How do organizations function without trust

Trust is a great enabler and meaningful success factor in organizations. But many organizations have low levels of trust, yet perform well or beyond expectations in some cases, at least for the short run.

The goal of this post is to point out how organizations compensate for lack of trust.

  1. Escalation. In lieu of the capability of solving issues between people or functions, things get escalated up to a more senior level. Often, this escalation is done by emails to a large list of people. Eventually, a senior manager puts people out of their misery and makes a call.
  2. Feigned trust. Like  some of the orgasms some of the time, trust can faked. It is often faked by apparent agreement, nicey nicey fuzzy statements and decisions which are ambiguous, like, “we need to address this issue at a higher level some time by the end of the quarter”.
  3. Blaming. Rabid blaming can replace trust, and often does. The root cause of any given issue is not dealt with, so someone or some function gets hanged. For example in software, when release dates between development and marketing are not agreed upon, release managers get fired. Furthermore, this often happens between governments and their  military. The government can claim military incompetency while the army can claim that the “goals of the mission were unclear”. A perusal of most Israeli newspapers will provide ample examples.
  4. Brute force. Coercion and fear can get jobs done. It is not popular to say so, but it’s very very common. Good? NO. Frequent, heavens yes.

So go for building trust yet realize that if it ain’t going to work, there are bypasses which are not wow wow, but they are usable. If this is the case, focus on damage control.

 

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What we do not see in organizations, nevertheless exists

The medical profession are experts in dismissing patients because they cannot see diagnose things which tests don’t pick up on.

Those of us who suffer from back pain have all heard from doctors that “I cannot see anything wrong”. I have a friend who suffers from very sharp pains in her small fingers which drive her to distraction; she has been assured by her MD that she “need not worry because there’s nothing wrong”.

In this post, I want to caution organization consultants about things we may not see when we diagnose an organization which causes us to misdiagnose or miss the point altogether.

Here are a few things I missed because of things I could not see.

  1. Illicit sexual relations between employees. Many years after I had worked with a chef and F&B manager who quarrelled endlessly for no apparent reason, I learnt that  lovers quarrels  were the cause of what I was observing.
  2. Spouse involvement. I worked with a very senior scientist who earned a huge salary. Suddenly he wanted a title that no one in the organization possessed, as well as a BMW. He negotiated himself into a corner and quit upon his requests being turned down. Years later, when we met at a gas station restaurant on the Tel Aviv to Haifa highway, he told me that his wife had been instrumental in his demands because “she thought they were taking advantage of me”.
  3. Mental Illness of a single individual.  Depression is often masked.   Masked depression can manifest itself as excessive conflict between teams due to one depressed individual,  lack of/excessive motivation and  substandard communication.
  4. A horrendous secret. I worked with a company whose product did not work. It was due to “go live” with another year of investment but the three founding scientists (an Indian, Israeli and American) knew that it would not work. The seemingly endless meaningless friction between them was all about how blame would be allocated. This I learnt only after the company disintegrated.

Years of experience have taught me that I don’t know what I don’t know, but I always assume that I don’t have a complete understanding, ever

And the morale of the story is: read Sherlock Holmes, and never strive to understand everything. Because if you try to get everything right, you “explain things away”.

 

 

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Kindness in organizations

I rarely see the term “kindness” used in organizations as a way to describe desired behaviour.

Staff are urged to be engaged, to collaborate, to be transparent, to respect a person’s sexual preference and gender. And not to “flirt, leer or wink”. (Mikado)

Management/leadership shows us the way, removing barriers to execution, hire as per the latest fad de jour, and maintains a work life balance. And if you follow social media, you get about a hundred inconsistent posts an hour how to be a great manager/leader.

But where has simple kindness gone? Simple plain common kindness. I am not going to define, because critics would tear me apart. But I know what it is, and I know it when I don’t see it.

Kindness has nothing to be with being assertive, demanding, delegating or assuming responsibility. (I myself am very goal oriented, yet I consider myself a kind and compassionate human being).

So for those who want to improve organizational life, get back to the basics. Small minuscule kindness can make a world of difference to organizational interaction.

Case One

I was in the US in the summer and there was a cold spell. I had not brought the appropriate clothing from home. The R&D manager drove me to a shop to buy a sweater in the middle of the day, cancelling an important meeting. “I noticed you were shivering”.

Case Two

While waiting in line for food, George speaks to the people who serve him

Case Three

CEO Jeremy ALWAYS closes his  phone during meetings and discussions.

Case Four

Marwan has made a rule for himself that he will never start or end the day without some small talk with his peers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do organizations forget?

Last week, I discovered a small sum of money that I am entitled to withdraw, given my advanced age, 68.

So I went on line, spent hours and hours filling out forms and uploading documents to forward to the financial institution so they can forward me the funds. Among the documents included was my identity card that states my age.

I then called the call centre to check that all the documents are correct. After 2 hours and twenty minutes, they answered the phone; after a document check I was told that I need to sign a form that I am over 60 years old. However, the form is not available on line. The form will be sent to me by (a very unreliable 3rd world) Israel Post. “But you have my ID card”, I protested. The clerk ignored my comment, then told me that “she understands my anger” and thanked me for calling the call centre.

All of which led to the first thing that organizations forget- 1) common sense.

There are many more things that organization forget.  Here are a few more-

2) How important mediocre people are to success, ie, plain ordinary people who want to do their job as directed, and go home.

3) Luck plays an important role in the success and failure of the company.

4) Organizational culture cannot be changed. Things can be done differently and this may Impact culture over a protracted period of time,  but it is almost impossible to “change culture” by acting on cultural artifacts.

5) The possibility of human stupidity is endless. When you think that you have covered everything, watch out. A common example of this is end endless attempts to “define away” complexity of roles and responsibilities.

6) Diversity is not mainly about skin colour, race, sexual preference, or bathrooms for transgenders. Diversity is mainly is cognitive styles, cultural preferences, and emotional proclivities.

7) The only secret that exists is when two people know something, and one of them is dead. Everyone eventually knows everything.  This includes who earns what and who is fucking whom.

8) Everyone, absolutely everyone, thinks about change ONLY in terms of “what’s in it for me”?

9) There are no mergers, only acquisitions. The acquired companies culture is ultimately decimated.

10) Often, doing a job well requires less people, not more.

 

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On surviving the protracted rule of the right wing

I have never voted for a party that has been elected. For years I have found myself in disagreement with almost every law passed by my (Israeli) government. Religious practices are rammed down our throats; messianic lunacy drives our illegal settlement policy.

Furthermore, the political system is itself is systemically corrupt. The corruption started with the Bolshevik style of the very first generation after Ben Gurion. The right wing under Netanyahu “perfected the system” shamelessly.

The actions of the governments in my country are a deep source of shame for me.

My liberal  American friends and colleagues are now learning to live in a country dominated by “others”. Social media and traditional media are brewing with anti Trump resistance. Polarization and bi partisanship is rabid. Everything appears to be either/or, our way or their way. I have been in such a milieu for over 20 years. So, I want to share with my readers a few tips about how to survive.

1-You need to understand why you are in the minority. You need to stay there, in the minority, for a long time, until you get it. I suggest reading about the philosophical underpinnings of the right. You don’t need to agree with them. But understanding them is a must. I would start with Strangers in the Their Own Land.

2-For those not willing to take the intellectual journey, as to why we are witness to the return of the right,  you can always focus on achieving small things. Small things enable victories. In the last few years, I have focused on Beach Day for Palestinian kids.

3-Read different perspectives about the same problem. I often read Israeli right wing press, left wing press, the Egyptian press, the Saudi press and the Turkish press to develop an understanding of Iran. In other words, stop inhaling your own smoke. It’s worse than living under a leader with whom you disagree.

4-Keep friendships across partisan lines. I have many friends who are more left than me (one state solution) and many friends who are observant (although not messianic). Use friendship as a bridge to understand the internal logic of the other side.

5-Think  about democracy. Are you a democrat until the opposition is in power? Think hard about that. Personally I am struggling because illiberal democracy is not my cup of tea.

6-Also, think about what the real issues are for you . Save your energy for important matters. Personally, I pretty much ignore issues like the rights of transsexuals to choose their toilets, or should the trains run on Saturday. Because trains will not run on Saturday, ever. And the rights of transsexuals to choose their own toilets is a symptom of the agenda-less-ness.

7-Finally, think about if you want to be politically involved or not. Because the time we all have is limited and the “right “is going to be in power for an awfully long time.

8-And finally, stop attacking Trump on his mental condition. Kennedy, Johnson, Lincoln, McKenzie-King, and Churchill all had severe issues of mental health. If Trump bothers you more than Trumpism, you are pissing into the wind. If you don’t know about McKenzie-King, you are missing some wild stuff.

 

 

 

 

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Is there a lack of shame about failing in Israeli organizations?

Case One

Mr A drove the company he managed into a deep hole. His firm is plagued by debt, their market reputation is in the pits and in threat of violent acquisition. “A” steps down “to spend time with his family”; 6 months later, he is at a venture capital firm as a managing partner.

Case Two

As the market share of “Great” plunged and new products failed to catch on, Mr Y cut costs, chopped down the work force and managed the sinking ship until he landed another job at Israel4u, an up and coming start up that just raised 20 million dollars.

These scenarios are not strange exceptions in the Israel market, which is very tolerant of failure. For the outsider, it appears that one can murder ones parents yet ask for clemency because you are an orphan. And indeed it often looks like that.

Here are the main reasons that this happens.

  1. There is a small pool of people from whom talent is drawn, and they know one another. Their relationships stem back to army days or school days, and so each failure has a protective layer, padded by relationship.
  2. In a nation which has a proclivity for taking risks, failure is tolerated.
  3. Unlike Americans who expect leaders to be flawless, impeccable, dedicated husbands, fathers/mother, who do not screw around on the side, Israelis see managers as highly flawed. Most Israelis see themselves as people who know better than the guy in charge. And they get new jobs because “the system is rigged”.
  4. Responsibility is seen as held by a group, so “a system failure” or a מחדל (shortcoming) often takes the place of “one neck one noose”.
  5. Most of the economic news in Israel is biased populism so senior managers are often protected by thick layers of spokespeople and lazy journalists.

And yes, if you are looking for personality accountability, you will need to look hard to find it.  What you will find are resilient managers who may jump back from failure, as well as a thick level of mediocrity  that moved up the ladder because they have the right friends and/or were reasonably performing officers in the armed forces.

Footnote

The younger generation of Israeli entrepreneurs and “startupistim” (start up founders) also often share a military background and close knit relationships with the VC community, where the tolerance for failure is huge.

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Where do YOU pray? היכן אתה מתפלל أين تصلي

“There is beauty in extreme old age”-The Mikado

Every Thursday during the blistering months of July and August, I volunteer for a group known as Min el-Bahar which means “from the sea” in Arabic. Under the auspices of Min El Baher, Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank enjoy a day at the sea, followed by a boat cruise.

For most kids, its the first time at the sea, and their first encounter with Israelis who aren’t soldiers or settlers. The Palestinians are accompanied by either one of their parents, a teacher and at times a male chaperone from their village.

We volunteers stay very close to the kids to ensure their safety, serve them icy-icy, watermelon, and play ball with them in the water. We dance with them, sing, play drums and have a truly wonderful time.

Most of us know enough Arabic to get by, and some of the kids know English as well. Our professional life guard, an Arab Israeli, is perfectly bilingual.

So, I have been playing ball with this group for about half an hour. And joking around. Everyone is laughing. And this fully clad lady asks me as we toss the ball around in a circle, “are you Christian or Muslim”? This part I understand. I tell her “neither. I’m Jewish”.

“No you aren’t”, she semi defies me, in good humour. Then one of her daughters asks me a question in Arabic that I don’t understand. The lifeguard translates for me. “Where do you pray?” I tell the lifeguard that I don’t pray. He translates for them-they are bewildered. Absolutely shocked. As if I told them that I am from Mars.

For a few  seconds, the happiness dissolves. All is quiet. Eyes drop. Contact is lost. Then joy returns as if all is set aside.  All is back to “normal.”

My guess is that both sides have learned. They have learned that some nice people don’t pray. I have learned how far we all have to come before we eventually get to understand one another in this hot and humid, unholy land which no one will truly understand until all assumptions are set aside.

Back to normal

Followed by watermelon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why not to express an opinion

Three years ago, I was working with the Bangkok Office (Sales and Service) for an British/Israeli owned firm.

The focus of our work was the dysfunctional one way flow of communication from HQ to the Thai office.

HQ mandated me with “facilitating a more balanced two way flow of communication, so that initiatives can be discussed and modified”.

The people I interviewed in the Thai office about the information flow were very well educated, with MSc or PhDs in electrical and software engineering. Many of them had worked abroad, in China, Singapore or Japan.

During the course of my discussions, I learnt several reasons why the information flow was so lopsided.

  1. We do express our opinions. However, ever since CFO Meirav (Israeli) disagreed publicly with our manager in a conference call last year about pricing, we keep our opinions to ourselves. It’s better that way.
  2. It is not useful to speak up. HQ provides guidelines and we need to implement. If someone does not agree with the direction, this is natural. In such a case, it is best act professionally and keep private opinions to oneself.
  3. My English is perfect since my father is British and I lived in London until I was 18. So HQ tends to over value my input. To be honest, my colleagues know much more than I do. And if I speak up too much, my colleagues think I am overplaying my language card.
  4. When we are asked our opinion, we are never given enough time to answer. A few seconds after each question, Asia-Pac Manager Simon (British) starts pressuring us to speak up, turning to us one by one.  It is very uncomfortable. If he wanted our opinion, he would wait quietly for us to speak up, like the Japanese did when I worked for them.
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Job descriptions revisited

On social media, job descriptions are treated like dinosaurs: passe, cumbersome and dead.

However, this is not the case. They are alive, kicking  and widely used to recruit, albeit the hype that this is not so.

The truth is that the approach to job descriptions need to undated, revamped and drastically modified in order to be relevant. Their elimination just adds more chaos and anxiety to organizational pathology.

So in this brief post, I want to share a few ideas on how to redesign traditional job descriptions to be more real.

Here are suggested components for Job Description, Next Release.

  1. Where are the areas of overlapping ownership between your job and other jobs?
  2. What are the trade offs which need to be balanced?
  3. What are the major difficulties that you need to face to be accepted  professionally and socially by clients, peers, staff and management?
  4. When push comes to shove, this (x) is what will make what will make your boss happy.
  5. Here are the people and resources we can provide you to learn, and if if it’s not enough, then you need to teach yourself.
  6. We expect you to be “up and running” by a certain date. If it takes less time, great; if it takes much longer, it ain’t gonna work.
  7. Everything I have told you is correct as of today, Tomorrow it may change. If it does, let’s talk about it. Don’t use this job description as a fig leaf, but don’t ignore it. It is a working document, a work in progress.

 

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On communicating well with Israelis/Israel based organizations

Israelis have a unique communication style, and it is not easy to cope if uninitiated. If you interface/interact with an Israel based organization or sub-unit, you may find these tips useful.

This post is compact. I have chosen major five characteristics of their communication style, and suggested  coping strategy.

  • Israelis tend to interrupt one another. When someone talks, airtime is shared. This is due to both impatience and the perceived “right” tribal members have to burst into one another’s words. The only way to deal with this is to join the brawl.

 

  • Israelis argue a lot, about anything, all the time. Argument is seen as an affirmation of commitment. They also change their minds on a dime. I suggest learning the value of this form of discussion-creativity, paradigm smashing and refinement of complexity. Once you see the value, it’s easier to join in. You need to accept strong emotions as a natural part of working with the tribe.

 

  • Israelis may speak Hebrew among themselves when others are in the room, especially on con-calls. It may be because they are arguing , explaining to one another a lost point, or planning a reply. It is fair enough to ask for (demand) an English only rule. There won’t be any push-back.

 

  • Communication appears chaotic. Israelis don’t follow agendas well. They ramble, divert, jump back and forth, and open issues that appear to have been decided. However, there is rhyme and reason to this “apparent chaos”. If you sit back for a few meetings, you will notice that things get done, albeit differently. Observe, appreciate and then join in.

 

  • Israelis communicate best around crisis. Routine gets mangled and pooh poohed away. If you manage to advocate for discussing routine, you won’t be ignored. But you need to advocate, and not meekly. “That is not country for old men.”
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