Tom White learns a lesson: Using western-biasesd OD in the wrong place

Tom White, OD Manager for a US based law firm, was sent to Asia to do some interviews for the corporate in Asia and solve burning issues “on line”. Tom was top of his class in OD in an Ivy League University and he was also a certified coach. He had undergone study groups in Tavistock and T Groups in the States.

One of the Brits in the Bangkok office told Tom that he had heard gossip from a secretary that Lawyer Jai (f) was very upset with her subordinate Lawyer Phrem (m); Phrem (who studied law in the US and France) had shown a lack of respect to Jai on their last trip to a client in Belgium. Phrem pushed Jai aside by speaking out when Jai was looking for words and used his knowledge of French to make Jai look bad. What made this worse was that Jai was the account manager on the deal, and Phrem was supposed to be a quiet #2.

Tom approached Jai and asked for another meeting, even though he had interviewed her in the morning. “Hey Jai, can you tell me a little bit about what happened in Belgium as week.” Jai smiled and said the trip was `wely sasexful“.

Well, said Tom, can you describe the dynamic with Phrem-he asked.

Jai evaded and Tom then told Jai what he had heard, emphasizing the lack of respect that Phrem had shown. Jai felt she wanted to throw up and felt dizzy… she smiled.

Tom said,“I want to give you some direct feedback, Jai. Managerial responsibility entails the ability to provide Phrem with feedback so he can improve his performance and learn from mistakes. It also makes no sense holding your anger inside: do you see things differently“ Jai smiled and said“-ok Khun Tom“

Tom told Jai he would organize a 3rd party intervention that afternoon and Jai smiled.

Tom asked Phrem at lunch how the trip to Belgium went and Phrem told Tom how important it was that he was invited: “Jai is such a good lawyer and I complemented her oral English“, said Phrem who wanted to make an impression on Tom, who was at time struggling to understand Jai.

Tom asked Phrem if he would be ready for a 3rd part intervention w Jai and Phrem agreed. `Great“said Phrem.

Tom sat Phrem and Jai down in a room. The goal of the meeting was to debrief the Belgium visit in a no penalty zone environment and establish some lessons learned which can be agreed to and possible shared. (Jai felt dizzy)

There may be some disagreements, said Tom, but we can meet in the middle. After all, isn’t that the most sensible thing to do. (Jai was seeing double)

Jai was asked to describe what happened at the client site. She said: “Thank you so much, K Tom. But we is lawyers and we hap (have) mek (made) a good contac.“

I agree, said Phrem. “What is this meeting about anyway, Tom“-said Phrem-stabbing Tom in the back, and smiling at Jai.

Tom gave a short lecturette on managerial maturity and open communication. Jai asked him how he was enjoying his first trip to Bangkok.

Jai sent VP HR Asia and Japan the following email.

Dear Khun HR Manager,

Maybe Mr Tom can focus on Japan office or Singapore office. He seems to suffer from heat. He get all confyus and maybe not feel so good.

Thank you we not see him again.


That night, Jai sent Tom to a restaurant in a cab which passed thru a 2 hour traffic jam. The restaurant was closed due to reconstruction.

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Driving Uncle Khil

How can I introduce you to someone who I did not know well; to be honest I hardly knew him at all.

I have already introduced him as an Uncle, but he wasn’t my Uncle. He was my late wife Hadassah’s uncle. Khil, by the way,  is a nickname for Yehiel.

Every year on Passover, Hadassah and I would travel to Haifa from our home in Jerusalem by train and bus (4 hours)  to spend the holiday with her parents and two younger brothers. Hadassah’s family lived in Tivon, south east of Haifa.

Year after year, Hadassah would convey a message in the late afternoon  from her father asking if I could drive to Haifa to pick up Uncle Khil (Dohd Khil) who was coming over for the holiday meal.

My father in law drove a white Volkswagen; I had a drivers permit but was too poor to own a car, so I was always glad to have an opportunity to drive. I willingly obliged to drive the white stick-shift car and transport Uncle Khil.

The drive to Haifa was 25 minutes. There were no mobile phones then, so I got exact instructions where to pick up Uncle Khil. And I always arrived on time. To this day, I am rarely late for anything.

Waiting on the corner in Hadar (an area of Haifa) stood a very, very old man, with a full head of pure white hair. He was dressed fastidiously as if going to impress a lady friend. His skin was thin and very ancient-looking as well, yet with just a little bit of imagination; I could subtract 60 years and see a real dandy.

Uncle Khil was missing a finger, which he cut off by himself to avoid conscription back in Europe. Unable to control myself, I often found myself gawking at the surgery. He had done a very good job. There was no stump-he certainly could not have pulled a trigger with that finger.

Now I was an officer in those days and one would think that Uncle Khil and I would be very little to talk about-which is why one “would” think is wrong in this particular case. Khil knew how to cook very well, and his cholent (stew) was outstanding. I cooked tsulent as well, and we used to compare recipes in very great detail. He told me about adding eggplant to the mix, which he had learned from an Iraqi woman.

During the meal, I used to stare a lot at Khil-he spoke impeccable Hebrew without any sloppiness whatsoever. He was cognitively on top of everything. I knew that he as a ladies’ man in the past, and I could see in him the young man, now missing a finger. When we read out loud  Passover prayers which can be tricky at times, Khil never fumbled.

When the holiday meal ended, I drove Uncle Khil back to Haifa in the white Volkswagen. Khil always told me what a sweet girl I had married, and we would exchange a few words on World War Two. When I let Uncle Khil off, I always wondered if I would see him again.

I did.

Hadassah always thanked me for driving Uncle Khil back and forth, but I was the one who should have been thanking her for opportunity to experience an interesting version of a healthy old man, full of stories and full life under his belt.

Hadassah never came with me on these short trips. Although she was very mild mannered, she protested against driving in a German car, having lost all her family on both sides during the war. We never argued about that, as I was smart enough just to keep quiet.

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Mergers and Acquisitions after Corona

No I have not changed my mind. There are no mergers, just acquisitions. But there is a limit on how many myths I try to bust without flushing myself down the drain. Mergers and acquisitions have never been easy; in the post corona era, they are harder than ever. I will list the three major challenges that I have experienced as well as what can be done, if anything, to mitigate the new challenges.

a) Any talent acquired in the acquired company may not be there in a few months. Yes, you can buy them perhaps physically, but committment is impossible to buy. So you better be very very sure that what you are buying is there to stay for as long as you expect.

b) Mergers and acquisitions are painful; long hours; lots of travel and lots a headaches. The level of pain people are willing to tolerate appears much lower than before corona. So whatever time frame is expected for the merger/acquisition to work, I suggest quadrupling it.

c) Generally there is a process of the unification of shared services, such as supply chain/ purchasing, travel coordination, finance, HR, IT etc. I would think ten times about merging supply chain. The supply chain is disrupted enough externally without self created disruption.

d) Building trust by Zoom is absurd. There is an illusion that lots of work can be done virtually, including trust building. Post merger trust cannot be built easily at all-and certainly not remotely. So no short cuts-don’t shower with a raincoat. 





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Choosing an OD consultant-6 guidelines

I know, I know. If I were not 72 going on 73, I would recommend that someone who is shopping for an OD consultant ensure that the potential candidates are equally female, male and bi-sexual. And perhaps a candidate who thinks that Zelensky is the new Churchill. However…

Since I come from a different generation, I want to suggest some questions and issues you clarify when choosing a potential OD consultant.

  • Does your candidate have domain experience relevant to your firm? If you run an insurance agency, an OD consultant with 30 years’ experience in petroleum will not be effective. Domain experience is critical in the present level of complexity and competitiveness. Don’t anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Do you like the candidate? As India-based guru Joseph George points out in his comments to this post, this “liking” can lead to a slippery slope given the parallel requirement of choosing a no nonsense consultant, which is also discussed below. Furthermore, I say this even though I personally am an acquired taste. However, if there is not enough initial personal chemistry, my advice is to think twice. So much of the OD dialogue is based on trust that working against your own intuition is not worth the risk. Let me give an example. If I were to meet a consultant who was late for a meeting and did not apologize, corrected my use of traditional gender pronouns, and used sloppy grammar, I would cut the conversation short. 
  • If your candidate wants to conduct remote interviews or Zoom sessions even some of the time, forget it. Face to face interactions with an OD consultant are as important as are face to face interactions with a dentist.  
  • Is your candidate willing to clearly define goals and eventual results in the initial meetings beyond the basic generic nature of the OD process (which must be made clear up front)? If so, don’t hire because it cannot be done. Project goals emerge slowly over time and shift /sway.
  • Does the candidate appear to be a pleaser? If so, be careful-because OD people must challenge & authority. They should not be compliant or pleasers. 
  • If your staff is ethnically or internationally diverse, if your candidate culturally fluent? Or is he or she   a captive of the culture into which he was born? Give this quiz when in doubt. 



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