An OD consultant should not approach chaos like a Change Manager

When Jean invited me to work with this management team, he had prepared a few slides to brief me on what he sees as the major issues. I have worked with Jean twice in the past, so Jean was fair enough to tell me “this is how I see things, Allon; I am not telling you how to do your work”.

Jean’s slides boiled down to three issues:

  1. Role ambiguity between Engineering and Customer Service results in lack of accountability during customer deployment
  2. Lack of priorities per department and lack of shared priorities result in constant chaos
  3. Planning not accurate results in “resource allocation as a constant ongoing negotiation” between line and staff

Jean had tried to solve these issues with his (cost effective) internal change management team, consisting of industrial managers and change managers. “Every time I think of you Allon, I think of my root canal surgeon, so you can imagine I have tried everything before having you come all this way to make my life miserable.”

I spoke with Jean’s team members, 8 in number, consisting of 2 Germans, one Israeli, and five North Americans, including one French Canadian besides Jean himself. My view of things was that Jean is running a highly innovative company in a fast moving market, and all of the 3 issues Jean had pointed out are “par for the course.”  To be more specific,

1-The product is so innovative and deployment is so early that it is indeed impossible to define what is owned by Engineering and Customer Service

2-Everything is indeed urgent; there are no firm priorities because the market is moving so quickly

3-No plan, however extensive, can be useful in a market where expected quarterly revenue runs between 4 and 90 million dollars.

The problems that I noticed are:

  1. The two Germans (Finance and Planning) and Israeli (Engineering and Deployment) had totally different coping mechanisms with the chaos, the German preferring drowning in details in attempt to conquer the chaos and the Israeli preferring making an ideology out of chaos.
  2. Each senior manager managed to juggle well within their own group, but as a senior juggling team, they were useless because they were blaming one another instead of assuming joint ownership of the juggling task.
  3. Planning and control, Finance and HR were trying to fit old economy and rigid models/mechanisms onto the organization which did not match reality.

Jean promised to fix the third issue. He also told me to coach the German and Israeli, separately and as a team. I worked with them on global competencies.

Jean asked me, how we fix 2? Joking, I told him that his purchasing department had asked me for a detailed roadmap for fixing 2 as well. And thus the work began. We focused on mutual accommodation, organizational juggling skills, teamwork and delphi prediction techniques.

All in all, I made three trips from Tel Aviv to Geneva and Zurich, and the entire project took ten days. Not one single day was devoted to either role clarity or reaching agreement on one firm list of shared priorities.

In our final meeting, all members of the team said that the learning experience and change had been phenomenal, and they invited me out to my favourite steak house, and we ate and drank, and drank.

The greatest compliment came from the German who told me, “you did not change anything, but every”z”ing changed.

Follow me @AllonShevat and follow Gloria at @GRamsbottom

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4 thoughts on “An OD consultant should not approach chaos like a Change Manager

  1. I also just got over a long-lasting pain. I think that the extended winter here in New Jersey took a toll on me. It kept me from getting outdoors for my usual exercise, and after sitting too long in my house, I got this pain in my lower back and hip. Thanks goodness that Spring has come.

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