor Herzl
Recently, virtually every organization that I speak with has put innovation front and center as a necessary, in fact imperative characteristic of their organizational cultures. The thinking is clear. In order to thrive in turbulent environments organizations must innovate, must examine the way they do business, update their products and services, and must differentiate themselves in order to outperform the competition. Competition, environmental stress and the need to survive as an organization spur on innovation.
Innovation is often described as coming in bursts, but much more common is the rolling-up-the-sleeves, hard work, incremental innovation, building on other’s breakthroughs, often in a collaborative fashion, that over the long run can radically change the way things work and the products that an organization offers.
It could easily be argued that innovation occurs naturally among all of the earth’s creatures. Species innovate constantly and naturally in the never ending battle to survive. One species of cuckoo finch has eggs that mimic the coloration of another species so that when the finch deposits their eggs into the other species’ nest, the hatched baby birds are raised by the tricked surrogate parents. As a defense the second species, the tawny-flanked prinias evolved more colorful eggs that looked different form the finch’s eggs but the finches responded by evolving and again mimicking the more colorful eggs. Evolution is innovative.
The mitochondria that inhabit our cells and produce the energy which powers cells originated externally from the cells they now inhabit. They have their own DNA and can reproduce only from their own DNA, indicating that they were a separate life form somewhat like bacteria. Prior to their role in our cells they existed independently. Mitochondria entered into a symbiotic relationship with cells and then that combined organism evolved into the variety of cells that make up human beings. Today we would not be able to survive without these creatures living within our cells and the mitochondria would not exist without us. Evolutionary innovation is often collaborative.
Beyond evolving on a biological front, humans evolve and innovate their behaviors constantly if not quickly, with our ancestors developing new forms of stone tools over millennia, fire being tamed, the taking up of living in shelters of one sort or another, and placing metal strips on the teeth of our children to improve function and appearance.
Many of the inventions that propelled our civilization and were described as deriving from “ah-ha” moments were nothing of the sort. Rather the innovative breakthrough came from groundwork that laid the foundation and was then built upon. Basic innovations often sit dormant until additional development work and insights are gained allowing the innovation to be applied in day-to-day life.
Take Edison’s light bulb for instance. It is often credited to Edison as a singular event. And in fact Edison played a very important role in the light bulb, but without the innovations of those who came both before and after him the light bulb would not have become as wide spread as it has. Here is a chronology of the major milestones.
• The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy. When he connected wires to his newly invented battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light.
• Much later, in 1860, physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light. He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly. In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.
• In 1877, Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.
• Thomas Alva Edison experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.
• Lewis Howard Latimer improved the bulb by inventing a carbon filament (patented in 1881); Latimer was a member of Edison’s research team, which was called “Edison’s Pioneers.” In 1882, Latimer developed and patented a method of manufacturing his carbon filaments.
• In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn’t darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed.
• In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments. The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world. (Enchanted Learning).
Rather than being the exception the “evolution” of the light bulb is very often how innovation occurs with multiple people contributing, often working collaboratively over a period of time.
There are multiple methods available for measuring the existence of innovation in organizations. You could count the number of patents issued to the organization, or the age of each of its product’s since design, the amount of time that employees spend on innovation, the R&D budget, the headcount assigned to “innovation”, or the perceptions of the customers towards the organization’s products and services as being innovative. One method for measuring the degree of innovation in organizations is through the perceptions of the employees.
Employee surveys will often ask about the “emphasis” on innovation within the organization, but I prefer asking about whether innovation is actually occurring. Critical when measuring innovation through employee surveys is to ask about:
• the generation of innovative ideas;
• the ability to test out those ideas from a funding and other resources standpoint;
• the ability to evaluate innovations to see which one’s should be implemented organization-wide and which ones rejected.
Examining or asking about the reward system is also often very informative as an organization may truly desire to be innovative, but is actually rewarding its employees for playing it safe and not trying new things rather than the innovative efforts desired.
Slack and redundancy are two concepts that are also critical to be in place for an organization to successfully innovate. If an organization is being run in such a tight fashion with no slack so that it can’t try new things, because all resources are dedicated to getting the work done the traditional way, the ability to be innovative does not exist. And likewise if the organization does not have the ability to experiment with new methods, while another redundant process is performing in a traditional fashion, the evaluation of innovative ideas and processes will be very difficult to objectively assess.
Organizational innovation is critical and creating organizational cultures that support innovation rather than suppress it is within reach for all organizations.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
The first of Newton’s laws of motion states “a body that is at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it.” His second law states “a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.” Those same laws seem to apply to the world of employee survey action taking.
Some of those who get survey results never seem to get around to taking action based on the survey results they have in hand. And just like a body at rest, they tend to stay at rest doing nothing with the findings.
- The survey results provided may not be definitive enough for them and they may request additional analysis after analysis until they get around to doing just about nothing.
- The survey results may point to action that is difficult or overwhelming and so the easiest path may again be to let things be just as they are and do nothing.
- They survey results may point to behaviors that go against closely held beliefs that the manager may have, so even though the data says one thing, he or she may simply know in their heart the “right thing to do” regardless of the data.
In one study which pointed out some of the obstacles to having action arise from the survey process, (Wiley & Brooks, 2010), the 3 top obstacles to taking action on a survey were identified as:
- Accountability (12%)
- Holding organizational members responsible for their role in the survey program; ownership and clarity of assignment
- Resources (12%)
- Especially time (given the other demands of manager’s job), but other resources as well: training, technical, financial
- Importance (12%)
- Management (especially executive management) attention to and support for survey
But looking on the positive side for a moment, what are the benefits of taking action, even if it may not be the perfect action based on the survey results? If you look at survey data longitudinally and track which employees saw results from a previous survey vs. those who did not (from within one organization), and which ones saw action arising from the survey vs. those who did not, the data strongly suggests that seeing the data and seeing action, drives a very positive shift in the next survey iteration on critical business performance metrics.
- In one organization for instance if 75% or more at the department level could recall actions arising from the survey their average employee engagement score rise by 5 percentage points.
- In that same organization, those departments where less than 50% could recall actions arising from the survey score their employee engagement scores went down by 13 percentage points.
The benefits of taking action, even if it is not the perfect action are very clear. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and in our fast changing world, staying in motion; constantly improving organizations based on insightful data which is tied to the organizational strategy is a very impactful way to help performance.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
What do organizations want? The answer is nothing. Organizations are nothing more than an abstraction. Organizations are virtual, they do not exist. You can’t talk to an organization. You can’t touch an organization. You can’t expect an organization to operate in one fashion or another.
An organization is an amalgamation, a sum of its people. You can talk to an organization’s people. You can shake hands with its people and you can expect its people to behave in a certain fashion.
So what do organizations want? The answer is they want whatever it is the people within the organization want. If the people in the organization desire to behave in a respectful way towards others, then the organization becomes one that is known for respectful treatment. If the organization is one in which quality is paramount for each and every individual then the organization becomes one that is known for delivering quality products and services. The organization takes on the characteristics by which the majority of its people operate. (It is of course incumbent to the organization to provide the resources that people need in order to operate in the desired fashion).
What is the tipping point, the point at which an organization’s reputation is driven by those characteristics? Is it when a third of the people operate according to a certain shared vision, a half, two-thirds? I don’t know an exact number but I would suspect that the number will vary somewhat depending on the characteristic that is being adopted. Unfortunately, what is very clear is that a negative characteristic much more easily gets associated with an organization’s reputation than a positive one. It takes but a single breech of ethics to taint a reputation; a single quality issue can cause an organization to have to constantly reprove itself with a customer. A relatively minor labeling issue on a report, for instance, can cast the veracity of the whole report into doubt, doubt that is much more easily purchased than is a reputation of quality.
The notion of how an organization will operate, its standards, needs to percolate throughout the entire organization. Critical operating standards need to be infused into each and every aspect of organizational functioning. They need to break through any barriers that might exist as they find their way into each and every pocket of the organization. For instance, safety cannot be the imperative of a manufacturing unit and then felt not to apply elsewhere within the organization. Safety must be infused if it is to stick long term within the organization and become part of what the organization is, how it is defined.
I have had a desire (not an obsession, just an interest) that I have been pursuing for a number of years. I have been hoping to see a moose in its natural habitat. I have taken trips to Alaska, Vermont, Maine and Wyoming that have been at least partially driven by my desire to observe a wild moose. I have been successful twice in my pursuit of the elusive creature, once in Alaska and once in Wyoming. But each time there has been a slight snag. The moose has been so far away from me that they are no more than a small dot, visible as a moose by binoculars only. The notion of being close enough to observe their behaviors, to really feel their presence, to get a sense of what the creature is really like, has been slightly beyond my grasp each time. Each sighting has left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Somehow those partial successes have only driven me to plan my next foray into moose observation with a little more intensity.
Just as the pursuit of a desire will often fall somewhat short of the vision of perfection that you have in your head, the pursuit of the perfect organizational environment is an elusive goal as well. There is no such thing as a perfect organization, only a vision of perfection that one can strive for only to find that it is constantly somewhat out of reach. But that doesn’t mean we give up on our vision, our desires, we simply need to plan with a little more intensity for our next foray. We set goals; we set goals not because they represent an end state, but because they represent stops, however brief, along the way. In today’s competitive ever changing environment the eventually end state, the culmination of the dream does not exist. The end goal is an ever moving elusive target, but it is a goal that we must pursue.
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“For the tyrant has the power to inflict only that which we lack the strength to resist.”
Krishnalal Shridharani – 1939
There is change afoot. Arab countries that had been ruled by authoritarian/despotic figures are undergoing upheaval. And while the verdict will be out for a while, there is widespread hope that something more closely approaching democracy will replace the regimes that existed. There is a good chance that in some of these places one despot will simply be replaced by another, but there is also a chance that should a vibrant democratic entity arise, with free market conditions, that a new center of excellence for commerce, creativity and innovation, and perhaps even tolerance will emerge out of the ashes of the failed states. Allusions to the need for slow gradual change are primary driven by those who benefit the most from a slower pace of change. And contrary to their more recent behaviors, Arab countries have a longer past history of tolerance for people’s differences. The current intolerance of anyone different was and is still a mechanism by which authoritarian regimes hope to keep power, with attention focused on the made-up enemy without rather than on the emptiness within. In many lands constitutions will need to be rewritten, with freedoms enshrined and rights guaranteed. This is a great unfreezing moment, one that the world hasn’t seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, and before a refreezing takes place change needs to be wrought, as much change as possible in order to bring forth the maximum benefits to those who have suffered under oppressive rule. It is scary, yes, for many countries that depended on the stability of the status quo, uncertainty is keeping many awake at night, but the potential benefit is just too great to be ignored or not encouraged.
Could other kinds of organizations, not just nations benefit from some unfreezing of power structures and adoption of new “constitutions” of governance?
My daughter had been off school for a week of vacation surrounding President’s Day. Between vacations and snow days I think she has spent more days at home than in school this winter. At the beginning of the vacation week we headed up to Vermont and did some snow shoeing at Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons to reach adulthood. Though he did a stint as Secretary of War under James Garfield, he did not become part of a political dynasty. Nevertheless, he did ok for himself, becoming the Chairman of the Pullman Palace Car Company which at one point controlled ¾ of the railroad track in the nation, as well as manufacturing the cars that ran on them.
Later in the week we went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway (discount tickets available at TKTS) and afterwards swung by the NY Public Library, the world’s largest marble structure, on 42nd Street. I was hoping to show her one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence that is housed there, but found out from the security guard that it is displayed only on July 4th and even with me cajoling him to bring it out just for a few seconds for us to look at he wouldn’t budge. We took a tour of the 3rd floor reading room instead and went through an exhibition that was being held on the texts of three of the world’s religions, and there I did get to show her a Guttenberg bible. Guarding the entrance to the library on 5th Ave. and 42nd St. are Patience and Fortitude, two famous marble lions residing on the north and south side of the entryway staircase. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude in 1930, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Patience and Fortitude conquered all things.
Most organizations tend not to be run as democracies, but more like autocracies or oligarchies, and a few like kleptocracies, and what I have been describing will provide some examples of that. Robert Todd Lincoln’s mother Mary, put her foot down and much to the embarrassment of Abraham, refused to let her son enlist in the military until the civil war was pretty much over and then only as an aide to Ulysses S. Grant to ensure that he did not see combat. There was no voting, no general agreement about that decision in the household. Mary Poppins ran her household in a “spit spot” fashion, there was no arguing with her when she wanted something done and of course she used a “spoonful of sugar” to make her “medicine” go down. And New York City’s beloved mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia was an authoritarian figure, never letting anyone forget who was in charge. Though elected he ruled with an iron fist and got his way on most issues. Examples of organizations that are not run in a democratic-like fashion can go on and on, so what exactly does it mean to democratize an organization, say a profit making enterprise, and are there any benefits?
Let’s try an experiment. Read through this list of characteristics of an organization and see how many of these describe where you work.
- The organization is full of silos or stove piped and the cooperation of people or groups needed to operate smoothly is restricted as everyone takes care of their own interests.
- Legacy systems and past policies limit the ability to adopt and implement new systems and policies.
- The organization has become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations.
- Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks are not easily available for new needs.
- Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not report accurate or complete information needed to make decisions.
- The initial vision of the organization, the founder’s sentiments, and what it stood for has eroded, and myths or stories of the founding of the organization as well as their symbolism fade.
- If a strong ideology is present in the organization, firm adherence to it may cause inattention to actual external conditions and how the organization needs to change for effective functioning.
- Deteriorating efficiency and competency of the organizational bureaucracy, or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system’s policies and operation ineffective.
- Internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries and hostilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the organization.
- High potential talent, top performers and those newly hired may begin to depart the organization in response to conditions, restrictions, bureaucracy and pressure to conform to “the way it is done here”.
- Customers are beginning to become apathetic, skeptical, and a few even hostile to the organization.
- Corporate vs. field, line of business or old guard vs. newly hired differences may become acute.
- The power hierarchy of the organization is always unstable to some degree, and at times extremely so. Individuals do not remain in the same position in the ranking, but may rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced by new persons.
- Business Units within the organization may act to achieve their own objectives, even going against the direction of the organization overall.
- With so many decisions made by so few people in the organization, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely to occur.
- If the organization decentralizes controls and decision making, in an attempt to become more effective, its ability to coordinate the organization becomes further eroded.
There are 16 separate statements above describing organizational characteristics. How many applied to your employer? Two? Five? Eight?
I have to admit something to you. These statements were not from a list of organizational characteristics, but rather, I slightly edited and disguised the work of Gene Sharp who wrote “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and this is his list of characteristics and weaknesses of dictators and dictatorial regimes.
For profit organizations are not about to become democracies in the sense that the staff will take a vote and decide on a course of action. Organizations spend much time and effort in selecting and developing leaders whose responsibility it is to lead. The best leaders though are one’s that listen to their people, reflect on what they have learned, and they work diligently to align the organization’s goals to the personal goals of the employees, establishing a mutuality of benefit. By being part of the organization the employee’s personal goals and life ambitions are being accomplished at the same time that the organization’s goals are being accomplished, hence they have a shared interest. This shared interest will result in a greater buy-in on the part of all employees to the organization’s goals. Organizations and specifically leadership that takes into account their employees attitudes, personal goals, life ambitions are behaving in more democratic fashion. Organizations – leadership, of any sort, that attempt to impose their will on employees by means of leverage or formal power may win the battle but will lose in the long run as any employee who can escape will do so, leaving only those who are trapped by circumstance or ability.
In study after study the leadership characteristics that most strongly rise to the top as being worthy of followers are described as:
- Forward Looking
Those are not exactly the characteristics of someone who forcefully imposes their will on others.
Kouzes, J., Pozner, B., 2007, The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.
Hildene website, 2010, http://www.hildene.org/
NY Public Library website, 2010, http://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman
Sharp, G., 2002, From Dictatorship to Democracy, 4th Edition, The Albert Einstein Institution, East Boston.
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
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
Organizations are companies, producing products and services for sale, but they can also be volunteer fire departments, bridge clubs, reading circles, religious organizations, or schools. Let’s define an organization as any group of people who get together for the accomplishment of shared goals that are better and more easily accomplished together than by any individual alone. And let’s define mediocrity as being average or similar to other organizations. With some rare exceptions, the last thing an organization wants is to have its products or services to be viewed as hum drum, just like anyone else’s.
Imagine you are looking into a room with a divider down the middle. On one side of the divider there are 2000 molecules of oxygen and on the other side there are none. There is a hole in the divider allowing the oxygen molecules from one side of the room to move to the other, if in their random bouncing around they perchance pass through the opening. At the beginning of this thought experiment, when all of the oxygen is on one side of the room, you have a greater degree of order than when some of it begins to diffuse to the other side. How many ways are there (various combinations of molecules) to have all of the oxygen molecules on one side of the room while the other side has none? The answer is that there is only one way to accomplish that. How many ways are there to have one oxygen molecule on one side of the room and the other 1999 on the other? The answer is 2000, because any one of the 2000 molecules could be the one to move the other side of the room. Now, how many ways are there to have 2 oxygen molecules on one side of the room and 1998 on the other? The answer jumps to 1,999,000, because there are that many combinations of any 2 molecules that can theoretically move to the other side of the room.
So if you think of perfection as having all the oxygen molecules on one side of the room, neat and tidy (a state of low entropy), there is only one way to accomplish that, and as you move away from perfection (a higher state of entropy) the number of ways to accomplish oxygen diffusion rises very rapidly, in fact it rises logarithmically. If you think of the eventual end state of this thought experiment, that the oxygen gas will equalize itself across the entire room with 1000 molecules on each side of the divider, the number of ways to accomplish that jumps to 2 x 10600 (that is the number 20 with 600 zeros after it). There are a huge number of different pathways than can be taken to reach equilibrium of oxygen distribution within the room.
Across many physical processes, the world we live upon, over time, tends to move from rare conditions, for instance, all the molecules of oxygen on one side of the room, which can be accomplished only one way, to much more common conditions, i.e. the number of ways in which the oxygen can diffuse itself across the room. And we should all count ourselves as very lucky that the world works this way, or you could be walking around in your neighborhood and all of a sudden find yourself in an area lacking in oxygen. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? “Honey, why are you so blue?” “I was out jogging and ran into an area with no oxygen.”
In many respects the results above reflect the probability of one type of event, equilibrium of the oxygen distribution across the room (very likely to happen over time), against the probably of another event, that all of the oxygen would be on one side of the room (not impossible, but very unlikely). While the number of possibilities for the combinations of which molecules will end up on one side of the room or another is huge, the likelihood of any one molecule, over time, ending up on one side of the room or another is 50/50. The difference in difficulty in determining which combination of 1000 molecules will end up on one side of the room vs. the other, compared to predicting the likelihood of any one molecule ending up on one side or the other is not dissimilar to challenges organizations face in creating effective and efficient organizations as they try to maximize current performance while building future organizational potential.
Organizations may start out with somewhat “rare” conditions, a unique combination of people, or new technology, or a hot product, etc. but as they grow and bring in more and more people there will be a natural tendency for the organization to reflect the characteristics of the population external to the organization, as well as being faced with all of the same problems that commonly occur to other organizations. As an example, technologies and products can be copied over time, becoming a dispersed capability available to many organizations, or someone else can achieve the same result with another technology.
This effect will cause an organization to run the risk of becoming quite average or mediocre if they are not constantly injecting new energy into critical processes. As more and more individuals diffuse into the organization, the natural tendency will be for the internal conditions within the organization to reflect, by and large, the external environment from which they came. If they do not, it means that there is some form of systematic bias at work, which can work in the organizations favor or against the organization depending on the type of bias.
And as organizations need to pick and choose in which activities they should invest and spend resources, which will have the most impact on organizational performance, the natural tendency is that they will begin to look more and more like other large organizations, especially as they continue to grow in size. Since organizations tend to operate within similar environments they all tend to have very many similar issues and struggles. In cases like this benchmarking to look like other organizations, even those others most admired, is an attempt to strive for mediocrity.
Think for instance of a selection procedure that is designed to determine whom to hire. Say there is one opening within an organization and 100 people apply for the job. In order to determine which “one” to hire you put the candidates through a rigorous screen. The research on the screen indicates that higher scores on the screen tend to result in hiring people with better job performance. The operative word here is “tend”. Just as you cannot predict for certain which side of the room a particular molecule will end up upon, you cannot predict with absolute certainty which “one” out of the 100 applicants will be the most successful over the long term in the job, or even if the one selected will actually fail. The best that the research can do is to give you better odds at success. That improvement in odds provided by the selection procedure is when you are taking one person at a time, think of the added complexity if you were to try to determine the best person of the 100, to interact with the others already within the organization, and not just against the job. Which combination of 1000 potential employees will result in an optimum solution? The odds of successfully achieving that perfect combination are quite low, but luckily while there may only be one perfect combination there are thousands or perhaps millions of somewhat less than perfect, but very acceptable solutions to be had.
An organization’s ability to improve those odds leading to exceptional performance, depends on how well and how thoughtfully practices and procedures have been put into place that resist the natural tendency to simply become like everyone else, expending the necessary energy to create the rare conditions that makes them exceptional. Beating the odds requires the constant expenditure of organizational and individual energy.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com