Cross Cultural Literacy: A major component of the 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 the previous, this post and the next 4 posts is to provide examples of each of the 6 principles I proposed as a new operating system for OD.

2) Drive cross cultural organizational literacy, so people from different cultures can understand the different view of organizational life

Cross cultural organizational literacy is the ability to understand organizational life as someone different from you understands it, and thus design organizations and organizational life appropriately.

People from all over the world see organizational life very differently and behave differently.
While the external veneer of organizations may superficially appear to be similar, “disturbed” somewhat by some background noise stemming from cultural differences, the perceptions of organizational life and desired behaviour actually have huge variance.
Time after time, despite the variance, OD mostly supports organizational alignment around Western values and norms, and thus, OD looses its relevance as a tool to debug problems caused by the global organizational configuration.
Many of the bugs of present day organizing can be debugged if OD approaches this issue holistically: structure, control mechanisms, enabling mechanisms, types of leadership and followership, training, policies, values etc.

Moshe argues to show committment; Shayakit does not give bad news in order to show committment, Hans follows process to show committment.

Stan (US) plans in order to control. Adi (Israel) does not plan, in order gain control. Anil (India) prepares to plan, but them improvises.

When Obe (Japan) is silent, Fred disconnects. When Fred (US) thinks out loud, Obe disconnects.

Sima (Israel) argues with her boss because she cares; then they have lunch together. Sam (Canada) discusses things with his boss, but must be careful not to ruin his career. Chai (Thailand) defers and shows respect to his ignorant boss, whom he criticizes behind his back at lunch with his peers.

Fred (US) focuses on strategy to get the long term right; Yossi ignores strategy to ensure survival; Yossi does not care about the long term. Fred writes off the short term (he lives in an Empire.

Paul (Canada( arrives on time to show respect; Sivan (Israel) will never allow a time constraint to interfere with content, because she respects content not form. Helmut (Germany) believes form is content.

Sally (US) show excitement and optimism to engage people around selling a new product. Pierre (France) feels that undue optimism and excitement disengage him. Som (Thailand), turns off when she hears how “great” everything is.

Organizing has a global configuration today, but OD relegates the aforementioned issues to the realm of “cultural training”. Typically OD would prefer Western managers have patience, and suggest that others grow; thus the growing irrelevance of OD.

Aligning organizations to be global is not cultural training; it is the very heart of OD.

And OD must understand that acquiring the ability to have us all understand how others view organizing is THE critical success building block of the new OD operating system.

Once we get this right, we can become important players in organizational design issues and develop prophylcatic and corrective interventions, far beyond the impact of cultural training.

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