How to consult for improved scalability

Often OD practitioners encounter the need to consult people and teams for improved scalability, i.e., enabling the processing of more issues via a wider bandwidth creation.

Situations like this are encountered in post merger integrations, rapid growth, promotions and unification of teams.

Coaching for scalability has 5 major thrusts:

1) Improved Delegation (in cultures where delegation is not seen as abdication)

2) Wider use of process and predefined  methodology.

3) Prevention of escalation to higher levels via encouraging  issues be solved “at the lowest possible level”.

4) Killing the “hero syndrome” by enabling the creation of repeatable activities.

5) Mitigating bandwidth-constraining politics by role clarity and healthy interfaces, which enables an external (ie, not political) focus, putting people on the “same team”.

I do about 500 hours a year consulting to create scalability.  In my experience, the hardest issue has been 4. Organizational heroes and heroism have deep root causes, which are not easily extricated.

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8 challenges for Westerners working with Thais

First, full disclosure. I have travelled and worked all over the world and Thailand is my favourite place to work. Thailand has never been colonized and it is purely Asian, untainted with the colonialist influences, for better and worse.

Thailand is very unique, and it is hard to make sense of what is going on. The Thai business culture is very hard to decipher. Westerners constantly misread clients and staff and foreigners are very often misunderstood.

Here are eight challenges which illustrate some of the difficulties that you may encounter.

1) A Thai will go out of his way not to inconvenience you in any way, shape or form. Very often you may be told what to want to hear, unless you know how to get people to stop “klenjai”ing you (making you feel comfortable). It is not easy to get the level of trust that people will “level” with you. It can takes months.

2) Thais  takes work life balance very seriously. Any manager who does not respect this balance is pretty much wiped off the map. You must say hello in the morning, you should greet people and smile, you must engage in small talk and if you are too busy to do this, the Thais will not follow you.

3) Every country has its shortcomings. In some countries, one can discuss these shortcomings openly with the local staff. Not in Thailand. As an outsider, you must keep your criticism of Thai society to yourself. Don’t get this wrong.

4) Everything takes lots and lots and lots of time to get done.. Are you in a hurry? Don’t work in Thailand. And don’t try and speed things up.

5) Thai employees have opinions, criticisms, great ideas, personal preferences and dislikes. It is hard to observe all this unless you listen to what is not said, grasp hidden nuance, and gain peoples’  deep trust.You don’t get this by landing on Monday and leaving on Wednesday.

6) Meetings are not platforms for expressing differences of opinion “openly”.

7) Lots of very important information is relayed in gossip, because public discourse is needs to be polite and sound positive.Do not fight the gossip-log in.

8) If you are the boss, you are expected to know.  If you ask too many questions of your employees, they may wonder why you are a boss. And if you “delegate”, you may be seen as an absconder.

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When Israelis and Chinese work together, what are the major cultural factors at play-revised

I have spent hundreds of hours working with Israel and Chinese managers/ employees working together in various virtual organizational configurations.

The goal of this short post is to point out some of the main issues impacting their interaction.

The two cultures have a lot in common: a lot of internal divisiveness, “an insider/outsider” mentality in which you trust your own and tend to mistrust others; a huge Diaspora which creates a huge ethnic based network; a preference to leverage relationships ; a blunt communication style (within the inner circle) with few niceties as well as a disdain for “hot air” which both cultures see in North American management jargon. It is also worth noting that China and Israel have institutional corruption issues, and this impacts governance and management styles-one can see this manifested in a “love of short cuts and work around procedure”.

There are many differences between Chinese and Israeli business culture.

I will point out the top 5 differences in my experience:

1) Relationships in China are hierarchical; relationships in Israel are more egalitarian.
Israelis emphasize individual initiative as a way to get things done. (Israelis often view “asking the boss what to do” is a weakness.) The Chinese put far less emphasis on the importance of the individual and much more importance on command and control.
2) Israelis are suspicious about authority and challenge authority all the time. The Chinese defer and obey authority. And when they disagree, they show more apparent respect to the chain of command. This is by far the most hard-to-crack difference, especially when an Israeli employee speaks to his Chinese boss in the same way he addresses his Israeli boss.
3) Israelis hold planning in deep disdain and the Chinese value planning, albeit less than the Americans. Israelis view planning as a platform that can and must constantly be changed, while the Chinese see it as a commitment, although the Chinese are very aware that plans can and should change in a pragmatic fashion.
4) Both cultures “negotiate” everything as a way of life. Yet for Israelis, when a contract is signed, it is binding because Israelis are legalistic. The Chinese continue to haggle after a contract has been signed, via “post contractual negotiation”. This post contractual negotiation can drive Americans crazy. The Israelis shrug it off as another quirk that needs adjusting to.
5) Israelis are blunt, direct communicators who have no clue what “face” is all about. The Chinese are indirect, discrete communicators and use “face” to maintain social harmony. This can lead to a situation where the Chinese see the Israelis are chronically rude and the Israelis see the Chinese as two faced. This creates chronic trust issues which must be handled with care. This can lead to a situation where the Chinese see the Israelis are chronically rude and the Israelis see the Chinese as two faced.

In all my work over the years, the most common issue I have noticed is the breakdown of trust due to communication styles. Once this hurdle is overcome, my observation is that the Israelis and Chinese prefer working with one another more than they do with the more structured Americans or detailed driven Germans.

Revised Sept 18th
Follow me @AllonShevat

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Performance Evaluation in a shrinking company-and OD rituals

A ritual is a ceremony or action performed in a “customary” way. Many rituals are religious; some rituals have a calming effect; others, when not in context, may be seen as  the manifestation of a psychological disorder.

Organizations have rituals as well; in bad times, these rituals may appear grotesquely inappropriate . Under stress, organizations,  like people often regress.  Performance evaluation during downsizing is an example of regressive behaviour. http://ramsbottom-lemieux.blogspot.co.il/2013/10/performance-evaluation-in-shrinking.html It makes no sense whatsoever to go through the motions of PE in a shrinking company. It is disruptive, two faced, and senseless.

OD has ritualistic behaviour as well. For example: in todays’ organizational reality, people are often spare parts, yet OD often plays the same song and dance we played decades ago. Under duress like OD is now experiencing in a shrinking economy, there are people who want to revert back to/stick to “pure OD”, whatever that means. Instead, we should be looking at new operating systems for OD. We need to get a hand on our pathological ritualism and wake up.

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What shocks Israelis about Japanese business culture-part 2

I have spent hundreds and perhaps a thousand hours working with Japanese teams and Israeli teams who need to interact, generally around the introduction of new products into the Japanese market.

There are probably few cultures as different as the Israelis and the Japanese. And it would be fair to say that I could write 100 things that appear shocking to the Israelis . I have chosen the top four.

1) The Israelis engineering/development teams find it very challenging that the Japan based offices do not filter Japanese customer input. Every bit of input from the customer appears magnified and blown out of proportion. A minor flaw gets the attention of a revenue-impacting flaw. Thus, the Israeli feels a need to “push aside” the Japanese member of their company and “speak directly to the client.”

2) The Israelis observe that the Japanese buy the Israeli innovation, yet “whine” about the “inevitable” ugly process of introducing something very new. “They want the child, not the pregnancy”, which appears very “unfair”.

3) Israelis work as hard as the Japanese, and I dare say, sometimes harder. So the Israelis  react very poorly to ceremonies of verbal abuse, which Japanese have known to deal out to the Israelis. Unlike the Americans and Canadians I have seen, the Israelis really cannot stomach verbal abuse, and many refuse to return after being thrashed.

4) I have observed several instances in which an Israeli was told by a local colleague  “The Jews are such good businessmen; how is it that this product has so many bugs”. Needless to say, this ain’t the wisest thing to say, although it is not classical anti-Semitism encountered at times in many other places, like Eastern Europe.

Yet strangely, there are many things which are very similar in the two business cultures: very very hard work, an emphasis on commitment, more loyalty to the work place than to one’s career…..and lots of jokes about Americans.

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What shocks Japanese about Israeli business culture

I have spent hundreds and perhaps a thousand hours working with Japanese teams and Israeli teams who need to interact, generally around the introduction of new products into the Japanese market.

There are probably few cultures as different as the Israelis and the Japanese. And it would be fair to say that I could write 100 things that appear shocking to the Japanese. I have chosen the top three.

1) An Israeli firm can send a team to a customer and the Israeli team can argue amongst themselves in front of the customer. In Israeli business culture, argument is a sign of commitment! The Israelis believe that the Japanese customer will appreciate their openness, and respect the fact that no one echoes “the party line”

2) The Israelis view severe quality issues of emerging technology as part of the game. You innovate, you introduce the product, and you mop up the mess. The Japanese customer “needs to know the risks  if they buy innovative products”.

3) The Israeli communication style of very, very open, far more open than any style they have encountered. An Israeli can easily tell anyone “ you are totally wrong”, “not true” or “let me correct you”. Needless to say, this ain’t what the Japanese are used to!

Yet strangely, there are many things which are very similar in the two business cultures: very very hard work, an emphasis on commitment, more loyalty to the work place than to one’s career…..and lots of jokes about Americans.

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What to do when you do not understand what is going on in an organization?-Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, OD consultants at times observe organizational behaviours which appear irrational. As a matter of fact, at times organizations can appear to be a theatre of the absurd, and you can’t get the plot or get a handle around the absurdity.

Things are rarely absurd. There is a plot to decipher. What is the plot? Often asking people may not get you to the plot, unless you have domain expertise or have good informal relationships.

I had put together an initial short check list of things I look for to make sense of some of the absurdities. The reaction was so positive that  I have put together another short check list of things that make help make sense. The first list is here.

4) The pain/chaos being observed do not impact business results.

5) Pleasing the street (Wall Street) has taken precedence to running the business operationally.

6) What you observe is linked to issues of career management of a senior manager.

Three examples may illustrate the above.

  • The 2014 budget process appeared to everyone to be the theatre of the  absurd. Sales people were handed quotas which made no sense, revenue projections were hallucinatory and massive pressure was brought on senior managers and middle managers to cough up plans “how to make it happen”. Everyone cooperated and the budget was passed. In February, the CFO “left to spend time with his family and got a huge bonus”, rewarded for his complacency in the budget process. Investor confidence was peaked in Q4 and Q1 as stock prices rose.
  • The level of churn/turnover of skilled technicians was very high and no effort was made to retain skilled technicians . The company spent 3 months training technicians who quit after a year. Complaints about the low skill level of technicians were very common yet the company did nothing. The reason was that the company was selling in a cut throat cost environment and could not afford to pay skilled technicians. Management had done a discrete analysis which proved that the turn over (churn) paid off.
  • Very aggressive commitments are given to engineers, who accept them knowing there are going to fail. The engineers then slip on deadlines one week before delivery, creating a huge customer crisis. However, the customer had requested impossible deadlines, so these slips are the only way to win the business and then de-commits from the time line. The customer has no choice but to “swallow the frog” because of prestige issues, as well as money and time already invested.
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What to do when you do not understand what is going on in an organization?

At times, OD consultants observe organizational behaviours which appear irrational.

As a matter of fact, at times organizations can appear to be a theatre of the absurd, and you can’t get the plot or get a handle around the absurdity.

I have put together a very short check list of things I look for to make sense of what I see.

1) Things are rarely absurd. There is a plot to decipher. What is the plot?  E.g., it may be that functionally, nothing makes sense, but politically everything makes sense.

2) What do people/the organization GAIN by the perceived dysfunction? It may well be that there is huge gain in what OD diagnostics says is poor functionality. (Perceived gain may also be secondary benefit.)

3) What information is lacking? Often a small piece of information tells the whole story.

 

And…to illustrate-a small tale.

Larry and his 15 developers were working on 2 medical projects, one near completion and one in its initial stages. Larry’s company was in the pure research stage and fully funded.

Three months before a meeting with investors, work on the project which was near completion dropped off and the project  fell way behind. All developers started working on this new and yet to be defined project. I was flabbergasted.

The reason (as I found out later) was clear. Larry (correctly) assessed that if the investors saw an opportunity to gain back their investment now, all the work heretofore would be boring  productization and the next project would not be funded. So Larry’s  goal was to create a situation where he could continue to “milk” the investors”, leveraging the fact that the project was far from completion!

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3 counter-intuitive things about the OD profession

Here are 3 counter intuitive things you may want to ponder about the OD profession.

1) Pricing

Start at a reasonable price, prove your value and over the years, adjust your price structure? Wrong. Once a company has paid you $100 dollars an hour for what you do, they will never pay your $5000 dollars a day. And, the more a clients pays, the more value is perceived in what you deliver, as long you are in the general direction of addressing the clients’ needs.

2) Entry Point

Start with middle management and work your way up? Wrong. Consulting is like the British TV series Upstairs, Downstairs, i.e., highly stratified and class based. If you start with the plebeians, you may well stay there.

3)  Results

Ensure that results can be measured? Wrong.OD provides clear and tangible results, which are apparent to all, although they may not be measureable with a yardstick. Furthermore, often there is a downturn before things get better and too much obsession with measurement may be used to sideline an OD effort, especially by HR and Training who (if unprofessional) will feel threatened. If OD is working its tricks, everyone will know it.

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A set of “algorithms” for global organizing: A building block of the new OD operating system

Minahan and Norlin in their recent article “Edging Toward the Center” (OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013) suggest a move away from the extremities of OD which may have been applicable in the past in the happier days of OD and suggest that OD should migrate to the centre, i.e., towards bringing more value to clients without abandoning OD’s core values. I suggested in my critique of that article that this is “too little too late” because OD has been almost “voted off the island”; I also suggested we needed a new Operating System for OD, not a bug fix or service pack. I proposed six principles.

The goal of this post and the next 3 posts is to provide examples of each of the 6 principles I proposed as a new operating system for OD.

4) Create  a set of global organizing “algorithms” which address organizational design and management development; these so called algorithms serve as a platform to manage complexity in order to enable rapid and adaptive behaviour.

Global organizations often need to move quickly and be highly adaptive, because  speed is often a major part component of strategy. Yet global organizations are often slowed down by time zones, misunderstandings, overt and  hidden agendas as well as draining culture clashes.

Global organizing has been around enough that we know of many recurring problematic patterns that OD needs to cope with. The question is: how can OD be relevant? Let’s look at some of the recurring issues in global organizing.

1) Developing trust between cultures which follow process and those which leverage relationships.

2) Openness vs. discretion as preferred communication venue, especially when speed is strategy

3) Risk taking behaviour  vs. risk aversion behaviour-as linked to “face” and furthering/hindering one’s career, especially in new product introduction

4) Need for clarity vs. high tolerance of ambiguity, especially when two diverse sites are jointly developing a new product.

5) Obey vs. challenge authority

……and the list goes on and on.

Here are some examples of what OD would deal with:

1-In a Global Supply Supply Chain organization HQed in Holland and Singapore, in an industry with 2 products every 5 years/3 products a month, what organizational design/behaviour issues can be expected and what is the protocol for designing and staffing such an organization. What type of leader are we looking for?

2-In an organization which sells most of its products in Japan and the US, with R&D taking place in Israel and India, what organizational design/behaviour issues can be expected and what is the protocol for designing and staffing such an organization. What type of leader are we looking for?

The new OD operating system would drive these critical issues into organizational design and focus on non parochial leadership development, which is very different from what happens today.

Sadly at this point, OD does not deal early enough in global organizational design, and too few OD interventions are prophylactic in nature. This gap is a huge strategic niche; if OD can provide something even close to a conceptual and architectural algorithm for global organizational design, this would vastly improve our impact and not position OD in training and firefighting.

Nowadays, when the fires break out (if the manager has a high level of awareness and Gloria is not the HR manager, ) OD may be used to ease the pain, The pain relief (in the form of cultural training) probably has a western bias.

In the new OD operating system,  training would not have a western bias which would push  patience and understanding until the other side changes, nor preach “meeting in the middle”, which is clearly a western quirk. But that belongs to another post.

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