Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

What Direction Are You Moving In?

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There is a tendency on the part of people to feel strongly about movement. Ever since we headed out of Africa to explore what lay over the horizon, we have been a species on the move. And in fairly short order after that original exodus, especially given the knowledge base and level of technology available, humans had made it to virtually every corner of this planet. We move, we explore, we seek. Even when we don’t know what we are seeking we seek, with an “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of rationale. That grass certainly looks greener over there doesn’t it? Traveling for work and the ability to explore foreign places is often viewed as a glamorous perk and is used as a hiring inducement by many organizations. We always have been and still are a species on the move, exploring not only our own planet but given our nature of itchy feet, constantly pushing the limits to explore realms that exist beyond those that are currently known. The urge to move, the desire for change, to travel, to explore is so strong among many of us that you have to wonder if it is somehow hardwired into our psyche, establishing itself out of a survival benefit.

Movement. Change. Renewal. These are enduring themes that get our attention. In my own work the theme and significance of change on the psychology of  the worker and hence the organization is also evident. As I collected Employee Confidence data beginning in June of 2008, I found that the most confident employees on the planet were not from countries with the highest levels of economic prosperity, nor were the lowest levels found in countries with little prosperity. The most confident employees were to be found in countries that had the most positive movement in GDP growth, not the highest absolute level of GDP but those with the largest positive shift in GDP. Likewise countries with stagnant or falling levels of prosperity, signified by falling levels of GDP, were where the least confident employees were to be found. Similarly levels of employee confidence were more strongly related not to absolute unemployment levels on a state level, as a casual observer may expect, but were much more related to the changing level of unemployment. For instance, if the unemployment level in a state where to drop from one quarter to the next, the level of employee confidence turned higher, even if the absolute level of unemployment was still high, as things were seen as improving.

We often seem to base our assessments of various kinds of situations and organizations not based on absolutes, but on how the situation and the organizations are changing. Is it moving in the positive direction, getting better, is it stagnant or is the situation and organization in decline? People are drawn to organizations that seem to be in ascendency, and rapidly abandon even relatively highly performing organizations that are seen to be in decline. This appears to be true not only for employees of organizations but for its customers as well.

“Americans traditionally are much more interested in the direction the economy’s going than in the absolute level,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.  “The absolute level can be not so good, unemployment can be relatively high, and incumbents can still get re-elected as long as things are moving in the right direction.” (NY Times 08/08/11). 

My work seems to imply that the tendency described in the Times article is not limited to Americans but is a phenomena based on us being human, and the way humans respond to and assess situations and hence applies globally.

From an organizational perspective this finding underscores the need for organizations to constantly improve, to raise the bar of performance, both in terms of the products and services they will offer and how its employees view the organization. Simply maximizing your current performance, having the best product or service out there, or being an attractive employer is just not good enough, but rather a longer-term evolutionary path of constant improvement, building future organizational potential is required for long-term organizational health.  The theme of Maximizing Current Performance while at the same time Building Future Potential is at the heart of OrgVitality’s organizational performance model and encompasses a body of research in the field of organizational development called ambidexterity.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 2, 2011 at 11:52 am

One Response

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  1. […] Jeffrey Saltzman’s blog this week talks about how we tend to base our assessment of organizations not on current performance but on the direction in which they’re moving.  If a company is growing, we like it better than a company that is not, even if the company that’s not growing is bigger, better or more profitable. […]


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