Four buses; many worlds

I had to take four buses to get from my home in Ville St Laurent to McGill University. 25 cents for the whole trip. Payment was made in cash into a simple recepticle, where the driver could see the quarter that your dropped in. The driver would take a look, flip a botton, and the quarter would be swallowed up below the recepticle.

The 90 minute voyage started with a short walk to the rue St Louis stop, where I waited for the 116. The bus came once every 20 minutes; there were never many passengers. The driver, in a uniform of the Montreal Transportation Corporation, generally said “bonjour; I always said bonjour. “Two solitudes” meet.

Next to the driver was a sign en francais and English: “Safe Driving Requires Full Attention. Please do not talk to me”. Some drivers passengers talked; most did not.

The 116 passed Alexis Nihon and weaved its way past Parc Houde (where Fat Claude cleaned the ice)  and Aubin, until Decarie Boulevard, opposite the Post Office, where I got off and crossed over to wait for the 17, with my crumpled paper transfer in my glove.

Make no mistake, it was often cold. The stop for the 17 (also known as Cartierville) was opposite a Woolworth’s and on the bitterest of days (20 below), I would step inside Woolworth’s, along with other passengers. The ladies of Woolworth’s (in those days, it was ok to say that) had absolutely no problem with that; the adversity of the bitter cold was a common enemy.

For many years, the 17 Cartierville was a street car. The first step up onto the 17 was steep, even for me albeit I have always been very tall. It was especially hard for Lillian, who had had a back operation and was in a cast. We never discussed that, or the fact that she had no mother. Trudy also never had a mother, but she never took the 17. Maxine and Fay also had lost their mother. They were never on line17 either. Showing my transfer to the driver, I never looked for a seat as it was always standing room only until Garland Terminal; the 17 was packed. French and English speakers; students and lower middle class heading downtown. At Garland, the driver cried out: “terminus, tout le monde descend s’il vous plait”.

Then there was a hot chocolate inside Garland Terminal, and off to the 65. The 65 started at Garland, so I always got a seat. However, it quickly filled up and more often than not; I gave up my seat to a senior citizen, who was probably much younger than I am today. But those were different days.

The 65, also called Cote des Neiges, passed thru Snowdon, turning left on Queen Mary Road and headed downtown. It passed my late grandmother Sadie’s apartment building on Victoria; she has died a few years earlier and my heart was still broken. I often looked her apartment building as the 65 roared by, uphill passing by L’Oratoire St-Joseph/St Joseph Church. Then we passed Pinkerton’s Flower Shop, the graveyard on Mount Royal, and plunged down Cote des Neiges to rue Sherbrooke. There I waited for the 4, also called Sherbrooke, right outside the Medical Arts building where my grandfather Harry had had a gym where he trained boxers, including my Uncle Al.

Sherbrooke at Cote des Neiges was real Montreal: classy, clean, and the wind plus cold smacked me into my then pimpled face. I had real bad acne until I started taking tetracycline during year 2 at McGill. Oh yes, on Sherbrooke was the Academic Bookshop, which had every book under the sun, all in one huge pile, sky high. And the owner, who smoked, did not speak one word of English: just French with a Parisien accent.

It was a short drive to McGill on the 4 and in the summer I walked; as a matter of fact when I wore my Air Canada mechanics coat which Phil (my Dad) got for me from his partner Hank, I also walked to McGill along rue Sherbrooke  in the winter. What a coat!  When I took line 4, it dropped me off at McGill at the Ritz Carlton Stop.

I then threw away my transfer.

4 buses to cross thru three worlds: Ville St Laurent; Montreal; academia.

When I finished McGill at age 19, I took a much longer trip from which I was never to return.

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Myths of Centralization and Decentralization

Both centralization and decentralization processes have their myths and misunderstandings.

In this short post, I shall share my experience in facilitating hundreds of such transitions.

  • It is not either or. When you centralize certain components, others must be decentralized. And the opposite. Example: When you decentralize reimbursement policy, it is wise to centalize control. When you centalize travel policy, you need to decentralize discretion-based exceptions.
  • Prolonged centralization does not lead to more control. Eventually, it can lead to lack of control. People will learn the weakness of the centralized system, and eventually beat it. 
  • Decentralization and centralization are not ideologies. They are the pendulum of a clock that over time go back and forth, to compensate for the weakness that each state creates.
  • Centralization and decentralization can co-exist for the same function. You can decentralize Purchasing in some geographies and centralize in others, depending on the amount of corruption.
  • You cannot decentralize something that does not exist and hope that things get better. It is best to decentralize things that work well, and hope that they get better.

 

 

 

 

 

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Micro-aggressions of managers

I will give 5 examples of behaviours which managers exhibit that constitute micro aggressions towards their teams and/or organizations. I define micro-aggression in an organizational context as indirect, subtle and manipulative discrimination against members of a less powerful (groups of) employees.

I will discuss in brief examples of interventions in such situations.

1) Give an identical task to more than once person, each person being unaware of the other’s involvement.

2) Oversimplify the difficultly of tasks and then question why progress is so slow.

3) Set a certain goal to please a client which is totally undoable, and then apply immense pressure to get it done, finally putting the blame on one of the subordinates whose political skills are nil.

4) Evade problems by just another reorganization, postponing the real problems until the reorg stabilizes.

5) Obfuscating of issues with flowery words such as “complex issue” or “challenging few months”, when complex means that the product does not work and challenging means poor cash flow so no bonuses.

Skilled consultants should have several arrows in their quiver in such situations. These arrows include making the subtext explicit, constant questioning, paradoxical intervention and pointing out the secondary benefit to the manager of using such manipulations.

Example: CEO Jim initiated reorganization because of siloism which Jim himself promotes. I asked Jim if he thinks the reorg will include brain transplants to teach his teams how to coordinate among themselves just to spite him.

Example: CEO Howard asked 3 different engineers to re-write the product life cycle. I questioned the CEO why he didn’t just pay $50000 to a consultant, and dictate the process that he wants. 

Example: CEO John appoints Gregory as his CFO. John himself was the CFO and was promoted to CEO; Gregory was his deputy CFO. John constantly tells Gregory that Sales Recognition is very inaccurate and “I had no problem with that when I was CFO”. John fails to point out that Sales were sky high in his time as CFO, but not so as present. I questioned John why he had not maintained the Sales Recognition portfolio for himself, as “you managed to make the best of bad situation so skillfully.”

Example: CEO Yuri told Support Manager Hana that the next few months would be a challenge. (The challenge is that the new product is dead on arrival). I told Yuri that the challenge could be easily rectified if the clients were replaced. And yes, he was very angry.

But then again, if you don’t like the heat in consulting, get out of the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tom White learns a lesson: Using western-biasesd OD in the wrong place

Tom White, OD Manager for a US based law firm, was sent to Asia to do some interviews for the corporate in Asia and solve burning issues “on line”. Tom was top of his class in OD in an Ivy League University and he was also a certified coach. He had undergone study groups in Tavistock and T Groups in the States.

One of the Brits in the Bangkok office told Tom that he had heard gossip from a secretary that Lawyer Jai (f) was very upset with her subordinate Lawyer Phrem (m); Phrem (who studied law in the US and France) had shown a lack of respect to Jai on their last trip to a client in Belgium. Phrem pushed Jai aside by speaking out when Jai was looking for words and used his knowledge of French to make Jai look bad. What made this worse was that Jai was the account manager on the deal, and Phrem was supposed to be a quiet #2.

Tom approached Jai and asked for another meeting, even though he had interviewed her in the morning. “Hey Jai, can you tell me a little bit about what happened in Belgium as week.” Jai smiled and said the trip was `wely sasexful“.

Well, said Tom, can you describe the dynamic with Phrem-he asked.

Jai evaded and Tom then told Jai what he had heard, emphasizing the lack of respect that Phrem had shown. Jai felt she wanted to throw up and felt dizzy…..so she smiled.

Tom said,“I want to give you some direct feedback, Jai. Managerial responsibility entails the ability to provide Phrem with feedback so he can improve his performance and learn from mistakes. It also makes no sense holding your anger inside: do you see things differently“ Jai smiled and said“-ok Khun Tom“

Tom told Jai he would organize a 3rd party intervention that afternoon and Jai smiled.

Tom asked Phrem at lunch how the trip to Belgium went and Phrem told Tom how important it was that he was invited: “Jai is such a good lawyer and I complemented her oral English“, said Phrem who wanted to make an impression on Tom, who was at time struggling to understand Jai.

Tom asked Phrem if he would be ready for a 3rd part intervention w Jai and Phrem agreed. `Great“said Phrem.

Tom sat Phrem and Jai down in a room. The goal of the meeting was to debrief the Belgium visit in a no penalty zone environment and establish some lessons learned which can be agreed to and possible shared. (Jai felt dizzy)

There may be some disagreements, said Tom, but we can meet in the middle. After all, isn’t that the most sensible thing to do. (Jai was seeing double)

Jai was asked to describe what happened at the client site. She said: “Thank you so much, K Tom. But we is lawyers and we hap (have) mek (made) a good contac.“

I agree, said Phrem. “What is this meeting about anyway, Tom“-said Phrem-stabbing Tom in the back, and smiling at Jai.

Tom gave a short lecturette on managerial maturity and open communication. Jai asked him how he was enjoying his first trip to Bangkok.

Jai sent VP HR Asia and Japan the following email.

Dear Khun HR Manager,

Maybe Mr Tom can focus on Japan office or Singapore office. He seems to suffer from heat. He get all confyus and maybe not feel so good.

Thank you we not see him again.

Jai

That night, Jai sent Tom to a restaurant in a cab which passed thru a 2 hour traffic jam. The restaurant was closed due to reconstruction.

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Driving Uncle Khil

How can I introduce you to someone who I did not know well; to be honest I hardly knew him at all.

I have already introduced him as an Uncle, but he wasn’t my Uncle. He was my late wife Hadassah’s uncle. Khil, by the way,  is a nickname for Yehiel.

Every year on Passover, Hadassah and I would travel to Haifa from our home in Jerusalem by train and bus (4 hours)  to spend the holiday with her parents and two younger brothers. Hadassah’s family lived in Tivon, south east of Haifa.

Year after year, Hadassah would convey a message in the late afternoon  from her father asking if I could drive to Haifa to pick up Uncle Khil (Dohd Khil) who was coming over for the holiday meal.

My father in law drove a white Volkswagen; I had a drivers permit but was too poor to own a car, so I was always glad to have an opportunity to drive. I willingly obliged to drive the white stick-shift car and transport Uncle Khil.

The drive to Haifa was 25 minutes. There were no mobile phones then, so I got exact instructions where to pick up Uncle Khil. And I always arrived on time. To this day, I am rarely late for anything.

Waiting on the corner in Hadar (an area of Haifa) stood a very, very old man, with a full head of pure white hair. He was dressed fastidiously as if going to impress a lady friend. His skin was thin and very ancient-looking as well, yet with just a little bit of imagination; I could subtract 60 years and see a real dandy.

Uncle Khil was missing a finger, which he cut off by himself to avoid conscription back in Europe. Unable to control myself, I often found myself gawking at the surgery. He had done a very good job. There was no stump-he certainly could not have pulled a trigger with that finger.

Now I was an officer in those days and one would think that Uncle Khil and I would be very little to talk about-which is why one “would” think is wrong in this particular case. Khil knew how to cook very well, and his cholent (stew) was outstanding. I cooked tsulent as well, and we used to compare recipes in very great detail. He told me about adding eggplant to the mix, which he had learned from an Iraqi woman.

During the meal, I used to stare a lot at Khil-he spoke impeccable Hebrew without any sloppiness whatsoever. He was cognitively on top of everything. I knew that he as a ladies’ man in the past, and I could see in him the young man, now missing a finger. When we read out loud  Passover prayers which can be tricky at times, Khil never fumbled.

When the holiday meal ended, I drove Uncle Khil back to Haifa in the white Volkswagen. Khil always told me what a sweet girl I had married, and we would exchange a few words on World War Two. When I let Uncle Khil off, I always wondered if I would see him again.

I did.

Hadassah always thanked me for driving Uncle Khil back and forth, but I was the one who should have been thanking her for opportunity to experience an interesting version of a healthy old man, full of stories and full life under his belt.

Hadassah never came with me on these short trips. Although she was very mild mannered, she protested against driving in a German car, having lost all her family on both sides during the war. We never argued about that, as I was smart enough just to keep quiet.

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Mergers and Acquisitions after Corona

No I have not changed my mind. There are no mergers, just acquisitions. But there is a limit on how many myths I try to bust without flushing myself down the drain. Mergers and acquisitions have never been easy; in the post corona era, they are harder than ever. I will list the three major challenges that I have experienced as well as what can be done, if anything, to mitigate the new challenges.

a) Any talent acquired in the acquired company may not be there in a few months. Yes, you can buy them perhaps physically, but committment is impossible to buy. So you better be very very sure that what you are buying is there to stay for as long as you expect.

b) Mergers and acquisitions are painful; long hours; lots of travel and lots a headaches. The level of pain people are willing to tolerate appears much lower than before corona. So whatever time frame is expected for the merger/acquisition to work, I suggest quadrupling it.

c) Generally there is a process of the unification of shared services, such as supply chain/ purchasing, travel coordination, finance, HR, IT etc. I would think ten times about merging supply chain. The supply chain is disrupted enough externally without self created disruption.

d) Building trust by Zoom is absurd. There is an illusion that lots of work can be done virtually, including trust building. Post merger trust cannot be built easily at all-and certainly not remotely. So no short cuts-don’t shower with a raincoat. 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing an OD consultant-6 guidelines

I know, I know. If I were not 72 going on 73, I would recommend that someone who is shopping for an OD consultant ensure that the potential candidates are equally female, male and bi-sexual. And perhaps a candidate who thinks that Zelensky is the new Churchill. However…

Since I come from a different generation, I want to suggest some questions and issues you clarify when choosing a potential OD consultant.

  • Does your candidate have domain experience relevant to your firm? If you run an insurance agency, an OD consultant with 30 years’ experience in petroleum will not be effective. Domain experience is critical in the present level of complexity and competitiveness. Don’t anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Do you like the candidate? As India-based guru Joseph George points out in his comments to this post, this “liking” can lead to a slippery slope given the parallel requirement of choosing a no nonsense consultant, which is also discussed below. Furthermore, I say this even though I personally am an acquired taste. However, if there is not enough initial personal chemistry, my advice is to think twice. So much of the OD dialogue is based on trust that working against your own intuition is not worth the risk. Let me give an example. If I were to meet a consultant who was late for a meeting and did not apologize, corrected my use of traditional gender pronouns, and used sloppy grammar, I would cut the conversation short. 
  • If your candidate wants to conduct remote interviews or Zoom sessions even some of the time, forget it. Face to face interactions with an OD consultant are as important as are face to face interactions with a dentist.  
  • Is your candidate willing to clearly define goals and eventual results in the initial meetings beyond the basic generic nature of the OD process (which must be made clear up front)? If so, don’t hire because it cannot be done. Project goals emerge slowly over time and shift /sway.
  • Does the candidate appear to be a pleaser? If so, be careful-because OD people must challenge & authority. They should not be compliant or pleasers. 
  • If your staff is ethnically or internationally diverse, if your candidate culturally fluent? Or is he or she   a captive of the culture into which he was born? Give this quiz when in doubt. 

 

 

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What ever happened to them?

Sherman’s mother would always offer us cookies and hot chocolate when we were playing hockey on the street or throwing snowballs at each other. His dad drove a Pontiac and worked nearby at the Toronto Dominion Bank. I heard that Sherman had disappeared into a Hassidic community, although when I knew him he was fully assimilated Canadian with even less attachment to religion than me.  So what ever happened to Sherman?

A decade ago, a firm hired me to work in Toronto. Monthly for about 18 months, I took that very long Tel Aviv-Toronto flight, and stayed the weekend before returning home. I learnt that Shari, like so many other Montrealers, had moved to Toronto. Shari was born in New York and had moved to Montreal as a kid-but she still saw herself as American. Pleasant, happy with a great sense of humour, I looked forward to reconnecting. I called her one Saturday afternoon and she told me that “I have erased Montreal from my life; don’t call me again”. She hung up. What ever happened to Shari?

I really, really liked Gary’s mother. She also was a New Yorker, who had married a Montreal boy, Gary’s Dad. Gary’s mother was warm, loving, kind and very good to me. Gary was a very close friend. He was good in PE (I was not) and I was good in languages and history. Naturally, we helped each other. My very first date was with Gary’s cousin Judy when she was up in Montreal on a visit. Judy’s dad (Gary’s mother’s brother) was a cab driver in NYC! Judy sent me love letters signed “love, Judy”. I was too shy to kiss her on our first date. How silly of me-but I was only 15. Gary  disappeared off the map. I have looked for him everywhere. Where are you, Gary? What the hell happened to you?

Capone (Stephen) was my classmate and his sister Diane was in my sister’s class. His father was Montreal born and his mom was born in Alabama and had a very strong accent. Steven dressed very well and often, I asked my Dad to get me “the same thing that Stephen is wearing”. Capone was what people today would call “cool”, but perhaps “cool” no longer means anything. After all, I am 73 years old on Nov 4. One summer, I learnt that Capone and I were to be going to the same summer camp. I was worried because Capone was popular at that camp, and I was new. Luckily, I was also popular, and Capone and I got on really well. Capone’s sister drowned in a horrible accident. I lost all contact with him, and all my searches have found nothing about his whereabouts. Capone, where the fu-k are you?

In 1969, I returned to Israel where my paternal family have been living since 1917. I did not lose all my friends. Sam, George, Arlene, Norman, Sue; we are all still in contact. I even spoke to Millie a few years ago.

But for heaven sakes-Sherman, Gary, Shari, Capone-where are you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trying old tricks to solve new problems won’t help cope with Mass Resignations

The treatment for depression used to be dipping the afflicted in ice water. Not that it helped very much; albeit in its time, it was a state of the art treatment.

In the Roman empire, piles were treated with onions. Of course that treatment became obsolete, even before Preparation H became available.

Hernia holders (someone to hold your hernia inside) were common; they too became obsolete with hernia belts. All treatments of cataracts (which I will not go into) caused blindness, but they were used for many years. But no longer.

Organizations are presently suffering from a lack of loyalty, resulting in high levels of turn-over. The turn over is not as high as some alarmists make it up to be (in order to make money), but it is still high. Furthermore, it has become very difficult to recruit new people.

Yet the ‘treatments’ being used are reminiscent of the onions, ice, hernia holders and hot coals on the cataract-way out of step with what the clients need.

Engagement plans, a fun environment, unlimited vacations and wow-wowism are not an appropriate elixir for the present turbulence in the job market.

The possible solutions may stem from a new way of looking at the crisis.

Here are 3 examples, all real.

Syd’s Steak House in had a 90% monthly turnover of stewards(dishwashers). As a result, all 7 branches were operating at 30% capacity. Syd’s now uses paper plates and plastic cutlery.

Alfredo’s Industrial Laundry in Afula Israel had 29 of it 50 staff resign after covid. Every morning at 7 AM, a bus now crosses the international border at Bein Sean bussing in 30 Pakistani workers from Jordan, who are now exempt for all border checks as long as they carry their magnetic cards.

It takes 5 years to become an expert program manager this cyber security plant. Experts have good relationships with the defense ministry and 4 key clients, as well as background in telecommunications , programming and system integration. 4 of 10 program managers quit since covid with devastating results. After failed exit interviews did not teach the organization anything useful, a structural change was put in place. Relationship management has now been separated from the role of Program Manager. Each relationship manager now has a second driver.

The response to the present crisis needs to be structural and strategic.

Stop using onions and ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The opium dens of today

You cannot make much sense of this post if you do not know what an opium den was. Put in today’s terms, it was a recreational establishment where people smoked opium, the most addictive of drugs at that time that  few professionals warned of its dangers. The opium dens devastated China’s population. 

Recently I myself have noticed dens all around me. Mobile phone dens; not opium dens. It does not matter where I am: on trains; in meetings; in the restaurant; in the movie theatre; in concerts; in lectures. Everywhere. There is a sickening stench of addiction.

Amir was reviewing the soaring prices that vendors were now quoting,some justified but many unjustified. The cost of doing business was threatening their profitability existentially. As Amir spoke, Bob was texting his wife. Sima was texting her new girlfriend. Fatima was watching a new you-tuber from Lebanon; Shuki was reading the news. Freddy had turned his phone face down but kept checking it. Yisrael had to leave the room because his son called him from the pool that he had a stomach ache. Tina left the room because her daughter had nausea. Ilan learnt that his new car would be available in two weeks.

The level of discussion after Amir spoke was as shallow as piss on a plater. I was asked by Amir what I had noticed during the meeting, and I said that “people were fucking around on their phones and not listening”.

Amir told me “not to be too old-fashioned”. Sima told me not to be vulgar, and mentioned that I always spoke in the masculine form, which is “correct Hebrew but not politically correct Hebrew”. Fatima was still watching the You Tuber.

The week after I addressed this team about opium dens-with slides and with pictures.They listened and decided to leave their phones outside the room.

And no, it is not the way to do business. It is not that I am old fashioned. It is a severe addiction, with lots of money driving the loss of cognitive and emotional abilties downhill into a pit of disrepair. 

 

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