You may want to build a contingency plan in case Employee Engagement fails

From academic journals to blogs and Twitter, employee engagement is a hot topic.

Practical as well as fuzzy ideas and tool kits are available to get your workforce engaged; in short, the full Monty is at your disposal.

My suggestion both to management as well as to fellow consultants is to hedge your bets and make a backup plan about what happens if employees will no longer engage, as appears to be the case in several cases.

There are many reasons why employees are not as engaged as in the past:

  • employees know they will be “shot at dawn” at the drop of a dime to make the numbers look good;
  • engagement is often manipulated by management and HR to get more for less,
  • work processes totally dominated by technology subjugate employees to mindlessly “servicing the software”.
  • the virtual work place is not all that engaging; relationships are superficial as well as highly annoying and the work place has become a political cesspool.

Furthermore, it is clear in many instances that engagement which leads to loyalty may not be all that desirable to management, because management needs to pay more. So yes, the perception of engagement is “engage until you cost too much”.

So since people are not stupid when it comes to the skin on their ass, I believe employee engagement may become a thing of the past.

As engagement becomes passé, there needs to be a whole new set of assumptions about how to manage.

Two examples will suffice. I have a client who runs a wedding hall. 15% of his waiters can quit during work because they gets a Whats-app about a party, or some other happening! So there are more buffets and less waiters. And I also have a client has had to structure work so that churn will impact the firm less, following the introduction of a cost saving yet “dumbing” software.

The words we use are often words on management and OD are often from a managerial perch. (History is written by the victor)  However, from a non managerial point of view, is engagement the right word to describe what management is looking for? Perhaps, in some cases; in other cases management wants self sacrifice at low cost without a mutual commitment. Sounds like a “pleasant hallucination” to me.

I believe that we are migrating to a model of employee as subcontractor. I see that all around me in terms of attitude and mindset, albeit not yet in structure. In such a reality, focusing on outdated Pravda-like campaigns to raise employee engage is not the brightest idea around.

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On organizational leniency

Case One: Einat comes to work late 15 minutes a day; her lunch break lasts longer than anyone else’s. No one has ever said a word.

Case Two: This month, Ori ordered a $40000 spare part circumventing Supply Chain. He does this from time to time. His boss emails him to “try to avoid” this type of behaviour.

Case Three: Zeev always waits till the very last minute to order his plane tickets, so that he will have a more expensive ticket and thus be eligible for an upgrade. Since Zeev travels a lots, nothing is said.

This post is a short case study on organizational leniency, IE, showing more tolerance than expected when things do not go well.

All government agencies are very lenient towards their employees; unionized shops can breed a type of leniency which leads to decay, and crony capitalism breeds a great deal of leniency which leads to economic catastrophes. In this post, I am NOT referring to the above types of examples.

Rather, I am referring to organizations in the private sector which are not unionized and where there is no crony capitalism, yet nevertheless leniency is displayed in the face of gross malfunction.

The case I will describe is the unique leniency of Israeli organizations.

A-What does this leniency look like?

1-The reticence to fire people unless absolutely necessary. Although this norm has changed since 2008, Israelis hang on to excess people much longer than North American organizations would.
2-“We are all guilty” syndrome. In other words, individual accountability is downplayed and to use an Americanism, it is very rare to “hold someone’s feet to the fire” due to an error. The ownership of malfunctions is very obtuse.
3) Working around a problem instead of fixing it.

B-Reasons for leniency

1) Having been the victim of aggression for so many centuries, there is a tendency internally not to “pin” anything on anyone and scapegoat.
2) There is a deep belief that if an organization is not lenient, creativity and commitment will wane.
3) Because life in Israel is very challenging, there is an expectation not to “throw people to dogs” just because of a work related error.
4) For many centuries while scattered all over the world, we learnt how to learn the system and “work it”. It was not our system. There is still lingering unwillingness to “be the system”.

C-Value of the leniency

1) More risk taking at work
2) Better team work
3) Lots of creativity

D-Damage of the leniency

1) Due to lack of consequence, there is corrosion of responsibility and accountability
2) The development of a “so what” attitude in the case of inappropriate staffing
3) Corrective action takes a long time because things need to get very bad to end the lenience.

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When creativity is applied inappropriately.

I live in a country with a very high level of creativity; there are thousands of start-ups in Israel. Many have performed exits and probably no one reading this post has not been exposed to Israeli technology (Waze, Viber, eg.)

The starts ups are fuelled by massive creativity, lack of discipline, lack of process, all of which enables looking at problems differently. Anyone who has ever worked or visited corporate Israel knows that meetings go on and on, with endless digression and associative thought, often resulting in either great solutions or total chaos.

The value of the creativity is innovation; the price of the innovative mindset is the lack of scalability, and the inability to solve simple problems, because simple problems requires routine. In other words, there are severe  limits to innovation if inappropriately applied.

In the last few days, there is an illustrative example of the inappropriate application of creativity.  Israel suffers from a horrendous housing shortage. Many politicians have attempted to solve this issue, but  very few politicians have ever suggested building more houses. The assumption is that via changes in taxation, this housing problem can be “outsmarted”. And of course, it cannot be. There is a SIMPLE supply and demand issue. But that’s too simple!

In the end, more houses will need to be built, yet this very obvious solution will be implemented only when every other alternative has been applied.

This  small example illustrates innovation, inappropriately applied. The housing shortage will continue due to a refusal to do the obvious. When inappropriately applied in business, poor use of innovation means loss of control, due to inability to scale via doing the obvious.

While I do follow politics, I have no personal political involvement whatsoever, and this post should not be misunderstood as taking a political stance.

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Corporate culture cannot bridge acute cultural differences (revised)

It may appear well defined corporate culture can serve as a bridge over the stormy waters of acutely different cultures in the global organization. This is not necessarily the case.

Now let’s get this straight. There is a lot to be said for providing a shared context, shared values and a common set of behavioural guidelines. However, in order to ensure that this culture is not administered inappropriately, it is critical to ensure that the limitations of the culture are acknowledged. Paradoxically, it is only when these limitations are recognized that the corporate culture is most effective.

Here are some examples of behaviours which cannot be changed by one shared culture.

  • When a culture prefers discretion to transparencydiscretion will reign.
  • When age dictates seniorityyounger managers will not be respected.
  • When delegation is seen as abdication, managers will be centralistic.
  • Where loyalty to boss reigns supremeteamwork in the western sense will falter.
  • When people prefer relationships to process, process will remain “on paper

Even if elevators, screen savers, bulletin boards, management training sessions, and other “enablers” push and promulgate such artifacts as transparency, teamwork, delegation,  process adherence, the impact of these efforts may be negative, because the culture quickly becomes a theocratic dictate. How does this happen?

Instead of acknowledging the limitations  of corporate culture, the corporate culture is often positioned like tenets of a religious creed by over-zealous HR managers and training staff, and then shoved down (or up) the appropriate body orifice of the staff with the passion of a CFO making budget cuts. This breeds deep scepticism and cynicism.

I work in the most acute diversity one can imagine and come from a very diverse personal background. My experience has taught me that deep relationships, cultural humility and a global mindset are as important if not more, than a set of artifacts in addressing the cultural differences in global organizing.

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What is a Global Literacy? (updated)

In the spirit or brevity, I have put together a very short list of components which constitute “global literacy”, i.e., the ability to be fluent and effective in the acutely diverse global workplace. This list is based on my observations of highly effective managers in the global work place.

  1. Understand where other attitudes and behaviour different from your own come from due to an awareness of the limitations of your own culture
  2. Non-judgmental about how things get done
  3. Ability to build personal trust to transcend differences
  4. Ability to mitigate the imposition of your own cultural preferences. (like: be open)
  5. Behavioural and attitudinal flexibility to work with people and teams whose major shared domain is that they are different
  6. Ability to shelter global staff from corporate absurdities whilst inculcating central values and behaviours which cannot be compromised/

This is the focus of ALL the coaching/consulting that I do with teams and individuals who need to acquire global literacy. My experience is that very little falls outside this list.

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #3 “Support Centre” for Organizational Life

Posted on March 8, 2014

This is the third of 3 posts to illustrate that OD is not passé.

While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and organizations do not value people as much as before thus weakening OD’s value proposition, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

The first situation I described was  New Product Introduction. The second  post related  to use of OD to relay intent in cases where cultural obstacles prevent dialogue.

This post will examine in brief OD practitioners greatest added value: as a “support centre” helping people think and act in organizational life.

The essence of this support is working with managers on their understanding of their cognitive/emotional organizational assumptions, serve as a reality check for  perceptions of organizational  meaning and context, “think through”  alternatives of action,examine the management of risk/opportunities and work on issues stemming from organizational politics.

Here are some of the reasons why many Organization Development practitioners do not provide  this service.

  • OD practitioners have not all been trained to do so.
  • The misplaced focus of OD practitioners  on OD products has detracted from the ability to focus on less structured  support for  “thinking”.
  • It is very hard (impossible) to market  this service.
  • Providing this type support does not create scalable revenue. Senior OD people cannot delegate this type of work to new college graduates and clip a coupon. It simply cannot be done. So this type of work means that the senior OD practitioner need to continue to consult, not manage.
  • The results of this type of work cannot be measured, thus creating a battle between the OD consultant with the organization’s procurement  department and the Gloria’s of the world.

Nevertheless I believe that is where the value of OD is.

On a personal note, when I look at the types of people I work with well, they are/have been highly intelligent people who seek out “someone smart” with whom to talk. I have never worked well with someone who wants a product. For the life of me, I do not even know what an OD product is, although I see all the “brush salespeople” peddling them all over the place.

To conclude this series….is OD passé? In Hebrew we use a double negative: לא ולא which means absolutely not (no and no). While the use of OD is less universal than it was, OD is highly applicable in special situations with the right clients.

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #2 Relay of Intent

This the second of 3 posts to illustrate that OD is not passé.

While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and people are not as valued as they used to, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding. The first situation I described was  New Product Introduction.

This post relates to use of OD to relay intent in cases where cultural obstacles prevent dialogue.

Due to globalization and speed as strategy, people from extraordinary different cultural assumptions need to work together. Use of the English language has enabled people to understand the words (as it were), but they  certainly do not understand the intent of one another in many cases. Many of the obstacles faced in the global workplace are insurmountable without a 3rd party who helps each side “relay intent”.

While culture training purports to educate people to one another’s sensitivities, relay of intent is an on-line translation service, yet the translation is the translation of intent.

Here is an example, with intent  in red. The 3 parties are:  American Fred (Head of Sales), Thai Som (Regional Head of Sales) and Israeli Moshe (Regional Head of Sales)

Fred: Hi guys. Can we discuss what Q2 looks like until now?  I am getting some mixed signals. What’s really going on with Q2? Don’t surprise me.

Moshe: We are waiting for technical pre sales material. Fred, can you update us? Fred, you do your job and I will do mine.

Som: There are several important client visits planned, even though our market is driven by costs. The product is too expensive; nothing is happening.

In order to do translation of intent, the OD consultant must

  • understand all cultures s/he deal with, so that the message can be relayed in a way which relays maximum intent and.does minimal damage 
  • have business domain knowledge
  • build trust with all sides to do this grisly work Smile
  • understand when direct dialogue is possible and when a 3rd party is necessary.

Unlike most consultants, I believe direct dialogue in some cases hurts business, especially when speed is strategy. Direct dialogue  has too many obstacles when the speed of  business is mission critical.




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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #1 New Product Introduction

There is an constant and frankly non constructive dialogue that goes on about whether or not OD is passé. 

The answer is that OD is definitely not passé although it is not as widely commissioned as it used to be. While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and people are not as valued as they used to, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

In the next three posts, I shall outline 3 special situations where the added value of OD is overwhelming.

The first special situation is New Product Introduction.

1) Typically, a new product goes from R&D to Engineering and then to Process Engineering and Production Engineering, which are in Operations. (There can be lots of variance to this, clearly.)

2) The more complex the product  is, and the faster the organization is moving, the transition as described above is anything but smooth. Operations wants a plug and play product kit, while  R&D wants to wash their hands of the dog food and move onto the next invention, with Operations left to fill in the blanks.

Add to this that  products do not flow smoothly along; they often move one step backs and then two steps forwards etc.,  until problems are defined and solved.

3) Add complexity of different geographies and cultures, this is a perfect cess pool for OD. Smile

4) The most frequently made mistakes that managers and change managers make is to try to define the process more clearly. This attempt to `define away complexity`is what my late Dad used to call pissing into the wind. And I grew up in Quebec where the wind is mighty strong. Mais oui! There is no way that this process can be perfectly defined.

5) Another frequently made mistake is to put too much focus on Gating and Handshakes in the process. It is simply more complicated than setting up a Customs-Douane at every `station“ on the way, especially given the time to market pressure.

6) New Product Introduction is enabled by teamwork, sharing of risks and overlapping responsibility. This is a classic domain where nothing beats the effectiveness of OD. Not even outdoor training or a motivational speaker. Smile

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The inability of Israeli organizations to scale innovation

There are endless examples of Israel based companies that innovate and yet fail to leverage and scale their innovation.

As a result, these innovative companies are sold, most often to US based firms who scale the innovations and make the big bucks, leaving only R&D center in Israel, which may  become downgraded to a continuous engineering site.

This short post looks at the reason that this happens.

1) Innovative people tell customers what they need.

I cannot count the number of times I have seen real creative guys kicking themselves in the ass by explaining to the potential customer how wrong they are in what they asking for, followed by an very detailed explanation of “real needs”. Routinely these companies overplay technical presales and underplay the importance of building communication based on respect for the client.

2) Innovative people misuse creativity because they cannot follow routine

Once an innovation has been cranked out, leveraging this innovation needs lots of rigour and disciplined routine to create scalability. Often, an organization that has used its creativity to develop a breakthrough will misuse this creativity to try and “reinvent” the routine necessary to scale the innovation.

It is not unfair to say that Israeli have no problem doing the impossible but have a horrible time of carrying out routine tasks. Scalability is based on disciplined repeated routine.

3) Innovative people are often very arrogant, and very hard to deal with.

And this arrogance and lack of acceptance of the limits of the human endeavour is exactly what enables the innovative mindset. Over the years I have seen some of my brightest clients wiped off the map because they knew not only  how to invent, but they also knew how to do everyone’s job better, which clearly backfires at  the stage when innovation needs to be linked to a growth platform by leveraging on someone else’s capabilities.

4) Israelis have invented great technology, yet the type of organizations which have been created is Israel not a scalable platform to leverage success. In other word, the Israelis developed technology which can be scaled, but Israeli organizational life cannot be scaled. This topic is too elaborate for this post, so I will just illustrate briefly.

  1. Israeli organizations tend to commit aggressively, yet are overly tolerant and  non-punitive, causing frequent sudden system crashes. (The implosion of the Israeli police force and IDB are good examples.)
  2. Structure, rules and processes are ignored, and in lieu of these, a “network” of relationships serves as the motor of getting things done, very similar to Chinese organizations.
  3. Israelis talk all at once, argue all the time, and the level of apparent conflict is very high….. except it is not seen as such IF you are an insider.

Thus, it is very hard for Israeli organization to go global and all so often, even after they have moved their corporate HQ address to the States, they get acquired because while the technology can be scaled,  the organization cannot be scaled as run.

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Developing Political Intelligence about an organization (revised)

In January 2014,  past year, I began a series of short posts illustrating how to get executives to  develop  better political awareness.

In a widely read post in this series, I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

The goal of these posts has not been to prescribe behaviour, rather to illustrate a gamut of frequently observed political behaviours, both positive and negative. It is my belief that in the same way that young kids should not learn sex from watching porn stars, neither should young managers learn organizational politics by being screwed, or by listening to some idealistic consultant or coach describe organizational life as it “should” be.

This is final post series. In this post, I will relate to 5 question that should be addressed upon entering a new organization and/or a new role.

The answers to these 5 questions provide a  guide for a street-smart “initiation” into the inevitable political web that will encountered  in all organizations post 2008.

1) Who comprises the “power elite”?  This elite may be managers, board members, assistants,  wives, mistresses, technical heroes,etc.

2) What is the dominant way that executives really get things done? It may be lobbying, looking good, overpromising, being exact, being vague, serving someone’s agenda etc..

3) What does the organization really award? It may be ass-licking, innovation, blind loyalty, conservatism, heroism, not standing out etc.

4) What is the main gap between what the organization says it does, and what it really does? For example, it says it values service, but it really emphasis low cost of service and “slogan-ism”. This is probably the most important question of all.

5)To what extent are budgeting and planning exercises real and transparent ? Many very political organizations go thru budgeting and planning as ceremonies to please stakeholders, but in reality, the plans are not real and budgeting is an anthropological ceremony.

In the political coaching that I do with my clients, I tend to focus on 5 and 2.

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