Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

No Fear

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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…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

Define Yourself, Define the Organization, Define the World

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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

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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…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2017 at 7:22 am

Behavior Attitude or Attitude Behavior

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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…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 21, 2017 at 4:07 am

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

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/01/the-letter-us-executives-signed-asking-trump-to-save-daca.html

 

 

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

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