Risk evasiveness -an anecdote

Tel Aviv based start up TVS purchased a US based competitor USC in the field of IT marketing services for bloggers. TVS is fast innovative, sloppy, undisciplined and years “ahead of the curve”. Their product line is super sophisticated, yet not fully stable.

USC was solid, stable, close to the customer and moderately innovative. Slowly they were losing market share, but highly profitable when TVS purchased them.

TVS initially fired most USC US-based developers and retained their sales force. The US based sales force was reticent about pushing “half cooked crappy products” into “our sophisticated customer base. “If we sell TVS products as they presently function, we will be sued.” Slowly but surely, TVS replaced the entire US based sales force with ex-pat Israelis, who were more willing to take risks. And take risks they did, losing two thirds of the US based clientele in a year!

In Taiwan and China based clients of USC however, TVS quadrupled their sales, without “ex-pating” one Israeli, The Taiwanese and Chinese offices complained that the Israelis were still a bit risk evasive, albeit less than their former American masters. One Taiwanese salesperson said, “as long as we can maintain customer relationships as we seriously commit to increase product performance, we can help the clients drive innovation with our cutting edge products.”



Terms like Mister, Sir or Boss not aligned with the egalitarian culture of the company.

James Wight is the Head of R&D in a San Francisco based software company.

James has all his remote site managers in town for a three day planning session.

Igor heads the Ukrainian site, Jean-Jacques heads the French site, Haim heads the Israel site and Oya heads the Japanese site.

The US based senior VP of HR, Valery White, asked to address James’s global team. As Val spoke, James took a call to distance himself.

Valery made 5 points.

  1. There is a need to use politically correct terminology: chairperson, not chairman; parenthood, not motherhood;  utility, not man-hole; sexual labourer, not ho-ho; not BC but BCC.
  2. Managers should not smoke with workers in front of the offices on the sidewalks, to avoid giving a poor leadership example.
  3. Terms like Mister, Sir or Boss are not aligned with the egalitarian culture of the company.
  4. HR is your business partner. There is now a call center in Tirana Albania at your service.
  5. Even within an office, all emails need to be in English only. In the dining hall when a corporate guest is present, only English should be spoken, “in the spirit of one company”.

After 20 minutes, Valery took a short “bio-break”. When she returned, no one but James remained. They were all still out on the sidewalk smoking and James was still on his call.


Impressed by anger

Au urgent meeting was convened to discuss the ramifications of a further  2 week delay in the “go-live roll out” for a software project which was to impact 50,000 cable-TV users in Australia.  Australian cable companies are presently fielding customer anger because customers have paid for, yet not received, this delayed service.

Invited to the meeting were Arthur from the Australia (the account manager), Arturo ( a developer) from Mexico, Erez (a developer)  from Israel and Tim (master scheduler)  from Germany. Arthur is based in Australia; all the others are US based company HQ.

Tim came into the conference room 5 minutes early and mentioned that he has yet to receive an agenda.

Erez called into the meeting because he had to take his kids to a school play and one could hear his wife castigating him in the background: “why don’t you go and live at work”? The quality of Erez’s connection was also unclear and he got cut off three times.

Arturo came into the meeting 20 minutes late, asked everyone how things are going. Then  just as the meeting was coming to end, Arturo said, “I have a few important issues that are not on the agenda which impact the estimation of readiness for deployment”. Arturo then communicated really bad new of even a further delay of 6 weeks. Arturo suggested that Arthur “bargain for an extension”.

Account manager Arthur maintained his cool until Arturo suggested bargaining for an extension with Australian client. “Listen mate, you can bargain in Mexico, but not in Australia!” Arturo fought back; Arthur got furious and lost his cool. Erez added: “This is the first time I see you really care about the delay, Arthur; we can help you by working weekends!” Both Erez and Arturo had been really impressed by Arthur’s anger.

Tim mentioned that the plan would need to be adjusted to reflect reality. “We need to be transparent” stated Tim, who seemed irrelevant in the semi Levantine reality in this post modern team. Arturo and Erez just don’t get Tims’ hang up on transparency. Erez and Arturo view transparency as counterproductive to managing (not meeting) customer expectations.


An interesting clash of values blows up a deal

Mr. Lau from Hubei China and Mr McDougal (from Cincinnati) are about to sign a contract. The contract is for 200 million dollars over the next year, with Mr Lau purchasing equipment from the American McDougal.

Mr. Lau has one request. “I have a son and  I would like him to work in your company. Keep an eye on him;  he can go to US to learn English if you sponsor him”.

Mr. McDougal thinks: I cannot trust this guy. He is totally corrupt.

Mr. Lau thinks: I cannot trust this guy. I give him 200 million dollars business and he does not value our relationship.

The deal falls apart.


On dysfunction of very senior teams

Lots is written about the dysfunction of the team that Trump has assembled: backstabbing, turnover, intrigue seem to be common. Not very surprising and not very new.

This post will spell out a few reasons why I believe that dysfunction is so frequently  “built into” the genetic code of very  senior teams. Severe dysfunction at the most senior level is something that I expect. I am very surprised when this is not the case.

First however, a small historical anecdote.  At the beginning of the 20th century, very senior competing officialdom in England botched up the middle east for more than one hundred years by issuing in parallel conflicting and diametrically  opposed policies such as the  McMahon-Hussein correspondence  and the Sykes Picot agreement. This dysfunction has caused endless chaos and countless wars. We are not anywhere close to extricating ourselves from this mess which was caused in great part to the most severe senior dysfunction at the senior level of the British administration.

Jumping forward in time, I will provide my observations about why very senior teams have such severe dysfunction.

  1. Senior leaders have limited time, so gatekeepers have more power than experts, a critical component for creating severe friction.
  2. It is VERY common for the guy at the top to be an extremely paranoid player who plays one team member (and interest) against the other as a default. It is very hard to get to the top if you don’t have this skill. Those who float to the top are a special breed; they are extremely adept political animals who shift blame with great skill. The glory (when created) goes to the leader; the blame is shifted downwards. So there is often nothing to gain and much to lose by being a team player. 
  3. People who work with senior leaders learn to be sycophants who please the leader almost to the exclusion of all others.
  4. Many senior leaders want the people around them to churn  out of the organization every so often, thus eliminating the creation of alternative power bases. So they create a rotating exit door to keep the power of others at bay.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,and hastens to the place where it rises.


From Wiki-Help Britain fight Turkey and gain independance


Sykes Picot (from Wiki) Divide the Middle East between England and France per “areas of influence”




How well do we get to know virtual colleagues?

Eleanor Rigby…
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
                                                  (lyrics from The Beatles)

There are many tools that enable people to communicate/work together in a virtual environment. Personally I have used Skype, Whats App video, and many other high quality methods of video conferencing. And yes, these tools work, but how well do they work for everyone? How much depth is lost when we use gadgets to communicate?

It has been claimed that it is possible to get to know and trust ones’ colleagues very well, without any  face to face contact. Even the renouned psychiatrist Irvin Yalom now touts the virtue of psychotherapy via texting in his latest book Becoming Myself.

However for me, nothing but nothing replaces face to face contact.

There was an Israeli prime minister (Eshkol) who wisely warned against making “a tragedy into an ideology”. So whilst virtual communication is now the norm, it sure isn’t the “communication venue of choice” that brings out the best of me.

I have been told by people who have met me after years of virtual communication that they are surprised that I am a warm, compassionate person. Until we have met,  I often come across only as brash, bright and/or an aggravating contrarian. And yes, I do have a good sense of humour and write a satirical blog, but I am rather a “serious type” in conversation. And I had another surprise last year when a client with whom I had worked remotely told me that “I am surprised how much I like speaking with you face to face; sometimes I tried to avoid the calls we had scheduled .”

So while global configuration mandates constant virtual communication, I’m not done travelling yet, despite the delays, security checks, loss of baggage and horrendous hours of take off and landing.






Why don’t Israelis value planning?

The Israeli disdain for planning is legendary. It has been suggested that Israelis know how to extract themselves from situations which they could have avoided via basic foresight. Many Israelis would agree, but planning takes a back seat to doing and fixing it later. Lack of planning is not exactly only a ‘lack”; it is a disdain.

The goal of this post is to suggest root causes as to the cultural preference to do without planning. Following is some standard Israeli logic about planning.

  1. When speed is strategy, planning is seen as a luxury. And in Israel, speed indeed is strategy.
  2. The culture is of risk taking, and punitive measures following failure are relatively rare. So planning is not perceived as a necessity.
  3. Planning is something that “they” should do; then we can outsmart them.
  4. The environment is not predictable; we can only adapt to changes of the world around us, so planning can encourage rigidity.
  5. One needs to do a little bit of planning all the time, The best time to plan is after doing. At that point, some thought can be given to planning. Then, continue doing. Subsequently,  all planning decisions made in planning can be reopened, since all decisions are reversible.
  6. If we plan too much we may become too predicable and transparent, we can be fooled.
  7. Relying on systematic planning is far less reliable that relying on human ingenuity.
  8. Lack of planning can be compensated for by tightly knit team work of high performers and constant and intense communication.

I have worked with countless America, German, Dutch and Canadian managers who have tried to get the Israelis whom they manage to plan more. It is a hard uphill run.


Frequent follow up, trust and culture

Lee  is the Tel Aviv based manager of Paul (USA), Lars (Denmark) and Shaul (Tel Aviv).

Lee has asked all of her three direct reports to submit a report within 2 weeks detailing all known risks in the next two quarters. These risks are to be discussed at a critical meeting with investors in one month.

Lee is very anxious; on one hand the risks must be transparent, because any big surprise will mean her ass is on the line. On the other hand, too much risk may mean the end of funding. As a result of the pressure she is under, Lee has not been sleeping well, so she decides to call all three almost on a daily basis to see how their risk analysis report is coming along.

Shaul has no problem with Lee’s frequent follow up. It is a sign that she cares. As a result of Lee’s intensive follow up. Shaul and Lee have had some interesting chats which have shed light on risks that are more red herrings than real risks.

Lars resents daily follow up. He feels that Lee may not trust him; Lee’s style projects the constant hounding he feels from his anxiety driven pushy boss. Lars is working very hard on his document and plans to get it to her before schedule, especially if she leaves him alone.

Paul wishes that his former boss James had not been replaced by Lee when James quit. James trusted people, or replaced them. But Paul has worked with Israeli managers before. He knows that they love to dig into the details. He also knows that Lee trusts him. He also recognizes that Lee is stressed out. So when Lee calls Paul to follow up, Paul asks Lee how high her blood pressure is, and then asks her if she wants to fly over to San Francisco ‘and do my work instead of me’. Lee lays off nagging for a while, but wishes that Paul was “not so American”.

Frequent follow up can generate a feeling of mistrust on the part of the employee. But also frequent follow up can indicate caring and generate informal dialogue. Often frequent follow up is a sign that the manager is under a feel of stress.

I am sure that some people are asking themselves, ‘how can frequent follow up indicate caring?’ It goes like this. The boss give you a task, you have many tasks. You may think, does the boss really want this done? Is she/he serious about this?  The boss nags. Now my priorities are clear. I need to do it. And I will use the frequent nagging to my benefit to discuss the issues with her. That will prevent rework of my report.

Got it? 🙂 If not, keep reading my blog. Merci!


Competency trumps culture and gender

Recently a CEO hired me to sit in on 5 meetings of his senior management team. The team consists of executives from the USA, Canada, France, Israel, Singapore and Tokyo. There are both men and women in this team; the men tend to be older than the women.

The CEO was surprised when I shared my findings. He had expected that I would discuss the dynamic whereby a certain younger female US based executive constantly criticizes Asia based managers on their lack of transparency. He also expected to hear from me about the poor communication, which is rooted in the vast cultural differences.

My feedback related to the gap between the professional competency of the staff. Clearly, there were team members who were highly experienced and professional, and others who did not know the difference between their ass and their elbow. Two examples will suffice; one female executive had no answers whatsoever to questions she was asked and constantly asked to “check with my people and get back to you”.  One male executive used empty slogans to address complex problems, claiming that “if we just get on the same page, we can tackle the problem, as a team”.

My suggestion to consultants is as follows: cultural and gender differences are important, all things being equal. Things in this case being competence. If there is a huge variance in levels of competence, culture and gender may appear important, but they aren’t. Nothing trumps competence.


Israel based Daniel, head of research and development, constantly locks horns with US based CFO Jeanette in management meetings. Daniel claims that Jeanette needs to learn what questions to ask; he refuses to answer any question without first cutting her down.

Jeanette came from an investment bank and clearly does not yet understand the intricacies of budgeting R&D.  Furthermore Jeanette does not have her hands on the steering wheel; she is “fed” by an Israel based accountant who basically deals with authorizing purchase requests. The problem indeed is Jeanette’s competency, not Daniel’s style nor Jeanette’s gender.



Opinions and facts in global organizations

Some but not  all people, distinguish carefully between facts and opinions; for these people there is a time to understand and a time to make a form an opinion.

For other people, stakes (opinions) are put in the ground  after which appropriate facts are sought out to support the opinion. For such people, all the facts, or the wrong facts, are plain damaging, because truth is not what the facts are, but what they should be. (This was very common in Communist art).

And for some people, facts are lies, because the facts display what Marx called a false consciousness, meaning that people perceive what they should not be perceiving.

In global organizations one can often find people from various cultural backgrounds who view opinions and facts very differently.

  • Einat from Israel changes her strongly held opinions many times in a discussion and finally, she agrees on the facts.
  • Nick from the US, believes that facts come before opinions, the former being the basis of the latter.
  • Hans from Munich believes that a grasp of the facts, and all of them, serve the basis for making rational choices, rather than personal opinions.
  • Wong from Beijing believes that  selective facts and  opinions must serve his bosses’ goals.
  • Sergei from Moscow believes that facts and opinions are very often manipulated to serve deep rooted interests, and that it is critical to understand what these interests are and act accordingly. For Sergei, initial facts and opinions are both raw intelligence data.
  • For Som from Bangkok, facts which may embarrass anyone are not real facts; they need to be distorted to maintain a feeling of positiveness and comfort, which serve the ultimate truth of avoiding shame at all costs.

In global organizations, these differences need to factored into so called  models of problem solving.