Why don’t Israelis value planning?

The Israeli disdain for planning is legendary. It has been suggested that Israelis know how to extract themselves from situations which they could have avoided via basic foresight. Many Israelis would agree, but planning takes a back seat to doing and fixing it later. Lack of planning is not exactly only a ‘lack”; it is a disdain.

The goal of this post is to suggest root causes as to the cultural preference to do without planning. Following is some standard Israeli logic about planning.

  1. When speed is strategy, planning is seen as a luxury. And in Israel, speed indeed is strategy.
  2. The culture is of risk taking, and punitive measures following failure are relatively rare. So planning is not perceived as a necessity.
  3. Planning is something that “they” should do; then we can outsmart them.
  4. The environment is not predictable; we can only adapt to changes of the world around us, so planning can encourage rigidity.
  5. One needs to do a little bit of planning all the time, The best time to plan is after doing. At that point, some thought can be given to planning. Then, continue doing. Subsequently,  all planning decisions made in planning can be reopened, since all decisions are reversible.
  6. If we plan too much we may become too predicable and transparent, we can be fooled.
  7. Relying on systematic planning is far less reliable that relying on human ingenuity.
  8. Lack of planning can be compensated for by tightly knit team work of high performers and constant and intense communication.

I have worked with countless America, German, Dutch and Canadian managers who have tried to get the Israelis whom they manage to plan more. It is a hard uphill run.


Frequent follow up, trust and culture

Lee  is the Tel Aviv based manager of Paul (USA), Lars (Denmark) and Shaul (Tel Aviv).

Lee has asked all of her three direct reports to submit a report within 2 weeks detailing all known risks in the next two quarters. These risks are to be discussed at a critical meeting with investors in one month.

Lee is very anxious; on one hand the risks must be transparent, because any big surprise will mean her ass is on the line. On the other hand, too much risk may mean the end of funding. As a result of the pressure she is under, Lee has not been sleeping well, so she decides to call all three almost on a daily basis to see how their risk analysis report is coming along.

Shaul has no problem with Lee’s frequent follow up. It is a sign that she cares. As a result of Lee’s intensive follow up. Shaul and Lee have had some interesting chats which have shed light on risks that are more red herrings than real risks.

Lars resents daily follow up. He feels that Lee may not trust him; Lee’s style projects the constant hounding he feels from his anxiety driven pushy boss. Lars is working very hard on his document and plans to get it to her before schedule, especially if she leaves him alone.

Paul wishes that his former boss James had not been replaced by Lee when James quit. James trusted people, or replaced them. But Paul has worked with Israeli managers before. He knows that they love to dig into the details. He also knows that Lee trusts him. He also recognizes that Lee is stressed out. So when Lee calls Paul to follow up, Paul asks Lee how high her blood pressure is, and then asks her if she wants to fly over to San Francisco ‘and do my work instead of me’. Lee lays off nagging for a while, but wishes that Paul was “not so American”.

Frequent follow up can generate a feeling of mistrust on the part of the employee. But also frequent follow up can indicate caring and generate informal dialogue. Often frequent follow up is a sign that the manager is under a feel of stress.

I am sure that some people are asking themselves, ‘how can frequent follow up indicate caring?’ It goes like this. The boss give you a task, you have many tasks. You may think, does the boss really want this done? Is she/he serious about this?  The boss nags. Now my priorities are clear. I need to do it. And I will use the frequent nagging to my benefit to discuss the issues with her. That will prevent rework of my report.

Got it? 🙂 If not, keep reading my blog. Merci!


Competency trumps culture and gender

Recently a CEO hired me to sit in on 5 meetings of his senior management team. The team consists of executives from the USA, Canada, France, Israel, Singapore and Tokyo. There are both men and women in this team; the men tend to be older than the women.

The CEO was surprised when I shared my findings. He had expected that I would discuss the dynamic whereby a certain younger female US based executive constantly criticizes Asia based managers on their lack of transparency. He also expected to hear from me about the poor communication, which is rooted in the vast cultural differences.

My feedback related to the gap between the professional competency of the staff. Clearly, there were team members who were highly experienced and professional, and others who did not know the difference between their ass and their elbow. Two examples will suffice; one female executive had no answers whatsoever to questions she was asked and constantly asked to “check with my people and get back to you”.  One male executive used empty slogans to address complex problems, claiming that “if we just get on the same page, we can tackle the problem, as a team”.

My suggestion to consultants is as follows: cultural and gender differences are important, all things being equal. Things in this case being competence. If there is a huge variance in levels of competence, culture and gender may appear important, but they aren’t. Nothing trumps competence.


Israel based Daniel, head of research and development, constantly locks horns with US based CFO Jeanette in management meetings. Daniel claims that Jeanette needs to learn what questions to ask; he refuses to answer any question without first cutting her down.

Jeanette came from an investment bank and clearly does not yet understand the intricacies of budgeting R&D.  Furthermore Jeanette does not have her hands on the steering wheel; she is “fed” by an Israel based accountant who basically deals with authorizing purchase requests. The problem indeed is Jeanette’s competency, not Daniel’s style nor Jeanette’s gender.



Opinions and facts in global organizations

Some but not  all people, distinguish carefully between facts and opinions; for these people there is a time to understand and a time to make a form an opinion.

For other people, stakes (opinions) are put in the ground  after which appropriate facts are sought out to support the opinion. For such people, all the facts, or the wrong facts, are plain damaging, because truth is not what the facts are, but what they should be. (This was very common in Communist art).

And for some people, facts are lies, because the facts display what Marx called a false consciousness, meaning that people perceive what they should not be perceiving.

In global organizations one can often find people from various cultural backgrounds who view opinions and facts very differently.

  • Einat from Israel changes her strongly held opinions many times in a discussion and finally, she agrees on the facts.
  • Nick from the US, believes that facts come before opinions, the former being the basis of the latter.
  • Hans from Munich believes that a grasp of the facts, and all of them, serve the basis for making rational choices, rather than personal opinions.
  • Wong from Beijing believes that  selective facts and  opinions must serve his bosses’ goals.
  • Sergei from Moscow believes that facts and opinions are very often manipulated to serve deep rooted interests, and that it is critical to understand what these interests are and act accordingly. For Sergei, initial facts and opinions are both raw intelligence data.
  • For Som from Bangkok, facts which may embarrass anyone are not real facts; they need to be distorted to maintain a feeling of positiveness and comfort, which serve the ultimate truth of avoiding shame at all costs.

In global organizations, these differences need to factored into so called  models of problem solving.