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Tips for Boosting Employee Confidence During COVID-19

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Throughout the housing bubble burst of 2007/2009, and the resulting economic tailspin and recession, data was collected from 15,000 employees quarterly, from the twelve largest economies in the world at the time. The bottom of that event from our measurements was 1Q2009.

We asked a series of questions related to the level of confidence that employees had in their organization and in their own personal situation. We took that data and compared to it a number of factors of employee behavior and organizational performance. The results were pretty astounding. Employee levels of confidence were a very good indicator of whether organizations were doing the right thing to survive during that trying time. And if organizations were doing the right things, employee confidence levels were higher. We found that employee confidence was a leading indicator of performance, for who better to know how the organization is performing than the people who are working inside of it day-to-day, if you ask them the right questions.

Based on this research, we put together a whitepaper with tips to help organizations through this crisis. These are rough times, but the more we can help one another, the more we will not just survive, but thrive.


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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 19, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Respect and Dignity

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Asking an employee population whether they are treated with respect and dignity has been part of employee surveys for a long time. Those two words are so often used in conjunction with one another that they have become joined at the hip as a unified concept not only in the world of surveys but also in our day-to-day conceptual thinking as well. Respect and Dignity. While some argue that it is a double barreled concept, it would be really impossible to treat someone with dignity, but without respect, and likewise if you are being respectful, dignity would, it would seem by necessity, tag along. As a gestalt, respect and dignity are two sides of the same coin.

I will deal with the dignity side of the coin here. The concept of dignity has a long history and interesting origins. As a constitutional right, dignity today is often defined as a “person’s freedom to write their own life story”. [i] Freedom to create one’s life story requires freedom from oppression, and has within that notion both rights and obligations. One right is of control over oneself and one’s body and an obligation would be to take responsibility for your behaviors and actions – for your future.

Maintaining dignity in the world of work, using that definition, will be a balancing act. If dignity is about the right to choose, as one enters an employment situation one is giving up at least some dignity, in that you are working not necessarily to your own ends, on your own initiatives, but on organizationally defined goals and often on an organizationally defined schedule.

While the emphasis and enshrinement of dignity in the modern age largely was the result of the horrific abuses of human dignity in WWII, and today the only constitution that defines human dignity as an unassailable absolute right is the German Constitution in reaction to those abuses, the sense that humans have and should be treated with dignity is an ancient precept. The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers spent time with the notions of dignity, assigning human’s dignity because of their ability to think and choose. Dignity in Buddhism is based on the idea that humans can choose a path leading to self-perfection and hence are dignified[ii]. Judaism and Christianity believe that mankind was made in god’s image and because of that, mankind, as a reflection of god’s image has dignity. There are religions that do not believe that mankind was created in god’s image, but because mankind was created by god, and given the ability to think, we have a dignified (rank) special place. In Islam for instance because mankind is a creation of god a person should not be harmed, for if you harm another human you are harming god. The major religions of the world do not have a corner on defining and rationalizing the need for dignity. Ubuntu for instance is a Bantu term that is often translated as “humanity towards others”, treating others with a humanness or dignity with which they deserve.

Needless to say the concepts and definitions surrounding human dignity have been around almost as long as mankind’s abuses of that dignity. Dignity is a social term – a societal definition. You are treated with or without dignity only in relation to how others in society are treated. If you are enslaved your dignity is measured against those that are free. If you have no access to clean water, food, shelter, health care etc. your dignity in your society is measure against those that do have access to those items. If you were a solitary individual on an island the concept of dignity is meaningless, as there is no one else to treat you with or without dignity, its meaning and your relative standing being solely derived from the society in which you are embedded. Organizations are nothing more than encapsulated mini-societies.

From an organizational measurement and performance perspective that is where the concept of dignity gets interesting. People in organizations are rarely if ever treated the same. And it would be easy to argue that some of the differences are there for motivational purposes, to give people something to strive for – more money, a promotion, access to training and developmental experiences. As a relational variable when you ask someone “are you treated with respect and dignity” their response is in relation to how they see others being treated both within and external (those referent points can be teased out) to the organization. And across a large number of people you will in all likelihood receive a range of responses, if the question is asked the right way and your scale is sensitive. You can take that range of responses and throw them against absolute business metrics such as turnover, customer satisfaction (depending on how measured can be relative or absolute), sales success etc. to determine which of the metrics are impacted by the relative treatment of people. And inferentially within your organization you can determine which specific policies, practices and processes are enhancing people’s sense of dignity, which are decreasing it and which simply have no bearing on the matter. And ultimately you can determine how to best impact people’s sense of being treated with respect and dignity, a human fundamental, and the financial benefit or cost of doing so.

Note: New blog postings from me have been few and far between this year. The reason is that I have been writing a book, co-authored with Scott Brooks, titled “Creating the Vital Organization; Balancing Short-term Profits with Long-term Success.” It is due out in mid-2016 by Palgrave.

[i] 2015, Barak, A. Human Dignity: The Constitutional Value and the Constitutional Right, Cambridge Press.

[ii] Soka Gakki International website. 12/09/2015,

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 9, 2015 at 11:53 am

Seatbelts on Motorcycles (and other survey questions)

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We were heading out to dinner on a tree-lined country road that runs by a reservoir. One lane in each direction, double yellow line down the middle. All of a sudden a motorcycle passed me by at likely twice the speed limit. I was left wondering why seatbelts aren’t required on motorcycles. At least after the motorcycle crashes you would know where to find the body. It would still be attached to the motorcycle rather than being flung somewhere into the woods.

Seatbelts are a good thing. They have saved countless lives when used properly in cars. If you however, assume that what works well in cars should be applied to all types of vehicles on our roadways you will likely be disappointed with the track record of seatbelts on saving the lives of motorcycle riders. They would simply not have the same beneficial effect.

The same is true when it comes to employee survey design. There are all sorts of various types of organizations out there, following all different type of differentiating strategies. So if all those organizations are trying to differentiate themselves, trying their best to distinguish themselves from their competition, why would so many people’s knee jerk reaction be to use the same survey questions that every other organization is using? To do exactly the opposite in terms of survey design what the organization’s goals are in terms of performance?

If we mindlessly apply that logic to other aspects of our lives, the next thing you know when you go to the doctor complaining of chest pains, you will be on the receiving end of a proctology exam. After all proctology exams are pretty good at detecting colon cancer, so they must also work for chest pains. “Doctor, doctor, the pain is in my chest. What are you doing?” “Well I had this tool handy, so I thought I would use it”.

Employee surveys should not be tools in search of problems. But rather they should be tailored to the specific needs of each organization and their unique strategy.       

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 26, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Unsupported by Evidence

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I was recently on a panel at a local meeting in NYC of Industrial Organizational Psychologists and after much discussion I made a statement. I said that as a field we have almost completely and utterly failed at bridging the gap between the science and research that we do, the evidence-based and experimental knowledge that we gain and those who are out there in the world writing about people at work or organizations in the lay press, or those in organizations, making day-to-day decisions about them which affect both the organizations and the people within them. After all most of the information about people at work is just “common sense” isn’t it? And I am a person and I work, so I guess that makes me an expert.

Unfortunately, much of that “common sense” is not supported by the facts and in some cases the facts support the opposite conclusion or the common sense is generated by those who have an agenda in which facts are simply inconvenient. Here are some of the more common statements that I keep running across that either have no basis in reality, are the opposite of the actual evidence, rest on very shaky expansions or extrapolations of a small kernel of observation, or are based on a small handful of people or organizations at one tail or the other of a distribution, but ignore the vast majority of those in the “fat part” or middle of the distribution.

  • Statement: People will find jobs once their unemployment checks run out, a social safety net is an incentive not to work.

o   Reality: The vast majority of people want to positively contribute to society, as it makes them feel valued. People want to feel valued, it is a universal. The data show that people would rather be overworked than underworked and the desire to work and contribute is not diminished in societies with strong social safety nets. Can you find people who fit the above statement? Sure, but not the vast majority.

  • Statement: The various generations want and expect different things from the work environment.

o   Reality: There is simply no evidence to support the notion that different generations want different things from work. Rather the differences often cited are driven by life stage and economic opportunity. In other words, give a person a mortgage and kids in college and job security becomes more important to them. A person right out of college with no responsibilities or financial obligations will act similarly regardless of which generation they come from. Because life stages take a rather long time to get though they give the appearance of being generationally driven.

  • Statement: People join companies and leave managers.

  Reality: Are there “bad” managers out there that have driven people out of an organization? Absolutely. But the majority of people join an organization and then leave when they don’t see a promising future for themselves within the organization. Sometimes that feeling is caused by a bad manager, and sometimes by the simply reality of a mismatch between a person’s career expectations and what the organization can offer. And sometimes it is simply a person’s life situation. The next time you are with a large group of people ask for a show of hands of how many of them left their last job because of a bad boss.

  • Statement: A good interviewer can determine if a person is a “fit” for an organization.

  Reality: We have known for a very long time that interviewers can actually diminish the ability to predict whether someone will succeed in an organization. An interviewer makes judgments that are often not based on job relevant characteristics.

  • Statement: Lie detector tests can determine if someone is lying and can be useful in making hiring decisions.

o   Reality: The evidence that lie detectors actually work and can determine if someone is lying is not there. And it is absolutely for certain that people with low affects can lie to lie detectors and get away with it. Lie detectors work on the notion that someone telling a lie will become more stressed and emotional and someone telling the truth will remain calm. The reality is that someone, even an innocent person, hooked to a lie detector and being asked about crimes will become stressed. (Generating false positives.) You might as well tie the person to a log and throw them in a river. If they float they are guilty and should be executed. If they sink and drown they are innocent, but unfortunately still dead.

  • Statement: Money doesn’t motivate people on the job.

o   Reality: Money is a great motivator (ask those on Wall Street). Money tends to show up on statistically generated lists of drivers of job satisfaction when people perceive themselves are being paid unfairly. When they perceive themselves as being paid fairly for the work they do, it tends to diminish in importance. People who claim money is not a motivator often seem to be people whose job it is to keep employments costs down.

  • Statement: It is good to regularly reorganization a company. It keeps people sharp; it keeps them on their toes.

  Reality: Organizations that regularly reorganize are consistently having people learning the ropes of new positions. In several studies it has been shown that better performance is achieved by people who have been in positions for longer periods of time then by people who are switched from job to job.

  • Statement: In business downturns, laying-off people is the best course of action.

o   Reality: If you can’t afford to pay people you need to get your costs down or you cease to exist. However, there is a good deal of evidence that shows that organizations that resist layoffs in down-cycles outperform as the economy recovers.

  • Statement: Women are more risk adverse than men, so if a job requires risk taking women are not a good fit.

o   Reality: It is pretty easy to find women who are more risk tolerant than many men. This is bias pure and simple and based on stereotypes.

Many of these statements are what Paul Krugman, the Nobel winning economist and NY Times columnist calls “Zombie Ideas”. Zombie ideas are statements that should have been killed by the evidence but refuse to die. From my perspective the field of Industrial Organizational Psychology, which is often concerned about publishing in scientific journals, (not that there is anything wrong with that), has a lot more work to do in getting our knowledge out into the mainstream and accepted.

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

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 13, 2014 at 6:53 am

Measuring Organizational Culture

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When someone tells me that they want to measure organizational culture I get just a little nervous, as I am pretty sure however I respond there is a good chance that person might have something else, other than what I say, on their mind. If you ask 10 people who say they want to measure organizational culture what they mean, you will likely get 10 different answers. Organizational culture in the words of one of my esteemed colleagues is “often a big, sloppy, wet concept that means different things to different people.  It usually requires longer, maybe fuzzier surveys more akin to personality tests than aptitude tests.”

People who push generic cultural assessments are in general taking a very specific point of view, usually their own world view, and pushing it to the exclusion of what might actually be in the best interest of the client or organization. It is of course easy to fall into the trap of a “quick” cultural assessment. It sounds simple, and as though it will give insight on some organizational issues, but in my experience these quick and easy assessments are often a waste of time and money. They make good marketing fodder, the magic silver bullet that can solve your issues, but little else.

Here for instance are a series of words that could be used to describe an organization’s culture. How would you go about picking and choosing which of these concepts to include in your assessment of an organization’s “culture”?

Aggressive Family Oriented/Personal Striving
Innovative Customer Focused Bottom-line focused
Learning Diverse/Homogenous Meritocracy
Sales Driven Cooperative Silo’ed
Safety Oriented Quality Focused Resistant to change
Respectful Communicative Secretive
Traditional Ethical Integrity
Bureaucratic Sustainable Oriented Entrepreneurial
Authoritarian Hierarchical Collaborative
Shoestring Efficient/Streamlined Transparent
Resourceful Prideful Career Oriented
Partnering Effective Fun
Irreverent Paradigm Changing “Get-it-Done”
Courteous Problem Solving Empowering
Standardized Engaging Hubris


Clearly the list can go on and on, but the point is that there are about as many words to describe an organization’s culture as there are organizations. Some people have models regarding which aspects of organizational culture are important, and I have more than a few myself. However, those that push one model as “the answer” are giving the complexities of organizational life and the business world short shrift.

So how might you go about deciding which aspects of culture are important to measure? Let me answer by describing a situation several of my clients have had over the years.

Most of the time, after an employee survey, we are asked to present the findings to the executive team. However, every once in a while, we simply provide reports which summaries the findings and the internal team takes it from there.  On several occasions the internal team has stated to me that they get only a very brief time slot to present the findings, the culmination of a pretty big effort. I ask them to show me the presentation and invariably the presentation is organized around themes like training, and communications, and decision-making. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but those categories are not what senior managers think about day-to-day. What do they think about? Their business strategy. So what if you design the organization’s survey and take the resultant information and categorize it into what is enabling the execution of the business strategy and what is preventing the full implementation of the strategy, perhaps by each strategic topic? Usually you’ll find that you get a whole lot more attention and the time of senior managers.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 8, 2014 at 7:38 am


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There has been much coverage in the news media about “profiling”, especially in NYC during this mayoral primary campaign. Much of it has been critical of Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC police department which utilizes a stop-and-frisk program in an attempt to have a positive impact on crime in the city. Each candidate during this primary season is staking out a pro- or con- position on stop-and-frisk. A recent federal court ruling has stated that the NYC program violates people’s rights against unreasonable search. “The judge ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing” (August 12, 2013, New York Times). The stop-and-frisk program is said to be based on profiling, that people who fit certain characteristics or profiles are picked out by the police department and “selected” for participation in the program. The huge number of people who are stopped suggests that the program is in need of an overhaul. It appears to be not so much an exercise in profiling as it is an exercise in stopping a large number of people and seeing what turns up, and apparently a federal judge agrees. But as a consequence of this and other bad publicity over the years profiling has been cast as evil.

If profiling is evil, that means we are all evil. Profiling is a built-in feature of being human. Each of us use profiling every single day to assist with quickly categorizing the vast quantities of information which impinge upon us and to help us make decisions that range from very simple to quite complex. Whether an application of profiling is good or evil is based upon how it is used and the characteristics utilized in creating the profile. Sigmund Freud for instance stated, “When you meet a human being, the first distinction you make is ‘male or female?’ and you are accustomed to making that distinction with unhesitating certainty.” You make that distinction with unhesitating certainty because of a profile you carry around regarding which body shapes, facial characteristics, etc. are classified as female and which as male. Taken in total those features and characteristics represent a profile of maleness and femaleness.

Freud’s view of profiling maleness and femaleness tends towards physical characteristics, but there are other categories, such as demographics and behaviors which are also used to build profiles.  Levitt and Dubner in Super Freakonomics describe a profile that was created in the UK to help pick out potential Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Now, if you are trying to pick out potential Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, chances are that they won’t have a name like Buffy Willis, or Bruce Fleming, and in fact the research shows that Muslim names predominate among Islamic terrorists (no surprise), just as Irish names predominated among Irish terrorists who were fighting the British previously.

That particular characteristic, name type, is very superficial, and can be very misleading as a profiling tool as it tends to sweep into its net a huge number of false positives, those with Muslim names who are not terrorists (the vast majority). The researcher that Dubner and Levitt cite ended up creating a terrorist profile with predictive ability (being able to pick a terrorist out of the crowd) by adding in addition to demographic characteristics a behavioral characteristic which they cannot disclose. At the risk of getting a little technical here, they state that most of the profile variables being used to predict who is a potential terrorists and who is not tended to be binary (you either have that characteristic or you don’t), and a shortcoming of binary variables is that they don’t have much statistical variance (the degree to which over a large number of people you will get a wide-range of responses). When you don’t have much statistical variance you lose predictive power. The behavioral variable that enabled more accurate profiling of terrorists was on a continuum with higher levels of this particular behavior being much more common among those with terrorist tendencies. This gradation of responses, from lower being less likely to be a terrorist to higher levels being increasing likely has a much greater amount of variance and hence predictive power.

On a more mundane level, one research project we conducted for a high technology firm sought to define what profile would be seen between those sales people who made the President’s Club by exceeding their beginning of the year quota by a given amount, vs. those sales people who fell short. By far, the best differentiator was not gender or tenure or some other demographic variable, but rather a behavioral characteristic, the degree to which the sales person sold in a collaborative fashion. Selling in a collaborative fashion is not binary but rather exists along a continuum and those sales people with higher and higher amounts of this particular characteristic, in this company’s environment, were more successful. The ability to sell collaboratively has all sorts of selection, training, performance management, technology and support systems implications which are then potentially able to be fine-tuned by a client company.

Here is another example of how behavioral variables on a continuum are better than binary one’s commonly used in profiling. If you have ever passed through airport security in the USA vs. Israel you will notice a distinct difference in how passengers are screened. In the USA you are essentially screened for objects, metal objects or liquids that you are not supposed to carry into the airline gate area. You may be asked one or two questions about whether someone has given you anything to carry for them or where have your bags been, but the screening process is about objects (either you have them or you don’t – a binary variable) and not about behaviors. In Israel the focus of the screen is about your behaviors, why are you there, where are you going, what were you doing, tell me about your family, do you speak Hebrew, where did you learn it, etc. The screening process is about your behaviors, past, present and future which are scored and very hard to fabricate out of whole cloth. The risk score determines if the person needs follow-up additional screening. Israel’s security screening track record is exemplary.

With all the commotion about profiling these days it is clearly obvious while some would desire for profiling to just go away – that any kind of profiling is inherently bad. But in reality we profile constantly and it is not going to go away. Profiles you have in your head of store characteristics, which may determine where you will shop, according to the type, quantity, quality and costs of the goods are common. Which of your neighbors will end up being your close friends based upon profiles of shared interests and characteristics happens all the time. A doctor diagnoses a patient by examining and logically thinking through profiles of symptoms commonly seen in various illnesses. The list goes on and on. The issues around profiling are not about it being inherently good or evil, but rather how we choose to implemented it and the validity we are able to ascribe to it in day-to-day practice.

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

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Daniel Kahneman coined the acronym WYSIATI which is an abbreviation for “What you see is all there is”. It is one of the human biases that he explores when he describes how human decision-making is not entirely based on rational thought. Traditionally, economists believed in the human being as a rational thinker, that decisions and judgments would be carefully weighed before being taken. And much of traditional economic theory is based on that notion. Dr. Kahneman’s life’s work (along with his co-author Dr. Amos Tversky) explodes that notion and describes many of the short-comings of human decision-making. He found that many human decisions rely on automatic or knee-jerk reactions, rather than deliberative thought. And that these automatic reactions (he calls them System 1 thinking) are based on heuristics or rules of thumb that we develop or have hard-wired into our brains. System 1 thinking is very useful in that it can help the individual deal with the onslaught of information that impinges on us each and every day, but the risk is when a decision that one is faced with should be thought through rather than based on a knee-jerk reaction.

System 1 decisions are easy, they are comfortable, and unfortunately they can also be wrong. But wrong in the sense that if one learned how to take a step back and allow for more deliberative thought prior to the decision, some of these wrong decisions or judgments could be avoided. A simple example from Dr. Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” will illustrate the point.

“A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat cost $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” Fifty percent of the students who were posed this simple question, students attending either Harvard or Yale got this wrong. Eighty percent of the students who were asked this question from other universities got it wrong. This is System 1 thinking at its finest and most error prone. It is fast, easy, comfortable, lets you come up with a quick answer or decision, but one that is likely wrong. Knowing who reads this blog I’ll let you figure out the answer yourself.

WYSIATI is the notion that we form impressions and judgments based on the information that is available to us. For instance we form impressions about people within a few seconds of meeting them. In fact, it has been documented that without careful training interviewers who are screening job applicants will come to a conclusion about the applicant within about 30 seconds of beginning the interview. And when tested these initial notions are often wrong. Interviewers who are trained to withhold judgment about someone do a better job at applicant screening, and the longer that judgment is delayed the better the decision.

This notion of course flies in the face of Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “Blink” in which he talks about the wonders of human’s ability to come to decisions instantly and a whole generation of manager’s have eagerly embraced his beliefs  – including a few CEO’s I know. Why? It is easy, it is intuitive, it is comfortable and it plays to the notion that I am competent and confident in my work. The only problem is that when put to serious scientific scrutiny, it is often wrong.

A few months ago I introduced this concept to an HR group I was talking to. I explained how untrained HR people in a rush to judgment will jump to conclusions about someone, perhaps too rapidly. One 30-year HR veteran insisted that this may be all well and good but of course did not apply to her. After all, with her 30 years of experience her rush to judgment was of course going to be accurate. She “just knew” who were going to be good employees. I let it drop, and I think I was labeled a trouble-maker by the group. That is a label I can embrace.

We tend to develop stories based on the information at hand; piecing the information we do have into a narrative, often without asking the question, “what information am I missing”? In the area of survey research I have often seen researchers confidently presenting the “drivers” of one type of behavior or another. Say for instance, the drivers of employee engagement. But since the analysis is based on a “within” survey design, the only drivers that can possibly emerge are those that you asked about in the survey in the first place. So the researcher, in designing the 30-50 item survey, is limiting the drivers to those items that they decided to ask about in the first place. The researcher likely has in their head a model of what is important in driving engagement when designing the questionnaire, a model that was designed based on another 30-50 item or fewer questionnaire. It becomes a tautology, it becomes true because I tested it and it came out as true, but the only thing I tested is what I already believed.

There are techniques that can be applied that lead towards more deliberative and better decision-making processes. If you were walking briskly down a busy road and someone asked you “how much is 17 x 24?” you would do what every other human would do to figure that out, you would stop and think.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

April 8, 2013 at 9:55 am

Drive to Work and Social Safety Nets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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Naturally Innovative

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“But if you will it, it is not fantasy” – Theodor Herzl

Recently, virtually every organization that I speak with has put innovation front and center as a necessary, in fact imperative characteristic of their organizational cultures. The thinking is clear. In order to thrive in turbulent environments organizations must innovate, must examine the way they do business, update their products and services, and must differentiate themselves in order to outperform the competition. Competition, environmental stress and the need to survive as an organization spur on innovation.

Innovation is often described as coming in bursts, but much more common is the rolling-up-the-sleeves, hard work, incremental innovation, building on other’s breakthroughs, often in a collaborative fashion, that over the long run can radically change the way things work and the products that an organization offers.

It could easily be argued that innovation occurs naturally among all of the earth’s creatures. Species innovate constantly and naturally in the never ending battle to survive. One species of cuckoo finch has eggs that mimic the coloration of another species so that when the finch deposits their eggs into the other species’ nest, the hatched baby birds are raised by the tricked surrogate parents. As a defense the second species, the tawny-flanked prinias evolved more colorful eggs that looked different form the finch’s eggs but the finches responded by evolving and again mimicking the more colorful eggs. Evolution is innovative.

The mitochondria that inhabit our cells and produce the energy which powers cells originated externally from the cells they now inhabit. They have their own DNA and can reproduce only from their own DNA, indicating that they were a separate life form somewhat like bacteria. Prior to their role in our cells they existed independently. Mitochondria entered into a symbiotic relationship with cells and then that combined organism evolved into the variety of cells that make up human beings. Today we would not be able to survive without these creatures living within our cells and the mitochondria would not exist without us. Evolutionary innovation is often collaborative.

Beyond evolving on a biological front, humans evolve and innovate their behaviors constantly if not quickly, with our ancestors developing new forms of stone tools over millennia, fire being tamed, the taking up of living in shelters of one sort or another, and placing metal strips on the teeth of our children to improve function and appearance.

Many of the inventions that propelled our civilization and were described as deriving from “ah-ha” moments were nothing of the sort. Rather the innovative breakthrough came from groundwork that laid the foundation and was then built upon. Basic innovations often sit dormant until additional development work and insights are gained allowing the innovation to be applied in day-to-day life.

Take Edison’s light bulb for instance. It is often credited to Edison as a singular event. And in fact Edison played a very important role in the light bulb, but without the innovations of those who came both before and after him the light bulb would not have become as wide spread as it has. Here is a chronology of the major milestones.

• The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy. When he connected wires to his newly invented battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light.
• Much later, in 1860, physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light. He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly. In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.
• In 1877, Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.
• Thomas Alva Edison experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.
• Lewis Howard Latimer improved the bulb by inventing a carbon filament (patented in 1881); Latimer was a member of Edison’s research team, which was called “Edison’s Pioneers.” In 1882, Latimer developed and patented a method of manufacturing his carbon filaments.
• In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn’t darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed.
• In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments. The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world. (Enchanted Learning).

Rather than being the exception the “evolution” of the light bulb is very often how innovation occurs with multiple people contributing, often working collaboratively over a period of time.

There are multiple methods available for measuring the existence of innovation in organizations. You could count the number of patents issued to the organization, or the age of each of its product’s since design, the amount of time that employees spend on innovation, the R&D budget, the headcount assigned to “innovation”, or the perceptions of the customers towards the organization’s products and services as being innovative. One method for measuring the degree of innovation in organizations is through the perceptions of the employees.

Employee surveys will often ask about the “emphasis” on innovation within the organization, but I prefer asking about whether innovation is actually occurring. Critical when measuring innovation through employee surveys is to ask about:
• the generation of innovative ideas;
• the ability to test out those ideas from a funding and other resources standpoint;
• the ability to evaluate innovations to see which one’s should be implemented organization-wide and which ones rejected.

Examining or asking about the reward system is also often very informative as an organization may truly desire to be innovative, but is actually rewarding its employees for playing it safe and not trying new things rather than the innovative efforts desired.

Slack and redundancy are two concepts that are also critical to be in place for an organization to successfully innovate. If an organization is being run in such a tight fashion with no slack so that it can’t try new things, because all resources are dedicated to getting the work done the traditional way, the ability to be innovative does not exist. And likewise if the organization does not have the ability to experiment with new methods, while another redundant process is performing in a traditional fashion, the evaluation of innovative ideas and processes will be very difficult to objectively assess.

Organizational innovation is critical and creating organizational cultures that support innovation rather than suppress it is within reach for all organizations.

© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Body in Motion

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The first of Newton’s laws of motion states “a body that is at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it.” His second law states “a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.” Those same laws seem to apply to the world of employee survey action taking.

Some of those who get survey results never seem to get around to taking action based on the survey results they have in hand. And just like a body at rest, they tend to stay at rest doing nothing with the findings.

  • The survey results provided may not be definitive enough for them and they may request additional analysis after analysis until they get around to doing just about nothing.
  • The survey results may point to action that is difficult or overwhelming and so the easiest path may again be to let things be just as they are and do nothing.
  • They survey results may point to behaviors that go against closely held beliefs that the manager may have, so even though the data says one thing, he or she may simply know in their heart the “right thing to do” regardless of the data.

In one study which pointed out some of the obstacles to having action arise from the survey process, (Wiley & Brooks, 2010), the 3 top obstacles to taking action on a survey were identified as:

  • Accountability (12%)
    • Holding organizational members responsible for their role in the survey program; ownership and clarity of assignment
  • Resources (12%)
    • Especially time (given the other demands of manager’s job), but other resources as well: training, technical, financial
  • Importance (12%)
    • Management (especially executive management) attention to and support for survey

But looking on the positive side for a moment, what are the benefits of taking action, even if it may not be the perfect action based on the survey results? If you look at survey data longitudinally and track which employees saw results from a previous survey vs. those who did not (from within one organization), and which ones saw action arising from the survey vs. those who did not, the data strongly suggests that seeing the data and seeing action, drives a very positive shift in the next survey iteration on critical business performance metrics.

  • In one organization for instance if 75% or more at the department level could recall actions arising from the survey their average employee engagement score rise by 5 percentage points.
  • In that same organization, those departments where less than 50% could recall actions arising from the survey score their employee engagement scores went down by 13 percentage points.

The benefits of taking action, even if it is not the perfect action are very clear. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and in our fast changing world, staying in motion; constantly improving organizations based on insightful data which is tied to the organizational strategy is a very impactful way to help performance.


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

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