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Enhancing Organizational Performance

The Forecaster’s Dilemma

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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

Dreamers – note to staff

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Tomorrow, is likely to prove to be a critical day for DACA children, or Dreamers as they are called. These are undocumented children who were brought to the USA by their parents at an average age of 6. They grew up here, went to school here and many are now working here. You would be very hard pressed to distinguish most of them from any American kid, for the USA is the only home they have a memory of and the only home they know. There are almost 800,000 of them. The current US administration is likely to cancel their protection from deportation and they will be at risk for being deported to their parent’s home countries. Collectively today it is estimated that they contribute close to 500 billion dollars to the USA economy and 25 billion dollars in Social Security and Medicare payments. But the reason to be against this action has nothing to do with the amount they contribute to our economy and everything to do with what is the morally proper action to be taking. These children committed no crime. They took no action against our country. They should be considered an asset rather than a liability. They register annually with the government and pay a $500 annual paperwork fee. This action which the WH will likely take tomorrow is reprehensible, and it will destroy the lives of 800,000 people who were brought here by others, through no actions of their own.

Today as the CEO of OrgVitality, I added my name to the list of other CEO’s who feel the same way I do and are encouraging the WH not to take this action. The link below will take you to the full text of the letter. Other CEO’s who have added their names to the list include several of our client companies, potential client companies and suppliers  as well as two competitors. But I have to say even if none of the others had signed the letter I would have anyway. Thank you all for your time in reading this and your continued hard work and efforts. Jeff



Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

September 4, 2017 at 9:52 pm

Are people your most important asset?

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After yesterday’s reveal of the true heart of the president, CEO’s who are in any way, shape, or form associated with this administration, on various advisory councils for instance, have to ask themselves, “how will you look your employees in the eye this morning and honestly tell them that they are an important asset for your company – that you value them?”

In normal times being asked to serve on a president’s advisory council is ego inflating (even for a CEO), is something that you can’t say no to, and is a great honor. But these are not normal times.  Those who continue to claim that maintaining that “seat at the table” in order to influence events are deluding themselves that they will have an impact. The backlash that will begin to effect their organizations as employees question why the relationship continues and as customers distance themselves from companies supporting this administration’s repugnant positions is only going to build.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at some research findings. Over the years much research has been done on what enables an organization to legitimately excel. Some findings you should pay attention to:

  • All others thing being equal, a company with higher ratings on embracing diversity will outperform one with lower ratings
  • Employees are more willing to remain at companies and have higher opinions of companies that are seen as progressive on social issues, on environmental issues, on continuous improvement issues, on ethical issues
  • Consumers prefer to give their business to companies that are doing the “right things” and themselves want to be proud of the companies they associate with
  • Pride in one’s company drives a whole host of positive outcomes. Pride is driven by working for a company that serves a “higher purpose”, is a leader in its field, or is having a significant impact on its industry or the world. Being associated with regressive policies and practices will not foster pride.
  • Employee engagement, defined as a willingness to give discretionary effort, to go above and beyond to help the organization succeed, is often driven by a sense of being able to meet career goals and fairness of treatment, but also by respect for and other views towards leadership within the organization.

I could go on, but the point is, if you want your employees to believe you when you state that they are an important asset to the firm and you want them to have pride, to be engaged, and to act in a corresponding fashion, you must yourself act and behave in a manner that is worthy of their belief and respect.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 16, 2017 at 8:08 am

My thoughts about Charlottesville – Note to Staff

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“If you are not outraged you are not paying attention”. This was the last posting of Heather Heyer, the 32 year old paralegal who was killed in Charlottesville over the weekend as she protested against a group of Nazi’s, KKK members and white supremacists who themselves were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the confederate general from the Civil War. Nineteen others, some still in critical condition were wounded. My heart aches for this young woman and her family as well as those who were wounded.

The President of the United States could not bring himself to condemn specifically these hate groups for their terroristic actions and for causing the death of this woman as well as injuring many others. Rather he condemned violence on all sides. He was morally equating the Nazi’s, the KKK and white supremacists, 80% of whom, according to police estimates, were carrying guns, with a 32-year old paralegal marching for justice for all, who may have been carrying a sign. The first amendment to the constitution, freedom of speech, ran into the second amendment, the right to bear arms.  These hate groups have as their mission morally repugnant and reprehensible goals and equating them to people marching for justice is itself repugnant and reprehensible. Meanwhile the administration’s talking heads were using weasel words to shape what the president said into more acceptable formats. The only ones who were pleased with the president’s words were the Nazi’s, the KKK members and the white supremacists themselves, who, on their websites, celebrated what they saw as a tacit endorsement from the White House.  “If you are not outraged you are not paying attention”.

My father fought against the Nazi’s in WWII in the UK, in France and in Germany. He worked in a front-line medical facility. One reason he had six children after returning from the war was to say to the Nazi’s “up yours”, in response to their attempt to exterminate Jews.  One of my uncles, Izzy, lied about his age (he was 15) so he could enlist in the US Navy during that war. Another one of my uncles, Murray, marched with and was arrested with Martin Luther King and he was later appointed a commissioner on the US Civil Rights Commission by Gerald Ford. He wrote a very moving piece about a night in a Florida jail (in St. Augustine) where they all thought they were going to be killed by the police. Given that background you may say that I have a predisposed leaning towards socially progressive positions and you would be right, not simply because of that background, but because it is the right position to hold (I am a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and I have participated in a number of marches and protests since this last election). But the situation over the weekend has nothing to do with socially progressive positions and everything to do with American Values, aspirational though they may be.

The Nazi’s, the KKK and other white supremacists are inherently un-American. They are the lunatic fringe who were courted and given legitimacy by our current president. The mainstreaming of their agenda must be resisted. What actions will we take a company? As a company we will not be engaging in any work that supports this administration. Walter for instance came across an opportunity to bid on a Executive Service Level selection system aimed at filling all the vacancies in top positions within the Federal Government.  We walked away from that opportunity and will continue to do so with any others that would further the success of this administration’s repugnant agenda.  You are certainly free to choose your own path, but on a personal level, I will continue to support the groups I believe in and will continue to march in opposition to a WH agenda that looks to undo the progress we as a nation have made on protecting our Most Vulnerable, on Civil Rights, on Protecting our Environment, on Immigration, on Health Care, on Protecting Consumers, and on Science itself. I have no interest in returning to a fictionalized past of greatness that in most respects was not great, but lots of interest in moving forward to a bright future for all.


Warmest Regards,



Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 14, 2017 at 9:55 am


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There is a question that floats around out there, it goes something like this: “If everything in the universe can be described by physical laws and mathematical equations, how is the universe any different than a computer program or a simulation/computer game?”  The answer is that it is not. But there are subtleties and nuances in there and reactions are varied.

One reaction that I have heard from physicists is “why is that an interesting question?” The physicist is trying to understand the laws and equations, and those goals are independent of discovering whose computer our universe is running upon, a more philosophical and perhaps unanswerable question, for you would have to look outside of our universe for that answer. You immediately bump right up into religious notions. For instance, what would be the difference if we were a simulation, simply an advanced program (maybe not so advanced), running on some alien teenager’s bedroom computer and god? From our perspective, there would not be any, for that alien teenager would have all of the capabilities of a god. (Alt-Ctrl-Delete).

Another reaction is that what we are doing when we humans are programming is trying to mimic (not necessarily intentionally and of course in a very limited fashion so far), rules that govern our universe, or at least our corner of the universe. And in that we have no choice, since those are the laws. So, it is not that we are a simulation, but rather that we (and our math, our physical limitations and by extension our programs/simulations), are governed by the same laws that govern all things in the universe. 1+1 must always equal 2. The initial question then is in essence somewhat backwards. It is not that we are the same as a program, a simulation, it is that our programs need to abide by the laws and properties that govern all things.

There are a number of physical constants (e.g. the speed of light) with somewhat arbitrary values that define how our universe operates, and if some of them were different we would not be here to have this discussion, for it would have been impossible for stars to coalesce, for life to emerge. This state of affairs gives rise to what is called the Anthropic Principle, which says that the fact of our existence, beings that can measure these physical constants, requires those constants to be such that beings like us can exist. In other words, we perceive reality, because we are here to measure it. There could have been or there could be right now an infinite number of universes, with different physical constants, and life would emerge only in certain universes and only under certain conditions. We drew the lucky straw. So, a third reaction is to respond with a “why does this matter”? A variation on the first reaction above. We have to live in our world, our universe as defined, so let’s get on with it. It’s properties, rules and laws are what they are. We are not capable of looking outside the box, so live with it, and get on with it. Reality is reality.

Reality is reality. Simple phrase but our human perception of reality is subject to constant manipulation by others, to innate biases, driven by evolution and by learned response, to limited sensors, like our eyes, ears, our sense of touch, smell and proprioception and of course to our very limited and flawed processing center, our brain. Human perceptions of reality are very different than the measured physical realities that shape our universe. Maybe that is pointing out a flaw in the English language, with the word reality itself. Maybe it is too simplistic of a concept, given the challenges of determining the reality that humans have. Your perception of reality, my perception of reality is very often different from another’s perceptions of reality, and all three are very likely different from actual reality. And each of us, of course, assumes that our perception of reality is the correct one. The first step towards perceiving reality more accurately is to be aware of our shared human short-comings and foibles.

I assume that at least some of you have seen the monkey business illusion. If not, you can watch it here It nicely illustrates how easy it is for each of us to miss what is right there staring at us, to misinterpret reality.

In order to make good decisions and come to correct conclusions, humans must be able to overcome their inherent processing deficits, not giving into innate or shaped biases, and not being persuaded by the latest PT Barnum that comes onto the scene, simply saying what you want to hear rather than what is real. Decisions need to be based on data, on scientifically derived facts and on sound judgments.

When it comes to intuition’s role, or gut instinct on sound judgments, Herb Simon, the economist, studied and defined intuition as coming from the repetition associated with practice. Meaning that intuition is actually recognition of a situation that the decision-maker has experienced before. There is no such thing as simply having good instincts. Good instincts are borne out of training and experience.

Meanwhile, Phil Tetlock and his Good Judgement project have developed techniques that have been repeatedly shown to lead to more accurate predictions and better decision-making. Among the techniques is the ability and willingness to continuous take in new information and to use that new information to modify your predictions and decisions.

Other research has repeatedly shown what is all too obvious today. People tend to seek out and absorb only information that supports their existing points of view and to reject as “false” any information that does not support their preconceived notions. Simply put, this tendency flies in the face of everything we know about how to make good decisions and has people believing realities that are based on missing or skewed information.

Bottom-line? People can improve their ability to perceive what is real and what is false and by extension their decision-making. Among the techniques that can help are basing decisions on data and science, practicing decision-making techniques, being open to new concepts and ideas, and a willingness to recognize human’s inherent short-comings when it comes to perceiving reality.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 28, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Strategic Choice or Desperation

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If you are bewildered by how Trump’s cabinet can sing his praises while lurching from one scandal to another, this piece about the power and draw of the “inner ring” might help explain. From CS Lewis – Interestingly, CS Lewis challenged Sigmund Freud’s dogma that the sex drive is the strongest drive that humans have and suggested that the desire to be part of the “in” group the Inner Ring is stronger.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Why would a dictator gas his own people? The answer may not be what you think. In Syria’s brutal civil war it has been documented that there have been atrocities on both sides. One particular atrocity, the gassing of the civilian population with hundreds of children dying gruesomely stands out. The USA’s reaction to this has finally gotten Syria to admit that it has chemical weapons and though it denies being the source of the attack the evidence in the media is pretty persuasive that the Syrian government is gassing its own population. Syria’s denials take the form of logic rather than evidence. They pose the question, why would we gas people in locations where our own troops could be affected? That question presupposes that Syria cares enough about their own troops not to expose them to gas, which is a dubious assumption, but it is also misdirection from the…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 13, 2017 at 7:42 am

The Air We Breathe

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I should be working on a proposal tonight (it is due soon), for that represents the future of my company. But I decided I needed to take a break and write about the future of the planet, for that is much more important. Today, the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, which aligns us with the other 2 countries in the world which also don’t participate – Syria and Nicaragua. So now we are similar to two other outstanding pillars of the global community. Syria, which is really no longer functioning as a country, Nicaragua and the United States now share similar pedigrees. But the reason to do something, to behave in a certain way, should not be driven by simply what everyone else is doing, it should be driven by scientific evidence, by fact and by reasoned thinking, three areas which have recently taken a beating by the leadership of the USA.

But let’s take a step back and look at what we know about what people around the world want. These tend to be universal findings and there is no or little difference when you examine these results by region, culture or other demographics you care to. In literally thousands of studies commissioned by companies who wanted to know what their employees want, what motivates them, some common patterns emerge. These patterns are pretty easily transferred beyond the workplace to what people in general desire.

What do employees want?

I can go on and list some other things, but fundamentally this list covers the vast majority, the basics of what is important. You can substitute the word “employees” with “people”. Let’s look at the more fundamental things an employee or a citizen might want and not even consider to be debatable. Just what are the basics of what a citizen of a country should expect?

Should you be given air to breathe? Many people would consider that to be a ludicrous question. Should you be given air to breathe? Get real, air is all around us no one can limit it.  But, what if you lived on Mars and air had to be manufactured or shipped in? What if you were viewed as a drag on the colony, a non-optimal performer. Should you be given air to breathe? Most people would still argue that death through asphyxia is not an appropriate punishment for poor performance. Maybe the leadership on Mars would work with you in an attempt to improve your performance before cutting off your oxygen supply.

Should you have access to clean water to drink? Like air, without water we would all die within a few days. Access to clean, potable water is fundamental to life.

Should you be given food to eat? For one congressman from Nebraska that answer to that question is no. He refused to answer the question whether everyone in the USA has a right to food. And that is really no different than air or water, except that it takes longer to die from no food. Presumably he feels that certain people who are not contributing to society as much as he is (and his contribution is certainly debatable in my mind), that they are not worthy of receiving food.

Let me take another step back and introduce you to John Rawls. He is a noted philosopher who has done extensive work in the area of justice. He developed a thought experiment called the “veil of ignorance” to help people figure out whether a rule or regulation was just or gave inappropriate advantages to certain groups. The concept with the veil is that you are ignorant to which group you belong as you consider the rule or regulation and its implications for justice. Since most people writing rules or regulations are part of a privileged class, the thought experiment is aimed at opening people’s minds to other points of view. Perhaps our Nebraska congressman, instead of getting paid by the government, was out of work, unable to find employment or was unable to work due to some other factor. Perhaps he had children that, due to his inability to work, often went to bed at night hungry. How would he feel about his position about whether everyone should have access to food? The veil suggests he might feel differently, if it was his children that were starving to death or growing up stunted physically or mentally.

The Paris Climate Accords is squarely aimed at the fundamentals of life. Should we not change the current path we are on, access to water, to food, the very quality of the air we breathe will be diminished. No one else, no other country, entity or being, is going to take care of this problem for us. If we don’t act, not only is our society threatened, but life itself on the entire planet. The United States, rather than making decisions based on its privileged state, needs to use the veil and look at the larger question of what is just for the entire planet. Participation in the Accords affords us the opportunity to resume the global leadership role we have abandoned, to become the example for others to once again follow, and economically, we will benefit from being a technological leader in an alternative energy future that is only going to become more dominant over time. We will also have a planet we can live on, for ourselves and our children.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Ethics

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