Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category
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
You might be surprised to find out that there has been very little research done on what causes people to be annoyed. Fearful, happy, sad, trusting, and surprised you can find, annoyed, not so much. There would seem to be an unending treasure trove of behaviors these days that could be construed as annoying or perhaps worse, as I think as a society we are rapidly experiencing a dramatic rise in annoying behaviors. So there really is no shortage of possibilities for study. Being annoyed at something at work doesn’t rise to the level of “I’ll quit over this”, but does make you feel like shouting “give me a break!”
While it was not scientific at all, I asked some of my colleagues to list off some of the things that organizations and bosses do that annoy them. I began to compile a list and categorize them. Here are just a few of the one’s that popped out for me, some of which I would quit over.
About the Boss:
- Being asked to write up your own performance appraisal.
- Not being able to leave work before the boss does.
- The boss having to be the last one to always get to a meeting.
About your Computer:
- Having to get your 5 year old wheezing computer repaired for the third time.
- Being 3 versions of Office behind the rest of the world.
- Having to lug around a monster old fashioned laptop that weighs a ton so the company can save some money, but the boss gets the latest lightweight technical marvel.
About Losing your Job:
- Having to train your replacement in India before you get laid off.
- Being given tips on how to save money by your firm just before your are:
- Laid off
- Told that salaries have been frozen
- Find out that there will be no 401k match
- Find out that the health care plan is now 100% employee funded.
- Being told you been laid off in a horrendous fashion (email notification, mass meetings), or when very vulnerable people are laid off (e.g. someone who is 7 months pregnant, or an older worker).
- Finding out that management receives large bonuses or raises after the layoff for “making their numbers”.
About Finding Another Job:
- Selection procedures that take into account characteristics that have nothing to do with the job.
- Such as nepotism
- Or political affiliation, age, gender, or ethnicity.
- Hearing talking heads on TV who make pronouncements regarding how to find another job.
- Having a tiered approach to a help desk where the first person you talk to can’t actually help you.
- Having automated inquiry/information systems that require you to work through endless levels of menus to either:
- Talk to a person who can’t actually help you or
- Find out that the office is now closed.
- Finding out that the mechanic noticed what just broke on your car during your last visit but you did not mention it or fix it since it was not on the repair order.
Joe Palca has recently written a book called “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us”. He states that annoying things have some common characteristics. Among them are the activity has to be unpleasant, but not deadly (like nails on a chalkboard). Second is has to be unpredictable (like someone answering their cell phone and taking loudly at the next table in the restaurant) and third it is of uncertain duration (the cell phone conversation seems to go on and on). In other words an unpredictable, unpleasant event that you are not sure how long it will last. While that seems to make sense, it does seem to leave out quite a few of what people say annoyed them above.
My personal pet peeve is when I am traveling and am jammed into a seat on a plane and the person in front of me thinks it is perfectly ok to recline their seat. Not only do they crush my PC, but the seat can get so tight that I can’t even get out of it. Given how concerned the airlines are about keeping the aisle cleared for safety reasons how can they possibly allow people to recline a seat that prevents those behind them to get out of their own seat? …Really Annoying….
Anyway, I don’t want to bug you, but if want to add to the list I would be happy to know what annoys you, at work or otherwise.
- The trend data is in Roman numerals.
- The location codes include the Ottoman Empire and Prussia.
- The last administration of the survey included Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic translations.
- One survey item asked about how good a job Attila was doing.
- The organization hierarchy starts with the title Pharaoh.
- Occupation codes included lamplighter, elevator operator, pinsetter, iceman, milkman, switchboard operator, telegraph operator and lector (look it up).
- The instructions tell you to mark your answers on the abacus in front of you.
- The tenure item includes references to common era or before common era.
- The options on the scale for the gender item includes only one choice.
- The survey focuses primarily on employee engagement.
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
“Time… is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
Ray Cummings, 1922
Last week I had a birthday, sort of. I can be somewhat cynical about made-up or pretend events and will refer to a variety of holidays such as Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and dare I say it, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as “Hallmark Holidays”, days that were promoted and marketed simply as a way to sell more greeting cards and gifts. For some of these days, presumably the ones that have really resonated with the American psyche, the promotions have worked like a charm. Mother’s Day is one of the biggest days of the year for buying flowers or going to a restaurant for a meal and Father’s Day moves a lot of ties. I have nothing against a company or organization promoting its products by these means, I simply feel that I don’t have to fall under their spell. By way of full disclosure, I have to say that I regularly buy my wife flowers on Mother’s Day, as I prefer sleeping in a bed. And in recognition of my feelings my wife gave me a birthday card this year that said “Happy Arbitrary Day”.
A birthday is supposed to commemorate the passing of one-year from the moment of your birth. A year though is a very arbitrary calculation, as are all of the ways by which we measure the passing of time. A year is defined as the amount of time for the planet to circle the sun and come roughly back to the position it was in…well a year ago. The passage of that time has been measured by various civilizations through the alignment of the sun, the positions of the stars or the phases of the moon to varying degrees of accuracy. But what is so magical about that roughly 365 day period that it needs to be commemorated as a significant milestone? Why are we so hung up about the passage of a year’s worth of time?
Well, if you were a farmer, as many of our ancestors were, the time of year was critical so you would know more precisely when to plant your crops or harvest. If you were a fisherman, you would know when the various species of fish were to be found in the waters. If you were a baseball fan you would know how long it was before spring training began. And once you get over 50, you would know how long it is until your next colonoscopy. You see there are all sorts of critical dates which need to be tracked.
But, there are a number of events that I don’t feel need to be commemorated as big events and birthdays happen to be one of them. For me it is not how long you have been on this planet that matters, but what you have done while you are here.
Recently, one of the events marked by the passage of time that has made the news was the statement made by some guy in California that the world was coming to an end. May 21st he said was it, that was all the time we had. So given that, you might as well send me your money, as you won’t need it much longer. Well, he had enough followers who believed him that he amassed some 70 million dollars. After the 21st came and went, he was asked if he would now return the money, you know like a money back guarantee. He did not deliver on his end-of-the-world prophesy so people should get their money back. He said no, that the world did not end so why should he give the money back? In my mind that is not really a tough question to answer, but I think he has it wrong. Usually in business, which is what this appears to be, if your product doesn’t work as advertised you give back the money people spent on it. But perhaps he has it wrong from a business perspective. Rather than making the end of the world a once in a lifetime event, perhaps he should promote it to be more like Mother’s Day that comes around every year. You know, the world could end just a little bit each year, maybe for a second or two and then go back to the way it was. That could even out his income stream somewhat.
But I started wondering, if he could raise 70 million by putting out bad news like the end of the world, how much could I raise by putting out some good news, like the world was not going to end? I should be able to raise at least twice that amount. Then of course came the obvious thoughts, what would I do with the 140 million dollars that suddenly fell into my lap? So I worked up my to do list and here are my top 10 things.
- I would treat myself to a full tank of gas. Maybe even a grade above 87% octane. Premium would be wasteful, but perhaps plus.
- I would buy 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway.
Then I would catch my breath and really dig in solving:
- World hunger,
- The lack of clean water for most of the world’s population,
- The environmental mess we have created for ourselves,
- All of these various wars,
- Slavery and the abuse of women,
- The global economy and resultant joblessness and homelessness,
- All other illnesses affecting mankind.
After that with the money I had left over I would throw myself one hell of a Happy Arbitrary Day party. For after all, it would have been a very good year.
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
It seems like you can’t turn on the TV or look at the movie section in the newspaper these days without seeing some reference to zombies. Zombies used to be the stuff of late night horror or the once a year Halloween movie marathon. But it seems pretty clear that zombies have gone mainstream, appearing not only in horror flicks but in television series and even kid shows.
On the university campus, one professor of political science, Niall Michelsen, has incorporated the topic into his classroom instruction and has co-authored a paper titled “Teaching World Politics with Zombies”. Daniel Drezner has written Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In both cases the authors/professors are exploring how the world might react to an actual invasion of zombies. One theory they explore is whether capitalists would be able to exploit the cheap labor that zombies, the undead might provide. Another explores whether stronger countries would sit and watch while zombies ate their way through the weaker ones or if some central organizing effort to control zombies would emerge.
With the growing popularity of zombies and hence the growing population of zombies in society, it was only a matter of time until inevitable personnel issues surrounding zombies, such as motivating or engaging zombies needed to be addressed along with a whole host of others issues. I thought I would get the research ball moving with some thoughts on the topic.
Some of the immediate issues personnel departments are struggling with concerning the rights of the undead include:
- Do zombies have collective bargaining rights? They seem to be very good at organizing gatherings and may have an edge in negotiations. I mean how many of us really want to sit across the table from a zombie and look them in the eye, even if it is still in its socket?
- If you are a union member in the living state and then become a zombie do you retain your membership? Can you be legislated into a second class status when you are undead? Are you still responsible for dues? If not, as suggested by the professors, organizations might forgo the living and hire the undead as cheap labor or union busters.
- Does last in, first out apply during zombie layoffs?
- Do zombies get severance? An arm or a leg?
- If you turn into a zombie do you lose your citizenship?
- If so, can you then get a green card?
- If your kid turns into a zombie before you do, is your kid an anchor zombie, able to sponsor you for inclusion into zombiehood?
- Can the undead be elected to political office, be appointed as a CEO, or do they simply need to eat their way to the top?
- Given how easy it appears to be to kill or injure a zombie, (all you apparently have to do is bash them with a baseball bat), what are the regulations surrounding health care coverage for zombies? Is being a zombie considered a pre-existing condition?
- And critically, how do you motivate or engage the undead to increase their value as an integral part of the workforce?
There has been much speculation that zombies are somehow different, that they don’t want what you or I want from the work environment or that somehow their relationship with their supervisors are “strained”. Some say that zombies are impatient, unwilling to pay their dues in order to succeed in the organization. Others imply that zombies are not as concerned about job security or being developed for future opportunity, wanting only to unlive in the here and now. Other spurious and suspicious claims have arisen against zombies including that they have strong body odor, that they have socialist, communist or perhaps fascist tendencies, others claim that they are not from “here” and that they are so unlike “us” that they even pray to a different god. Some say that zombies are lazy, willing to move along only at a slow shuffle, or that they are solely concerned about money, presumably because they resist being paid with scraps. Speculation has been rampant that zombies need a strong leader to exist in an orderly fashion and that they are not ready for a democratic oriented society. Meanwhile the reported cases of harassment against zombies have skyrocketed. These are grave issues.
Cutting through all this noise, fear, and paranoia will not be easy for researchers intent on furthering the science behind how to motivate and engage zombies, but with good experimental design much can be achieved and some deeply buried findings may emerge.
Let me suggest a simple framework for carrying out this work. The fundamental underlying notion that I propose is that zombies are people too, being driven by the same desires that any other person has regarding the world or work. I am not talking about what zombies like to do in their off-hours, or what their social norms and eating habits might be, I am talking about what zombies want from their labors and how they expect to be treated in the world-of-work and that by-and-large it is the same thing that anyone of any generation, gender, ethnicity, religion, geographic location or sexual orientation wants, because it is what people want. If we want to spend our time searching for the minutest differences (such as whether you are dead or alive) they can be found, but our similarities greatly outweigh our differences.
When unrest occurs among zombies it is often driven by a deep-seated sense of lack of respectful or dignified treatment (just look at the clothes they are often made to wear) and that the playing field between the living and undead is not even. Beyond this, it is clear that the undead want to go through their existence with a sense of equitable treatment, that given their efforts they are being fairly rewarded and with a sense of achievement, an innate sense of accomplishment arising from their labors.
I often use what I call the MPF© model during organizational transformations and I am convinced that it would work as well during undead transformations. “M” stands for message, “P” stands for Performance and “F” stands for future.
“M” – first off zombies will want a clear understanding of the purpose of the organization, what does it stand for and importantly how they fit in. What will they be doing in their day-to-day job that will help the organization achieve its goals? If the line from the zombie’s job to the organization’s goals cannot be directly drawn, the organization needs to go back and keep drawing it until the message is crystal clear. Zombies want to know how they fit in and how that fit contributes to what the organization is trying to accomplish.
Second is “P” for performance. Examine the message you have delivered to your zombies and then ask yourself if you enabling them or hindering them in delivering on that message. If the message given out by leadership is that the organization will be customer centric, are your processes and procedures, those things that the zombie must live with supportive of that notion or do they fly in the face of it? Many times zombies are frustrated and act out aggressively, because they are asked to do inhuman or impossible tasks given the resources available to them. They are told one thing and then not given the tools needed to deliver on it. Make sure you are enable performance in-line with your messaging.
Third is “F” or Future. Zombies have their eye (figuratively if not literally) on the future, just like the rest of us. They want to know that if they deliver on the goals they now share with the organization that good things will happen. Things like job security, opportunity for development and to get ahead, the ability to provide for their family etc. The evidence on zombie engagement is absolutely clear, people can work through current hardships and difficulties if they have a sense of a purposeful and meaningful future for themselves – not a smoke and mirrors future of continuing unfulfilled promises, but a real one.
People will get on primitive sailing ships and travel to new unknown lands, they will stand alone, unblinking, in front of a tank, they will challenge despotic rulers who won’t hesitate to cut them down, they will give up and then give up some more, allowing themselves to be treated horrifically and suffering deprivation, all for the sake of creating a better life down the road for themselves, their children, and to create a Future that they can believe in and can see. And with my last breath let me say that you should make sure that the zombies who work for you can see that future and then you need to deliver on it. Come by again sometime soon, I’ll keep an eye out for you.
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
An event horizon, in its traditional definition, is that physical location where a particle of matter having come close enough to a stellar black hole has a totally certain future, it will fall into the black hole and will not emerge again. The event horizon is the point of no return, the point at which the particle cannot escape the enormous gravitational pull of the black hole. A black hole is a former star, now collapsed into a singularity, a single point whose gravitational field is so strong that not even light can escape.
Fairly exotic stuff, but I recently read a description (Science News, 12/18/2010) that brings the notion of event horizons down to earth. Supposed you were a fish, blissfully approaching a waterfall, unaware that if you approach too closely you will be swept over the falls to your doom. As you approach the falls the river is moving faster and faster and you begin to yell out for help as you struggle against the current. Ok, ok, I have never heard a fish yell for help either, but work with me here. As you yell for help, the noise of the water rushing over the edge becomes louder and louder as it picks up speed. At some point, if the speed of the water you are trapped within breaks the sound barrier, your yells will be unable to escape, traveling along but not emerging from the water itself, until the water slows once again. That point, where your yells will not be heard, and where the rushing water has broken the sound barrier, is a terrestrial event horizon. No matter how loudly you scream you will not be heard, as the sound waves from your voice will not be able to travel fast enough to emerge from the water rushing faster than sound.
That description got me thinking. Are there other kinds of event horizons that may exist, perhaps in our daily or organizational lives? I started to build a list:
- The overdone toast event horizon: that precise moment during breakfast preparation when you realize that no matter how much you scrape the toast is going to taste burnt.
- The school homework event horizon: the moment when no matter how many times you tell your child to get started, you know she/he will be up too late finishing their homework.
- The you can have anything you want event horizon: the moment when your child climbs onto your lap and places her/his head on your shoulder before asking for a new bike. You can’t escape, the die is cast. I wonder if that will still work when she/he wants the car keys.
- The speeding car event horizon: the location and instant, when you realize that no matter how quickly or hard you press on the brakes, you will be getting a ticket (likely deserved) from that police car you flew by.
- The throw the stick on more time event horizon: when the dog approaches you, drops its retrieved stick at your feet, and looks at you with imploring eyes – throw the stick one more time. It is inescapable you must throw the stick.
- The organizational culture change event horizon: the precise moment when an organization has a majority of people who feel strongly positive about efforts the organization is making to become (choose one): customer focused, more effective, highly engaging, best place to work, best place for working mothers, highly communicative, accountable, flexible, innovative, risk taking, emotionally intelligent, or results oriented.
- The organizational reality event horizon: The precise moment when an organization realizes that magic bullet solutions belong with other forms of magic – in a children’s fantasy dream world.
- Life’s event horizons: Any moment in your life when you come to the realization that what you have is pretty good, you have no desire to turn the clock back to the way it was, and you are looking forward to what will be.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“From the children’s point of view it was hard to tell a neighbor from a relative. She is like a sister to me was said in all sincerity. Door-to-door living over long periods of time made these people true kin to each other. The only difference between neighbors and relatives was that the neighbors went home to sleep; the relatives could climb into bed with you.” (Sam Levenson, Everything but Money).
The fact that neighbors went home to sleep and relatives could climb into your bed was information that helped a small child differentiate relatives from neighborhood friends in a crowded, confusing world encompassing the tenements of East Harlem in the early 1900s. Information, we are always searching for more in order to help us make sense of our world, to help us interpret the events by which we are surrounded, to help us make better decisions, but then we are often selective about which pieces we are going to view as credible, accepting some bits while seemingly randomly rejecting others.
There is an old tale coming out of the Middle East that is often spoken of in terms of conflict resolution, but seems to have more to do with information or the lack thereof. It goes something like this. There was a nomad who sensed he was nearing the end of his life, and so called his three sons together. He spoke to them, “I want to tell you how I plan on bequeathing the family’s 17 camels. To my oldest son I give half of my camels. To my middle son, I give a third of my camels and to my youngest son I give one ninth of my camels.” A week later the old nomad passed away and the 3 sons took to fighting over how to split the herd of camels between them. They went to the wise woman of the tribe, who mediated disputes and described the situation. She said to them, “I don’t know how to resolve your dispute, but here, I have one camel, take it and see if it makes you happy.” So now the three sons had 18 camels to divvy up. The oldest took half of the camels, or 9 of them. The middle son took a third of the camels or 6 of them and the youngest took one ninth of the camels or 2 of them. Well, 9 plus 6 plus 2 equals 17. So they had one camel left, which they gave back to the wise woman. It is a fun math exercise and makes you stop and think. What is the missing piece of information that helps you understand the story? The old nomad did not bequeath all of his camels in the first place, only 17/18th of them (1/2+1/3+1/9 = 9/18+6/18+2/18 = 17/18), which of course was impossible to do if you only had 17 camels to start with.
The conflict resolution part of this comes from an outside observer, the wise woman, being somewhat removed from the situation, being able to see a way forward from the impasse – how to divide up the 17 camels according to the nomads desires. The information part of this comes from the understanding that what was originally specified was not mathematically possible. But what is possible, and what needs to get done anyway is not always in alignment. We often need to think beyond what conventional wisdom says is possible and figure out ways to accomplish goals and mankind, in spite of our inherent flaws, is pretty good at that. And information helps, it can help a lot, but sometimes information, even compelling information is not only rejected but triggers a response of trying to get everyone else to reject the compelling information as well.
Some messages carry more effective information than others. Information that is unexpected or surprising tends to have more impact. Sean Carroll, a noted physicist, writes in From Eternity to Here, “If I tell you that the Sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow morning, I’m not actually conveying much information, because you already expected that was going to happen. But If I tell you the peak temperature tomorrow is going to be exactly 25 degrees Celsius, the message contains more information, because without the message you wouldn’t have known precisely what temperature to expect….Roughly speaking, then the information content of a message goes up as the probability of a given message taking that form goes down.” So out of the world of physics comes the notion that if a piece of information, a message, is unique, unexpected, or novel, it carries with it inherently more content, and more important content than often repeated, or completely expected information and messaging.
David Brooks produces a column summarizing notable social and psychological research, and in his December 7th column he wrote, “Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science, call “When in Doubt, Shout”, in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.” (NY Times, 12/07/10). This coping process was originally proposed by Festinger, the father of cognitive dissonance theory, which states that when people’s behavior and thought patterns are incongruent, I advocate one thing verbally, but actually behave not according to those beliefs, that dissonance sets in which must be resolved by changing beliefs or behavior. So here is a notion that appears to go against the world as physicists know it. In the human mind, or at least among some of us anyway, if strongly held beliefs are challenged to the core, rather than giving up on that belief and saying, “Oh well, I now have better information, it was very meaningful since it was unexpected, going against my core beliefs and now I can make a better more informed decision”, there is a tendency to not only hang on to those core, now challenged beliefs but to actively try to get others to sign on to the belief as well, a belief that the person who is proselytizing about it may no longer fully believe him or herself. By getting others to embrace the shaky belief it shores up one’s own doubts and the dissonance that exists can be resolved.
Think of the implications of this in the business world. For instance, say I was selling lousy, junk mortgages. I am presented with information that says “if you proceed on this path you will put not only your own company at risk by the entire economy.” My reaction could be, rather than stopping my behavior, to try to get others to emulate my risk taking to resolve any dissonance that has set up within myself.
Think of the survey that was just conducted on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the US military. Each time the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those in the military feel that repeal of the legislation would have no effect on battle readiness, there are members of congress who raise additional barriers and continue to try to persuade others, to proselytize others, to their point of view. When faced with clear evidence that threatens their core beliefs, rather than accepting that evidence and changing they simply try to be more convincing to others in order to resolve potentially dissonant feelings. As an aside, I took a look at the survey itself that was used to collect the information on feelings towards Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and my professional judgment is that the survey took a very conservative approach, asking questions in such a way that would lead to the least favorable result possible. Not that the research team was trying to bias the results, on the contrary, it appeared that they were setting the bar very high so that when the data did come in the results would be uncontestable, but contested the results are regardless.
Let’s say you are working in a company where an executive has an idea regarding how the future of the company should unfold. He or she has a lot of skin in the game regarding that idea or concept. That executive is presented with incontrovertible evidence that the idea is a dud. Given what we have just reviewed what might be the executive’s course of action? And more importantly how can organizations of any type overcome the bias that might arise?
Some of the techniques that can be used in these instances to overcome the inherent bias include:
- Oversight – of the individual by others within the organization who can pass informed judgments on the concept or idea.
- Checks and balances – on the absoluteness of power. Rather than one person having the authority to send the organization off in a new direction, a board-type approach can be of benefit, especially for big decisions and especially if the board solicits from its members…
- Independently arrived at judgments – one method to derive better decisions from a group is to have each member of the group develop independently arrived at judgments prior to comparing notes.
- And, independent assessment of the concept or decision by an outside group without a special interest in the outcome. Using what is perceived as an unbiased outside party, who can pass professional judgment on the concept, can lend additional credence to the conclusions drawn.
Even with these techniques, and even with the best of intentions you will still have some people without the ability to let go of their cherished beliefs and notions even when the facts indicate that those beliefs are clearly in error. The behavior by some will be to dig in their heels and to do their upmost to convince others of the correctness of their unsubstantiated beliefs as they struggle to come to grips with the information that they have received.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as the end.”
After reminding my daughter what is was like when I gave birth to her, with my wife smiling peculiarly in the background, I often remind her of what things were like when I was growing up. I regale her with stories of how we made do with so little compared to today. For instance, I don’t know how many times I have described how I used to carry my little sister to and from school on my back, while barefoot in the snow, uphill, both ways – - before breakfast. And how when my shoes got a little small, how we would cut off the toes (of the shoes), to make them last just a bit longer, or how we lived in a house so small, that you had to be careful not to break the window in the back when you put the key in the front door to unlock it. And after amusing ourselves just a bit with these tales, it tends to take on a more somber note as we realize just how lucky we really are.
When we were kids we had a much better standard of living than what our parents had and lived in much better circumstances, and if you go back one additional generation, circumstances and living conditions were truly awful. My mom’s parents had gotten as far as Ellis Island in the late 1910’s before being told that the quota was full. They were given a choice of Canada or Cuba and I guess Cuba sounded warmer. So my mom was born in Havana, Cuba, her first language was Spanish with a heavy dose of Yiddish, and Russian. Her dad started off manufacturing ties in the living room of their small rental apartment at night and then took to the streets during the day to sell his wares. For one of her birthdays she got a roller skate, just one, as her parents could not afford one for each foot, so she learned to skate using just one of those old fashioned skates with four wheels, one in each corner. When her shoes did wear out, with a hole in the bottom, her father would carefully cut newspapers to line the shoes so that they would last just a bit longer. And after that unexpected side trip and struggle in Cuba, twenty-some years later they finally made it to the USA, their dream, where my mom and her parents eventually became naturalized US citizens. She was introduced by a cousin to my dad, who was returning from WWII, after serving in the army in Europe, doing stints in England, France and Germany, and they soon fell in love and got married.
My dad, of course, had no end to the stories he could tell about what it was like growing up in Providence and Brooklyn. He was the oldest son of three, born in 1920, just a day after his parents landed in New York and that accident of timing made him an instant US citizen. He remembered how horse drawn carts would deliver milk and other goods to the various neighborhoods as he was growing up and how a Coke and hotdog was 5 cents. His father worked repairing radiators in the streets of the lower east side of New York (and was exposed to some nasty chemicals that likely finally killed him) and eventually saved up enough money to open a small candy shop in Brooklyn, and after that did not work out, became a furrier in the garment district. Two of my grandparents three sons fought for this country in WWII, one in the Pacific Theater (who slightly exaggerated his age at enlistment) served in the Navy and one in the European Theater in the Army. The third son was too young at the start of the war to serve. All three brothers now lay side-by-side in a cemetery just north of New York City.
The thing that is the most remarkable about these stories is that while the details of the events may be, the essence of the stories are not unique, with the vast majority of families in the USA today able to share similar stories of their own family’s struggles and tumults as they sought to gain a foothold in this great country. When you look at the bigger picture, we are a nation, by and large, of immigrants and we are all more similar than we are different. The drive and desire that the immigrants brought with them powered us to the heights that we have achieved. Yet there are those who tend to look for the differences between us rather than the similarities that bind us together. Differences can of course be found if you want, but we are better served by examining and building on our similarities. Most of us for instance, want a better future for our children than what we or our ancestors may have had or at least one similar to our own. All of us want to be treated with respect and dignity, our humanity being recognized and valued. We all want to be given a fair shake by society, an equal chance to succeed, as others have had. And we all want to be able to pursue our cherished dreams, our happiness that our constitution lists as a fundamental right.
The same holds true in the world of work, and no one should be surprised by that for the world of work is nothing more than a reflection of our society as a whole.
Utilitarian philosophy as described by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham is a worldview that societies should exist and decisions should get made in service of the greater good, majority rules. That logic can be used when laying off workers, the greater good of preserving the organization and jobs for the other employees being served. But it is not difficult to knock holes in the efficacy of this approach for every situation. For instance, say you were a doctor and had 5 very sick people in your office. Two needed kidneys, one a lung, one a heart, one a liver. In the next room you had one healthy patient. That one healthy patient, if sacrificed, could save the lives of the 5 other people and thereby increase the greater good, by donating the needed organs. Does that one person, representing a minority in that doctor’s office have rights to keep his organs, even though it would serve the greater good to give them up? Of course it becomes rather obvious that we don’t make decisions that way when it comes to such an example. But that argument was used by the advocates of Proposition 8 in California which barred non-heterosexual marriage, that simply because the majority (52%) of Californians voted for it, that homosexuals and lesbians were forfeit of their rights. What if the 5 sick patients in the doctor’s office voted to have the organs removed from the only healthy patient? Would that fly?
John Locke, widely known as the father of liberalism, countered that approach by stating that man has certain inalienable rights, that even if the majority or the greater good is not served, that each individual has the right to life, liberty and property, which Thomas Jefferson broadened out later on to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One major point of Locke and Jefferson is that majority rule could not simply erase the rights of an individual even if that individual was a minority of one; these inalienable rights were fundamental and as such could not be pushed aside by legislative decree. And building on that, Kant’s moral imperative can be summed up as not treating people as a means to achieving your own self-serving goals, but treating them in accordance to their humanity, as humanity is the end state which we all have in common.
Back to the world of work. Many organizations today benefit from their ability to promote their products as being “green”. One recent research study concluded that being green was not a passing fad, but that it is here to stay and those companies that operate in a green fashion are more likely to have greater increases in sales than those with similar products, but are not as green or green at all. So here is a question that I pose. Given what roles humans have in organizations, how do we create organizations that are “GREEN” when it comes to their PEOPLE and not just around their products and services? How do we employ people in a sustainable fashion? How to they treat people so that they support the notions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and treat people for the sake of their humanity and not as a means to an organizational end? Are the rights of the individual forfeit when it comes to organizational or employee life? What are the obligations of organizations to operate in such a manner that reflect the greater values that we as a society have adopted?
I would expect, of course, a great diversity of thought.
© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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How things get presented is just as important as to what is being presented. People in marketing and sales have known that for a long time. Others of us have to be constantly reminded. I keep hoping that people will find my content interesting for the content’s sake and not because I have a gratuitous graphic or have surrounded the material with slick marketing. (I have nothing against graphics that add clarity). And while marketing and packaging can certainly make the product more attractive, sometimes the buyers find out that the only thing that was actually there was the marketing and packaging. But regardless, the context of how things get presented can drastically alter how they are perceived and decisions based on that perception. In all aspects of our lives how a situation is presented can dramatically impact choices made, pushing people in one direction or another, perhaps sometimes taking actions that they normally would not consider.
Many businesses are working to increase internal efficiencies and improving business processes as a survival technique during this recession. They the data I have collected suggests that they are tending to shy away from offering potentially lucrative new products and services in favor of increasing internal efficiencies and cost cutting. On the other hand, some may shy away from offering new products and services for good reason. For instance, new juxtapositions of unusual product pairings or unexpected service associations can be humorous, can give one pause, and sometimes can be alarming or even revolting. But in the spirit of helping organizations squeeze a bit more cash out of their operations, I have come up with some business expansion opportunities that perhaps with a little bit of marketing and packaging may just take off.
First imagine you were driving around in a car, reading the signs appearing in the front of storefronts and other buildings.
- You pass by a funeral home with a sign out front, “Now Serving Lunch and Dinner, Early Bird Special – No Reservations Required”. Umm…Yummy.
- You then come across a nuclear power plant that has decided to go into healing baths business and has opened a water immersion spa on its grounds. Right next to the cooling towers. Appealing right? (If you look at this one historically there is an interesting story about “healthy” radioactive waters).
- You spy in front of a road repair and paving company not a Russian, but a sign saying, “Now seeing dental patients, get your cavities filled, no waiting”. Yes I would imagine that there would be no waiting.
- Your stomach turns at the banner fluttering over the toy manufacturing company, “Try out our new line of caskets”.
- And your queasiness continues as you come across a deep water oil drilling company who has opened a fish wholesaler operation at the docks with the sign, “Cheap fish to the trade, come by and sample our deep fried fish and chips”.
Other signs make you stop and think about the larger picture. For instance, there is a sign that I always enjoy reading that is part of the artwork in a restaurant I frequent. The drawing is of an old city scene with various signs hanging in front of old stores. One sign on a lower level store front says “Lawyer 5¢ an Hour”. Above that sign is another, pointing to a second floor office and that sign says “Honest Lawyer 10¢ an Hour”. I think the assumption is that you get what you pay for.
It has been shown in the laboratory that how problems, issues or options are presented can dramatically alter the reactions that people have, how they perceive it and the choices they will make. For instance, Kahneman and Tversky developed the Asian disease problem to study how people make decisions. Say a choice had to be made between two different approaches to fight a life-threatening disease. One approach helps fewer people, but has a 100% cure rate, and the other helps a greater number of people, but has a significant mortality rate even among those helped.
When the choice has to be made between the two approaches and the choice is described in terms of how many people would be saved by each approach, the program that helps fewer people is preferred by decision-makers. When the decision is described in terms of how many lives would be lost decision-makers tend to choose the program that helps more people, even though a significant portion of those helped will die regardless. This is the case when the two approaches are matched in terms of how many people in total actually survive the illness, meaning the same number of people are either saved or die regardless of the approach. So attractiveness of these decisions is contextual, meaning how decisions get considered and made is dependent on the how the situation is presented.
Now suppose that we apply that principle to business decisions in organizations, say layoffs. Our example organization of 1500 people, 150 in management (10% of the workforce), 1350 non-management (90% of the workforce) is feeling pain, business is down, the recession is taking its toll. Customers are delaying or cancelling orders. Management is presented two options on how to cut staff that no longer has work to do.
Option one lays out a course of action which is to cut back 20% across all occupation levels. The resultant organization has 1200 employees, 120 managers (10% of the workforce) and 1080 non-mangers (90% of the workforce).
Option two is to cut the rank and file by 22% leaving management untouched. The resultant organization has 1200 employees, 150 in management (12.5% of the workforce) and 1050 in non-management (87.5% of the workforce).
In both options the same total number of people are employed and the same number will lose will lose their jobs. If someone wanted to potentially influence the course of action taken how might they go about it? Research suggests that the options will seem more attractive when presented from the standpoint of how many people will remain employed, and less attractive if discussed in terms of the number of those to be laid off. If option one was discussed in terms of the number of jobs saved and option two discussed in terms of number of jobs lost you can make option one appear more attractive than option 2 and vice versa. Is it possible that business decisions are influenced by the context in which they are presented? Now this example casts a rather simplistic light on how a serious discussion like laying off workers should unfold, but the point is how the argument is made will affect the attractiveness of the approaches and options described. Knowing this and being aware of how arguments can influence you by the way they are presented can help you make better decisions.
© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com