Archive for the ‘measurement’ Category
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, http://www.sgi.org/about-us/buddhism-in-daily-life/buddhism-and-human-dignity.html
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.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
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”?
|Innovative||Customer Focused||Bottom-line focused|
|Safety Oriented||Quality Focused||Resistant to change|
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.
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.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com
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.