What’s Good for the Goose May Not Be What’s Best After All

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

What’s good for the individual isn’t always what’s best for the society, or the organization for that matter. In Pricking Consciences, The Economist (3/17/07) cites research that found that people over 65 are more likely to get flu shots. Makes sense for those individuals since they are in a high-risk age group. But society as a whole would benefit if more young children got flu shots. (Kids pick up the virus at school, infect family, who in turn infect people at work.) The researchers estimate that if 77 percent of children got shots, seasonal flu could almost be eliminated. . . The same survey found that rates for immunization were lower among children. (The Economist draws on Dr. Alison Galvani’s paper published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.)

So how might this apply to life in organizations? Glad you asked. Imagine these common challenges:

  • If everyone took a large pay cut, the organization could stay afloat.
  • If a department shared control of a major product, the organization could expand sales.
  • If people gave up some individual control over data so that the full organization had access to unfiltered information instantly, the organization could respond to customers more quickly and efficiently.
  • If headquarters gave significant decision making authority to the regions.

Galvani’s research confirms studies that have been done for years. We tend to define best interests as what is best for us as individuals. And that self-interest gets in the way of organizational changes that benefit the whole.

Too often we try to sell organizational changes by focusing on the overall good, the apple pie speech. While we may agree with the lofty goals, we are more inclined to act in ways that increase our own chance of doing well. This suggests that organizational changes need to marry individual aspirations, along with the needs of the organization. Too often we assume that doing it for the good of the team is enough. It isn’t. If you haven’t visited my website, there are many tips and resources for creating change that combine the best interests of the individual with the needs of the organization. And it’s all free. I hope you’ll take a look.Rick