Skills and competencies in the age of Corona

This is an extraordinarily difficult  time during which to manage.

The odds leaders face are almost insurmountable, yet some are doing much better than others in navigating this awful, prolonged mess.

I have observed some people shining,and I am sharing what I have seen as working.

Project calmness

In her masterpiece Becoming, Michelle Obama describes how Barack Obama would become calmer and calmer in the face of challenge. The harder the challenge, the more calm he projected. This was a great gift for the people who surrounded him.

No doubt, this is one of the greatest assets one can have as a leader in the age of corona, nor only in politics, but in business as well.

One day at a time

This is no time for long term vision, dreaming and wow-wowing. No one knows where this is leading, and almost everything we know and do is being threatened. We are not creating reality; we are responding to exogenic forces which are shaping our reality. Some days are bad and others are worse. One day at a time projects a realistic platform onto which people can hold,and this creates trust.

Fairness

Fairness is the ultimate ersatz currency in an time when costs can be chopped, perks cut, and people axed with the drop of a hat.The return on investment for being fair is at its  peak.

Being there

Elifaz, Bildad and Zofar who came to comfort Job waited seven days before they started providing him with (some say) misguided advice. They were just there for him. Being out there, available and present, is yet another powerful tool for your folks, who are, like you, seeing everything around them crumble.

 

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OD in the age of Corona

Luckily I have been fully employed since the corona  shutdown was lifted; some economic activity has returned, albeit certainly not to “Normal,” RIP.

Managers are rethinking every aspect of work that is humanly possible in order to survive: cost cutting, downsizing, choppy choppy and hacky-hacky, eliminating layers of management, redesigning work-space and dealing with health and safety regulations. The work domain is an absolute nightmare.

On the way home from north of Israel to home (Tel Aviv) last week after a day of work, I closed down my Audible book (on the life of Disraeli) and pondered  how has OD challenged itself recently vis a vis its skill set, relevance, diagnostic techniques and methods of intervention, to adapt itself to survive.  Whilst there is a lot of great stuff going on about telecommuting and trust building in a virtual environment , it is but a small component of the need for reinventing OD for the current environment.

In what ways does OD need to be re-invented? By the time I answered  this question,I was already half-way home. The answer I gave myself (as I passed by Nazareth) was that we need to be faster, more short term focused, less non-directive and far more creative, shaking off values which hold us back from being relevant.

This is a tall order for a profession so enamored by its past, that it fails to introspect and acknowledge the relevance of some Oriental values (such as discretion) over Occidental values (authenticity)  in global organizations.

I got home, went up to get my bathing suit which I had typically forgotten, and headed off to swim, just before the misguided Israeli government closed our pools, only to reopen them the next day.

 

 

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From bad to worse: Corona in Israel

Israeli summers are hot and whilst wearing a mask, they are hotter. It is almost unbearable to wear a mask all the time when outside. But wear a mask I do, because Corona is everywhere. It is lurking in every meeting, in stores, on handles, and on elevator buttons. In car washes, on paper money, on buses, trains and on banisters.

Not in pools however. Because the pools are closed. Synagogues, where so many people have become ill, are open yet pools are closed. Yes, the virus has created a lot of hatred and sectarianism as well. As if that was lacking.

Every plan is tenuous because people are coming in and out of quarantine. And if  they are in quarantine and Zoom is being used,  be prepared for chaos  because for some very strange reason, Zoom has voice issues in Israel. Voice issues meaning no voice. Just to be clear.

Poverty is ubiquitous. Closed stores, depleted goods, grim faces and seething anger as things go from bad to worse.

My hands are raw from washing and I find it harder to go out of my home each day to work for fear that I will be infected. Indeed I am in (very) good shape for someone my age but I am, alas, a bit frightened. Strangely enough and against all odds, I have a lot of work, all of it face to face. We sit 2 meters apart with doors and windows open.

Recently I have been reading a lot of leadership biographies: de Gaulle, D’Israeli and Truman. I do wish someone like Truman was our leader now, or even like a Disraeli.

But we are led by ineffective, corrupt, and idiotic scum. Each member of our government fought battles about “who could reopen fastest”, and we all got fucked.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

 

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6th letter from Tel Aviv-The Return of Corona… and Israeli culture

Yes-700 new cases a day and going strong. Corona is all over Israel. And the numbers are soaring. Five will get you ten old Mackie’s back in town.

It’s close to home as well. A verified Corona carrier swam at my country club three times (I was not there at the time); one Corona carrier ate at the Thai food joint I frequent one day after I last downed my ultra spicy corn soup and Phad Thai with tofu, and there are 4 recorded visits in a shopping centre near my home.

Israel which prided itself on an early flattening of the curve, now is getting the full monty. 

Initially, the response to the virus was based on paranoia, which is a national characteristic which we came by honestly given our history. The response was a fast a shutdown, followed by a severe and total curfew. Cases dropped off.

But paranoia is useful only for so long, especially when the enemy seems vanquished. Subsequently,  the next enemy surfaces, IE, the economy is destroyed. (And it is indeed destroyed). So all people need to back to work, immediately, now, which means we need to open schools instantly. Schnell!  No time for a plan.

The open schools let loose a massive number of  corona cases. From child to child to grandparent to old age homes. It’s everywhere.

Why no plan you may ask? Because Israeli culture is characterized by paranoia and improvisation. Planning is what others do. We act quickly, and then we’ll have time to figure things out on the fly. That’s a major component of Israeli culture.

But it did not work this time. Like a boxer who does see the opponent`s lightening punch, the back-to-school policy and lack of a plan when the shit hit the fan caused a disaster.  We have been knocked out. Not down, out. Corona is everywhere.

All this is exacerbated because our government is morally corrupt. So the scum at the top compete to open facilities such as movie theatres and sports matches as fast as possible. And Netanyahu is busy with his upcoming trial, and steps aside so that the stench of failure sticks to his enemies.

Indeed our government cares for the dead more than the living. The glorification of death gets more attention than the sanctity of life. The population is now blamed. For example a girl who did not feel well asked for a test. She was put through the grill of the Israeli bureaucracy (which has not yet decided who can be tested on demand) and denied the test-and she went on to infect 30 people. Yet politicians blame “youth, pubs, weddings and the beach.“

And to make things worse, the government is composed of either of indicted criminals, ex army hacks who are clearly clueless, lack-lustre conformists and survival agenda-driven, scum that floats to the surface from the bottom of the barrel of municipal politics or tycoon lobbyists. (Truman was so right about army men being useless in politics).

Let`s add to this a lack of discipline on the part of the public,  like the uneducated religious mob who either listen to rabbis (who have had their heads up their ass since the plague broke out), or the secular Israelis who tune into Israeli TV which is staffed by uninformed panic mongers, or more often to their smartphones.

With no clear, consistent plan in place, an incompetent government, systemic ignorance, a lack of discipline, too few regulations and almost no enforcement, a huge black cloud is moving in.

We are in deep trouble.

 

 

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Fifth Letter from Tel Aviv

With some of the corona-related  bans having been lifted, I am out and about again. To be honest, even during the lock-down, I did my daily nine kilometer walk wearing one mask or another, all of them suffocating in the summer heat.

I have also started to work again, my clients apparently not haven given up on me despite Israeli media’s constantly harping on the over 65 crowd’s upcoming extinction. To be a journalist in Israel during corona, you need to be under 25,  have a microphone, and suffer from a panic disorder.

Many stores near my home have folded. Those which have not folded are empty, or lines form outside so that only a number of clients can enter. Shopping is a nightmare ; the mood in public spaces is grim.

The dysfunction of our government is transparent-contradicting directions, finger pointing to shift blame, and a gross lack of personal example in leadership. The political crust of our society is pure scum, the bottle of the barrel. It is shocking, but not surprising; this is certainly not limited to Israel.

All adult education takes place on  line and as an adult-education junkie, I can bear about two hours of online learning a day, and that’s it. The best lectures I have heard over the last few weeks are “Stalin’s use of religious symbolism in Soviet propaganda”, and “Jews and Arabs in the Palestinian Police in the 1930’s”. Yes, esoteric. I know. And I have also started reading a lot about the pied noir of Algeria and Harry’s Truman’s presidency.

I have met with family and friends at restaurants, eating outside. Menus are digital; staff is semi compliant with regulations; and fear is looming  in the air.

We are presently experiencing the second wave of corona, with about 200 cases a day in a country with 9 million people. But there will be no more curfew, because the economy cannot take another blow. In many ways, the economy is out on its feet yet stumbling along.

However, it is infinitely better than it was during the shut down and “זה מה שיש”-that’s what there is.

And as Tuvya said, “and if our good fortune never comes, here’s  to whatever comes, drink l’chaim, to life”.

 

 

 

 

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The irrelevance of OD in combating racism

OD has absolutely nothing to bring the table to combat racism.

It is very “in” to try to lend a helping hand to combat racism, especially since the Floyd incident was recorded on an I phone.  “Social justice”, whatever that means, is often adopted by OD practitioners who are prone to try to change the world, not content with changing the organizations that they support.

Not only does OD has absolutely nothing to bring to the table; even worse, OD can do lot of damage by signing up to help.

Here are 3 major reasons why OD has no value to add.

Here is some of the damage that OD can bring to table in trying to combat racism.

 

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So, why did I postpone this for ten years?

Before

Martin my optometrist told me ten years ago that I had 2 cataracts which were ready for extraction. Born in London, “Mahtin” is a by-the-book type of guy; he added that “you should not waste money on new glasses every year or less, just have the cataracts  done”.

Were I to be honest, I could not say that I am merely  frightened of doctors. That is incorrect. I am absolutely  petrified of any visit to any doctor, except to a dentist which for some strange reason, I do not fear at all. Of course, many people fear dentists more than doctors, but I guess we all have our own bizarre nature. There are no words to describe how much I fear a visit to a doctor.

When I visit a doctor, not only does my blood pressure soar, but I sleep poorly the night before. I imagine that only bad news will come my way, and that any ailment that might be found is incurable.

Of course I know that the only incurable thing about me is my fear of doctors, but knowing that does not really help. At all.

I waited ten years (and 15 changes of glasses) to finally get the cataracts done. After endlessly complaining about the “size” of street signs, the lack of street lighting, the unclear size of train station signs, the very small print of the newspaper, I was faced with unrelenting internal and external pressure to get this done.

First step was an eye doctor, who checked me out said to me, in a thick Argentinian accent, “I sure don’t want to drive with you at night”.  I asked her for a recommendation to  a surgeon, and was told that Prof Asya. is the gold standard. I checked my insurance and found out that I was fully covered. I then  waited 7 gold standard months plus 7 weeks of corona during which the clinic was closed.

Today, at 915 AM, the second extraction took place and I am already sitting in front of my PC with perfect vision. Here is what happened today.

Upon entering the clinic, an attendant took my temperature questioning me icily about corona symptoms. This took one minute. Then an insurance approval was handed over another attendant who types and types and types as if she is printing an airplane ticket. Then I was asked to sit in front of a sign which ominously declares: Operation Theatre-Entrance only to authorized people. With me waited three other patients and we were seated far away from each other-another corona reality.

Operating Theatre

I starred at this bloody  door for half an hour. After which, I was whisked into an anesthesiologist who asked me if I wanted a tranquilizer, which I did not. She asked me what my name is, which eye was to be operated on, my name, what eye was to be operated on until she made sure about who I am and why I was there.

Then into another room where my blood pressure was taken twice because for most people, not only me,  B P is sky high measured the first time before an operation. Then my pupil  was dilated with about 20 eye-drops “until you look like an owl”, words of the nurse in charge.

From there to the laser machine, where I was strapped down and told “don’t move, talk, cough or sneeze” and for about 30 seconds, I saw nothing but a very strong light. After which I was told to stand up and walk to the operating room and asked to sit down and the chaired reclined into a bed. Something was inserted into my eye to prevent me from blinking, which was probably the worst part of the entire procedure, besides of course having my BP taken!

In the background, I heard soft Israeli music, people chatting about my eye / and or machine readings in English and Hebrew along with other utterances.  Ten minutes passed rather quickly.Then Prof Asya  said “Allon you can get up”. Unfortunately, I was not attentive and kept lying still until I snapped into my senses as I felt a hand on my shoulder.

15 minutes later I was on the road going home. And now sitting in front of my glowing PC, with new bright colours all around me.

The ten year wait was, let’s put it this way, a fucking stupid thing to do.

Over and done

 

 

 

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Premature Resolution of the Mourning Process: Corona and Culture

The corona virus has changed life and the changes have been painful.

Even with some of the easing of restrictions, the emerging reality is dismal: the loss of civil liberty, the face masks, ruined economies, financial stress, inability to distinguish between real and fake, no face to face time with old cronies, no swimming, no beach and lots of new technology to learn to get things done.

I have a wide set of friends and acquaintances all over the globe, thanks to my many years working globally, and I have had lots of conversations about what’s going on.

For my Israeli friends, this is just another hardship, like being bombed from Gaza, paying lots of tax and getting fucked by the government, sitting for hours in horrendous traffic jams or the stress of constant political conflict. Just another bundle on our back.

My Asian friends have a stoic resilience, which accepts albeit with resignation, that it is what it is.

The American response seems to feign positivism or even at times reek of positivism. What can we “learn from this”. “Let’s make lemons from lemonade”. Or “at least we are all in this together, forging a sense of community”. I have even heard that this is a “great window of opportunity to change our lives”.

I try not to be judgmental, although ultimately I fail. Like all Israelis, I accept the present limitations as just another hardship, but a tough one. I am 70 years old, fit, and want to enjoy the rest of my life. With the present limitations, the outlook for that is not brilliant.

I am not a stoic. I wish I were. But I am not. When stoicism was handed out, I was the last in line.

Most certainly, I do not share the worldview of my American friends and colleagues. I cannot fight against  mourning for what and whom I miss. Premature reconciliation with the loss will only serve to bite me in the bum later on. I don’t want to think about the lemonade now. I want to feel the loss. Otherwise, I will build stairs of sand and pretend to “have a nice day”.

Mourning is a basic right no one will take from me.

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Cultural resistance to post merger integration-case study

Soren called me today, after asking me via Whatsapp if I am free for a short call. Soren and I have worked together in the past when he was EMEA manager for a German company.

In his present capacity as Business Development Manager, Soren has acquired a software security firm with offices in Tel Aviv and Mumbai. Soren is now driving the post-merger integration team, which is encountering resistance to the implementation of changes to supply chain directives. According to the directive, local purchasing cannot sign off on any purchase more than $100, with a monthly limit of $1000. Everything else must get a sign off from corporate finance, in Britain.

Sanjeev from the India purchasing team has agreed to implement the change, and yet, exception after exception keep piling up. Soren told me “this guy invents more excuses than anyone I’ve ever managed in my 25 year career”.  Soren added, “Sanjeev often does not answer his phone when I need clarification”. Adina from the Israeli purchasing team has called the changes “pathological mistrust” and “micromanagement at its worst”. Adina has, strangely enough, complied, yet bad mouths the change and gives head office bad PR in the Israeli office. Adina sent an email to the Israeli staff saying that “I have been turned into a rubber stamp”.

I told Soren to speak with Sanjeev’s boss, who is probably lurking behind the resistance whilst Sanjeeb is the fall guy. Soren said, ‘it can’t be; he’s boss is so amenable”. So I asked Soren why he called me.

I told Soren that Adina’s resistance is only verbal and that over time, she will quiet down. The best way to gain her trust is to let execute the only right that Israelis demand-the right to complain.

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How can OD become relevant as businesses reopen

As the current stage of the corona plague slows down and businesses reopen, OD consultants may identify a demand for their services. However with budgets becoming very tight, only the more skilled consultants will get work. In the present crisis, chicken shit pre packaged OD and training packages will not fare well. But there are opportunities for the better skilled.

I have always suggested that when clients turn to a consultant, their problem definition may be a symptom of the problem itself. “We have a communication problem”, or, “First line managers do not identify with the management”, or, “We lack customer intimacy” are all symptoms, and nothing more. Probably the most critical OD skill is the ability to redefine the problem with the client.

I want to suggest that albeit the initial (possibly inaccurate) problem definitions that will come our way on the part of clients, the real issues that clients will face will be:

  1.  Shifts of power within the organization from functions that generate revenue to those who save resources and  focus on efficiency.
  2.  Internal mergers between units and departments. Examples may include between Legal and HR; between Sales and Service; between Project Management and Engineering; from geography based sales focus to government -focus.
  3. Enhancement of risk management by sharing of risk, alignment of decision making to the appropriate level, and development of contingency plans.
  4. Replacing key players/leaders who are not capable of change.
  5. Implementation of extraordinarily painful cost cutting, without loosing  critical functionality and the trust of those who remain.

If you have a skill set which adds value in these areas, then you may have a fighting chance of survival. And if not, then like the Jervis Bay, your practice may go down.

sinking, still she faces her antagonist.
Then the waters begin to close over her.
The waters close over Fogarty Fegan,
And over the flag
That once was used for burials at sea.
And now night spreads its shroud.

                                           -Gene Fowler

 

 

 

 

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