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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for January 2012

Organizational Rainbows Cast no Shadows

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Here is the thing; no one has ever seen someone else’s rainbow. Rainbows have no physical manifestation in that you can’t touch them, you can’t physically feel them. They cast no shadows and they have no reflection, they are ephemeral in the wispiest sense of the word. But don’t get me wrong, rainbows are wonderful, you do feel them in the joy and sense of wonder that they bring to your heart or the heart of a child standing next to you, perhaps seeing a rainbow for the first time.

A rainbow is created when a beam of light passes through water droplets, is diffracted and shines on the color receptors in your eye. Rainbows are a creation of the physical properties that exist between the light, the water, your eye and your brain. They exist only because you are there looking at them. If you were not there to look for them they would simply not be there. When two people look at a rainbow, even if they are standing side-by-side they are seeing different rainbows, different light beams, passing through different water droplets reflecting uniquely off of the color receptors in their eyes. Their respective rainbows may appear very similar but as each of us perceives a rainbow we are perceiving a unique image, an image that no one else perceives. Maybe that makes them even more special.

Organizations are constantly looking for their own rainbows or perhaps more accurately the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They create all sorts of messaging to motivate employees to see the same rainbow that the leader at the top of the organization sees. But just as each person needs to see rainbows their own unique way, each employee needs to internalize organizational goals in their own fashion. I always find myself smiling a bit when a senior leader puts out the organizational goals, surrounds it with a bit of messaging and rationale, and then assumes that all employees are aboard with the “vision”.  Employees can get on-board with the “vision” but just as each of us has a unique vision of our personal rainbows, each of us will have a unique vision of why we work to achieve the organization’s goals, no matter how similar we think we might be.


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

Complimentary OrgVitality Webinar: “Thriving With Less”

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Register for Complimentary OrgVitality Webinar
Thriving With Less: Rethinking Leadership To Drive Performance In A Smaller, Tougher World

February 16, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Eastern Time/9:30-10:30 a.m. Pacific Time

Two pervasive issues facing companies today require leaders at all levels to think differently about leadership. The need to do more with less and to work across cultures more frequently present challenges that require leaders to ‘get it right the first time’ and remove the luxury of trial and error. In today’s market, companies and their leaders must be exceedingly competent at leading sustainable change, driving performance through others, maximizing results of a global workforce and managing talent in ways they never imagined before. The cost of failed change, inefficient organization structures and stagnating C players is just too high when every dollar counts. Missing an opportunity because leaders or their teams aren’t aligned simply isn’t acceptable with the pace of business and technology.

Join Jennifer Eggers, President & Founder of LeaderShift Authentic Insights, Inc. for a discussion about how leaders at all levels need to rethink leadership to thrive in today’s rapidly shrinking world and more challenging economy. This webinar will challenge your thinking and provide pragmatic tools you can use immediately to do more with less and align diverse stakeholders more effectively.

Jennifer Eggers
President, LeaderShift Authentic Insights, Inc.

An expert at getting the best from people, Jennifer is the anecdote to these challenging times. With over 17 years developing leaders for Global 500 companies, she is an expert at creating alignment between diverse stakeholders, driving sustainable change and enabling leaders at all levels to more effectively drive performance through others. Jennifer has designed and executed large-scale leadership and organization development initiatives aimed at developing executives and teams, restructuring organizations, managing talent and succession, and integrating companies. Blending people and process improvement strategies, Jennifer delivers insightful, high energy leadership programs and has coached leaders at all levels with demonstrable results.

This event requires registration.

Topic: Thriving With Less
Host: OrgVitality LLC.
Date and Time:
February 16, 2012 12:30 pm, Eastern Standard Time (New York, GMT-05:00)
February 16, 2012 9:30 am, Pacific Standard Time (San Francisco, GMT-08:00)

To register for the online event
1. Go to
2. Click “Register”.
3. On the registration form, enter your information and then click “Submit”.

Once the host approves your registration, you will receive a confirmation email message with instructions on how to join the event.

For assistance
You can contact OrgVitality LLC. at:

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

January 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Posted in OrgVitality

What is the bottom line on employee engagement….really.

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By guest blogger Scott Brooks

Employee engagement is important.  It has well-acknowledged meaning and impact.  It has the advantage of being universally applicable — virtually any organization with any type of employees should benefit from better measurement and understanding of how these employees connect to and add “oomph” to their work.

However, “engagement” is one possible focus for an employee opinion survey.  By itself it does nothing.  Like motivation, engagement without direction or ability is easily wasted.  Also like motivation, engagement supplies energy.  Measuring it alone is like measuring the gas in the gas tank without understanding the engine (aka an organization’s ability to create value).  At risk of a metaphor getting out of hand, important elements to measure can also include steering (agility), shock absorbers (resiliency), or GPS (leadership).

Here is another metaphor:  A focus on engagement is like a focus on individual concert musicians.  A truly strategic employee survey designed to understand and improve the whole symphony experience would likely examine perspectives of the conductor, sheet music, concert hall acoustics, and audience feedback.

A strength of engagement—it’s universal applicability—is also a limitation.  If an employee survey is to be strategic, it needs to measure strategic topics.  In for-profit organizations, strategic success is based on differentiation from competitors.  If Wal-Mart has the same strategy as Target, there is no competitive edge. Embrace all the best practices you want, but you cannot copy your way to competitive differentiation.  Engagement, it follows, is not a strategic topic.  Not by itself.  As a topic it holds no uniqueness for a given organization.  How an organization USES its engagement is where the unique, competitive edge will be found.  Employee surveys are excellent tools for drilling into not just engagement, but how it can be used.  How does an organization really create value?  This is where surveys really become strategic and connect with the passions of executives.  If a CEO could snap his or her fingers and have all the thousands of employees in an organization trying to improve one thing, what would it be?*  Would a CEO choose service, sales relationships, inventing next generation products?  Most often, leadership’s focus is on how an organization uses engagement, how value is created, and less on engagement itself.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  But our job is to start with this focus, this engine, and then connect it to the gas tank.

(* This is one great definition of an employee survey, framing it in terms of action, not measurement.)

Linkage research is the statistical demonstration of relationships between engagement or other survey topics and business performance metrics such as sales, customer satisfaction, employee turnover, or safety.  It can help guide businesses on where to focus limited resources in order to maximize success. Embedding surveys (including employee engagement surveys) into a more comprehensive, multi-faceted research program adds more value than when each piece of work is performed independently. Engagement surveys form a piece of the business success puzzle, but business success is a puzzle with many pieces.  In fact, in head-to-head tests, the best predictor of customer loyalty is not engagement, but service climate.   The best predictor of safety is not engagement, but safety climate.  Similar statements can be said of quality, scalability, innovation, and a host of other important organizational outcomes.  In short, if you really want to drive improvement in “X,” you had better ask about “X” in your survey.

Where this leads us is that employee surveys should not be simply about employees.  Sure, we want to understand employee-centric topics, but employees are valuable sources of information about a much broader array of topics that help us understand and improve organizations.  We wouldn’t advocate that all possible topics are always included in employee surveys, certainly.  We want to be conscious about what we include and what we exclude.  Addressing engagement alone is almost certainly sub-optimizing the effort.  It is important not simply to ask employees about themselves, but to ask them about what they see around them.  They have a lot to say about work and effectiveness.

For many in the HR marketplace, engagement unfortunately has become an end and not a means.  We confuse the tool with an outcome unto itself.  In doing so, engagement has become a mono-focus for suppliers interested in high production and also for time-stressed buyers who want something simple.  It is certainly easy to create standard products and commodities based on engagement, a reasonably generic topic.  But the real goal is sustainable organizational change.  That is hard.  That is custom.  That is uniquely solved for each organization.


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

OrgVitality Chosen to Assist American Board of Internal Medicine to Improve Physician Evaluations

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The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) has become increasingly aware of important gaps in their evaluations of physicians.  OrgVitality Vice President Dr. David W. Bracken has been invited by ABIM to help address those shortcomings and bring a unique perspective to the issue by participating in a Multi-Source Feedback Expert Panel Meeting as an authority in the field. In addition to participating in panel and roundtable discussions, Dr. Bracken has been asked to provide a presentation that summarizes best practices in multisource feedback outside of the medical field that may have implications for physician evaluations and certification. Dr. Bracken is the senior editor and author of the Handbook for Multi-Source Feedback (2001, Jossey-Bass).

The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) is an evaluation organization. Providing practicing physicians with effective performance-based assessment methods has the potential to strengthen certifying boards’ ability to meaningfully assess performance in practice. Multi-source feedback as a unique approach has the potential to assess key competencies such as interpersonal skills and communication, professionalism, teamwork, stewardship and care coordination.

With this in mind, ABIM’s research team has convened an international group of experts in assessment and multi-source feedback, representatives from ABMS Member Boards, and others from fields outside of medicine to better understand how and why multi-source feedback approaches and tools might be incorporated in a comprehensive, performance-based assessment program.

The ABIM Multi-Source Feedback Expert Panel Meeting will be held in February 2012, at ABIM headquarters in Philadelphia.

About OrgVitality, LLC:

OrgVitality is a management consulting firm focused on helping individuals and organizations thrive in today’s turbulent environment. We help organizations make sustainable improvements in their operations and offerings, increasing their Vitality and enabling them to excel in their unique organizational strategies. The firm consists of highly experienced and respected professionals with technical expertise, consulting and research backgrounds in Industrial Organizational Psychology and Human Resources with an average of 15+ years of experience in their respective fields. OrgVitality, headquartered in Westchester, NY, has operations in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tel Aviv, Spokane, Raleigh Durham and Orlando.

OrgVitality’s services include Employee Opinion/Engagement Surveys, Leadership Competency Models, 360 Assessments, Exit Surveys, Coaching & Executive Assistance, Succession Planning, Performance Management, HR Metrics & Strategy, Customer Surveys (Internal & External), Employee Assessment & Selection, and Leadership Training & Development. For more information, please visit, email contactus@orgvitality or call (914) 747-7736.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

My Fellow Rats…

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There is an old folktale that begins with two travelers, strangers walking down a long dusty road.  As they walked, one of the strangers asked the other “What say you, shall I carry you or shall you carry me?” The second traveler ignored the statement for he was not about to carry the other. Later on the traveler asked a second question as they passed a field of barley, “Has this barley been eaten or not?” Once again the second traveler ignored the first for it was obvious for all to see that the barley was still growing in the field. Later on they passed a funeral procession and the one stranger said to the other “What do you think, is the person in the coffin alive or dead?” The second traveler could no longer contain himself and asked the first why he was asking such ridiculous questions. The first one said, “When I asked if I should carry you or if you should carry me, what I meant was shall I tell you a story or shall you tell me one to make this long journey easier for us. When I asked about the barley, what I meant was has the growing barley already been sold to a buyer, for if it was already sold, it is as though it has already been eaten for the farmer and his family cannot eat it themselves. And when I asked about the person in the coffin, being alive or dead, what I meant was, do you think they have descendents, for if they have descendents who will carry on their legacy it is as though they are alive, but if they passed away with no one to remember them and carry on their work they are truly dead.”

Sometimes there is meaning within meaning and vast misunderstanding.

One recent research study looked at whether one laboratory rat would be motivated to ease the suffering of another. The question was would rats feel any moral obligation to help another rat? Or in the rat world, is it every rat for themselves? In this experiment one rat was placed inside a clear cage that could be opened only from the outside. A second rat was allowed to freely roam around the caged one for one hour at a time. After about 7 sessions where a roaming rat encountered a trapped rat, 23 out of 30 roamer rats learned how to open the cage and set the second rat free. (Some rats are simply not that smart). Once learned, a roamer rat upon the start of the experiment would immediately proceed to the cage and set the trapped rat free. After setting the rat free there would be a “frenzy of excited running”. Inbal Ben-Ami Bartel, a psychologist at the University of Chicago who ran the experiment stated, “It’s very obvious that it is intentional. They walked right up to the door and open the door.” Only 5 of 40 rats learned to open the cage door when the cage was empty and similar findings were observed upon placing a stuffed animal in the cage instead of another rat. When 2 cages were set up, one containing five chocolate chips and the other a trapped rat, the rats were equally likely to free their trapped companion as to go after the chocolate first. Freeing a trapped companion was equally as motivating for the rat as obtaining the chocolate. But here is where it gets really interesting. Those rats who went after the chocolate first, slightly more than half the time, left one or two chips for the other rat to eat after freeing them. Sometimes the chips were taken out of the cage and left near where the other rat was going to be set free, so it was not as though the rat missed a chip or two. He ain’t heavy….

Clive Boddy a professor at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University has been collecting data on the incidence of psychopaths in Wall Street firms related to the 2008 financial collapse. He posits that at least some of the individuals involved in the behaviors that led to close to total economic collapse were psychopaths.

Psychopaths, estimated at perhaps one percent of the general population, and five percent of business executives (Babiak & Hare 2006) are individuals who due to chemical imbalances or physical abnormalities in their brains lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.” When you think of what often gets rewarded by corporate boards and investors it is not the executive that holds onto people in the midst of a downturn, even though there is a lot of research that suggests that is the best long-term financial strategy (cf. Casio), but rather it is the executive that ruthlessly downsizes, restructures and streamlines operations. Who better to cold-heartedly cut and reshape an organization than someone who is without emotion, a task which many executives find themselves unable to undertake? I say that sarcastically as there are many drawbacks to having psychopaths in positions of power. Psychopaths cannot feel regret for their actions and are bewildered when asked about the human toll of their actions. No one for instance would want a psychopath anywhere near a nuclear trigger, or in charge of a powerful military force.

I want to describe how psychopathology is measured in an individual and scored to illustrate a point, so please bear with me. Whether or not someone is psychopathic is often measured using the Hare PCL-R.

“The Hare PCL-R contains two parts, a semi-structured interview and a review of the subject’s file records and history. During the evaluation, the clinician scores 20 items that measure central elements of the psychopathic character. The items cover the nature of the subject’s interpersonal relationships; his or her affective or emotional involvement; responses to other people and to situations; evidence of social deviance; and lifestyle. The material thus covers two key aspects that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimization of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle.”

The twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R score are:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying     
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity     
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

“When properly completed each of the twenty items is given a score of 0, 1, or 2 based on how well it applies to the subject being tested. A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic traits or tendencies would receive a score of zero. A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22.”

The point of describing in detail the way psychopathology is measured and scored illustrates an important point, like many traits that humans exhibit, psychopathology is not an all or nothing condition. It is not binary. Even though the diagnosis is often stated as the person is psychopathic or not, the condition like many others exists along a continuum. At a certain point along a continuum of behavior we switch from calling someone mentally healthy to mentally ill or psychopathic, but the reality is there may not be all that much difference between a score of 28, 29, 30, and 31 other than a diagnosis.

Similarly, the rat behavior described above could be thought of as also existing along a continuum. Think of the rats that first freed the trapped rat before going for the chocolate as being at one end of a continuum of caring, feeling empathy, for their fellow rats. The next point on the continuum would be the rats that went for the chocolate first, but left some for the other rat to also enjoy. The next point on the continuum would be the rats that ate all the chocolate before freeing their brethren, next the point is the rat that ate all the chocolate and never bothered to free the other rat.

I would bet heavily that should rats that freed the trapped second rat before going for the chocolate, be rewarded for their behavior, perhaps by doubling the amount of chocolate they ultimately got, that you would see a dramatic rise in rats first taking care of their fellows before taking care of themselves (from the roughly 50/50 odds that were seen in the experiment). I would also argue that we have a decision to make about what we want to be as society, perhaps what we have been evolving to anyway (see Hope…). Do we want to reward people for taking care of themselves, perhaps to the exclusion of taking care of others, or do we want to reward people for taking care of others first and then themselves? What would our moral code suggest?

I don’t mind feeling that by taking care of others first I may be in good company, the company of a few good rats. I also believe that with the exception of those far away enough from the norm that we consider them mentally ill, that we all, by and large, want to live in similar worlds, where people feel safe, secure and respected, where they feel they can have a bright future for themselves and their children, but I also worry that as we humans walk down the long road that we are on together, as we talk we sometimes really don’t understand what we are saying to each other.



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


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 4, 2012 at 8:34 pm

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