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Leadership: Lessons from the Superbowl

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Leading is easy when you win, but we’re tested when things are tough.
By Guest Blogger: Victoria Hendrickson, Ph.D.

Three weeks ago, Cam Newton led his team to victory. He was dynamic both on and off the field, fist bumping and cheering on his teammates. Afterwards, he spoke positively about his team, shared credit, and was excited for what he expected to accomplish in the Super Bowl.

But last night, when things weren’t going well, he was quiet. He stood alone, looking at the ground, staring off into space, and not interacting with his teammates. After their loss, he avoided questions, didn’t say what he would have done differently, and he couldn’t find anything positive to say. While he was quick to share credit in good times, he couldn’t keep the team’s morale up and lead when times were tough.
So what can we learn from this?
• Think about your team. How many young, ambitious technical superstars have been promoted into leadership roles?
• Occasional failure is inevitable. What separates the top companies is an ability to learn from failure, re-focus their approach, and continue on with the same passion and energy. This requires a leader who can identify the failure, name it, and keep their team together in re-focusing with a new approach.
• The ambitious, technical experts with little experience are accustomed to success – they have a lot of it. But they aren’t used to failure, and they don’t know how to lead a team through it.

If Cam Newton had led differently yesterday, would it have made a difference? Clearly, there’s no way to tell. But in business, we often have the opportunity to change our leadership style to achieve better performance. We want to hear your stories: What’s one game-changing leadership move you’ve ever made?

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 8, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Link to People and Strategy Journal article, “Why Employee Engagement is not Strategic”.

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Scott Brooks and I recently published this article which we thought you would enjoy. Jeff….pdf


Sense of Direction

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”] “You are going to have to help me with this people thing.” That was what the ex-McKinsey consultant turned CEO of a major Fortune company told me years ago. He was the nicest guy. He explained to me how he could handle all of the financials to run his company but this whole people thing, what motivated them, what concerned them, he just couldn’t get his arms around that. He was baffled. What to him seemed like simple business decisions, trim here, reorganize there, in order to fine tune his company’s financial performance resulted in all sorts of emotional morale issues. “Why didn’t people see the obvious?” He thought that there should be no emotions involved in financial business decisions, that if he did what was best for the company, to ensure its survival, that people should not mind (or at least not get emotional about) being moved around like pieces on a chess board, even if it meant losing their jobs. While this company had solid financial performance, it also had a fairly high degree of turnover, with some employees after a pretty short period of time feeling burned out and not being able to continue with the firm. Yet this company also had a high degree of employee commitment and employee loyalty. How was that possible?

I participated in a graduation recently. A group of MBA student’s to whom I taught a leadership class were graduating with their degrees in hand. It was extremely emotional in a positive way for the students, their families and friends that were present. The students were smiling from ear to ear and the parents were beaming. As each student came across the stage, amid the flashing of cameras, I rose shook their hands and congratulated them on their achievement. As each student passed me, I wondered “what direction will their lives now take?”

Sense of Direction. Having a clear sense of direction, a sense of mission regarding what the organization (an organization can be anything from a poker club to a nation state) is going to accomplish, and how people can personally and meaningfully contribute to that goal will affect one’s overall sense of well-being and happiness. It helps to increase a sense of purposefulness which in turn can greatly impact people’s sense of commitment and loyalty to the organization. Most people struggle with this, looking for a sense of direction and purposefulness for at least a portion of their lives, others struggle with this for most of their lives. For the newly-minted MBA’s, they are at an inflection point, where they will be examining the decisions they have made so far and will be reflecting on a host of choices they now have which will affect their own sense of direction and sense of purpose.

For an organization, clarity on this subject allows members to self-select, for if I don’t agree with the goals of the organization (stated or otherwise), or what the organization perceives as my role in helping it to achieve those goals, it is pretty clear, that if I can, I should leave. Over time, with a clear sense of direction (stated or otherwise), what an organization can achieve is a fairly tightly knit core of people who are extremely dedicated, ferociously loyal to helping the organization achieve its goals. And yes, there is a risk that too tightly knit of a group will put goal achievement and gain for this core above all else including societal or customer well-being, potentially bending or breaking various articulated operating standards, societal rules, regulations or laws. An inner core can arise, and as C.S. Lewis pointed out a long time ago, people will do almost anything to become part of the inner circle. As with everything there needs to be a sense of balance, swinging too far in any direction is generally not good for people, the organization or society at large.

Knowing where an organization is going, what it stands for and the values it will employ while getting there can be critical to actually getting there. Each person having a sense of direction and knowing how they can contribute to that direction is a fundamental building block for organizational performance and morale.

One aspect of sense of direction having a positive impact is movement, or the direction of the sense of direction. People tend to get frustrated with stagnation and get unhappy pretty quickly about what is perceived as a backward slide, even if that slide is relatively small and from a very high place or performance level. People notice and feel positive or negatively about the direction things are headed, oftentimes more than the absolute level of the measure suggests that they should.

For instance, as we have measured Employee Confidence over the years, what we see are increases and decreases in Employee Confidence on a national level that are related to the direction of a nation’s economy and not the absolute level of economic performance. Employee Confidence goes up if conditions (e.g. unemployment levels, GDP growth) are seen as improving and it declines if conditions are perceived as dropping, regardless of the absolute levels of those conditions. Employee Confidence can be very high in rapidly developing economies as people feel that conditions are improving and that their economy is on the rise, even if the absolute economic standards are pretty low. Likewise, Employee Confidence can be low in highly develop economies with high standards of living if economic performance is seen as in decline.

As humans, we tend to perceive events and make judgments on a relative basis and not on an absolute basis. What tends to becomes normal is relative to what we routinely experience. But every once in a while we are able change the standard dramatically when a critical mass of organizational members compares what they are experiencing to other extra-organizational standards.

Let me illustrate relative decision-making in a simple fashion. Say you needed a pair of shoes and had your eye on a pair that normally costs $300. You are prepared to spend $300 on those shoes. You open the Sunday paper and see that a store 40 minutes away across town has those same exact shoes that you have been thinking of purchasing for half-off or $150. Would you be motivated to drive across town to buy your shoes at half-price? Many people are inclined to do that. Now say you needed to purchase a new car. You are looking at a car that costs $27,900 at a new car dealer near your house. You are prepared to spend $27,900 on that new car by financing it with the bank and paying it off over 5 years. You open the Sunday paper and see that same exact car for $27,750 at a new car dealer 40 minutes away on the other side of town. Would you drive across town to buy that car? Many would say no. Yet in these two examples in each case the buyer would save $150 on the purchase price. You could use that $150 to purchase the same exact things, regardless of where the savings came from, 2-tickets to a Broadway show (partially obstructed view), or a hot dog at Yankee Stadium. Yet there is a tendency for people to be more willing to save $150 when it represents a larger portion of the purchase price, rather than when it represents a smaller percentage. We make relative and not absolute judgments on how worthwhile the savings are.

The same holds true at the organizational level. If organizational performance is seen as improving relative to where it currently is, employees tend to be more upbeat regardless of the absolute starting level of that performance and if it is perceived as in decline, employee spirits will also be in decline (even if you are still the best in your industry). So how could the CEO I mentioned lead a company that achieved high levels of employee commitment and loyalty, even as people were burning out? The answer is that it was an exciting place to be, they were cutting edge, an industry leader with rapidly rising levels of performance, beating the competition and with a clearly articulated vision of where the company was going.

© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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Drive to Work and Social Safety Nets

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Presentation to
High Level Conference of the Economic and Social Council, United Nations
July 9, 2012

What do we know about what drives people to work, to contribute to groups or organizations to which they belong? It turns out to be quite a bit. Beyond subsistence, one key component of what drives people to contribute through work is the need that people have to feel that their life, their existence is of value, that it has meaning. Humans, by-and-large, have a strong desire to feel valued, and part of what drives that sense of being valued is belonging to and contributing in a meaningful fashion to societal groups.

Societal groups, be they for-profit companies, charitable organizations, governmental organizations, religious organizations, sports teams, nation states or neighborhood beautification committees are all simply various types of organizations to which we belong. And certainly it is possible to belong to multiple kinds of organizations simultaneously.

That feeling of “being valued”, of being considered a worthwhile member of an organization is driven by the interactions that individuals have within the groups to which they belong and how members are rewarded by those groups for their contributions. Rewards at for-profit organizations for instance, involve salaries and bonuses, benefits, psychological recognition, opportunities for advancement, and developmental experiences.

Rewards for belonging to other kinds of societal groups may be very different. Almost 70 years ago, in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt in his State of the Union proposed an Economic Bill of Rights, providing for a strong social safety net stating that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security, independence, and that political rights, as characterized by the initial Bill of Rights, are inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. Among the rights included were:

• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.

Many of these economic rights and rewards are achievable when people gain decent employment. But one question that arises is if a social safety net is provided, regardless of employment status, does it affect people’s drive to work? A partial answer to that can be found by examining how satisfied people are when reporting themselves to be over-worked or under-worked on their jobs.

First a preliminary question. If you survey a cross section of employees from within a country, are the findings generalizeable or predictive of broader conditions within that country? A test of this was undertaken from June, 2008 to October, 2009 by surveying quarterly, 16,000 people across the 12 largest global economies using an index called Employee Confidence which I developed. In a nutshell, Employee Confidence examines two aspects of employee attitudes, confidence in their respective organizations and confidence in their personal situation.

By treating countries as large organizations, with each country’s respective head of state filling the role of CEO, research techniques such as survey linkage can be applied to entire countries. This approach allows you to “link” attitudinal data from employees to measures of performance at the country level, such as national or state unemployment levels and GDP growth, among others.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the results we would expect to find at an organizational/company level also apply when you sample a representative cross-section of citizenry and look at country-level performance indicators. For example, within the USA, for one over-sampled iteration, each state was treated as an organizational unit. Comparisons of citizenry attitudes by state on the Employee Confidence Index to unemployment levels by state showed that Employee Confidence was a leading indicator of what unemployment levels would be within that state the following month.

In other words, the strongest relationships found were between Employee Confidence attitudes now, and what officially reported state unemployment levels would be 1 month from now. This relationship was marginally stronger than the relationship between current attitudes compared to the previous month’s unemployment levels and current attitudes compared to current unemployment levels.
Additionally at the country level, Employee Confidence was found to be strongly related to change in GDP growth during this timeframe, with employees in India, Russia, China and Brazil achieving top scores and employees in Japan, Italy, France and Spain scoring the lowest. The rank order correlation was found to be .87 between Employee Confidence at the country level and GDP growth.

This would seem to give some indication that asking a cross section of employees about their levels of Employee Confidence might be a leading indicator of whether unemployment levels among citizens and potentially other economic metrics such as national GDP were heading upwards or downwards in the near term.

Now, given that the evidence suggests that certain citizenry attitudes at a country level can be used in a similar fashion to employee attitudes in predicting organizational performance, we can begin to draw some conclusions using employee survey data not only about “people at work” but also about “people as citizens”.

For instance, one study I undertook looked at the relationship between workload and satisfaction. Employees who consider their workload to be “about right” tend to be the most satisfied with their jobs, while those who say they are underworked are less satisfied than employees who complain of being overworked.

This study examined the level of job satisfaction of more than 800,000 employees at 61 companies worldwide. Of the companies surveyed,
• 75% had operations in North America,
• 11% had operations in Europe,
• 14% had operations in Asia.

Employees participating in the survey were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs, and their perceptions of their workload. Respondents who described their workload as “about right” rated their job satisfaction at an average of 73 percent favorable, while employees who said they had “too much work” rated their satisfaction level at 57% favorable. By contrast, those who said they had “too little work” had the lowest average job satisfaction rating of 32% favorable.

By slicing the data geographically we can examine how workers in different parts of the world felt about their workloads and how that relates to job satisfaction. Employees in North America who said they had “too little work” had an average job satisfaction rating of 36% favorable, whereas European workers in this category had a satisfaction rating of 12% favorable, and Asian employees a rating of 13% favorable.

Job Satisfaction and Perception of Workload are not related to the degree in which a society spends on Social Safety Nets. For instance, according to the OECD in 2012 the USA will spend 20% of GDP on social spending, while in Europe, in general, greater amounts are spent on social safety nets, and in Asia, with the exception of Japan, which will spend 23%, spending on social safety nets is generally lower.

Some conclusions that can be drawn by looking across these studies include:
• Given the linkages found between country level performance metrics and employees attitude data, there does seem to be generalizability between employee attitudes at work, and given a large enough and a representative sample, citizenry attitudes at a country level.
• And while we did not survey people working in sweatshop-like conditions, people tend to be most positive when they have about the right amount of work to do, but on a whole, prefer being busy over not having enough to do. One could surmise that among people who are not given enough to do, there is a tendency to feel that their contributions are not valued.
• The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, as has been done in some European countries to a greater extent than in the USA, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.

So where do statements such as, “those lazy people will find jobs once their welfare checks run out”, come from? There is a tendency for humans to make decisions and draw conclusions representing their world-view based on heuristics, or rules of thumb and to consider only evidence that supports their point-of-view. The down side of this evolutionary derived shortcut to speedier human information processing is that it can play into stereotypes, bias and bigotry.

Let’s apply some evidence-based decision making to the notion that by having a safety net that societies are creating benefits that are so generous that those who are unemployed will have less of a desire to work.
• The evidence suggests that the majorities of people are happy when working, and in fact are happier when they feel that they have too much to do rather than too little.
• The evidence suggests that in societies with strong social safety nets that there is no diminution of satisfaction for the majority of workers that the work itself brings.

It is possible to go into the general population and at the extremes of the distribution find individuals who fit the worst-case scenarios and stereotypes of people who prefer not to work, living off of social safety nets, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.

In sum, based on a review of multiple databases that include both the private and public sector, the evidence is clear, most people want to work, to do a good job at work and want to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful fashion and this is independent of geography and the type of social safety net that is in place.

© 2012 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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What Direction Are You Moving In?

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There is a tendency on the part of people to feel strongly about movement. Ever since we headed out of Africa to explore what lay over the horizon, we have been a species on the move. And in fairly short order after that original exodus, especially given the knowledge base and level of technology available, humans had made it to virtually every corner of this planet. We move, we explore, we seek. Even when we don’t know what we are seeking we seek, with an “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of rationale. That grass certainly looks greener over there doesn’t it? Traveling for work and the ability to explore foreign places is often viewed as a glamorous perk and is used as a hiring inducement by many organizations. We always have been and still are a species on the move, exploring not only our own planet but given our nature of itchy feet, constantly pushing the limits to explore realms that exist beyond those that are currently known. The urge to move, the desire for change, to travel, to explore is so strong among many of us that you have to wonder if it is somehow hardwired into our psyche, establishing itself out of a survival benefit.

Movement. Change. Renewal. These are enduring themes that get our attention. In my own work the theme and significance of change on the psychology of  the worker and hence the organization is also evident. As I collected Employee Confidence data beginning in June of 2008, I found that the most confident employees on the planet were not from countries with the highest levels of economic prosperity, nor were the lowest levels found in countries with little prosperity. The most confident employees were to be found in countries that had the most positive movement in GDP growth, not the highest absolute level of GDP but those with the largest positive shift in GDP. Likewise countries with stagnant or falling levels of prosperity, signified by falling levels of GDP, were where the least confident employees were to be found. Similarly levels of employee confidence were more strongly related not to absolute unemployment levels on a state level, as a casual observer may expect, but were much more related to the changing level of unemployment. For instance, if the unemployment level in a state where to drop from one quarter to the next, the level of employee confidence turned higher, even if the absolute level of unemployment was still high, as things were seen as improving.

We often seem to base our assessments of various kinds of situations and organizations not based on absolutes, but on how the situation and the organizations are changing. Is it moving in the positive direction, getting better, is it stagnant or is the situation and organization in decline? People are drawn to organizations that seem to be in ascendency, and rapidly abandon even relatively highly performing organizations that are seen to be in decline. This appears to be true not only for employees of organizations but for its customers as well.

“Americans traditionally are much more interested in the direction the economy’s going than in the absolute level,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.  “The absolute level can be not so good, unemployment can be relatively high, and incumbents can still get re-elected as long as things are moving in the right direction.” (NY Times 08/08/11). 

My work seems to imply that the tendency described in the Times article is not limited to Americans but is a phenomena based on us being human, and the way humans respond to and assess situations and hence applies globally.

From an organizational perspective this finding underscores the need for organizations to constantly improve, to raise the bar of performance, both in terms of the products and services they will offer and how its employees view the organization. Simply maximizing your current performance, having the best product or service out there, or being an attractive employer is just not good enough, but rather a longer-term evolutionary path of constant improvement, building future organizational potential is required for long-term organizational health.  The theme of Maximizing Current Performance while at the same time Building Future Potential is at the heart of OrgVitality’s organizational performance model and encompasses a body of research in the field of organizational development called ambidexterity.


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


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 2, 2011 at 11:52 am

Searching for Eudaimonia

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Have human ethical standards been fundamentally the same over the millennia?

“What would Zeus do?” Given the ethical abuses that we constantly read about in the news and now about the news, I have been thinking quite a bit about ethics and whether changing ethical standards have an impact on our societies and organizations. As you consider the relative constancy of ethical standards over time there are only two possibilities. One is that human ethical standards are constant and the behaviors that we witness which implies differing ethics over time are really an expression of changing standards, driven by societal levels of economic well-being, sophistication or technology as humans search for what the ancient Greeks felt was a major driver of human behavior, called eudaimonia or happiness.  Or second, the possibility those fundamental ethical standards do indeed shift over time.

I would argue that at any moment of time, were you to objectively measure the level of ethical behavior shown by every individual person on the planet, that you would find a normal distribution of ethical behavior, with some behaving with the highest level of ethics (by my standards of course), others would be considered on the edge and still others would be behaving in quite an unethical manner. Further, I would argue that the distribution would be broad enough that you would find more variation in ethical behavior among people within any period of time than you would find across time periods. Those people who operate significantly below the mean or the norm, we call abnormal or criminal and attempt to stop their behavior. Now if we have a normal distribution that means that ½ of the human population is below the mean, so obviously we don’t lock away ½ of the human race, but what we do is to determine heuristically where to draw the cut score. At some point, maybe one standard deviation below the mean or perhaps two, we say that the behavior is sufficiently abnormal to be considered criminal and lock those people away or send them for treatment.

Historically, the Romans had the Coliseum in Rome and 200 other similar venues elsewhere, whose contests resulted in the deaths of millions of animals and the slaughter of uncounted numbers of people. Most of us today would find the killing of people for sport abhorrent, most but not all. But today we do have sporting events held in venues similar to a coliseum aimed at like outcomes, producing a winner and loser and entertaining the masses (or more cynically, providing an outlet for aggression not aimed at the powers that be). On the face of it they seem quite different, for instance after a baseball game rarely do you see the losing team impaled on stakes or fed to the lions. But underneath it all, are the two events playing to fundamentally the same principles in the human psyche, the need for competition, for a winner and loser to emerge, and the need to root for one’s “champion”? Is the popularity of some TV shows really due to nothing more than their nature as virtual Roman Coliseums, allowing us to peer into how people perform under stressful circumstance? Are some news shows that allow us to track crime investigations or court trials similar to the struggle for survival that the Romans so enjoyed viewing? (The normal distribution argument would imply that some Romans enjoyed the blood sport while others tolerated it and others still were perhaps appalled by it. Similarly today some are glued to their sets watching championship wrestling or reality TV shows, while others are not.)

There are layers upon layers to think through as this point is considered. Certainly ethical theories and the corresponding theories of justice have changed and have evolved over time, but the question I am posing is more fundamental. “Have humans changed?” Has our fundamental psychology changed over the last few thousand years causing our ethical standards to shift? Or are we still the same humans, psychologically, that strode the earth during Golden age of Greece, the epochs of the Pharaohs, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the age of Confucius or of the Buddha, or when the 10 Commandments first appeared?

I have to admit to some pre-determined bias, for when I look at the so-called “generational” differences that are supposed to exist among worker attitudes, regardless of what you read in the lay press, I can find no evidence in the data to support the notion that what the various generations want out of the world of work is different on a fundamental level. The differences that do exist are primarily driven by differing economic opportunity, life stage and technology rather than differences in human psychology. For instance you would be very hard pressed to find a worker who did not want to be treated with respect and dignity, have a sense of accomplishment or a sense of fairness of treatment and equity of any generation in any area of the world. And the workers today around the world who accept working conditions that you and I would find unacceptable do so out of economic necessity and for no other reason.

You may consider some ancient practices barbaric, but they were no worse than what people perpetrated on their fellows a mere 70 years ago during WWII. And today things are little better, with an estimated 12.5 million humans living in slavery with 2.5 million of those being bought and sold like cattle (Dahan 2011). Yet we could also point to progress that has been made in the USA over the last few decades with the abandonment of laws that created second class citizen status for many of our fellow humans, and the passage of  laws giving equal rights to others.

Yet positively, sports like baseball can also have a helpful effect in bringing together people who can find common cause in their efforts, including those that go beyond the sport itself. In tsunami ravaged sections of Japan, baseball is providing an aura of normalcy at some schools allowing people to see beyond the day-to-day devastation they are dealing with (New York Times 7/10/11). So I want to be careful and not paint with too broad a brush in my statements about various activities.

Here is a statement for which I have no evidence, since I did not measure the attitude nor have I been able to find any organization or person who did, but never-the-less I would argue is accurate: “Slaves were never in favor of slavery”.  Those who got the short end of the stick due to the unethical behavior of others were never pleased with their lot and why should they be? Humans have had an uncanny knack, an ability to take advantage of other humans for as long as we have been walking this planet. At the same time others give unselfishly of themselves to benefit the broader society of which they are part.

I recently got back from a trip to Costa Rica (go if you ever have an opportunity), and during the trip we stayed for a few days in a town of about 1500 people called Tortuguero. We went to this location which is accessible only by boat or plane, to see the Green Sea Turtle lay its eggs, during the start of the annual mating season. You need to have a permit to go onto the beach where the turtles aggregate and a registered guide needs to take you to make sure no damage is done to the turtles or their nests. Our guide happened to be a fellow named Fernando, who went by Don. It was truly an honor to spend a few days with him and to learn from him about the wild life and plants in the area. Don and I had several conversations over the course of a few days about how the town of Tortuguero is structured socially and politically. Tortuguero’s original residents were escaped slaves from Caribbean islands and from a slaving ship that had sunk. They chose to make a life, however hard, rather than return to slavery, they were searching for eudaimonia. Remember, “Slaves were never in favor of slavery”.

Interestingly, Tortuguero has no local government. There is a provincial police station manned by federal police, but there is no mayor, no elected officials, no one in authority to get things done. Over the last few years though cement walkways have begun to replace dirt paths in town, a major recycling facility has been built, in line with the theme of Tortuguero being an eco-vacation location and importantly creating jobs for residents, potable running water has been supplied to each house and other improvements have been made.

How do these things get done? Don indicated that a group of about 7 citizens who simply want to make things better get together regularly and figure out how to accomplish them. I asked if they were elected, but he said they were volunteers. My feeling is that they were volunteers that the other residents of the town greatly respected and willingly followed their lead in decision making, making life better for all. These volunteers in my opinion are operating with a great deal of ethical integrity attempting to improve life for all 1500 residents of the town (they are also likely acting with self-interest). And if anyone is listening, according to Don, what the town really needs next is a bank. A bank would give the residents a place to safely put their money, it would provide small businesses a place to borrow for startup costs, and it would make the town feel more substantial. Don indicated that a bank would give residents more confidence in the future of the town, with all of the corresponding benefits and is sorely needed.

No matter how much we may wish it, ethical issues and challenges, among business leaders, politicians, and others are not going to go away any time soon. Humans are not about to achieve some kind of breakthrough in our evolutionary pathway that will fundamentally change our behavior. But there are a large number of people, and I want to positively think, an increasingly larger number of people who are willing to do the right thing, not giving into the fears of our baser emotions in order to make life better for all as we each find our own personal form of eudaimonia.


Dahan, Y., Lerner, H., Milman-Sivan, F.,  2011, Global Justice, Labor Standards and Responsibility, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 12, 117-142.

Hursthouse, R, “Virtue Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

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


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

July 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

Nonexistent Differences

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There is an old story from Eastern Europe about a ruler who gathers his advisors around him. A discussion ensued about a dramatic rise in madness among those in the population who consumed grain from the recent harvest. In the manner of many politicians or those with vested interests, the advisors told the ruler that they must put aside enough grain from pervious harvest so that they could preserve their own sanity while those around them went mad. The ruler objected, and using logic possible only among those with the inbred genes of hereditary rulers, stated that since they could not put aside enough grain for everyone, that they too must eat the fungus infected grain, for if everyone else was mad, acting similarly, those others will think us mad if we are different. We must be as mad as everyone else, acting like everyone else, believing in what they believe in order to be considered normal and blend in, to consolidate and not lose our positions of power.

Normal. It is very relative and time specific. Tattoos were once what happened to drunken sailors, piercings were limited to the earlobes of women, listening to rock and roll was going to send you to hell, voyeurism was a mental illness and not promoted on prime-time TV, books were printed on paper and much earlier reading those newfangled books called novels was viewed as immersing oneself in dangerous fantasy worlds, and each and every younger generation has been an enigma to the previous. The only thing certain about what is normal is that it is a moving target and subject to change over time. Trying to hold back the floodgates of change is and should be an exercise in futility. Ideologues, those who support a specific ideology frozen in some past moment, yearning to go back to the way things were are not only tilting at windmills, but are often at the root of much violent, disruptive and nonproductive behavior. However, what one person views as a positive shift in the value set that describes normal, another will view as negative. What is certain is that humanity is not a monolithic entity in our values and beliefs, and whatever “system” is put into place that governs us must be one that allows for those differences to enhance the mosaic of what constitutes humanity.

Are organizations any different? Do myths of what is normal exist within companies? There is a technique I like to use when analyzing an organization’s data. For want of a better name we call it a 9-box. The 9-box takes two questions from an organizational assessment and lays out the all possible responses to each, one along the x-axis and one along the y forming a 3×3 matrix. The 9 cells that are then created contain those responses from people who responded one of 9 different ways to the 2 questions. They could have been favorable on both questions, in which case they would be in the upper left box, they could have been negative on both questions, in which case they would be in the lower right hand box. All the other possible combinations are filled in (Favorable:Neutral, Neutral:Neutral, Negative:Neutral, etc.). Once the matrix has been completed we examine the outcome measure of interest for each cell. How, for instance, do the Favorable:Favorable people fare on turnover or measures of quality, customer satisfaction etc. We contrast that positive cell against the other cells within the matrix.  And then it gets interesting.

We examine the demographic characteristic of the employees within the Positive:Positive cell and compare it against those in the other cells. In every single case where I have done this analysis organizational beliefs are exploded and shown to be myths. For instance it may be thought that the most positive employees within the organization would be the managers and the least positive would be the production workers. But when you examine the demographic breakdowns you typically find very similar percentages of employee types in each of the cells. It is not simply that employees are of different types that accounts for perceptual differences and performance differences within organizations, rather it is how each employee as an individual views their treatment, and that is independent of position and most of the common demographics tracked within organizations.

You see there is a bit of a conundrum at work. While we are free to have different beliefs and values we are all still human and each of us have most of the same hopes and desires as any of our fellow humans. We may all have different fingerprints, but we all have fingerprints. Those issues that arise within organizations that create the new normal, the current conditions in which everyone must function, affect all within the organization and whether they view their own situation in a positive or negative light is driven by a myriad of factors that impinge on them in their organizational existence. Some of those factors are driven by the competence, tone and actions created at the top of the organization, others are more career and personally oriented, others depend on perceptions of how the organization is positioned competitively. In sum, the perceptions of both the organization’s future and one’s personal future matter in determining the attitude and performance of employees of all types.

One thing is certain. You can’t get maximal performance out of all of the employees of an organization by hanging onto myths and false beliefs that emphasize non-existent differences while at the same time ignoring those issues that actually matter.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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