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Archive for November 8th, 2009

A Moment of an Instant

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Spring is my favorite time of year. The air smells of birth, renewal and potential. Yet even in the springtime there is death.

The sum total of all time that humans have existed when viewed as a portion of the time that the universe has existed is less than the blink of an eye. A single human life exists for less than a moment of that instant. We might despair that what we do, what we can accomplish in that instant is meaningless, our lives the most insignificant of events as the great plan unfolds before us. How can one person, one husband, one father, one grandfather, one uncle, or one pharmacist possibly count and make a difference?

Religious figures who shape our faith, great scientists and statesman who shape our world, writers who shape our thoughts, fathers who shape our souls, these are people that may not have lived like everyone else, but like everyone else they too died. We are all people. The people who are often viewed as the most exceptional people of all were of course no exception. And they too existed for no more than a moment – less than a heart beat. My father fought a battle which we are all sooner or later are destined to lose. He lost his battle.

Nahmanides, a Rabbi from the 13th century wrote Torat Ha’Adam or The Law of Man. He stated that “every individual knows melancholy and joy”. He too was proclaiming that people are people. In his quest to understand mourning and to apply logic to the processes of the heart, he said, “since man is destined to die, and deserves to lie down in the shadow of death, why should we weep for the dead, after all, the living know that they will die. It is puzzling that those who know what will come to pass should then mourn, and call others to lamentation”.

We grieve anyway. Death is not about logic, it is, and as I suspect Nahmanides knew, about loss, the loss of a husband, a father, a grandfather, a loved one.

My father, Emanuel (Minasha), came into this world just as his parents entered the new world. Ephriam Stein, his uncle, documented that journey to the new world and described that his “brother-in-law (Nathan – my father’s father), was still a young man married only two years. His wife (Ruth) was then in her last stages of pregnancy expecting the birth of the tiny soul any minute. What would we do, he asks, if the “karapuzikl” (the chubby little fellow) would decide to step out with a shriek here on the ship, to appear in this great wide world? All the “fir kashes” – four questions – would be answered at once.” My father was a man who found joy in watching his plants grow, he was a patient man, he waited.

How does a man, any man who exists for such a brief moment in time create an imprint on this world?  Emanuel was one of three sons that Nathan and Ruth were to raise in Providence and Brooklyn, and while growing up in and affected by the great depression and he was of the “Greatest Generation”. It was Emanuel, who was not given a middle name at birth, took the middle name of Benjamin, his grandfather, when Benjamin passed away out of respect and love. It was Emanuel and people like him who saved the world from a terrible tyranny in WWII, giving years of his life to serve in the military in Europe. It was Emanuel who upon his return from war married Lucy, herself a recent immigrant, and used his military benefits to help his parents buy their first house. It was Emanuel who ensured that his younger brother returned to the seminary to complete his studies. It was Emanuel who fathered and raised together with Lucy six children, skimping on their own needs in order to provide for their children. It was Emanuel and Lucy together who moved their family out of NYC in the early 1960’s searching for a better life for them all. Emanuel wanted nothing more than to see that his children would be ok in this world in which we live.

Emanuel, the pharmacist, enjoyed taking care of his customers, his patients and did so not only with care but with a sense of warmth that extended well out into the community. He loved nothing better than to spend time talking to his customers and they reciprocated. His sense of commitment to his profession kept him working well into his 70s.

Desiring to live independently and do for himself, up until last year – his 85th year – he cut his own lawn and during the summer of his 85th year he optimistically bought himself a new chainsaw, ladder and leaf blower. When I asked him what he was going to do with the items he indicated that there were a few trees in the backyard that needed to be cut down. Where I saw limitation he saw tasks that needed to get done. He saw potential.  

It has been said that the character of the father, which I will expand to grandfather, can not determine the fate of his children, his sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. But the actions of the children and grandchildren determine how the father and grandfather should be perceived. When the children with their good deeds cause the world to admire the father and grandfather and to say “happy is he who sired such children, it is as though the father is not dead.” But the reality is that he is dead, only his memory and the consequences of his action remain.

When we look into the night sky we can see billions of stars. When you look at the light of those stars you are not simply seeing a speck, a point of light, you are seeing the journey that the light has taken to get to your eye, journeys that can last hundreds of thousands of years. The actions of my father were not events of single points in time, but rather they were actions that set off and will continue to set off chains of events, events on a journey through time, events that will have lasting impact.   

The individuals who make up the Greatest Generation are fading, their numbers dwindle, but the memories of their accomplishments, and their impact on this world in their fleeting moment, their instant, was tremendous – tremendously positive. The memory of Emanuel and his impact will not fade.  His children, his grandchildren and the world owe him and the millions like him an incalculable debt.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

Posted in Human Behavior

What he saw

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I don’t know what he saw. He was lying in the hospital bed that had been re-located into what was the living room, propped up on a few pillows. They oxygen tube had been removed as had all of the cancer fighting drugs. Pain control was what the hospice people offered on their daily visit, pain control and monitoring. But what is the use of monitoring if the battle is not to be fought? The battle, which he had not asked for but came upon him anyway, was deemed over and the patient had accepted that finding earlier while still lucid, signing forms indicating that he was no longer to receive any treatment. The body though and its autonomic reflexes had not seemed to have gotten the message as it continued to struggle for existence. After a few stroke-like events in his last days, I don’t think he was in there anymore and the vigil that was being maintained was over the flesh and not the person. The sound of each breath was wet as though he was sucking through a straw immersed in a glass of water, except each breath carried with it the sound of fluids sinking deeper and deeper into his lungs. Each breath was a struggle, each breath revealing that his lungs were becoming more and more congealed. He lay drowning in bed even though he had not been able to consume any fluids for days. This state had come upon him over a few weeks time, but had become much worse during his last. 

He was always with his glasses as his eyesight was fairly poor. His glasses were around somewhere but had faded from importance and had been placed to the side in moving from hospital for treatments to the nursing home for rehabilitation, and then one final trip to his home of over 40 years. For some reason that bothered me, I felt like he needed to be wearing his glasses to retain some semblance of who he was. He had stopped reading weeks earlier and he no longer needed his glasses now as he lay there in the bed. At times he reached out in front of him, plucking unknown somethings out of the air and placing them into his other hand. Keeping his hand cupped to make sure that his unseen treasure did not spill out. He made no eye contact and his eyes seemed out of focus, not fixing on any single point. The vision of what he was seeing, what he was reaching for with his unsteady hand, was not entering his oxygen starved brain through his eyes, but rather was being visualized through some other mechanism. Ice chips placed on his cracked lips was the only healing medicine he now consumed. How ironic that there was no medicine, no cure, no relief for a man that had spent his lifetime handing out medicine to bring relief to others.

The last time I saw him where he seemed more-or-less his normal self was at the nursing home about a week or so earlier. The days and weeks were becoming a blur one running into the next. I went over early, before the rest of the family and had stopped to get him a cup of coffee and a donut. He struggled to press the button that would allow the bed to move him into the sitting position. The act of pressing the button was exhausting, causing him to have to pause to recover. But he was eager to have some of the fresh coffee I had brought. He took one sip and then another and was done. He could not consume any more. He tried a small bite from the donut and forced it down, he did not take another. His body was already shutting down rejecting the need for fluids and food. We chatted mostly about nothing. As usual he asked about each family member and wanted to know how each was doing. He went through the checklist he maintained in his head making sure that he did not leave anyone off. He talked to me about going home and he was sure that he was about to go home even though the rehabilitation that was supposed to restore his ability to walk, lost to the radiation treatments, was having no effect. A day or so later when he was brought home, though his physical condition was steadily worsening, his mood noticeably brightened as he was back in his own space, his home. He knew, as we all did, that it would be for a relatively short period of time.

Once at home he had periods of lucidity interspersed with periods of only semi-lucidity. At times he recognized those gathered around at other times not. When lucid he asked each of present us how things were and when satisfied that all was well he lapsed back into near unconsciousness. As the days progressed he no longer had lucid periods.  I could not help but contemplate whether my genes fated me to this scene or a similar one or if I would meet my end in a different fashion. Only time will tell.

I went home for a few days and received a call that the end had come in my absence at around 2am. By 5am when I had covered the miles and arrived back at the house not only was the person gone but the flesh as well. I wondered in a tortured way if I should have stayed a few more days so I could have been there at the very end.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:16 am

Posted in Human Behavior

New School Employee Loyalty

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Being a “company man” used to mean that once you left school you joined the organization where you were likely to remain for your entire career. The typical stereotype was of someone toiling away at the various tasks assigned, while seated at a gray metal desk, in a sea of gray metal desks, wearing a dark suit and white shirt, an old fashioned adding machine with a crank handle residing in one corner. When the whistle blew the company man would take his lunch out of the paper bag that his dutiful wife had prepared, pour a cup of coffee out his thermos and relax until the end of the lunch period at which time he would return to his assigned tasks. Uncomplaining, literally cranking out work, working in relative obscurity, the company man put the company first, ahead of family, friends and personal interest. Today if that concept still existed we would also have “company women” or perhaps the more politically correct “company persons”.  There are a lot of good people who were a “company man”.

What did the company person get in return for subsuming their personal interests and desires for those of the company? They got a stable job, good benefits, yearly salary increases, and the comfort of knowing that they could provide for their families. And while comfortably anchored into the middle class, they also got the carrot dangled in front of them that should they continue to work away, performing well, demonstrating that they put the company ahead of all else, future opportunities and rewards (the promise of Valhalla), possibly a promotion, might be there for them, but perhaps just slightly out of their reach.

The company man died in the 1970’s and 1980’s amid business process re-engineering, layoffs, mergers, reorganizations and general turmoil. Was it an illusion all along, an illusion that could be maintained as long as companies continued to prosper? I don’t think so. Cradle to grave employment and the culture around it were firmly ensconced in our society. The death toll of the concept resounded loudly when the vernacular of “company man” went from a term indicating positive characteristics of loyalty and faithfulness to one with negative characteristics. The “company man” became known as a “yes” man, a “brown-noser” or a “toches lecher”. (If I translated that for you this piece would have to be given an “R” rating so let’s just leave it in the Yiddish.)

Years went by. Many pieces were written and much thought given to the concept of employee loyalty. Companies still wanted their employees to be loyal, but could not or were not willing to pay the traditional cost. The employment contract that had existed had been broken. The carrot of job security and all that it implied was found to be bitter and employees when offered it in its new form to chew upon spit it out.

Consider the concept of Employee Confidence©.  Employee Confidence is made up of Organizational Confidence© and Personal Confidence©. Each of those two dimensions has an internal and external component. Organizational Confidence is measured by asking employees questions about the way the current organization in which they work operates and Personal confidence is about their own personal future within or external to that organization.

Let’s focus on internal and external Personal Confidence and its implications for employee loyalty. Personal Confidence Internal is measuring the employee’s perceptions of their job security, how bright their future is with their current employer and is their current employer developing or grooming them for future assignments. These are the traditional rewards that were offered in exchange for loyalty from the employee. Work hard, stick around, do what you are told, toe-the-company-line and we offer job security and your future will be bright.

Personal Confidence – Internal is specifically measured by asking the employee such items as:

  • I currently feel confident that I will not be laid off from my job.
  • I feel there is a promising future for me at my organization.
  • My organization is helping me develop the skills that I will need in the future.

Personal Confidence – External is measuring the employee’s perceptions about having transportable, up-to-date skills, resulting in equivalent job opportunities being available to them elsewhere and is specifically measured by asking such items as:

  • If I left my current job, my skills would allow me to find a similar job.
  • If I left my current job, my skills would allow me to find another that paid me similarly or better than what I earn now.
  • Other organizations are hiring people with skills and experience like mine.

Personal Confidence – Internal, as I mentioned, is the traditional offering that was supposed to generate employee loyalty and I would propose that Personal Confidence External is the new offering that would create new school employee loyalty. Personal Confidence is all about helping to provide employees a sense of security about their lives. Traditionally, that security was generated internally by a company – you get to keep your job and can prosper by not leaving your current employer. You may transfer around, you may take new assignments in new divisions but you stayed with your current employer. Your opportunities lay within.

But that compact was broken, so replacing that internal security, dependent on a company’s ability to succeed financially long-term and its good will is an external source of security. Providing employees with an external source of security means keeping them sharp, so that should something happen that causes them to leave their current employer (for whatever reason) that they are very attractive to other employers – that they are a marketable commodity. Opportunity that is external to your current employer must be considered.  If I am a marketable commodity, attractive to other employers I have a higher level of Personal Confidence. If a company can no longer offer internal job security, Personal Confidence – Internal, it needs to offer security of another sort to generate employee loyalty and that loyalty can be generated by offering Personal Confidence – External, or external job security.

As I have written elsewhere, while it may sound counter-intuitive an employee that is more attractive to your competition is also more attractive to you and less likely to jump to the competition with the first phone call they receive from a headhunter– unless other conditions are truly onerous. They are less likely to jump because they know that if they stay the only thing they may lose is some time. They are being kept sharp, their skills current and they will receive additional opportunities to move down the road. If by staying I am losing my skills, the first phone call I receive from a headhunter, even if the offer is not the perfect fit, I will be leaving my current employer for I am losing much more than simply time.

In a study on Employee Confidence that was done across 16,000 full-time employed people, of at least 18 years of age, in companies of at least 100 people in size, across 12 countries, we found some interesting results when contrasting Internal and External Personal Confidence. In response to the item “There is a promising future for me at my organization”, 32% of the unfavorable respondents indicated that they were going to leave within one year, 61% within two years.  Meanwhile 79% of those who responded favorably indicated that they were going to stay at least three years.

A similar pattern was found in response to the item “My organization is helping me develop the skills that I will need in the future”, with 24% of the unfavorable respondents indicating they will leave within one year, 52% within two years and 74% of those responding favorably indicating that they would stay at least three years.

Other work that I have done shows a very high correlation with stated intentions to leave within a specific time frame and actual employee behavior. These two findings lend support to the notion that a lack of Personal Confidence – Internal can drive people out of the organization.

Will increasing an employee’s Personal Confidence – External, making them marketable, increase the likelihood also that they will leave? Would it be a waste of the company’s money if an organization were to provide training and developmental experiences to its employees so that they had higher skill sets, higher levels of Personal Confidence – External?

In response to the item “If I left my current job, my skills would allow me to find a similar job”, 11% of those who respond unfavorably indicate that they will be leaving within a year and that number changes to only 13% for those who respond favorably. In other words there is very little difference on intention to leave between those who feel that their skills have been kept sharp and those who feel that their skills are somewhat dated. Investing in people and keeping their skills current does not make it more likely that they will jump ship. Those numbers move to 29% and 35% respectively for those who say they are leaving within two years. And for those who are sticking around for more than three years, 71% of those who feel that their skills are diminished, who possibly feel trapped, say that they are not going anywhere while 65% of those who feel good about their skills say they are there for the long haul. So those more likely to stay longer term are those who feel less current in their skills.

© 2010, 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:14 am

A Quiet Type of Discretionary Effort

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There is an old story that comes out of Poland from the year 1550 that demonstrates what quiet discretionary effort is all about. It was documented by Shlomo Carlebach and goes something like this. There was a very small community that was quite impoverished. In order to survive the brutal conditions of the time everyone chipped in and helped out others in the community as they could. The poorest of the poor relied on the charity of their neighbors in order not to starve to death. There was one fellow though who stood apart, let’s call him Joe.

Joe, unlike others in the community was comparatively well off, but he kept to himself and did not interact much with others of the community. He did not donate to the charities that helped out the poor. Because of this the community kept their distance and when Joe walked down the street people were especially cold to him, not speaking to him and calling him names behind his back. The children occasionally threw rocks at him as he walked by.  

Years went by and Joe became old and frail. He was dying. The members of the community paid little heed and when Joe finally died it took 3 days for a neighbor to have pity on Joe’s elderly wife and to help bury him. A week went by and one of the leaders of the community had a visitor call on him at his house. The visitor was one of the poorest of the community and he spoke to the village leader, “Forgive me for coming so late, but I have nowhere else to go. Could you please give me some money so that I could feed my family?” “Of course”, said the leader of the community who had access to funds from the community charity organizations. “But tell me in all the years that I have known you, you have never come to me for money. How have you been managing?”  The poor community member responded, “I haven’t been able to find a job for 20 years. No matter how hard I have tried to make a living for my family, nothing has ever worked out. But for all these years, every Thursday morning, I would find an envelope under my door with enough money in it to make it through the week and be able to feed my family. This week, I don’t know what happened, but the envelope did not come.”

Soon after there was another knock on the village leaders door, from another impoverished resident who told a similar story, then another and another, and another. The village leader was puzzled. Someone had taken care of these people year after year, making sure that they were able to feed their families. Then something changed, but what? What had changed in the last week? The only thing new was that Joe had passed away, but Joe was a miser who never gave any money to charity, how could that be possible? The village leader probed the crowd that was now in his house, “Did you ever know Joe? Did you ever ask him for money?”

Each of those gathered gave a similar story. They were at the depths of their despair their children going to bed every night hungry. They had no money to buy fuel to warm their meager residences. They had nowhere to turn. Each of them in their turn summoned up enough courage and in their desperation went to see Joe to ask for some money. Each was turned down, but not before Joe had asked them where they lived, how many children did they have, and how much money did they need each week to keep their households going.  And then the anonymous envelopes would begin to turn up. The leaders and members of the community were distraught. For all these years they had shunned Joe, the very children whose lives he had saved by providing money so their parents could buy them food and keep them warm had thrown rocks at him!

The leaders visited Joe’s elderly frail wife who handed them a note that Joe had told her to give them should they come to ask any questions. On the note was a single sentence, “I did not want to embarrass you by publicly giving the money, besides I did not only do it for you, I also did it for me and I knew.”  

There are a lot of Joe’s out there who toil at their tasks, not necessarily seeking public recognition, but many times overlooked until they are no longer doing the things that others may take for granted.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

One Irrational Decision at a Time

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“Harvard: Because not everyone can get into MIT”

Printed on a t-shirt at the MIT bookstore

I am irrational, how about you? I am a product, like you (well, most of you anyway) of human evolution and psychology which makes me susceptible to certain flaws of logic and manipulation. Dan Ariely in “Predictably Irrational” reviews a body of research that leads one to some interesting conclusions. Before you conclude that you are rational and it is everyone else who has issues, consider some of the following findings from his work and elsewhere.

  • It has been shown that putting higher price items on a restaurant menu leads to greater revenue, even if the higher priced items don’t sell. People tend to look at the higher priced items and then will order items that are more expensive than they would have, had the higher priced items not been there. This pattern holds true for general shopping behavior and not just in restaurants.
  • If you are purchasing a pen for $14 and just before your purchase find out that you can get the pen across town for $7, you will likely drive across town to save $7 or 50% of the purchase price. However if you are buying a more expensive item, say an article of clothing for $415 and find out it is selling for $408 dollars across town, you are not likely to travel across town to save the same amount of money, $7. Yet seven dollars is still seven dollars.
  • Suppose you were offered a $10 gift certificate for free or a $20 gift certificate for $7, which would you choose? Most people will choose the $10 certificate, giving them $10 in purchasing power, rather than spend $7 to get $20 in purchasing power or $13 for free. Rational?
  • Some luxury car manufacturers offer free maintenance for a number of years during your ownership of the car. If you calculate the cost of the premium charged for these luxury cars against the cost of the free maintenance your head will tell you that it is not free, not even close, but your heart is using that for a rationalization for buying a really sweet car – especially if the sales person can get you emotionally charged about the purchase.
  • Rationality dims even further when we are emotionally charged, or in the heat of the moment. Research has shown this to be true in areas as diverse as car purchases, sexual arousal, sports activities, including as a spectator, or even teenagers subjected to peer pressure, out having a good time with friends. It is actually possible to measure the decline of rational decision making judgments as arousal increases, demonstrating that people will undertake activities or behaviors that they would not normally do (i.e. we have not evolved for just say “no” to be a truly viable birth control option for teenagers as the hormones surge).
  • People tend to value their possessions as having more value than others are willing to place on it. For instance it is very rare for people to value their house significantly less than what others believe it is worth. In fact the opposite mentality comes into play. The current owner wants the prospective buyer to appreciate the way the light comes in through the windows and pay a premium for it, while the prospective owner only sees rooms that need painting or a kitchen that is dated. The tendency to overvalue your own possessions, and from your perspective, for others to undervalue them holds true for the skills, abilities and experience that you bring to a prospective employer. The employer typically will not see you as worth what you view yourself as worth. Market forces are the only true way of determining the worth of your skills, abilities and experience. And sometimes it is a seller’s market and sometimes a buyer’s market shifting the value that you can command.
  • When people expect something to taste bad or good they are more likely to report that the taste is bad or good, than when they have no expectation regarding the taste. For instance in one experiment when a beer is spiked with balsamic vinegar and people are unaware, other then they know it has an attractive name, they will report more positively regarding it’s taste then when they are aware of the spiking, even if it has the same attractive name.      

“An optimist sees the glass as half-full, the pessimist as half-empty, but the engineer sees the glass as being twice as large as necessary” – Thinking outside the box.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:06 am

Behavioral Human Resources

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I went to get my haircut yesterday. Applying my own heuristic in determining when to go to get my locks shorn, I look in the mirror and “just know”. I probably go to the last barbershop in New York where you can actually just show up and get your haircut without an appointment. Just grab a magazine, take a seat in one of the chairs and wait until it is your turn. I typically try to go during the week at the end of the day when it is usually not too busy, but on Saturday when I got up and looked in the mirror I knew it was going to be the day. The place was packed as it must have been take your young child to the barber day and the average age of the customers seemed to be about four or five. Sometimes the wait, with its chance to observe the other customers, is the best part of the visit.

As I sat there reading the local village newspaper, with stories about land being bought up by the village to be set aside as open space, and MetroNorth, the local commuter railroad, wanting to put in a power substation at the train station, and a debate about where the trash dumpsters in the parking lot should be relocated, my attention was drawn to a hysterically screaming boy, who was getting his hair cut while seated on his mother’s lap. I peered over the top of the newspaper as to not make it obvious that I was intrigued as to why he was so upset. The noise level was such that I was wondering if unlike the rest of us, the hair on his head actually contained nerves and so each pass of the scissors was accompanied by unbearable pain. The youngster’s mother would have won first prize at a county fair’s “catch and hold onto a greased pig” contest given the amount of squirming that was going on and her ability to maintain a tight grip.

It was very unclear to me why he could be so upset, until later on I asked my 9-year old her opinion and she said he was probably upset about seeing pieces of himself falling off, a rationale I had not considered. Now his seemingly irrational behavior made complete sense. I too would be upset seeing pieces of my body, especially pieces I did not know would grow back, falling off. As they finished the haircut and passed the cash register on the way out, the little boy was able to bring his tears to an immediate halt and ask in an absolutely clear, calm, rational voice, “where is my lollipop?” I had to wonder if he associated carrying on at the barbershop with getting a lollipop in an operant conditioning fashion. Peering into the head of a 4-something year old to understand the logic being played out is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

Peter Ubel in his book “Free Market Madness – Why Human Nature is at Odds with Economics” sheds lights on the irrational behaviors of older people (more than 4 years of age) and how to gently nudge them into more rational choices without necessarily limiting their freedoms and right to choose.  Traditional economic theory holds that people make decisions based on perfect rationality, or logical choices and yet it is very easy to show that is simply not the case. While this sounds fairly straight forward when stated now, it was not always so and not too long ago two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky made names for themselves by pointing that out to economists, basically starting a new field, Behavioral Economics. Kahneman, a psychologist won a Nobel prize in economics for his work (Tversky had passed away prior to the prize being awarded). Ubel gives plenty of historical background and examples of how illogical humans can be as they make day-to-day decisions. One example from Dick Thaler’s work was to determine the value to a worker of assuming a dangerous task. How much extra would you have to pay a worker to take on a task that had a one-in-a-thousand chance of immediate death? Well that sounds pretty horrible to me, as it did to the workers and on average the workers said that they would demand a $50,000 raise to take on such work. But if already engaged in dangerous work, what was the value to the worker of getting rid of that one-in-a-thousand risk? On average about $200. Traditional economic theory or perfect rationality would hold that those two numbers should be the same and yet they are worlds apart and that along with a million more similarly seemingly irrational decisions like it is Behavioral Economics.

People do not always behave according to rule based equations, but because we are complex creatures with a complex psychology, our psychological needs including our hopes, fears, desires, rationality and irrationality comes into play as we make our decisions.  While those in marketing and sales and I would add artists of all stripes have intuitively known this for a very long time, using this insight into how people make decisions and to influence the purchasing decisions of customers those in operations often seem not to understand people and keep trying to run their operations in a strictly by-the-numbers fashion, not taking into account that we are humans and not equations.  

For instance, many organizations as they consider their reorganizations, downsizings, mergers, acquisitions, and expansions, run the numbers. How do we squeeze out a bit more performance, trim a few headcount, save a little more money, become a little more effective looking on paper and while there is nothing wrong with those speculations they often do not take into account human behavior. They do not consider how humans actually make decisions, what is attractive to them, what is unattractive, what are their desires, their emotions.  If you ever hear a manager in an organization you are considering working for say as a rationale for a decision “it is just business, nothing personal” it is time to run as fast as you can in the other direction and if you already work for that person, begin looking for another job.  The old saying about “all politics is local” can be morphed accurately into “all business is personal” and those that do not see that are indeed handicapped and likely hiding their true feelings due to perceived business pressure or are somewhat emotionally crippled.

Human Resources has lamented for years and years about their inability to “get a seat at the table”, to the point that when I now hear that phrase I become nauseous and the response of some in HR has been to try to become completely business oriented. ROI, Human Capital, People as Assets, the race has been on to see which HR executive can be the most business focused with forecasting models predicting expected paybacks and an emphasis on running the place strictly by-the-numbers. Numbers and logic are fine and they certainly have their place in the decision-making process but to me a truly exceptional HR executive should be one who most understands what makes people tick and not simply a board-satisfying expert on executive compensation.

Just at economists struggled to integrate a new concept, Behavioral Economics into their world views or paradigms, but gained tremendous predictive power over how the world actually works, I would argue that it is time for Human Resources to begin that same struggle, modifying their world view and paradigm and to begin to create BHR, or Behavioral Human Resources. I have begun to travel down that path myself with a new concept I have developed along with some colleagues, called Employee Confidence. However, I view it as simply the first step in what is likely to be a long journey of discovery. I predict thought that those willing to take on the journey will have rich rewards accruing to both themselves and their organizations.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:03 am

Sense of Future

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Most of us would love to have a crystal ball, to be able to see what the future holds. Knowing what course of action would yield positive outcomes, whether in your personal life or professional life, would give you a clear advantage assuming others can’t duplicate your skill and see into the future as well. But beyond an advantage, having a sense or vision of the future would give you peace of mind, knowing that everything will work out, or if not what actions you could take to help mitigate your circumstances. A sense of future, if positive, gives hope and perhaps the courage to carry on in the face of adversity.  Taken to an extreme, various religions have used faith-based promises of a positive future, or rewards in the afterlife to exert control over their adherents and to justify conditions or sacrifices they ask their followers to make in the here and now.

When people have confidence in the more immediate future they tend to behave in a positive fashion in the here and now, building a life for themselves and their families. When people lack a sense of a positive future anxiety and depression can occur. Hopelessness or despair with respect to the future opens the door to potentially destructive behaviors taken not only against oneself but against others as well.

In the year 1204, a warrior had narrowly escaped death on the high steppe. Treachery had occurred as he thought he was heading to a wedding celebration for his son, only to find out at the last moment that the “in-laws” had agreed to the marriage only to lure him away from his supporters in order to kill him and destroy his growing power base. He fled for his life and his supporters scattered in order to save their own. Life on the steppe was very hard at that time and loyalty was easily shifted and given to those that offered you the best hope of survival. A strict hierarchy based on lineage was in place and the necessities of life as well as the spoils of battle were distributed unequally depending on status. This particular warrior had set up a radically different social system with his followers, one not based strictly on lineage but on general equality for all. He had been lured into the wedding trap; his “in-laws” were going to give him the gift of a life-time. Would his ragged band of supporters, who did not necessarily have the traditional strong familial ties, rally around from where they had scattered? Would his other followers who had remained encamped far away rush to his aid or would they resume the more traditional social arrangements that they were used to? Would the warrior’s social experiment based on equality fail? This warrior had given traditionally disadvantaged people a positive sense of future, a sense that what they could accomplish was not based on the randomness of their birth, but on what they together as a group could accomplish. He had done away with the caste system and because of this treatment he had developed a loyal base among his followers. From far and wide his supporters rushed to his aid and defeated the far larger number of warriors that had set upon him. The social experiment continued and shortly after the wedding experience this warrior took the name Genghis Khan, whose followers with their innovations and drive conquered more territory in 25 years than the Roman Empire did in 400 years. What drove them, at least partially, a sense of future and confidence.

Fixing the economic situation in which we find ourselves will require changes in structure and policy, but restoring confidence in our future is a critical part upon which we must focus. A psychological sense of future must be restored and enhanced. Beyond the collapse of housing prices, shrinkage in consumer sales and the cutting back of the workforce, the lack of confidence in what the future holds is a driver of fear or worse and is a large part of the economic problem, becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy of doom. We need to break the downward self-destructive cycle in which we are enmeshed. Given that we have imperfect information and can’t actually see into the future we must use frameworks or models which have evidentiary data suggesting that they will improve our sense of future.

The Employee Confidence© model is all about creating a strong sense of future. The data strongly suggest that Employee Confidence has two main components, Organizational Confidence and Personal Confidence. Each of those has an internal and external component. On an organizational level, a positive sense of future or confidence will be found when employees feel that their organization is effectively managed, using sound business processes, that the products they create are in demand, reflective of current customer desires, and that their organization is a tough competitor, hopefully in an industry that is robust and healthy. On a personal level, stronger levels of confidence and a sense of future will be achieved if employees feel that the organization is doing everything it can to protect their employment, that they have a promising future within their current organization, developing skills that their organization will need in the future, and if not in their current organization to the extent that they can be given the skills that will make them attractive to other employers, their confidence and sense of future will be increased.

Of course not every organization, whether that organization is a department, a plant, a company, a city, a state, or a country will be able to achieve high marks in all of these categories, but to the extent that they score stronger in as many of these categories as possible a higher level of Employee Confidence (Organization Member/Citizen Confidence) and a positive sense of future will occur.

In the first State of the Union speech that President Obama gave he spoke of many goals. These goals mesh nicely with the Employee Confidence matrix and provide a guide for any organizational leader attempting to increase the level of Confidence among their organizational members. While I did not categorize every line in the speech the table below gives a sense of how the speech was laid out.

Internal External
Organizational We will change the way business gets done in Washington… We will strive for new ways of working together. Increasing confidence that the organization (USA) is being run well, effectively managed. We will invest in our infrastructure, our educational institutions and research in order for America to once again become predominant in our competitiveness. The country that invented the car should not abandon it. Steps like this increase confidence that we will continue to be the leading economic power in the world. That we are competitively well positioned.
Personal We will take immediate steps to reduce the amount of pain you are currently feeling in the areas of tax relief, foreclosures, and the ability to get loans. Increasing confidence in your current personal situation and that you will get through this economic crisis. Creating new job opportunities, so that if you lose your current job you will have opportunity elsewhere. Asking young people to commit to a year of post high school education, not only keeps them out of the job market for a year, enabling others to find jobs, but by increasing their skill set their attractiveness to a larger number of employers increases as well. This increases confidence that long term you have options. That your personal world won’t end if you lose your job.

The formula that is being laid out by President Obama is one that the evidence shows increases Employee Confidence in any organization and aligns with higher levels of effectiveness and financial performance of those organizations. Not only are the citizens of the USA looking for effective leadership to help get us out of this crisis, but globally people everywhere are realizing that leadership by the USA is the only realistic solution to this global threat. As I gaze into my crystal ball I am optimistic. Let me even go out on a limb and predict that if we carry out the plans as laid out so far the recovery will come sooner than expected.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 10:59 am

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