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The Air We Breathe

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I should be working on a proposal tonight (it is due soon), for that represents the future of my company. But I decided I needed to take a break and write about the future of the planet, for that is much more important. Today, the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, which aligns us with the other 2 countries in the world which also don’t participate – Syria and Nicaragua. So now we are similar to two other outstanding pillars of the global community. Syria, which is really no longer functioning as a country, Nicaragua and the United States now share similar pedigrees. But the reason to do something, to behave in a certain way, should not be driven by simply what everyone else is doing, it should be driven by scientific evidence, by fact and by reasoned thinking, three areas which have recently taken a beating by the leadership of the USA.

But let’s take a step back and look at what we know about what people around the world want. These tend to be universal findings and there is no or little difference when you examine these results by region, culture or other demographics you care to. In literally thousands of studies commissioned by companies who wanted to know what their employees want, what motivates them, some common patterns emerge. These patterns are pretty easily transferred beyond the workplace to what people in general desire.

What do employees want?

I can go on and list some other things, but fundamentally this list covers the vast majority, the basics of what is important. You can substitute the word “employees” with “people”. Let’s look at the more fundamental things an employee or a citizen might want and not even consider to be debatable. Just what are the basics of what a citizen of a country should expect?

Should you be given air to breathe? Many people would consider that to be a ludicrous question. Should you be given air to breathe? Get real, air is all around us no one can limit it.  But, what if you lived on Mars and air had to be manufactured or shipped in? What if you were viewed as a drag on the colony, a non-optimal performer. Should you be given air to breathe? Most people would still argue that death through asphyxia is not an appropriate punishment for poor performance. Maybe the leadership on Mars would work with you in an attempt to improve your performance before cutting off your oxygen supply.

Should you have access to clean water to drink? Like air, without water we would all die within a few days. Access to clean, potable water is fundamental to life.

Should you be given food to eat? For one congressman from Nebraska that answer to that question is no. He refused to answer the question whether everyone in the USA has a right to food. And that is really no different than air or water, except that it takes longer to die from no food. Presumably he feels that certain people who are not contributing to society as much as he is (and his contribution is certainly debatable in my mind), that they are not worthy of receiving food.

Let me take another step back and introduce you to John Rawls. He is a noted philosopher who has done extensive work in the area of justice. He developed a thought experiment called the “veil of ignorance” to help people figure out whether a rule or regulation was just or gave inappropriate advantages to certain groups. The concept with the veil is that you are ignorant to which group you belong as you consider the rule or regulation and its implications for justice. Since most people writing rules or regulations are part of a privileged class, the thought experiment is aimed at opening people’s minds to other points of view. Perhaps our Nebraska congressman, instead of getting paid by the government, was out of work, unable to find employment or was unable to work due to some other factor. Perhaps he had children that, due to his inability to work, often went to bed at night hungry. How would he feel about his position about whether everyone should have access to food? The veil suggests he might feel differently, if it was his children that were starving to death or growing up stunted physically or mentally.

The Paris Climate Accords is squarely aimed at the fundamentals of life. Should we not change the current path we are on, access to water, to food, the very quality of the air we breathe will be diminished. No one else, no other country, entity or being, is going to take care of this problem for us. If we don’t act, not only is our society threatened, but life itself on the entire planet. The United States, rather than making decisions based on its privileged state, needs to use the veil and look at the larger question of what is just for the entire planet. Participation in the Accords affords us the opportunity to resume the global leadership role we have abandoned, to become the example for others to once again follow, and economically, we will benefit from being a technological leader in an alternative energy future that is only going to become more dominant over time. We will also have a planet we can live on, for ourselves and our children.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Ethics

Beyond the Pale

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If I used my life savings and opened a pizza parlor, and I wanted it to be successful, who would I hire to run that pizza parlor for me? Would I hire someone who really knew how to make great pizza or would I hire someone who had never made a pizza before? Maybe someone who thought that ketchup was the same thing as tomato sauce (or gravy)? Would the person I hire need to know how to treat my customers, how to hire and motivate a staff, how to run a cash register and all the other things required to run a successful small business?  Or could they just learn it over time? Could they learn it before they ran my pizza parlor into the ground, forcing me into bankruptcy? Am I willing to take that risk?

But here we are. We have a president and his appointees who are learning how to ruin, sorry I meant run, run a country with on-the-job training being done every day. The person in charge of tackling global warming, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, doesn’t believe it is real, the person in charge of the improving our public schools doesn’t believe in public education, the person in HHS in charge of contraception doesn’t believe contraception works, the person in charge of providing public housing to the poor believes that public housing coddles them, the person in charge of the DOE did not realize that one of its tasks was to protect the nation’s nuclear arsenal (oops), the person who regulates what can go into kids school lunches rolled back regulations which attempted to ensure that kids had healthier lunches, the first person who was National Security Advisor had to resign because of ties to Russia, the latest pick to run the Army had to withdraw because of discriminatory comments made about LGBTQ folks, the person in charge of regulatory reform is an activist investor who buys interests in companies and then squeezes the life out of them to turn a profit, the list of misfits to positions goes on and on. These are not the kind of people you would appoint to run your pizza parlor if you wanted it to be successful, maybe turn it into a chain. These are the kind of people you would appoint if you were purposefully looking to shut down your pizza parlor because you did not want it to work, to be successful. (Why would someone do that after investing their life savings to open the pizza parlor in the first place? Our founding fathers invested a hell of a lot more than their life saving to create this country.)  These are the kind of people you would put into place to “starve the beast” which is a Republican tactic for shrinking government.

There is a mistake that many managers in business make. They create rules and regulations for the 5%. Most people, the vast majority of people, want to come to work, want to do a good job, want the organization to succeed and want to have success along with the organization. The evidence for that is abundant and abundantly clear. Yet many managers in companies simply can’t bring themselves to believe that or don’t know it, and so they create rules to manage the population as though they were all looking to “get away” with things. They put into place onerous rules on the 95% rather the managing the misbehavior or issues of the 5%. The result of that can be stifling to the 95% who are really interested in doing good work.  In my company, yes, it is small, our vacation policy is “Take some, make sure your work is covered”. Our HR Policy is summed us as “Use your common sense, violators will be persecuted”.  We are open 24/7/365. You pick your holidays and manage your schedule. In other words, we try to manage for the 95%. The 5% who are not able to work that way? We deal with them individually. People new to the organization often take some time to adjust to being treated this way. Some have a harder time than others adjusting to the freedom after a lifetime of rules being imposed.

I recently marched in a demonstration to support my immigrant neighbors, yes in some sense that is all of us, because unless you are a Native American, you too are an immigrant. But this march was to support more recent immigrants who feel threatened by this administration. The rules being imposed today do not treat the immigrants as the 95% who contribute, pay taxes and are real contributors to our society. The rules are written for the 5% or less, just like many businesspeople do as they write rules for their organizations. Yes, within the 5% there could be criminals or worse, but you treat them as individual criminals and you do not blanket a whole population because of the actions of a few. (Under the Geneva convention, if you punish an entire population for the actions of a few, and you did that during a war, you would be committing a war crime).  By stifling the 95% because we are trying to control the 5% we are losing all sorts of potential as a country. The data shows that immigrants, regardless of what the administration says, commit fewer crimes than native born Americans, are more likely to become scientists, doctors, engineers etc. Are you over 40 and still alive? You likely have science and an immigrant to thank. Immigrants start businesses, pay taxes, participate in community events and become leaders. They came here for the same reason our grandparents came, to find a better life for themselves and their children. You should not be surprised by this statement.

My grandparents came to this country to escape the Pale of Settlement. It was an area within Russia which was the only area in which Jews could live. There were some few exceptions made. Conditions within the Pale for the Jews were extremely harsh. The word Pale is a derivative of the Latin word for stake – meaning stakes in the ground, a figurative wall in this case, beyond which Jews could not live. The term “Beyond the Pale”, came from the notion that living outside of the Pale was unacceptable for Jews. Today, if something is “Beyond the Pale” it means it is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. The actions of this administration towards science, environmental regulations, healthcare, housing, women, minorities, immigrants, other vulnerable populations, as well as on a host of other issues is Beyond the Pale.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

May 7, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Ethics, Human Behavior

Paroxysms of Populism

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I simply can’t believe what I see when I look at the candidacy of Donald Trump. How has the Republican Party, a main-stream political party devolved to reach such a low as to nominate a candidate that has the Klu Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and other assorted racists and white supremacists advocating for its candidate? A candidate who numbers among his supporters a former KGB leader, Vladimir Putin, an autocrat and dictator running a corrupt kleptocracy, whose political and otherwise perceived opponents mysteriously disappear or die, who thinks nothing of bombing hospitals, and who actively supports Trump’s bid for the USA’s highest office with espionage.

Other support from the world of national leaders comes from Kim Jong-un, the missile-firing dynastic despot who kills people for “not showing the right attitude” during meetings, or for being perceived as a threat to his rule and from the Iranian hard right who want to dismantle the treaty that reduced their nuclear capability. So 2/3rd of George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” support the current Republican candidate. With this kind of support and role models it is no wonder that Trump threatens to imprison his political opponents, to make it easier to go after critical journalists and who constantly states that they only way he can lose is if the system is “rigged” against him. While it is easy to despair about the candidate, calling into question not only his policy positions but also his mental fitness, it is even more disappointing that he has garnered any support, let alone significant support from a proportion of the American public. This is not who we are or at least, based on the ideals of the founding fathers, not who we are supposed to be.

But we have been here before. Previously during times of economic and demographic transition the country has lurched toward populism, nativism, protectionism and the fear-mongering that we are currently seeing. And while as a national movement these periods have been relatively short-lived, there always has remained an undercurrent of baser populism by people who feel threatened by change or are simply racist, misogynist and xenophobic.

John Adams, perhaps the most religious of the founding fathers, signed a series of laws collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen, allowed for the imprisonment and deportation of non-citizens deemed “dangerous” or were from a hostile nation, and criminalized the making of false statements against the federal government. The argument was made that these laws were required to strengthen national security during a time of uncertainty.

The rise of the Know-Nothings in the mid-1800s, which began as the American Republican Party then became the Native American Party, and then later simply the American Party, came about because of a fear of the immigration of large numbers of Germans and Irish Catholics. A California chapter opposed Chinese immigration. This anti-immigrant party, whose base was protestant men, saw conspiracies everywhere they looked and when members carried out various criminal acts and were questioned their response was “I know nothing”. Abraham Lincoln despaired about the No-Nothings: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to that I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

And more recently, after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, during the spring of 1942, well over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps because of fears over their loyalty. Reviews of this policy later on could find little to no evidence of disloyalty among these citizens and the motivations for this forced internment were identified as institutional racism.

While it is easy to say that these episodic periods of populism were economically driven, and to an extent they were, they are also driven by some basic human tendencies towards tribalism and to see “otherness” as a threat rather than a benefit to society. But the evidence is incontrovertible, immigration rather than being the threat that these movements perceive has powered this country to the heights of economic prosperity and to be a leader in scientific and industry innovation. After all, except for a very few of us, we are all immigrants.

From a business and organizational health standpoint prosperity is not achieved by walling yourself or your organization off from the rest of the world, but by embracing it. Ronald Reagan who is often used as the ideal icon of the Republican Party stated in his farewell address to the nation: “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still”. You have to wonder what Reagan would say about what his party has become.

   

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 10, 2016 at 11:10 am

A-7713

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Dehumanization. A reference number tattooed on an arm is a powerful method of turning a person into something less. Dehumanization when paired with and justified by vilification eases the gathering and slaughter. Dehumanization is a slippery slope and those who initiate the process count on it being that way in order to help gather and maintain their power. It takes a group and turns them into the “other”, the source of a society’s problems. It takes the causality of problems from being systemic or internally focused and moves it to a sub-group within society or an outside group that can be labeled as threatening to that society. In either case the thinking is that the group needs to be dealt with and cast out. The logic is that if only we dealt with the “other” we could go back to the good old days or the way things should be, that our lives would be improved. The good old days themselves are a fantasy that exists only in the mind of the angry and aggrieved for they were never good for most. It may start with rumor, a libel, and then proceed to claims of injury, injustice, criminality, and how the “other” receives unfair benefits at your expense. It then moves to humiliation of the “other”, the use of symbols and identification to make them better stand out, for without the symbols and identification we may not be able to tell if they are them or us. The next step may be the building of a wall to keep them out or perhaps inside a ghetto, followed by legislated de-legitimization of the “other”, taking away rights or the ability to receive fair treatment perhaps imposing penalties for being “other”. Once legislation is in place the next steps are easy, for solutions can be found, perhaps even a final solution. Conducting horrendous acts against the “other” can bind the rest of the group together more strongly and helps unite them in common purpose.

Yet, even as there are those who are ready to vilify “others” for their own gain, there are those who are willing to stand against this pattern of human behavior that has repeated itself over the millennia. It cannot be allowed to happen once again. We must remember that we are more similar than we are different, that we all potentially can succumb to human bias and prejudice and most of all we must remember that we are all human. One person who stood against this pattern of abuse has left us. He was numbered A-7713 by the Nazi’s, but his human name was Elie Wiesel. I will always remember him and I will also remember what he stood for, his dignity and desire to fight against injustice rising out of the ashes and tragedy of his childhood.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

July 2, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Ethics, Human Behavior

Tagged with

OV co-sponsors Psychology Day at UN – Jeff Saltzman’s opening Remarks – 042816

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Thank you all for coming. It is most gratifying that such an urgent issue as the migration crisis brings forth such a high level of interest among both our clients and friends.

I hope you find today’s panel discussion on the migration crisis, whether caused by global warming, war, violence, or other factors facing so many of our fellow humans both educational and inspirational.

From an educational standpoint, what you may find is that traumatic events which displace people don’t necessarily bring forth new challenges that we have never faced before, but greatly magnify those that exist around all of us every day. Displacement, the loss of identify, the need to reintegrate people into society and help them find their worth are challenges that occur every day all around us, but are greatly magnified, more challenging and often more urgent with migrants.

During 911, for instance, we were in the midst of an employee survey for a financial services firm and part of the employee population completed the survey prior to 911 and part afterwards. One conclusion from that study was that traumatic events greatly magnify challenges that exist daily, challenges that must be met for the successful operation of our society and the organizations that reside within.

Organizations and the employees within go through changes in leadership, reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, new people coming and old friends going. They also experiences changes in the environment in which they operate. Each of these events can cause changes in status, influence, security, and the sense of having a positive future for oneself and potentially one’s family. These challenges, while they do not rise to the level of those who are displaced in a migration event, never-the-less share some common characteristics.  So as the panel discussion unfolds ask yourself how these same psychological concepts play out in your own organizations.

I hope you draw inspiration from the efforts that people around the world are putting forth to assist migrants and from the migrants themselves. There is, of course, always more that can be done. In our upcoming book, Creating the Vital Organization, Scott Brooks and I discuss the resilience that people have when given an appropriate environment to recover from challenges. It is truly remarkable. To quote the noted Psychologist, Ann Masten, an expert on human resilience, “The greatest surprise of resilience research is the ordinariness of the phenomena”.

The lesson learned – if we reach out and help those who are suffering from migration events, or when we reach out to our own employees experiencing various challenges, they can bounce back. They simply need a helping hand.

OV is proud to support the UN and help enhance UN deliberations through organizational psychology. Should anyone want to stay afterwards and continue the discussion we would be happy to join you. Thank you and enjoy the day.  Jeff

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

April 29, 2016 at 7:05 am

Absolute vs. Relative Morality

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I was raised to think of morality in an absolute sense. I think most of us were. There was right and wrong, just and unjust. It was binary. For instance, if a child was living on the street, hungry, that was not right, plain and simple. A hungry child was never discussed in a relativistic sense, in terms of it being ok if the child was less hungry than another.

We raised money for all sorts of causes back then, putting pennies and nickels into small blue collection boxes. Any spare dimes went into the March of Dimes collection boxes. When I was very young in Jackson Heights, Queens, my mom would take me and my sisters (if they were not in school) to do the food shopping rounds. Depending on the day, we went to the dairy to pick up milk in glass containers, to the fish monger, where if I remember right she leaned towards sole and haddock, the cheese shop, the butcher and the bakery. I have a recollection of not being able to get out of the cheese shop without being given a piece of Muenster or Swiss cheese to eat on the spot, a slice of salami from the butcher, or a butter cookie with sprinkles from the bakery. (The big soft chocolate chip cookies were my favorite though). Other groceries were purchased at the King Kullen store on Roosevelt Avenue, which gave green stamps, redeemable for merchandise, along with your purchase. Things were different then. Not better, not worse, just different. Morality was learned by what was taught and the behaviors at home, as well my daily interactions with and listening to the conversations of others.

Some of the shop keepers bore the tattoos of numbers on their arms, signifying that they had spent time in and were survivors of Nazi concentration camps. At that time, as a young child, I did not know what the numbers meant. Later on, as a graduate student in Ohio, I found a bakery similar to the one of my youth on Cleveland’s east side, where almost all of the people working the counter, they all looked like my grandmother, had also been branded by the Nazi’s. It was emotional for me to go there as I thought of what these people had gone through, but I went as often as I could. Every customer was patient there, no matter how long the line was and each was greeted by the women working the counter as an old friend. Years later I traveled back to Cleveland to see them again and they, like my own grandparents, were gone. These were my teachers of morality. It was not a specific class, it was not pounded into my head. The values were absorbed through my day-to-day childhood interactions.

Today, morality is seemingly taking on more of a relativistic tone. In a recent dust-up between the British and Israeli Prime Ministers, the Israeli Prime Minister and others within his cabinet, lectured the British Prime Minister on how much better the Palestinians in east Jerusalem have it than their brethren in Arab countries. One of his cabinet members also stated that the Palestinians have it better than when they were under the British mandate. All of these statements are true, but that does not make them right.

In what can only be described as a substance-free, circus or carnival barker environment the Republican Presidential primaries have come down to which candidate can out insult the other. Whichever one’s morals sink the lowest, relative to the others, whomever becomes the best insulter, will be poised to win. Any absolute sense of right or wrong on their conduct or on any issues has gone out the window as they pander to the lowest common denominator.

This is a trend that I am sensing in other sectors of our society as well. For instance, organizations today face many pressures that push them towards relativistic definitions of morality rather than absolute ones. I am a supporter of globalization, but globalization in some respects has become a race to the bottom. There are some organizations whose notions around globalization center on issues like finding a location with the loosest environmental laws, the cheapest energy no matter how dirty, the lowest taxes, or the country with the least amount of worker protection and compensation. Finding all of these things make these organizations better able to compete in the marketplace, but it doesn’t make it right. Not for all of us, and not in the long-term.

Many in the United States take pride in the notion that somehow what the USA stands for, freedom, liberty and justice for all, makes us exceptional. That exceptionalism is thought to have ushered in a level of peace and prosperity never before seen by humans. Some, perhaps many will call this notion simplistic and we can argue from here to eternity about what the absolute standards of morality should be, but I am sorry, being exceptional from a morality standpoint is not relativistic, it is absolute. It is time for all of our organizations and our leaders as well as potential leaders to start acting that way.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 28, 2016 at 8:20 am

Posted in Ethics

Exceptionalism

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Did you ever notice how perfectly the morning sunlight streams through the kitchen window? Or how the positioning of the house allows for gorgeous winter water views? Or how the crackling fireplace creates such a perfect atmosphere in the family room? An owner who has spent years living in a house typically knows each and every one of its strengths and views them as something special or exceptional. They put added value on the house due to those characteristics. (They also know the house’s short-comings but often overlook them).  Each person sees this added value in their own house. After all, if it weren’t special or exceptional, what would it say about me for living there? (Cognitive dissonance). As I continue to invest my time and resources in improving my house, from my perspective, my beliefs and values about my house simply become stronger (Sunk Costs). And with limited house owning experience some assume that it just couldn’t get much better than their own house (WYSIATI – what you see or experience is all there is). If and when they go to sell the house they put that perceived exceptionalism into the price tag and then wonder why the house does not sell. They wonder why others don’t perceive the exceptionalism that they do, why others don’t value the things they themselves value (see Organizational Rainbows Cast no Shadows). They are baffled and when they have to lower their price (the value they perceive in the house), they can get angry. Real estate agents serve a useful purpose as a buffer between a buyer who does not perceive the same exceptionalism and the seller who wants to say, “Why don’t you understand”?

The house example above is both real and metaphor. These principles cause people to see exceptionalism in many of their activities, beliefs and convictions. They do not simply apply to what you own, but also to actions you take, where you work, the religion you belong to, the college or university you attended, the person you married, the country you live in and political system by which you are governed.  But before I am accused of painting with too broad of a brush, it is quite clear that there are plenty of times where people can break out of this pattern, discard or change their own values and see the value, or be convinced of the value that others are seeing in an object, belief system, governance structure, investment etc. Just look at how attractive gold is to most people. Gold in and of itself has limited value, you can’t eat it, drink it, breath it. It does not impart health or wisdom to those who hold it or wear it. Its value comes from the combination of its rarity and desirability, a desirability that shows up as a commonly held value. The same could be said of other objects of limited day-to-day usefulness, but that generally are seen as being of high value – artwork, antique cars and other rare objects are often tagged with the phrase exceptional, and we are attracted to things that are rare as it makes us feel special to be in possession of them.

Describing how humans fall under the spell of exceptionalism as a construct is not meant to imply that there is no right or wrong, moral or amoral, good or evil, that there are only points of view. The notion that there are only points of view is a cop out for there certainly are social structures and social norms, governance systems and other conventions that humans apply to other humans that are abhorrent. Systems that keep some in poverty with a lack of opportunity, that subjugate or do not create equality are systems that need to change. Understanding the psychology that makes it more difficult to change them can help enable the needed change.

 

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 16, 2016 at 8:45 am

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