Examples of the radical changes needed to renew OD’s relevance

I emerged dejected from a cordial meeting of very smart people on OD’s relevance in face of the massive change and crisis we are all experiencing.

I felt at times like I was in a group of Latin speakers, discussing how to further inculcate the use of Latin in written passports and diplomacy.

Now I have way of being in people’s face and speaking my mind, but I did try to behave until I heard words like “permanency” and “awareness”. Thankfully, one colleague from Missouri noted that the language we used during the meeting was somewhat out of sync. I felt, “thank god I’m not alone”

I decided to try to be positive today about the whole matter. I am recovering from a 3rd corona shot (which is no easy task) and it’s so hot that I dare not venture outside except for taking George outside to “relieve” himself. So I pondered-“what can be done”.

What  OD needs to do now to become relevant. (like yesterday!)

  1. Speed as strategy; whatever we need to do, it needs to be fast. 
  2. Work with clients to ensure that expertise is well positioned and empowered, even if it means less emphasis on teamwork.
  3. Similar to other professions, we need to intervene in order to diagnose. “Take this pill, if it works, then your symptoms are depression. Install this software, and we’ll test it down the road”. Diagnose, intervene measure; freeze unfreeze-are irrelevant. Eg, X is incompetent. Outsource the capability NOW.
  4. Stop standing on the shoulders of the founding fathers. They are old, dead and partially irrelevant. Show respect by breaking with tradition, as they did.
  5. In the army, I learnt that OD is done best before a battle and after. So when necessary, mitigate overdosing on reflection, awareness and activities that hinder short term survival. Yes, short term.
  6. Political survival of key figures, aka-what’s in this for me, becomes a dominant theme in extreme crisis. Factor this into your understanding of what is/needs to be done.

 

 

 

 

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August Letter from Tel Aviv

It is about a five minute drive from my home to the clinic where I will get my third corona vaccine tomorrow. It’s scheduled for 17:52 ( 5.52 pm). Now that’s Israel for you-some things work (health services) and some things don’t; it will take me about an hour to find parking once I get to the clinic. There is no parking to be found-legal or illegal.

Of course I know that I am a guinea pig and I don’t give a shit. I would much rather risk a few side effects than risk choking to death. I know of very few people my age who will not get the shot. Except of course for those who have already died of something else.

Masks have now returned to style, albeit often worn on the chin. Wearing a mask in the summer heat is not at all comfortable, to say the very least. But as delta rips across the country, imported by cretins  who took  summer vacations in unsafe places, the mask is making a comeback. How much of a comeback? I’d say as frequent as is condom use.

Every night there is a short programming-spot (on channel 11) which tries to “make sense” of the corona data. After each broadcast, I am more convinced than ever that the experts remind me of the various specialists who treat back pain: “live with it”; “exercise less”, “exercise more”, “you have a curvature of the spine”; “try acupuncture”; “I can operate”, “look, you are 71, what do you expect?”. And of course “it’s in your mind”.

Consistency is lacking not only in corona data, but in public policy. The country club mandates that all people coming into the club have been vaccinated twice. But this does not apply to the staff. Or the kids. Or the contractors. Actually, it applies to no one. Or perhaps it applies to the specific person at the entrance. Alexi is on his cell phone and doesn’t care who comes in; Fatima is typing her thesis and doesn’t even look at who comes in. Perla does care, but she caves in to people who “will get vaccinated next week”. How did we ever win a war? 

Well, at least we have a saner government now. Except perhaps for the corona-is-not-a-danger Minister of Education who is a PhD and a woman, so criticism seems to be mild. After all, gender trumps competence in today’s dialogue. She also hails from a city way north on the Lebanese border, so she can’t be wrong. After all, she is not from Tel Aviv. 

Thankfully, we do have a very vibrant society and Israelis know how to suffer danger and live at the same time. That truly is an advantage we have over the Americans who have discovered that their society is not so great, and over the more smug European nations who are surprised that such a small country as Israel is coping far better than most places on the globe. Why? Because almost every Israeli has a post doctorate in “grin and bear it”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More information? Or better filters? Preliminary ramblings

I remember the cigar lady at Ruby Foo’s Restaurant in Montreal-“Cigars, Cigarettes, Tiperellos”, she would say softly, as she roamed from table to table, dressed in a gorgeous Chinese robe. Smoking was not bad for your health; it was a social pleasure even though I did not “run” to tell my father that I had bought a pack of du Maurier. Later of course, that pleasure was to end as smoking became as healthy as inhaling fumes from a Mac truck.

Two eggs a day were a must in “Canada’s Health Rules”, drilled into my head by Mrs. MacLean, Mr Colebrook, Mrs Pert and Mrs Taylor. Spending time in the sun didn’t cause melanoma-it provided Vitamin C. 

In my 71 years, I have seen and heard almost every food labelled as a cause of cancer and/or an elixir for good health.

Many diseases that had been able as “triggered by stress”, were later to be redefined years later as caused by something else. Nowadays, “viruses” and “stress” are very popular. 

Recently I have been asking myself what are we taking for granted now that years from now will be defined as nonsense. My guess is that it will be “what is information, and how much of it, whatever it is, do we need?”

I really don’t know what information is anymore. It’s not that I am being a smart-Alec; I really don’t know.

Clearly it’s not anything on the evening news. It’s not what politicians tell us. Certainly it is not religion, for me anyway. It’s very hard to get an agreement on an agreed version of what is a historical fact. Most sciences have changing paradigms, as Kuhn pointed out years ago.

I also practice a profession which no one can define. Definitions of my profession range from applied social science to an art form. Those differences in themselves are hard to define.

Realities don’t always change because of better knowledge, but also because of fads, fashion and political infighting within disciplines. 

Which leads me to believe that we need much better filters, not only less misinformation.

And we need to treat the information that comes our way like water that needs to cleaned, milk that needs to be pasteurized and air that needs to be clean.

Filtering information-is that just another hype, or a real need? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts about leadership in tough times

These are very tough times in which to manage. The vast scope of external chaos, the partial upsetting/paralysis of supply chains, the inability of forecasting, the endless  waves of disease. Many leaders are looking bad and feeling even worse. 

This is a perfect time for OD practitioners to look our profession to  ask: what do we need to change about how we look at leadership?

Here are a few of my thoughts as well as questions that I am asking of myself and of colleagues.

  1.  People may have unrealistic expectations from leaders in hard times. What are the real and unreal things that people expect from leadership in such times?
  2. Is full transparency on the part of leadership a good practice? When coupled with ignorant masses, isn’t full transparency a risky bet?
  3. What can leaders do when they cannot control anything?
  4. How can we help leaders better communicate when their people do not want to hear the message?
  5. Do experts make better leaders than natural leaders in time like this?
  6. What is the shelf time of charismatic leadership in very tough times?
  7. Churchill was ousted at the end of the war. Can we learn anything from this?
  8. What type of dangerous leaders can prosper in hard times?

 

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Read this if you work with an Israeli manager

Working under an Israeli manager may prove a challenge for the non-Israeli, although most people I have interviewed very much learnt to appreciate some of Israeli management quirks. Following are the top  things to expect, and a suggestion of what to do in italics.

  1. They expect their decisions to be questioned, so feel free to express your opinion, even after the decision was made.
  2. They work very hard and long hours, texting and emailing all the time. State your limits in no uncertain terms.
  3. They are compassionate so if you have a personal issue, open up and ask for time off, help, whatever. In return, they expect loyalty, eg, not quitting before an important milestone.
  4. They are not all that politically correct. Get used to it.
  5. Praise sounds like ‘not bad’. Never expect gushing praise, because that is seen as unreal and too American.
  6. Failure is an option so take risks. Don’t fear repercussion from failure. 
  7. Planning is seen as ok up to a point, but it’s also seen as a ritualistic waste of time. So plan yes, but don’t exaggerate. 
  8. They view process as nice to have, but human ingenuity as critical. Don’t hide behind a process you think is wrong.
  9. Israeli managers care more about content then pyrotechnics. Get the facts across as concisely as possible and as accurately as possible.
  10. Israelis are not patient people. Get to the point.

 

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Billing issues in Organization Development

Billing issues are often discussed between colleagues who have become friends, or between professionals not operating in the same geography. In this post, I shall share some of my lessons learned from my many years on the road.

1) Never work for a success fee, unless the client promises to implement everything you recommend, which of course never happens.

2) Your initial price will never really creep up very much over the years, so remember that what seems ok at the beginning will not appear so after ten years.

3) Don’t negotiate with Supply Chain about your prices; if your internal client is not willing to do that messy work for you, the client does not have the power to own and drive an OD project.

4) Do not submit an overall budget of the project hours until you have a  good idea about scope. That means for the first few months, one should bill on an hourly basis.

5) If the client wants to know about your black box (how much profit you are making), in some cultures it is necessary to do so. I often say that “this is a very hard profession and I want to make it worth my effort”. 

6) Never set a different price for training or for different levels of management. Ever. It will bite you in the ass, with sharp teeth.

7) If pay day has come and gone, collect. Don’t let the days float by. Clients won’t appreciate a consultant who does not run their business properly.

8) In very hard times, don’t discount but work for free.  Working for free will be appreciated but discounts will become permanent.

9) When you negotiate with clients aboard, make sure that they pay money transfer fees, which can be extraordinarily expense. This can be worded as: “the client will agree that money transfer fees will be “ours”.

10) Make sure that up front it is clear that meetings which are rescheduled on the same day are billed at full price.

11) If you are working abroad, and you have already left your own country, all work cancelled or rescheduled is fully billed.

12) Always provide a work sheet which spells out who you met and for how long. Round your hours back to the last 15 minutes, so that 2 hours and 22 minutes is billed at 2 hours 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planning an OD intervention on an interface between functions

The interface between functions (marketing and sales; R&D and service; finance and HR) and the interface between people (Jack and Jill) is the domain to which Organization Development brings more added value than any other profession.

OD certainly has practitioners who want to change the world-but that desire to inspire change is just an illusion de grandeur, especially since OD practitioners shun the use of force and do not share values with most of the planet. Hell, it even hard for us to create a change in culture, and in this link I explain why.

Yet the interface between people and functions is our major domain expertise. In this short post, I want to spell out how initially to look at interfaces between functions and people. I start by asking

  1. How is the interface\relationship impacted by differences in culture, competence and power allocation?
  2. What are the goals of each side, and far more important, what are the shared goals of each side?
  3. How will each partner be judged if the other succeeds\fails?
  4. What impacts the mutual trust?
  5. How does the organization gain by their NON cooperation?

After diagnosing the above, the next steps are:

  1.  At what level to I need to intervene?
  2.  What will success look like?
  3.  How do I garner support before I start the work, by negotiating the consequence of success \ failure?
  4.  Then, and only then, do I plan the intervention tactically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just a few tips about doing OD outside a North American context

For the OD practitioner who has work to do in geographies where the values upon which OD is based are not dominant, here are my top ten tips.

1) It may take more time to build trust. In a 90 minute initial interview, don’t expect to get reliable diagnostic input. And understand that this is an advantage, because when eventually people do open up, the level of cooperation will be higher.

2) Many things are left unsaid. And you must listen intensely to what is unsaid. If you ask a direct question and get a fuzzy answer, you know you are onto something. But do not probe. Listen to what is inferred.

3) If you prefer to be called by your first name, wait a while before you impose this on the people that you are speaking with. THEY need to be more comfortable than you.

4) You can use events that have not yet happened to get better answers than you can from analysing events that went wrong. Future events can help save face which has not yet been lost. Past events involve talking about lost face.

5) Don’t assume that just because someone you speak to has excellent English that this person knows what is going on. Quite the contrary; excellent English can indicate a returning resident who may not know that lay of the land.

6) If at all possible, don’t take notes in first discussion. Try to remember what you are told and jot down notes after the meeting.

7) Take into account that many of your values can be irrelevant or held as distasteful. If, for example, you are a 26 year old female interviewing a 67 year old man, there may so much background noise that all the data is tinted. Politically correct-no! Correct? Yes.

8) Show respect and understanding to people who are stonewalling you. Hint to them as follows, “I understand what you are saying, yet I would like to talk you again at another time, so that we feel more comfortable to develop a better understanding of the issues. I appreciate that this is not yet possible.” 

9) If local culture dictates that the best way to get information is to gossip, then gossip. And if you need to get drunk to get an answer, get drunk.

10) Take a stand and ask for a reaction. This may bypass an interviewees’ objections about being direct. For example, “It seems to me that Mike does not really understand the local culture. Am I wrong”? Then check one more time. “I think that Amy (a local) preferred working with Leonard (Mike’s predecessor). Am I correct?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Helping organizations evade the truth

Dr. Alice Goffman introduced me to the word “riding”;  in her ethnography On the Run: Fugitive Life in America “, I learnt that “riding” is  helping a fugitive evade the police/court when pursued. Riders and riding have many strategies, all spelt out in Goffman’s fascinating book.

Organizations have “riders” too. Borrowing Goffman’s term (actually borrowing the fugitives’ term), organizational riding is working to cover up  an organization’s lies.

When an organization lies, it needs a whole set of riders to keep it safe. Following is an example of how riders assist organizations to lie.

Chris (CEO) told  Johnny (Head of R&D) that he must release the new product fix within 2 months. Johnny knows that nothing “releasable” will be available for 8 months. Yet Chris issues an email to all key clients promising the new fix mentioning that  Dr Johnny is in full alignment with the realistic commitment.

No one, not one single person, believes that this commitment is doable. The product “fix” will be delivered 9 months late, and even then, the fix will be very partial. Yet the organization was never exposed, assisted by riders.

How did this happen? Take a look.

1-Amibiguous language was a key rider. “Pending unexpected difficulties; contingent on the purchase of new software; as things stand now”. All these terms kept the lie afloat.

2-HR muddies the water, blowing smoke up peoples’ ass. HR, the ultimate rider, puts plans in place to improve engagement, perhaps, in the future; a new work-life algorithm is put in place, which shows the ups and downs or hard work over a 15 year period. Ok, bust your ass now, but one day you will be saved.

3- Bullshit progress reviews are often delayed and cancelled, or bogged down in detail. The documentation of these riding-driven meetings is fuzzy at best and lacking in most cases.

4-There is creeping de-scoping of the eventual “fix”, de-scoping being a key rider allowing organizations to lie.

5-New, ambitious, fake riding- superheroes push top talent aside as they promise to deliver what old guard apparently cannot deliver.

6-New swear words appear: nay-saying (truth); risk-evasiveness (honesty); negativistic (integrity) .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dealing with white lies and blatant fibs in organizations. And in OD!

Budgets, sales forecasts, dates of product releases, product quality: these are all issues that organizations lie about in order to ensure their existence in turbulent times. False data is fed to the market, to customers, to investors, to boards and often to competitors. 

Very often, without these fibs, the liar would have become a goner.

Example: The present budget for the new IT system is 4 million euro, claims the CEO to the Board, which oks the investment with great difficulty. Eight months later and 3 months before project completion, the CEO announces that 7 more months and 2 million additional Euros are needed to complete the project. The board caves in. Of course the CEO  knew in advance that this is the only way he could have pried out the money from the board, which eventually will cost 9 million Euro and 4 years to complete.

What are the main dangers posed by this “prologue” of initially lying? Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Within the organization, people need to pretend: fake goals; fake KPIs; fake updates; a culture of blaming someone else for the delay/quality/price. 

Or perhaps there is a double set of books! Like what we mean and what we say.

Or what we learn not to say.

And what happens to nay-sayers who challenge the fibs? Who thrives and who drowns in such a culture?

It all really becomes one big fucking lie. But the organization survives.

And of course we need to ask, what type of OD is done is such a context. Does OD help perfume the pig, as it were, stirring up the troops to do their level best to “make it happen”? Rah-rah; wow wow!

Or does OD unravel the web of lies, which poses short term existential threats which may cost the OD consultant his, or her, job. Yes, his or her. 

I have been fired 3 times for unravelling lies. I even consulted a company that had missed a delivery date by 3 years on a minor software release, on which no one was even working, albeit that the end customer was paying for its development.

Of course OD also has it little white lies, to say the least. Is what we do actually good for business always? Do the latest trends that OD practitioners push really add value? Like “love in the workplace” or “hire for neuro-diversity”. Is wellness achieved at work, for God’s sake?  Does teamwork pay off? Is process and value alignment necessary, or do the conflicting demands between the two create the necessary tension needed to get the job done? Can we strengthen middle management; Does it do any good? 

I suggest that before we attempt to undo the fibs and lies of our clients, we deal with our own shit. If you get my drift.

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