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Strategic Choice or Desperation

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Why would a dictator gas his own people? The answer may not be what you think. In Syria’s brutal civil war it has been documented that there have been atrocities on both sides. One particular atrocity, the gassing of the civilian population with hundreds of children dying gruesomely stands out. The USA’s reaction to this has finally gotten Syria to admit that it has chemical weapons and though it denies being the source of the attack the evidence in the media is pretty persuasive that the Syrian government is gassing its own population. Syria’s denials take the form of logic rather than evidence. They pose the question, why would we gas people in locations where our own troops could be affected? That question presupposes that Syria cares enough about their own troops not to expose them to gas, which is a dubious assumption, but it is also misdirection from the reason why a dictator would conduct an act, that by generally acceptable world standards is beyond limits.

In order to explain, I need to turn to Africa, another area that has seen its share of gruesome atrocities and to explain the rationale behind an atrocity so gruesome that words had to be created to describe it. If this is at all disturbing to you, you should either skip the next two paragraphs or just stop reading here. Nicholas Kristof writing in the New York Times, (February 10, 2010), wrote about atrocities happening in Congo. He describes autocannibalism as “what happens when a militia here in eastern Congo’s endless war cuts flesh from living victims and forces them to eat it.” He goes on with an explanation as to why it is happening:

“… after talking to survivors and perpetrators alike over the years, I’ve come to believe that the atrocities are calculated and strategic, serving two main purposes. First, they terrorize populations and shatter traditional structures of authority. Second, they create cohesiveness among the misfit, often youthful soldiers typically employed by warlords. If commanders can get their troops to commit unspeakable atrocities, those soldiers are less likely ever to return to society. So don’t think of wartime atrocities as some ineluctable Lord of the Flies reversion to life in a natural state but as a calculated military strategy. We can change those calculations by holding commanders accountable.”

So in Syria’s case the commitment of atrocities by the government, is one way of Assad telling his supporters, there is no going back, we are in this to the end, for what we have done is so unacceptable that there is no place for us elsewhere (Russia not withstanding), we have to survive here. It is a clear message that he won’t abandon them, and they now can’t abandon him because they are now associated with gas attacks. It also creates a situation where reconciliation between the regime and the rebels is likely out of reach. The thought that Assad is acting out of desperation is likely in error.

If we consider these atrocities for what they are in their essence, they are a way of increasing internal group cohesiveness in the face of increasing external pressures. Governments, societies and other kinds of organizations have always been concerned about maximizing internal group cohesiveness. Though they don’t often resort to atrocities of this scale, but the psychology of the methods used in Syria are unfortunately a well-worn path.

Organizations by their very nature create a dichotomy, a split, between those on the inside vs. those on the outside. Even within organizations there are subgroups or subcliques creating a sense of us vs. them.  Only this week a story ran about the Harvard Business School which documented how wealthy students experienced a different Harvard than a typical business school student. An elite organization, Harvard Business School, was not elite enough for some, so a group of wealthy students created an even more elite sub-organization called Section Z within it. These students, the members of Section Z, would experience Harvard together, helping each other out, and presumably be there for each other during their careers.

Creating a sense of “we” vs. others or foreignness will increase the cohesiveness of the “we” and can create a sense of desire on the part of the others to become part of the “we”, part of the in crowd, part of the Inner Ring. This is even more so when the “we” has characteristics of exclusivity or generally what are perceived as desirable traits.

CS Lewis in a Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 warns of the dangers of creating an Inner Ring, a subgroup of those on the inside, vs. those on the outside. For he said that there are those who will do anything, commit any crime, engage in any activity in order to get inside the Inner Ring, if membership in that ring is attractive enough.  He urged the students to resist the temptation of the Inner Ring.

“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.”

Interestingly, CS Lewis challenged Sigmund Freud’s dogma that the sex drive is the strongest drive that humans have and suggested that the desire to be part of the “in” group the Inner Ring is stronger. All sorts of organizations including governmental and political, societies, including secret ones, religious groups, schools, for-profit, military, etc. have used this fundamental human characteristic to their advantage and at times to take advantage of their fellow humans. In Syria’s case the gassing of civilians enhances the cohesiveness of those in power and in the military. Some may reject that path and defect, but the vast majority won’t.

Breaking down long-standing barriers of what is acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors will also, through the process of cognitive dissonance, cause those who conducted the atrocities to create justifications as to why those behaviors are now acceptable.

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

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Contagious High Performance?

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Some controversy surrounds the idea that a basketball player who has a “hot hand” will have increased odds of making the next shot. In fact the data show that in basketball there is no evidence that such a thing exists. However a recent analysis of baseball players who hit safely in 30 or more consecutive games showed interesting phenomena related to the hot streak. Twenty eight such streaks have happened since 1945 and not only did the player with the streak perform better but his teammates batting average rose by 11 points during the streak (Science News 1/26/13).

There were a lot of explanations given as to why the teammates of the hot player might also be playing better. It ranged from putting extra pressure on the pitcher to the excitement in the club house of having a streak going on, which I supposed you could call inspiring others to greater performance. I think though that I’ll hypothesize an explanation that was not given in the article and one which could extend to higher or enhanced performance in the business world. My hypothesis is one of opportunity. And opportunity can be both exciting and inspiring.

In basketball a major limiting factor to performance is time and how many points you can score within a certain period of time. In baseball the limiting factor is how many opportunities you get to perform before 3 outs happen in an inning. A hot player in basketball has no impact on the clock, the limiting factor – time simply marches on. A hot player in baseball, who does not cause an out and in fact creates opportunities for other good things to happen by getting on base, creates additional opportunity for the team, and influences baseball’s 3-out limiting factor.

So by performing at a higher level the hot baseball player creates additional opportunities for others to perform. And with additional opportunity the odds of others performing at a higher level will increase compared to when the opportunity is simply not present. You can’t shine if you are not given an opportunity to shine.

This line of reasoning can be extended to the business world or more generally to other organizations. For instance, if a sales force is “hot” generating a lot of sales, this gives additional opportunity for engineering, for manufacturing to shine and show what they can do to continue to give the sales force products that allow them to continue their streak. A virtuous cycle develops.

If those in a business or organizations deliver an exceptional work product or service to a client or customer, there is additional opportunity created for that business or organization. Customers or clients who are satisfied tend to repurchase and to purchase additional products or services. This high performance by those who delivered the exceptional service originally creates additional opportunity for others within the organization to also deliver an exceptional experience for the customer, an opportunity that would have been lost had the first experience not been a home run. The organization has to make sure that they don’t squander those opportunities of course.

Creating opportunities could be called a high performance contagion. If an organization or broadly a society cannot or will not create opportunity for its employees or citizens to have the potential to shine, high performance will be guaranteed not to occur. What can be done within an organization or a society to create as many opportunities as possible for people, children as well as adults, to shine?

Ask yourself, what have you done at work today to create opportunities for other’s to shine?  That may be a key towards enabling overall high performance in an organization.

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

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm

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.
Visit OV: http://www.orgvitality.com

Knowing (Not)

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Two elderly gentlemen who were the best of friends were passing each other on the street. Allen calls over to Seymour and says, “Seymour, have a great day!” To which Seymour replies “Go to hell!” Allen says to Seymour, “What gives?” And Seymour replies, “If I had answered you politely, you would have asked me where I was going, and when I told you the name of the restaurant, you would have said “No, don’t go there, this other one is better”. We would have argued about the merits of various restaurants endlessly and eventually I would have told you to “Go to hell”. I am hungry and thought I would save us all some time.” (modified from Ausubel, 1948)

Filter bubbles is a term coined to describe a trend in internet search engines, one that some see as a new threat to our ability to receive and process information in an unbiased fashion. (Pariser, 2011) It used to be that when you searched the internet you got results that were wide open. Anything having to do with the topic you searched upon would theoretically turn up. Search on famine and you would find information on what is going on in impoverished countries as well as perhaps a new fashion trend called “famine dressing”. The search results were unedited, raw and covered whatever topics happened to match your search term.

This can be contrasted to newspaper reporting, at least at reputable papers, where an editor purposely searches out various aspects of a topic to present it from differing angles and points of view, including those the editor knows readers will disagree with or be uncomfortable with. The editor acts a filter on what news you see, and a good editor broadens your perspective rather than conforms to it.

Today internet search engines are becoming smarter. They are looking to make your searching more productive and to help you find the results you are seeking faster. In order to do that they can keep track of the kind of searches you undertake and the items you further review from your searching activity. Search on wood rot repair supplies and you will find that ads for companies that supply rot repair material will follow you around the web. Similarly, search on a type of shoe and those shoes will walk in your footsteps, following you as you maneuver the information resource the web represents. This is all well and good for ads for supplies, but a similar process hold true for other topics as well. If you search on political topics and delve into the more conservative “hits” you find, and then later on you search on another similar topic the conservative “hits” will be at the top of your results. Other points of view may not even show up on the list. This new kind of filtering, rather than broadening your perspective and knowledge about a topic, simply reinforces your current notions about a topic and could be seen as weakening the power of the internet to inform. In other words, the new internet surrounds you with information that simply conforms to your existing point of view.

This filter is fine for people who are seeking out confirmatory information for the beliefs they already have, which is a human tendency anyway, but for those  who are looking for new or differing points of view this filter poses a threat. Is it really a new threat though?

When this was first brought to my attention it reminded me of an incident that happened early in my career. I was asked to create a selection system for executive assistants. I did the job analysis and created a system that was validated against the performance levels of the current incumbents. I was then told that my multiple hurdle approach to selection for these positions was going to have one final hurdle. I asked what that was and was told that it was going to be political affiliation. You could only be an effective executive assistant if you were registered with a certain political party, I was told. As a young idealist I was aghast. Political affiliation did not show up on my list of bona fide occupational requirements. Not to mention that the information on political affiliation was supposed to be private and confidential. When I mentioned that I did not see the rationale and besides you could not ask about political affiliation, I was told that the final hurdle in the selection system would be handled by someone else and I should not worry about it. The rationale for this hurdle was that to promote harmonious relations in the executive suite it would be beneficial to have it full of people who all thought alike, and believed in the same things. I gave my notice at that company not too long after.

Executives, or at least their surrogates in HR, wanted to surround the most senior folks running the company with assistants who only thought like they did, believing in the same things as they did. Could it be that internet filtering is simply a new form of a process that has been going on for a very long time? And those who would prefer not to know new information will always find a way to support their already held beliefs and those who actually desire to search out new points of view and alternatives will also find a way?

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

Visit www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 2, 2011 at 8:18 am

The Conscious Organization

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”]Is your organization conscious or does it stumble along in a state of semi- or perhaps unconsciousness? I will argue that there are distinct advantages to an organization if it can achieve and operate in a conscious manner. I want to define what I mean by The Conscious Organization, but first a slight diversion into the causes of human consciousness is necessary.

Some relatively recent research looks at the physiology of the brain and what happens to it during states of consciousness and unconsciousness. As you know the brain is made up of many structures. Some of the structures of the brain deal with language (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area), some with memories, hearing and vision (temporal and occipital lobes) and some with reasoning (cerebral cortex). You may have heard of the amygdala which is associated with emotions, or the brain stem, the part of the brain immediately above the spinal column which controls autonomic functions such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and other homeostatic processes.

Needless to say the brain is a very complex structure with numerous sub-systems and sub-structures, each evolved to carry out specific tasks or duties, but the success of each of those systems is dependent on the other structures and systems within the brain carrying out their respective duties. For instance the centers of higher reasoning cannot interpret an image or scene if the visual cortex did not process the image. It is the Amygdala though that determines if that image is one that carries an emotional component. All of this communication, interpretation and experiential processing happen virtually instantaneously in the brain, achieving what is called “The Unity of Consciousness”. The various components of our brains work in silos, each carrying out their respective functions, but through complex interconnections each passes along information to other brain structures. Rising out of that complexity is human intelligence, consciousness or self-awareness which has been the subject of intense research for hundreds of years and philosophical debate for thousands. While the early work on the brain was philosophical and anatomical, examining and cataloguing the brain in an attempt to understand its inner workings, the more recent research has delved into real-time imaging of the brain in action.

When a person’s brain is examined as it enters an unconscious state such as sleep, the various silos of the brain, it appears, are no longer fully communicating with each other. They do not shut down, they do not function with less complexity, but they do stop sharing information across the parts of the brain as fully as they did when we are conscious or self-aware. The self-awareness or consciousness that the brain provides us is not driven simply by the complexity of the brain’s components itself, but by the ability of those complex systems to richly and virtually instantaneously communicate to other complex brain systems. The brain during periods of unconsciousness acts like many of our heavily siloed or stove piped human contrived organizations, looking inward and sharing only minimal information across the organization and sometimes even then begrudgingly. These heavily siloed organizations which cannot easily share complex and rich information are not capable of obtaining Organizational Consciousness.

Think of operations departments that are unaware of what the sales folks are promising out in the field, or engineering groups that do not include manufacturing in the development of new products. Think of customer care representatives who are unaware of the difficulties that distribution and fulfillment are having, or the salesperson who works in isolation of inventory or capacity information. Organizations that fit these descriptions are organizations stumbling along in a semi-conscious state. Information that is transparently communicated and shared across the organization in an instantaneous fashion is one key to
achieving a Conscious Organization. A conscious organization is intelligent, self-aware, more likely to successfully deal with changing environmental conditions and with the routine and enduring challenges that all organizations face.

“Human consciousness usually displays a striking unity. When one experiences a noise and, say, a pain, one is not conscious of the noise and then, separately, of the pain. One is conscious of the noise and pain together, as aspects of a single conscious experience. Since at least the time of Immanuel Kant (1781/7), this phenomenon has been called the unity of consciousness. More generally, it is consciousness not of A and, separately, of B and, separately, of C, but of A-and-B-and-C together, as the contents of a single conscious state.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007)

IBM is betting heavily on helping organizations achieve consciousness through what it is calling its “Smarter Planet” initiative. In a nutshell the Smarter Planet initiative aims to make organizational systems smarter to achieve “economic growth, near-term efficiency, sustainable development and societal progress.” Among the examples given of smarter systems include smart power and informational grids, water management systems, traffic congestion avoidance systems, and greener buildings.  According to IBM, “these systems have historically been difficult to manage because of their size and complexity. But with new ways of monitoring, connecting, and analyzing the systems, business, civic and nongovernmental leaders are developing new ways to manage these systems” (emphasis added).

Think for instance of a water supply system for a city. It could be a just a bunch of pipes with values, relying on gravity and water pressure to distribute water throughout the city (much as the Romans and Aztecs did). A smarter water system would be interconnected to say the fire department, the weather service, and the water-pipe repair service. This smarter system could divert water from one part of the city to another if a major fire were to break out, maintaining enough pressure for the fire department to effectively fight the fire. It could realize that a heat wave was happening making additional water supplies available for cooling purposes, or if it sensed a drop in pressure it could send out a repair crew to where the leak was measured. Now multiply that interconnectedness and analytic ability to all of the critical systems that run a city and you achieve what I would describe as a conscious organization, in this case a conscious city.

If an organization wanted to achieve a higher degree of intelligence and consciousness it would seem that some precursors would be necessary. Included would be:

Creating conscious organizations will not be an easy process; maybe the notion of one is just a whim on my part. It involves not only creating well-functioning business processes for each critical business function, but also interconnecting across business functions, creating complex multi-redundant communication
pathways, so that each function adapts and bases their own decisions, interpretation of the world, and actions upon what is happening elsewhere in the organization. Seems complex, but I am reminded how many complex systems, such as a flock of birds in flight, are described by relatively simple rule structures.

When you think of how many organizations operate on a “need-to-know” basis, or how, at one extreme, spy and intelligence agencies compartmentalize information to purposely keep an organization “unconscious” you can begin to get a feel for how big a challenge it might be.

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Brook, Andrew and Raymont, Paul, “The Unity of Consciousness”, The  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta  (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/consciousness-unity/&gt;.

Buzsáki, G., 2007, Connections The structure of Consciousness, Nature  2007, 446, 267

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

Visit www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Boosting Your Personal Confidence

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“Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

During this recession employee confidence seemed to hit a low point in the first quarter of 2009. Since then there have been ups and downs but the overall trend has been moving slightly more positively with one notable exception. And that one exception is how people feel about the alternative options being available to them should they want to or be forced to leave their current employer. This sentiment on the part of employees emphasizes the notion that whatever recovery we have experienced so far has been jobless.

The employee confidence model, upon which this research is based1, has been linked to various performance metrics at personal, organizational, and country levels, and consists of two main dimensions:

  1. Personal Confidence
  2. Organizational Confidence

Each of those dimensions has an internal and external component forming a 2×2 matrix. Internal Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is when you feel you have a meaningful future at your current employer including concepts such as job security. While Internal Personal Confidence has taken a beating during this recession, External Personal Confidence suffered even more. External Personal Confidence within the context of the work environment is confidence in your ability to succeed outside of your current employer, being able to land on your feet elsewhere, to be employable and if internal personal confidence is about job security, external personal confidence is about career security.

In general people’s external confidence levels can decline when they feel trapped due to a lack of options. By taking steps to continuously enhance external personal confidence they can mitigate confidence eroding situations.

What might those be?

  1. Be aware that everyone has options. NO ONE is trapped in hopeless situations. There are paths forward. Sometimes they can be difficult to see – especially when your confidence has been shattered. Look for them they are there.
  2. Actively work towards maximizing your options.
    1. Have wide social networks that you interact with regularly (relatives, friends, co-workers, people at church, etc.). Make use of your network when your confidence suffers a blow. Everyone can relate to that.
    2. Develop a smaller network of trusted confidants that you can talk to openly about your issues.
    3. Realize that regardless of what caused your confidence levels to decline, you are not the first person to go through what you are going through and many others have successfully overcome similar obstacles. You can too.
    4. Continuously improve your skills and knowledge, no matter what you do for a living or your education level look for personal growth, skill and mind development opportunities and take advantage of them.
  3. Develop additional coping mechanisms such as an exercise routine, a hobby, volunteering that can get your mind off your immediate confidence issue. The idea is to build a buffer, to create some space that is more normal, more routine and gives you time to get your emotions under control.
  4. Remember that sometimes blows to your confidence may have nothing to do with you. In the case of office bullying for instance, the person doing the bullying whether it be a boss or co-worker is often insecure or has other issues and exhibiting a lack of confidence in themselves. Unfortunately their way of coping with their own insecurities is by taking it out on others.  In this case the issue lies with others.
  5. Don’t sit back and do nothing. That simply makes things worse.

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1.Saltzman & Brooks, Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures, 2010 appearing in Going Global, Jossey Bass.

 

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Desire to Work, Unemployment and Social Safety Nets

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Some of the research I have done over the last few years treats countries as nothing more than large organizations, with each country’s respective head of state filling the role of CEO. This approach has enabled me to apply the research techniques developed over the last few decades, such as linkage, on measuring organizational performance to entire countries. Not surprisingly, the results we would expect to find at an organizational level, say a public or private entity within a country, also applies when you sample a representative cross-section of citizenry and look at country-level performance indicators such as GDP growth or corporate bankruptcy rates. I developed an index a good number of years ago called Employee Confidence, and since June 2008 was measuring it quarterly on 16,000 people in the 12 largest global economies.

Within just the USA for one study, I treated each state as the organizational unit and made comparisons of citizenry attitudes to unemployment levels, and by looking at the change in attitudes over time, was able to get some indication of whether the citizenry attitudes were a leading indicator of what unemployment levels would be or a lagging indicator. The largest correlations between citizenry attitudes and unemployment came when linking together attitudes at time 1, with the following month’s unemployment level. In other words, the strongest relationships found were between attitudes now and what officially reported 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 (postdictive – unemployment levels, the month preceding the measurement of the attitudes), current attitudes compared to current unemployment levels (concurrent points in time), and current attitudes compared to unemployment 2 months out. This would seem to give some indication that asking a cross section of citizenry about their levels of Employee Confidence might be a leading indicator of whether unemployment levels and potentially other economic metrics were heading upwards or downwards in the near term, and this leading indicator can be available before officially reported economic figures.

I recently co-authored with Scott Brooks, a book chapter, appearing in Going Global, for the Professional Practice Series, for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology which documented some of the major findings from this body of research.

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 not only about “people at work” which has been done countless times, but about “people as working or unemployed citizens”.

For instance, a good number of years ago I looked at the combination of workload and employee satisfaction or morale in the workplace. Here is an excerpt published in Executive Viewpoints on that work. “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 even less happy than employees who complain of being overworked”.

“The study looked at the job satisfaction levels of more than 800,000 employees at 61 companies worldwide. Of the companies surveyed, 75% have operations in North America, 11% have operations in Europe, and 14% have operations in Asia. Employees participating in the survey were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their jobs, as it relates to their workload, on a 100-point scale. Respondents who described their workload as “about right” rated their job satisfaction at an average of 73, while employees who said they had “too much work” rated their satisfaction level at 57. Those with “much too much work” had an average satisfaction rating of 42. By contrast, those who said they have “too little work” rated their job satisfaction at 49, and those who complained of having “much too little work” had the lowest average job satisfaction rating, of 32. The survey also identified variations in the way workers in different parts of the world felt about their workloads.

“Results showed that employees in Europe and Asia were about three times less likely as North American workers to say they were satisfied with having “much too little work.” Employees in North America who said they had “much too little work” had an average satisfaction rating of 36, whereas European workers in this category had a satisfaction rating of 12, and Asian employees a rating of 13. The study also showed that employees in Europe and Asia who claimed they have “much too much work” were somewhat less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in North America. While North American employees who said their workload was much too heavy had an average job satisfaction rating of 44, European and Asian employees with “much too much work” rated their job satisfaction at 34 and 25, respectively.”

Some conclusions that can be drawn looking across these studies include:

  • There is some generalizability possible between employee attitudes at work, and given a large enough and a representative sample, citizenry attitudes at a country level.
  • People tend to be more positive when working productively and on a whole would rather be working harder than not having enough to do. When they do not have enough to do, either at their employer or when unemployed, there is a tendency to feel that their contribution is not valued either by their employer or society.
  • The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance, as has been done in some European countries to an even greater extent than in the USA, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.

There is a tendency for humans to make decisions and draw conclusions representing their world-view based on heuristics, or rules of thumb. The down side of this evolutionary derived shortcut to speedier human information processing is that it can play into stereotypes and even bias and bigotry if one is not careful.

And there is a tendency on the part of organizations to also simplify their need to process information, which requires an expenditure of energy (i.e. resources) by creating rules which are broadly applied to those who reside within the organization. Unfortunately, these rules are often derived to control the outliers in the organizational distribution, the worst case scenario, rather than the vast majority who are in the “fat” part of the distribution.

Lets apply some evidence-based decision making to the notion that by extending unemployment insurance, we as a society, 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 vast majority of people are happiest when working, and in fact are happier when over-worked rather than underworked.
  • The evidence suggests that in societies with strong social safety-nets that there is no diminution of the happiness and satisfaction for the majority of workers that working and working hard brings.

It is possible to go into the general population and at the extremes of the behavioral distribution find individuals who fit the worst-case scenarios of people who do not want to work and would rather collect money from the in-place social safety nets, but they are nowhere near what the majority of us want and what makes most people feel good about themselves. Based on a review of multiple databases that include both the private and public sector, the evidence is clear, most people want to do a good job at work, want to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful fashion, would rather be overworked rather than underworked and their frustration levels and eventual withdrawal from the organization can be driven by their inability to do so.

© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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