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Archive for December 2012

Direct Questions, Actions, Outcomes, Tipping Points and Gun Control

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Here is a little secret about employee surveys, if you want to know about something it is often best to directly ask about it. Surprised? It may seem like common sense when someone says it, yet there is a lot of obfuscation out there, a lot of confusion, some purposeful, some simply based on a lack of knowledge. People tend to be honest when answering survey questions and direct questions with direct answers often give you the information you need to take corrective action. The best way, for instance, to determine if your employees are thinking about leaving is to ask them if they are thinking about leaving, or if you want, how long they plan on staying. How do I know that people tend to answer those pretty sensitive questions honestly? There were a number of times where that question was asked and then a year or two later we went back to find out if those who said they were leaving left, or those who indicated they were staying were still there. By and large both were true. People tend to answer honestly and they tend to act on what they say they are going to act on.

On 360 surveys, those are surveys where you ask a manager to rate themselves, for their boss, subordinates and peers to rate them as well, you get the best data when you ask about observable behavioral things. Don’t ask about “emphasis”, “spirit”, or “caring”, which are things that people may have to surmise from behavior, ask about the behavior you want the person exhibiting directly. If you want to know whether a boss cares about their employees, define what caring means in your organization, in terms of what behaviors a boss should be doing or not doing and ask about those behaviors directly. It works. And then when you  need someone to change, it is a lot easier to talk about which behaviors they need to start doing and which ones they need to stop then to tell them they need to show more “spirit” or be more “globally focused”, which can simply leave them floundering.

It feels like you can’t pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or look at the internet recently and not read about people dying due to gun violence. The Newtown school massacre was devastating, hitting close to home and seeing six and seven year-old children killed certainly means to me that something significant has to change. The status quo is not acceptable. Six and seven year-old children have every right to expect to come home from school and we need to make sure that we do what it takes to make that happen. There are going to be competing viewpoints of what that means, and what actions we can, should or are we willing to take to make that happen.

In the spirit of evidence-based decision-making and direct actions and outcomes, I looked at how each state was rated by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence on strictness of gun laws. I wanted to know if stricter gun laws have an effect on deaths in that state due to firearms. The states which had the toughest gun laws include: California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Michigan. The states with the most lax gun laws include: South Dakota, Arizona, Mississippi, Vermont, Louisiana, Montana, Wyoming, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

So now I wanted to know which states had the most number of deaths due to firearms and which the fewest and how that compared to the strictness of the gun laws. Of the ten states with the most deaths due to firearms 90% were given an “F” grade on their gun control laws. One was given a “D” grade. Of the states with the fewest deaths from gun violence 60% were given a grade of “A” or “B”, 30% got a “C” grade, and one, Vermont got an “F” grade. Vermont is an anomaly; it has poorly rated gun laws, but relatively few gun related deaths. The rest fall into line, those states with stricter gun laws have fewer gun deaths. Said another way, seven of the ten states with the strictest gun laws also make the list of the states with the lowest death rates due to gun violence. Direct action, direct outcome.

Out of curiosity, I went a little further. I visited the US Census Statistical Abstract and looked up a couple of facts about the states with the strictest and most lenient gun laws. By no means was this a thorough analysis, but I wanted to look anyway.  As a measure of educational attainment, I looked at the percent of people within the state with a degree beyond a college bachelor’s, could be a graduate (e.g. Masters, Ph. D)  or professional degree (e.g. dentist, doctor) of some sort. Of the ten states with the most gun deaths, 8% of their populations, on average, have a degree beyond a college diploma. Of the states with the fewest gun deaths, 12% have a degree beyond a college diploma. So there is a 4% difference in graduate degree attainment between the states with the most and those with the least deaths due to gun violence. Does 4% represent a tipping point? Does a little education go a long way towards reducing gun violence? In Vermont, our anomaly, 13% of the population have degrees beyond college, and they are squarely in the fewest gun deaths states, in spite of their “F” rating on gun laws.

You could argue that having a more educated population is not the primary cause of lower gun deaths and without additional analysis I would be hard pressed to counter that. But education certainly can be considered a surrogate measure of other outcomes as well. For instance, economic success is closely linked to education. On average people with a bachelor’s degree, according to the US Census, have a 39% likelihood of earning $100,000 or more per year.  For people with a degree beyond a bachelor’s that number rises to 58%. For those with less than a bachelor degree the percent who earn at least $100,000 per year drops rapidly to the low single digits, depending on educational level achieved.

In other words, educational attainment is very strongly linked to economic success and in states with higher educational attainment there tends to be both stricter gun laws and fewer deaths due to gun violence.

A chicken or egg question which comes up fairly often about culture change is whether you first try to change attitudes about a topic, or first try to change behaviors with respect to that topic in order to change the culture for the long-term. While you want to work on both, much success has been achieved by making behavioral changes first, and then having the resultant attitudinal changes follow. The behaviors, what people do day-to-day, reinforce and help create the attitudes which create the culture. But if you still have the old behaviors in place they constantly push you back towards the old attitudes and culture. This has been true on topics as diverse as equal rights in society, quality control procedures in manufacturing, seat belts use in automobiles, customer service orientation and I believe will be true for getting control of the gun violence now sweeping our society.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

OrgVitality 2012 Milestones

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 As the year winds down, the folks at OrgVitality wanted to take a step back and share with you what we have accomplished this year and what 2013 seems likely to bring.

Top Client Employee Survey Lesson of 2012:

Surveys should be uniquely “You” – If you can’t find elements of your organization’s unique strategy or you can’t even tell your industry from your survey (or other measurements), then you aren’t doing it right.

2013 January Workshop:

Maximize Performance While Preparing for Growth: Business Insights Successful Leaders Gain from Employees.  We are rolling out a hands-on Workshop Series on Strategic Organizational Metrics, with a January 29th kickoff workshop in New York City at the SUNY Global Center. For more information see: OrgVitality Workshop.

2012 Company Accomplishments:
  • We Are Growing – 45% over 2011!

We signed a multi-year contract to conduct Starwood’s employee survey covering 155,000+ employees. The survey will be offered in 41 languages and the reporting will be available in 17. Starwood owns 9 hotel brands including Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W, Le Meridian, Aloft, Four Points, Element, and the Luxury Collection.

Under our General Services Administration MOBIS award, we completed our first employee survey for the US Army.

Other types of projects conducted in 2012: employee surveys, customer surveys, linkage and statistical analyses, metrics, strategy meeting facilitation, executive coaching, 360 assessments and merger-related research.

Industries served included: Financial Services, Hospitality, Insurance, Manufacturing, Non-Profit, Retail, Technology, HR Consulting, Education, Government & Policing Agencies.

  • Investments in Technology and New Products

Significant updates were made to our survey technology suite, called OrgView™, including modules for Org Coding, Ad-Hoc Reporting, Action Planning and new version of PowerPoint report generator.

Our “Manager as Coach” training program and 360 Assessment were developed and implemented.

  • New Locations, Staffing and Alliances

OrgVitality is pleased to announce the establishment of a technology development center (TDC) in Zikhron Yaacov, about 40 minutes north of Tel Aviv. This technology group will have staff in both Israel and the USA.

We are also excited about new locations opening in 2013 in Stuttgart /Zurich and London. Our OV Stuttgart/Zurich location will be headed by Dr. Ingwer Borg, a long-time survey research guru.  Our London affiliate (Batson Consulting) will be headed by Deborah Smart, who was responsible for the employee survey for many years at BP.  Along with Geneva, these new locations will greatly enhance our European presence.

Additional project management, programming and statistical staff have been added in New York and San Francisco.

  • Support to the UN and Our Global Community

For the United Nations:

  • We assisted SIOP (Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology) in gaining accreditation with the UN.
  • We provide representation for the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) to the UN.
  • Walter Reichman co-chaired the annual Psychology Day at the UN (efforts of psychologist to improve UN .functioning) and presented to a High Level Meeting of the Economic and Social Council.
  • Jeffrey Saltzman presented on the impact of Social Safety Nets on Work Motivation at the UN.

We support Save the Children by providing management coaching services

  • Support to Our Profession and the Industry

We have helped support/been involved in/delivered speeches, papers at a number of professional organizations including: the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Human Resources People and Strategy, and Mayflower (an international consortium of corporations to share survey norms and practices).


  • Dana Costar will be a recipient of the M. Scott Meyer’s Award for Applied Research in the Workplace at the next SIOP conference.
  • Scott Brooks and Jeffrey Saltzman have an article coming out in January 2013 in HRPS’s People and Strategy Journal entitled “Why Employee Engagement is not Strategic.”
  • Walter Reichman finalized a deal to publish a book Serving the Underserved: Industrial and Organizational Psychology Helps the Vulnerable in 2014.  Contributors will be from OrgVitality and our affiliates, including: Lichia Saner-Yu, Raymond Saner, and Edward Marshall.
  • David Bracken co-authored a book to be published this coming year with the working title Using 360 Degree Feedback to Create Organizational Change.
  • Ingwer Borg’s book, Applied Multidimensional Scaling, comes out this year, covering techniques for visualizing survey information in highly informative maps, extremely useful when discussing survey findings with managers (Published in Heidelberg by Springer).
  • Praxis der Personalpsychologie, Mitarbeiterbefragungen (Personnel Psychology Practice: Employee Surveys), also by Ingwer Borg, is coming out later in 2013 (published by Hogrefe in Göttingen, Germany).
  • Infrastructure

Our migration of servers to a Chicago-based SAS 70 Type II Data Center (currently highest standard in use) has been completed. The new facility is SSAE 16 SOC 1 and SOC 2 compliant, audited by a 3rd party, and is currently undergoing a PCI Level 2 audit. (I have no idea what most of that means but the tech guys made me put it in.)  Additionally, we renewed our Safe Harbor Certification by US Department of Commerce for handling personnel data from European Union, Swiss Federation and Canada.

If you would like to learn more about us, do not hesitate to call or email: 1.914.747.7736,

All the best,

Jeff and The OrgVitality Gang


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Posted in OrgVitality, Vitality

Registration Now Open for OrgVitality Workshop

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Maximize Performance While Preparing for Growth:

Business Insights Successful Leaders Gain from Employees

OrgVitality and Binghamton University are proud to co-sponsor this dynamic workshop exclusively designed for today’s strategic leader. Utilizing a hybrid curriculum which will include the exploration of current best practices, a real-world case study, and strategic applications, you and your fellow executives will develop actionable approaches to improving your own organizations.

Many business professionals today face the same challenges:

  • How do I both reinvigorate a recession-weary workforce while achieving organizational strategic goals?
  • How can I create a climate for innovation without sacrificing current performance?
  • What is the best way to lead an increasingly diverse and global workforce without losing sight of what made us successful in the first place?

Jeffrey Saltzman and Scott Brooks of OrgVitality will guide you through this one-day intensive session as we explore these issues and many more you may be dealing with in your current organization.  See our agenda of modules below for more detail on what the day will entail.

Based out of Midtown Manhattan’s SUNY Global Center at 116 East 55th Street, the seminar is easily accesible by car or public transit. The event will include light refreshments, lunch and seminar materials at a cost of $125.

In order to faciliate a dynamic, interaction-based atmosphere, there will only be 35 seats available for this seminar. We encourage you to register now in order to secure a spot.Register Now!
More Information

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Vitality

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Managing Risk vs. Uncertainty and why it Matters

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“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

-Albert Einstein

The distinction between risk and uncertainty arose from the field of economics and is based on the work of Frank Knight. According to Knight, “risk” refers to a situation in which the probability of an outcome is known or can be roughly determined, while uncertainty refers to an event or an outcome whose probability is not or cannot be known. A common example used to illustrate the point is that games of chance are risky (because the odds of winning vs. losing can be calculated) and the outcome of a war with its multitude of changing environmental situations on the ground is uncertain. But it is not as simple as all that, it certainly can be very confusing, and a deeper understanding of risk vs. uncertainty can help people make better decisions.

People board airplanes routinely, strapping themselves into what is essentially a lounge chair (even if it is an uncomfortable one), inside of what is little more than a controlled missile, whose paper thin walls of plastic and metal guard you against external conditions that could not possibly sustain life, while jet engines furiously burn enormous quantities of highly explosive fuel within a few feet of your location, hurtling you and your lounge chair through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour, with thousands of pounds of airplane coming back to the earth with a typically ungraceful thump, on small rubber wheels (which always look flat to me), and then hoping that the plane will somehow slow down and avoid plunging into the water (I land at LaGuardia), or worse. Why in the world would they do that? Because it is not all that risky. Airplanes have very good track records and there are very few accidents. We can manage risks, uncertainty is more difficult.

But what about Wilber and Orville when they first attempted flight? They were not dealing with risk they were dealing with uncertainty, for there was little real understanding of whether man could build airplanes that could stay aloft for a period and then safety return the occupant to the ground. There was no track record to calculate risk upon, there were no computers to run simulations, there were no wind tunnels which could test airplane models. Yet facing this uncertainty they persevered.  Events can begin with uncertainty and then as track records about them build they can become simply risky. Though, some people who treat a situation as risky, when it is actually uncertain, can accumulate really awful track records of performance.

For instance, Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute analyzed the performance of 22 major international banks on predicting currency fluctuations.  These annual forecasts of currency values which occurred from December of 2001 to December of 2010 were used by the banks to guide their investment decisions. These annual forecasts were wrong, very wrong, for nine out of those ten years. Gred’s conclusion about the track record of the people who produced these annual guides to currency values was that “highly paid people produced worthless predictions.” He went on to explain that based on his analysis the risk modelers at the banks didn’t distinguish appropriately between risk and uncertainty. They treated the currency fluctuations as risky but in fact “it is uncertainty that rules in the real world, where risks can’t be known in advance because of a complex tangle of factors triggers new, extremely unlikely hazards.” What he meant was that many factors that could affect currency values, (e.g. oil shortages, war, weather, natural disasters, deepening recession) were not adequately accounted for in the prediction model and in fact could not be known as they were uncertain. The analysts at the banks though treated them like risks, however, with underlying probability distributions and they got it wrong.

When Steven Jobs, who famously stated that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”, produced his first computer he had no idea if people would be able to see its promise, what they could accomplish with it and whether they would buy it. Over the years with each new technology his team at Apple developed there was uncertainty, sometimes uncertainty with great consequence, as some of the products rolled out were “bet the company” kinds of decisions. Steven Jobs reveled in the world of uncertainty and showed that mastering the world of uncertainty can lead to enormous financial reward. But Apple’s ultimate financial success came as those uncertain new technologies became simply risky products. Was there any doubt in anyone’s mind if the iPhone 5 would be a success? The question was not “if”, the question was “how big”. “If” is uncertain, “how big” is risky.

There are hoards of managers out there who want to emulate Steve Jobs, or at least his success or even more precisely his financial success. They look at his management style, which at times bordered on abusive and wonder if that is the path towards their own success. Perhaps if you beat up your employees, driving them really hard, you and your company can also succeed and become like Apple. The scientific literature casts doubt on that approach (big time) as working for the majority of managers (from a risk management perspective). I do know of a few very successful CEO’s whose success could only be described as coming off the backs of their employees rather than through or with their employees. Yet Steven Jobs, with his style, and his ability to deal successfully with uncertainty, like the Wright Brothers, was able to build the most financially valued organization in the world.

In the retail world (and real estate in general) there is an expression, “location, location, location”, meaning that without this fundamental element in place, it simply does not matter if you have great merchandise. You will not be successful. And with Apple it is technology, technology, technology or perhaps product, product, product. The success of Apple should not be attributed to an abusive management style, but rather to Steve Job’s genius in developing technologies and products with an uncertain outcome and turning them into mere risks. Arguments about his management style could be viewed as a red herring – he was successful in spite of it, because of his overwhelming other abilities, not because of it.

If I need to hire 100 people for my sales force and I have developed a predictive analytics approach to helping me select the best 100 out of my applicant pool of 1000, I can determine the likelihood of expected performance outcomes across those 100 new hires by creating a probability distribution. The distribution of job performance across 100 sales people is something that can be known and so my hiring decision can be described as risky, not uncertain. But if I want to know and predict how a specific sales person will perform, that is more uncertain. I can create a probability score for that individual, but I cannot say with certainty what the performance outcome will be as external factors (e.g. a death in the family, a pregnancy, a spouse relocating, a divorce or marriage, a new educational degree, or a new opportunity) cannot all adequately be accounted for. One thing to keep in mind, as the quote by Einstein above describes, is that our models are representations of reality, accounting for only a portion of the variance, they are not reality.

Yesterday, a horrendous crime was committed in Newtown, CT where a 20 year old gunman shot and killed 28 people, 20 of them school children between the ages of six and seven. This was terribly disturbing and I had great trouble concentrating on anything else after I heard the news. As I saw the images of the parents finding out about their children I could feel my heart ache for them. Our own local school, about an hour away from Newton went to a heighten security status. I am concerned that there will be the usual hand-wringing about firearms and second amendment rights and then nothing will be done. This time is has to be different. Our children are dying.

From an uncertainty standpoint it would be very difficult to determine if any one individual is a risk of committing a gun related crime. As with the sales force example above a probability score can be created, but at the individual level what you are dealing with is closer to uncertainty than risk. Common-sense gun laws would suggest background screening and eliminating those with various mental illnesses and track records of violence or abuse from gun ownership.

But beyond that if you look at the methods that can be used to manage risk, and at the likelihood of gun violence, more guns simply provide more opportunity for guns to be used in gun violence. It is a simple relationship. Red herrings are constantly thrown up about arming people to stop the perpetrators of gun violence, as though if we simply have more bullets flying around that fewer people will get injured or killed. Very unlikely. The arithmetic simply does not add up. From a risk management standpoint fewer guns mean fewer gun crimes. Period. End of sentence. Trying to create the odd one-off scenarios whereby having the right person in the right place with the right weapon and the sensibilities to stop a crime in progress without creating further injury to other by-standers is just not logical.

A first step would be to ban the type of firearms that allow for mass-murder to happen within a few seconds without reloading.  Our ultimate goal from a risk management standpoint should be to reduce the number of guns available. Period. Given the difficulty of dealing with uncertainty, you cannot accurately reduce the number of guns available to only those who will commit gun violence, you will get it wrong. So the solution must be one that works with the probability distribution. Ultimately, we must reduce the overall number of guns that are floating around in our society. To paraphrase a quote about eating an elephant – how do you remove 300,000,000+ guns from our society? One at a time.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 15, 2012 at 7:53 am

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