Archive for May 2015
Reviewing some past favorites.
“After 80 years of selling sumptuous hand-engraved stationary and other writing accessories, the luxury stationer Mrs. John L. Strong is shutting down. The venerable Madison Avenue company, whose sturdy note cards and lined envelopes were sold in Barneys New York and used by European royalty, said Thursday it would close its Madison Avenue atelier and its boutiques…Founded by Flora Strong during the Depression, Mrs. John L. Strong was the stationer of choice for well-heeled brides and socialites.” (New York Times, May 22, 2009)
Why do we age? The easy answer is that time passes and we grow older. We age. Unstated in that answer is the notion that aging at some point brings with it a deterioration of physical and mental abilities. The perception of that deterioration has been the source of ageism and phobias, discriminatory behaviors against older folks and a fear of becoming old, fostering a…
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OrgVitality’s Jeffrey Saltzman was interviewed by CEO CFO Magazine to discuss what we’re all about. You can read the transcript here.
CEOCFO: Mr. Saltzman, what is the concept behind OrgVitality?
Mr. Saltzman: OrgVitality, LLC is a management consulting company specializing in organizational effectiveness, offering services that address critical business challenges. We are experts in designing metrics/organizational change projects that are linked to strategy, generate useful insight, and drive positive action. Our ability to deliver projects with an ideal balance of expertise and flexibility, sophistication and creativity, and premier consultation with small-business customization is what makes OrgVitality stand out from the rest. OrgVitality’s work centers on people, and how organizations can maximize the performance of their people and by extension the organization. A group of Industrial/Organizational Psychologists and Technologists formed OrgVitality. We view ourselves, each in our respective area of expertise as craftspeople, expertly and carefully creating programs, solutions, and experiences for our clients that meet their specific needs. As a group, we average more than 20 years of experience and are all interested in doing our work without forcing our clients into preconfigured boxes. Upon the formation of the company, we took a step back and examined the state-of-the-art in organizational effectiveness, and it was only after we had settled on the best science that we built our product catalog of services offered. What we craft for our clients is a blend of this science, delivered with the most current technology available, wrapped in the pragmatism of decades of experience regarding what works and what doesn’t.
CEOCFO: How does that translate day-to-day?
Mr. Saltzman: OrgVitality designs and implements innovative technology and cutting-edge products that are tailored to the needs of our clients as well as the current business climate.From employee surveys to 360 assessments to multi-analytic data platforms, we work together with out clients to determine how to make your organization thrive. Our services include Strategic Employee Surveys, custom surveys based on your strategic needs, designed to help your organization thrive and support transformation. 360 Assessments and Coaching which provide general organizational capabilities calibration, inform selection processes, or used as a baseline for coaching plans, while supporting the creation of a coaching culture. Organizational Metrics & Strategy, which involves creating metrics, conducting research, and then strategically evaluating how to improve organizational effectiveness. And, Decision Support Portals which are smart dashboard systems designed to empower you and your employees to make smarter decisions based on the intelligent prioritization of multiple data streams.
CEOCFO: When you are first working with an organization, what is the key to understanding what their goals really are, not what they believe they need?
Mr. Saltzman: We often start by conducting executive interviews, often followed up with employee focus groups. This then leads to data collection at scale, commonly through employee surveys or other assessments. Sometimes there is a disconnect between what is stated as the organization’s objectives, the way management wants organization to actually operate and from an employee’s perspective, the way they actually operate. This procedures clarifies that potential disconnect. One exercise is to examine from the employee’s perspective what be-haviors are actually getting rewarded not what the organizations states they are rewarding. For example, in one organization, the marketing group pulled together the materials used by sales and the head of sales would regularly go to the marketing folks screaming, demanding chang-es using all sorts of foul language in a very confrontational and disrespectful manner. I asked the CEO what happens when that occurs. He said that everyone stops what they are doing and addresses the sales person’s concerns until they were resolved. Hence, they were rewarding that very behavior that the CEO stated he did not want. This also made other executives believe that they had to scream and carry on in order to get results. From a perspective of how they wanted to operate, they were not achieving the kind of climate that they really aiming for and not creating a climate where employees wanted to go above-and-beyond. Therefore, they needed to do a full stop and no longer reward those kinds of behaviors.
CEOCFO: Are you surprised that the leadership in these organizations has such a lack of understanding in this area?
Mr. Saltzman: I am also adjunct faculty at a school of management, where I teach in their Executive MBA program and one of the things that I do with my students all of the time is look at how humans fall into decision-making traps. Our brains are wired to operate in a certain way, whether it be using rules-of-thumb that can lead to all sorts of judgment errors, difficulties in accurate perception of a problem or even to what is called “magical thinking”. Thinking that if you keep doing the same things that they will eventually get a different outcome or an outcome that is based on “wishful thinking” and not evidence or science. It is not that organizations do not know what they are doing, but for humans in general, it is very easy to fall back into our tried and true patterns of decision-making. One thing we at OrgVitality try to do is bring a more disciplined approach to organizational decision-making that can lead to higher performance and better judgements.
CEOCFO: What types of companies tend to use your service?
Mr. Saltzman: My partners and I, as I mentioned earlier, are Industrial and Organizational Psychologists as well as technologists. Our work is tailored to really fit the client’s needs. Over the last 30 years, my partner and I have worked with numerous Fortune 100 companies, Best Plac-es to Work winners, small startups, government agencies and not-for-profits. We really run the whole spectrum, and are not tied to any specific industry or geography. We are also certified by the General Services Administration as a supplier to the US Federal Government.
CEOCFO: Did the Best Places to Work winners happen before or after they brought in OrgVitality?
Mr. Saltzman: I would say, during. The reason for that is that people who want to do our kind of work tend to be better organizations in the first place. If you do an employee survey and you are giving someone really critical data, who is more likely to use that data? It is the better managers. The managers who really need help with using the data are the ones who probably could use some management development and tend to be not as interested in the data because they may not see the importance in the data. They tend to be managers who are less successful over the long-term, as they do not fully recognize the importance of their people. It is a virtuous cycle. A virtuous cycle is when an organization is doing good things and so increasing its perfor-mance, enabling them to do more good things. Best Places to Work winners tend to do this kind of work.
CEOCFO: Would you walk us through a project?
Mr. Saltzman: Here is one example. We are working with a large multi-national company that has asked us to tie employee their culture to business outcomes. In other words, to demonstrate which aspects of culture most affect their business success. Business outcomes could be various things such as customer satisfaction, customer repurchase intentions, employee turnover, theft in a retail environment, overall financial performance etc. What we are doing is linking which aspects of the organization’s strategy and culture are working from the employee’s perspective and what aspects of strategy are falling short. Going beyond that, as employee’s rate certain aspects of performance either higher or lower, we statistically demonstrate is that certain aspects of performance are leading to better business outcomes. As the organizations are more sucessful, they are able to create better environments for the people working in that organization. Therefore, it is a win-win. We begin with the senior executives, in one-on-one interviews, as-sessing the challenges of the organization over the next 12 to 18 months. We talk about what is keeping them up at night, such as concerns over quality, production, and customer service or employee turnover. We also look to find out if they have articulated a current strategy and what they need to achieve, in order for the organization to achieve that strategy. Then we also talk to the employees and ask them two very simple questions. 1) What are the things that the organi-zation is doing well that it should not change, and 2) What are the things that need to be done better, that would make the organization more effective and enable you to do your job better. We then take these findings and translate them into an employee survey with data most often collected in a census fashion. We get a read across the entire organization, which may involve hundreds or hundreds of thousands of people. Last year our surveys were translated in to well over 40 languages and administered in 60 to 70 countries. Once we have that data back, we are able to slice it to the individual manager who is responsible for various pieces of the organiza-tion. Therefore, the top of the house gets a read on how they are performing as an organization overall. Individual managers, get a report back, so they get to see how they are performing lo-cally in addition to how their local performance fits into the overall performance of the organization. We train them on how to use that data and how to make organization improvement changes. When you get all of the managers in an organization together, and each one of them takes one or two things and does it better, you can get a great deal of positive change.
CEOCFO: How do you structure a question in a way that will get a response that is most meaningful?
Mr. Saltzman: There is a whole science around that and a whole methodology to writing a good survey question. You want to make sure that a survey item is about a single topic and not double or triple barreled. You also want to make sure that it is not leading the witness, so the stem is neutral. For example, “I have the necessary training to get my job done”. Which would be on a “Strongly agree to strongly disagree” scale.
CEOCFO: Are clients coming to you because they understand the depth, experience and individualization of what do or are they surprised to find out what you bring to the table?
Mr. Saltzman: It is a little bit of both. The vast majority of our clients are repeat clients. However, we also have been able to grow about 50% in each of the last 5 years. Therefore, our business is a mixture of many repeat clients, hopefully, because they are pleased, as well as growth due to our reputation as a company dedicated towards tailoring to specific client needs.
CEOCFO: What is your geographic reach?
Mr. Saltzman: We work globally and currently, we have consulting and project management staff based in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Spokane and Raleigh Durham. We also have a technology development group that split between the US and Israel.
CEOCFO: Do you see international as a growth area?
Mr. Saltzman: Absolutely. The vast majority of our clients are international in scope and we have a number of clients, who are non-US headquartered.
CEOCFO: Given your experience, do you often have a sense of what you will find at the end of the process?
Mr. Saltzman: Yes and no. What I mean by that is that many companies, when they first come to us will make statements such as, “You do not understand; we are different”. However, they are not always that different, because organizations are full of people, and people tend to think very similarly around the world. They also tend to behave very similarly around the world. There are certainly cultural and generational differences, but if you ask, “What do people want out of work and how does work get done?” People around the world are much more similar than they are different. Fundamental things like respectful treatment, fairness and a sense of future for myself, leading to good outcomes for my family and children are universal. For instance, I was doing focus groups in Egypt for a pharmaceutical company and what the woman in that group stated was that the real problem for them was a glass ceiling and that women could not get past, which is something that is a also common topic in the US. If we want to search for differences we can find them, but the truth is that we have a lot more in common with those from around the world than those things that differentiate us.
CEOCFO: What surprised you as OrgVitality has grown and developed over the past five years?
Mr. Saltzman: We are purposefully counter market. What I mean by that is that we are tailoring our work to fit individual clients and most of the other consulting companies in our space are no longer doing that, as they take a path to higher margins through genericizing their work. Therefore, it was risky to go with this approach, but our success indicates that it was the right decision for us.
CEOCFO: Are you finding that corporations are recognizing that they need to address this area or is it still under the radar?
Mr. Saltzman: If you looked at the Fortune 500 companies, I would think that 400 out of the 500 are already working in this space to some extent or other. Therefore, it is a big market and many companies pay attention to it. There are companies that I know that have CEOs that just do not believe in this kind of work, but I think that they are far and few between. There is an un-derstanding that employees have a great deal of valuable information and insights that can help the organization achieve higher levels of performance.
CEOCFO: Put it all together for our readers. Why choose OrgVitality?
Mr. Saltzman: They should choose OrgVitality because we can help your organization reach its full potential. We can help your organization thrive and we can help the employees in your organization perform at higher levels.
Say you had a group of 100 people who put themselves forth as experts in estimating the number of gumballs in jars. Divide that group of 100 into 2 groups of 50, and asked each person within the two groups to estimate the number of gumballs in a jar. With one group of 50 treat their estimates individually, 50 individual estimates of how many gumballs are in the jar. With the second group take the 50 estimates and average them together, so you have only 1 estimate. All together you now have 51 estimates of the number of gumballs. Out of these 51 estimates, which will be closer to the actual number of gumballs, the 1 averaged estimate or one of the 50 individual estimates? The answer is that most often one of the 50 individual estimates will be closest and the average estimate will often consistently be the second, third or fourth best estimate. Close but no cigar. So now we look at the person who made the best individual estimate and crown that person “the” expert in gumball estimation. If we now run this experiment over and over, what you would find is that you are crowning a different “expert” each and every time. So there is no real expert, only an element of chance that causes one of the 50 to be crowned as a gumball estimation expert in that round of the experiment.
Estimating the number of gumballs in a jar is a complex problem. If you approached it methodically you would have to estimate the total volume of the jar and the total volume of each gumball. You would have to take into consideration the way the gumballs are placed in the jar. Are they tightly packed to the brim? Or is there airspace in the jar because of how they are sitting? If they are slightly irregularly shaped that will change the number of gumballs that can fit vs. if they are perfectly round. Estimating these kinds of variables visually, with our eyes, is not something humans are particularly suited for. Now we are smart enough that we can devise means that can determine precisely the number of gumballs in the jar, but visual inspection with our eyes, often from a distance, is not the way to go. Yet because of our inherent biases as humans (e.g. 95% of us are certain they are in the top 50% of drivers, 25% of us are certain they are in the top 1% in terms of leadership skill, and of course at Lake Woebegone all the children are above average), there are those among us who are pretty sure they can estimate the number of gumballs in the jars using that visual inspection approach.
Now, back to our one-time gumball estimation expert. What we tend to do is take the winner of one of our estimation rounds and put that person on TV as a talking head and ask that person their view points on various gumball estimation problems. Will the economy go up or down? Will Iran agree to a negotiated nuclear settlement? Which stocks should I pick to make the most money next year or will the bond market lose or make money? What will happen to inflation? Does that recent scandal eliminate any chance of electoral victory? What is the underlying cause of social unrest? What causes a person join a protest or engage in civil disobedience? We will be greeted as liberators or as oppressors when we march into Baghdad?
The underlying problem with those who answer these kind of questions, is that they attempt to identify a single or a small handful of underlying causes, (and assign them weights) based on their expertise, to complex problems. They may be using various assessments or may often be using measurement instruments, (remember the visual inspection for gumballs) that are simply not up to the task. And because of human limitations, they get past these short-comings by using rules-of-thumb or heuristics to take a question, that has a multitude of complex issues and boil it down to a simple answer. Answers that are more likely to be wrong than right.
For instance, the number of variables of what causes a Baltimore to erupt are immense and they are related to each other in extremely complex ways. The variables that affect human behavior are intricate and defy simple explanation. It is beyond rocket science. That is not to say that we should not work to understand and remedy issues. But the errand to put simple labels on socially complex issues is a fool’s errand, can result in gross mischaracterization and is easily debunked by other “experts” those who can point to other simple labels that they develop.
Now there are true experts out there. I will be the first one to run to a doctor or emergency room if I break a leg or have a heart attack. I will use a civil engineer to design and a qualified construction company to build my new bridge. I listen to climatologists about what is happening to our planet and attempt action. I listen to food experts when, based on the scientific method, it is known that GMOs have no harmful effects (every piece of food you eat has already been genetically modified from its original state). And I will have my children vaccinated against all the harmful diseases that used to be the scourge of our society.
There are huge differences between those using the scientific method to determine cause and effect, to improve the lives of people everywhere on this planet and so-called “gumball experts”. But part of the reason we have some of the issues we face as a society is because we don’t always distinguish between the two.
© 2015 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.