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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Posts Tagged ‘Paradigms

50 Shades of Organizational Love

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Alright, alright. I did not read the book or watch the movie and actually have no intention to do so. Sorry.

But, what I was drawn to this Valentine weekend was a research paper that is once again in the news. “The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings” (Aron, A. et. al., 1997, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 4, 363-377). In this remarkable work the authors conduct an experiment where couples, screened by a preliminary questionnaire for compatibility, but who previously did not know each other, ask 36 increasingly personal questions over a 45 minute period and then stare into each other’s eye for 4 minutes. The current popularity of the piece is due to an essay written by Mandy Len Catron, “To Fall in Love with Anyone Do This” . Eight million readers viewed her piece, some tried the questions out for themselves, and the resultant stories of ensuing marriages are noteworthy. The 36 questions are nothing all that unusual, just a set of questions that create a mutual sense of increasing intimacy and vulnerability between the two people answering them to each other.

The 36:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  16. What do you value most in a friendship?
  17. What is your most treasured memory?
  18. What is your most terrible memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  20. What does friendship mean to you?
  21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.
  23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  25. Make 3 true “we” statements each. For instance ‘We are both in this room feeling …”
  26. Complete this sentence:  “I wish I had someone  with whom I could share …”
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Given my work, I could not help but wonder if it would be possible to create a sense of “love” between an organization and those who reside within it. Now of course lots of people feel pride at working at various places or being part of all sorts of organizations. That pride being generated by a combination of what the organization is accomplishing and your own personal contribution or connection to the organization, a concept that I have written about extensively elsewhere. But what if you pressed it further, can people actually “love” an organization?

The word “fan” as in a fan of a sports team, music band, etc. comes from the word “fanatic” and suggests something that is perhaps beyond pride. That may give some inkling that people can go beyond pride and feel something more for “things” that are more esoteric, such as organizations. But love? Even if you take the approach that love is nothing more than a bunch of chemicals interacting within the brain, can you duplicate those interactions and direct the emotional outcome to something like an organization?

There are organizations out there that aspire to have managers spend a significant amount of time on personnel issues. And I know of at least one organization where the aspiration is that a manager should spend about 40% of their working time interacting with their people or dealing with personnel type issues, as opposed to things like budgeting or doing the work themselves. Of course that is aspirational and most organizations come nowhere near that number. But the idea is that the role of a manager is to assist others to get their work done.

So in the spirit of increasing intimacy, of course in a manner suitable for a work environment, what would be the outcome of a manager or a group of co-workers over a period of time asking questions about the hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, etc. of their employees/co-workers? And sharing some of their own hopes, dreams aspirations and fears?  What if the person was the CEO asking the questions of their direct reports and then unveiling a bit of themselves? Of if it was a manager asking the questions of a shop floor worker? Or a senior manager reaching down into the organization to better understand the workforce? Too much to ask? Would it increase workforce happiness?

Here is a reworking of the 36 for the work environment.

The Organization/Work 36:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in this organization, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be known as a mover and shaker in this organization? Someone who can really make things happen?
  3. Before making a telephone call to a co-worker, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” workday for you?
  5. Do you sing to yourself at work? Even if someone else can hear?
  6. If you were able to work to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or energy of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your career, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will leave the organization?
  8. Name three things you and three things which the organization values that are in common.
  9. For what in your work life or career do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you work, what would it be?
  11. Take 4 minutes and tell your career story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability that would help you do your job better, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about how you are perceived at work, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing work or career-wise for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  15. What has been the greatest accomplishment of work life so far?
  16. What do you value most in a working relationship with co-workers?
  17. What is your most treasured work memory?
  18. What is your most terrible work memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would retire, would you change anything about the way you are working now? Why?
  20. What does having a good working relationship with fellow employees mean to you?
  21. What role does work and career play in your life? Is it central to how you define yourself?
  22. Share something you consider a positive characteristic of your work organization. Share a total of 5 items.
  23. How close and warm are the relationships among that staff at your organization? Do you feel your organization is filled with happier people than most other’s?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your boss/subordinate?
  25. Make 3 true “we” statements each. For instance ‘We are both in this room feeling …”
  26. Complete this sentence:  “I wish I had someone  at work with whom I could share …”
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with a co-worker, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your boss/subordinate what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  29. Share with your co-workers an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry at work? By yourself?
  31. Tell your boss/subordinate something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told your co-workers? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  34. Your office building/plant catches fire. After saving all your co-workers, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your organization, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your boss/subordinate/co-worker’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your boss/subordinate/co-worker to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Just a thought….

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 15, 2015 at 10:48 am

Signs of Intelligence

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I have to wonder, we have spent a good deal of effort in trying to locate intelligent life elsewhere in our neighborhood, the Milky Way Galaxy. If we assume that intelligent life elsewhere is inquisitive, how likely is it that they also went looking, found us and simply moved on?    

I have been reading up on current events, the latest news about what is going on in the world and I find that my assumptions that humans represent intelligent life are seriously challenged. We seem to represent nothing more than socially challenged, power-hungry, biased, bigoted, fear-oriented monkeys, preying on those who are weaker or more vulnerable, and intent on destroying the very world which gave birth to us. And that is on a good day.

To make it worse there are many who play off of our short-comings as a species to advance their own dubious agendas or personal gratifications, anything for advantage, personal pleasure or power. I went through a period, for a while, where I felt that many of the issues that the world faced were due to a lack of empathy of one group for what another was facing. I was wrong.

There is evil in this world. Evil is not simply a point of view that compares unfavorably to your own. Evil is not simply due to a challenging upbringing, or social and economic disadvantages that one group forces on another. Evil can only be described as an inherent pathology buried in our genetic code. Evil that pits one group against another for personal or tribal gain. It is easy to see how over time legends of “supernatural” evil emerged, but there is nothing “supernatural” about it, it is just us.

I know I am being harsh and I don’t mean to be. There are many good hearted, kind people in this world who help out their fellows without looking for personal gain. But what are we forced to give our attention to and on what does the media tend to focus? The negative extreme of the distribution. The evil that does exist takes the majority of our time, effort and resources to keep it in check. There is some research that points out that humans as a species are “self-domesticating”. That over the long run those who are more collaborative and behave in a more socially desirable fashion have a breeding advantage. Over time those characteristics are becoming more and more dominant and the distribution shifts. But we would seem to have a ways to go before we eliminate evil, if we, without evolving beyond our humanness, ever will.

If we shift our gaze beyond an examination of the negative end of the distribution, perhaps what we will notice is that most of the distribution laying before us is more positive in nature. That most people do not give in or have it inherent within themselves to give way to their baser natures. Existing beyond the extreme negative end of the distribution lies the overwhelming vast majority of us.

Positivism. Most people are good and want to do good things during their time in this world. The care about each other and building a better future, if not for themselves then for their children. They tend to be pragmatic for they know that hardened, intransient positions are an eventual dead-end for everyone. And they are willing to work collaboratively with their fellow humans to achieve improvements.

Is it possible to work collaboratively with all towards a better future? My sense of pragmatism tells me no, with some there is just no point. But I am willing to give it my all to find those who are willing to work for a better future for all of humanity.

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

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

September 1, 2014 at 9:26 pm

A Discussion on Ethics

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Is it time to abandon ethics as a construct? Organizations come in all shapes and sizes ranging from governmental entities (cities, states, countries and cross-country entities), private sector corporations, NGOs, not-for-profits, educational institutions, and criminal organizations, not to mention within any one of these there can be departments, divisions, business units and enterprise-wide structures each a unique organization unto themselves. Each of these  organizations internally develop codes both formally and informally regarding what acceptable organizational behavior is, often thought of as ethics, and what is beyond bounds.

Externally, organizations are held up to societal standards to determine if they are operating in an acceptable fashion, with the degree of oversight to  determine that being a hotly contested point of contention. Society debates and struggles with the degree of regulation required to promote and safeguard the greater well-being vs. the ability of organizations to offer products and services in a competitive unhindered fashion. Some organizations are exceedingly profitable because they operate at the very edge of general acceptability, performing services or providing products that most others choose not to or view as too risky, and there are CEOs who routinely retain criminal attorneys in case they are perceived as going too far. Organizations themselves though are rarely charged with a crime, unless the criminal activity suspected is seen as having become institutionalized and a part of the way the organization does business. When an organization is charged with a crime (e.g. Enron, Arthur Andersen) they rarely survive.

Some of the hotly charged emotions surrounding the debates of acceptability of behavior may be driven by the word “ethical” and the construct of “ethics” in and of itself. For the word ethics sets up a potential false dichotomy of there being a clear right and wrong, a good and bad, a moral and amoral path of decision making and behavior.

Is organizational behavior ethical because it follows various laws, regulations and guidelines or do the guidelines, regulations and laws arise from the behavior we define as ethical? This illustrates the classical correlational conundrum of cause and effect. But in this case if we state that behavior gives rise to rules, we can also state that the rules are unnecessary for there are those who would behave ethically regardless of whether the rules or societal standards are in place, and that the standards are there only for those who actually need guidelines to know and define what is ethical.

In a sane version of the world we would want every person, every organization to have an intuitive sense of right and wrong, ethical and unethical, with rule-based or legal guidelines being unnecessary, but given that organizations are made up of people, some of whom are operating at the edge or beyond the edge of acceptability, that is just not going to happen. Additionally, past research has shown that what employees (people) define as ethical behavior by an organization varies by position within the organization, with line workers, professionals, lower and higher levels of management each having their own unique twist to their definition of ethics. This implies that the difficulties in measuring ethics and providing guidance on ethical behavior may not lie with people but with the construct of ethics itself. What one person may perceive as ethical another may perceive as unethical.

An important question that should be explored is how the construct of ethics can be improved upon, perhaps shifted away from the emotionally laden right and wrong, moral and amoral, and more to this is what individuals and society deem as acceptable or unacceptable.

  • One organization will make extensive use of temporary and causal labor, creating a continuing sense of uncertainty among the workforce, while another will hire permanent labor.
  • One organization moves its production off-shore eliminating jobs, while another chooses other paths to cost cutting to keep its production local.
  • One organization may make a decision to layoff a woman, 7-months pregnant, and think nothing of it, while another would never consider that behavior as acceptable.
  • One organization may decide to partner and work jointly with its unions; another will choose to hold the union at arm’s length, while another will treat the union as the enemy.
  • One organization chooses to offer development opportunities to all employees while another views that expenditure as unnecessary, as the CEO has a point of view that employees should come to work completely trained up.
  • One organization uses a meritocracy approach to promotions another uses tenure.
  • One organization eliminates testing and quality control oversight that is not regulatory in nature as a way to save costs, another views that as an unacceptable risk with the potential of putting harmful product in circulation.

These are, along with a myriad of other “muddy” business decisions, are the kind of decisions that many of us may be called upon to weigh in on or decide upon ourselves. What should we consider as we deliberate on our course of action or advice?

  • What does the research show?
  • What will the impact be on the effectiveness and the vitality of the organization?
  • How do we interpret what people desire and expect from the organization?
  • How will these various decisions affect the motivation of others in the workforce?
  • How can these decisions bind the organization together, creating common purpose or how can they damage that?

While important questions and worthy of exploration, these decisions are not clear cut at all from an ethical perspective, being seen from various points of view as having competing or conflicting objectives. Those objectives can be viewed, each, as having varying degrees of ethical acceptance by differing groups. And just because a decision path does not violate any laws, regulations or guidelines it may not be an ethical thing to do, or is it?

Some of the lack of clarity here may be due to the debate regarding the role of organizations in society. Are private organizations simply there to maximize the profit for their investors? Do they have other responsibilities to society (which could be argued enabled them to come into existence in the first place)? Many organizations, including my own, have signed on to the concept to operate in a sustainable fashion, being simultaneously concerned with the 3Ps – Profit, People, and Planet. And if you take the long term view of organizational performance rather than a short term orientation the wisdom of that approach is inescapable.

In bringing about better “ethical” decision-making processes and communicating decisions in a manner that creates acceptance by as large a group as possible, there are some unique skill sets which can play a constructive role, such as:

  • Unbiased data-based observer
  • Negotiator
  • Conciliator
  • Behavioral Interpreter and
  • Scientifically based cause and effect determiner.

In today’s world, it could be argued that we all need to build additional skill sets and decision-making paradigms to facilitate decision-making that is viewed by as large a percentage of the organizational population as possible as ethical and proper. The issues that organizations face today in order to succeed are not unique but are enduring, however, the current environment greatly magnifies them, necessitating greater skill at handling them and facilitating a common, scientifically sound understanding of how to resolve them.   _____________________________________________________________________

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

Visit www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 26, 2011 at 11:33 am

Abnormal Change

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“How far back can you remember?” a friend asked me the other day. I thought about it for awhile searching my old memories and finally responded “Maybe 28 or 30”. “Years ago?” he asked. “No, waist size”, I responded.  Change happens.

Dandelions are the perennial weed that are just about impossible to get rid of from your lawn. Tough as nails they show up everywhere you don’t want them to. Upon closer inspection the yellow flower of the dandelion is actually made up of numerous small flowers, each yellow petal being a separate flower capable of turning into an individual seed and in aggregate yielding the cottony ball that was so much fun to blow upon and scatter so long ago. I can remember that. Dandelions are adaptable. One study of them recently showed that in as little as 12 generations dandelions adapted from having that familiar cottony seed distribution system, with seeds drifting in the wind, to one that favored seeds that fell immediately around the mother (and father since they are asexual) plant. The plant was able to evolve, incorporating a new adaptation in as little as 12 seasons.  The new adaptation was the development of seeds without the white cottony tufts upon which to float in the wind. What was the reason for this change? When dandelions found themselves growing in urban locations with concrete all around, it became more advantageous to them to fall immediately next to mom, who was already conveniently gowning in a crack in the sidewalk filled with soil, then to scatter seeds in all directions looking for the next bit of dirt in which to put down roots.  In as little as 12 seasons dandelions took an evolutionary process that is often viewed as glacially slow and made fairly dramatic change.

Organizations of course need to be able to change or they will eventually die out, advice that any dandelion can give. A critically important point about organizational change though is that the most successful organizations need to consider how to control the definition of what are the normal standards of performance for their products and services. Being able to control the definition of standard or normal can be a path to greatly increasing market share and profitability. This is as true for the little restaurant on the corner as it is for the global behemoth. Organizations that can control the definition of “normal” performance or “normal” service are the standard bearers in their respective markets. Being able to control the definition of normal is also how some upstart startup can shake up an industry and penetrate the traditional barriers to competition.

Federal Express changed the definition of “normal” delivery times for packages and letters, doing something that no one else seemed to consider and grew into an extremely profitable, very successful organization. They again changed the definition of what a customer could expect when tracking packages, greatly increasing transparency and again setting the standard which everyone strove to emulate.

Henry Ford with his concept of mass production changed the definition of what a “normal” car should cost, greatly increasing the ability for the average person to own a personal transportation machine. His working definition of affordability was that a Ford Motor Company worker on the assembly line should be able to afford the product which they were producing.

The Japanese car companies, Toyota, Honda, Nissan among others came along much latter and changed the definition of what normal quality was, tapping into a desire of the consumer to own a quality, reliable product with fewer defects at a reasonable cost and quickly captured enormous market share. (They did not start out that way but came to see the light as they evolved and adopted the six-sigma tools made available by Dr. Deming).

Apple, a company that takes the notion of owning the “norm” seriously, of course changed the definition of how we buy and purchase music, driving traditional retail record stores to near or into bankruptcy as they could not adapt their traditional retail model. Apple is trying to do that again with the iPhone.

Amazon changed the way we purchase products on-line and Google changed the norm by which we search for and access information. eBay forever changed the way  that garage or lawn sales happen and has spurred an entire secondary economy employing hundred of thousands.

Starbucks changed the definition of how you purchase and how much you purchase coffee for and for a long time now a cup of high octane coffee has cost more then a gallon of high octane gasoline, but I think gasoline is pulling ahead once again. I can’t help but wonder if part of what is happening with the new highs in gasoline prices is to establish a new norm around what a gallon of gas should cost. (I can remember back to the 60’s – cents per gallon).

Wal-Mart established a new norm around pricing models and Target and Kohl’s added in more of a quality and shopping experience component (where did I hear that before?). A similar battle rages between Home Depot and Lowes. The list goes on and on.

The challenge to organizations as they seek to improve their performance is not to simply incrementally improve but to strive for breakthroughs that allow them to leapfrog the competition – to create not simply normal change but abnormal change, change beyond what is expected; to reinvent not only themselves but their products in such a fashion that it creates a new standard, a new norm of performance and then to make it happen. That takes creativity and insight, it takes a workforce that is willing and ready to adapt to new ideas and concepts and can work outside the box. To paraphrase one company’s motto, “We have a better idea” – do you?

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

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

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