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A Murder of Crows

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A murder of crows. Sounds like that start of a mystery novel. The word murder in this case is used to describe a group of crows. Just like you would use the term a herd of cattle, or a pack of dogs. These descriptive terms are called collective nouns and arise out of a hunting tradition to describe the game being hunted. Many of these words are whimsical in nature and are designed to help define the nature of the groups. Take a pride of lions. If you ever looked at a picture of a group of lions sitting around or hunting together you can see how perfectly the term pride describes them.

Just for fun, I thought I would take a stab at defining some groups of employees within organizations or perhaps opening up a bit of a contest to see if anyone cared to name various alternatives (I am willing to send the winner a pack (dogs) of books I have written).

A group of college professors would be called a school of professors (Currently applied to fish).

A group of highly engaged employees would be called a team or a colony (Horses and bats respectively).

A group of HR professionals would be a gaggle or perhaps a charm (Finches).

A group of sales people would be a hunt or perhaps a rabble or a horde (Gnats).

A group of employees who always sit together in the cafeteria would be called a cackle (Hyenas).

A group of call center professionals would be a troop (Kangaroos among others).

And I can’t take credit for the following since I heard it on NPR today, but a group of Wall Street Bankers would be called a hedge.

And a group of IT professionals would be a cloud (Gnats).

A group of manufacturing line workers would be a yoke (Oxen).

A group of people who quit a company would not be alums but rather a parliament (Owls).

Very efficient people in a group would have to be called a covey (Quail).

Anyone care to jump in? Or perhaps a pandemonium (Parrots) of you would care to work together as a team?


© 2014 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

May 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Humor


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“ish” seems to be gaining in popularity. At least it appears that way to me when I occasionally hear my high schooler chatting with her friends. Cool, groovy, far-out, rad, are out and “ish” seems to be in, along with “literally”. Not that ish is new.  “ish” has, in the distant past of parental youth, meant “approximately”. “When would you like dinner?” “Seven-ish”, has been around for a long time. But “ish” is now being attached to all sorts of words to mean “sort of” or is even being used as a standalone word. “Did you get your homework done?” “Yes-ish”.  “How did today go at school?” “ish.” If I respond with “Do you literally mean ish?” I am the recipient of the rolling eyeball “you are so out of touch” look. “ish”, one is left wondering exactly what that means, though the basic gist is certainly there.

In science and organizational decision-making we try to be as “un-ish” as we possibly can be. We want to manage, make decisions, prove our point, develop our facts by relying on incontrovertible proof, on evidence that the course of action we select or the points we are trying to prove simply cannot be denied. Except that is not how humans often draw conclusions. In one study that a friend of mine did he tracked, among HR professionals, the proportion of their “best outcome” decisions vs. their “worst outcome” decisions and each contained a “leap-of-faith”. Meaning that even after all the facts were assembled, all the evidence in, a leap-of-faith was required to make a decision. Mostly because it is impossible to have complete knowledge, so in the absence of omniscience, a leap-of-faith is needed to get the job done, or you would forever be analyzing and never taking action.

In research, one study builds on another. A follow-up study may contradict the original, but over a period of time, slowly the preponderance of evidence builds, pointing the way to the best course of action, or uncovering a “truth” by which the world operates. This process can take time. Remember for decades cigarette makers denied that smoking cigarettes caused any health issues and they commissioned their own studies to prove that point. This last week CVS, a major drug store chain, announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and the only analysis to be found was whether the approximately 2 billion dollars in lost business would be made-up by a positive shift in CVS’s reputation. No one, at least in the news reports I saw, refuted the science anymore that cigarettes are bad for your health.

Making sense of the world though is quite different from understanding the world, and when people’s understanding is incomplete or based on a shaky foundation, their interpretations of what is going on can go astray. The Greeks for instance knew and it made perfect sense to them that when there was thunder and lightning that it was caused by Zeus, the king of their gods. Knowing what we now know, it may be difficult to understand how the ancient Greeks really felt about that. But it was not some cute little story that they used at bed time for the children, while the adults winked at each other. This is what they truly believed, that when it thundered Zeus was speaking. To them this interpretation of the world made sense, for it explained events as they experienced them, even though from our perspective they did not understand the way the world really worked. Today we talk about these Greek beliefs as mythology. One can’t help but wonder which of today’s beliefs will be thought of as mythology a thousand or so years from now.

Each human develops their own mythology of the way the world works and on April 22nd I am going to be conducting a complimentary webinar on “People at Work – Myths vs. Realities”. Feel free to register and join me for what is hopefully going to be an interesting-ish conversation.

Also on February 18th, Scott Brooks and I will be conducting a complimentary webinar on “Why Employee Engagement is not Strategic” and we both would love to see you there.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 9, 2014 at 11:50 am

Every Wednesday?

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There is an old joke that goes something like this: A union leader is addressing the crowd at a union meeting. From the podium he begins talking, “We have agreed on a new deal with management. We will no longer work five days a week.” The crowd roars in approval. “We will finish work at 3:00 pm, not 4:00 pm.” The crowd roars again. “We will start work at 9:00 am, not 7:00 am.” Once again the crowd roars. “We shall have a 150% pay raise”. The noise level was deafening. “We will work only on Wednesdays.” There was then a silence that immediately engulfed the room. You could hear a pin drop. Then from the back of the crowd a voice asks, “Every Wednesday?”

In spite of jokes like this that make the rounds, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear. The vast majority of workers want to do a good job at work.

They want to work hard. They want to create products or services of which they can be proud. They want to work for a company that from their perspective has its act together and they want to be treated fairly and with respect. But then doesn’t everyone? This truism holds regardless of where in the world you happen to be, and whatever generation, gender or ethic group you are interacting with. Organizations tend to make rules to deal with the 5% of the population that does not fit this description, not the 95% who do. As you think about your role think about what you can do to enable the 95% and not control the 5%.

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

September 25, 2013 at 10:05 am

Once Again, “Into the Myths”

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There is a story of a CEO who in the middle of a company meeting keeled over. He was rushed to the hospital, but despite their best efforts they were unable to revive him. Many employees turned out for the funeral, and as speeches describing the CEO’s management style were given before heading off to the cemetery, the employees were all appropriately sad. As they were wheeling the coffin out of the funeral home, it accidently bumped very hard into the door frame, giving it quite a jar. All of a sudden there was moaning coming from the coffin. The coffin was opened and low and behold the CEO had revived! He recovered and continued running the company, staying true to his style, despite what was clearly a life altering event. After 5 more years he once again keeled over. The employees again dutifully showed up at the same funeral home and listened once again to speeches regarding this CEO’s management style. As the service concluded, and the coffin was being maneuvered towards that fateful doorway of the funeral home, all the gathered employees called out in unison, “careful this time!”

Everyone has various traits which could be described as strengths or shortcomings. Some of them are known to us and some are hidden, despite, perhaps, being quite obvious to others. And some of these traits have their origins in how we have evolved as a species and how our psychology developed. Our tendency to see intelligent intent where there may be none is one such trait. And our ability to form up into groups, to better accomplish tasks which we would have difficulty accomplishing alone, and to see short-comings or differences in “others”, who are not part of our “select” group, is another such trait.

Some of these human traits, such as the tendency to see differences across generations of workers, have manifested themselves into modern management practices, partly due to much publicity and pop psychology. The differences that are often pointed to as generational differences, in actuality tend to be driven by “life stage” differences, confounded by the issue of economic opportunity, an environmental variable, being considered a “fundamental” difference. Bottom line, the belief that there exist generational differences in what workers want out of the work environment is a myth that holds no water.

From an economic perspective, western society is wealthier today, in general, than it has ever been and that wealth translates into differing opportunity. People may behave differently not because their fundamental underlying psychology has changed, but because of economic opportunity differences.

People for instance are less concerned about job security when there are plenty of jobs available and are more concerned about it in times of recession. People are also more concerned about job security when they have a mortgage and kids – a life stage and not a generational difference. Only because economic cycles can take years to work through do these tendencies appear to be related to generational differences, but that is a veneer. Economic opportunity can come and go fairly rapidly and people of all different generations will quickly adapt to those differences, modifying what is important for them at that moment in time and life cycle stage.

Take safety as another example. While there is a normal distribution for the amount of risk people are willing to assume, many people who work in unsafe conditions do so not because they are unconcerned about their personal safety, but because those risky tasks are the only opportunities that are available to them. I remember quite well the “sewage swimmers” of Jakarta. These are people who swim through the open sewer system to perform maintenance and to keep the “waters” flowing, removing blockages. Now, others may rationalize that these sewer swimmers don’t mind their task, but I can guarantee you that they are no different than you or I, and undertake these very risky activities because they, 1. may not completely understand the risks they take, and 2. need to provide for their families. Underneath it all, so to speak, they are the same as we all are.

The same hold true for a willingness to work in sweat-shop like conditions with long hours for little pay and other working conditions that would be less acceptable to “westerners”. You can often hear about how people in a certain country are more tolerant of corruption or other unsavory business practices. The evidence suggests that they may expect more corruption or unsavory practices, but if given a real choice they would be no more tolerant of it than you or I. Society and organizations become at risk when these less savory practices become the de-facto norm. Changing the norm is the challenge, but it can be done.

People are People©, we are all more the same than different (I exclude psychopathology) and while we spend an enormous amount of time searching for our differences, another evolutionary trait, we would be better served by understanding our similarities.

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 14, 2013 at 9:43 am

Pssst…Can I Annoy You for a Second?

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You might be surprised to find out that there has been very little research done on what causes people to be annoyed. Fearful, happy, sad, trusting, and surprised you can find, annoyed, not so much. There would seem to be an unending treasure trove of behaviors these days that could be construed as annoying or perhaps worse, as I think as a society we are rapidly experiencing a dramatic rise in annoying behaviors. So there really is no shortage of possibilities for study. Being annoyed at something at work doesn’t rise to the level of “I’ll quit over this”, but does make you feel like shouting “give me a break!”

While it was not scientific at all, I asked some of my colleagues to list off some of the things that organizations and bosses do that annoy them. I began to compile a list and categorize them. Here are just a few of the one’s that popped out for me, some of which I would quit over.

About the Boss:

  • Being asked to write up your own performance appraisal.
  • Not being able to leave work before the boss does.
  • The boss having to be the last one to always get to a meeting.

About your Computer:

  • Having to get your 5 year old wheezing computer repaired for the third time.
  • Being 3 versions of Office behind the rest of the world.
  • Having to lug around a monster old fashioned laptop that weighs a ton so the company can save some money, but the boss gets the latest lightweight technical marvel.

About Losing your Job:

  • Having to train your replacement in India before you get laid off.
  • Being given tips on how to save money by your firm just before your are:
    • Laid off
    • Told that salaries have been frozen
    • Find out that there will be no 401k match
    • Find out that the health care plan is now 100% employee funded.
    • Being told you been laid off in a horrendous fashion (email notification, mass meetings), or when very vulnerable people are laid off (e.g. someone who is 7 months pregnant, or an older worker).
    • Finding out that management receives large bonuses or raises after the layoff for “making their numbers”.

About Finding Another Job:

  • Selection procedures that take into account characteristics that have nothing to do with the job.
    • Such as nepotism
    • Or political affiliation, age, gender, or ethnicity.
    • Hearing talking heads on TV who make pronouncements regarding how to find another job.

About Service:

  • Having a tiered approach to a help desk where the first person you talk to can’t actually help you.
  • Having automated inquiry/information systems that require you to work through endless levels of menus to either:
    • Talk to a person who can’t actually help you or
    • Find out that the office is now closed.
    • Finding out that the mechanic noticed what just broke on your car during your last visit but you did not mention it or fix it since it was not on the repair order.

Joe Palca has recently written a book called “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us”. He states that annoying things have some common characteristics. Among them are the activity has to be unpleasant, but not deadly (like nails on a chalkboard). Second is has to be unpredictable (like someone answering their cell phone and taking loudly at the next table in the restaurant) and third it is of uncertain duration (the cell phone conversation seems to go on and on). In other words an unpredictable, unpleasant event that you are not sure how long it will last.  While that seems to make sense, it does seem to leave out quite a few of what people say annoyed them above.

My personal pet peeve is when I am traveling and am jammed into a seat on a plane and the person in front of me thinks it is perfectly ok to recline their seat. Not only do they crush my PC, but the seat can get so tight that I can’t even get out of it. Given how concerned the airlines are about keeping the aisle cleared for safety reasons how can they possibly allow people to recline a seat that prevents those behind them to get out of their own seat?   …Really Annoying….

Anyway, I don’t want to bug you, but if want to add to the list I would be happy to know what annoys you, at work or otherwise.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Human Behavior, Humor

Ten Signs That Your Employee Survey Program should be Updated

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  1. The trend data is in Roman numerals.
  2. The location codes include the Ottoman Empire and Prussia.
  3. The last administration of the survey included Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic translations.
  4. One survey item asked about how good a job Attila was doing.
  5. The organization hierarchy starts with the title Pharaoh.
  6. Occupation codes included lamplighter, elevator operator, pinsetter, iceman, milkman, switchboard operator, telegraph operator and lector (look it up).
  7. The instructions tell you to mark your answers on the abacus in front of you.
  8. The tenure item includes references to common era or before common era.
  9. The options on the scale for the gender item includes only one choice.
  10. The survey focuses primarily on employee engagement.


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



Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Happy Arbitrary Day

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“Time… is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

Ray Cummings, 1922 

Last week I had a birthday, sort of.  I can be somewhat cynical about made-up or pretend events and will refer to a variety of holidays such as Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and dare I say it, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as “Hallmark Holidays”, days that were promoted and marketed simply as a way to sell more greeting cards and gifts. For some of these days, presumably the ones that have really resonated with the American psyche, the promotions have worked like a charm. Mother’s Day is one of the biggest days of the year for buying flowers or going to a restaurant for a meal and Father’s Day moves a lot of ties. I have nothing against a company or organization promoting its products by these means, I simply feel that I don’t have to fall under their spell. By way of full disclosure, I have to say that I regularly buy my wife flowers on Mother’s Day, as I prefer sleeping in a bed. And in recognition of my feelings my wife gave me a birthday card this year that said “Happy Arbitrary Day”.

A birthday is supposed to commemorate the passing of one-year from the moment of your birth. A year though is a very arbitrary calculation, as are all of the ways by which we measure the passing of time. A year is defined as the amount of time for the planet to circle the sun and come roughly back to the position it was in…well a year ago. The passage of that time has been measured by various civilizations through the alignment of the sun, the positions of the stars or the phases of the moon to varying degrees of accuracy. But what is so magical about that roughly 365 day period that it needs to be commemorated as a significant milestone? Why are we so hung up about the passage of a year’s worth of time?

Well, if you were a farmer, as many of our ancestors were, the time of year was critical so you would know more precisely when to plant your crops or harvest. If you were a fisherman, you would know when the various species of fish were to be found in the waters. If you were a baseball fan you would know how long it was before spring training began. And once you get over 50, you would know how long it is until your next colonoscopy. You see there are all sorts of  critical dates which need to be tracked.

But, there are a number of events that I don’t feel need to be commemorated as big events and birthdays happen to be one of them. For me it is not how  long you have been on this planet that matters, but what you have done while you are here.

Recently, one of the events marked by the passage of time that has made the news was the statement made by some guy in California that the world was coming to an end. May 21st he said was it, that was all the time we had. So given that, you might as well send me your money, as you won’t need it much longer. Well, he had enough followers who believed him that he amassed some 70 million dollars. After the 21st came and went, he was asked if he would now return the money, you know like a money back guarantee. He did not deliver on his end-of-the-world prophesy so people should get their money back. He said no, that the world did not end so why should he give the money back? In my mind that is not really a tough question to answer, but I think he has it wrong. Usually in business, which is what this appears to be, if your product doesn’t work as advertised you give back the money people spent on it. But perhaps he has it wrong from a business perspective. Rather than making the end of the world a once in a lifetime event, perhaps he should promote it to be more like Mother’s Day that comes around every year. You know, the world could end just a little bit each year, maybe for a second or two and then go back to the way it was. That could even out his income stream somewhat.

But I started wondering, if he could raise 70 million by putting out bad news like the end of the world, how much could I raise by putting out some good news, like the world was not going to end? I should be able to raise at least twice that amount. Then of course came the obvious thoughts, what would I do with the 140 million dollars that suddenly fell into my lap? So I worked up my to do list and here are my top 10 things.

  1. I would treat myself to a full tank of gas. Maybe even a grade above 87% octane. Premium would be wasteful, but perhaps plus.
  2. I would buy 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway.

Then I would catch my breath and really dig in solving:

  1. World hunger,
  2. The lack of clean water for most of the world’s population,
  3. The environmental mess we have created for ourselves,
  4. All of these various wars,
  5. Slavery and the abuse of women,
  6. Cancer,
  7. The global economy and resultant joblessness and homelessness,
  8.  All other illnesses affecting mankind.

After that with the money I had left over I would throw myself one hell of a Happy Arbitrary Day party. For after all, it would have been a very good year.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

May 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Humor

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