It is common place for organization consultants to deal with the disconnect between the top layer of management and the rest of the organization.
This disconnect is characterized by a totally differing view of what is transpiring as well as what needs to be done to better cope with challenging external and internal realities.
Example: CEO Paul believes that the new software release must get to market within 3 months. His entire staff believes that nothing market-worthy can be developed in such a time frame and the minimal required time for development is half a year. CEO Fred believes that his sales force lacks motivation and has no passion to win whilst the Sales staff believes that Fred is out of his fucking mind and in total denial of product under-performance.
I have been lucky enough to have consulted many very senior managers of mid size and large size companies. Some of them have been very disconnected from what is going on in the trenches. I am sharing with you what I see as the major reasons why they appear to be disconnected.
- They feign to be disconnected but they are not. They know what is going on and want to squeeze the lemon as much as possible. Managers like this are very well paid and have a wonder golden parachute if they fail.
- They truly do not know what is going on because they manage by fear, and have surrounded themselves with staff who tell them what they want to hear.
- They are grossly incompetent and do not understand what is going on. Often it is hard to believe this when you see it, but it does happen and not infrequently.
- They come from the world of Sales, so the solution of problems is spin and more spin, and they believe in their own bullshit.
- They are ideological optimists who systematically ignore or pass over bad news.
- They believe that they know something that no one else knows, like “our competition is doing no better and we just need to outlast them”.
- They have political backing of the board, so that they can outlast most failures and push the blame to someone/something else.
Each type of disconnect has a different protocol for OD intervention, and on this will come further posts.
However, a word of caution to young optimistic consultants. Very often, if it looks and feels and smells like incompetence, it is. And this type of finding cannot be “od-ed” away.
I make an effort to read a lot. At present I am reading 3 books: I am listening to an audio book of the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes; I am reading a Korean novel “Pachinko” and finishing off (for the second time) Dr Christine’s Montross book on severe mental illness, “Falling into the Fire”.
The truth is that whilst I read for my own enjoyment, reading has brought value to me as a professional. Reading is great enabler for starting a conversation. Books and stories provide wonderful metaphors with which to work. And let’s not forget that literature preceded psychology as a way to understanding human behaviors.
I no longer read OD related material. I find it pretty much useless…..for too mechanistic or detached from organizational reality as I know it. I am amazed at how so little I have learned from OD professional literature.
On the other hand, some of the books I have read provide great insight for those of us interested in change. For example, “Iron Gustav” by Hans Fallada, should be a must read for people interested in OD.
Reading also improves my attention span, serving as a counter weight to digital distraction. And an increased attention span is a critical skill to my getting things right, as opposed to reacting to the last input that passed my way.
Over the years, the OD practitioner has been degraded from being a well informed and practical intellectual who serves as a sparing partner, to become a technician cum quack, administering various standard tools and peddling snake oil cures. So for me, reading keeps my horizons not only deep, but wide. For me, reading is the great mother of context and thus meaning.
Professor Arlie Hochschild’s book “Strangers in their Own Land” brilliantly describes the bitterness that certain Louisianian Tea Party supporters believe when they are told that what they believe is less important that what they should believe. The book also spells out the historical, cultural and religious consistency of a world view wary of government intervention.
Personally, I am a liberal, secular and left of center. This having been said, the world view of the rightists described by Hochschild enabled me to look at my own set of beliefs in context, as well as enabled me to understand “the other” world view as an integrated and respectable whole, and not as a set of psychiatric symptoms stemming from ignorance and having been overly Bible bashed.
I wonder how many organization consultants spend their time helping management to get employees to change their belief systems, perhaps via such things as engagement programs. And I wonder how many consultants work with dysfunctional teams, “plying” the importance of cooperation and transparency. Just how much time does our profession spend telling people what they should be thinking!
My personal take away from Hochschild’s book is the need for OD practitioners to develop an effective “over the empathetic wall” understanding of various belief systems within an organization. Perhaps once that empathy exists, most of the change happens itself.
Case study-CEO Mike called in an OD consultant 3 months after a key customers’ business was lost due the premature release of a product which had caused a system 2 hour outage of all ATMs in a city of 4 million people. Mike had had to fire 10% of his employees and cut benefits in order to survive. Mike wants the OD consultant to “support managements’ efforts to a “back to business as usual mode”, after having implemented a lesson learned cycle. Now, how would YOU do this project without getting people to believe something else, different from what they believe?
CEO Morris send me a Whatsapp ; “Hey Allon, the management meeting this week went exceptionally well. It came up several times that you Allon ask the right questions. Thanks Morrie”. In this particular organization, I had merely interviewed 6 out of the 15 members of the senior management team.
My guess is that some cynics may ask why I even bother writing a post about placebo effects of organization development. Tangible, real effects of organization development are very real, yet are immune to standard measuring instruments. So why worry about leveraging placebo effects for our very uncertain profession?
The reason for this post is that I do believe that the placeo effect is one of the best medications ever invented. And when the placebo effect is transferred to OD, it can indeed be leveraged to create a perception of change, which serves as a platform for other more tangible changes.
So now to be practical, I want to spell out a few ideas on how to go about creating the placebo effect of an organization development process.
- Price your services high. It is easy to be dissatisfied with a consultant who charges $80 an hour; it is much harder to be unhappy who charges quadruple that amount.
- If your project is controlled by an HR manager, there is a good chance that few people will want to make the project shine. The HR manager will more often than not try and control the project, which positions OD as a commodity. However, if OD is owned by the CEO, it needs to look good, almost by definition.
- Never negotiate fees with Procurement. If fees are negotiated, procurement will made it well known than they “chipped off” x% of your fee. And that is not very conducive to a service producing a placebo affect.
- Avoid long sessions which can be judged as “success” or “failures”. In other words, don’t hand the executioner the rope. Work in smaller, shorter sessions, placing the burden on the client and not on your showmanship,