Fake decisions

Der Chef organisiert von Zeit zu Zeit den Betrieb völlig um. Das schadet aber nichts, weil ja alles beim Alten bleibt. ( The boss reorganizes the company from time to time completely. But that does not hurt, because everything stays the same.) 

Kurt Tucholsky, 1924

Plus ça change, plus c’est reste la même chose. (The more things change, the more things remain the same.)

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849


What’s done cannot be undone.

Lady MacBeth (whilst sleepwalking)


Case One

Igor, Hadas, Natalie and Vadim own/manage a very successful niche chartered accounting firm dealing mainly with clients in the media, including celebs and investor-tycoons from all the countries from the FSU, former Soviet Union, especially Georgia.  Despite their success or because of it, severe tensions plague the quartet who constantly argue about issues such as ‘what constitutes a pure billable hour, what is monetary value of maintaining an intense relationship with academia and with senior  clerks from the Ministry of Finance, and how many resources should be allocated to digitalize client interfaces”. There were also less intense disagreements about whether the language in management meetings should be in Russian, Hebrew or English, although this was minor because all partners are fluently trilingual.

An OD intervention was commissioned after Vlad and Hadas had a  horrendous shouting match that the entire staff of 30 heard with furniture in the meeting room having been smashed.

After 6 months of work, agreements between the four were signed and sealed. The consultant was even payed a bonus!

One year later, all agreements had undone themselves.

Decision making by the quartet is paralyzed/severely paralyzed yet business has never been better.

Case Two

Gerald (the son of the chairman of the board) is an excellent technologist and incorrigibly poor R&D manager, with a team of 159 developers many of whom with PhDs, spread all over the world. Following a massive turnover of staff, the chairman commissioned an OD intervention during which Gerald was moved into the role of CTO and Carmella was recruited to manage R&D. Two years later, the chairman retired, Carmella was axed and Gerald returned to run R&D.


These cases illustrate the return to the status quo ante following what had appeared to be a successful OD intervention. This post will elaborate several reasons why this occurs.

First however, I want to drift off a bit and illustrate that return to status quo ante happens in politics as well. The failed Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart at the seams, making a very bad situation even much worse, just as the ink dried on the signed agreement. Some experts claim that neither side was ready to accept a western compromise force fed onto a Middle East reality where winners take all, and losers loose. (There are many experts in the Middle East who explain failure).

There are several reasons that agreements made during an OD process can fall apart.

  1. The agreements that were made are ahead of their time.
  2. Agreements made are not backed up by a tenable change to the power structure.
  3. The agreements made were made following too rigid a process, which ignored under the water iceberg dynamics.
  4. The consultant was too dominant and the agreements were made with too much imposition.
  5. The agreements were based on apparent agreement.

I believe that because OD is very imperfect, things like this will happen. (I am reminded here of my dentist who used a strong antibiotic when pulling a tooth telling me that only one in a hundred people are impacted by the antibiotic. I was the ONE, and suffered from stomach pain for 6 whole months.)

Partial prevention of return to the status quo ante can be mitigated

1-by slowly phasing out of the OD project over the period of a few months/years, based on the complexity of the changes.

2-Clients can be initially informed/ warned that this phenomenon exists building in the necessary prophylactic awareness.

3. And, most important, when making really big changes, the question of ‘how can this is undone” needs to be addressed in nightmare scenario planning.




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Managing people whose job is not all that meaningful

Let’s be honest. Despite the hype on social media and in magazines, many people have roles which are not all that meaningful, either for them personally or for the organizations for which they work.

Over the last few months in the framework of work,  I have spent hours observing leaders who manage people whose jobs have little meaning. I spent over 24 hours at a car wash, 3 days at a bakery and a 14 hours at a call centre which sells financial products.

I watched people doing the most tedious of jobs who were totally engaged without the use of any measurement matrix or enslaving IT process.

These are the behaviours that I observed which were seen as highly motivating.

  1. Care for the employee. “Get out of the sun, Ahmad.”  “If you are not serving anyone, sit down Natalie”. “After a call like that, take a smoking break, Giselle.”
  2. Laughing AT a client with the employee after the client has been served. “No wonder he is so fat”. “She probably was calling you while sitting in the toilet”. “Rude fucker, I hope he is married to someone he deserves”
  3. Siding with the employee when the client is wrong. “Wait your turn, Bud. He will get to your car in 15 minutes, Stand back and let him work”. “Lady, if you need more time to decide what else to buy, please step aside so that our server can serve the next customer.” “When people hang up on you like that, it’s all about them, not about you.”
  4. Use of informal language. In Hebrew, there is a marked difference between street Hebrew (with some Arabic or Russian swear words thrown in) and a more sophisticated office Hebrew, which would include lots of English words. The use of the street language was seen as  highly motivating.

My major take away from all these hours of observation is that the work itself does not need to be meaningful; it is enough for the work related interactions to be pleasant.



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What makes OD projects easy

A potential client interviewed me for a new project on Thursday. I was asked about the more challenging projects I had facilitated and I mentioned these three.

1) A wealthy company of 30 people acquired a company in crisis of 400 people and took over full command.
2) Mexicans, Americans, Japanese and Israelis worked together in a split-site development project which was 8 months behind schedule.
3) Two huge independent vendors (Chinese and Israeli) , working for a German client, ask me to do an OD between the 2 vendor organizations, along with the client.

Later on during the day, I thought to myself how easy these 3 projects had been for me, because they were free of the filthy politics which traditionally accompanies OD work. How did this happen?

Projects for which there is no cook book or protocol allow the OD practitioner freedom to “develop” solutions along with his/her clients, and not deliver some well packaged snake oil products. Furthermore, there is no competition from motivational pep talkers and magicians who solve all issues within 45 minutes.

Furthermore, in all the projects I mentioned above, OD had been commissioned by the folks on top; as a result:

• The eager beavers of procurement have little say to say about price or scope
• The project is owned by the CEO, not HR, so that there is less need for apparent effectiveness and wow wowing
• Leadership will support the consultant, not step aside and download the risk to the consultant, as often is the case in Change Management

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