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Archive for December 2011

2011 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,100 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 31, 2011 at 7:32 pm

“He did not know how to make sausage…”

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“He did not know how to make sausage, but he did know how to give freedom, and if someone believes that the former is more important than the latter he is likely never to have either.” Pravda on Mikhail Gorbachev

It seems like each day in the paper or on TV we are inundated with politicians or leaders of various nations and other organizations trying to deflect blame for their poor performance or misdeeds. If they can point the finger at anyone else, at any other group or organization it seems that the temptation is just too great to accept blame for their own failings. The question that springs to my mind is whether these leaders consciously try to deflect blame in an attempt to retain or ascend to positions of power, or are they truly unable to see that they are the cause of the strife or the misdeeds that surround them?

Every once and in a while a leader, like Gorbachev, comes along with the ability to see through the current situation to a better future, but more recently it is the people themselves who rise up to secure what they hope to be a better future for themselves. Gorbachev’s actions 20 years ago, which recognized the reality of the collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a period of uncertainty in Russia, as it laid the groundwork for a period of freedom that has since been methodically undermined by Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. The Russian people knew a “spring” but spring gave way to fall and the first chills indicating the onset of another winter. The Russian people are now beginning a struggle to reclaim some of Gorbachev’s and Boris Yeltsin’s heritage to them.

This week Mikhail Gorbachev recommended to Vladimir Putin that he step down from power in Russia. This was amid the growing demonstrations about the rigged election that was designed to prepare the ground for Putin to once again ascend to power in Russia as its President, having taken a break after 2 terms due to term limits. For his part Putin has been claiming that the demonstrations against the election were due to “outside agitators”. The claim was that citizen protests were due to external factors, rather then what people feel internally.

Locus of control research has shown that when a person fails they are likely to blame external factors, but when they see someone else fail they are more likely to place blame on that person’s lack of innate abilities. When a person succeeds, locus of control research indicates that there is a tendency for that person to attribute their success to their own innate abilities. However the tendency when someone else succeeds is to attribute it to luck.

When the person who is under the sway of locus of control tendencies and other influencers happens to be the head of a country or the leader of a major organization the implications can be profound. Compounding this tendency is the well-known sociological effect of increasing cohesion in a population by having an external enemy to blame for the hardships being faced or as a means to hold onto power. These two tendencies have shown up time and again recently in all different kinds of venues.

  • Newt Gingrich when he failed to get enough signatures to get on the Virginia ballot cast around for where to place blame and settled on “Virginia’s failed system”, the external cause, rather than his own lack of organization in Virginia.
  • A whole host of Arab leaders, Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya, Saleh of Yemen, each in their turn has blamed external agitators or terrorists rather than the conditions within their own countries for the attempts to throw them out of power.
  • Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, having signed a law eliminating collective bargaining rights, set off a series of protests that now has him struggling in a recall campaign, blamed “outside forces” for the unrelenting protests that occurred within the state capitol building. Were there outside forces at play on that contentious issue? Yes, of course on both sides, but outside forces cannot sign recall petitions, you must be a citizen. But the point is that he found it easier and more pleasing to look outside rather than within for the agitation that he stirred up among the citizens of Wisconsin.
  • Anthony Weiner indicated that his email account had been hacked and that the pictures circulating around the web and sent to various females of a certain part of his body was not done by him but by mysterious “others”.
  • Herman Cain first blamed a left wing conspiracy, then a right wing conspiracy then some unknown others who must have been giving a large sum of money to the woman who indicated that they had an affair stretching out over 12 years. Each time he made these accusations he stated that he had no evidence, but that it must be so. He seemed to truly believe that his ills came from some external power rather than emanating from his own behavior.
  • A different kind of illustration of the same principle comes from the area of climate change. And while the science is much more complex, there are groups that find it easier and more expedient to blame external effects (e.g. natural cycles), rather than mankind’s own action for the period of global warming and more extreme weather we are going through. And the point is these groups make these claims with absolutely no evidence, but it must be so they state. One congressman even stated that it was evidence of hubris that mankind would think that they could affect the world’s climate. Have you ever wanted to reach though the TV and tell someone that they are a complete idiot while you throttle them?

While of course not new, the number of times that the excuse of externally forces being  at play as the rationale for dismissing accusations, crimes, violence, murder, the taking away of rights, and in general bad behavior seems to me to be more plentiful now than it has ever been. I have to think that some of the leaders dismissing these activities are simply looking for a convenient excuse for their actions and are knowingly lying, but that others may be truly incapable of seeing the world accurately, always seeing sinister forces of some sort working against them or external forces controlling them. I am not sure which is worse.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

OrgVitality 2011 Accomplishments

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It is hard to believe that another year has flown by. We started OV towards the end of 2009 and here it is 2012 already. We thought you might find it interesting to learn about what we have been up to. This past year was one of   growth for OV, and we have done our best to improve the nation’s job outlook by adding positions in project management, technology and consulting. We are positioning ourselves for continued growth in 2012 by adding to our   infrastructure, staff, product-line and technological capabilities.

  OrgVitality 2011 Accomplishments

Top line growth of 66%

  • Types of Projects: Employee surveys, Customer surveys, Communications surveys, Coaching, 360 assessments, HR redesign, Alignment of metrics and business strategy, Merger-related research
  • Industries Served: Education, Financial Services, Government, Hospitality, HR Consulting, Insurance, Law Enforcement, Manufacturing, Non-Profit (Charitable Agencies), Retail, Technology
Infrastructure  enhancements

  • Real-time data reporting for surveys during administration
  • Migration  of servers to a SAS 70 Type II Data Center (currently highest standard in use)
  • All applications Smartphone compatible and 508 Compliant (for visually impaired)
  • Renewal of Safe Harbor Certification by US Department of Commerce for handling personnel data from European Union, Swiss Federation and Canada
Staffing  & Alliances

  • Added staff in Orlando, Raleigh Durham, Spokane, New York
  • New strategic alliances with other organizations to jointly deliver and broaden our services in Geneva, Atlanta, San Francisco and Denver
  • Continued partnership with Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) to deliver content to their member organizations via a Webinar series
Growing Government Practice

    • U.S. General Services Administration MOBIS Contract award, pre-approving OV to work with a large number of Government, Quasi-Governmental and other International Organizations on:

Conulting Services: providing expert advice, assistance, guidance or counseling  in support an agency’s mission-oriented business functions

Survey Services: providing surveying relating to mission-oriented business issues

Training Services: Instructor Led Training, Web Based Training and Education Courses, Course Development and Test Administration

  • Awarded 5-year Blanket Purchase Award with large federal agency
  • A number of us got to present and work with the Governor and his cabinet in Colorado on their first ever state-wide employee survey covering 100,000 state employees, including those on 28 state university campuses.
OV developed an in-house webinar presentation function, including a number of HRCI-Certified Educational Webinars in 2011.

  Professional contributions to marketplace and state-of-the-science:

  • We have supported and delivered speeches and research at a number of pofessional organizations including:
    • International Association of Applied Psychology
    • We provide representation for that organization to the United Nations, which we also support on a number of Organizational Development efforts
    • Society of Industrail & Organizational Psychology
    • Conducted invited workshop on “Coming Full Circle with 360’s: Driving and Sustaining Individual and Organizational Change”
    • We had a number of papers presented last spring at the annual conference and have numerous papers accepted for the next conference in April 2012
    • Other  presentation venues included: Bureau of National Affairs, HR.com, Institute for Human Resources, Park Avenue Presentations, Personnel Testing Council, World at Work
  • We manage two linked-in groups, including our own OrgVitality Group that we invite you to join http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2443838&trk=hb_side_g
    • OrgVitality
    • I/O Practitioner Network
  • We write/contribute two blogs on a regular basis that deal with organizational behavior/assessments
  • Our staff teaches Leadership and Organizational Behavior for an Executive MBA program.
Wow, and that was just on Monday. We greatly look forward to 2012 and   anticipate another great year. We hope that each and every one of you has a   great 2012 both professionally and personally.

All the best,
The OrgVitality Gang

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Posted in OrgVitality

Hope – No One Has Been Able To See the World This Way Before

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“People can live for weeks without food, for days without water, for minutes without air but not even for a second without hope.” – Multiple Sources

At MIT’s imaging lab they have developed a camera that is able to take pictures with images that capture what happens in a trillionth of a second. They can take 500 frames of a movie in a billionth of a second. The speed of this camera allows the development team to capture the images of photons, individual packets of light, moving through various liquids. Dr. Raskar who developed this technology indicated at this point that “no one has been able to see the world this way before”, so where this may lead is anyone’s guess. The trick to new applications utilizing this astounding ability is not simply the capturing of the images of photons as they move about and interact with objects, but in correctly interpreting what those images mean. For instance, how light interacts with a piece of fruit may be able to tell us how ripe that fruit is (I can see the iPhone app now). Or how it bounces off a cell may be able to tell us whether that cell is cancerous. Or the photons may inform us instantaneously if a bridge is about to experience a catastrophic failure, whether water is safe to drink, or if a sore throat is a serious illness. The information that ordinary light can convey in this manner may make it an everyday tool of civil engineers, chemists, doctors and many other people. Other possibilities will of course arise that we cannot even imagine at the moment. The future for this new technology and by extension for Dr. Raskar looks glorious, for “no one has been able to see the world this way before.”

I want to contrast that image of the world with the one held by that Joaquin Luna Jr., who in November killed himself. Jaoquin was a high school student in the top quarter of his class from Mission, Texas who dreamed of being the first in his family to go to college and of becoming a civil engineer. His parents brought Joaquin to this country illegally as an infant for a better life. He knew of no other existence beyond his life in the United States. As he applied to colleges he realized that given his status, his dream was out of reach. He wrote in a note, “I’ve realized that I have no chance in becoming a civil engineer the way that I’ve always dreamed of here…” The day after Thanksgiving he apologized to his mother, saying that he was sorry that he would not be able to become the person he dreamed, went into a bathroom, placed a handgun underneath his chin and….that was the end for him for he was not able to see the world the way he dreamed it to be. His was not a grandiose dream, it was a modest dream, but one in which he had lost hope – regardless of the reason.

There is a debate now raging between those who advocate for creating a path for illegal immigrants that allows them to stay in the USA vs. those who advocate treating them as criminals. Did those who came to this country illegally break the law? Yes. Should we create conditions in this country that cause high school students with modest dreams to kill themselves as they lose hope in those dreams? Can anyone really advocate for that? That is not what this country traditionally has been about.

Hope is a key driver that causes many of us to achieve, to put off current rewards for a better long-term future, and to be resilient in the face of adversity. Hope is largely what this country was built upon as millions upon millions entered this land as immigrants from all points on the globe looking for a better future for themselves and their children. Those immigrants fought for this country, those immigrants died for this country. Those immigrants gave us the innovative, scientific and entrepreneurial spirit that allowed us to flourish, to become what we have. It even allows scientists, who come from their native lands for an exceptional education and for opportunity, to photograph a photon itself using new technology developed right here and opening up a new world of possibilities. And hope is what we have given back to the world over the last centuries, with the notion of American exceptionalism largely based on us as the keeper of world peace, as a source of innovation and development, as a bastion of freedom and as a welcoming nation. The words on the Statue of Liberty used to mean something, and they still mean a lot to me.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(Emma Lazarus)

Hope in the essential goodness of mankind is, contrary to much evidence, what makes us believe that we can get through whatever hardships we are facing and that the future will be brighter for all of us. Hope should not be based on wishful thinking or simple belief, but on evidence. Is there any evidence that can give us a sense of hope in mankind’s future – how we treat each other? I believe that there is.

What are the odds that mankind will evolve away from harsh treatment of their fellow humans, treatment that destroys hope? Will the future be brighter? Steven Pinker in his new book, A History of Violence, examined the level of violence that humans have perpetrated upon other humans over the long term. He states, “In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.” He suggests that our societies, perhaps mankind itself has evolved over time to a less violent form or that if not driven evolutionarily that our social structures and interdependence created conditions that lead to lower levels of violence and perhaps more hope.

Certainly the growing acceptance of our individual differences among the majority may be an indicator of that. And as a species, or as larger societies, mankind may in fact have become more beneficent beings. But at the individual level, I am reminded of the story of the little girl who is seen picking up starfish on a beach littered with the dying creatures. She stood there throwing them back into the ocean one at a time. She is asked why she is throwing individual starfish back, as she can’t possibly make a dent, a difference in the large number of the creatures that lay dying on the beach. She picks up another one, throws it back in and says “I made a difference to that one”.

The importance of making a difference to each individual, one at a time cannot be overstated. While it is easy to speak in terms of trends and large numbers we must never forget that when events happen for better or for worse that they happen to individuals, individuals that are human.  There is a saying in the Jewish tradition, paraphrased it goes, “A person who saves a life it is as though they have saved the whole world. And one who takes a life it is as though they have destroyed the entire world.” We owe it to our fellows to save as many of them from Jaoquin’s fate as we can – one at a time if need be.  Remember “no one has been able to see the world this way before”.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Posted in Human Behavior

Pssst…Can I Annoy You for a Second?

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You might be surprised to find out that there has been very little research done on what causes people to be annoyed. Fearful, happy, sad, trusting, and surprised you can find, annoyed, not so much. There would seem to be an unending treasure trove of behaviors these days that could be construed as annoying or perhaps worse, as I think as a society we are rapidly experiencing a dramatic rise in annoying behaviors. So there really is no shortage of possibilities for study. Being annoyed at something at work doesn’t rise to the level of “I’ll quit over this”, but does make you feel like shouting “give me a break!”

While it was not scientific at all, I asked some of my colleagues to list off some of the things that organizations and bosses do that annoy them. I began to compile a list and categorize them. Here are just a few of the one’s that popped out for me, some of which I would quit over.

About the Boss:

  • Being asked to write up your own performance appraisal.
  • Not being able to leave work before the boss does.
  • The boss having to be the last one to always get to a meeting.

About your Computer:

  • Having to get your 5 year old wheezing computer repaired for the third time.
  • Being 3 versions of Office behind the rest of the world.
  • Having to lug around a monster old fashioned laptop that weighs a ton so the company can save some money, but the boss gets the latest lightweight technical marvel.

About Losing your Job:

  • Having to train your replacement in India before you get laid off.
  • Being given tips on how to save money by your firm just before your are:
    • Laid off
    • Told that salaries have been frozen
    • Find out that there will be no 401k match
    • Find out that the health care plan is now 100% employee funded.
    • Being told you been laid off in a horrendous fashion (email notification, mass meetings), or when very vulnerable people are laid off (e.g. someone who is 7 months pregnant, or an older worker).
    • Finding out that management receives large bonuses or raises after the layoff for “making their numbers”.

About Finding Another Job:

  • Selection procedures that take into account characteristics that have nothing to do with the job.
    • Such as nepotism
    • Or political affiliation, age, gender, or ethnicity.
    • Hearing talking heads on TV who make pronouncements regarding how to find another job.

About Service:

  • Having a tiered approach to a help desk where the first person you talk to can’t actually help you.
  • Having automated inquiry/information systems that require you to work through endless levels of menus to either:
    • Talk to a person who can’t actually help you or
    • Find out that the office is now closed.
    • Finding out that the mechanic noticed what just broke on your car during your last visit but you did not mention it or fix it since it was not on the repair order.

Joe Palca has recently written a book called “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us”. He states that annoying things have some common characteristics. Among them are the activity has to be unpleasant, but not deadly (like nails on a chalkboard). Second is has to be unpredictable (like someone answering their cell phone and taking loudly at the next table in the restaurant) and third it is of uncertain duration (the cell phone conversation seems to go on and on). In other words an unpredictable, unpleasant event that you are not sure how long it will last.  While that seems to make sense, it does seem to leave out quite a few of what people say annoyed them above.

My personal pet peeve is when I am traveling and am jammed into a seat on a plane and the person in front of me thinks it is perfectly ok to recline their seat. Not only do they crush my PC, but the seat can get so tight that I can’t even get out of it. Given how concerned the airlines are about keeping the aisle cleared for safety reasons how can they possibly allow people to recline a seat that prevents those behind them to get out of their own seat?   …Really Annoying….

Anyway, I don’t want to bug you, but if want to add to the list I would be happy to know what annoys you, at work or otherwise.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Human Behavior, Humor

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