What to do when your American counterpart obsesses about planning?

The US based counterpart with whom you deal  may tend to place more value on planning that you do, especially if you are based in India, China, the Mid East or in the Mediterranean  countries.

Because this is the way that “empires” think, ie, that the world can be controlled, there is only so much you can do. Here are a few tips when you notice obsession with planning:

1) If you want to make your US based counterpart aware that there are unknowns, it is best to suggest that “we plan for unknowns”.

2) Suggest to do “risk assessment” of the “soundness “ and “basic assumptions” of the plan.

3) If you think that the plan is overly rigid, suggest a contingency plan, based on different assumptions.

4) Try to allow the Americans to feel  they are in charge as much as possible; when ‘implementation’ deviates from the plan, try and position this  as part of the original plan, or as a “minor abberation” of an otherwise sound plan.

However, do not push your America based colleague too far away from planning, who lies at the heart of how empires think. Work within the system.

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5 errors Israeli managers often make with their American counterparts

1-They blend discussion, arguing and negotiation at the same time.

2-They assume that most American managers will agree that a vendor can tell a client what it really needs.

3-They misinterpret American informality for weakness.

4-They do not often understand cultural clues, forcing the Americans to be “overly” direct.

5-They reopen decisions, not understanding that this is a trust buster for Americans, although not for Israelis.

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Natural resistance to some of the concepts in global OD

At the ODN conference in London,  I have just presented a comprehensive outline of what are the limitations of traditional OD, what is the  essence of Global OD and what are the differences between them.

I have been inundated with feedback about my presentation; most of the feedback has been very good; some folks have naturally been resistant.

Here are the top 3 “push-backs” I am getting and my reply:

1-Truth cannot be subjugated to harmonious relationships. If a person lies, he lies.

Harmonious relationships are MORE “true” than factual accuracy in some cultures.  Factual accuracies are meaningless and “false” if the relationship does not remain harmonious at the face level.

2-Global OD is another profession-it betrays OD’s values, which cannot be compromised.

Many cruel things have done to thrust one’s values on another population. I suggest we don’t go there.

3-This all goes against what we were taught.

Not really. OD was born to promote tolerance. This is the next logical step as organizations have globalized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Thoughts on the Major Strategic Challenges of OD-following ODN Europe Conference in London

 

 

“Due to a prolonged downturn in business and a cut throat competitive climate, OD is playing defense. OD claims that people are important, yet the business climate and type of leadership which rises to the top seems to feel differently. So what is to be done?”. It was with these thoughts that I came to London for the OD conference.

Here are my answers.

1) There are still lots of sloganeering going on about how important people are, and how important it is to promulgate the importance of people, yet this slogan mongering sounds nicer to our ears than it does to clients’ ears.

2) Within OD, there are “hard” tools being developed (such as organizational mapping) which shall appear very attractive to management in a few years. At present these “hard” tools have bugs and flaws in logic (such as the need for strategic clarity), but over time these tools will become more robust, and these tools will threaten traditional OD in the same way that mobile phones have “threatened” (ie, eliminated) land line phones.

3) New IT and communication technologies and measurement-ism have created an organizational world where it appears that the human resource is merely “spare parts”. However, measurement-ism and IT technologies have created a whole set of new problems, from alienation to institutionalized organizational ignorance (addressing the wrong issues). OD has the tools the address these burning issues, if our “art” is practiced as an “art” and if the OD focus is appropriate, i.e., getting people to communicate and interact effectively/authentically in order to work around the new set of problems described above.

4) Organizations have been globalized but OD has not been globalized in its approach/values, and unless OD undergoes a radical transformation, OD as practised is irrelevant for many configurations of global organizing. New groundwork has been done in this field, yet there is still ideological resistance, because global OD skills threaten the comfort zone of many traditional practitioners.

5) There is no room for content agnostic, pure process driven OD interventions anymore. The world is too complex and there is no time to waste time. Domain expertise is needed.

6) To be truly effective OD practitioner, one needs to have an understanding of economics and have a defined philosophical world view. (Perhaps, there is a need to be in touch with some spirituality. I say “perhaps” because I have little contact with spirituality, which makes me effective in some situations and ineffective in others.)

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OD Europe Conference in London England

I just attended (and presented)  at the ODN Europe conference in Southwark London, UK.

It was a superb conference, with a diverse range of excellent material, participants of very high quality, and a high level of enagement. All this along with a sense of realism made this a not-to-be-missed conference.

Prof Patricia Shaw`s presentation with no power point , with her focus on pure dialogue as the core of OD was “a once in a lifetime“ presentation.

John Scherer`s and Amy Barnes presentation on merger work was a case in near flawless consulting.

Rob Farrands workshop on language and leadership was very enlightening.

Post modern organizational mapping tools showed us all where OD will be if we don`t go down the road Pat Shaw suggested.

So kudos to the architects of this amazing event.

 

 

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4 things consultants should think about when running a discussion in an acutely diverse environment

1-Be content savvy, because facilitating a classical process-detached-from-content session encounters too many cultural obstacles.

2-Offer your own opinions and content input with which people can agree or differ, because the cultural variance may be so wide that the groups will not be able to generate meaningful content.

3-Build the small break out  working groups very carefully, because too much diversity may make the discussion sterile.

4-Make sure that participants are engaged. If not, stop and work on what`s wrong. It is easy to fall into a pattern of apparent participation in very diverse and stranger groups.

 

 

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5 things non Israelis must know when dealing with their Israeli colleagues

1) “No” means let’s talk about it and negotiate. Most discussions are negotiations.

2)  Don’t try and “buy” compliance from Israelis with bonuses or promises of financial reward. Israelis see buying compliance  as whoring. Either convince them or give orders.

3 ) Israelis, like Singaporeans and  Hong Kong Chinese, live in two worlds.They all use western terms but they have another reality in which they live in simutaneous. Israelis live in a very tough neighbourhood. So remember, Israelis at times may pay lip service to win-win. You need to be tough because “expediancy” and “compromise” are often seen as weakness. Weak people may get the screws turned on them.

4) Israelis are hard working, but Israelis mix family and work. They work hard at home as well as yak about family at work. Yet, you can almost always trust your Israeli colleague to do everything s/he can to get the job done.

5) Israelis view planning as an almost meaningless ritual; Israelis don’t value planning. Israelis value ingenuity and more ingenuity. Don’t expect an Israeli to do anything more than “going through the motions” of planning. They are also proud of this.

 

 

 

 

 

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Frequently made mistakes by “Western” OD consultants in Asia and Mid East

1) Assume that corporate culture overrides and mitigates the cultural differences between locations, and promulgate a corporate culture which may not be suitable.

2) Assume that political correctness is a shared concern, and correct people who use terms like chairman and elevator lady.

3) Ask a lot of questions and prefer facilitation of open discussions as tool of choice  in cultures where the consultant is supposed to know, not ask, and in cultures where  discretion is preferred to openness.

4) Assume that misrepresentation is lying; it may be saving face.

5) Over-rely on your “intuition”. Intuition does not bridge cultural divides all that well.

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The dynamic between US based HQs and remote/offshore sites

 

For 35 years, I have consulted Israelis, Indians, Chinese, Thais, Taiwanese, Russians, Japanese, Dutch and Germans about working with people in American HQs.

Here are the top 5 recurring issues and observations.

1) “I seem to get the feeling that they expect that we will become more like them.” In other words, there is an expectation that over time, people will “develop” and become more American in the way they do business.

2) “Behind the polite veneer, informality and calling people by their first name so quickly, I am always given the feeling I am an outsider”. In other words, far from being only disarming, American informality is seen as deceiving at times.

3) “I get the feeling that terms like top down, big picture, distinguishing the forest from the trees has created a management system with lack of attention to detail.” There focus on the big picture is seen as apparent lack of concern for details.

4) “I never assume that the guy with whom I am dealing  cares more about the company than his career”. Non Americans are astonished about how loyal American managers appear to be to their career as opposed to the firm for which they work.

5) “Why don’t you come over some time” actually means nothing!”. Behind the friendly  civility is a chill.

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Beware of apparent similarity

With so many people speaking English, wearing jeans, writing brief emails and texting, it may appear that there is a growing similarity among the professional global “caste” of knowledge workers.

While no one has quite declared the death of cultural differences,  there is a growing tendency for folks to cling to the similarity generated by the above mentioned commonalities.

A lot of these aforementioned “similarities” are nothing but “apparent similarity”, and thus the challenge is greater because the differences are more elusive.

  • The shared  used of English does not wipe out that Americans love their plans, Germans love their details and Israelis love to improvise.
  • The shared use of English does not eliminate the fact that the British are punctual and the Mexicans are not.
  • The shared use of English does not eliminate the fact that some folks strive for win win and others strive to win.

An American or Canadian going to Korea or Japan for business will seek out relevant cultural information. Less so if they are travelling to the UK, Germany or Israel.

An Israeli going to India or Taiwan will seek out cultural guidance, but may  not do so when going to the States. And the truth is that the Taiwanese and Indians are much more similar to the Israelis that the Americans. Like the Israelis, the Indians prefer improvisation, have a beat the system “work around” readily available, and move fast and clean up later.

So beware: what looks similar may be different; and just because people look and sound different may not mean all that much.

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