The appointed consultant

Unpleasant as it can be, OD consultants can be appointed by someone to help someone else who either does not see the need for help and/or has no say in the identity of the consultant.

I have been appointed by owners, and more often boards, to work with managers who resent the very act of suggesting that they need help. And I have formulated a few guidelines for such situations which I am sharing in this post.

1 Acknowledge that awkwardness of the situation. I often use a metaphor that “I’m the guy that needs to do root canal and you don’t even see the need to visit a dentist”. Discuss the awkwardness as an issue.

2 Allow the person with whom you have been asked to work to cease the consultation at the drop of a hat.

3 Agree that all updates that you will give the folks who commissioned your services will be transparent-that is, your assessment will be shared a priori with the person with whom you are working.

4 Spend time cementing the relationship, Trade favours, create a feeling of “safety” and stick to your word.

5 If you think that your client and the person who appointed you are a system problem, then work with both of them as a system, or resign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A skilled eye is very important in veterinary medicine because animals don’t speak. A skilled eye is important in OD because humans do speak…at times a lot of nonsense

A week ago, my dog George had a problem standing up; he did not want to walk. His appetite was voracious as always, and when we went to buy a roasted chicken, he jumped out of the car and walked right to the chicken-stand, but he was in pain and feeling “down-in-the-mouth”, his bones creaking like….my bones!

Since George is 14 years old, I was convinced that time was coming for him to “cash in his chips”; I took him to the vet expecting the worst.

Dr Yuval was in the lobby when I walked in. George was dragging himself behind me. Yuval says- “George has a backache; wait a week and it will improve”. No tests; no nothing. He observed. He did not ask me – and of course, George didn’t say a word. Lo and behold-he was right. George is getting better.

A skilled eye is very important in veterinary medicine because animals don’t speak. A skilled eye is important in OD because human’s do speak…at times they sprout  a lot of nonsense because of fear of reprisal, a tough job market, suspicion or in the case of senior managers, towing the party line.

A consultant would be wise to constantly observe, and not only listen to the spoken word. Not only at the beginning of a project. Rather, all the time.

Here are a few things that I have observed-and in brackets, what the spoken words were, when relevant.

  • Excessive gating procedures to speak to senior managers. (Rick provides useful input)
  • Lovely lobbies, and cramped quarters for customer support people (Customer service needs to be digitalized)
  • Executive parking places (our senior staff come early and work like dogs)
  • People playing solitaire on their pc’s (we have a very tough workload)
  • People smiling at each other at meetings
  • Dirty toilets (we are interesting in improving wellbeing)
  • Everyone texting, all the time (we have a problem of communication)
  • Inappropriate clothing (clients treated rudely)
  • Differential size of office space (favouring the Finance Dept)
  • Similar ethnic background of FSU+ family names in one department (the electricians are not transparent)

Always pay attention to the contrast between what you see and what you hear.

I thought George was dying. George kept his mouth shut. Yuval saw it all.

“Not a word was spoken. The Churchbells were all broken.” (Don McLean, American Pie.) 

+FSU Former Soviet Union

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Five Reasons to Abolish Periodic Feedback/Evaluation sessions with Employees

  • In some professions, the job market is so bad that replacing someone can take more than a year. So why risk giving a mediocre employee feedback and risk his/her leaving the organization?
  • Generally, managers write something in their evaluation, verbally express something else, and think something entirely different. E.g.- Naomi, I appreciate the effort you made to improve your writing skills. (said). Naomi gets a 5/5 on communication skills because this will get her a bonus (written). “Naomi is 65 years old, and cannot communicate in English. This won’t change (thoughts).”
  • Feedback sessions promote so much anxiety that learning is very rare and playing defense is very common.
  • Feedback/Evaluation sessions are basically seen as “feeding the HR beast”. And as such, they are often fudged.
  • There is no rational to evaluate performance all at once. It is simply too much information to receive. Learning requires a far different context to be effective.

What should replace feedback sessions?

  • Mediocre employees are a great asset in many areas. Not everyone needs to improve. That awareness could mitigate the need to shove feedback down every employee’s throat. Leave well enough alone.
  • Managers and their staff should have ongoing dialogue about the desired versus actual level of performance on any given task, or set of tasks.
  • When employees ask for some feedback, it is legitimate to give them what they are asking for.
  • Assessing training needs is a good placement for some feedback, because it is a positive and concrete step to better performance in some areas.
  • They need not be replaced, just abolished.
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Case studies for the OD consultant practicing in global complexity

The launch of GB 1.00 was bumpy. The client system crashed, GB 1.00 had to be reinstalled 3 times and $300,000 revenue was lost due to downtime. Even after the fix, GB 1 crashes twice a week causing financial damage. Nevertheless, the GB 1 increases the “speed of service” by 49% a week.

The Key Account Manager of the client went to his CEO and complained that the account could be lost “unless we show a road map of corrective action and that means that all resources need to be funneled into fixing this problem now“. This is of course is impossible because there are 125 similar projects going on simultaneously.

Au urgent meeting was convened, led by Dr Fred Renaud, the US based Senior  Vice President of R&D, and attended by the CEO, the account manager, and the entire development team.

Humi, a developer from Israel paid no heed to the “moaning” of the Key Account Manager. “These product releases take time to stabilize let’s roll up our sleeves and start working. I’ll fly to the client site tonight.”

Dr Fred said that “an overall high level comprehensive plan” is needed- “and only then, you can fly wherever you want, Humi”.

Jai from Thailand smiled during the entire meeting-her team had developed a major component and she was very embarrassed. “What are you laughing at, Jai? What is so God damn funny? (Fred hates “the Orient”, it is too hot and I don’t get their obtuse communication style”, he complained.)

Hans, the German PMO (project management)  wanted “detail before we “mof” on”. And he stared delving into detail which drove the other team members to distraction.

After an hour, the meeting broke up.

The CEO want to hire a consultant to “get all our ducks in one line”.

Questions: 

  1. What are your basic assumptions that could hinder your consultative apporach to being effective in such a situation?
  2. What is the role of the client in your planned intervention?
  3. How will get people’s trust?
  4. Define the end state you want to reach and how to get there.
  5. What is your role?

 

 

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Weird things that go on in organizations are not that weird if you put aside your naïve assumptions

I love middle eastern history. Like OD, sometimes it can be counterintuitive. And full of surprises.

For years, I have taken courses on Middle Eastern History and Politics at Tel Aviv University’s Continuing Education Department with various professors.

Recently I sat in on a series of lectures explaining why after having had his entire air force decimated in 1967, Egypt’s President Nasser was even more adored by his people. The masses refused to let him resign despite the fact that the  air force was ruined, his army humiliated and the economy (which was never much to begin with), devastated. 

There are of course may other events that occur which are very difficult to explain, but middle east history makes scholars of logic into imbiciles.

In class, we  were provided nevertheless  with a very clear explanation as to why this happened after the 1967 defeat. All the explanations of course  defy western logic, but wearing a different set of lenses, it makes a lot of sense, if you look in the right places.

Now in organizations, lots of things happen that seem illogical. However if you look under the tables, under the sheets, and between the lines, it all makes sense. Here are 3 simple examples.

  • Tuti is a family run fashion store with 12 branches. One of the branches is very poorly run; it loses money and is overstaffed. Management does nothing.

Why? All incompetent family members are sent to this branch. It is the family garbage can. Many expenses and costs written off more readily at the failed branch.

  • A company makes a bid against 3 competitors. Their product is cheaper, better and more resilient. They don’t even get a chance to bid in the final four.

Why? Someone in the client base is “on the take” from a competitor.

  • The food and beverage manager has caused 2 chefs to quit. Reviews of the menu are critical and revenue is way down. There have been several fist fights between servers and bellboys. The food and beverage manager is immune to any criticism.

Why? An affair with the regional manager of the hotel chain.

These examples may seem ridiculous.

Is it ridiculous that Nasser was supported by his people after his military defeat because he had “brought pride and honour (sharf) upon his nation” by daring to fight (albeit lose)?

Common sense is not that common, and logic is logic only if the observer is logical. In organizations, there is a deep layer hidden from the naive human eye that escapes unless we look closely and with a huge dose of cynicism.

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Making Organizations Smarter-Elaboration as promised

Recently I published a post in which I listed simple ways of making organizations smarter. I also promised to follow through and elaborate, albeit briefly, about each bullet point.

In this follow up post, I will relate to weeding out slogans and focus on creating focus.

Weeding Out Slogans

Slogans are repeated statements that are hammered into employee’s heads, and when the rubber hits the road, they do not match reality. They confuse, create cynicism, mistrust and alienation. They also make management into laughing stocks.

If a company puts “customer service” on its flag, but each agent needs to open 5 screens per call to give an appropriate answer (on slow servers, to boot) then there is no customer service.

If a company supports “human rights” but sells to Russia, they don’t support human rights. If they support work life balance and expect answers to emails in the evening, they do not support work life balance.

If the Dutch company which constantly promotes diversity doesn’t have a senior manager without a  “van” in his name,  then diversity is a slogan.

If your company states that every employee must “take ownership” but places a ton of bureaucracy on the way to solving problems such as lengthy purchasing processes, then taking of ownership is a slogan.

When a company eliminates slogans until they practice what they preach, they cannot blow smoke up their own bum about their real beliefs. Sales, HR and senior management teams are very prone to double talk. You would be very surprised at how hard it is to eliminate slogans.

Creating Focus

There is air pollution; there is water pollution and there is priority pollution, the later being where everything (nothing) is really truly important when the rubber hits the road.

Only via creating focus, one creates the chance to succeed, and not blame conflicting priorities for pleasing none of the people none of the time.

And I cannot make this clear enough. If there is not enough focus, there is failure. True there may be interim achievements, but poor focus ends up in a shitty culture and failure.

Btw, poor focus is often enabled by phenomena such as “I sent you an email that’s it’s top priority”. Creating focus is not rocket science. It’s easy-but companies don’t like to do it.

I shall follow thru with more elaboration of the original post in the next few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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