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Dear Hillary:

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11/27/16

Dear Hillary:

I feel the need to write this open letter to express my thoughts given the current situation in our country. I am not a political person. That does not mean I don’t have strong political opinions, it means that I don’t get involved in politics and don’t enjoy the machinations necessary to succeed in politics. Up until last weekend, the only protest march I have ever been in was against the Vietnam War, a march that my older sisters took me to since I must have been only 7 or 8 years old. I wonder if they remember. Last weekend I marched from Queens to Manhattan, along with about 1000 others, to protest the positions that Mr. Trump has taken and the values he appears to hold. The people of Queens, where I was born, wanted to make a statement that while Mr. Trump may also have been from Queens, where he was born, he is not of Queens anymore and doesn’t represent the values they hold. As I am sure you know, Queens is likely the most diverse place in the country with something like 169 languages being spoken and every culture you can imagine, and some that you can’t, being represented there. It is a wonderful place, a place where people roll up their sleeves and get it done. Melting pot doesn’t really describe what it is like there, it is more like an enjoyable cacophony.

Now, I am not one who likes to paint swaths of people with a broad brush as that is never accurate, but broadly the supporters of Mr. Trump have me very worried about the future of this country that I so love. I spent a good deal of my childhood in upstate New York, the Southern Tier as it is called, a piece of New York that shoots out west along the Pennsylvania border. For virtually as far back as I can remember it has been an economic basket case. Endicott Johnson, which was the shoemaker to the world, and shod nearly every WWII solider, is a distant memory. It was a company whose workforce was largely powered by immigrants and there are local stories told that when an immigrant from certain parts of Europe got off the boat in New York, the only English they knew was “Which way EJ?” Singer Link, which started by making sewing machines and rose to become a technology powerhouse, was destroyed by corporate raider Paul Bilzerian, who bought up the company and then sold it piecemeal to make a profit. (He later served prison time for fraud). IBM, whose hometown is Endicott, and which seemed to have whole neighborhoods of employees at one point, is now and has been for a long time nothing more than a ghostly presence. Other companies, such as Corning, Lockheed and BAE still form valuable economic anchors in the region as do several major Universities. I remember as a kid riding my bike down the main street, past empty factory building after empty building, buildings which used to house economic powerhouses for the region and storefront after boarded-up storefront. I understand in my core what economic uncertainty looks like, I grew up with it, and I have seen its effects on an entire region. While it was deeply frustrating to me, and I recognize has shaped me to some degree,  I don’t hate immigrants or minorities, I don’t hate government, I don’t hate businesspeople, I don’t hate because of it.

It is of course impossible to completely walk in someone else’s shoes. John Rawls, the noted philosopher on Justice described his veil of ignorance, a method to help put you into someone else’s shoes, but thought experiments only go so far. The coal miners in Appalachia? I think I get it. The factory workers in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois? I am pretty sure I understand. Family farms displaced by factory farms in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana? Yes, I understand the pain. It is painful not only for those directly affected, but also for the entire communities those jobs and people supported. The shops and restaurants, the dentists, doctors, school teachers and other professionals who see their neighbors, customers, clients and patients at first suffering, then disappearing. Towns become places where there are only old people left with few children and young families. Once thriving communities are filled with empty homes.

Today Trump supporters are using this tale, which is the tale of late 20th century middle America, to point fingers at the “other”, whether the other are immigrants, minorities, government, cheap labor or weak environmental and other regulations abroad, or Wall Street to say they are the source of our problems. They are saying, if only we didn’t have these immigrants, regulation, or vocal minorities, if only we could go back to the way it was, when times were “good”, they would be “good” again.

There is an old Russian saying, “You cannot cross the same river twice”. Things change, whether it is technology, the economy, the workforce, or the water flowing in a river, things change. Going back to the good-old-days is a fantasy, for the good-old-days never really did exist for many. Those coal miners? They had good paying jobs, but they also had high death rates on dangerous jobs and ended up with diseases like black lung and cancer. After relatively short careers in physically demanding jobs they retired, and then struggled to get by, supported by various government programs. Generation after generation felt that they had no choice other than to work the mines. People felt trapped. The technology of strip mining, which required many fewer workers, accounted for the majority of the lost jobs, not the often cited regulation or labor costs. The factory workers? Automation and efficiency gains did away with many of their jobs. America today manufactures something like 3x what we did in 1985, but we do it with 1/3 fewer workers. This is not to say that the workers of today should not be fully employed with livable wage jobs. It is to say that specifically what those jobs are will change, hopefully for the better, and the workforce needs to adapt and be ready if they want to hold those jobs. As a society we need to help people adapt, not hold out false promises that things can return to a time that never was. This is a lesson that we might have to learn the hard way at this point.

A good portion of the Republican animus towards President Obama is pure racism, recognized or not, and we are still a long ways away from minorities being protected as they should be and having the rights that everyone deserves. Black Live do Matter, not because other lives don’t matter, but because for so long, and today still, the day-to-day treatment of blacks indicates that many don’t feel that they do. And in terms of walking in someone else’s shoes, it is impossible for those flying the Confederate flag on their cars, in their homes or over their state houses to know the pain that the flag causes those whose ancestors were enslaved or whose civil rights were abused under that very flag. Just as Trump’s white supremacist supporters may not know the significance of, or the pain caused by the Nazi salute they give in their meetings. Yet again, they might.

Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to fulfill their humanity, to have a dignified existence with a level playing field, let’s call that pro-lifespan. Any babies being born into this world, regardless of their skin color, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orietation must be given the life-long tools that they need to prosper. Benjamin Franklin knew for instance that education for all was a key for having a successful democracy and he knew that the availability of high quality public education was an absolute requirement. That now seems to be in jeopardy. School vouchers which promote private and religious schools in the place of public education will be a significant step backwards. And going backwards to a time of Jim Crowe or when LGBTQI folks needed to hide is an abhorrent thought, but one that we may now face or have to face down. Just the other day on CNN one Trump supporter wondered out loud, on the air, if Jews were people, or perhaps they were simply soulless golems. A golem being a fairy tale creature whose existence rose out of some of the darkest moments for Jews in eastern European history as a protector of children, now cast by a neo-Nazi on CNN as a Jewish source of evil. Why is this person on CNN? The American public was fed a continuous stream of false news, surrounded and amplified by false hopes, false promises and outright lies by the Republican candidate. Mr. Trump knew that people are rarely searching for the truth, but rather they are searching for information that supports their existing point of view. Whether it is truthful or not matters less.

Mr. Trump’s personal issues also seem to mean nothing to the electorate, whether those issues are ethical, behavioral or mental. Not being a clinical psychologist I will let others speak to his mental state, but from what I can see I am truly alarmed.

As an organizational psychologist, it is quite clear to me that resorting to blaming the “other”, people who are somehow “different” from us, a group either internal or external to “us”, or tribalism has been a method that has been repeatedly employed through millennium for certain people to seize or retain power and control.  Putin of course is a regular user of blaming the “other” and so were figures like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, al-Assad, Pol Pot, and Osama bin Laden. The fighting between the Shia and Sunni at its core is about power, and each blames the other as being “other”. The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were powered by the same principles. The list is endless and now we can add Donald Trump and his supporters to that list. His whole campaign was based on playing to people’s fears about the “others” and then denying his statements through the use of slight nuance. A pattern is evident at the beginning of in-human times, excuses are made, appeasement attempted Chamberlin-like, apologist spokespeople appear explaining how we misunderstand them, denials are made, but then the full-throated horror becomes evident, usually too late to stop without great cost.

Humanity survived into a more civilized state after the atrocities of WWII only because the United States, as imperfect as she is, was there as a bulwark. What if that bulwark is now the one threatened by this tribalism? Who will return us and the world to the realm of sanity? I made a promise that I would do my part. I may not be able to affect the whole world, but I will do my best to positively affect the pieces that I touch.

It is no surprise that former white nationalist and former Trump supporter, Derek Black, who had an opinion piece in the New York Times this morning, described how he moved away from white nationalism by being welcomed by, and seeing how “others” were not the demon-like characters as they are portrayed and that he is now a graduate student majoring in history. To understand where we are going you first have to understand where we have been. We can only hope that this episode in our nation’s history is akin to umweg behavior, a concept out of Gestalt psychology which means detour, that in order to achieve a goal you sometimes must first move away from it.

Warmest Regards,

Jeffrey Saltzman

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 27, 2016 at 1:48 pm

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

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

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

Social Contracts and Social Fabrics

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A few weeks ago I was asked to reflect on and present at a conference on what 30 years of studying people at work have taught me about the topics of Social Contracts and Social Fabric. To be honest at first I wasn’t exactly sure where to start, but the conference was being put on by some old friends and it was in Geneva, Switzerland so I decided to participate. For this topic I began thinking about all the employee survey data I have collected and examined over the years (thousands of organizations) and the various types of organizational uses that this data has been put. Importantly, the conference organizers were asking about my opinions and even though my opinions are informed by data, they wanted me to go slightly further and inject some beliefs that have arisen from the research, even if I did not have hard data on the topic. I ended up having much more material then I could possibly present in the time allotted so in the end I had to shorten what I spoke about, but I wanted to present some highlights here.

There are a lot of misconceptions about people at work. Some of those misconceptions center on what people want out of the work environment. Other misconceptions center on differences that people have about work that are driven by generation, gender, geography or ethnicity.  And if you make your living looking for differences between people, differences can be found. However, what people have in common is much more substantial and important and we would be better off focusing on our commonalities than our differences. Most, if not all of the differences that are cited in the popular press is the product of confounding variables (such as environmental situation, economic conditions or life stage) that are rarely taken into account when reporting on people at work. Some samples of the myths that have arisen include:

  • Younger people have different drivers of what they want out of a job than older people;
  • Older workers are more loyal to an organization;
  • Older people don’t want to learn new things – especially technologically oriented things;
  • Everyone is unhappy about their pay;
  • People with a lot of work to do will be less positive about work than someone with little to do;
  • Chinese, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Thai, or other 3rd world workers don’t mind the working conditions and hours to which they are subject.

The list can go on and on, but in general these kinds of statements are usually given by people who have no data to back them up, or the data they do have is suspect. Whenever I talk about this topic I am reminded of a scene I came upon in Indonesia numerous times. In Jakarta there are sewage swimmers, workers who, wearing nothing more than a pair of shorts, immerse themselves in the open sewers to remove blockages that could prevent the sewage from flowing. I have never had an opportunity to study these workers to ask them their opinions, but when I have seen them, I am convinced that their concerns and what they want out of a work environment, the fundamentals, would be little different than the concerns or desires that you or I have. So how can they submit themselves to conditions so foul that it will most likely shorten their lives?

If you define organizations broadly, and I do, fundamentally, people join organizations to achieve goals that they can’t do alone. And people are members of many, many kinds of organizations. Everything from where you work, to where you study, to volunteer organizations you belong to, to the city or state you live in, your country, your immediate and extended family, any organized religious group to which you belong, they can all be thought of as organizations. If you add up all the different kinds of organizations to which we all belong, and the rules by which they operate, you have a society. The society in which we live is an amalgamation of all the organizations which are operating in that space. This notion is nothing new and Socrates uses this kind of argument in explaining to Crito why he must accept the death penalty that has been meted out. He explains that society had created conditions that allowed Crito to be born, to live a good live, to achieve. And when Crito violated the rules of that society, as a society member, he must accept its punishment rather than flee.

Over the last 30 years it is pretty clear that on the fundamentals, what people want from the organizations in which they work there has been very little or no change at all. Show me someone, anyone, anywhere in the world who doesn’t want to be treated with respect and dignity at work. Or someone who doesn’t want to feel like they receive fair compensation for effort expended. Or someone who doesn’t feel that the time they spend in the organization will hopefully lead to a more positive future either for themselves or their children. The differences that are often cited between generations or other demographically defined groups of people (e.g. men vs. women, minority vs. non-minority), such as expected time to promotion, safety, or desire for job security, have almost nothing to do with who the workers are as people and everything to do with the economic and social conditions in which they are imbedded. It is also true that every characteristic, such as desire for job security, or expected time to promotion, or risk tolerance will express itself as a distribution due to individual differences, but those individual differences are not driven by the traditional demographic characteristics to which they are often attributed.  In general, within any of the traditional demographic groups you can find a distribution, a spread of the expression of a characteristic (e.g. risk tolerance) that will be greater than the differences between demographic groups.

Due to this, over the long-term, the end state of globalization and the social contracts in which it is imbedded will not be driven by governments or by the multi-national corporations. The end state of globalization will be driven by what people want and what people want is pretty much the same thing everywhere. Now, there are individuals, governments and corporations who take advantage of discrepancies that exist in social contracts to pursue their own agendas, but over time these social contracts will evolve and the ability to take advantage of the discrepancies in social contracts will diminish.

So for instance, a corporation or other organization, in its perfect world, would want to be able to do whatever it wants without concern of oversight, regulations, prosecution or penalties. And the individuals who run these organizations would want any crime committed on behalf of the organization in pursuit of those goals to accrue no personal liability. While there is a desire for praise and recognition for what the individual achieves, their contribution to the organization, there is also a desire for anonymity within the organization, being able to hide behind the organization’s “walls”. What organizations also want though is not to have other organizations, perhaps more powerful than they are, to take advantage of them. So organizations, to achieve a balance between treatment given and treatment received, are willing to abide by the social contracts/the social fabric as currently defined by society.

As humans, of course, we are all subject to the flaws inherent in being human. There is always a person or group in power or an organization that is willing to live by an existing social contract which is in its favor until, as society changes, that social contract must change. There can be resistance by those who have benefited from the existing social contract to make changes to that contract for it may have benefited them financially, socially, or simply reinforced their beliefs. On a larger scale, different forms of government, (e.g. democracies, dictatorships or authoritarian rule), also have different social contracts in place (e.g. who gets to vote if they vote at all, access to basic health, shelter or food, who gets to marry) and while there are differences in these social contracts, what people globally want, what they find important is fundamentally the same.

This combination, I believe is at least partially responsible for the inexorably slow but consistent march by humanity to more tolerance and freedoms as well as societies with less violence for people over time. We may take three steps forward and two steps back, but over the long term we are moving in a consistently more liberal and tolerant direction. Why is the march of history in that direction? Because people are fundamentally the same and want the same things out of life that everyone else does.

Multi-national corporations have chased various social contracts that exist by location to maximize their profits. Looking for low standard of living, low cost environments, and regulatory-free environments to manufacture or provide services from. But there is an inherent conflict in that the social contracts/the social fabric in the locations that allow for profit maximization over time will change. It may take a long-time, likely too long, but basic salaries will rise, working conditions will be forced to improve, regulatory oversight to insure quality standards and lack of worker abuse will be put into place etc. And the ability to chase a social contract that is way out of whack with other social contracts will diminish.

Humans want to place their faith into something and due to that we have a tendency to ascribe even random events to intelligent entities, or we see patterns to events where none may exist. Built into all of us there is a desire to allow some entity, which is more knowing or more powerful than us to provide guidance or direction. Some put their faith into their religion, some into science, some into their political leaders, and some into their leaders at work. Me? I’ll put my long-term faith into humanity as a whole as our humanity allows us to reach beyond where we are, even if sometimes in the short-term we will fall short. As people together, we will determine our own future.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Repurposing the Organization

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On September 6th at 11:27 pm eastern, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) took off from Wallops Island, Virginia. Being in New York, I was not sure how much we could actually see of the launch, but the night was crystal clear so the family stayed up late, and we all went out looking for a spot with a view of the southeastern horizon. We weren’t sure exactly where to look, but a few seconds after the scheduled launch we saw a bright red spot moving rapidly from the south to the eastern horizon. I was not sure what we were seeing but after a few seconds it became clear that we were watching NASA’s rocket heading to the moon. My 13 year old was so excited that she was bouncing off the walls and the beds when we came back into the house. Her first rocket launch and it was pretty far away, but nevertheless it was able to instill a sense of awe and excitement in her. Thank you NASA.

The next day I headed to the internet to determine if we were accurate in what we thought we saw. Sure enough there were lots of people who had snapped photos with images that looked exactly like what we saw posted on NASA’s website. I read a little about the launch and I was suddenly quite thrilled myself. The launch vehicle used for this lunar mission was a Minotaur V+ rocket. This was the very first time that kind of rocket was used, its maiden voyage. The newness of the rocket is not what thrilled me, what thrilled me was its history. The Minotaur V+ rocket is a repurposed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that was originally designed to carry nuclear weapons. Instead of raining destruction down upon the earth, as this rocket was intended, it was being used for the peaceful exploration of the moon. I was reminded of a small knot that I used to carry around in my stomach, and that knot I now found had lost its hold over me.

I was a cold-war baby. Born in 1959, I clearly remember bomb drills in elementary school where we went into the hallways, away from the windows and ducked our heads (like that was really going to help). Sometimes we went into the school basement and assembled behind an enormous pile of gravel, or huddled under our wooden desks. Flimsy wooden desks, as we all knew, where very effective shields against nuclear blasts. All the kids knew that the reason we were practicing these activities was because suddenly, without any warning, nuclear bombs on the tips of missiles could come down on top of our heads. It was a very scary time to be a kid. During that NASA launch on September 6th I was unknowingly watching one of my worst childhood fears being expelled into space. It felt great when I realized that. I think it is terrific that a weapon that was capable of such great destruction had been put to a positive use – it was repurposed.

I began thinking about how you would go about repurposing an organization in order to reinvigorate it, to give it a new, fresh, inspiring purpose. Not that all organizations are necessarily designed for great destruction as an ICBM, but sometimes organizations do need to reinvent themselves, to repurpose themselves, to give them additional life. How could it start?

There is a notion out there called organization ambidexterity. In people, ambidexterity is defined as being capable with both your left and right hands. In the world of organizational science it has come to mean a dual focus on short-term performance as well as longer term capability. It is the notion of Organizational Vitality.

Without short-term performance organizations will cease to exist. If you don’t supply a product or service that external customers want, if your internal business process are broken, or if you can’t attract the talent you need to conduct your business your likelihood of survival for the long-term is dim. Alternatively, if your sole focus in on long-term potential, building capacity and capability for the future, that future might never be realized.

There is a balance that must be struck between the short and long-term. Without short-term cash flow and profits the longer term may be out of reach, and without long-term capability building, short-term performance is a dead end. Yet the short and long-term are in conflict. If your desire is to have maximum short-term performance you might be reluctant to invest in research & development, or the trial and error of new processes and procedures, or having extra or slack resources available to explore options. If you want to maximize short-term performance you run an extremely lean and tight ship with no extras. But as you run leaner and leaner, at some point you are cutting away and diminishing the organization’s future. And if you build in too many extra resources your profits and your ability to stay in business, to realize your future, will evaporate.  A balance must be struck.

What many organizations don’t realize is that the information that they need to determine that balance exists, most typically, right within the organization itself. All you need to know is how to extract it. A typical employee survey focuses on the employee as a specimen, as an object to be studied, to be understood. Are the employees engaged? Are they willing to recommend us as a place to work? Are they proud to be here? These are typical questions used when you want to understand how an employee feels. But what if you want to know what an employee thinks? More specifically, what they think about the functioning, the ambidextrous balance that the business needs to achieve?

A fresh approach to employee surveys is to treat the employees as a resource, which if asked the right questions, within the right framework, can shed light on whether the ambidexterity balance is shifting too far in one direction or the other.  Questions on an employee survey for instance should be tied to the organization’s strategy. If the organization is going to emphasize customer focus as a differentiator, ask about customer focus. And look at the results not only for those whose responsibility is customer facing, but look at your top performing customer facing folks and compare them to the others. What do they think about your ability to serve your customers?

By methodically choosing items that are linked to the long-term strategy of the organization and short-term performance needs and then examining the strengths and short-comings, as your employees see them, you begin to build the picture of where you are in creating a Vital, ambidextrously balanced organization.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

September 12, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Physical Diplomacy and Leadership

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“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  Albert Einstein

I was on a flight home, returning from a business trip to Israel. The flight was full and in the row in front of me were three seats. In the window and aisle seats were two young women who were clearly returning from a summer holiday. The middle seat between them was open until just before the door of the airplane closed. Then a Haredi man, an ultra-orthodox Jew with beard, traditional black hat with a wide brim, white shirt and black coat sat down between them. He became agitated right away and started yelling at the flight attendants that there was no way he could sit between these two young women. (Presumably, 1. he found being close to two young women objectionable as the Haredi practice a fair amount of segregation of the sexes and 2. the young women were in tank tops and shorts which likely he found to be immodest). The flight attendants and finally the cabin manager worked to find him an alternative seat where he could feel comfortable. They apparently did not work fast enough for him and he continued to carry on, yelling loudly that he would never fly the airline again. (I had an urge to tell him which airline he could fly that practices gender segregation). The cabin crew really gave it their best effort and eventually they found him an alternative seat.

I had a sense though that something was amiss. The airline worked to resolve this man’s difficulty with his seat location as he carried on. Meanwhile no attention was paid to the two young women who were seated on either side of him. I could not help thinking about who the victims of this situation were. The young women had done nothing wrong. They were traveling on a public airline, open to all. And yet they were subjected to the ranting of a person who considered them to be objectionable. In my eyes of course, they were not objectionable, they were normal. No one apologized to them for being subjected to this behavior. No one asked them if they were OK, either during or after the incident. It was as though the airline would cater only to the whims of the noisy fringe, to make sure they were not offended, but did not consider that the mainstream young women were also victims in this case, being subjected to exceeding rude behavior. Who was right? Who was wrong?

And that got me thinking about points of view.

In any war, do you think there is an army, or a leader that doesn’t think they are on the “right” side? And that their enemy is not only wrong, but generally thought of or defined for the general population as evil? We look at a conflict situation and tend to be drawn to thinking about it simplistically as “good” vs. “evil”. Which side is good, which side bad? Often it is just not that simple. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of truly evil people out there. In a war it is possible that one truly evil group is warring against another truly evil group, and the true victims are the civilian innocents. There could be two groups warring against each other, with each side being equally unpalatable to another third group, a group which is wondering which side to support. Or there could be two groups warring against each other, both with legitimate points of view, with both sides being factually correct on certain points, and once again civilian innocents suffer the most.

In general, war is nothing more than physical politics. If I cannot convince you to come around to my point of view verbally, perhaps I can do it with physical force. When diplomacy falls short and doesn’t reach a workable compromise for the aggrieved parties, then war becomes an alternative to dialog with bullets, missiles, fighter jets, armies and aircraft carriers replacing dialog as persuasive forces. War isn’t the failure of politics; it is just a different form of politics.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

There has been an ongoing debate in the American military about what military leaders should be trained upon. What should be emphasized and what can be skimmed over given a limited time budget. Thomas Ricks, in The Generals, contrasts military education vs. military training. Military training is often focused on tactics. For instance, how you should deploy your troops, the effective use of artillery in support of your ground forces, keeping supply lines open, etc. Military training is often focused on the short to medium term – how to win the battles and the war. Military education is often focused on strategy. What are we trying to achieve? Who is the enemy? What are they trying to achieve? What are the best methods we can deploy to achieve our objectives? You could say that military education is focused upon how to win the peace. Ricks blasts the USA’s political and military leaders for knowing for instance, how to win the war in Iraq but then having no plan or idea what to do to stabilize the country afterwards – how to create and win the peace. He partly blames the emphasis on tactical training and the lack of emphasis on strategic education.

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” Aristotle

This kind of dichotomy, education vs. training, strategy vs. tactics, and the debate about what to emphasize is not all that different from an area that private sector organizations struggle with as well. Organization Vitality is when organizations strike the necessary balances that allow them to thrive in varied, often turbulent environments. In the private sector, organization vitality comes about when organizations strike the right balance between maximizing current performance (winning the battles with the right tactics) and maximizing future performance (winning the long-term peace with the right strategy). In addition, it has been shown that agility, being able to accomplish things quickly and to modify policy and practice quickly as needed, as well as resiliency, being able to consistently rise to the challenges that every organization continually faces are critical to achieving organization vitality.

There has been much research focused on the methods that an organization can employ to maximize its current performance and future potential. For instance, those sitting at the top of the house need to relentlessly focus on both topics simultaneously, while those lower down should apply their efforts to one or the other, but will often fail if they attempt to do both. You don’t ask the manager of an automobile manufacturing plant to design next year’s model. You ask that person to maximize production efficiency and quality on the current model being assembled on the production line.

Sitting across the aisle from me on the plane were two others, apparently brothers, also Haredi, dressed in their traditional garb which dates to the mid-1800’s. They seemed somewhat embarrassed by the behavior of the rude man. In talking to each other they needed to rationalize why he would act the way he did. “Perhaps he is exceedingly religious”, one of them commented. Their conversation continued and turned to discussing the flight attendants. (I was not intentionally listening, they were just talking loudly). “Why do you suppose a person would continually travel around the world, and spend so little time at home”, one asked the other. “I don’t know”, said the other, “some people are just weird”.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  Dwight Eisenhower

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

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

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