Moos and Mozart: Music and Other “Motivators”

Posted by jlubans on May 30, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Ingénues band serenading cows at the UW-Madison's dairy barn (1930).

You have no doubt heard the decades-old claim that music improves milk production. In a 2001 study at the University of Leicester researchers found that milk production went up by as much as 3 percent when cows listened to slow tunes like R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and
Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water."
The cows preferred their milking moods enhanced by slow songs rather than lively ones like “Great Balls of Fire” by piano thumping Jerry Lee Lewis.
Not long ago the BBC reported psychological studies about retail store’s music’s influence on listener buying patterns, “What is shop music doing to your brain?”
Almost all the studies of music and productivity suggest a single digit percentage improvement attributable to music, be it more milk, diners spending more in restaurants, or better reasoning and cognition (“the Mozart effect”).
So, that brings me to Muzak in the office. Does music help or hinder workers’ mindsets and how workers go about doing their work?
First a caution.
Many of these studies are by psychologists. There are few disciplines with a worse reputation for reaching irreproducible conclusions.
Moreover, psychology has recently had some core studies faulted for being staged, coached, and otherwise prejudiced by researchers.
And, then, there’s the infamous Dutch psychologist who skipped the R&D part; like Baron Munchausen he made up a vast number of studies to suit his (always liberal) hypotheses. Until exposed, those who agreed with the fraudulent outcomes made him into an international celebrity.
In any case, does music enhance how well workers work?
Muzak, back in the 1940s, first laid claim to the notion that music could alter, for the better, a worker’s mood. An improved mood meant a happier worker (like the cows). The implication being a contented worker would produce more of a product.
Obviously, all of us would prefer milk from contented cows not from disgruntled ones. Imagine Bossie, chewing on her cud, muttering Karl Marx: “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope!”
It’s why I spend more to buy eggs laid by free-range chickens – vs. those locked up in egg factories with their copies of Das Kapital.
I think that free range eggs are likely more natural than hens and eggs hurried along a 24/7 production line.
At one place I worked, some workers wanted music.
The boss said, let’s give it a try and see what happens. The result, as you would expect around any workplace amenity, were objections to hearing an office mate’s music (sound level and selection) played over his or her radio or boom box.
Like air conditioning, it was too cold for some, too warm for others and just right for a few.
We thought the problem solved once the Walkman showed up. Now, each person could have his or her own listening device. Alas, the headphones were leaky and as annoying as sitting next to someone having a one-sided phone conversation.
Now, with open office design – people crammed together like hens in an egg factory - we probably need noise suppression more than music.
Indeed, a study at the University of Sydney found that sound privacy was the leading cause of an ailment knows as “cubicle frustration”.
It’s time for a fundamental question, one I have asked multiple times in the ten years of this blog.
What do workers want? Presumably, we want to know an answer to this question so that workers will be content and by extension give their best to any task at hand.
Tech companies have probably offered more free motivational amenities than anyone in the history of workplaces: yoga classes, bring-your-pet-to-work everyday, coffee/wine/beer bars, chair massage, hammocks and sand boxes, etc., including Happiness Officers☺
Do these initiatives (work conditions) motivate? Are they somehow better than any other external motivator? F. Herzberg termed efforts like these as no more than positive Kicks In The Ass (KITA) and while slightly better than negative KITAs (fear) none result in genuine motivation, a motivation that raises productivity and innovation.
Not one of the listed perks addresses what workers really want. Years ago, Fred Emery listed out the real internal motivators:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future
If these factors are in an organization’s DNA and practice, you can expect positive results.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Cake Walk Dance

WHAT incomprehensible creatures men are!" said the Bear to the Elephant. "What will they not expect next of us superior animals?
I am forced to dance to music, I, a serious-minded Bear! Yet they know quite well that such foolish capers are un-suited to my dignified nature.
Otherwise why do they always laugh when I dance?"
I also dance to music," replied the wise old Elephant," and I consider myself quite as sedate and honourable as yourself.
Nevertheless, the spectators never laugh at me; all that can be read in their faces is a pleased wonderment. Believe me, friend Bear, the people laugh at you, not because you dance, but because you look as though you felt so silly."
The bears in the illustration
are doing the cakewalk, a slave parody of the Big House’s white folks’ minuets and promenades.
The dance’s exaggerated movements (prancing, strutting, low bowing, waving canes, doffing hats, and high kicking) lampooned the white folks dancing.
It was a tacit way for the powerless slave to ridicule the enslavers.
Lessing’s elephant retains a modicum of self-respect over having to dance. He dances so well that the audience is amazed. Instead of laughing, the audience admires and marvels.
At work, how do you deal with adversity, with being treated shabbily?
If your boss is a passive-aggressive priss, do you turn in on yourself and suffer like the pitiful bear? Or, do you rise above and still do your best for yourself?

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on May 21, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Not that long ago, Total Quality Management (TQM) was the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the fox’s socks in management theory and practice with adherents in business and among not-for-profits.
Nowadays, one rarely hears of it. Was TQM then a flash-in-the-pan, a 9-day wonder, a fad (gasp)?
TQMs components were of hardy stuff and are still in use today. You can thank TQM for the high quality of most manufactured goods. Wm. Deming, the name most associated with TQM, brought statistical rigor to quality control in the car industry and, by extension and adaptation, to many other industries.
TQM was radical. It sought to upend the traditional bureaucratic model of organization and to de-activate heavy-handed top down decision-making.
Hence, its mandate to “drive out fear” in the organization; its emphasis on high functioning teams; the use of data for decision making; and its underlying respect for all staff members, not just those in the corner offices. When teaching, Deming was famous for giving all of his students As. He made clear he had no interest in judging other human beings.
And, it was expected for all staff to be on the lookout for and to make improvements daily (continuous improvement).
Another key to TQMs success is listening (in compassionate and action-taking ways) to the client, the patient, the user, the customer.
The organizations that listen – ones in which golden rule customer service is king – have reaped positive benefits for decades.
One of the biggest users of user feedback and statistical analysis are hospitals and doctors’ offices to the benefit of patients. Where do you think all those improvements have come from? TQM.
Conclusively, there’s one ubiquitous organizational pillar that TQM sought to demolish: performance appraisal.
Eschewing PA symbolized the different mindset behind TQM vs. the hierarchy. If fear was to be driven out, well then one annual fear-inducer was performance appraisal.
In a PA-less organization, managers and employees are to address problems together. Feedback between the two is to be immediate. If a boss observes odd behavior she is obliged to communicate to the employee immediately not consign it as a cryptic note to the evaluation folder for Evaluation Day.
So, under TQM there’s no PA.
Want a clue about an organization’s real (not the frippery in its mission statement) philosophy? Do they have performance appraisal?
If not, you are looking at an organization vastly different from the hierarchy.
Once you remove the annual ritual, managers and staff are obliged to talk about what they are doing and what they would like to be doing. The manager has the responsibility to engage the worker and talk through issues.
By implication, the manager has to cultivate social skills by which to empower his subordinates to communicate openly.
When successful there’s an honesty and a trust among staff not to be found in most hierarchies.
Reflecting on my career, I was early involved in systems analysis (even co-authored a book on it). Also, I have always been keen on getting the customer’s viewpoint on how we were doing, Indeed, in every job I conducted several what I called “user surveys” that provided good information on how we were doing and how we could improve.
Apart from my interest in management topics I also had a strong interest in service delivery and once I left my first job, I began to promote services to our clients and customers.
Again, I edited (and wrote 40% of) a major book on the concept.
Then, taking time off to get a second master’s in public administration with a strong emphasis on organizational development I began to focus on leadership and organizational structures.
That’s about when I connected with TQM and was able to make major improvements at my next job, improvements that had been denied or delayed for two decades. My boss advocated for TQM concepts, as did his boss.
That tangible support made for a safe environment in which to experiment.
We reorganized into teams and that was a positive in many cases but of course there were holdouts.
As always, when a new system of doing business comes about, there are holdouts, nay sayers, and the “resistance”.
Change can be painful, so some prefer to dodge it completely.
When we made sincere efforts to develop teams and to free up staff to think about their jobs, we got very good results.
When some supervisors only gave lip service to TQM and pretended to empower staff, they got mediocre results, as expected.
Of course, that was never admitted; I saw it in the production statistics!
When TQM fails it is not due to TQM but to the entrenched office holders who benefit from the status quo. Why should they change – especially if wedded to tradition and not overly imaginative or up for risk taking – or give up any of their power? I mean really!
There are many managers who believe “both management and leadership have got to come from the top (emphasis added), from those who hold and exercise programmatic responsibilities, specifically administration.”
With all due respect, this view mistrusts subordinates. Do you really believe the work force is largely made up of people who do not think?
If you rule an organization of sheep followers, people unwilling and incapable of thinking for themselves then top-down is the only way.
Indeed, unless you understand why you are doing what you are doing you cannot possibly have an opinion of much value.
That job is best left to the professionals, presumably the only thinkers in the organization!
Many - not all - of my support staff, the followers, were quite capable and imaginative and once given freedom to experiment and to comment on goals large and small, I would have been a fool to ignore their very good ideas and advice.
There were those who offered nothing, but there were many who enjoyed the freedom (power) and made the workplace better for customers, the organization and themselves.
As an afterthought, I'd like to comment on the difficulty of adapting someone else's ideas. For example, Wm. Deming knew clearly what he meant by TQMs mantra of "drive out fear". The rest of us may not know, but we do the best we can.
At one time I had great respect for consultants who claimed to know a new system of organizing, like TQM.
My admiration has diminished.
Often the consultant's done a quick study of the principles and you wind up getting a Reader's Digest précis. Fairly accurate, but much left out.
And rarely do consultants speak from having personally applied TQM (or any other new system) to an organization.
I remember leading a so-called "Future Search" of some 100 staff at a large university. There were three of us serving as consultants, and two of us had done such an event for our own organization.
However, the FS was based on Marvin Weisbord's writings and directions.
We adhered as closely as we could, but on the second day we found ourselves stuck without a conclusion, an overall inability to come to terms on how to achieve the stated goal. In other words what was the organization willing to give up to get to the Promised Land?
While many good things happened, we could not point to a clear direction into the future.
I believe Mr. Weisbord would have had a bit more to show for those two days of hard work than we three consultants did. Or, he might well have declined the invitation to lead the search!

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A fables Trading Card, ca. 1920

A WOLF lay at his last gasp, and recalled the many events of his past life. "True, I am a sinner," said he, "but let me still hope, not one of the greatest. I have done harm, but also much good.
Once, I remember, a bleating Lamb, which had strayed from the flock, came so near me that I could easily have throttled it; yet I did not harm the Lamb.
At the same time, I listened to the jeers and jibes of an old Sheep with the most surprising indifference, although there were no Sheep-dogs there to be feared."
"I can explain all that," interrupted his friend, the Fox, who was comforting his last hours.
"I remember distinctly all the circumstances. It was precisely the time that you so unfortunately got a bone stuck in your throat, which the kind-hearted Crane afterwards drew out!"
Like most of us sinners on Judgment Day, the Wolf portrays himself as a kindly and generous soul.
His friend, the Fox, admits the accuracy of the wolf’s sparing a “bleating lamb” but fills in with some damning details, ones to be found in another fable.
That’s the fable in which a crane extracts a stuck bone from the wolf’s throat. Prior to the extraction, the wolf can’t pillage and plunder so the lamb gambols off happily.
Post surgery, Surgeon Crane asked for a reward. “The Wolf grinned, showed his teeth and said: ‘Be content. You have put your head inside a Wolf’s mouth and taken it out again in safety; that ought to be reward enough for you.’”
So, there you have a fable within a fable.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.
From the Britannica: Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim (1729-1781) published in 1759 some masterly prose fables, largely social criticism, and with them an essay on the fable form.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

“I remember it well”*

Posted by jlubans on May 12, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in Gigi.

I can see that meeting still. There I was with my administrative colleagues around the table with the bowl of M&M candies (pre-viral but icky just the same).
All of us - with the exception of the new boss - were like Kim Jong Un’s minions with note pads and pencils at the ever ready.
Sometime during that meeting, I scratched a personal note on my pad, “The (blank) have won”. No, I did not write "blank". The blank represents a forgotten word, a noun.
What was it?
I did have a pretty good idea of what prompted that penciled note and its meaning: concession and surrender, a figurative "hands up!”
But, like the song in the title suggests, the mists of time can fog over even the most pleasant or unpleasant memories. Anyway, the fog around my missing word was as thick as ye olde pea soup.
For the longest time I could not remember that missing word; I’d wake up in the dark and start tossing out words that might fit, a sort of counting of sheep. I came close a few times, but the word never bubbled up.
Was it “the fastidious”? Getting warm.
Was it “fussbudgets”? "Pussycats"? Getting close.
Maybe “traditionalists”? Close but not close enough.
How about “the punctilious”? Getting warm but a tad too fancy plus I would not have known how to spell it.
So, let’s put me back in the meeting and try to remember the faces and the topics,
Certainly, the weekly executive meetings had become more formal and conservative than previously, and humorless for the most part. Wording was careful and selective. There was an unwelcoming atmosphere for any “pushing of the envelope”.
What was on our agenda? Well for one thing, that enervating, soul sucking, exercise, the strategic plan was again front and center.
And, speaking of e. and s.s., we were to envision the new, improved performance appraisal system.
Appearances now mattered more. My gleeful, free wheeling days of “let’s try it and see what happens” were no more.
It was now our intent to keep up with the Joneses, our peers. No longer were we to differ from our peers; rather it was quintessential for us to blend in.
And, if you know me you know I was feeling out of synch with my colleagues, all of them.
I was like the red-haired stepchild
Aha! Prisses, that was the missing word. “The prisses have won”.
From that point on the writing was on the wall (besides on my notepad!) for me.
Words like “appropriate” and “proper” took on new meaning especially since my leadership could be categorized as inappropriate and improper even if the results were stellar.
Professional instincts - another nod to appearances, - now mattered more than data and statistics.
Likewise, annual improvements over previous years were nothing to point to. And, any dilution of the inherited tradition by allowing non-professionals to take on new responsibilities was highly suspect.
Hence my tacit sending up the white flag with “The prisses have won”.
Ah, yes, I remember it well.

* One stanza from the song, I remember it well:
“That carriage ride, (you walked me home)
You lost a glove, aha, (it was a comb)
Ah, yes, I remember it well
That brilliant sky, (we had some rain)
Those Russian songs (from sunny Spain?)
Ah, yes, I remember it well

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

“It has come to my attention …”

Posted by jlubans on May 07, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: By Shannon Wheeler in New Yorker magazine ca. 2010. "It has come to my attention that some of YOU are sleeping on the job".

Those of us in American management like to think we are direct in our language and interactions. After all, we live in “the land of the free and the brave”.
Some of our colleagues in Europe point out that candor is not always our M.O.
Indeed, they observe American managers avoiding conflict and seeking to accommodate rather than going directly to the source of the problem.
The cartoon illustrates one of our most popular avoidance techniques: The “It has come to my attention” memo to all staff.
Be it tardiness or sleeping on the job (like the cartoon cats) or leaving a mess in the staff lounge microwave we too often opt for the all-points-bulletin to correct some observed misbehavior.
It’s a bit like Mother Goose’s Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe solution to her many children: (She) “whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.” The ones misbehaving deserved the whipping and the innocent would be guilty of some future transgression.
I call this the HR response.
HR advises managers not to single people out. Be they minorities or just regular folks; it is safer for the organization to imply a widely spread guilt rather than to discipline the transgressor at the point of commission.
Even if we know full well the names of the people who arrive late, take a two-hour lunch and leave early we are advised to address the whole including those who arrive early, eat at their desks and leave late!
Perhaps our European colleagues – hardly paragons of management – have found a weak spot.
The effective worker who reads the “It has come to my attention” bulletin knows who is goofing off and not being called out. The conscientious worker is bothered by this indirect approach to shoddy behavior and will be less inclined to keep up the good work.
And, of course, that same worker knows some bosses who arrive late, take long lunch breaks and leave early.
The indirect approach achieves the opposite of what is intended. Instead of fairness, the effective worker sees a two-tiered system, one for support staff and one for the professional staff.
In short, a shotgun rebuke lowers morale and may lead to artful skiving.
I use case studies in my management workshops. Often they are based on a personal experience in which I have avoided conflict.
So, I am often surprised by how the participants would deal with the case’s conflict.
Indeed, they see the avoiding manager (me) as feckless and they would address the issue head on, no lolly gagging about!
I am bemused, because while the response is exactly what I would want it somehow falters in practice.
There must be other underlying reasons for our behavior on the job; well worth reflection: in any case, avoid the HR response!

© Copyright John Lubans 2020