Phantom and referred pain in organizations

Until this very day, with over 45 years of experience, whenever I have even a challenging meeting with a client, I get strange pains in body. My eyelids twitch, my breathing becomes shallow, my digestion backfires or my clothes feel tight. In the past, I had baffled many doctors with these pains. Once, a week before a meeting in LA between 3 companies that were merging into one, I was sure that my eyesight was declining in one eye. And my shoulder ached something awful. After the meeting (which was difficult but successful), I was fine again.

The aches, pains and weird symptoms, that is the transfer of mental and emotional stress to other symptoms are called referred pains. The “something that hurts, is something else”.

I am never ever stressed about the upcoming events themselves; no CEO is too challenging for me. I can facilitate the most difficult of problems with ease. I simply get aches and pains that vanish after the event.

The “transfer of symptoms” from actual source of pain itself to somewhere else occurs in organizations as well as people.

Here are a few examples.

1-People do not speak up in meetings about certain slips in schedule. Progress reports step-side quality issues. Risks are played down. The not-at-all obvious reason? A client has been sold a very poor product that will not work as promised when delivered. However, some of the features of the dysfunctional product will provide just enough value to provide the client with a strategic advantage over its competitor. That is the skeleton in the closet. The CEO’s of the seller and the buyer know that explicitly-no one else does, except for everyone.

2-Jimmy is a horrendous CEO. His technical skills are outdated; his relationships with investors are tense and his staff hates him. He has been managing the company for 5 years. The hidden reason: the 5 investors each think that they can run the company better than the others. Jimmy allows them to continue to fight, and not resolve their differences; this status quo preserves another company of theirs which is doing very well and funding all their escapades.

3-JIT has 14 outlets in 3 districts. All outlets are doing well, except for one outlet in each district. Every attempt to get these three failing district outlets to change course fails. What’s the skeleton in the closet? Management needs a failed outlet in each district to write off expenses in order to pay less tax.

4-Beware if asked to “strengthen middle management”; that issue is almost always a phantom pain, the root cause of which is a double message from senior management, contradicting priorities, poor teamwork at the top, or overzealous HR manager, who wants to control something but is not strong enough to be relevant.

So how do we get our hand around issues which surface like phantom or referred pains?  Here are a few guidelines:

  • The obvious may not be so obviously obvious.
  • What is not said is part of the diagnosis. There are problems no one talks about.
  • An impacted tooth may not hurt.
  • Look for hidden agendas even when things make sense, and always when they don’t.

 502 total views,  2 views today

Share Button

OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

To my absolute surprise, my workload has increased ever since it became clear that this virus is not going away; not only are  the lemons not about to become lemonade, but  the plague is  worse than expected . As the poet Ogden Nash wrote in Seaside Serenade

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.

Yet it is a time for good OD practitioners to find work, much to my surprise. I want to share some of the characteristics of work that has come my way as well as some reasons why I think this is happening.

Life with covid is not going away. And the reality of the world is now nasty and brutish. I am not an optimist  nor am I known as an optimist. Quite the opposite,I am a pessimist with a good sense of humour as well as a love of the absurd, which makes it easy to deal with what I say because of how I say it.  Furthermore, once people realized that  ‘back to normal” is messianic nonsense, my pessimistic nature has become more appealing.

During my entire career, I have held two principles as my compass: say things simply and be practical. So, my message has been -“we are up shit’s creek and no one knows anything; let’s take this hour by hour and yes, give me a can and I’ll help you bail out the boat”.

Difficult problems have become almost impossible during covid. Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried. Ok, what’s new? If you believed that things were much better, then this new reality is all but unbearable. Yet I have believed for the longest time that stakeholders worry only about themselves, long term commitment between management and staff is feigned propaganda-so for me, the present situation is just a bit worse than it used to be, It is not paradise lost. I have confidence and I am neither appalled or frightened of being seen as incompetent. OD is not perfect. It has huge value,but it ain’t rocket science.

(This reminds me of people who claim that America is more divided than ever. America has almost always been divided for heaven sakes.Trump is the most racist president ever? No more than Carter was (his days as Supervisor of Education were horrendously racist)  and certainly less than Kennedy acted as he dragged his feet on civil rights.)

The problems that my new clients have asked me to lend a helping hand to alleviate are difficult, multi dimensional and stubborn. I am not sure exactly or what approach to take, and I have no tricks up my sleeve. My new clients respect my lack of conviction about how to proceed.They feel safe that I am thinking as well as acting with caution seasoned with pragmatism, not peddling some elixir like cod liver oil or employee engagement or “we are all in this together”.

Probably my present value proposition to my clients is my sense of humour, my ability to learn,and my lack of ready made solutions.

In memory of Alex Kornhauser-brilliant, fair, exact, humane and humble. A great leader, a fine man; sadly missed.

.

 757 total views

Share Button

Is it wise to send Dr Freida to Japan? Depends who you ask.

Dr Freida is a senior technology superstar who often claims that “clients need to better informed about their needs than they actually are”.  Her contact with customers is matter of fact and brilliant yet Dr Freida shies from social niceties.

CEO Bob proposed sending Dr Freida to Japan to deal with severe customer issues for a year. Bob called Sato and made the  proposal.

Sato (Japan area president) told CEO Bob that sending Freida to Japan for a year may be a good idea. Frieda may have a chance to learn about Japan and then, she can perhaps understand the importance of the customer. Till now, Dr Frieda is  focused on technology and not satisfying customer needs. Having a very  senior lady in our office is in line with what is happening in some industries.”

Bob said he was happy that Sato agreed to the proposed relocation of Frieda.

Allon (a consultant) told CEO Bob, “Hey wait a second Bob; this matter does not sound “kosher”; then Allon called Sato as per Bob’s request.

“Sato-san, am I wrong that perhaps it is best to wait a while before Frieda comes to Japan because we need to discuss it more?” Sato said: “Allon san, you very well may be right”.

After my call to Bob updating him , Bob, never a man to avoid cussing,  said, “What the fuck is this about? Allon explained that “Sato don’t want no Frieda. Use of the term may does not indicate agreement, especially since  you presented this as an almost-made decision in a hasty call. Sato also explained to you all the reasons why NOT to send her. Bob, you’ve got to start listening to what is not said”.

 

 

 392 total views,  2 views today

Share Button

Giving and receiving face

In many parts of the world, face-giving and face-saving are a critical skill for an OD practitioner to possess .

Via mastery of face issues, the consultant gains respect and trust which is leveraged to gather data, intervene and garner success.

Given the Western nature of OD training, few consultants know and appreciate what face is, i.e., how to give face and how to save face. Thus, the many errors OD consultants make in global organizations and the ensuing lack of trust which prevails towards OD consultants.

Face is external manifestation how people are held/perceived in the minds of others. In some ways, face can be seen as the “net worth” of how one looks and how one is presented. Face expresses the external net worth of one’s prestige, status and reputation, vital to the person and his family.

One gives people face by showing (exaggerated) respect, honour, praise, consideration and recognition in public. “Thank you Mr. Wu for inviting me to your office. It is my great privilege to be here. I hope that I will not waste your time. Without your support, our company could never succeed.” Please note, self-deprecation can be an important part of face giving.

In return, Mr. Wu may lift your value and give you face. “Mr. Shevat, your time here is very valuable for all of us”.

One causes people to lose face by pushing them to speak directly about a sensitive or an embarrassing issue, especially in public. People also lose face by being criticized, or forced to acknowledge any problems and any limitations, in public but not only in public . “Mr. Wu, why did revenue decline last quarter”?

So if one is so busy with face, how do you get to the real issues “in a timely fashion”?
Answer-you don’t.

There are many ways of getting to the real issues, i.e., real in Western terms. But first, the client needs to feel you have given him real, prolonged face, and that you will protect him. This takes weeks, months and more.

Then the doors will open wide enough to crawl in. If you also have cultural humility. 

 360 total views,  2 views today

Share Button