Over the years, I have worked with clients who have verbally disagreed with ideas with which I presented them, yet implemented these very ideas as if there had been no verbal disagreement.I can give hundreds of examples but one will suffice.
Example: CEO Herb told me that CFO Garry undermines him in management meetings. I suggested to Herb that he co-opt Garry into planning these meetings together. Herb disagreed yet a month later, I walked into Herb’s office and there sat Herb and Garry planning a management meeting.
I believe that there are several explanations for this phenomenon
- Change happens somewhat chaotically. So this phenomenon may not have a clear reason.
- Face saving. This behaviour allows the client to face save and not rely on “tips” from a consultant. This may be true, but it is too easy an explanation.
- Herb thinks he is tricking Garry, not co-opting him. So the consultants’ idea is being implemented but within a different context.
- People who get to the top learn to take credit for themselves without even realizing it. So Herb may not know how to manage Garry, but he sure knows how to manage the consultant!
- In the process of learning, there is a pro versus con, “back and forth” dynamic in the thinking process of the client. Herb’s choice may have developed after the “no” and Herb had not bothered updating the consultant.
- Clients often say things and do the opposite.
I am sure that all readers know that there are clients who feign implementation….but that is the next post.
There is an expression in Arabic, “live a lot and you’ll see a lot.” (Ish ktir-betshuf ktir)
I am approaching my 67th birthday and that is a long time on the road; perhaps now is the time to share a few of the very strange things that have taken place during my career.
I was invited to meet with an investor who was very disappointed by the results of the startup in which he had invested. He was about to cut funding in half, but before he did so, “I wanted to ask you if you know how to double the productivity of the staff who will remain after they downsize by 60%”.
A CEO told me that I was to report only to him. “However, make sure that HR is in the loop so that she does not walk out on me”. Therefore, I set up a monthly meeting to update HR. The HR manager called me 2 seconds after I set up the monthly meeting to bellow at me that “I want a daily report on your progress. Not monthly, not weekly, but daily.” People who read my satiric blog are well aware of the “daily” term.
I was sent to Seoul to interview 12 people because of the low level of communication between the Seoul group, the Toronto HQ and R&D in Tel Aviv. The local manager (Canadian) warned me that “their English ain’t to good Allon, so instead of 60 minutes per person, I gave you an hour of a half. And I’ll arrange them in order of their English language skills”. After the first interview, I told the manager that I did not understand one word. And he told me, “she’s the best English language speaker we have”. He was right. And you know what, it’s hard to get an Advil for a migraine in a Seoul pharmacy.
The commercialization and productization of OD (as performed by magicians or wonder-consultants) has masked some of the real issues that an OD practitioner faces. The OD “vendors” are reticent to discuss the hardest issues they face, like a surgeon who does not want to discuss how many died under his or her knife.
This is not a blog written to promote my profession, so I allow myself to deal with the “dirt under the finger nails”. So……
Strategies for dealing with very difficult organizational problems which are almost insoluble are the subject of this post.
First I shall illustrate two such problems.
- A senior team has been in place for 12 years with more or less the same leaders. They are located in 3 continents. There is a low level of transparency, very poor teamwork, and having worked together for so long, there is a lot of mutual contempt. The company that they run is very profitable.
- There is constant bad blood between Customer Service and Development teams. Due to market conditions, a company has released a very immature product to the market, against the recommendation of the Development Team. The clients are furious. Customer Service does not know how to handle customer complaints, so they demand that the Development Team deal with the customers. The developers refuse to see customer demanding that management must “give us time to write the bloody code, not deal with customers who are justifiably angry.”
Now let’s look at a few strategies.
First there is a matter of mindset.
- The superman “I can fix it all” mindset which many snake oil consultants use leads to nowhere, except great revenue for the consultant.
- The mindset of impotence and despair, whilst rationally justified perhaps, obviously makes no sense. The appropriate mindset is being pragmatic, avoid wow-wowing to maintain credibility and risk mitigation.
Now let’s address the question of how much intervention is needed. My suggestion is that for very difficult organizational problems, the best intervention is of low intensity spread over a long time, as opposed to intense happenings, like a quarterly offsite.
The role of the consultant in such a mess is primum non nocere (“foremost do no harm”. ) Great damage can be inflicted by applying snake oil to severe problems. For example, a teamwork session for the senior team mentioned above is counter-indicated.
I also suggest a focus on containment of pain with compassion and humour, if possible addressing issues whilst managing appropriate expectations and keeping things from getting much worse.