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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for December 2010

Boosting Your Personal Confidence

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“Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

During this recession employee confidence seemed to hit a low point in the first quarter of 2009. Since then there have been ups and downs but the overall trend has been moving slightly more positively with one notable exception. And that one exception is how people feel about the alternative options being available to them should they want to or be forced to leave their current employer. This sentiment on the part of employees emphasizes the notion that whatever recovery we have experienced so far has been jobless.

The employee confidence model, upon which this research is based1, has been linked to various performance metrics at personal, organizational, and country levels, and consists of two main dimensions:

  1. Personal Confidence
  2. Organizational Confidence

Each of those dimensions has an internal and external component forming a 2×2 matrix. Internal Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is when you feel you have a meaningful future at your current employer including concepts such as job security. While Internal Personal Confidence has taken a beating during this recession, External Personal Confidence suffered even more. External Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is confidence in your ability to succeed outside of your current employer, being able to land on your feet elsewhere, to be employable and if internal personal confidence is about job security, external personal confidence is about career security.

In general people’s external confidence levels can decline when they feel trapped due to a lack of options. By taking steps to continuously enhance external personal confidence they can mitigate confidence eroding situations.

What might those be?

  1. Be aware that everyone has options. NO ONE is trapped in hopeless situations. There are paths forward. Sometimes they can be difficult to see – especially when your confidence has been shattered. Look for them they are there.
  2. Actively work towards maximizing your options.
    1. Have wide social networks that you interact with regularly (relatives, friends, co-workers, people at church, etc.). Make use of your network when your confidence suffers a blow. Everyone can relate to that.
    2. Develop a smaller network of trusted confidants that you can talk to openly about your issues.
    3. Realize that regardless of what caused your confidence levels to decline, you are not the first person to go through what you are going through and many others have successfully overcome similar obstacles. You can too.
    4. Continuously improve your skills and knowledge, no matter what you do for a living or your education level look for personal growth, skill and mind development opportunities and take advantage of them.
  3. Develop additional coping mechanisms such as an exercise routine, a hobby, volunteering that can get your mind off your immediate confidence issue. The idea is to build a buffer, to create some space that is more normal, more routine and gives you time to get your emotions under control.
  4. Remember that sometimes blows to your confidence may have nothing to do with you. In the case of office bullying for instance, the person doing the bullying whether it be a boss or co-worker is often insecure or has other issues and exhibiting a lack of confidence in themselves. Unfortunately their way of coping with their own insecurities is by taking it out on others.  In this case the issue lies with others.
  5. Don’t sit back and do nothing. That simply makes things worse.


1.Saltzman & Brooks, Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures, 2010 appearing in Going Global, Jossey Bass.


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

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Life’s Event Horizons

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An event horizon, in its traditional definition, is that physical location where a particle of matter having come close enough to a stellar black hole has a totally certain future, it will fall into the black hole and will not emerge again. The event horizon is the point of no return, the point at which the particle cannot escape the enormous gravitational pull of the black hole. A black hole is a former star, now collapsed into a singularity, a single point whose gravitational field is so strong that not even light can escape.

Fairly exotic stuff, but I recently read a description (Science News, 12/18/2010) that brings the notion of event horizons down to earth. Supposed you were a fish, blissfully approaching a waterfall, unaware that if you approach too closely you will be swept over the falls to your doom. As you approach the falls the river is moving faster and faster and you begin to yell out for help as you struggle against the current. Ok, ok, I have never heard a fish yell for help either, but work with me here. As you yell for help, the noise of the water rushing over the edge becomes louder and louder as it picks up speed. At some point, if the speed of the water you are trapped within breaks the sound barrier, your yells will be unable to escape, traveling along but not emerging from the water itself, until the water slows once again. That point, where your yells will not be heard, and where the rushing water has broken the sound barrier, is a terrestrial event horizon. No matter how loudly you scream you will not be heard, as the sound waves from your voice will not be able to travel fast enough to emerge from the water rushing faster than sound.

That description got me thinking. Are there other kinds of event horizons that may exist, perhaps in our daily or organizational lives? I started to build a list:

  • The overdone toast event horizon: that precise moment during breakfast preparation when you realize that no matter how much you scrape the toast is going to taste burnt.
  • The school homework event horizon: the moment when no matter how many times you tell your child to get started, you know she/he will be up too late finishing their homework.
  • The you can have anything you want event horizon: the moment when your child climbs onto your lap and places her/his head on your shoulder before asking for a new bike. You can’t escape, the die is cast. I wonder if that will still work when she/he wants the car keys.
  • The speeding car event horizon: the location and instant, when you realize that no matter how quickly or hard you press on the brakes, you will be getting a ticket (likely deserved) from that police car you flew by.
  • The throw the stick on more time event horizon: when the dog approaches you, drops its retrieved stick at your feet, and looks at you with imploring eyes – throw the stick one more time. It is inescapable you must throw the stick.
  • The organizational culture change event horizon: the precise moment when an organization has a majority of people who feel strongly positive about efforts the organization is making to become (choose one): customer focused, more effective, highly engaging, best place to work, best place for working mothers, highly communicative, accountable, flexible, innovative, risk taking, emotionally intelligent, or results oriented.
  • The organizational reality event horizon: The precise moment when an organization realizes that magic bullet solutions belong with other forms of magic – in a children’s fantasy dream world.
  • Life’s event horizons: Any moment in your life when you come to the realization that what you have is pretty good, you have no desire to turn the clock back to the way it was, and you are looking forward to what will be.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Humor

Free Webinar: Make Your Employee Survey Matter!

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OrgVitality presents:

Make Your Employee Survey Matter!

Survey expert Scott Brooks, Ph.D. shares lessons 

learned from decades of using surveys to make more

vital organizations

Save the date! Special presentation webinar:
January 25, 2011, noon Eastern/9:00 AM Pacific

Is your survey strategic?
Do you manage follow-up well?
Does your survey make an impact?
Does your survey matter?

Join us for this opportunity to hear internationally-known employee survey expert Scott Brooks share lessons

learned from decades of using surveys to make more vital organizations.

OrgVitality is thrilled to present Dr. Brooks, Partner and Vice President as a part of our free,

exclusive webinar series.

A frequent presenter at conferences and company meetings, he is a recent contributor

to Going Global: Practical Applications and Recommendations for HR and OD Professionals

in the Global Workplace billed on Amazon as “by far the most insightful and relevant work yet!”

Click below to Register!

This activity has been submitted to the HR Certification Institute for review.

Registration password: ovevent  

To register for the online event
1. Click Here to Register

2. Click “Register”.

3. On the registration form, enter your information and then click “Submit”.

Once OrgVitality approves your registration, you will receive a confirmation

email message with instructions on how to join the event.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: This WebEx service includes a feature that allows audio and any documents and other materials exchanged or viewed during the session to be recorded. By joining this session, you automatically consent to such recordings. If you do not consent to the recording, discuss your concerns with the meeting host prior to the start of the recording or do not join the session. Please note that any such recordings may be subject to discovery in the event of litigation.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 17, 2010 at 8:27 pm


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“From the children’s point of view it was hard to tell a neighbor from a relative. She is like a sister to me was said in all sincerity. Door-to-door living over long periods of time made these people true kin to each other. The only difference between neighbors and relatives was that the neighbors went home to sleep; the relatives could climb into bed with you.” (Sam Levenson, Everything but Money).

The fact that neighbors went home to sleep and relatives could climb into your bed was information that helped a small child differentiate relatives from neighborhood friends in a crowded, confusing world encompassing the tenements of East Harlem in the early 1900s.  Information, we are always searching for more in order to help us make sense of our world, to help us interpret the events by which we are surrounded, to help us make better decisions, but then we are often selective about which pieces we are going to view as credible, accepting some bits while seemingly randomly rejecting others.

There is an old tale coming out of the Middle East that is often spoken of in terms of conflict resolution, but seems to have more to do with information or the lack thereof. It goes something like this. There was a nomad who sensed he was nearing the end of his life, and so called his three sons together. He spoke to them, “I want to tell you how I plan on bequeathing the family’s 17 camels. To my oldest son I give half of my camels. To my middle son, I give a third of my camels and to my youngest son I give one ninth of my camels.” A week later the old nomad passed away and the 3 sons took to fighting over how to split the herd of camels between them. They went to the wise woman of the tribe, who mediated disputes and described the situation. She said to them, “I don’t know how to resolve your dispute, but here, I have one camel, take it and see if it makes you happy.” So now the three sons had 18 camels to divvy up. The oldest took half of the camels, or 9 of them. The middle son took a third of the camels or 6 of them and the youngest took one ninth of the camels or 2 of them. Well, 9 plus 6 plus 2 equals 17. So they had one camel left, which they gave back to the wise woman. It is a fun math exercise and makes you stop and think. What is the missing piece of information that helps you understand the story? The old nomad did not bequeath all of his camels in the first place, only 17/18th of them (1/2+1/3+1/9 = 9/18+6/18+2/18 = 17/18), which of course was impossible to do if you only had 17 camels to start with.

The conflict resolution part of this comes from an outside observer, the wise woman, being somewhat removed from the situation, being able to see a way forward from the impasse – how to divide up the 17 camels according to the nomads desires. The information part of this comes from the understanding that what was originally specified was not mathematically possible. But what is possible, and what needs to get done anyway is not always in alignment. We often need to think beyond what conventional wisdom says is possible and figure out ways to accomplish goals and mankind, in spite of our inherent flaws, is pretty good at that. And information helps, it can help a lot, but sometimes information, even compelling information is not only rejected but triggers a response of trying to get everyone else to reject the compelling information as well.

Some messages carry more effective information than others. Information that is unexpected or surprising tends to have more impact. Sean Carroll, a noted physicist, writes in From Eternity to Here, “If I tell you that the Sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow morning, I’m not actually conveying much information, because you already expected that was going to happen. But If I tell you the peak temperature tomorrow is going to be exactly 25 degrees Celsius, the message contains more information, because without the message you wouldn’t have known precisely what temperature to expect….Roughly speaking, then the information content of a message goes up as the probability of a given message taking that form goes down.” So out of the world of physics comes the notion that if a piece of information, a message, is unique, unexpected, or novel, it carries with it inherently more content, and more important content than often repeated, or completely expected information and messaging.

David Brooks produces a column summarizing notable social and psychological research, and in his December 7th column he wrote, “Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science, call “When in Doubt, Shout”, in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.” (NY Times, 12/07/10). This coping process was originally proposed by Festinger, the father of cognitive dissonance theory, which states that when people’s behavior and thought patterns are incongruent, I advocate one thing verbally, but actually behave not according to those beliefs, that dissonance sets in which must be resolved by changing beliefs or behavior.  So here is a notion that appears to go against the world as physicists know it. In the human mind, or at least among some of us anyway, if strongly held beliefs are challenged to the core, rather than giving up on that belief and saying, “Oh well, I now have better information, it was very meaningful since it was unexpected, going against my core beliefs and now I can make a better more informed decision”, there is a tendency to not only hang on to those core, now challenged beliefs but to actively try to get others to sign on to the belief as well, a belief that the person who is proselytizing about it may no longer fully believe him or herself. By getting others to embrace the shaky belief it shores up one’s own doubts and the dissonance that exists can be resolved.

Think of the implications of this in the business world. For instance, say I was selling lousy, junk mortgages. I am presented with information that says “if you proceed on this path you will put not only your own company at risk by the entire economy.” My reaction could be, rather than stopping my behavior, to try to get others to emulate my risk taking to resolve any dissonance that has set up within myself.

Think of the survey that was just conducted on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the US military. Each time the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those in the military feel that repeal of the legislation would have no effect on battle readiness, there are members of congress who raise additional barriers and continue to try to persuade others, to proselytize others, to their point of view. When faced with clear evidence that threatens their core beliefs, rather than accepting that evidence and changing they simply try to be more convincing to others in order to resolve potentially dissonant feelings. As an aside, I took a look at the survey itself that was used to collect the information on feelings towards Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and my professional judgment is that the survey took a very conservative approach, asking questions in such a way that would lead to the least favorable result possible. Not that the research team was trying to bias the results, on the contrary, it appeared that they were setting the bar very high so that when the data did come in the results would be uncontestable, but contested the results are regardless.

Let’s say you are working in a company where an executive has an idea regarding how the future of the company should unfold. He or she has a lot of skin in the game regarding that idea or concept. That executive is presented with incontrovertible evidence that the idea is a dud. Given what we have just reviewed what might be the executive’s course of action? And more importantly how can organizations of any type overcome the bias that might arise?

Some of the techniques that can be used in these instances to overcome the inherent bias include:

  1. Oversight – of the individual by others within the organization who can pass informed judgments on the concept or idea.
  2. Checks and balances – on the absoluteness of power. Rather than one person having the authority to send the organization off in a new direction, a board-type approach can be of benefit, especially for big decisions and especially if the board solicits from its members…
  3. Independently arrived at judgments – one method to derive better decisions from a group is to have each member of the group develop independently arrived at judgments prior to comparing notes.
  4. And, independent assessment of the concept or decision by an outside group without a special interest in the outcome. Using what is perceived as an unbiased outside party, who can pass professional judgment on the concept, can lend additional credence to the conclusions drawn.

Even with these techniques, and even with the best of intentions you will still have some people without the ability to let go of their cherished beliefs and notions even when the facts indicate that those beliefs are clearly in error. The behavior by some will be to dig in their heels and to do their upmost to convince others of the correctness of their unsubstantiated beliefs as they struggle to come to grips with the information that they have received.

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

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Guidelines for Successfully Linking Employee Engagement Scores to Management Compensation Incentives

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A group of us, with a great deal of experience at this task, got together and pooled our collective knowledge of linking employee survey results, such as an index of employee engagement or other index scores (e.g. safety, customer service culture, organization effectiveness, innovation, turnover, risk-taking, customer satisfaction) to management incentive compensation systems.

Some organizations feel that the way to have maximal impact on “moving the dial” on critical measures of organizational performance is to put your money where your mouth is and to link the performance on these indices to a manager’s compensation. Now, there are about as many ways to perform that linkage as there are organizations out there, but when we compared notes as a group, certain characteristics and guidelines of systems that are deemed more successful seemed to consistently rise to the surface. Here is a listing of the guidelines that we came up with and that have proven successful in a great many organizations.

Overall Guidelines

  • Transparent:
    • Be open and clear about what is being done and how.
    • Avoid a “black-box” mentality. The calculation of the scores should be transparent and easily understood to all of those affected by the system.
  • Require Visible Leadership Support:
    • Leaders should encourage employees to participate in data collection,
    • Hold managers accountable for sharing results with employees and action planning,
    • With assistance as needed, leaders create plans for using survey results within their area of responsibility,
    • Create and cascade high level action plans,
    • Have regular feedback to staff on activities related to objectives.
  • Make the Effort Substantial and Relevant:
    • Rigorous survey and process design,
    • Ongoing validation through rigorous research of the instrument, demonstrating why it matters (e.g. linking index scores to business metrics),
    • Commit to continue the survey program on a regular basis.  Any performance goal or incentive program works best when consistently applied over a longer period.  Managers and employees begin to understand what types of efforts lead to success. This understanding is critical for the program to effectively motivate and reward improving the work environment.  The commitment to continue should include plans to re-administer the survey and the goal or incentive program on a regular basis.
    • Ensure that the managers who are affected by the performance goal or incentive program have the ability (including time, budget, and other resources) to make real improvements on areas identified as the priorities.
  • Have a Transition Period:
    • A “dry run” period where everyone gets comfortable with the process, the calculations and what is being incented, as well as what has to happen to achieve incented goals.
    • The “formula” for the linkage should be communicated well in advance.  As with any incentive or performance management system, expectations should be communicated well enough in advance so that managers have a chance to react and do not feel the “rules have changed” in midstream.
  • Provide for Mid-Cycle Corrections:
    • Providing feedback mid-way through the cycle so managers are not surprised by year-end achievements or failures. Provides an opportunity to focus on what is working or correct what is not.
  • Apply Incentive Compensation to Appropriate Levels/Managers:
    • Incentive pay should be aimed at senior managers or those long enough in their roles or those whose responsibilities can directly impact results.  Senior managers can often typically influence more organization-wide topics than a lower level or front-line manager.
    • Senior managers can also have group goals set (goals that they pursue as a group) as well as individual goals for their own units.

Guidelines for what/how to incent:

  • You Get What You Reward:
    • Reward the behavior you want, not simply target attainment
  • Amount to Incent:
    • The percentage of incentive compensation commonly linked to employee engagement surveys is typically between 5-15% of the total incentive compensation. Other items such as customer satisfaction scores, achieving financial targets etc. make up the rest.
  • Create Baseline First:
  • The first time out, goals should be kept simple, learn the process, create basic action plans and make any critically needed changes.  Second time out, goals can get more complex and are set for both action taken and score movement.
  • Numerical Goals Need not be Uniform:
    • Those at 25th percentile or lower, need to improve more (i.e. move their scores further) than those at 75th percentile or higher. Those at top of distribution can have maintenance goals. Specific goals are best set in consultation with supervisor, rather than by rote formula.
    • Base the program not just on improvements, but on attaining and maintaining a specified level of favorability.  In this way, the managers who are already good at fostering a positive working environment are not punished.  It is always easier for those who need the large improvements to realize the largest gains.
  • Goals Need Not Be Insular:
    • A Combination of Company Goal/Business Goal/Personal Goal can drive the message that both teamwork as well as personal achievement is required to achieve maximum benefit.
    • Goals can also be set only at an organizational-wide or BU level, and not at an individual manager level.  Lower level managers/supervisors can have goals related to activity (completing action plans) rather than numbers.
  • Goals Need Not be Limited to Next Cycle:
    • Longer-term goals aimed at the “ultimate” desired end-state are often necessary. For instance, a 6-point change in score over two years rather than 3 points within one takes a longer-term view.
  • Set Goals Against an Internal Benchmark:
    • Goals set against an internally derived standard often carry the most weight, and credibility, since the goal is to look like how other parts of the organization, or groups within the organization already looks.

Things to Avoid

  • Blindly Chasing a Number – Score Attainment as Only Goal:
    • Targets are often set and people then can lose sight of what they should really be trying to accomplish as they chase the number. Hitting an engagement target represents potential, nothing more. The business does not magically take care of itself just because you hit a number.
  • A Direct Connection to Non-Management Employee Bonuses:
    • Too often employees are encourage not to “screw it up” for everyone and to respond positively on engagement when their own and their immediate supervisor’s bonuses are simply tied to a numerical target.
  • Unrealistic Improvement Targets:
    • If an unrealistic targets or behaviors are selected as goals, when most people don’t achieve goals, they will either look for “work-a-rounds” or the process and goals lose credibility.
  • Statistical Significance as Driver of Goals:
    • As you go deep in organizations, groups get small and make statistical significance an inappropriate choice. Practical significance with a business orientation is best.

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

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