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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Posts Tagged ‘World Trade Center

People at Work, or is it Life?

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The notion that people join organizations and leave bosses tends to be an overly simplistic depiction of the complexities of why people join and leave organizations. After years and years of research and literally hundreds of articles and books published on the topic there is no mystery regarding what people around the world want out of a job experience or a career. And while you can spend your time searching and highlighting the minutia that indicates differences, perhaps driven by your research design, the bottom line is that people at work, humans, are more the same than we are different, and I don’t care if we are talking about generational differences, gender, ethnicity or perceived geographic differences. And while there are as many ways to state it as there are researchers to describe it, the fundamental underlying characteristics of what people want include:

  • A clear and compelling message or reason regarding what the organization is about, why it exists, what it stands for, what it hopes to accomplish and knowledge of how each individual person within it can support it in a meaningful fashion. In other words, give me a compelling reason for belonging; make it desirable for me to join up.
  • Performance enablement – providing individuals within the organization what’s needed to accomplish their tasks in a way which creates pride. Align those tasks to the compelling message. In other words, make me feel like what I do is important in the organization’s mission.  Additionally important to enablement is:
    • Working for a management team that is effective, trustworthy, ethical (warning: people’s definition of ethics is dependent on their role in the organization), makes individuals feel valued and accepted, and puts sensible business processes in place, positioning the organization well within its markets and industry, whatever those may be.
  • Create a sense of future – give me compelling reasons to stick around such as:
    • Fair and respectful treatment – the equity equation – you get out what you consider to be fair for what you put in, covering pay, benefits, recognition, rewards and advancement as well as being treated in a respectful and dignified fashion
    • The ability to stay current in your skills and to develop new skills.

These characteristics which can create a motivated workforce within organizations are nothing new and are not limited to private sector, or for-profit kinds of organizations, they apply to NGOs, not-for-profits, educational, governmental institutions, religious organizations, just about any kind of organization you can name, because they apply universally to what we as humans want, not just from the work experience but out of any organizational relationships in which we engage.

In some organizations members actually pay for the privilege of membership, but the equity equation – you get out of the organization, what you consider to be a fair return on your investment, is still an overriding factor. If I join a private golf course, I will pay for the privilege of playing golf on their links. The sense of enjoyment and satisfaction I get from that experience is what keeps the equity equation in balance during that transaction, and makes paying the organization for the privilege of joining rather than being paid by the organization a fair arrangement. And for instance, if I work at a store, selling goods, I would expect what I perceive to be fair compensation for my labors. If that store is a place where I volunteer my time because it happens to be a charity were the money raised helps the homeless, I may not get paid in monetary terms, but I may find myself just as pleased with the equity equations, just as rewarded, by my increased sense of personal contribution to helping solve the homelessness issue. The equity equations must stay in balance during the individual/organizational transaction regardless of the kind of organization.

There are those who in interpreting this finding transform it to pay is not a significant contributor to satisfaction at work. They are wrong. Pay is a very significant contributor until the equity equations are in balance. Once I achieve balance in the equity equations, a perceived fairness in the organizational transaction in which I am engaging, pay can drop in importance and other things can take on more importance. When the equity equations are not in balance, pay as a mechanism of achieving balance is indeed very important. And rather than the rote regurgitation of key driver lists of what causes what in employee attitudes, looking at an attitudinal characteristic along the continuum of its possible expression, rather than at a single discrete level would more properly illustrate its importance in driving employee attitudes and in achieving a proper organizational culture.

Sometimes extreme situations act as a magnifying glass, making it easier to illustrate what we know about people at work. One example occurred during and immediately following the World Trade Center disaster. One organization located near ground zero, was in the middle of an employee survey when the planes hit. They completed the survey afterwards and that created a situation with a pre-9/11 and post-9/11 comparison for workers at that location. Some workers were told to go home, for they had no place to work, not a single one though lost a day’s pay or benefits, but they were not involved in getting the organization back up and running. This group was sitting at home as events within the company unfolded feeling somewhat helpless. A second group was told, please come to this location and help get the company back up and running. The first group in the pre/post comparison showed a significant decline in attitudes, while the second group showed a marked increase over their pre-9/11 attitudes. In other words, being involved in and contributing to efforts that made the individual feel valued and important to the success of the organization gave the attitudes of that population a big boost.

What about the terrorist who drove those planes into the towers. Certainly those subhuman animals must be driven by different factors than you or I? Might they be driven by human needs as well? Consider this, “…researchers now agree that most terrorists are not pathological in any traditional sense…” (American Psychologist, November 2009). John Horgan, Ph.D., International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State, found that those who are more open to recruitment as terrorists:

  • Believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie, and a heightened sense of identity
  • Feed the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identify with the perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Have family or friends sympathetic to the cause.

And in recent work done to “deprogram” terrorists, one fruitful avenue seems to be in getting the terrorist to recognize that the promises initially made upon joining up were false promises, such the glorious lifestyle, or to demonstrate that the leaders of the terrorist organizations actually held values differing from those they espoused in order to get them to join in the first place. In other words pointing out the violations to the expectations of what people were looking for when they first joined the organization.

One issue that comes up fairly often as a contributing factor of turnover in organizations is that newly hired workers come to the realization that the job that they are performing is not as advertised by the recruiters, or as promised by the hiring managers. A technique that has been found to reduce turnover is to give people a realistic job preview, truthfully telling people exactly what they are going to be doing, and truthfully telling people what it is like to work in the organization which they are considering joining. So, as it turns out, one method that is used to help deprogram terrorists is one that seems to naturally occur in some organizations as a driver of turnover, pointing out or coming to the realization that there is an incongruity between promises made at the beginning of the relationship to the actual facts on the ground. Getting terrorists to leave terror organizations shares some similarity to the reasons why employees may leave organizations on their own.

Maybe as we work and work and write and write to describe what people want out of work we should take a step back and first describe what is it exactly that people want out of life. And rather than separating work and life into an artificial duality of work-life and personal-life, our time would be better spent on life integration.

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

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Out of the Organizational Crucible

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This is a reprint of an article I wrote on the 5th year anniversary of 911.

Five years is a long time, yet it seems like only yesterday…

Many of us remember in exacting detail what we did as those tragic events unfolded on September 11th, 2001. I was pulling into a parking spot at work when the announcer on the radio said that they had just been informed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I immediately thought of one of those small sightseeing planes that circle NYC and thought about how awful that was. I entered the office and went to work. Shortly thereafter it became known that a second plane had hit the other tower and the situation was immediately apparent. I closed the office and a few employees gathered at my house, those that either thought they would have trouble getting home or did not want to be alone as we watched with horror the two towers collapsing. My wife also left her office and retrieved our 1 year old daughter from daycare. The urge to gather your family around you in times of danger is high. Even then at 1 year of age, with little to no comprehension that anything was wrong, we shielded her from the images on the television that day, it was just too horrible.

I have been reflecting on what lessons can be learned from that event in terms of organizational behavior and employee coping strategies. The attached brief piece is on one of those lessons. I hope that you find that it stimulates some thoughts and maybe a bit of reflection.  

“Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.” – Winston Churchill

Organizations today face unrelenting challenges, the pace of change quickens, quality must constantly be improved, costs must be reduced to remain competitive, workload increases, and management and staff spend an inordinate amount of time trying to determine “how to do more with less”.  Stress is high and getting higher – and there is no end in sight. One of the most common conversations I have with CEO’s, when I present findings on their organizational culture, revolves around the unrelenting pace that their organizations face and what can they do to help people cope with the pace of change. This conversation is almost always prefaced with a caveat: “the workload and pace of change are not going away, in fact they are likely to increase, so don’t tell me to not drive the organization as hard as we do”. What is an organization to do?

One thing to me is very clear. There are plenty of things that can be done to help the members of the organization cope with the situation but they all can be thought of under one main heading:

Give people as much control as possible.

Sometimes great catastrophes can be used as a window providing insight into more common day-to-day issues.  Five years ago, I was in the unique position of being able to examine data from a company that was in the middle of their employee culture survey when the planes hit on 9/11. This company had a facility near the World Trade Center. This facility was destroyed the employees had no where to go. The management employees who were found a place to work and had the responsibility of getting the company up and running again, who knew their future and the future of the company was in their hands, experienced rather dramatic improvements in attitudes in a pre post comparison. Other employees who spent time at home, without tasks, none of whom lost a day of pay or benefits or got laid off, saw a drastic decline in attitudes. Those who had some degree of control over their future, who felt somewhat efficacious, came through a very significant trauma with much more positive attitudes than those who were having feelings of helplessness.

The World Trade Center disaster greatly magnified within this company attitude shifts that you see in companies undergoing less traumatic change. In the ordinary course of business companies undertake mergers, reorganizations, and process improvements resulting in changing job responsibilities. What the employees experience – the stress – in those situations will be the same (albeit not necessarily to the same degree) as the employees making their way through the World Trade Center disaster.

So what lessons can be learned? In times of change to the extent that you can provide employees, whether they be the management staff of the organization or the workers on the shop floor, with some sense of control, some sense of say in their own future, in whatever fashion that you can, you are helping to improve their ability to get through both the normal stresses they face day to day, as well as the stress they face under extraordinary circumstances, even those extraordinary circumstances falling well short of the World Trade Center disaster.  Where employees can not be given control, having a decision making process as transparent as possible, explaining the situation fully, and what decisions will be made under what circumstances,  will help employees deal with the uncertainties of constant change. Here are some of the mechanism’s that can be used to do this:

  • Increase employee involvement in day-to-day decision making that effects them;
  • Increase communications to and from employees about the business and the decision making process;
  • Install processes whereby employee’s voices can be heard – meaningfully;
  • Take action on employee ideas and let them know what actions you are taking and why;
  • Set up cross-functional, cross-strata committees to develop and implement organizational change, so that change is done with the employees and not to them;
  • Utilize a collaborative model/process for change;
  • Treat employees as you yourself desire to be treated.

People’s reaction to stress falls along a continuum. Some handle tremendous stress with very little problem while others can buckle under the slightest stress. Some employees show no signs of stress (until the heart attack occurs) and others begin immediately to show many symptoms (lack of sleep, inability to concentrate etc.). Given the varying nature of how individuals react to stress you will not be 100% successful, but to the extent that you can assist them it is in both the employees’ and organizations’ best interest.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 23, 2009 at 10:32 am

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