Archive for the ‘Human Behavior’ Category
Why is change so difficult? We don’t do it very well that is for sure. In spite of a whole industry that has sprung up called change management, the way change is implemented in organizations is very often one of the lowest scoring responses you see on employee surveys. Along with a low score on the way change is handled overall, roundly criticized also is the sufficiency of resources being devoted to successful implementation of the change, as well as doing sufficient planning around the implementation of the change. Another part of the answer is that there are so many moving parts when it comes to change, and many of those parts are unseen and unknown.
For instance, I recall a friend telling me about a change he was helping to implement in the US military. It involved some new software that would speed things up and provide better information to decision makers. The installation was going very well and the benefits were obvious to everyone, except to the secretary of a general who was going to have to learn a new way to do her job. She did not want to do that, and she was in a position where she could sabotaged the system, not damaging it per se, but making sure that it produced less accurate results more slowly than the current way she did her work. The system was never implemented.
Change of course is constant. Nothing is for sure except change. It is the state of the world. So if it occurs so regularly and we have so much practice at it, why do we do it so poorly? I would lump the difficulties around change implementation into 2 big buckets.
- Structural Blockages – things that have to do with poor execution of a change such as poor planning, resources devoted to change, not fully understanding the implications of what the change will impact, poor design of new systems, poor communications and training on the change etc.
- Human Blockages – things having to do with our very nature as humans, our limitations and how we react to changes in our environment.
Structural blockages are relatively easy to overcome, if you have the resources to do so. Human blockages, which are often not considered in change management, are much more difficult to compensate for or overcome for it can be very difficult to unwind a few million years of evolutionary tendency. Some of these human blockages arise from fear, some from inertia and some from bias.
One of our human biases for instance is to search for and give credence to only information that supports our already held positions and to reject information that undermines them. Supporters of this position or that will gleefully hold up a case study, with an “n” of 1 or 2 and say “see, I was right all along”, and they will ignore those hundreds of times or the overwhelming majorities of times when their position was refuted by the experience of others or by hard, scientifically grounded, data. This method is often intentionally used by those arguing for a position and along with the sister method of the slippery-slope argument nonsensical positions are taken. This is over-generalization at its worst.
I am reminded of a story about a blade of grass on a golf course. The odds of any one particular blade of grass being struck by a golf ball are very low, but the odds of a blade of grass being struck are 100%. It all has to do with how you frame the questions and how you go searching for answers. And humans are very very good at finding the answers that they want to find.
One piece of research asked those with a certain position on a hotly debated social issue whether they, if presented with irrefutable evidence that the basic premise of their position was wrong, would change their minds. While the group thought that others should change their opposing position to mirror their own, if presented with evidence that they were in error, the members of this opposing position could not bring themselves to say that they would change their position if irrefutable evidence against their point of view was given. In other words, I’ll accept the science if it supports my point of view, but will not accept it if it does not support my point of view.
Another aspect of change that makes change so difficult is that it requires an expenditure of energy, and organizations want to operate with the lowest expenditure of energy possible. As I have written elsewhere, in Organizational Entropy, organizations build systems and bureaucracy to reduce the amount of energy they need to expend. That type of energy is represented by all different types of resources such as finances, time, effort and talent. In the balancing dance between maximizing current performance of an organization and building its future potential, future potential represents a greater degree of change and a larger expenditure of organizational energy and resources and so there is a natural push against change and for the status-quo that must be overcome.
One of my earliest vivid memories is one where my older sisters took me to march in a Vietnam protest. It must have been 1967-1968 and I don’t recall it all that well as I would have been 7 or 8 years old. But I do recall the turbulence that society went through as the war was played out nightly on the evening news and the difficulty of getting change to occur with respect to that war. The difficulties we have with change play out in our organizations, in our politics and in our society at large. And I am not so sure our ability at creating, accepting or implementing change is going to get better any time soon.
Daniel Kahneman coined the acronym WYSIATI which is an abbreviation for “What you see is all there is”. It is one of the human biases that he explores when he describes how human decision-making is not entirely based on rational thought. Traditionally, economists believed in the human being as a rational thinker, that decisions and judgments would be carefully weighed before being taken. And much of traditional economic theory is based on that notion. Dr. Kahneman’s life’s work (along with his co-author Dr. Amos Tversky) explodes that notion and describes many of the short-comings of human decision-making. He found that many human decisions rely on automatic or knee-jerk reactions, rather than deliberative thought. And that these automatic reactions (he calls them System 1 thinking) are based on heuristics or rules of thumb that we develop or have hard-wired into our brains. System 1 thinking is very useful in that it can help the individual deal with the onslaught of information that impinges on us each and every day, but the risk is when a decision that one is faced with should be thought through rather than based on a knee-jerk reaction.
System 1 decisions are easy, they are comfortable, and unfortunately they can also be wrong. But wrong in the sense that if one learned how to take a step back and allow for more deliberative thought prior to the decision, some of these wrong decisions or judgments could be avoided. A simple example from Dr. Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” will illustrate the point.
“A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat cost $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” Fifty percent of the students who were posed this simple question, students attending either Harvard or Yale got this wrong. Eighty percent of the students who were asked this question from other universities got it wrong. This is System 1 thinking at its finest and most error prone. It is fast, easy, comfortable, lets you come up with a quick answer or decision, but one that is likely wrong. Knowing who reads this blog I’ll let you figure out the answer yourself.
WYSIATI is the notion that we form impressions and judgments based on the information that is available to us. For instance we form impressions about people within a few seconds of meeting them. In fact, it has been documented that without careful training interviewers who are screening job applicants will come to a conclusion about the applicant within about 30 seconds of beginning the interview. And when tested these initial notions are often wrong. Interviewers who are trained to withhold judgment about someone do a better job at applicant screening, and the longer that judgment is delayed the better the decision.
This notion of course flies in the face of Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “Blink” in which he talks about the wonders of human’s ability to come to decisions instantly and a whole generation of manager’s have eagerly embraced his beliefs - including a few CEO’s I know. Why? It is easy, it is intuitive, it is comfortable and it plays to the notion that I am competent and confident in my work. The only problem is that when put to serious scientific scrutiny, it is often wrong.
A few months ago I introduced this concept to an HR group I was talking to. I explained how untrained HR people in a rush to judgment will jump to conclusions about someone, perhaps too rapidly. One 30-year HR veteran insisted that this may be all well and good but of course did not apply to her. After all, with her 30 years of experience her rush to judgment was of course going to be accurate. She “just knew” who were going to be good employees. I let it drop, and I think I was labeled a trouble-maker by the group. That is a label I can embrace.
We tend to develop stories based on the information at hand; piecing the information we do have into a narrative, often without asking the question, “what information am I missing”? In the area of survey research I have often seen researchers confidently presenting the “drivers” of one type of behavior or another. Say for instance, the drivers of employee engagement. But since the analysis is based on a “within” survey design, the only drivers that can possibly emerge are those that you asked about in the survey in the first place. So the researcher, in designing the 30-50 item survey, is limiting the drivers to those items that they decided to ask about in the first place. The researcher likely has in their head a model of what is important in driving engagement when designing the questionnaire, a model that was designed based on another 30-50 item or fewer questionnaire. It becomes a tautology, it becomes true because I tested it and it came out as true, but the only thing I tested is what I already believed.
There are techniques that can be applied that lead towards more deliberative and better decision-making processes. If you were walking briskly down a busy road and someone asked you “how much is 17 x 24?” you would do what every other human would do to figure that out, you would stop and think.
“Childcare is a collective responsibility” – Women’s Agenda
“Keeping deserts clean is a collective responsibility” – Gulf News
“Eradicating corruption is a collective responsibility” – Nigerian Tribune
“Let’s take collective responsibility for our problems” – President Mahama – Ghana
“Safety, security of women in public places is a collective responsibility”– News Track India
It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us – Hillary Clinton
“Collective punishment is when a penalty is meted out to all members of a group, without consideration of an individual’s involvement in the group’s activity. Under the 1949 Geneva Convention, collective punishment is a war crime.”
There are elements of the fields of justice and ethics that deal with the concepts of collective responsibility and collective punishment vs. individualism. If something awful happens to an individual because of the actions of a single person or a small number of people, can blame be placed on the larger society? If society as a whole creates conditions which are disadvantageous or worse resulting in physical, emotional or financial injury to a segment of that society, can punishments be meted out to individuals who collaborated, individuals whose defense might be that they were just following “orders” or that everyone else was doing it so why am I being singled out for punishment? Does society as a whole have a responsibility to individuals or small groups within that society to ensure just and fair treatment by others within that society? Protecting minority groups from the tyranny of the majority? Our founding fathers thought so.
Our society which is made up of many different and overlapping groups forces us to consider if we are collectively responsible for the welfare of those who reside within our society or organizations, or to state that it is every person for themselves. Are we a country of fiercely independent individuals who built what they have without any external help and societal benefits or are we all interdependent products arising from a culture of collaborative assistance that we have created? Does it in fact take a village, a whole civilization to allow those who reside within it to flourish? And who gets to decide if certain segments of that society get benefits or advantages beyond what others do? If we are in fact all in this together, is it acceptable to have some segments of society treated as second class members, without all the privileges that others within that society enjoy? You wouldn’t think so, would you?
Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court justice, famously stated that “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society”, and that quote is chiseled on the facade of the IRS building in Washington DC. The implication of the quote is that taxes provide the infrastructure and fulfills the basic needs of the nation which allows for civilization and individuals within that civilization to flourish and certainly takes a “we are all in this together” viewpoint.
This is a very tricky and subtle topic however, which many people want both ways. They want the benefits of collectivism when it suits and the sense of larger freedoms, or should I say the sense of carefree existence of individualism. For instance, many CEOs work to create a sense of “we are all in this together” and “everyone together is responsible jointly for our success”. And they work just as hard when something goes wrong, the London Whale for instance at JP Morgan, to characterize the misdeeds as a rogue person, a one-off event and that the organization as a whole is blameless. The US Government seems to go along with that except in very rare cases. Most often when a misdeed within a company occurs it is an individual that is charged with a crime not the company itself, unless a finding is made that the criminal activity is widespread and pervasive (societal) throughout the organization. When a company or an organization is charged with a crime and found guilty, that company or organization rarely survives.
If we are in fact all in this together, where we are collectively responsible, what about collective punishment for societal misdeeds? The Geneva Convention seems to frown on that, but that is exactly the concept behind reparations to a group that is harmed by society overall. Germany paid and is still paying reparations to Holocaust survivors and the notion of providing reparations to the descendants of slavery here in the USA comes from the same place. I was not a slave holder and none of my ancestors were, but I live in a society where that event occurred and because of that, the society I live in can be seen as having a collective obligation to those harmed. Even to those descendants of those harmed, given the degree of harm that occurred. Others reject that notion and object that they have no obligation to a group harmed by events that happened long ago and did not involve them or any of their ancestors.
The guilty finding in the Steubenville, Ohio high school football player rape case was a finding against two individuals who committed rape. But the media frenzy that the case generated was not so much about whether the 2 boys committed a crime, but about the society pressures that came to bear regarding what to do about it and how the whole thing was playing out in our new collective conscious called social media. The Steubenville society as a whole, as well as the individual members, is being judged. And there is now talk about a grand jury to determine if charges should be filed against parents or any others that allowed 16 and 17 year olds to consume alcohol at their homes and against the football coach who may have tried to squash the whole investigation, a hint at a broader sense of blame for people who created conditions that led up to the rape or tried to cover it up. What about the mom of the 16 year old girl who drunk herself into oblivion, does she have any responsibility for monitoring the behavior of her young daughter? The young woman is the victim of a crime, but there is likely enough blame to go around for the people who created conditions that allowed the crime to occur. Individualism vs. collectivism; the individual boys are being held accountable, but the next question is about whether the society, the culture of Steubenville, created the conditions that allowed this to happen. Are we collectively responsible for looking after the welfare of individuals, of our children? If so there is a much larger problem to fix there, a problem that sending two boys to detention for a year or two, by itself, will not fix.
The gun violence that permeates our society is another area where the debate is not only about guns but about the responsibility of the individual vs. society. Do individual freedoms give way to collective benefits to create a safer society? The data seems very clear that in states with tougher gun laws there is less gun violence per capita including suicides that make use of guns.
Individualism vs. collectivism is debated within work environments very frequently as well; it may just not go by those names. How many times have you heard organizations talk about the expected increase in performance they would achieve if only they could break down organizational silos and have the organization work more cohesively? I have heard it plenty of times. And in preparing for a panel discussion I am chairing at a conference in a few weeks on Steve Jobs’ leadership style, I came across an interesting tidbit. He had his company operate using only one overall P&L statement. In other words, each division, whether they were the pc group or the phone group or the software group etc., did not have their own profit and loss statement by which to judge their performance. The performance of the company overall was the benchmark of how well the individual components were doing. That increases the need to have all pieces of the organization perform well, and the desire of the individual components to help each other, if you want the organization to look good financially. Collectivism, in one of the most individualistically, from a talent perspective, driven organizations that there is. And it seems to have worked pretty good for them.
There are no easy answers as to when we as an organization or as a society should lean either towards individualism or collectivism. What does seem clear is that those who espouse all one way or the other have much to learn from the lessons of history and the lessons of organizational performance.
© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“Recognition is based on knowledge, familiarity is based on feeling”
Oliver Sacks – The Mind’s Eye
I was reading Dr. Sack’s latest book over a recent vacation and when I got to this sentence I had to pause for a while and really think about it. “Recognition is based on knowledge, familiarity is based on feeling.” Recognition in this context is being used as when someone recognizes a location, a person or an object. Some people have trouble in varying degrees, for instance, to recognize the faces of people they know. The inability to recognize the face of someone who should be familiar to you is called prosopagnosia and there is a growing body of evidence that the incidence of prosopagnosia in the general population is much higher than previously thought, and that it is based on a normal distribution in terms of severity. This affliction is not binary, you don’t either have it or not, but rather you can have prosopagnosia to varying degrees, as is exists on a continuum of severity.
We all spend our days recognizing the objects, people even the tasks that surround us. For instance, you can recognize a specific person or just some artifacts about the person such as young/old, female/male. You can also recognize the foods you eat, the cars you drive, the pen you write with, or the tasks you undertake to carry out your job. But when those things we recognize seem “familiar”, they evoke emotions or feelings. I recognize the face of my mother and she evokes certain feelings in me which makes her seem familiar.
Recognition and familiarity are independent and are processed by two different portions of our brains. This becomes evident in people with Capgas syndrome. These are people who can recognize a face, such as a spouse or child, but because the face does not evoke the emotions of familiarity, people with Capgas syndrome assume they are imposters A man can see his wife and recognize her as being the face of his wife but assumes that it is not really his wife because the face is not evoking the feelings he normally would associate upon seeing his wife. The person must be an imposter!
In the work environment you might recognize a task you have to carry out, but independent of that recognition would be a sense of familiarity that the tasks might generate. You might recognize for instance the steps you have to undertake to perform a tune-up on a car, but it is not until you have done it over and over that the task achieves a sense of familiarity. The same could be said of a surgeon removing a gall bladder, an accountant preparing a tax return, a taxi driver heading to the airport etc.
The question that this posed to me was regarding the measurement of employee perceptions of the workplace. Employees can recognize tasks to be performed very early on in their training for a job. But when does a task feel familiar? And is employee engagement dependent on a task generating an emotional component of familiarity or merely the recognition of the task? Can someone be engaged in their work if the work does not carry a sense of familiarity? We know that normatively the most engaged employees tend to be the ones you just hired, those who would have the least amount of familiarity surrounding their tasks, which might seem odd given the above. And that employee engagement declines, sometimes precipitously at about the 12-18 month mark of employment. It often continues its decline, hitting bottom at the 3-5 year mark, with a corresponding spike in turnover. The 3-5 year mark is also when many organizations report that the employees are really beginning to significantly contribute on the job.
But here is some speculation for you. An employee gets hired, is very engaged from day one, with that engagement being driven by the excitement of a new activity, for some a new beginning. They begin to learn the tasks associated with the job and over a relatively short period the tasks and the work environment begins to generate feelings of familiarity. Short-term engagement, driven by excitement, gives way to long-term engagement, driven by familiarity. At this point the work environment can live up to expectations generating positive emotions surrounding that sense of familiarity, or it can fall short generating negative feelings. And by-and-large it is very difficult for each and every work environment to live up to everyone’s individual expectations, and so the norm on employee engagement is that it declines as people become more familiar with their jobs and often have to deal with the day-to-day frustrations that newer employees tend to be shielded from.
We don’t have to be satisfied with the norm though. And there are certainly benefits to be gained by those organizations who understand how to buck the trend, maintaining or creating a sense of positive familiarity with the work environment as the employee’s experience with and contribution to the organization grows.
© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
There is a story of a CEO who in the middle of a company meeting keeled over. He was rushed to the hospital, but despite their best efforts they were unable to revive him. Many employees turned out for the funeral, and as speeches describing the CEO’s management style were given before heading off to the cemetery, the employees were all appropriately sad. As they were wheeling the coffin out of the funeral home, it accidently bumped very hard into the door frame, giving it quite a jar. All of a sudden there was moaning coming from the coffin. The coffin was opened and low and behold the CEO had revived! He recovered and continued running the company, staying true to his style, despite what was clearly a life altering event. After 5 more years he once again keeled over. The employees again dutifully showed up at the same funeral home and listened once again to speeches regarding this CEO’s management style. As the service concluded, and the coffin was being maneuvered towards that fateful doorway of the funeral home, all the gathered employees called out in unison, “careful this time!”
Everyone has various traits which could be described as strengths or shortcomings. Some of them are known to us and some are hidden, despite, perhaps, being quite obvious to others. And some of these traits have their origins in how we have evolved as a species and how our psychology developed. Our tendency to see intelligent intent where there may be none is one such trait. And our ability to form up into groups, to better accomplish tasks which we would have difficulty accomplishing alone, and to see short-comings or differences in “others”, who are not part of our “select” group, is another such trait.
Some of these human traits, such as the tendency to see differences across generations of workers, have manifested themselves into modern management practices, partly due to much publicity and pop psychology. The differences that are often pointed to as generational differences, in actuality tend to be driven by “life stage” differences, confounded by the issue of economic opportunity, an environmental variable, being considered a “fundamental” difference. Bottom line, the belief that there exist generational differences in what workers want out of the work environment is a myth that holds no water.
From an economic perspective, western society is wealthier today, in general, than it has ever been and that wealth translates into differing opportunity. People may behave differently not because their fundamental underlying psychology has changed, but because of economic opportunity differences.
People for instance are less concerned about job security when there are plenty of jobs available and are more concerned about it in times of recession. People are also more concerned about job security when they have a mortgage and kids – a life stage and not a generational difference. Only because economic cycles can take years to work through do these tendencies appear to be related to generational differences, but that is a veneer. Economic opportunity can come and go fairly rapidly and people of all different generations will quickly adapt to those differences, modifying what is important for them at that moment in time and life cycle stage.
Take safety as another example. While there is a normal distribution for the amount of risk people are willing to assume, many people who work in unsafe conditions do so not because they are unconcerned about their personal safety, but because those risky tasks are the only opportunities that are available to them. I remember quite well the “sewage swimmers” of Jakarta. These are people who swim through the open sewer system to perform maintenance and to keep the “waters” flowing, removing blockages. Now, others may rationalize that these sewer swimmers don’t mind their task, but I can guarantee you that they are no different than you or I, and undertake these very risky activities because they, 1. may not completely understand the risks they take, and 2. need to provide for their families. Underneath it all, so to speak, they are the same as we all are.
The same hold true for a willingness to work in sweat-shop like conditions with long hours for little pay and other working conditions that would be less acceptable to “westerners”. You can often hear about how people in a certain country are more tolerant of corruption or other unsavory business practices. The evidence suggests that they may expect more corruption or unsavory practices, but if given a real choice they would be no more tolerant of it than you or I. Society and organizations become at risk when these less savory practices become the de-facto norm. Changing the norm is the challenge, but it can be done.
People are People©, we are all more the same than different (I exclude psychopathology) and while we spend an enormous amount of time searching for our differences, another evolutionary trait, we would be better served by understanding our similarities.
© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
The distinction between risk and uncertainty arose from the field of economics and is based on the work of Frank Knight. According to Knight, “risk” refers to a situation in which the probability of an outcome is known or can be roughly determined, while uncertainty refers to an event or an outcome whose probability is not or cannot be known. A common example used to illustrate the point is that games of chance are risky (because the odds of winning vs. losing can be calculated) and the outcome of a war with its multitude of changing environmental situations on the ground is uncertain. But it is not as simple as all that, it certainly can be very confusing, and a deeper understanding of risk vs. uncertainty can help people make better decisions.
People board airplanes routinely, strapping themselves into what is essentially a lounge chair (even if it is an uncomfortable one), inside of what is little more than a controlled missile, whose paper thin walls of plastic and metal guard you against external conditions that could not possibly sustain life, while jet engines furiously burn enormous quantities of highly explosive fuel within a few feet of your location, hurtling you and your lounge chair through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour, with thousands of pounds of airplane coming back to the earth with a typically ungraceful thump, on small rubber wheels (which always look flat to me), and then hoping that the plane will somehow slow down and avoid plunging into the water (I land at LaGuardia), or worse. Why in the world would they do that? Because it is not all that risky. Airplanes have very good track records and there are very few accidents. We can manage risks, uncertainty is more difficult.
But what about Wilber and Orville when they first attempted flight? They were not dealing with risk they were dealing with uncertainty, for there was little real understanding of whether man could build airplanes that could stay aloft for a period and then safety return the occupant to the ground. There was no track record to calculate risk upon, there were no computers to run simulations, there were no wind tunnels which could test airplane models. Yet facing this uncertainty they persevered. Events can begin with uncertainty and then as track records about them build they can become simply risky. Though, some people who treat a situation as risky, when it is actually uncertain, can accumulate really awful track records of performance.
For instance, Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute analyzed the performance of 22 major international banks on predicting currency fluctuations. These annual forecasts of currency values which occurred from December of 2001 to December of 2010 were used by the banks to guide their investment decisions. These annual forecasts were wrong, very wrong, for nine out of those ten years. Gred’s conclusion about the track record of the people who produced these annual guides to currency values was that “highly paid people produced worthless predictions.” He went on to explain that based on his analysis the risk modelers at the banks didn’t distinguish appropriately between risk and uncertainty. They treated the currency fluctuations as risky but in fact “it is uncertainty that rules in the real world, where risks can’t be known in advance because of a complex tangle of factors triggers new, extremely unlikely hazards.” What he meant was that many factors that could affect currency values, (e.g. oil shortages, war, weather, natural disasters, deepening recession) were not adequately accounted for in the prediction model and in fact could not be known as they were uncertain. The analysts at the banks though treated them like risks, however, with underlying probability distributions and they got it wrong.
When Steven Jobs, who famously stated that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”, produced his first computer he had no idea if people would be able to see its promise, what they could accomplish with it and whether they would buy it. Over the years with each new technology his team at Apple developed there was uncertainty, sometimes uncertainty with great consequence, as some of the products rolled out were “bet the company” kinds of decisions. Steven Jobs reveled in the world of uncertainty and showed that mastering the world of uncertainty can lead to enormous financial reward. But Apple’s ultimate financial success came as those uncertain new technologies became simply risky products. Was there any doubt in anyone’s mind if the iPhone 5 would be a success? The question was not “if”, the question was “how big”. “If” is uncertain, “how big” is risky.
There are hoards of managers out there who want to emulate Steve Jobs, or at least his success or even more precisely his financial success. They look at his management style, which at times bordered on abusive and wonder if that is the path towards their own success. Perhaps if you beat up your employees, driving them really hard, you and your company can also succeed and become like Apple. The scientific literature casts doubt on that approach (big time) as working for the majority of managers (from a risk management perspective). I do know of a few very successful CEO’s whose success could only be described as coming off the backs of their employees rather than through or with their employees. Yet Steven Jobs, with his style, and his ability to deal successfully with uncertainty, like the Wright Brothers, was able to build the most financially valued organization in the world.
In the retail world (and real estate in general) there is an expression, “location, location, location”, meaning that without this fundamental element in place, it simply does not matter if you have great merchandise. You will not be successful. And with Apple it is technology, technology, technology or perhaps product, product, product. The success of Apple should not be attributed to an abusive management style, but rather to Steve Job’s genius in developing technologies and products with an uncertain outcome and turning them into mere risks. Arguments about his management style could be viewed as a red herring – he was successful in spite of it, because of his overwhelming other abilities, not because of it.
If I need to hire 100 people for my sales force and I have developed a predictive analytics approach to helping me select the best 100 out of my applicant pool of 1000, I can determine the likelihood of expected performance outcomes across those 100 new hires by creating a probability distribution. The distribution of job performance across 100 sales people is something that can be known and so my hiring decision can be described as risky, not uncertain. But if I want to know and predict how a specific sales person will perform, that is more uncertain. I can create a probability score for that individual, but I cannot say with certainty what the performance outcome will be as external factors (e.g. a death in the family, a pregnancy, a spouse relocating, a divorce or marriage, a new educational degree, or a new opportunity) cannot all adequately be accounted for. One thing to keep in mind, as the quote by Einstein above describes, is that our models are representations of reality, accounting for only a portion of the variance, they are not reality.
Yesterday, a horrendous crime was committed in Newtown, CT where a 20 year old gunman shot and killed 28 people, 20 of them school children between the ages of six and seven. This was terribly disturbing and I had great trouble concentrating on anything else after I heard the news. As I saw the images of the parents finding out about their children I could feel my heart ache for them. Our own local school, about an hour away from Newton went to a heighten security status. I am concerned that there will be the usual hand-wringing about firearms and second amendment rights and then nothing will be done. This time is has to be different. Our children are dying.
From an uncertainty standpoint it would be very difficult to determine if any one individual is a risk of committing a gun related crime. As with the sales force example above a probability score can be created, but at the individual level what you are dealing with is closer to uncertainty than risk. Common-sense gun laws would suggest background screening and eliminating those with various mental illnesses and track records of violence or abuse from gun ownership.
But beyond that if you look at the methods that can be used to manage risk, and at the likelihood of gun violence, more guns simply provide more opportunity for guns to be used in gun violence. It is a simple relationship. Red herrings are constantly thrown up about arming people to stop the perpetrators of gun violence, as though if we simply have more bullets flying around that fewer people will get injured or killed. Very unlikely. The arithmetic simply does not add up. From a risk management standpoint fewer guns mean fewer gun crimes. Period. End of sentence. Trying to create the odd one-off scenarios whereby having the right person in the right place with the right weapon and the sensibilities to stop a crime in progress without creating further injury to other by-standers is just not logical.
A first step would be to ban the type of firearms that allow for mass-murder to happen within a few seconds without reloading. Our ultimate goal from a risk management standpoint should be to reduce the number of guns available. Period. Given the difficulty of dealing with uncertainty, you cannot accurately reduce the number of guns available to only those who will commit gun violence, you will get it wrong. So the solution must be one that works with the probability distribution. Ultimately, we must reduce the overall number of guns that are floating around in our society. To paraphrase a quote about eating an elephant – how do you remove 300,000,000+ guns from our society? One at a time.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
There has been much attention paid to happiness lately. It is a hot topic. Economists have been talking about the role of government in producing happiness and how it could be used to measure the success of an economy. Measures of happiness have been discussed as a supplement to the traditional measure of GDP or even to replace it. The Organization for Economic Cooperative Development (OECD) has a formal program to measure happiness across their member countries and at their conferences there are presentations on the importance of and how to measure “Gross National Happiness”. The United Nations has a Commission on Happiness which commissioned Columbia University’s Earth Institute to create the first World Happiness Report.
Our knowledge of what makes people happy has radically changed over the last 20 years. Positive Psychology has played an important role in the rise of happiness as a measure and one finding is that a significant portion of how happy people report they are has been linked to genetics. There are some people who are simply more inclined, through genetics, to be happier. One question that arises revolves around what can people do, if anything, to influence the natural level of happiness they are born with? Is it all genetics or can the environment or certain behaviors influence your base level of happiness?
From a business performance perspective, do happier employees result in happier customers? Is there a linkage? Do happier employees result in higher levels of organizational performance? And before organizations run off and start looking to hire only genetically happy workers, the latest research findings imply that the happiness gene can be impacted by environmental conditions. Happiness is not a specific set point or a specific degree as determined by your genes, rather it appears to be a range and your environment and your behaviors will determine where you will live within that range. Some people have a naturally higher range and others will have a lower range. A person with a higher natural range who is doing all the wrong things can have a lower happiness score than a person with a lower natural range but are doing all the right things. The interplay between nature and nurture (and other environmental factors – such as drug usage) is both more subtle and more complicated than has been previously thought.
Happiness can be thought of as a formula, as difficult as that may be for some people. Happiness equals your biological set point/range (S), plus the external conditions you are living under (C), plus the voluntary activities you undertake to improve your happiness (V).
Happiness = S + C + V
As I mentioned “S” in the above formula represents your biological pre-disposition and is a range of potential happiness you are capable of experiencing. The level you are experiencing can change day-to-day. For instance, if your son or daughter just got into the college they always dreamed of attending your happiness score will rise (as will your pride in your child), but when you get the first tuition bill your happiness score may plummet (as will your bank account balance). Yet you operate within your genetically determined happiness range.
“C” represents external conditions that matter for your happiness. These fall into 2 main groupings, those you can’t change such as race, age and gender (or at least things you can’t easily change) and those you can change such as marital status, where you live or your income level (sometimes also not so easily changed).
“V” represents thing you choose to or don’t choose to do. These are voluntary activities that can change where you fall in your happiness range. These things can include exercise, education and learning new skills, volunteering your time, charity work, meditation, playing a musical instrument or even taking a vacation. Total immersion in a task that gives pleasure is one sure way to increase the “V” component of happiness.
Things in the above formula can get a bit tricky as we are dealing with complex humans after all. In order to maximize the “happiness effect” of both “C” and “V” you need insure that you do not become adapted to or too used to the activity. If, for instance, you are always on vacation, then taking a vacation loses some of its specialness and the impact on your happiness can diminish over time as you spend more and more time on vacation. Playing a musical instrument may be a real pleasure in your life until you are forced to practice for hours at a time. This pattern of adaptation is why wealthy people tend not to be as happy as you would think. They become acclimatized to being wealthy and it loses much of its impact. But don’t get me wrong it is a lot easier to be happy when you have money than when you don’t have any. And if I had to be unhappy, I would rather be unhappy and wealthy than unhappy and poor. The point is not to look at a level of wealth as a never ending source of happiness. That won’t happen.
Physical pleasures which are voluntary and intermittent, such as eating rich food or having sex (people report the highest levels of happiness immediately after having sex) follow the same pattern. If you become satiated with an activity, but continue with that activity, the ability of that activity to impact your happiness will diminish. And at the extreme level continuing with an activity, perhaps eating ice cream well past the point of satiation, can create a state of disgust, lowering your happiness level.
Within the world of work, happiness can be increased by giving people more control over their work and working conditions. For instance, having an IT department dictating exactly which laptop a worker gets, based on their level or position in the workforce is one sure way to reduce happiness overall. Giving workers a menu of acceptable choices and then giving them control to choose the best choice for their own situation is a very simple example of how to improve happiness. The same holds true if you can give workers more control over their work schedule or locations. In general when people feel that they do not have control over their lives, including aspects of their work situation their happiness will diminish.
One experiment which demonstrated the impact that control over your living situation can have occurred in a nursing home. Residents were given control over relatively simple aspects of the lives within the nursing home (e.g. which art work would be hung on the walls). Nurses reported that residents who were given more control over their living conditions had higher levels of happiness, as rated by the nurses. But beyond happiness these resident also had fewer deaths within their ranks than a control group. So happiness levels that someone was experiencing had a physical affect.
Combine this with the finding that people are more positive about many things when they sense positive movement on an issue, movement having even more of an impact than absolute levels, and you begin to get a sense of what makes an employee and people in general happy. For instance in one ongoing study of employee positiveness, the most positive employees did not come from countries with the highest levels of economic performance or GDP, but rather from those countries with the most rapidly improving GDP levels. In other words things were perceived as getting better for people economically.
A special mention needs to be made about task immersion, a state called “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly one of the founders, along with Martin Seligman, of Positive Psychology. When someone is in the flow, they are totally immersed in a task that is appropriately matched to their skills. They give examples such as painting, writing, photography, singing and dancing. I could add examples such as solving work related problems, building a house, writing a program, fixing a machine, etc. When a worker is in the flow, happiness will be greatly increased. These are the pleasures a worker experiences in simply doing a good job at work and when the work is matched to the appropriate worker. And as mentioned above however, if the work is past the point of satiation the happiness that the work can bring decreases until the activity can disgust the worker.
There are many ways to impact an employee’s happiness. Among them pay, benefits, job security, recognition, advancement opportunity, respectful treatment, working for an organization that is viewed as having effective leadership all have roles to play. The relatively recent research on happiness implies that increased levels of happiness can also be achieved when a worker is accomplishing something (something they feel is important), learning something (new skills to prepare them for the future), or improving something, moving the outcome in a positive direction (a product, a process or themselves). Happiness is positively impacted by giving people as much control over their environment as possible by making them feel in control of their lives. Happiness is also generally positively impacted if people can help others, building and strengthening social connections.
There is still much to be learned about happiness, especially in the area of its impact on organizational goal attainment and customer satisfaction, but it does seem clear that well-run organizations can benefit from doing some relatively simple things that can increase employee happiness.
© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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“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
Suppose you worked in a company that had 20,000 employees and was overall very successful, but had a dirty little secret, one that was widely shared by most of those in its employ. Those who worked in marketing, accounting, sales, human resources, treasury, logistics, engineering and most of the other departments were well treated. They were often described as being well paid. They were treated respectfully and had generous benefits. They enjoyed development opportunities, so that they could stay sharp and employable in their various professions. The company had never experienced a layoff and people felt secure in their jobs. In general people liked what they did and they liked their immediate supervisors. It was a very collegial atmosphere and after work people would often get together and visit socially. What was the dirty little secret?
Deep in the bowels of this organization’s headquarters there was one worker who did a job that was critical, more than critical, it was essential to this organization’s manufacturing process. Without this one person doing this critical job, this organization’s product could not be produced and the organization would cease to exist. It would have to shut its doors and layoff its entire staff. To say that this one person’s job was mission critical was an understatement. Unfortunately, this one job had a nasty side effect. After working at this task for 6 months the worker would perish. You see this job was 100% guaranteed to be lethal. Being on this job was a death sentence, no ifs, ands or buts. And no one could prevent, reengineer, modify or otherwise change this task from its ultimate lethal consequence. Every six months the one person who worked at this task died so that the rest of the organization, the 20,000 others could flourish. Now, also suppose that workers were hired from the outside for this job and were not told about the ultimate price that they would have to pay after working on the job after six months. They worked in ignorance, happy, well paid, until exactly on the six-month mark they would drop over dead.
How would you feel about working at that company? Would you? Supposed now that instead of one person dying every six months to ensure happiness for 20,000, it was 5, no make it 500, no let’s make it 5000. Supposed every six months, regular as clockwork, 5000 people had to die to ensure the success of the organization, so that 20,000 others could lead their lives in a secure fashion. Would you work at this organization? Would you let someone else pay that price for your security? What if it ensured the security of 20,000? Do you feel any differently about the death of one, so that 20,000 could be secure vs. the death of 5000, so that 20,000 can be secure? Should you? If you happen to be the “one” hired into this position you are just as dead after six-months as if you were “one of the 5000”. Is your one life any less valuable than the lives of 5000? Your shortened life was as meaningful and as full of happiness as anyone else’s until you took the job. What if the person toiling at this lethal task was an informed volunteer? Someone who knew the price that was to be paid, but for the sake of the 20,000 decided to pay the ultimate price. Does being a volunteer, someone willing to die at a task, so that others can live pleasant lives change anything?
Suppose instead of the total organization being 20,000 it was 20,000,000. Yes, 20,000,000 people could live happy harmonious lives, if only one-person performed a task that every six months led to their death. How would you feel about being associated with that organization now? Is one life too much to ask for the happiness of 20,000,000?
Now suppose instead of six-months carrying the death penalty for this task it was 5 years, no, let’s make it 10 years, no, let’s make that 25 years. Now, to-the-day, after 25 years on the job, each and every worker who performed this job would drop over dead. Does that make you feel any different about working for this organization?
What variables matter when it comes to paying a price as an individual so that society as a whole can benefit?
Let’s twist this just a little bit more. Suppose instead of the consequence of death being the price paid, it was that the workers on this mission critical task simply had to toil away at an assembly line sixteen hours a day, six days a week for a salary that barely allowed them to put food on the table. Instead of a quick death, after six-months, it was a very slow death, allowing them to toil away for their entire lives, barely able to stay alive at starvation wages, never able to get ahead or exit the harsh realities of their low pay world. The idea being that this group of workers being paid as little as they were allowed the organization to stay competitive globally, allowing the larger organization to flourish and all the other people within it to live happy lives. Does that change the picture? Does that make it any better?
Now, suppose you were the leader of this organization. You have the ability to decide where to locate jobs, how much to pay your workers, how to compete in the marketplace, what conditions you were going to allow some in your employ to suffer in order for the others to flourish. What would you do?