Understanding the Israeli term “shchuna”-as in “he/she’s a bit shchuna”

Nadia, a corporate lawyer, comes to work overdressed, as do many of her Russian-born colleages. Even the blazing heat of the summer, Nadia is “putting on the ritz”. She is not “shchuna”, because she is not from the shchuna, even if she is.

Shchuna can mean neighbourhood, but more often refers to the long blocks of two to four storey long blocks of housing with several entrances, often with no elevator, small apartments and functional mailboxes yet in a poor state of repair.

When Nadia’s parents came to Israel, she  lived in a shchuna (‘D’ in Beer Sheva) , but she is not shchuna. Not one bit. She has a very strong Russian accent, & perfect Hebrew grammar. She speaks to her kids in Russian, and they answer in Hebrew.

Rafi calls me “bro”. He is 27; I am 72. Rafi mixes up (almost purposely) masculine and feminine pronouns and numbers, although he is very, very well educated; his Hebrew is sloppy, masking his intelligence. He is almost uncomfortable in his milieu as a senior programmer in the cyber start-up where he works. Most of the  people  he worked with served in a elite group but Rafi served in the infantry. He has two visible tatoes. He wears two rings. All his peers admire him, “although he is a bit shchuna”. His mother was born in Romania, survived the camps; his father fled Algeria.

Sima works in Finance as an economist is the revenue-projection team. She uses the term “metuka sheli” (loosely translated as “sugar”) when speaking to her females colleages. Or “hamudi” (loosely translated as Cutey) when speaking to males. Her dressing is not provocative, but is certainly not conservative. The best way to describe her atire is loud. She befriends almost everyone, except her bosses towards whom she shows respect and hidden contempt. She could be promoted if she tried but ‘being in management is not in my league’. Sima comes from Dimona, a desert town. Her parents’  are both Dimona born and all 4 grandparents came different places: Morocco, Tunis, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Sima describes herself as shchuna, and is proud of it. But she isn’t. 

Hava was born in Israel and returned here at the age 15 after her parents returned from teaching at Columbia. She retains a slight American accent, especially with the letters R and L. She is a political activist in her spare time, deeply involved in trying to improve civil rights of illegal immigrants to Tel Aviv. She has a PhD in Philosophy. She does not have a pot to piss in, although she has a well paying job in City Hall. She wears jeans and a T shirt to work every day. She sprinkles her Hebrew with English and often gets confused between masculine and feminine grammar use. There is nothing shchuna about Hava. But Hava would be so glad to be seen as a bit ‘shchuna’. It would make her feel at home.

Got it? 









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Catching your client’s diseases

Arlene and Alan are both consulting the CEO. Arlene focuses on interfaces between silos and Alan on developing flexibility during crisis. The CEO is highly manipulative and gives ambiguous messages to his team; within 4 months, the CEO has Alan and Arlene working at cross-purposes. They have been infected.

Paco is an all-powerful CFO in a company struggling both to improve its product and to cut costs in order to be more attractive to 3 potential buyers. Paco’s boss, the CEO, hires a consultant to improve rapid development processes and innovation. Paco owns Supply Chain/Purchasing; instead of hiring one consultant to do the job, two cheaper consultants are hired: one “innovation coach” and a “rapid development process guru”. Infected.

A fast-growing company sets highly aggressive unachievable goals. Each employee has the work load of three people. Most of the staff are new immigrants struggling to get a green card. Staff works around the clock to put out fires on customer sites. Larry has been hired to help staff “better align their priorities”. After two months, Larry has 7 projects; he has lost focus and the CEO has no time to meet with him. When the company’s revenue slip due to the exchange rate of the Euro, Larry is axed. He had been infected-on-arrival.

A government agency hires a consultant to “update the C level with state of the art knowledge” on management theory and practice. Caught up in a disastrous power struggle between the HR SVP of 25 years tenure and the new Scientific Management SVP, the consultant has written 12 proposals in the last two months and has yet to start work. Infected.

Yes, OD consultants can facilitate change. But they can also become infected by the client during their professional “struggle” and easily become part of the problem.

Some organizations carry some very nasty diseases, which are infectious upon contact.

Prophylactic measures include supervision, periodic project reviews at the CEO level, and peer critique of work.

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Billing for work that was cancelled or delayed

Were this a commercial issue, I would not be address it here in my blog. Billing for work cancelled or delayed has very little to do with business. It has little impact on a consultant’s revenue. It is however a major component of trust, fairness and mutual respect.

I have put together my view on billing for work that was cancelled or delayed into a few statements of principle that have served me well in the 47 years that I have been an OD consultant.

  • If the client himself does not sign a contract with me, but rather I need to negotiate my professional service with Purchasing or Supply Chain, I will always insist that all hours cancelled or delayed be paid in full for all work cancelled/delayed 4 days in advance. This is a matter of principle. The purchasing agent will maximize the clients’ commercial interests; I will maximalize mine.
  • But let’s assume that I negotiate directly with the client. In the initial stages my work, I will not charge for work cancelled or delayed. My initial contract will only cover 2-3 months, usually “stage one” or whatever. During this time, I will document the revenue lost due to cancellations and delays. After the initial 2-3 months, I will talk with the client about what has happened. I will ask the client what he plans to do, either to reimburse me, take corrective action, both or tell me that “you should have factored that into your initial costs”. Then I will adjust my terms  of the seond stage.
  • When I travel abroad to work, the client will be billed for all work that is/was planned after I have taken off. There are no exceptions to this.
  • Let’s say a meeting was supposed to start at 14.00 and starts at 14.20. If the meeting goes on for one hour, ie until 15.20, I bill for one hour and twenty minutes. If the meeting lasts till 15.00, the client is billed for one hour.
  • All work cancelled the same day depends on the amount of time that I have been working with the client. Veteran clients are somewhat accommodated; new clients pay full fare. I do not close my eyes when clients cancel willy nilly on the day of my work. It may say something is very wrong with the relationship.
  • As far as my being delayed or cancelling work, I am always at the client site 30 minutes early. I never cancel unless ill.
  • Delays due to illness or security threats are never billed.

As relationships develop the quality of the relationship with the client replaces the contract, and financial damage due to delays and cancellations are solved more naturally in the framework of an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship.


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