Archive for the ‘Social Networks’ Category
Some controversy surrounds the idea that a basketball player who has a “hot hand” will have increased odds of making the next shot. In fact the data show that in basketball there is no evidence that such a thing exists. However a recent analysis of baseball players who hit safely in 30 or more consecutive games showed interesting phenomena related to the hot streak. Twenty eight such streaks have happened since 1945 and not only did the player with the streak perform better but his teammates batting average rose by 11 points during the streak (Science News 1/26/13).
There were a lot of explanations given as to why the teammates of the hot player might also be playing better. It ranged from putting extra pressure on the pitcher to the excitement in the club house of having a streak going on, which I supposed you could call inspiring others to greater performance. I think though that I’ll hypothesize an explanation that was not given in the article and one which could extend to higher or enhanced performance in the business world. My hypothesis is one of opportunity. And opportunity can be both exciting and inspiring.
In basketball a major limiting factor to performance is time and how many points you can score within a certain period of time. In baseball the limiting factor is how many opportunities you get to perform before 3 outs happen in an inning. A hot player in basketball has no impact on the clock, the limiting factor – time simply marches on. A hot player in baseball, who does not cause an out and in fact creates opportunities for other good things to happen by getting on base, creates additional opportunity for the team, and influences baseball’s 3-out limiting factor.
So by performing at a higher level the hot baseball player creates additional opportunities for others to perform. And with additional opportunity the odds of others performing at a higher level will increase compared to when the opportunity is simply not present. You can’t shine if you are not given an opportunity to shine.
This line of reasoning can be extended to the business world or more generally to other organizations. For instance, if a sales force is “hot” generating a lot of sales, this gives additional opportunity for engineering, for manufacturing to shine and show what they can do to continue to give the sales force products that allow them to continue their streak. A virtuous cycle develops.
If those in a business or organizations deliver an exceptional work product or service to a client or customer, there is additional opportunity created for that business or organization. Customers or clients who are satisfied tend to repurchase and to purchase additional products or services. This high performance by those who delivered the exceptional service originally creates additional opportunity for others within the organization to also deliver an exceptional experience for the customer, an opportunity that would have been lost had the first experience not been a home run. The organization has to make sure that they don’t squander those opportunities of course.
Creating opportunities could be called a high performance contagion. If an organization or broadly a society cannot or will not create opportunity for its employees or citizens to have the potential to shine, high performance will be guaranteed not to occur. What can be done within an organization or a society to create as many opportunities as possible for people, children as well as adults, to shine?
Ask yourself, what have you done at work today to create opportunities for other’s to shine? That may be a key towards enabling overall high performance in an organization.
© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
High Level Conference of the Economic and Social Council, United Nations
July 9, 2012
What do we know about what drives people to work, to contribute to groups or organizations to which they belong? It turns out to be quite a bit. Beyond subsistence, one key component of what drives people to contribute through work is the need that people have to feel that their life, their existence is of value, that it has meaning. Humans, by-and-large, have a strong desire to feel valued, and part of what drives that sense of being valued is belonging to and contributing in a meaningful fashion to societal groups.
Societal groups, be they for-profit companies, charitable organizations, governmental organizations, religious organizations, sports teams, nation states or neighborhood beautification committees are all simply various types of organizations to which we belong. And certainly it is possible to belong to multiple kinds of organizations simultaneously.
That feeling of “being valued”, of being considered a worthwhile member of an organization is driven by the interactions that individuals have within the groups to which they belong and how members are rewarded by those groups for their contributions. Rewards at for-profit organizations for instance, involve salaries and bonuses, benefits, psychological recognition, opportunities for advancement, and developmental experiences.
Rewards for belonging to other kinds of societal groups may be very different. Almost 70 years ago, in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt in his State of the Union proposed an Economic Bill of Rights, providing for a strong social safety net stating that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security, independence, and that political rights, as characterized by the initial Bill of Rights, are inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. Among the rights included were:
• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.
Many of these economic rights and rewards are achievable when people gain decent employment. But one question that arises is if a social safety net is provided, regardless of employment status, does it affect people’s drive to work? A partial answer to that can be found by examining how satisfied people are when reporting themselves to be over-worked or under-worked on their jobs.
First a preliminary question. If you survey a cross section of employees from within a country, are the findings generalizeable or predictive of broader conditions within that country? A test of this was undertaken from June, 2008 to October, 2009 by surveying quarterly, 16,000 people across the 12 largest global economies using an index called Employee Confidence which I developed. In a nutshell, Employee Confidence examines two aspects of employee attitudes, confidence in their respective organizations and confidence in their personal situation.
By treating countries as large organizations, with each country’s respective head of state filling the role of CEO, research techniques such as survey linkage can be applied to entire countries. This approach allows you to “link” attitudinal data from employees to measures of performance at the country level, such as national or state unemployment levels and GDP growth, among others.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the results we would expect to find at an organizational/company level also apply when you sample a representative cross-section of citizenry and look at country-level performance indicators. For example, within the USA, for one over-sampled iteration, each state was treated as an organizational unit. Comparisons of citizenry attitudes by state on the Employee Confidence Index to unemployment levels by state showed that Employee Confidence was a leading indicator of what unemployment levels would be within that state the following month.
In other words, the strongest relationships found were between Employee Confidence attitudes now, and what officially reported state unemployment levels would be 1 month from now. This relationship was marginally stronger than the relationship between current attitudes compared to the previous month’s unemployment levels and current attitudes compared to current unemployment levels.
Additionally at the country level, Employee Confidence was found to be strongly related to change in GDP growth during this timeframe, with employees in India, Russia, China and Brazil achieving top scores and employees in Japan, Italy, France and Spain scoring the lowest. The rank order correlation was found to be .87 between Employee Confidence at the country level and GDP growth.
This would seem to give some indication that asking a cross section of employees about their levels of Employee Confidence might be a leading indicator of whether unemployment levels among citizens and potentially other economic metrics such as national GDP were heading upwards or downwards in the near term.
Now, given that the evidence suggests that certain citizenry attitudes at a country level can be used in a similar fashion to employee attitudes in predicting organizational performance, we can begin to draw some conclusions using employee survey data not only about “people at work” but also about “people as citizens”.
For instance, one study I undertook looked at the relationship between workload and satisfaction. Employees who consider their workload to be “about right” tend to be the most satisfied with their jobs, while those who say they are underworked are less satisfied than employees who complain of being overworked.
This study examined the level of job satisfaction of more than 800,000 employees at 61 companies worldwide. Of the companies surveyed,
• 75% had operations in North America,
• 11% had operations in Europe,
• 14% had operations in Asia.
Employees participating in the survey were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs, and their perceptions of their workload. Respondents who described their workload as “about right” rated their job satisfaction at an average of 73 percent favorable, while employees who said they had “too much work” rated their satisfaction level at 57% favorable. By contrast, those who said they had “too little work” had the lowest average job satisfaction rating of 32% favorable.
By slicing the data geographically we can examine how workers in different parts of the world felt about their workloads and how that relates to job satisfaction. Employees in North America who said they had “too little work” had an average job satisfaction rating of 36% favorable, whereas European workers in this category had a satisfaction rating of 12% favorable, and Asian employees a rating of 13% favorable.
Job Satisfaction and Perception of Workload are not related to the degree in which a society spends on Social Safety Nets. For instance, according to the OECD in 2012 the USA will spend 20% of GDP on social spending, while in Europe, in general, greater amounts are spent on social safety nets, and in Asia, with the exception of Japan, which will spend 23%, spending on social safety nets is generally lower.
Some conclusions that can be drawn by looking across these studies include:
• Given the linkages found between country level performance metrics and employees attitude data, there does seem to be generalizability between employee attitudes at work, and given a large enough and a representative sample, citizenry attitudes at a country level.
• And while we did not survey people working in sweatshop-like conditions, people tend to be most positive when they have about the right amount of work to do, but on a whole, prefer being busy over not having enough to do. One could surmise that among people who are not given enough to do, there is a tendency to feel that their contributions are not valued.
• The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, as has been done in some European countries to a greater extent than in the USA, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
So where do statements such as, “those lazy people will find jobs once their welfare checks run out”, come from? There is a tendency for humans to make decisions and draw conclusions representing their world-view based on heuristics, or rules of thumb and to consider only evidence that supports their point-of-view. The down side of this evolutionary derived shortcut to speedier human information processing is that it can play into stereotypes, bias and bigotry.
Let’s apply some evidence-based decision making to the notion that by having a safety net that societies are creating benefits that are so generous that those who are unemployed will have less of a desire to work.
• The evidence suggests that the majorities of people are happy when working, and in fact are happier when they feel that they have too much to do rather than too little.
• The evidence suggests that in societies with strong social safety nets that there is no diminution of satisfaction for the majority of workers that the work itself brings.
It is possible to go into the general population and at the extremes of the distribution find individuals who fit the worst-case scenarios and stereotypes of people who prefer not to work, living off of social safety nets, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.
In sum, based on a review of multiple databases that include both the private and public sector, the evidence is clear, most people want to work, to do a good job at work and want to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful fashion and this is independent of geography and the type of social safety net that is in place.
© 2012 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: http://www.orgvitality.com
Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman
July 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm
Two elderly gentlemen who were the best of friends were passing each other on the street. Allen calls over to Seymour and says, “Seymour, have a great day!” To which Seymour replies “Go to hell!” Allen says to Seymour, “What gives?” And Seymour replies, “If I had answered you politely, you would have asked me where I was going, and when I told you the name of the restaurant, you would have said “No, don’t go there, this other one is better”. We would have argued about the merits of various restaurants endlessly and eventually I would have told you to “Go to hell”. I am hungry and thought I would save us all some time.” (modified from Ausubel, 1948)
Filter bubbles is a term coined to describe a trend in internet search engines, one that some see as a new threat to our ability to receive and process information in an unbiased fashion. (Pariser, 2011) It used to be that when you searched the internet you got results that were wide open. Anything having to do with the topic you searched upon would theoretically turn up. Search on famine and you would find information on what is going on in impoverished countries as well as perhaps a new fashion trend called “famine dressing”. The search results were unedited, raw and covered whatever topics happened to match your search term.
This can be contrasted to newspaper reporting, at least at reputable papers, where an editor purposely searches out various aspects of a topic to present it from differing angles and points of view, including those the editor knows readers will disagree with or be uncomfortable with. The editor acts a filter on what news you see, and a good editor broadens your perspective rather than conforms to it.
Today internet search engines are becoming smarter. They are looking to make your searching more productive and to help you find the results you are seeking faster. In order to do that they can keep track of the kind of searches you undertake and the items you further review from your searching activity. Search on wood rot repair supplies and you will find that ads for companies that supply rot repair material will follow you around the web. Similarly, search on a type of shoe and those shoes will walk in your footsteps, following you as you maneuver the information resource the web represents. This is all well and good for ads for supplies, but a similar process hold true for other topics as well. If you search on political topics and delve into the more conservative “hits” you find, and then later on you search on another similar topic the conservative “hits” will be at the top of your results. Other points of view may not even show up on the list. This new kind of filtering, rather than broadening your perspective and knowledge about a topic, simply reinforces your current notions about a topic and could be seen as weakening the power of the internet to inform. In other words, the new internet surrounds you with information that simply conforms to your existing point of view.
This filter is fine for people who are seeking out confirmatory information for the beliefs they already have, which is a human tendency anyway, but for those who are looking for new or differing points of view this filter poses a threat. Is it really a new threat though?
When this was first brought to my attention it reminded me of an incident that happened early in my career. I was asked to create a selection system for executive assistants. I did the job analysis and created a system that was validated against the performance levels of the current incumbents. I was then told that my multiple hurdle approach to selection for these positions was going to have one final hurdle. I asked what that was and was told that it was going to be political affiliation. You could only be an effective executive assistant if you were registered with a certain political party, I was told. As a young idealist I was aghast. Political affiliation did not show up on my list of bona fide occupational requirements. Not to mention that the information on political affiliation was supposed to be private and confidential. When I mentioned that I did not see the rationale and besides you could not ask about political affiliation, I was told that the final hurdle in the selection system would be handled by someone else and I should not worry about it. The rationale for this hurdle was that to promote harmonious relations in the executive suite it would be beneficial to have it full of people who all thought alike, and believed in the same things. I gave my notice at that company not too long after.
Executives, or at least their surrogates in HR, wanted to surround the most senior folks running the company with assistants who only thought like they did, believing in the same things as they did. Could it be that internet filtering is simply a new form of a process that has been going on for a very long time? And those who would prefer not to know new information will always find a way to support their already held beliefs and those who actually desire to search out new points of view and alternatives will also find a way?
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Is your organization conscious or does it stumble along in a state of semi- or perhaps unconsciousness? I will argue that there are distinct advantages to an organization if it can achieve and operate in a conscious manner. I want to define what I mean by The Conscious Organization, but first a slight diversion into the causes of human consciousness is necessary.
Some relatively recent research looks at the physiology of the brain and what happens to it during states of consciousness and unconsciousness. As you know the brain is made up of many structures. Some of the structures of the brain deal with language (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area), some with memories, hearing and vision (temporal and occipital lobes) and some with reasoning (cerebral cortex). You may have heard of the amygdala which is associated with emotions, or the brain stem, the part of the brain immediately above the spinal column which controls autonomic functions such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and other homeostatic processes.
Needless to say the brain is a very complex structure with numerous sub-systems and sub-structures, each evolved to carry out specific tasks or duties, but the success of each of those systems is dependent on the other structures and systems within the brain carrying out their respective duties. For instance the centers of higher reasoning cannot interpret an image or scene if the visual cortex did not process the image. It is the Amygdala though that determines if that image is one that carries an emotional component. All of this communication, interpretation and experiential processing happen virtually instantaneously in the brain, achieving what is called “The Unity of Consciousness”. The various components of our brains work in silos, each carrying out their respective functions, but through complex interconnections each passes along information to other brain structures. Rising out of that complexity is human intelligence, consciousness or self-awareness which has been the subject of intense research for hundreds of years and philosophical debate for thousands. While the early work on the brain was philosophical and anatomical, examining and cataloguing the brain in an attempt to understand its inner workings, the more recent research has delved into real-time imaging of the brain in action.
When a person’s brain is examined as it enters an unconscious state such as sleep, the various silos of the brain, it appears, are no longer fully communicating with each other. They do not shut down, they do not function with less complexity, but they do stop sharing information across the parts of the brain as fully as they did when we are conscious or self-aware. The self-awareness or consciousness that the brain provides us is not driven simply by the complexity of the brain’s components itself, but by the ability of those complex systems to richly and virtually instantaneously communicate to other complex brain systems. The brain during periods of unconsciousness acts like many of our heavily siloed or stove piped human contrived organizations, looking inward and sharing only minimal information across the organization and sometimes even then begrudgingly. These heavily siloed organizations which cannot easily share complex and rich information are not capable of obtaining Organizational Consciousness.
Think of operations departments that are unaware of what the sales folks are promising out in the field, or engineering groups that do not include manufacturing in the development of new products. Think of customer care representatives who are unaware of the difficulties that distribution and fulfillment are having, or the salesperson who works in isolation of inventory or capacity information. Organizations that fit these descriptions are organizations stumbling along in a semi-conscious state. Information that is transparently communicated and shared across the organization in an instantaneous fashion is one key to
achieving a Conscious Organization. A conscious organization is intelligent, self-aware, more likely to successfully deal with changing environmental conditions and with the routine and enduring challenges that all organizations face.
“Human consciousness usually displays a striking unity. When one experiences a noise and, say, a pain, one is not conscious of the noise and then, separately, of the pain. One is conscious of the noise and pain together, as aspects of a single conscious experience. Since at least the time of Immanuel Kant (1781/7), this phenomenon has been called the unity of consciousness. More generally, it is consciousness not of A and, separately, of B and, separately, of C, but of A-and-B-and-C together, as the contents of a single conscious state.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007)
IBM is betting heavily on helping organizations achieve consciousness through what it is calling its “Smarter Planet” initiative. In a nutshell the Smarter Planet initiative aims to make organizational systems smarter to achieve “economic growth, near-term efficiency, sustainable development and societal progress.” Among the examples given of smarter systems include smart power and informational grids, water management systems, traffic congestion avoidance systems, and greener buildings. According to IBM, “these systems have historically been difficult to manage because of their size and complexity. But with new ways of monitoring, connecting, and analyzing the systems, business, civic and nongovernmental leaders are developing new ways to manage these systems” (emphasis added).
Think for instance of a water supply system for a city. It could be a just a bunch of pipes with values, relying on gravity and water pressure to distribute water throughout the city (much as the Romans and Aztecs did). A smarter water system would be interconnected to say the fire department, the weather service, and the water-pipe repair service. This smarter system could divert water from one part of the city to another if a major fire were to break out, maintaining enough pressure for the fire department to effectively fight the fire. It could realize that a heat wave was happening making additional water supplies available for cooling purposes, or if it sensed a drop in pressure it could send out a repair crew to where the leak was measured. Now multiply that interconnectedness and analytic ability to all of the critical systems that run a city and you achieve what I would describe as a conscious organization, in this case a conscious city.
If an organization wanted to achieve a higher degree of intelligence and consciousness it would seem that some precursors would be necessary. Included would be:
- A willingness to be open and transparent in all aspects of its operations
- Computerized monitoring, analysis and passing along of critical information
- State-of-the-art business processes that operate with a high degree of effectiveness that can pass information to…
- A highly interconnected internal communications web which feeds into function specific decision-making systems
- A non-micro-management orientation
- A highly vital and confident workforce, along with policies that lead to such
Creating conscious organizations will not be an easy process; maybe the notion of one is just a whim on my part. It involves not only creating well-functioning business processes for each critical business function, but also interconnecting across business functions, creating complex multi-redundant communication
pathways, so that each function adapts and bases their own decisions, interpretation of the world, and actions upon what is happening elsewhere in the organization. Seems complex, but I am reminded how many complex systems, such as a flock of birds in flight, are described by relatively simple rule structures.
When you think of how many organizations operate on a “need-to-know” basis, or how, at one extreme, spy and intelligence agencies compartmentalize information to purposely keep an organization “unconscious” you can begin to get a feel for how big a challenge it might be.
Brook, Andrew and Raymont, Paul, “The Unity of Consciousness”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/consciousness-unity/>.
Buzsáki, G., 2007, Connections The structure of Consciousness, Nature 2007, 446, 267
© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
“Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
During this recession employee confidence seemed to hit a low point in the first quarter of 2009. Since then there have been ups and downs but the overall trend has been moving slightly more positively with one notable exception. And that one exception is how people feel about the alternative options being available to them should they want to or be forced to leave their current employer. This sentiment on the part of employees emphasizes the notion that whatever recovery we have experienced so far has been jobless.
The employee confidence model, upon which this research is based1, has been linked to various performance metrics at personal, organizational, and country levels, and consists of two main dimensions:
- Personal Confidence
- Organizational Confidence
Each of those dimensions has an internal and external component forming a 2×2 matrix. Internal Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is when you feel you have a meaningful future at your current employer including concepts such as job security. While Internal Personal Confidence has taken a beating during this recession, External Personal Confidence suffered even more. External Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is confidence in your ability to succeed outside of your current employer, being able to land on your feet elsewhere, to be employable and if internal personal confidence is about job security, external personal confidence is about career security.
In general people’s external confidence levels can decline when they feel trapped due to a lack of options. By taking steps to continuously enhance external personal confidence they can mitigate confidence eroding situations.
What might those be?
- Be aware that everyone has options. NO ONE is trapped in hopeless situations. There are paths forward. Sometimes they can be difficult to see – especially when your confidence has been shattered. Look for them they are there.
- Actively work towards maximizing your options.
- Have wide social networks that you interact with regularly (relatives, friends, co-workers, people at church, etc.). Make use of your network when your confidence suffers a blow. Everyone can relate to that.
- Develop a smaller network of trusted confidants that you can talk to openly about your issues.
- Realize that regardless of what caused your confidence levels to decline, you are not the first person to go through what you are going through and many others have successfully overcome similar obstacles. You can too.
- Continuously improve your skills and knowledge, no matter what you do for a living or your education level look for personal growth, skill and mind development opportunities and take advantage of them.
- Develop additional coping mechanisms such as an exercise routine, a hobby, volunteering that can get your mind off your immediate confidence issue. The idea is to build a buffer, to create some space that is more normal, more routine and gives you time to get your emotions under control.
- Remember that sometimes blows to your confidence may have nothing to do with you. In the case of office bullying for instance, the person doing the bullying whether it be a boss or co-worker is often insecure or has other issues and exhibiting a lack of confidence in themselves. Unfortunately their way of coping with their own insecurities is by taking it out on others. In this case the issue lies with others.
- Don’t sit back and do nothing. That simply makes things worse.
1.Saltzman & Brooks, Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures, 2010 appearing in Going Global, Jossey Bass.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
Some of the research I have done over the last few years treats countries as nothing more than large organizations, with each country’s respective head of state filling the role of CEO. This approach has enabled me to apply the research techniques developed over the last few decades, such as linkage, on measuring organizational performance to entire countries. Not surprisingly, the results we would expect to find at an organizational level, say a public or private entity within a country, also applies when you sample a representative cross-section of citizenry and look at country-level performance indicators such as GDP growth or corporate bankruptcy rates. I developed an index a good number of years ago called Employee Confidence, and since June 2008 was measuring it quarterly on 16,000 people in the 12 largest global economies.
Within just the USA for one study, I treated each state as the organizational unit and made comparisons of citizenry attitudes to unemployment levels, and by looking at the change in attitudes over time, was able to get some indication of whether the citizenry attitudes were a leading indicator of what unemployment levels would be or a lagging indicator. The largest correlations between citizenry attitudes and unemployment came when linking together attitudes at time 1, with the following month’s unemployment level. In other words, the strongest relationships found were between attitudes now and what officially reported unemployment levels would be 1 month from now. This relationship was marginally stronger than the relationship between current attitudes compared to the previous month’s unemployment levels (postdictive – unemployment levels, the month preceding the measurement of the attitudes), current attitudes compared to current unemployment levels (concurrent points in time), and current attitudes compared to unemployment 2 months out. This would seem to give some indication that asking a cross section of citizenry about their levels of Employee Confidence might be a leading indicator of whether unemployment levels and potentially other economic metrics were heading upwards or downwards in the near term, and this leading indicator can be available before officially reported economic figures.
I recently co-authored with Scott Brooks, a book chapter, appearing in Going Global, for the Professional Practice Series, for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology which documented some of the major findings from this body of research.
Now, given that the evidence suggests that certain citizenry attitudes at a country level can be used in a similar fashion to employee attitudes in predicting organizational performance we can begin to draw some conclusions not only about “people at work” which has been done countless times, but about “people as working or unemployed citizens”.
For instance, a good number of years ago I looked at the combination of workload and employee satisfaction or morale in the workplace. Here is an excerpt published in Executive Viewpoints on that work. “Employees who consider their workload to be “about right” tend to be the most satisfied with their jobs, while those who say they are underworked are even less happy than employees who complain of being overworked”.
“The study looked at the job satisfaction levels of more than 800,000 employees at 61 companies worldwide. Of the companies surveyed, 75% have operations in North America, 11% have operations in Europe, and 14% have operations in Asia. Employees participating in the survey were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs, as it relates to their workload, on a 100-point scale. Respondents who described their workload as “about right” rated their job satisfaction at an average of 73, while employees who said they had “too much work” rated their satisfaction level at 57. Those with “much too much work” had an average satisfaction rating of 42. By contrast, those who said they have “too little work” rated their job satisfaction at 49, and those who complained of having “much too little work” had the lowest average job satisfaction rating, of 32. The survey also identified variations in the way workers in different parts of the world felt about their workloads.
“Results showed that employees in Europe and Asia were about three times less likely as North American workers to say they were satisfied with having “much too little work.” Employees in North America who said they had “much too little work” had an average satisfaction rating of 36, whereas European workers in this category had a satisfaction rating of 12, and Asian employees a rating of 13. The study also showed that employees in Europe and Asia who claimed they have “much too much work” were somewhat less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in North America. While North American employees who said their workload was much too heavy had an average job satisfaction rating of 44, European and Asian employees with “much too much work” rated their job satisfaction at 34 and 25, respectively.”
Some conclusions that can be drawn looking across these studies include:
- There is some generalizability possible between employee attitudes at work, and given a large enough and a representative sample, citizenry attitudes at a country level.
- People tend to be more positive when working productively and on a whole would rather be working harder than not having enough to do. When they do not have enough to do, either at their employer or when unemployed, there is a tendency to feel that their contribution is not valued either by their employer or society.
- The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance, as has been done in some European countries to an even greater extent than in the USA, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
There is a tendency for humans to make decisions and draw conclusions representing their world-view based on heuristics, or rules of thumb. The down side of this evolutionary derived shortcut to speedier human information processing is that it can play into stereotypes and even bias and bigotry if one is not careful.
And there is a tendency on the part of organizations to also simplify their need to process information, which requires an expenditure of energy (i.e. resources) by creating rules which are broadly applied to those who reside within the organization. Unfortunately, these rules are often derived to control the outliers in the organizational distribution, the worst case scenario, rather than the vast majority who are in the “fat” part of the distribution.
Lets apply some evidence-based decision making to the notion that by extending unemployment insurance, we as a society, are creating benefits that are so generous that those who are unemployed will have less of a desire to work.
- The evidence suggests that the vast majority of people are happiest when working, and in fact are happier when over-worked rather than underworked.
- The evidence suggests that in societies with strong social safety-nets that there is no diminution of the happiness and satisfaction for the majority of workers that working and working hard brings.
It is possible to go into the general population and at the extremes of the behavioral distribution find individuals who fit the worst-case scenarios of people who do not want to work and would rather collect money from the in-place social safety nets, but they are nowhere near what the majority of us want and what makes most people feel good about themselves. Based on a review of multiple databases that include both the private and public sector, the evidence is clear, most people want to do a good job at work, want to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful fashion, would rather be overworked rather than underworked and their frustration levels and eventual withdrawal from the organization can be driven by their inability to do so.
© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman
August 13, 2010 at 10:26 am
Schlemiel is a Yiddish phrase that has been picked up by English speakers and is often used to describe an unlucky or perhaps a somewhat foolhardy person whose endeavors, no matter how hard they try, never seem to work out. It is someone who would re-invent the wheel using a square template, all the while wondering why the wheel did not run smoothly, over and over and over.
The origins of the word, an old legend has it, came from an interesting tale. There was this young man who lived in the town of Enns, Austria, who decided to leave his young wife to study in a distant city. After he had been gone for 11 months his wife gave birth to a healthy young baby. The townspeople were all atwitter (yes, social networking existed back then), gossiping over the incident. The wise men of the village gathered and stated that due to her unquestioned piety, the event should not be regarded as suspicious, but rather as a case of delayed conception. The wisdom of the crowd prevailed over the ruling of the wise men for you see the name of the young man who left his wife to study abroad was Schlemiel (Shlumiel – alternative spelling).
Reading this story got me thinking about people today who make statements, often times over and over and over, which are simply not supported by the facts or even of a logical nature, but since they provide a point of view that others (at least some others), are looking for to support their pet theories or personal beliefs, they are stated and restated. I will limit myself to the HR/OD space, no matter how badly I want to expand out to other examples. Please, if you care to, join in and add to the list:
- Pay is not a motivator of employee behavior or a driver of satisfaction
- Corollary: Money doesn’t buy happiness
- You have to pay CEO’s a lot in order to motivate them
- This younger generation has different motivators at work, for instance they don’t care about job security
- It is good to keep things somewhat chaotic at work, keeps people on their toes
- Older workers are set in their ways and have a hard time learning new things
- Older workers are settled in and don’t care as much about promotions or recognition as younger workers
- Technical employees, like engineers are often more cynical at work
- Organizations make decisions
- Our selection system works really well, all of our employees are above average
- Job enrichment leads to a higher level of job satisfaction
- Corollary: People in repetitive jobs find the work boring
Whenever I hear such things I resist the urge to yell out “schlemiel” or worse. But I am also sure that others have opinions different than mine.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
“…I heard the Chaplain say, Women and Children and Chaplains First”
Harry Chapin from Dance Band on the Titanic
People pause just a bit upon hearing the words to Harry Chapin’s song, Dance Band on the Titanic due to the violation of social norms implied by the chaplains’ words. In a civilized society the strong are supposed to look after the weak, parents (or parental figures) look after their children (or child-like figures), in the world of work organizational managers are not only assumed to be looking after the organization’s health but the well-being of organizational members. Those who genuinely aspire to look after our spiritual well-being (if not charlatans) are also tasked by their followers with looking out for how we behave ethically as individuals and collectively as a society – especially if it is a “calling” to which they are drawn rather than something they do simply for profit. Violation of those precepts, or violation of the moral obligations by those to which others look towards as standard bearers, placing in them their confidence and trust, leads one to look closer at what is occurring, and whether the trust that was given was misplaced.
Consider a male physician who is paid in a transactional way to look after the physical well-being of a male lawyer (treating him for say a nasty fungus). The expectation that a male physician would give up a seat on the Titanic’s lifeboat for the male lawyer who happens to be his patient is just not there and there would be no moral obligation for him to do so. The physician violates his moral obligation to the lawyer only if he violates his occupation’s ethical rules, or the societal rules surrounding the physician/patient relationship, such as treating the lawyer’s fungus with a cure that he knows to be worthless or charging for treatments that did not occur.
Contrast that to higher order social “contracts” which are performed not for the sake of earning a living or barter of some sort. These social contracts will often create a much stronger bond between the parties involved in the contract/relationship. For instance, a parent/child relationship (or between parents and society regarding how they should behave with their children) creates much stronger expectations regarding certain protective behaviors then one done for compensation, such as between the physician and the patient, even when the child is adopted and does not carry the parents genes. When a violation of the societal norms occur in the parent/child relationship/contract, as in the case of child abuse, society may step in to protect the child, the weaker party in the transaction. People devote themselves to their community, causes, political party, religion, heritage, etc. generally without the expectation of financial gain, but never-the-less creating very strong attachments and social contracts to the various groups and with those strong attachments come expectations. When those expectations are clearly shown to be violated, people’s attachments (first after potential denial) can be severely weakened.
Another implication of Chapin’s Titanic song is that somehow the chaplain, possibly of weak character, also considers himself more worthy of saving than others and this just does not sit well, a violation of fairness and situational efficacy – the potential of the situation to lead to success for an individual. In the workplace, the managers who consider themselves more worthy of or more deserving of special favors, the accumulation of wealth or organizationally bestowed benefits given to them at the perceived expense of other employees, fall into the same category. When one of them gets caught up in scandal, ethical violations, or illegal activity, once again attention is focused, and people can feel like fairness and situational efficacy are being restored.
What are some of the differential drivers of when various social norms, honesty or ethical behavior apply? One aspect seems to be time pressure. Benno Torgler examined the behaviors of those sinking on the Titanic, which took 2 hours and 40 minutes to submerge into the ocean’s depths and compared it to those on the Lusitania, which sank in 18 minutes. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and reported in Science News, Torgler found that on the Titanic healthy young men were more likely to go down with the ship while women and children (doesn’t say anything about chaplains) where significantly more likely to have made it into a lifeboat. In fact, women were 50% more likely to survive then men. Young men between the ages of 16 and 35 were 7 percent less likely to survive than a referent population (those over 35, childless and traveling in 3rd class). On the Lusitania, with much less time for social norms to kick in, “an every person for themselves” mentally seemed prevalent, with young men being 8 percent more likely to survive, while women in total faced the same odds as men. Children on the Titanic were 31 percent more likely than the referent population to make it into a life boat, while on the Lusitania they fared slightly worse than the referent population. (This is the same methodology that I use to conduct diversity studies in organizations and it works well.)
Society’s and individual’s expectations of what is proper normal behavior, ethical or honest behavior is not independent of the circumstance in which people find themselves, but rather is heavily influenced by the unique circumstances in which people or a workforce is enmeshed. And what is normal or acceptable may also look different in hindsight when compared to the pressures of the moment.
Why would an organizational manager for instance “cook the books”, thinking that they could get away with falsifying something that becomes memorialized and is available for detailed inspection over a lengthy period of time? As in the Lusitania sinking, one possible answer to behavior that upon a lengthier period for reflection might be viewed as unacceptable are the time pressures that managers feel in order to “make their numbers”, the pressure of the here and now. But other factors show up as well. One study on dishonest behavior on the part of managers in organizations comes to the conclusion that the opportunity to cheat and behave dishonestly is able to explain dishonesty and cheating more than any of the other factors or characteristics of the manager, in other words simple access to the opportunity to be dishonest. Checks and balances anyone? Regulatory oversight?
Elizabeth Scott and Karen Jehn of the University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School respectively, define dishonesty as occurring when “a responsible actor voluntarily and intentionally violates some convention of the transfer of information or of property, and, in so doing, potentially harms a valued being.” They then refine this definition to differentiate among various categories of dishonesty, such as theft and deceit. James Eck from Washburn University demonstrated that those with dishonest characteristics can not only cause organizational failure but by measuring the lack of honesty in management you can predict organizational failure 3-years out. He determined that most failures of property-liability insurers resulted from dishonesty and the removal of assets from the company and into the possession of management. And that an approach that measured honesty, rather than relying on loss reserves and loss ratios on the balance sheet, as is done today, was successful in correctly classifying 88% of the firms three years prior to their liquidation. Measuring organizational members, their attitudes, characteristics and behavior as a way to determine organizational success, has been demonstrated time and again as a powerful predictive tool, rather than simply relying on the numbers kept on the balance sheet.
The likelihood of managers (or others) being dishonest can increase after they observe dishonest behavior on the part of others. This is especially so if those engaged in dishonest behavior view the benefits received as greater than the costs associated with dishonest behavior. For instance, if a manager observes another manager cooking the books, and that manager is rewarded for doing so, then observing another manager benefit from dishonest behavior will increase the propensity of otherwise honest managers to also act dishonestly (Becker). Managers it was also found increase dishonest behavior when dishonest behavior is condoned by the peer group to which the manager belongs. (Cialdini &Trost).
When the group being observed as being dishonest is not considered a peer group (a group that the manager considers him or herself similar to) by the observer, a contrasting effect may emerge. Observation of a dishonest act in this case may increase the awareness of the dishonest behavior as something to be avoided, for who want to be like those that are observed as dishonest (Gino, Ayal & Ariely). Additionally, increasing the perceived costs of acting dishonestly with a swift and a forceful reaction may increase the perceived costs of the dishonest behavior and reduce the occurrence of dishonesty.
Honesty and dishonesty, what is perceived as acceptable vs. violation is not only influenced by societal norms and values, but also by basic underlying characteristics that as human beings we all contain. Those characteristics are not binary with for instance, someone being either honest or dishonest, truthful or a liar, etc. but rather exist along a continuum. Someone who is normally quite honest when placed in an inappropriate enough situation may lose their honesty, at least temporarily. And it has been shown that cheaters in academic or business situations, may be willing to cheat just a little bit, but of course even cheaters have their standards and will not violate them by cheating to an extent that violates those standards. As humans, gathering and processing the daily doses of information that impinge, we tend to categorize and paint with a broad brush, everything can be seen as either black and white, but often that is just not the case. The path to increasing honesty and fulfilling our expectations around honesty can be impacted by:
- increasing the amount of measurement on the “honesty” component within organizations
- removing the opportunity for dishonest behavior – installing checks and balances or oversight within organizations
- not looking upon dishonest individuals as peers, but rather have peer groups in place that exhibit honesty – changing the norm
- not allowing a “pass” on the part of those behaving dishonestly, in effect rewarding dishonesty; but rather rewarding honesty
- allowing time for adequate reflection on the consequence of behaviors; avoiding snap or time pressured decisions.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
During this recessionary period many employees feel that they have been left holding the short straw, being treated as a readily available commodity or simply as an unnecessary cost by their organization. And while large percentages have been laid off in many organizations, the biggest concern that many organizations now have is how do we re-engage the survivors? How do we make them feel like the organization cares about them and that they should be loyal to the organization, working diligently for its success, when the organization has demonstrated quite recently and vividly that it will cut through them, as a warm knife cuts through butter, in order to insure the survival of the organization as a whole? How can the organization make employees trust them again, how can it turn them once again into loyal employees? Exacerbating the challenge in some organizations are the rewards that certain executives heaped upon themselves as they laid off large components of the workforce.
If you prick an inflated latex rubber balloon with a pin, the popping sound you hear when the balloon bursts is not from the rush of air escaping through the pin-hole in the balloon, rather the pop you hear is from the speedy propagation of cracks in the latex skin of the balloon breaking the sound barrier. The more tightly stretched out the balloon skin is, the more energy it contains and the larger the pop when that energy is finally released. The popping noise is literally the noise of the balloon tearing itself apart.
Employees have been asked to do more and more with less and less, and as salaries have been fixed or reduced, 401k matches canceled, health care benefits evaporated and people laid off, the organizational latex has been stretched almost to the breaking point and it contains an enormous amount of energy waiting to be released. As the economy improves some organizations which are not perceived by their employees as acting at all to preserve jobs, or as looking out for the interests of the average employee have created situations where it will take but the prick of a pin for organizational life-threatening cracks to rapidly propagate throughout the organization.
The popping sound you may hear propagating throughout the organization may take the form of skilled and valuable employees leaving, lower quality in products and services delivered to customers and clients, a lowering in productivity and efficiency, an increase in absenteeism, employees not acting as brand advocates, and an openness to third party representation and other forms of protection from the reoccurrence of the abuses people perceive they received. Employees have been on an emotional roller coaster that have left them bruised and battered these last few years and we may learn something on how to help employees heal from this trauma by taking a closer look at what we know about human emotion.
Emotions evolved and became a survival mechanism in animals long before humans came onto the world stage. As we evolved into humans these pre-existing emotional mechanisms came along with us, and they developed with 2 essential elements. They turn on when the external world demands it, and they turn off when the external world situation changes. Try this experiment (Darwin did). Put your face up near the glass of a poisonous snake exhibition at a zoo. Tell yourself logically that the snake can’t hurt you and you will hold your ground, not moving if the snake lunges at you. When the snake lunges, coming towards your face you will automatically jump back, you will not be able to help yourself as a natural emotional instinct (fear) will take over, attempting to preserve your life. The underlying mechanisms that generate emotions are generally now categorized as fear (imminent threat), sadness (loss of attachment or status), anger (blocked goal pursuit), disgust (exposure to or ingestion of unpleasant substances), and happiness (success in goal pursuit). The neurobiological mechanisms that cause these states to arise are now well understood and can actually be seen by brain imaging techniques as people experience them.
The immediate emotions that employees in organizations during this period have experienced include fear of layoff or from the implications of salary cuts, sadness when their friends have been let go or from having to take lower level reassignments, anger from having career and life goals seemingly further out of reach and if the executives are perceived at having enriched themselves at the expense of others, disgust. There is also a well-document notion of survivor guilt, a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can come from the happiness of not losing your job, while those around you have fallen, making you feel as though you somehow bear some responsibility.
The humans mind has evolved beyond primitive real-time underlying emotional mechanisms and one part of that evolution is our ability to create mental models which allow us to think emotionally about things in the past and to anticipate the emotions we may experience regarding future events. For instance a feeling of depression or feeling low can be achieved simply by thinking of negative events that we experienced in the past and how many times have you heard the line “imagine yourself in a happier place” as a way to get people beyond the emotions they may be currently experiencing.
Emotional problems and mental illness can occur when our modeling of past or future events are interpreted by our bodies as immediate and real, and our bodies react accordingly, never switching off the emotional thrusters, if you will. Some therapies for treating anxiety or depression focus not only on the emotional state itself, but on the individual mental model which allows those emotions to become all encompassing. If you can control the mental model you will be better able to control the emotions it engenders. As an example one treatment for survivor’s guilt in the workplace involves helping people come to the realization that they are not the reason why others have lost their jobs and that they too are suffering. Once their own suffering is recognized, they can come to grips with it and move on with their lives.
As an aside, because I am writing part of this on Valentine’s Day, in contrast “love” is typically thought about as having 3 separate biochemical processes which act in concert rather than as an underlying emotional state. One part is arousal or the sex drive, which causes you to seek out potential mating partners. Another is the feeling of “love” which has been tied to levels of cortisol, which kick in during stressful situations and possibly to serotonin. Lower levels of serotonin can cause obsessive thinking and both of these hormones together focus your attention on one person at a time. In addition, the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, are released during orgasm, and can make you feel deeply attached to or responsible for the person you are with. The third component or mechanism attributing to the feeling of love is attachment, and while the underlying hormonal process there is unknown, the mechanism creates an ability to tolerate another person long enough to have offspring and possibly raise them until they can be independent. When a person says they love their job, it would be very interesting to measure their hormone levels at work and see if any similar chemicals are released during the work day.
Emotional distress is not an isolated event which only a few people experience and even though many are uncomfortable talking about it, a new study that aimed to estimate what percent of the population suffered from either depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence or marijuana dependence for at least a brief period, found that 60% of the population, a majority, experienced symptoms that rose to the level of benefiting from treatment by the age of 32. By middle age that number is likely to be even higher. There is no reason to assume that the percentages for people in the workplace would be any different.
It was also found that the most of those sufferers recovered after a brief period either on their own or with professionally administered treatment. Emotional distress and some mental illnesses, rather than commonly thought of as affecting a small portion of the population, stigmatizing them with a life-long affliction, would be more accurately described as a passing cold, at some point in your life you will likely get it, but then are very likely to get over it. The study’s author stated, “Like flu, if you follow a cohort of people born in the same year, as they age almost all of them will sooner or later have a serious bout of depression, anxiety or a substance abuse problem.”
Taking employee’s emotional states into consideration, an organization that desires to re-engage its employee population at this time has at a minimum the following options at its disposal:
- If the senior management team has lost all credibility with the employee population, this may be a good time for them to retire and for succession plans to kick in.
- The distress the employees have gone through should be publically recognized and discussed. At the same time the stress the organization has experienced should be recognized along with the steps taken to improve the resiliency of the organization from a reoccurrence.
- Counseling should be given to those employees who would benefit from treatment.
- The organization should work to restore employee confidence in its functioning including:
- improving internal functioning, changing and modernizing the way the work gets done
- create more competitive products that are attractive and in demand within its markets
- describe the level of job security the remaining employees have and the conditions that would allow that security to be maintained
- describe a compelling vision of employees personal futures creating a model of the future that breaks with the negative emotions that may be swirling
- build career security for the employees by providing training and development opportunities that are transferable to other organizations, building self-confidence.
- Listen to employees, though feedback mechanisms such as skip-level interviews and employee surveys, open channels of communications that you may have closed during the recession.
- Create a social communities within the organization to help bring the employees together, allowing them to support each other.
- Provide the employees with the tools, resources, information, training etc. that they need to succeed and thrive within the new organizational environment.
Much of the emotional distress that employees are experiencing will heal fairly rapidly as people tend to be resilient, and if given the right conditions that allow them to behave in a resilient fashion, most will be able to rise to the challenge. Both the organization and the employees have a role to play in assuring organizational success and the best path forward is to transparently discuss the past events as well as the future vision of what the organization can become, and then acting vigorously on that vision.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: http://www.orgvitality.com
During the warring states period in China 2300 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of Strategy, a military guide to be used to help insure victory on the battle field. There was much fodder for Sun Tzu to pull from, for in this time period in China’s history there were more than 300 wars between the independent states of China and the ruling dynasty at the time, the Chou. His premise was that proper preparation and planning is the essence of victory and that a true victory is achieved by correct tactical positioning. This enables easier victories and to avert much destructive conflict. He stated in his treatise, “Those who win one hundred triumphs in one hundred conflicts do not have supreme skill. Those who have supreme skill use strategy to bend others without coming to conflict.”
With 300 wars being fought in this time period it would seem that those thoughts were more aspiration than reality or perhaps it signaled an acute shortage of “supreme skill”. But regardless, his work has been widely read and reinterpreted by those in business as a guideline to building successful and competitive organizations. A theme in Sun Tzu’s work that strikes me as central to his philosophy and approach is the strong notion of centralized command and control.
During the time of Sun Tzu, if you wanted to send a message (something more complex than the lighting of a fire or smoke from a signal tower) from one commander to another, the best you could do was a fast rider on horseback, hoping that the currier made it to the intended location. It would be unheard of for soldiers to plan out any strategy among themselves. You took care of your soldiers, you organized them, you trained them, you fed them, and you tried to keep them alive in combat because that way they were a reusable resource and the other soldiers did not desert, but you did not have them discuss strategy, you did not listen to the common foot soldier, they were considered pawns to be moved around, deployed or spent to the greatest advantage of the strategist.
Many organizations today conduct themselves in a similar fashion. Not seeing employees as the path by which success is achieved, but seeing employees merely as pieces that are employed or deployed for the achievement of the organization’s goals, goals that may or may not be widely accepted by all within the organization. I have to wonder, did social networks exist within the military during Sun Tzu’s time? Of course they did.
Social networks are nothing new. Organizations themselves arose as social networks allowing for groups to accomplish what individuals alone could not. Extended families are social networks, a community is a social network, a church, mosque, or synagogue is a social network as is a military organization, a business, a school or other group coming together for particular purposes. Customers of a product or service are simply another form of social network when they communicate together or share experiences surrounding the purchase of the product or service.
Power (position power or influence) within traditional networks often accumulates to those that controlled the flow of information. Think of those within a religion who would communicate as a go-between between you and your god(s) or a military commander who knew the battle plan and let others know on a “need-to-know” basis. Similarly, find those within business organizations who have their fingers on the “pulse” of the organization, what is going on across the organization and you will have found people with real power within the organization.
There are those within business organizations who are concerned that the social networks that are evolving today represent a threat to the organization. Organizations traditionally liked to control the flow of information as a one-way conduit, from those in control to those who needed to know or execute (centralized command and control). Tightly controlling what information your employees see about the organization, what your customers know about your products, services or cost structure, what your investors know about issues facing the organization etc. is a traditional path of centralizing organizational power.
Those who practice these methods feel threatened by the emerging social networks for they see them as using mechanisms that traditionalists believe will erode their power over the various constituency groups that interact with the organization. Rather than embracing social networks and determining how to leverage this new found technology they seek to control it, to limit its potential impact on the organization, or to specifically shape it to their own purposes. It seems that every time a new technology comes along there are those who don’t see its usefulness or seek to inappropriately control it. I think over the long run organizational power will not be eroded by social networks, just as organizational power was not eroded by the telephone when it came upon the scene, it will just be different and those who get to the point of understanding those differences first and how to effectively use those networks will come out ahead.
More traditional social networks grow somewhat ephemeral as distance between the members grows. Different parts of an extended network often become something other than what the original was about, as new practices and beliefs arise or local challenges are faced. Like distant cousins in your familial social network, you may know of their existence, but it becomes more and more difficult to accomplish a goal (such as the annual family reunion) as distance between the members of the social network increase.
Additional challenges with traditional large scale social networks come about because of communications limitations (clarity, timeliness, saliency of etc.) and with that our inability to organize appropriately those with needed skills and talents to deal with specific issues that arise. It is one thing to feel part of an organization, or a social network, it is another for that social network to consistently self-organize to deal successfully and quickly with specific challenges that the network is facing.
Times, it seems, might be changing, driven by something that the world has never seen before – self-organizing social networks that appear capable of working across distances, coming together to solve a problem and then just as quickly melting away. We are just at the forefront of understanding the potential power here and how best to utilize these capabilities, but the science, techniques and capabilities of these social networks are moving so fast that suffice it to say that any organization that is not making use of them today is lagging and within a few short years will unlikely be able to catch up to competitor organizations that are. The technology is also changing so rapidly that it is very difficult to surmise what kinds of social networks will be in use and most beneficial to organizations within a few short years, but waiting to see what happens at this point rather than jumping in and experimenting is extremely short-sighted.
Case in point, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funds some really neat cutting edge research, held a contest to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the internet. The moment of birth of the internet is considered to be the point in time when the first email was sent over Arpanet, a forerunner to the Internet. With just a few days advanced notice for groups to get organized, for six hours, on December 5th, 2009, ten large red floating balloons were tethered at various points around the nation. The first person or group to correctly report the latitude and longitude of all ten balloons won $40,000. No rules, no guidelines. The idea was to study how self-forming teams might emerge to solve problems using social networks.
Many groups formed. Some used Twitter, some Facebook, others created their own websites. Some of these groups appealed to altruistic motives, urging people to report their sightings so that the prize money could be donated to AIDS research, the Firefighters Scholarship Fund, or other worthy causes. Other groups stated that they would give a portion of the prize money to those who reported sightings correctly, appealing to people’s desire to put money in their own pockets. In the space of nine hours a group from MIT submitted the winning information. Was their winning strategy to appeal to people’s nobility, their desire to support worthy causes, or to people’s desire to put some cash in their own pockets?
Well, as might be predicted, cash in one’s own pocket triumphed over altruistic motives. (And there are still those who insist that salary, what people get paid to work in organizations is not a motivator, that other factors are important. Other factors are important, but only after you get paid what you consider to be a fair amount). But the victors from MIT had an interesting twist to how they created their social network. Some of the networks that arose to compete for the prize money simply stated that should you provide a correct positioning for one of the balloons you would receive “x” amount of dollars, but the folks from MIT added a higher order social networking strategy to that approach.
Their website said, “We’re giving $2,000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that’s not all — we’re also giving $1,000 to the person who invited them. Then we’re giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on…”. A first order solution here is to provide the correct coordinates yourself resulting in the largest amount of money in your pocket, but a second order solution which will also provide money in your pocket is to refer the person to the contest who provided the correct coordinates and so on. This rewards the behavior you really want to have people report on, the correct coordinates, but also to refer people to the social network, so that it is expanding, creating a greater likelihood that this social network becomes the victor. Remember, you get the behaviors that you reward. As you set up social networks of your own, or desire to motivate certain behaviors ask yourself what you are rewarding. Not what you say you are rewarding or what you aspire to reward but what behaviors are you actually rewarding.
Times are changing, specifically, how we interact with each other, not just locally but globally. These are exciting times and those who are prepared and willing to take advantage of these social changes will likely benefit from them.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.