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Sunk Costs

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When you wonder how those in congress can go along with increasingly undemocratic behavior that goes against everything this country has stood for, a partial explanation might be found in this piece on sunk costs.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

The patient in the ICU had given instructions for no heroic life support. Heroic is of course subjective as one person’s routine might be deemed heroic by another. Never-the-less over a period of almost two weeks the measures taken would be described by most any observer as heroic. How did it happen?

It started as simply some abdominal pain. A trip to the ER revealed a small perforation in the intestine, a complication of diverticulitis. The patient was admitted, put on intravenous antibiotics and a small amount of supplemental oxygen. At first the antibiotics seemed to be working, but then the patient took a turn for the worse. An abdominal abscess was discovered, the dosage of the antibiotics being given was increased and a pathology report led to a change in the type of antibiotic being used. Again, positive signs emerged. Up to this point fairly routine healthcare.

After a…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 19, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Cultural Resiliency

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It is very hard work to change a culture. Whether that culture is the essence of what defines an organization, or that culture is part of a larger society. Culture change is tough, culture is resilient and change does not come easily or simply by wishing it were so.

Let me give you an example. Many times over the years I have worked with organizations that have extraordinary high amounts of turnover. They may be hiring students, or part-timers, or people who are looking to supplement their income during certain times of the year.  Year over year, the members who make up their front-line staff can change dramatically, yet their scores on an annual employee survey can remain very stable, even when the organization is working hard to improve those scores. “How can this be?”, is a question I have been asked more than once. In one case, almost the entire front-line population had changed out, meaning virtually no one from the previous year’s survey was left, and yet the scores were within 1 point of where they were a year earlier. Management in this case, thought that all the unhappy malcontents would leave, and that, combined with their improvement efforts should improve the scores. But this is what tends to happen in organizations:

  • The policies, practices and procedures, the frustrations employees experienced in getting their work done did not change, so even as the new staff entered they experienced the same environment as the departed staff and quickly assumed the same attitudes
  • Turnover was not uniform. Those in management for instance did not exhibit the same amount of turnover, so the new employees experienced the same people, with the same behaviors that the departed staff experienced
  • One common cause of turnover is the lack of ability to achieve one’s career aspirations in your current organization, and just because the staff turns over, if you are hiring similar types of people (e.g. students, young professionals), their career aspirations will likely be, as a group, no different than the previous year’s group. The career aspirations of any one person can of course be different
  • Another cause of turnover is frustration with the effectiveness of the organization, the way the work gets done. That does not change simply because new employees enter an organization.

It is possible to achieve steady, meaningful improvement in an organization’s culture scores through hard work, consistency and continuity of effort, but when a score shifts dramatically higher or dramatically lower in a short period of time, it is not unusual to find out that there is new leadership within the organization, whether that be a department, division, business unit, company-wide…

…or at a country level.

The findings on culture change that are seen within for-profit organizations have analogs within our country and society overall, after all both are made up of people with all of their foibles, strengths and similarities. The overall culture of the USA is resilient (for better or for worse). Meaning that as immigrants come to our shores there is very little danger of large cultural shifts occurring as long as the institutions of the USA remain intact. Those democratic institutions make up the policies, practices and procedures which define and by which our society operates. Just like organizations that experience steady state cultures, (for better or for worse), over time the same factors come into play as new people have entered and will continue to enter our country, because they are exposed to and live under those institutions. Yes, you may get access to new foods that immigrants bring, or other “cosmetic factors”, but underneath it all people are people and the factors that drove my grandparents to escape the pogroms of Russia are the same factors that drive people to our shores today. A search for dignity, safety, a better life if not for themselves then for their children, have driven people to us for hundreds of years. And the drive of those people to achieve their goals is what has made this country great. Virtually none of these historical immigrants would have gotten in on their “merits” of education or wealth, but succeed they did, and succeed their children did, based on their hard work and desire to have a better life.

With our recent change in leadership, the attacks on our democracy by Russia, and the subsequent attacks on the policies, practices, and procedures by which we have prospered, we are running a grave risk that the culture inherent to our democracy, the culture that represents our “secret sauce” or “special essence” can begin to swing and be put into jeopardy.  Consider this a warning from someone who has studied organizational culture for over 30 years.

Complacency during this dark period in our history is not an option. Ellie Wiesel saw this happen in Germany and concluded, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Many of the institutions which support our democracy are under attack. The traditional role and dignity of the office of the Presidency is under attack, and at the moment has largely been destroyed. The critical role of a free and unfettered press is under attack, minorities are under attack, children and families are under attack, our access to egalitarian education is under attack, our very planet is under attack which means that the future of our children and our grandchildren is under attack.

While culture is resilient, we are seeing dangerous cracks in our culture developing. Divisiveness is growing. Hate groups are newly emboldened. Fascists and anti-democratic forces are becoming stronger. Each day we move closer to becoming an autocratic kleptocracy with a fondness for dictatorial strongmen. Our traditional adversaries rejoice in our lack of leadership and in our failing strength while our allies are feeling abandoned and forlorn. The USA, even with all of its shortcomings, was the leader of the free world and a shining beacon for humanity on this planet. We have abandoned that position. It will be a long road, but we can begin the repair the damage that has been done, to ourselves and to the world. We can repair our culture and this world and use this experience to enhance our country’s future resiliency. Vote in November.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 14, 2018 at 7:55 pm

Here I Am

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When I teach leadership to MBA students, on the first day of class we have a discussion regarding the necessity of managers to be able to multitask. Most of them are under the impression that to be a good manager you need to multitask throughout the day. My statement to them is that when you multitask what you are doing is a whole bunch of things poorly, rather than one thing well. (And the data supports that conclusion). Success comes about when you do one thing well and then move onto the next one.

Imagine if a surgeon was about to cut into your heart and right at that moment decided to review a menu and order takeout for lunch. If you were conscious you would likely pass out. Imagine if you were following your platoon leader carefully through a minefield and suddenly the platoon leader decided to play Candy Crush as they were picking out the mines to avoid. That leader would not have a leg to stand on to justify that behavior.  Or imagine if you were a manager, in your office, with a staff member sitting across from you. As you gave that person information and direction on what needed to be done, you decided to respond to a few emails as you talked. Even if you got the information transfer correct, the impression you would leave with that staff member is that what you were conveying was not all that important to you.

After hearing this, one of my students who already worked as a manager, decided to turn off his cell phone and to turn off his computer screen when he had a person in his office and were giving them direction. The results were dramatic. That staff member, who usually left very punctually at 5:00pm stayed late to finish the work. When asked about it the staff member stated that since the manager turned off their cell phone and computer screen that he thought what was being conveyed was really important so he paid extra attention and stayed until the work was done. What behavior patterns do you think would add up to more productivity, having each staff member put in the extra effort to get their respective work done, or you as a manager multitasking your way through the day?

There is a big difference between being present in a conversation and being fully present in that conversation. There is a big difference between being present in any situation and being fully present in that situation. When you are fully present in a situation you convey to others that you care about what is going on and it is important to you.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 7, 2018 at 5:02 pm

The Fifth Question

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Over the last two days we gathered around the family table for the Passover Seder, the meal where the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt is retold each year. One role for the children present is to ask the four questions at the appropriate time during the Seder. The questions revolve around why this meal, this Seder, is different from the other meals typically eaten during the rest of the year. And around those differences the story of Passover is told.

This year I added a fifth question for the family present. “Do we live in evil times”? To me, emotionally, this year feels like the spring flowers will curl up, turn black and shrivel, that the grass will stay brown, the blue sky will stay obscured by clouds, that the trees will remain bare. In addition to the darkness settling over the land, I expect cattle to perish, locusts to decimate crops, waters to run red, boils, disease, hail and death. Yes, I have a nagging feeling that we can all expect various plagues to continue, at least for the short term. What brings me to this state of pessimism?

The United States has seemingly, willingly, thrown away its somewhat exceptionalism role. We have thrown away our morality, our leadership, our values, aspirational as they were, but at least the aspirations were there. The aspirations of our current federal leaders include greed, corruption, abuse, racism and worse, all of which can only be achieved by denigrating the pillars of society that has made our country great, science, a free press, a fair judiciary, and a congress with actual oversite powers. Corruption, fiscal abuse, nepotism, blatant racism, intimidation of the most vulnerable among us, the thirst for power at any cost now run rampant. As a country we have embraced the worst fears, the worst instincts of tribal, primitive mankind.

ICE, it is now hard to imagine them as anything more than thugs, grabs people off the streets, separating mothers and fathers from their children and dumps them without money, without identification, without a method of communication and without due process in foreign lands.  Who is attracted to work like this? Here is a passage about one person who was so treated with the name altered. “…attorney worked very hard to file all the necessary papers and reach out to the ICE officer to make a case for a stay of XYZ’s deportation. The officer took a few days to get back to the attorney and before the process was complete, ICE had already approved his removal from the country.” “XYZ was not allowed to gather his belongings, to say goodbye to his family, to make a phone call to them and the family was not notified by ICE that this would be happening. The only way they knew was because the attorney called the ICE officer who said that XYZ was already in transit to Mexico. Last night they received a call from XYZ for the first time since he left New York. ICE brought him over the border into Mexico and left him. XYZ has no ID, no cell phone, no bank cards and no money. When I spoke to XYZ’s child last night he was not sure how his father was going to get to the village he is originally from.” This person has worked as a janitor for the last 20 years, putting two American children through college. He has paid all of his taxes and has had a clean record. What ever happened to only going after bad people? Another lie.

The EPA, the agency that is supposed to protect our environment, to protect our health has now officially sworn off science. After all who would want to know if a chemical is carcinogenic, before you decide if it needs regulation. Clean air emissions are about to be loosened as are standards for cars. Not to mention that the head of the EPA and his daughter accept a very fancy apartment in a tony part of Washington for $50 per night from an energy industry lobbyist.  Corruption and greed is rampant, ignorance is celebrated.

The interior department is destroying our national monuments, our national parks, our heritage for the sake of mining companies and for drilling opportunities. The head of the interior department has sworn off of diversity, after all his logic goes, just hire the best and diversity will take care of itself, expect that it never has. Just today an opponent of the endangered species act has been given oversite of that very act. That is like having war mongers running the State Department – wait, that is happening as well.

The education department is pushing for vouchers in a plan that completely flies in the face of what the founding fathers wanted public education to be. Public education that they knew was critical to the long-term success of our democracy. Benjamin Franklin is turning over in his grave.

The list can go on and on. In fact, you can barely go one day without some sort of scandal cropping up with this administration.  Russia attacking our democracy, Saudi princes with undue influence and claiming that senior administration officials are in their pocket (officials who only got their positions through nepotism rather than any kind of ability), collusion, corruption, threats, intimidation, money laundering, the NRA accepting foreign money aimed at determining the outcomes of our elections (a criminal offense), organized crime, lies, propaganda, voter suppression, gerrymandering, the attempt to silence those whose job it is to speak up, it is impossible to keep up with the growing and expanding list, and it feels like the plagues of Passover are raining down on our heads.

The insanity that has gripped our nation is not limited to our shores. It is impacting many other countries. For instance, it now seems that Brexit, which will separate Britain from the EU and weaken Europe was also influenced by Russia. After all, with a weakened USA, where we are at each other’s throats, and a weakened EU who is left to stand in the way of Russia putting the USSR back together? Of course, many of the countries that were part of the USSR have no interest in returning to that system of repression and tyranny – but Vladimir has other ideas.

ENOUGH!

And along come some children. Children who saw 17 of their classmates killed by a semi-automatic weapon which is very similar in design to one designed for the battlefield. Designed for use by the military. A weapon whose only design impetrative was to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. These children, like the children of Passover are asking questions. Their first question seems to be “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” And like the children of Passover, when the answer is not satisfactory for them they continue to ask questions, even as those questions become uncomfortable for those used to “tradition”. The reason the children at Passover are the ones to ask the questions, is because they are the ones that will create the future, the children are the ones that will determine whether Judaism will survive for another generation, just as the children of America will ultimately determine whether our democracy survives as well. Impeachment may or may not happen. Prison sentences may or may not be handed out. It is the children and their questions that ultimately matter the most. The questions must be asked. The questions must be answered to the satisfaction of the next generation.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

April 1, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Unsupported by Evidence

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These myths continually seem to arise in the workplace. The one that especially attracted me right now is that chaos in an organization is somehow good for productivity and effectiveness. Of course it isn’t. Jeff

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

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…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm

No Fear

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The Largest Number Of Scientists In Modern U.S. History Is Running For Office In 2018 – Huffington Post – 2/3/18 -Hopefully the start of a rollback to the current administration’s notion that ignorance is good and science can be ignored.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Humans are fearful creatures. We can’t help it, we evolved that way to help us survive. When a pre-technological human was kneeling by a stream to get a drink of water and there was rustling in the nearby trees, the human assumed that the unexpected noise was a potential threat and immediately took up a series of defensive moves. The assumption of threat is called the intentional stance, and is the idea that until proven otherwise, the human assumes that the noise was not the mere rustling of the wind, but rather that the noise was created by some creature or agent, potentially a creature or agent with intent, perhaps with the intent to eat you or cause harm. Even today, we very often assume intelligent or purposeful intent to what are random or statistically meaningless events. The assumption of intelligent intent means that a random or statistically meaningless event…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

Lies, Lying and those who Listen

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With the abundance of lies coming out of Washington and the seemingly nonchalance reaction by much of the electorate, it is good to revisit how people get acclimatized to the act of lying.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Something smells. Did you ever walk into a room with a fairly strong smell, but then after a while you fail to notice the odor? Your sense of smell comes from a combination of your nose and brain working in unison. The receptors in your nose fire, which ones fire depends on the specific smell, and sends signals, which are interpreted by your brain. A human can become acclimated to a constant smell after it has been detected by the nose, and analyzed by the brain, a process called sensory adaptation.

A recent study by Neil Garrett and Tali Sharot at the University College of London shows that small lies can become big lies in a somewhat similar fashion. In a nutshell, people were induced to lie (in a self-motivated scenario – meaning they did not have to lie) and as they lied they underwent a functional MRI, which monitored…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2017 at 7:22 am

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