Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Unsupported by Evidence

leave a comment »

These myths continually seem to arise in the workplace. The one that especially attracted me right now is that chaos in an organization is somehow good for productivity and effectiveness. Of course it isn’t. Jeff

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

I was recently on a panel at a local meeting in NYC of Industrial Organizational Psychologists and after much discussion I made a statement. I said that as a field we have almost completely and utterly failed at bridging the gap between the science and research that we do, the evidence-based and experimental knowledge that we gain and those who are out there in the world writing about people at work or organizations in the lay press, or those in organizations, making day-to-day decisions about them which affect both the organizations and the people within them. After all most of the information about people at work is just “common sense” isn’t it? And I am a person and I work, so I guess that makes me an expert.

Unfortunately, much of that “common sense” is not supported by the facts and in some cases the facts support the opposite conclusion…

View original post 962 more words

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Outrage Fatigue

leave a comment »

These statements are my personal views and not necessarily the views of any other person at my company.

With another mass murder of children, this time at the Parkland, Florida high school and the response of this administration and many of those in Congress, I have reach the limits of my ability to be polite and to regard other points of view as legitimate. Weapons, designed for warfare and our military, capable of inflicting mass murder within a few seconds simply have no place in society. This should not be a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, this is simply a common-sense and decency issue. The removal of these weapons from our society should have happened a long time ago. The evidence is incontrovertible. Societies with more guns have more gun crime. Period. Households with guns have higher incidences of death, injuries or suicides then households without guns. The idea that you are an exception to that finding is a fantasy. The idea that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun is a fantasy. It is a fantasy, based on a mythology that has been perpetrated upon the American people, by people who have a financial stake in the perpetuation of that hero myth and by those who wish to see our society fall apart. It is more than time to take the gloves off and to stand up for what is right, for the hopes and aspirations of America, for the dreams that America once represented to the world, for what America is supposed to stand for.

Every day in the news we see continue evidence of a Trump administration whose malevolence is moderated only by its complete and sheer incompetence. If the administration had more competent bureaucrats, the speed at which they are damaging people, damaging our institutions, damaging our democracy, damaging our world standing and damaging our planet would be greatly magnified. Luckily the most competent people want nothing to do with this administration and are staying away. I am not the first one to make that statement.

The sheer volume, day-after-day of horrendous news, and the absolute stupidity of the decisions being made, the self-dealing, the self-enrichment, the refusal to deal with Russia that has all but declared open warfare on us, the attempt to decimate the free press and our legal and judicial institutions, the wanton elimination of regulation, the repudiation of science, the refusal to recognize climate change and global warming as a threat (and to work towards mitigating the threat), the repudiation of diplomacy, the repudiation of morality and justice, the embrace of neo-Nazi’s and the extreme right-wing, the kowtowing to the NRA, it simply boggles the imagination, and day after day those of us who care deeply about our country and this planet are feeling more and more outrage fatigue. How much longer can it go on before permanent damage is done? Trump and his ilk have become more than tiresome.

Those who work in this administration seemingly fall into one of four buckets. 1. they are drawn to power and are willing to do anything to be within the inner ring of power, to advance their own agendas, and/or enrich themselves, even if it means abandoning all their previously held principles; 2. some are simply racist, xenophobic/anti-immigrant, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ rights, or anti-Semitic and this administration’s views align with their own; 3. a few seem to see themselves as guardians, hoping to moderate this abomination of an administration and safeguard our democracy. The short-lived CEO panels, which were disbanded, seemingly fell into this latter category; or 4. they are career people who were in place well before this administration and see themselves as being there well after they are gone.

I am not bound by the Goldwater Rule (which prohibits psychiatric diagnosis without personally seeing a patient) for I am not a clinician. (The American Psychoanalytic Association has lifted the Goldwater Rule, the American Psychiatric Association has left it in place and I am a member of neither). I see no patients, but in addition to being the CEO of an organizational consulting company, I teach leadership in an MBA program, and let me be very clear Donald Trump would fail my class. In fact, in addition to his actions being a clear and present danger to the United States, he is a very clear example of how not to lead (and also how not to negotiate) and any of my students would be able to point-by-point describe why this is so.  Now I don’t think the fault is all under his control for I am quite convinced that his mental state has quite a bit to do with it.

Some psychiatrists and psychologists call Trump’s pattern of behavior Malevolent Narcissism, that is narcissism taken to a level that includes psychopathic tendencies and malevolent means that it causes harm to others. Others would use the term the Dark Triad which are a series of illnesses that are often co-morbid, meaning they tend to occur together. The Dark Triad consists of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Why do I think he is a clear and present danger to the United States? Let me take just one of those illnesses, the psychopathy as an example. Psychopaths have been shown to have a weaker or non-existent connection between the emotional center of the brain (the amygdala) and the centers of higher thought processes (the pre-frontal cortex).  Now not all psychopaths fall into a life of crime, but an unusually high percentage of those in prison would be diagnosed as psychopaths (utilizing the Hare checklist). What characteristics of a psychopath lead them to prison? Here are some common characteristics that psychopaths exhibit.

(WARNING: Just because you know someone who has some of these characteristics does not make them a psychopath. A clinician would say that these traits must rise to a level where they interfere with day-to-day functioning to be pathological).

  • Exploitive, opportunistic, can be successful in life, but often that success is short-lived
  • Take credit for others successes, but blame others for failures
  • They can be charismatic and persuasive
  • Pay a lot of attention to their appearance, with a desire to look attractive
  • Aggression, racism, bullying is often evident
  • Assertiveness, dominance, self-importance, self-aggrandizement
  • Limited self-control, higher risk taking, short-duration marriages and multiple spouses or multiple affairs
  • Low scores on honesty and humility with high scores on greediness
  • Psychopaths are notorious for a lack of emotion and empathy, the ability to understand right from wrong or to understand the emotions that someone else is feeling
  • And, those with these traits generally lack self-awareness – the ability to see how their behavior is perceived by others.

With no ability to determine right from wrong, no inherent morality, throw in a lack of self-control and a good dose of greediness and it becomes easy to see how this illness can lead to a life of crime.  It is sometimes difficult for a non-clinical person to really understand a phrase like “no ability to determine right from wrong”. It is not that they choose not to, it is that the psychopath literally can’t. If faced with a clearly moral choice and a clearly immoral choice (and no external clues, or intellectual experience with a similar choice) the psychopath would simply be unable to pick the morally correct thing to do. It just does not compute to them. Psychopaths can be quite smart, or not, but those who are smart can be even more of a danger. As Warren Buffet states when he picks people to work for him (paraphrased), “they have to have integrity and intelligence, and if the don’t have the first the second one will kill you”.

Now, I know quite a few people (clinicians and other psychologists) who feel that we should not label our current president as mentally ill. Some of them feel that mental illness has enough stigma already and to use that as a reason to remove the president would be to simply increase that stigma. Their feeling is that he should be removed for the actions he takes and not his mental state. Those of you who are old enough to remember, just before Nixon resigned, his mental state and his drinking was such that the defense secretary told the military not to carry out any orders for a military or nuclear strike without the approval of the defense secretary, which was unconstitutional, but may have saved us from a nuclear holocaust. Nothing like a good war to take the nation’s mind off of impeachment, in a Wag-the-Dog fashion.

A good portion of people have at some point in their lives short-term mental illness from which they recover. For instance, it is quite normal to be depressed at the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or from some other traumatic event. It can be like having the flu, it can knock you down for a period of time. And at any point in time 6% of the population is suffering from some level of depression. Depression becomes problematic when there is no recovery after a period of time and it interferes ongoing with day-to-day life.  Today most people can recover from depression or anxiety (also 6% incidence), with proper treatment.

The question though, should someone, the most powerful person on this planet, someone who can, at the push of a button, destroy this planet, (as much as I throw-up into my mouth when I think about that), be held to the same standard as anybody on the street? Are the risks simply too high?  To me the answer is “yes” the risks are too high. This current president represents a danger to us all, a danger to our children, a danger to our grandchildren, a danger to life on earth. I am not being dramatic. Clearly a full mental evaluation is in order for a mentally healthy person would simply not act in the manner of this current president.

With incident after incident, with each news cycle bringing more absurdity and each absurdity generating outrage, outrage fatigue sets in easily. My father, though he usually did not want to talk about it, at times told me stories about how during WWII in France and in Germany the level of fatigue he felt was unbearable. But he persevered, because the alternative was even more unbearable.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 18, 2018 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Ethics, Human Behavior

No Fear

leave a comment »

The Largest Number Of Scientists In Modern U.S. History Is Running For Office In 2018 – Huffington Post – 2/3/18 -Hopefully the start of a rollback to the current administration’s notion that ignorance is good and science can be ignored.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Humans are fearful creatures. We can’t help it, we evolved that way to help us survive. When a pre-technological human was kneeling by a stream to get a drink of water and there was rustling in the nearby trees, the human assumed that the unexpected noise was a potential threat and immediately took up a series of defensive moves. The assumption of threat is called the intentional stance, and is the idea that until proven otherwise, the human assumes that the noise was not the mere rustling of the wind, but rather that the noise was created by some creature or agent, potentially a creature or agent with intent, perhaps with the intent to eat you or cause harm. Even today, we very often assume intelligent or purposeful intent to what are random or statistically meaningless events. The assumption of intelligent intent means that a random or statistically meaningless event…

View original post 1,427 more words

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

Define Yourself, Define the Organization, Define the World

leave a comment »

Having a mission, a sense of purpose about one’s activities has almost always proven to be a path towards generating higher levels of personal pride. Whether that pride is about your activities, your beliefs, an organization you work for, or some other facet of your day-to-day life.

Having a higher purpose mission is one way in which we define ourselves.  A nurse or doctor is helping the sick and maintaining health, a teaching is preparing the next generation, while students are preparing to take their places in our societies, a police officer is bringing safety and security to our neighborhoods, a firefighter is saving lives and property, a sanitation worker is keeping our cities and towns clean and livable, a craftsperson revels in the quality of their work. The list is potentially endless and each person, no matter their role in our society strives to define their place, their sense of purpose. Those who achieve a positive sense of purpose, I would argue, end up not only scoring higher on pride scales, but also in general life happiness.

Those who struggle with a sense of purpose to their lives, struggle on many other fronts as well. The good news is that people can change how they define themselves, their sense of purpose, over time. Someone who is struggling with that sense of purpose, either on their own or with assistance, can achieve a renewed sense of purpose and live a more fulfilling life.

A body of research has now shown that if you can encourage people to think along the lines of how they define themselves, it is more likely to lead to them taking action congruent with that definition, than if they think about just the action specifically. Christopher Bryan, a psychologist at Stanford University, has conducted a series of experiments on a variety of topics that makes this point. For instance, getting someone into the mindset that they are a voter, a participant in our democracy, increases the likelihood that they will vote over simply getting a commitment from a similar person to vote in next week’s election. Likewise getting someone to define themselves as a person who recycles, increases that behavior over simply asking people to engage in and getting them to commit to recycling activities.

Now we know that “nudging” a voter or recycler to engage in those activities also increases the likelihood of action being taken. An example of a voting nudge would be to as specifically as possible get someone to plan out how they will actually cast that ballot. So for instance, planning out how will they get to the polling station, which if any identification is required and locating that identification, or obtaining it ahead of time, determining what time of day they will vote, putting it on their calendar, arranging for childcare if necessary, etc. In other words helping the person visualize and plan out each step necessary to successfully carry out the behavior is more likely to result in the behavior being carried out. As it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, getting them to define themselves as a voter in the first place has additional benefit, increasing the likelihood of a vote taking place.

In the organizational world, if you want to change the trajectory that an organization is on, it can be very important to change the actual behaviors that people engage in. In other words, for example, if you are trying to improve quality, and all you do is try to change attitudes towards quality, hoping that the old behaviors that led to quality problems will resolve themselves, what tends to happen is that the old behaviors override the attitudinal changes you are working upon and the old behaviors reinforce the old attitudes. That approach is like pushing a large boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down time after time. Rather, it is more effective to begin with some of the behaviors that are causing the poor quality to emerge, change them by showing, teaching, modifying, measuring etc. the specific behaviors, while at the same time working to modify the attitudes around what is acceptable quality.

And now a new additional potential step that can help insure success, work at the very beginning to have people join your quality journey and sign onto defining their mission their sense of purpose to create high quality.  So:


  1. Change the mindset, the definition of purpose/mission
    • Think of these as nouns – I am a voter, I am a recycler, I am a quality fiend
  2. Change the behaviors
    • Think of these as verbs – I vote, I recycle
  3. Change the attitudes
    • Think of these as outcomes, as mindsets and behaviors change attitudes will often follow.

Now how can we scale this up? Say our existence on this planet was faced with a challenge. The planet is warming and this will have all sorts of negative consequences. There is climate change and increased instability in the atmosphere (due to increases in atmospheric energy), there are changes coming in ocean salinity which can change ocean current patterns with which we are familiar as well as change the ocean’s habitability to current life forms, the artic permafrost is melting which has the potential to place unimaginable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, as well as allowing long dormant bacteria and viruses to reemerge. Rising sea levels threaten coastal locations as well as numerous islands. The list of other really negative consequences to global warming is long, including threatening humanity’s very existence.

Our ability to take action on a global scale up to this point has been limited. Even though the United States is currently the only nation on the planet – think about it,  the only nation on the planet, that has walked away from a treaty that is a first attempt to wrestle this problem to the ground. Previous attempts in the USA have focused on changing behaviors and while that is extremely important, it is not perhaps where we should have started.

Ever wonder why school kids are so concerned, so impassioned about climate change, even when their parents may take on a less concerned, or less action oriented stance? They may feel, “after all, what can one person do” or they may not believe the science. But the kids have a different mindset. They think about themselves as stewards of the planet and the creatures that live upon it. Changing to this steward mindset among the majority of adults can be a beneficial first step to getting people and organizations to change behaviors. The only question is it too late?

The potential of applying mindset/mission/purpose definitions to all kinds of problems is there and the potential benefits are great. The motivation and/or resources to do so may be lacking.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 25, 2018 at 8:10 pm

Lies, Lying and those who Listen

leave a comment »

With the abundance of lies coming out of Washington and the seemingly nonchalance reaction by much of the electorate, it is good to revisit how people get acclimatized to the act of lying.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Something smells. Did you ever walk into a room with a fairly strong smell, but then after a while you fail to notice the odor? Your sense of smell comes from a combination of your nose and brain working in unison. The receptors in your nose fire, which ones fire depends on the specific smell, and sends signals, which are interpreted by your brain. A human can become acclimated to a constant smell after it has been detected by the nose, and analyzed by the brain, a process called sensory adaptation.

A recent study by Neil Garrett and Tali Sharot at the University College of London shows that small lies can become big lies in a somewhat similar fashion. In a nutshell, people were induced to lie (in a self-motivated scenario – meaning they did not have to lie) and as they lied they underwent a functional MRI, which monitored…

View original post 652 more words

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2017 at 7:22 am

Behavior Attitude or Attitude Behavior

leave a comment »

If you wonder how good people can shift their attitudes to those that would previously be anathema to them, he is one possibility. But of course the reverse is true as well. If can can positively change behaviors, attitudes often follow.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

One consulting project took place in a very remote corner of South East Asia. We were there to do an employee survey whose aim was to improve organizational effectiveness. There were several thousand employees at this remote location and the employee base was a mixture of local tribes, tribes from other parts of South East Asia and American expatriates. This location was probably the closest I would ever come to living in a small American town circa 1950, as the company had reproduced a facsimile complete with schools, infirmary, bowling alleys, theater, golf course, grocery stores, and barber shop with a stripped pole in front, country club with Olympic sized pool and cafeteria/mess hall. There was street after palm tree lined street of bungalows in which families lived and there were guest bungalows for visitors. Each bungalow had a screened-in front porch in which you could rock in comfortable wicker…

View original post 1,269 more words

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 21, 2017 at 4:07 am

The Forecaster’s Dilemma

leave a comment »

Most of us spend a good deal of time making forecasts or predictions along the lines of “if I do X, the outcome will be Y”. What activities or set of behaviors will make me lose weight, get my child accepted into college, will set me up for a comfortable retirement, will keep the dog from barking in the middle of the night, will get me that promotion or raise…and on and on. Whole industries have sprung up to help people, to guide them (or fleece them) as they struggle with these decisions.

Organizational leaders continually search for insight into which decisions, or even more challenging which set of decisions will lead to organizational success. What products do we bring to market, do we grow organically or through acquisition, do we hire or reorganize, what will be most effective in generating sales or increased profit, what goals are in fact the right goals to be chasing…and on and on. Whole industries have sprung up to help organizations, to guide them, (or fleece them) as they struggle with these decisions.

When the National Weather Service (NWS) sees a set of conditions, they issue various kinds of warnings. For instance, a Heat Advisory is issued when temperatures are significantly above normal and the humidity is high. Along with a Heat Advisory often comes a suggestion, that older people should stay indoors, as the prediction is that older people are more susceptible to ill effects from high heat and humidity and are more at risk. Invariably the emergency rooms fill with older people who fall ill during a heat wave. In 2006, professors at Kent State University looked into this and found that while 90% of the older people knew the dangers associated with high heat and humidity, the older people who ignored the advice did so either because they 1. did not consider themselves old, or 2. thought that they belonged to a special class, were an exception, whereby the general rule did not apply in their particular circumstance.

So, the obvious solution for the NWS is to get more specific, right? Tell people that if you are older than 65 you should stay in the air conditioning during the weather event. So, what do the forecastors say when lots of 64-year old’s get ill or 66-year old’s do not? The more specific the prediction, if X is done, Y will be the outcome, the less accurate the prediction will be, but the more general the prediction the more likely it will be subject to various interpretations by different people.

Most people want perfect knowledge, with absolute answers, if you do X, Y will happen. But scientists know the dilemma they are facing, and the scientific method is to talk about tendencies and confidence limits, building error into the answers and knowing that as specificity gets higher the likelihood of being accurate in all circumstances gets lower. Science is about the preponderance of evidence, not any one study. Giving undue credence to specificity is a natural human bias and specificity itself is very attractive. Scott Highhouse, at Bowling Green University, ran a series of experiments looking at what kind of descriptions people give more credence to. Those with more specificity, more detail, were inherently thought to be more accurate. For instance, which outcome do you feel is more likely? 1. New York City will flood again. Or 2.  New York City will flood again, due to global warming and the more frequent occurrence of severe weather, such as super storm Sandy.  You are invariably drawn to number two, even though a simple Venn diagram will show that number two is a subset of number one and hence mathematically is less likely to happen. (And you are drawn to number two even though I told you the answer prior to showing you the statements. It is a very powerful effect.)

Smoking causes lung cancer, except I can find the individual who smoked their whole life and did not get cancer, or I can find someone who never smoked and got it. People, even while knowing the overall likelihood of getting lung cancer is much higher in smokers than non-smokers, will hang onto the notion that they are an exception to the rule, for that is how they deal with the cognitive dissonance that their smoking causes (attitudes usually follow behaviors). Smokers who have trouble quitting will tend to assume that they belong to that exceptional group, the lifelong smokers who don’t get lung cancer. Do they really feel that way, or deep down inside do they recognize that they are likely not exceptional and the odds are against them? If people did not have that built in bias, that somehow, they would beat the odds, lotteries and gambling would not be as successful as they are.

The older people who ignored the National Weather Service advice also had a definitional problem. Defining old. Definitional problems are very common. In 2008, Jeff Jolton and I looked at how various groups defined ethics within an organization. What we found is that the definition of what is ethical behavior or unethical behavior varied by occupation and level. Blue collar workers tended to define ethics as personal treatment and was relationship driven. Benefit cuts, layoffs, schedule changes, who got promotions or training opportunities would fall into that definition of ethics. As you moved into professional occupations within the organization ethics was defined more by walking the talk, the organization doing what they said they were going to do. In managerial occupations ethics tended to be defined by contractual obligations, either being fulfilled or not, and at the higher levels the definition zeroed in on violations of the law. So, when an organization in their values statement says, “We will do our work with the highest degree of ethics and integrity”, (and many of them say something like that), what does it mean to a typical employee?

In American today there is a great divide, and a corresponding need for people of differing political points of view to talk to each other to get past the profound challenges we are currently facing (many of them of our own making). The challenges defined above, the Forecaster’s Dilemma, about how differently people can view the same circumstance makes getting past our challenges more difficult.

For instance, would a racist (or other assorted bigoted types) know they are racist (or homophobic, or misogynist, or xenophobic etc.)? The short answer is likely to be somewhat unsatisfying. Perhaps, perhaps not. Those today, who march under Nazi banners, or along with white supremacist flags or a confederate flag certainly know what they are doing, for it is not an unconscious act. But all of the issues above can come into play. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia etc. are not binary conditions, they exist along a continuum. What is racist to one person is not racist to another, so there is a definitional problem. Remember Archie Bunker? He would sit there in his lounge chair blithely unawares that he was racist, misogynist (even though occasionally, Edith put him in his place), and xenophobic. There are a lot of Archie Bunkers out there.  And there is the exceptionalism problem, that somehow the definition of racism or other characteristic simply doesn’t apply because of special circumstance.

Can we forecast which set of behaviors we can undertake to make us a more cohesive, less divided society? A society which respects and values each of us regardless of our individually unique backgrounds? I do know one thing. If we don’t try, we are guaranteed to fail.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

September 25, 2017 at 10:30 am

Posted in Human Behavior

%d bloggers like this: