Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for August 2018

Sunk Costs

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When you wonder how those in congress can go along with increasingly undemocratic behavior that goes against everything this country has stood for, a partial explanation might be found in this piece on sunk costs.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

The patient in the ICU had given instructions for no heroic life support. Heroic is of course subjective as one person’s routine might be deemed heroic by another. Never-the-less over a period of almost two weeks the measures taken would be described by most any observer as heroic. How did it happen?

It started as simply some abdominal pain. A trip to the ER revealed a small perforation in the intestine, a complication of diverticulitis. The patient was admitted, put on intravenous antibiotics and a small amount of supplemental oxygen. At first the antibiotics seemed to be working, but then the patient took a turn for the worse. An abdominal abscess was discovered, the dosage of the antibiotics being given was increased and a pathology report led to a change in the type of antibiotic being used. Again, positive signs emerged. Up to this point fairly routine healthcare.

After a…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 19, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Cultural Resiliency

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It is very hard work to change a culture. Whether that culture is the essence of what defines an organization, or that culture is part of a larger society. Culture change is tough, culture is resilient and change does not come easily or simply by wishing it were so.

Let me give you an example. Many times over the years I have worked with organizations that have extraordinary high amounts of turnover. They may be hiring students, or part-timers, or people who are looking to supplement their income during certain times of the year.  Year over year, the members who make up their front-line staff can change dramatically, yet their scores on an annual employee survey can remain very stable, even when the organization is working hard to improve those scores. “How can this be?”, is a question I have been asked more than once. In one case, almost the entire front-line population had changed out, meaning virtually no one from the previous year’s survey was left, and yet the scores were within 1 point of where they were a year earlier. Management in this case, thought that all the unhappy malcontents would leave, and that, combined with their improvement efforts should improve the scores. But this is what tends to happen in organizations:

  • The policies, practices and procedures, the frustrations employees experienced in getting their work done did not change, so even as the new staff entered they experienced the same environment as the departed staff and quickly assumed the same attitudes
  • Turnover was not uniform. Those in management for instance did not exhibit the same amount of turnover, so the new employees experienced the same people, with the same behaviors that the departed staff experienced
  • One common cause of turnover is the lack of ability to achieve one’s career aspirations in your current organization, and just because the staff turns over, if you are hiring similar types of people (e.g. students, young professionals), their career aspirations will likely be, as a group, no different than the previous year’s group. The career aspirations of any one person can of course be different
  • Another cause of turnover is frustration with the effectiveness of the organization, the way the work gets done. That does not change simply because new employees enter an organization.

It is possible to achieve steady, meaningful improvement in an organization’s culture scores through hard work, consistency and continuity of effort, but when a score shifts dramatically higher or dramatically lower in a short period of time, it is not unusual to find out that there is new leadership within the organization, whether that be a department, division, business unit, company-wide…

…or at a country level.

The findings on culture change that are seen within for-profit organizations have analogs within our country and society overall, after all both are made up of people with all of their foibles, strengths and similarities. The overall culture of the USA is resilient (for better or for worse). Meaning that as immigrants come to our shores there is very little danger of large cultural shifts occurring as long as the institutions of the USA remain intact. Those democratic institutions make up the policies, practices and procedures which define and by which our society operates. Just like organizations that experience steady state cultures, (for better or for worse), over time the same factors come into play as new people have entered and will continue to enter our country, because they are exposed to and live under those institutions. Yes, you may get access to new foods that immigrants bring, or other “cosmetic factors”, but underneath it all people are people and the factors that drove my grandparents to escape the pogroms of Russia are the same factors that drive people to our shores today. A search for dignity, safety, a better life if not for themselves then for their children, have driven people to us for hundreds of years. And the drive of those people to achieve their goals is what has made this country great. Virtually none of these historical immigrants would have gotten in on their “merits” of education or wealth, but succeed they did, and succeed their children did, based on their hard work and desire to have a better life.

With our recent change in leadership, the attacks on our democracy by Russia, and the subsequent attacks on the policies, practices, and procedures by which we have prospered, we are running a grave risk that the culture inherent to our democracy, the culture that represents our “secret sauce” or “special essence” can begin to swing and be put into jeopardy.  Consider this a warning from someone who has studied organizational culture for over 30 years.

Complacency during this dark period in our history is not an option. Ellie Wiesel saw this happen in Germany and concluded, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Many of the institutions which support our democracy are under attack. The traditional role and dignity of the office of the Presidency is under attack, and at the moment has largely been destroyed. The critical role of a free and unfettered press is under attack, minorities are under attack, children and families are under attack, our access to egalitarian education is under attack, our very planet is under attack which means that the future of our children and our grandchildren is under attack.

While culture is resilient, we are seeing dangerous cracks in our culture developing. Divisiveness is growing. Hate groups are newly emboldened. Fascists and anti-democratic forces are becoming stronger. Each day we move closer to becoming an autocratic kleptocracy with a fondness for dictatorial strongmen. Our traditional adversaries rejoice in our lack of leadership and in our failing strength while our allies are feeling abandoned and forlorn. The USA, even with all of its shortcomings, was the leader of the free world and a shining beacon for humanity on this planet. We have abandoned that position. It will be a long road, but we can begin the repair the damage that has been done, to ourselves and to the world. We can repair our culture and this world and use this experience to enhance our country’s future resiliency. Vote in November.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 14, 2018 at 7:55 pm

Here I Am

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When I teach leadership to MBA students, on the first day of class we have a discussion regarding the necessity of managers to be able to multitask. Most of them are under the impression that to be a good manager you need to multitask throughout the day. My statement to them is that when you multitask what you are doing is a whole bunch of things poorly, rather than one thing well. (And the data supports that conclusion). Success comes about when you do one thing well and then move onto the next one.

Imagine if a surgeon was about to cut into your heart and right at that moment decided to review a menu and order takeout for lunch. If you were conscious you would likely pass out. Imagine if you were following your platoon leader carefully through a minefield and suddenly the platoon leader decided to play Candy Crush as they were picking out the mines to avoid. That leader would not have a leg to stand on to justify that behavior.  Or imagine if you were a manager, in your office, with a staff member sitting across from you. As you gave that person information and direction on what needed to be done, you decided to respond to a few emails as you talked. Even if you got the information transfer correct, the impression you would leave with that staff member is that what you were conveying was not all that important to you.

After hearing this, one of my students who already worked as a manager, decided to turn off his cell phone and to turn off his computer screen when he had a person in his office and were giving them direction. The results were dramatic. That staff member, who usually left very punctually at 5:00pm stayed late to finish the work. When asked about it the staff member stated that since the manager turned off their cell phone and computer screen that he thought what was being conveyed was really important so he paid extra attention and stayed until the work was done. What behavior patterns do you think would add up to more productivity, having each staff member put in the extra effort to get their respective work done, or you as a manager multitasking your way through the day?

There is a big difference between being present in a conversation and being fully present in that conversation. There is a big difference between being present in any situation and being fully present in that situation. When you are fully present in a situation you convey to others that you care about what is going on and it is important to you.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 7, 2018 at 5:02 pm

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