Dealing with managers who know everything

There are managers who know everything, and they are undoubtedly very hard to deal with.

Managers who know everything may hire you because “they do not have time”, or need more data, or in order  to carry out change under the artillery coverage of an OD project.

The first task is to try and understand the reason for your service being commissioned.

I will share 3 things I have found somewhat useful in dealing with managers who know everything.

1) Try and focus on the future. No one really knows all that much about the future. Even the omnipotent know-it-all may show some humility when the discussion is future focused.

2) On certain limited issues, stand your ground and label differences as “disagreements”. You will get push back, which is the time to then focus on the issue: “do I need to agree with you on everything”, here and now.

3) Where possible,  don’t get involved trying to prevent a fire; wait till  things get really bad. Even managers who know it all are more flexible when massive dysfunction heads their way.

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Organizations with a pseudo-sophisticated ideological veneer

Brief Introduction:

In this  post I want to characterize a type of client who should, by the look of things, be user friendly to OD, but is not! Quite the opposite-this type of client is often among the hardest to work with.  I am referring to clients which have what I shall call  pseudo-sophisticated ideological veneer.


On this type of client’s website/hallway/elevator, there will be a mission statement, core values, and/or other accoutrements which lead us to believe the client is domain savvy. The values, mission or whatever are more likely than not almost religious tenets, serviced by HR and Training, who “teach” this religion, more often than not during initiation and management training, which tends to be “ideological”.

There may be a history of many OD consultants, who have come and gone. These consultants have been called in to provide expert knowledge, not in the domain of the HR/Training “ Corporate Curia” which peddle the ideology.

The issues encountered with such clients are:

1) The slogans, values, mission and other statements are top down religious beliefs which are “administered” by HR-Training-Glorias; thus the veneer.

2) The critical gap between the religion and reality is generally out-of-bounds for discussion

.3) This type of client often does not know that he does not know.The religion has provided him with a false sense of certainty. External OD consultants will be scrutinized  by gatekeepers to ensure they do not bring in pragmatic and counter-culture ideas.

4) This type of client will treat you as a vendor of OD products, telling you exactly what he needs. Often you work to SOW, rendering the OD effort useless.(statement of work)

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How staff can manipulate managerial “optimism”

In a recent post, I suggested a few ways of managing pessimist people and managing in pessimistic cultures.

As mentioned in that post, there is a plethora of tools which exist to promote optimism, wow wowism, and getting people “on board” and highly engaged. Often these tools are used wisely; often however,the creation of optimism is a manipulation to get people to sign up for busting their ass against all odds at a huge personal sacrifice.

However, many employees have learnt to beat the system of “overdosing on wow wowism”. A short case will suffice.

Tony manages a software team composed of Russians, Israelis and Americans. Tony has given his software team a “somewhat demanding commitment which I am sure you guys can make, if we do our best. I believe if anyone can do it-it’s you”. (This means work on weekends for the next 6 months and monthly trips to Lagos. (That ain’t fun).)

Tony has convened a meeting to get “input” on obstacles to meeting the “aggressive” schedule. His team in the past has been cynical and pessimistic.

Russian Igor, Israeli Sivan and American John had lunch before the meeting with Tony and built a strategy to deal with the expected pressure. Two years ago, they had faced the same  scenario. At the time, when they raised a whole list of obstacles, Tony made them work 18 hours a day for nine months. in today’s meeting, the plan to go with the flow.

The meeting with Tony just ended. Tony was surprised as how well it went. Igor said he will do his best and sees “nothing substantial” to cause delays. Sivan simply said: “can do, boss; looks good”. John said he has a plan to make it work. All three said told Tony he can “sleep well”.

This strategy will appease Tony, and delay the bad news for a few months. In a few months, the three will surprise Tony with huge delays; Tony will need to surprise the customer.

In the first few months, the three do not even plan to work hard at all, so that Tony will need to “slap” a huge delay on the customer.

The customer will then demand more realistic deadlines and proper negotiation will occur internally.


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Managing Pessimists

There are pessimist people and there are pessimistic cultures as an article on France in the Economist points out.

Management techniques wrongly suggest that pessimism is something to be “turned around”; pessimistic attitudes are “”a “challenge” for managers, who are well equipped with a whole set of tools to create and foster optimism: vision, mission, wow-wowing, pep talking, motivational techniques, AI, and what have you.

Pessimistic culture are pessimist for a reason. The first thing we need to do is accept the pessimism.

No one (well almost no one) comes to Japan and tries to re engineer the national psyche to create individualists. No one goes to Asia and tells people to “put face aside” and be more “open”. Similarly, attempts to re-engineer the pessimist genetic code are doomed to fail.

Pessimist people have a very strong defence mechanism that has formed that attitude. People do not give up defence mechanisms easily, especially when the alternative is exactly what they are protecting themselves from, that is a rosy boy-scout yes we can attitude that sounds greats in a Tweet or coaching session with a gung-ho coach, but makes no sense.

I will propose 5 key points which may assist managing in pessimistic cultures and when dealing with pessimistic people.

1) Accept the pessimism;  do not try and change it.

2) Give low key messages, rich in facts,  analysis and critique and go easy/avoid hope, belief and wow wowism.

3) Identify the pessimistic statement that irritate you, and ignore them as much as you can.

4) Humour may work well to make a point if the pessimism is excessive.

5) Examine why pessimism rubs you the wrong way. When you really come to terms with this key question, managing pessimistic people and managing in pessimistic cultures will be far more intuitive.

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On chutzpah-חוצפה-cheekiness

The goal of this post is to illustrate that perceptions of  what is cheeky behaviour, aka chutzpah, vary from culture to culture.

The Hebrew term word chutzpah (חוצפה) is used to describe overstepping the boundaries of accepted behaviour.It has been translated as gall, excessive audacity and cheek. I will use the word chutzpah and cheek interchangeably in this post.

  • When a culture emphasizes that authority needs to be obeyed and people need to do what they are told, anyone who does not defer to authority is seen as cheeky. Thus, many Asians perceive the behaviour of many Anglo Saxons, Germans, Scandinavians and Dutch to be  cheeky.
  • When a culture emphasizes believes that if “ I do not overstep my role because systems are faulty, I am betraying what good corporate citizenship, he will be seen as cheeky by others who do not share that belief. .Thus, Americans, Canadians and Germans tend to see Israelis as cheeky.
  • When people in one culture keeps opinions/thoughts to themselves, people in less discrete cultures as seen as seen as cheeky. Many Thais observe American organizational behaviour as being cheeky, since American staff will express their “opinions”, speak out in meetings, ask questions and not be outwardly overly deferential to authority. Clearly, the Thais have their opinions as well, and they are no less critical of authority; yet keep the Thais keep their organizational opinions to themselves.

Here are two real mind boggling cases on chutzpah/cheek that I have dealt with in the last year.

  • An Israeli asks his Indian counterpart to change priorities for the next 2 hours; his Indian peers says, “I need to ask my boss”. When the Israeli counters “Why”, the Indian saw the Israeli as very cheeky.The Israeli saw the  Indian as “hiding behind his boss”. The Israeli read the Indian behaviour as obtuse cheekiness.
  • Germans often see Israelis as cheeky since the Israelis deviate from plans, making “cowboy” behaviour into an ideology.  When as Israeli encounters a German who is following the plan, the Israelis may see this as a major abdication of responsibility and even chutzpah, because the Germans are seen as righteously implementing plans, even if they are wrong.

It is interesting that the Israeli worker sees almost everyone as less responsible that the Israelis are. The reason for this is that an Israeli worker/manager believes that

  • doing what you are told is probably the wrong this to do
  • procedures need to be questioned all the time
  • conflict of ideas bring harmony
  • overstepping your role is brings positive results

I facilitate several workshops a year on fostering trust and the cheek/chutzpah issue is a major trust maker/breaker in global organizations where people have an intense mutual dependency.

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On Expediency

The goal of this short post is to put the term under a magnifying glass for a few short minutes. Many Asian and Middle Eastern based people view North American based managers as overly “expedient”. In some language such as Hebrew,  the word expediency does not exist. Expediency is not universally valued.

I will define “expediency” as functional to the purpose at hand,adhered to for the sense of practicality.

Examples of Expediency:

Corporate declares 20% downsizing within a month. Many managers push back really hard. Steve says, “Come on guys, this whining is not going to get us anywhere-let’s talk about how to do it”.

Samuel believes that a customer request is very destructive to the product road map. His boss Tony says, “Sam, the customer is the customer. Just do it”.

The folks in the newly acquired Helsinki site believe that corporate wants to transfer their technology to Harbin, China and they are fighting tooth and nail. Their manager Fred tells them not to fight city hall and ensures them that they “will get new and exciting stuff to do.”

How do “others” often view  North American expediency?

1) As untrustworthy because of the willingness to compromise too early

2) As an unwillingness to stand up up for important things; lacking principles

3) As weak

If you add to this expediency the perceived willingness of North American managers to move on to promote their careers (and share this motive so freely), one can understand that the background for a lot of trust issues-which lead to feelings of uncertainty in remote sites, causing a lot of political maneuvering “to find someone in HQ who we can rely on”.

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Apologizing the wrong way: case study (revised)

Very innovate Israel based companies deploy projects and products in a very aggressive time frame, often months before competing development centres manage to do so.

The speed of development and deployment  is enabled by “speed as strategy”,  a developed work ethic (there is no work life balance in Israel in the high tech sector),  flexibility, high tolerance for risk,  and less importance attached to the formalism of planning and documentation

Wouldn’t you know it, but often these newly released products and releases are often buggy and need to be cleansed and purified on the customer site once deployed.

So, while the customer gets the competitive value he asked for quickly, the customer is furious what is perceived as the “sloppiness” and “poor finish”, the very attributes which enabled the Israeli vendor to deploy so quickly.

With well known thick skin stemming from the entrepreneurial  spirit, augmented by Israeli chutzpah (gall/cheek), the Israeli developers can take the heat well and fix the bugs quickly. However, a problem can arise when the Israeli supplier is asked to apologize, especially in SEA and Japan.

There is an expectation in many parts of SEA and Japan that an apology will express humility and remorse. The client wants to see that the vendor is truly sorry and ashamed.

The Israel vendor will apologize in a matter of fact statement and then, the Israeli will get to the perceived important part: explain the root causes and what will be done. Example: “I am sorry about bug 240. However, it is not revenue impacting. The bug stems the difference between the R&D development environment and the environment in tyour  site, and engineer Itai (m) will do 9000 hours of testing and stay here for a month; it should be fine; don’t worry.”

This explanation is seen as remorse-free ; it often aggravates the client even more than the bug itself.

The Israeli wants to apologize for the deficiency  itself and explain the cause, and the client wants to see the pain of remorse and regret!

I have spent hundreds of hours explaining this to Israeli vendors. It is an uphill run, because the essence of the innovative personality is generally numb about such matters.

One client of mine was forced by his distributor to hire someone (me) to “improve apology skills”.

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Engineering Sandbagging and Culture

Sandbagging is a method of managing the expectations of peers and managers by giving estimates well below the “doable”. When better results are achieved, the individual shines.

One reason that explains some of the sandbagging in the engineering world is universal: management makes hallucinatory aggressive commitments to demanding customers;  engineers respond with gloom to protect themselves from working 6 months with no weekends as well as a means of procuring engineering resources from overly zealous management.

There are additional cultural factors impacting how and why people sandbag. I shall illustrate 4 examples and provide the recommended choice of managerial action for each case.

1) An Israeli engineer will sandbag because everything is a negotiation, all the time. The planning process itself is seen as a negotiation in which middle ground is reached. The recommended choice of managerial action is to negotiate, long and hard, and then sign the Israeli off on his commitment.

2) An Indian engineer will sandbag via negotiation, but  differently than his Israeli counterpart. The Indian will initially agree to what he has been tasked with, yet as the project progresses, he will surface obstacles and barriers to meeting the deadline. Like the Israeli, the Indian negotiates but in instalments. The recommended choice of managerial action is to work closely with the engineer, not allowing too much time to pass before he “updates you” the commitment he made is passé.

3) A Thai engineer will sandbag is a unique fashion. If he knows you very well, you will get an accurate answer. However, if you are remote and not close to the Thai, he will tell you something that he thinks you want to hear. Then, via gossip or via telling other people, he will sandbag to save his own face in the case of delays. It may come to you from a 3rd party in the form of :“Boss, Khun Sumchai told me that his commitments are very optimistic”. The recommended choice of managerial action is to try to build up a personal and trusting relationship with the Thai to get real (not klenjai –outwardly pleasing) answers.

3) An American engineer will sandbag expediently (in order not to damage his career)  by questioning the planning assumptions again and again, or wearing out the manager by overdoing on ritualistic planning. This will be followed by an apparent, half baked commitment basked in nice language like “we’ll do our best”. The recommended choice of managerial action is to ask “what is realistic”, without delving into planning overdose.

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Commitments to customers and culture-a case study

1 Goal of this post:

The goal of the case is to illustrate how people from different cultures approach the issue of dealing with making an aggressive commitment to demanding customers.

2 The customer:

The customer is a utility provider in Asia. The customer is requesting a feature which will allow households to monitor the air pollution in their home using a cell phone application, and send the data to a central data bank, enabling corrective action by the authorities.

The president of the utility has demanded that “go-live” day is in 6 months, to coincide with the Provincial Premier’s visit to the capital city of a certain province.

If everything goes well and deployment happens in 6 months, the  CEO of this utility will look very good, and more important, the Premier will  look even better.

3-The potential vendors:

Fred is the CEO of Freddy and Sons, a US based firm, which develops software for Green Environments.

Gal is the CEO of Gal and Sons, a Tel Aviv based firm, which develops software for Green Environments.

4-How does Fred handle the situation?

Fred has devoted over 400 hours analysing the contingencies.Fred has learned that even in the best case scenario, the software will be 3 months late.

Fred will now put together a very detailed plan, and then meet with the customer and try to change the timetable, or reduce the scope of what can be delivered, all this will be done in a spirit of transparency.

Fred does not want to surprise the customer and he certainly does not want an unhappy customer.

This utility is in a very large country, and the last thing Fred wants to do is tarnish his firms’ reputation.

4-How does Gal handle the situation?

Gal met with the customer and said: “we can do it”. “We can start tomorrow”, said Gal to the elated customer, who was waiting for a dithering Fred.

Gal’s “plan” is to push his people hard and see what can be done.

Gal believes the client knows he is “over-buying” (asking for something that cannot be done) and Gal believes that the client knows that Gal is “over selling”, ie, making impossible commitments.

Gal plans to build a very close relationship with the client, and if and when Gal cannot deliver what he promised, “something” will be improvised that will ensure everyone looks good. Gal has in mind three or four pyrotechnical displays which will titillate the Premier on his visit. Gal believes that the time to plan is when the crisis is upon him, NOT now as work gets underway.

5-What are Fred’s assumptions?

Customers need to be satisfied; plans enable control; transparency pays off; long term more important that short term.

6-What are Gal’s assumptions?

Customers need to be managed; plans may cripple survival, transparency can be counterproductive or idiotic; short term survival more important than the “long term”.

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Waiting till the consulting market gets better is useless-ask yourself 4 questions to ensure relevancy

Samuel Beckett’s play “en attendant Godot” (Waiting for Godot) is about people waiting for someone who never shows up. The play illustrates that while meaning may exist in the world, we human beings are not too good in discovering it. It is not strange that Beckett’s genre is the Theatre of the Absurd.

OD consultants are waiting for the market to improve. The goal of this short post is to show absurd this is, and propose an alternative.

In one of my previous posts this week, I focused on the growing irrelevance of OD as currently practised. This irrelevance has caused a drop in demand for Organisational Development. Add to this, the universities keep churning out OD consultants at an alarming rate. Perhaps (in Israel where I live) we may soon have more OD consultant than lawyers, or even more OD consultants than Middle East “experts”.

With the lessening of demand and the growth of supply, there is not only a problem on the horizon, it’s here.

The OD consultants who are waiting for the clouds to pass over and waiting for the economy to improve need to wake up and smell the coffee. Godot never comes. The cheese has moved. OD is moving forward, not going back.

What is to be done instead of Waiting for Godot?

OD consultants get work if they are relevant.

Here are 4 questions  you need to ask yourself (and have superb answers) to be remain relevant , which will ensure a backlog of work.


1) What relevant value do I need to provide to enable effective functioning in a global organizational configuration? What are the situations of global organizing which clients can come to me to solve?


2) From which beliefs do I need to divest, i.e. present beliefs  which limit my relevance and make me sound absurd?


3) Since OD services do not have universal appeal, upon whom should I be focusing on to provide the value I create?

Reputation and Position

4) How do I build my position as a content expert (not only facilitator) in the domain in which I work?

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