Don’t mitigate an organizations’ pain

There have been screaming matches between Sales and R&D (Dev) ever since the market release of the last product.

Unhappy clients have communicated thousands of complaints which are besieging management! It is now very hard to get the  Sales and Dev teams to sit in the same room in order to solve problems. There are nasty emails threads going back and forth with personal insults, buck-passing and character assassination.

Stan, the CEO, has no time to deal with this. The investors are on his back for a faster return on investment. He needs to replace his CFO who he caught “chirping” to the board about revenue forecasts. Stan  expects the head of Sales, Lucien, and the head of R&D, Deepak, to be mature and handle the issues at hand like adults. “Boys”, said Stan, “get these teams aligned. Use HR or a consultants as needed”.

The HR manager ran an on-line survey to see what needed to be done to “calm things down”; staff described their level of pain as 9 (on a ten point scale). Job satisfaction was rated high (8) and interdisciplinary teamwork was low (6).

A consultant was hired  to do outdoor training to lower group pain. A  yoga coach  was hired to relieve the stress/pain of the last few months at the individual level. Lucien and Deepak were given each individually 2 hours of anti-stress coaching provided by an on-line vendor via Skype. As is said in the Merchant of Venice, the goal of both interventions was  “Hiding the grossness with fair ornament”.  Act 3, scene 2. Or as is pointed out in a comment (in Hebrew) below by a reader  Mr. Koren, the emphasis was placed on feeling well, not getting better.

However, this mess  was all about the risk taking behaviour of CEO Stan. In order to show his investors a pattern of growth, CEO Stan had oked the design and release of a totally immature project, which no one yet knew how to design let alone build. Sales numbers were high because the install base is in the third world, where agents pay off corporate purchasing to buy almost anything.

The product, now released, has cause huge pain. Sales cannot deal with the angry clients and expects R&D to send people to the client site to get the product working. R&D expects Sales to “manage the the customer” until a half decent “fix” can be concocted.

The moral of this story is that organizational pain is an important indicator, and thus need not be/must not be suppressed. Quite the opposite, the pain can lead us to the dysfunction, albeit not directly.

Mitigating  pain symptoms  in organizations is often the least indicated solution to organizational problems. Mindlessly mitigating pain is a happy happy, wow wow, useless useless exercise which has corrupted organizational development of the worst kind.

Oh yes, coaching for individuals is often (certainly not always)  the mother of all pain mitigation elixirs. Coaching for the individual often means, “Let’s work together on how you overcome other peoples’/system problems”.

 

 

 

 

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Dear old Dad

He wanted naught

In his books of essays “Figures in a Landscape”, Paul Theroux has an essay about his Dad; I have read this piece many times over always hoping that I could do justice to my Dad even half as well as Paul Theroux. Alas there is no way.

However, my Dad certainly deserves my best modest try.

Dad was a third generation Canadian. He was born into a very destitute family in Montreal, and the poverty into which he was born affected him all his life. He was for many years an angry man, with a terrible temper. This temper, fueled by the years he was dirt poor as well as his horrendous marriage to my mother, was his worst flaw. I have long forgiven him for that.

My Dad had no brothers or sisters. He was an extremely dedicated son. Both of his parents were chronically ill for 14 years and Dad visited the Royal Vic Hospital twice a day for over a decade. The entire burden fell on his shoulders and he bore it like a trooper. He never ever complained. I am sure that the overwhelming burden fueled his anger.

My Dad barely finished high school. He was too poor to get a university education. He did not read a lot, except for the Montreal Star. He did not have an academic mind, yet he was an exceptionally bright man.

My Dad was a fighter pilot in World War 2, a professional football player for Montreal Alouettes,  a designer of ladies lingerie, a salesman and a late life entrepreneur who opened his own very successful business at 61. He retired at 70 and lived like a king with his South American wife, who spoke Spanish to her kids, which drove him crazy. “Estella, how about a bit of English, for Christ sake`.

My Dad had a wonderful sense of humor; He could make anyone laugh at anything, almost at the drop of a hat. He loved hearing jokes, telling jokes and watching comedy. He was a very funny man.

Phil was a man of extreme contradictions. He did not speak one word of French (he could not learn languages at all), and he resented language policing in Montreal, especially at his business. “I served in the RCAF, so I am not about to agree with someone telling me what language to speak, for Christ’s sake”. Yet my Dad added, “If I were French, I would ban English completely.” And he meant it.

Dad also used to tell me about his bombing missions over Germany, of which he was proud, adding that “you need to go to Germany and learn not to adopt any of my biases. Christ, if we all adopt our parents` biases the world would be an ugly place”.

My Dad always, always, stood up for the little guy-the parking attendant, the gas pumper, the newspaper man, the milkman, the cashier. Once we went to fill up gas and the attendant was drinking coffee inside and slow to move, and my Dad said, “I don’t blame him-who the fuck wants to pump gas when it’s 30 below”.

My Dad had something to say about almost every politician-Kennedy was “a stick-man from way back, and his father was anti-Semite”. Nixon was “the poor bastard who got caught.” The Queen of England “did not run away during the war but she stayed put and joined the war effort”. Dad claimed that “Khomeini needs to be knocked off because he is dangerous”. Dad always voted for the Liberals. The New Democratic Party  were “almost communists”; the Conservatives were “not good for minorities ” and the Social Credit Party (that favored printing money to cover the deficit)  were a “bunch of raging lunatics”.

Dad loved watching boxing on TV. “Hey, let’s open the idiot-box to watch two people beat the shit out of each other”, he would say to me on Saturday night. Sometimes, he would ask me if I would agree to have “the be-Jesus kicked out of you for a million dollars”.

My Dad was an atheist, through and through. He would often refer to religion as “that religious shit”. Our home was not kosher. I was sent to a Protestant school. Not a Jewish school. He showed no respect for any Jewish tradition. Yet when his Dad and his Mom died, he went to pray at 5 am every single day for 11 months “to show some respect, for Christ’s sake.” Then he added, “When I croak, you don’t need to do that”. I would come with Dad almost every morning during these mourning periods. He would joke with the rabbi or cantor (every day as we arrived, he told the cantor that he was a “pure heathen“), and often complained that “breakfast would be better if there was some bacon around”.

Dad of course went to synagogue on the Day of Atonement, and gave me a transistor radio so I could keep him informed of the sport scores. “Don’t let anyone catch you listening, or I will disown you”. I asked Dad why he went to synagogue to atone if he did not believe in God, and he told me “just in case I`m wrong“.

My Dad did not have good hearing; he claimed it was not his problem. He was scared of doctors and admitted it. He was petrified of dentists, and insisted that no anesthesia be used, because “no fucking way anyone is going to put a needle into my mouth”.

Dad smoked two packs a day of Export A and subsequently developed emphysema and throat cancer. When the news came out that smoking causes cancer, Dad claimed that it was a “communist conspiracy”, but may have “a grain of truth” to it.

Although Dad was very unhappily married, he wanted naught.  He was very tall, he was handsome, and he was a ladies’ man. He was extraordinary charming.

My Dad was a caring father most of the time and a very loving father for most of his later life.  He was a dedicated grandfather who taught his grandson to drink beer and swear. He bought his granddaughter lots of pink dresses! He loved my late wife very much. `She ain`t no housewife, but she is a wonderful woman`.

The longer we both lived, the better our relationship became, and we enjoyed many many good years together. At times, I miss him terribly.

 

Phil and his grandson

Drying his granddaughters’ hair

76 years old!

Dear old Dad

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Tell tale signs that an organization will not make its commitments

The commitment

The fully functioning product which you purchased will be delivered, installed by Nov 4th and set to go the very same day.

What happened on Nov 4th?

The product was delivered in May, however it had not yet been fully tested. 60% of revenue generating features were “still in the pipeline”. The client threatens to litigate although the vendor is blaming the client for “having misled us on the level of site readiness and employee skill”.

The scribbling on the wall 

No one should have been surprised because the slip was scribbled on the wall, if you just know how to read it.

Here are a few clues that will allow you to perhaps foresee the crash, albeit not prevent it.

  1. The client “over buys”, meaning he presses for a client commitment because he himself is in trouble. For example, the client needs to increase market share by 30% “or you are out of a job”.
  2. The aggressive commitment is made by shoving it down developers throats. Nay sayers are pushed aside and people with high confidence and low technical savvy take over.
  3. Employees indeed are willing to make aggressive commitments, but only like this: “when Silvan delivers his piece, and QA has signed off, and the real-time folks deliver their piece, I”m sure we can make it, even if it’s a bit challenging”.
  4. Risks, obstacles are smoothed away by fancy verbal tap-dancing. Certain things are no longer documented and status reports are cryptic and ambiguous.
  5. More people are thrown at the job, but the number of skilled people is in decline because the top professionals have left or checked out.

When you foresee all this shit, it still cannot be stopped. Often, this is the way that the particular business cycle functions and everyone is making lots of money despite this apparent insanity.

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The job interview

The job interview, with all its probing questions, is likened to alchemy or witchcraft in many articles on social media. And using a CV is apparently also out of grace, given the plethora of social media from which to garner information about candidates.

Well count me out on that fad. I am often asked to interview experienced candidates for senior positions; I find the job interview as extremely useful. True, I have been fooled and duped. I have been unduly impressed as well. I have written off people who have later succeeded in the job, only to caste my judgement into doubt. Yet over a protracted career of 48 years, I feel the interview helps to provide the client with valuable information and  lessen the margin of error.

Just for the record, I want to point out some of the things I look at in job interviews-verbal skills, lies and discrepancies in the CV, explanation of failures, career aspirations, reactions to various role plays which parallel the job for which the candidate is applying and when necessary, cross cultural literacy.

The job interview is not a sales pitch for the company to which the candidate is applying. The experience of the interview must be respectful yet challenging. Not a walk in the park. The candidate should feel that the organization is mitigating its risks by making an effort to get to know him/her and that the experience engendered is akin to a challenging hard work out.

My assessment of most of the people I interview is fraught with errors in judgement, misreading and guesses, some educated and some stupid. But it is infinitely better than accepting a candidate based on any other means. It’s an indispensable and very imperfect tool.

Oh heavens, I forgot to mention. Candidates who take calls on their mobile during the interviews are generally rejected.

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Lessons Learned from Hernia Surgery

As part of my preparation for hernia surgery, I watched a number of YouTube videos which helped very much ally my fears.

So to chip in to others who will undergo this ordeal, I want to share my ‘lessons learned”. This post is aimed at people who, like me, may be absolutely terrified of going under the knife.

Just for the records, I have a bilateral repair with 3 tears and two meshes inserted by keyhole surgery.

  1. Don’t dither about having the surgery. There is no other way to fix a hernia. Do it. Putting it off for a few weeks/months make no sense whatsoever.
  2. It’s been a week now, and my major take away is that it is not all that bad. Is it a walk in the park? No. It hurts, but by far the worst part was the fear in my mind, which was of my own making.
  3. Don’t google and read about hernia surgery. There are many good sites, with lots of information, but very little is relevant. Having googled “hernia surgery” 3 weeks before my operation, I feared being denied surgery due to white coat hypertension, vomiting after waking up, severe constipation, inability to pee, inability to think straight for a few hours, severe abdominal pain, infection, sore groin pain and horrendous fatigue. None of this happened. Zero. The worst suffering I had came from too much information before the procedure.
  4. The night before the surgery is tough. Do breathing exercises, take a sleeping pill, and roll with the punch. The night before is a son of a bitch.
  5. Being rolled into the operating room is also tough. The few minutes you are still awake seems like an eternity. I counted backwards (in French) from 100 and never reached 70. I also closed my eyes.
  6.  If your blood pressure is normal at home (mine is 129/71), don’t worry about the count prior to the operation. It’s their job, not yours, to get your BP under control. (My BP was 190/100 when I checked in!)
  7. In the half day that you stay in the hospital for surveillance, talk to the people around who are suffering more than you. 
  8. Don’t be brave if it hurts. Tell the staff and they will help you. That’s why they are there.
  9. When you leave the hospital, focus on anything else except the pain. The pain is there, but it is bearable. Divert your thoughts.
  10. And good luck-if I did it with my preoperative anxiety level, anyone can.

It’s a week now. I’m driving, I have been to the beach, and I have walked one km a day since day two, each day adding on one kilometer.

 

 

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Presenting to an Israeli audience-10 guidelines

  1. Start at the end. Then explain how you got there. Otherwise the arguments you encounter  along the way probably mean you never get to the point.
  2. I know that you want to take questions and audience comments , but refrain from doing so, except at the very end, or for predefined short intervals. There is no problem in Israel to get people to comment; the problem is rather allowing the presenter to present.
  3. Constant smartphone usage by the audience is something you cannot defeat. Surrender.
  4. Be direct. Audiences do not pick up on innuendo all that well.Feel free to say things like, “I disagree” or even “you are wrong”.
  5. Present yourself by your first name, dress informally and don’t toot your own horn.
  6.  Delve into detail as needed to show your competence. Avoid sloganeering. Audiences are allergic to platitudes.
  7. If comfortable and appropriate, use humour.
  8. There is no need to control emotion when you present. Anger, passion and disgust are tolerated.
  9. Audiences tend to be sophisticated. So avoid speaking down, and any hint thereof. (The Israelis often say of those who speak down that “he thinks the sun shines from his ass”)
  10. If you have ground rules for your discussion, present them firmly. Be consistent because inconsistency is weakness, and you’re a dead duck if you cave in on your own ground rules.

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Understanding rapid changes of opinion by Israelis

Case

Gilad is an Israeli engineer working in Cleveland on a three year relocation assignment. Tommy is his Nevada-born and bred boss.

During the course of a discussion in the Planning Committee (Plan of Record) on the expected development time for a new feature, developer Gilad strongly expressed three opinions.

  1. There is no way we can make the May 9th deadline; let’s be real.
  2. The May 9th deadline is challenging but clearly doable.
  3. I’m absolutely against promising the client a May 9th delivery date, but who knows?

Tommy, was aghast. Tommy called Gilad into his office and told him that he would be wise to understand the facts, then form opinions. Tommy told Gilad that his wavering behaviour appeared unprofessional, “which is a shame because you are one of our more talented developers”.

Explanation

The rapid changing of opinions by Israelis is common; it baffles and annoys managers who have been raised to think differently. I shall attempt to provide a few reasons why Israelis appear to change opinions at the drop of a hat.

  1. We tend to have less distinction between facts and opinions. Very often, people have opinions and then look for facts to support them. This is a manifestation of a very ideological society.
  2. Words are important yet less significant as a commitment to action than is western cultures. There is even an expression,`just words`, IE, meaningless prater. (רק מילים)
  3. Entertaining very opposite opinions  at the same time, and then reaching a decision, is the very essence of the way Israelis think out a problem. Faced with impossible situations on a daily basis, this is an ultra pragmatic defense mechanism.
  4. There is no need for a safety net when changing an opinion,  because contradicting yourself is part of thinking things out. There is no expectation that people in a constant case of crisis be consistent.
  5. Anything that you say is true at the moment you say it, but everything changes all the time. This is survival mode in action.
  6. Any decision made (except for written contracts) can reopened for further discussion. This is also survival mode in action.

A common Hebrew idiom explains it all, אז מה שאמרתי (az ma sheh amarti). Here is how it is used.

  •      A-Let’s work this out over supper tonight.
  •      B-I thought you said that  tonight you need to take your daughter to see your mother.
  •      A-Az ma sheh amarti! (so what if I said it).

 

 

 

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Remembering Lizzie

Lizzie had the most beautiful smile I had ever seen; and although she was an exquisite woman, I remember her smile most of all. And her voice.  Lizzie had a soft, mellow and slightly deep voice.

To be honest, I remember more than her voice and her smile. She was something else.

I met her in Spanish 200 at McGill, which I had chosen that as my 3rd language requirement. So had she. Over the next three years, we slowly moved from speaking English to speaking Spanish, which both of us did quite well.

Lizzie and I used to meet before class started and  would continue talking after classes ended. I don’t even remember what we talked about. But we talked for hours and hours over the years.

“Do you know who you are talking to?” asked Paul, as we ate at the student union. “She was the most popular girl in school, and she has been seeing this guy Steven for over 4 years. You don’t have a chance”.

One of the things Lizzie and I talked about were concerts at the new Places des Arts. I had seen her there with the aforementioned Steve. I had been with Paula.

Lizzie and I agreed that “wouldn’t it be nice if we saw a concert together” and we never did. As my studies at McGill  ended, I was back in Israel doing my MA and she had gone to grad school.

I was living in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem in a student dorm, along with a German PhD student named Hans who was studying the commonalities between Yiddish and Hebrew, and  an agriculture student named Uri, who was almost never in the flat.

One day, I got an aerogram from a McGill friend who stated, by the way, that “Lizzie W from McGill Class of 70 was killed in a car accident on the way to Ottawa. Do you remember her?”

Some people loose their memories with age. I have a memory like an elephant. And when I think of Lizzie 50 years after I met her in Prof Stagen’s Spanish class in Peterson Hall, Room 120 at 1000 AM, I wish my memory was not as good as it is.

 

 

 

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C’est moi-about me

                       Georges

I am 69 year old OD Canadian-Israeli consultant, specializing in acute global diversity, post merger integration, interfaces between HQ’s and their “remote offices” and working with senior managers/teams to acquire global competency.

I work with Fortune 500 companies, family businesses, start ups, individuals and Boards in India, the Mid East, Europe, China South East Asia and North America.

I am appalled by  the western bias of OD and hope that before I die, I can make a difference to rework OD’s value to global organizing.

I am an atheist, left wing yet realistic, disgusted and politically isolated. I am a  political stranger in my homeland.

I am multi lingual, educated at McGill (Montreal) and Hebrew University (Jerusalem).

I was a runner for many years. Now I walk 12 km a day or swim 40 laps.

In my spare time, I read voraciously, study Middle East history, take care of Georgie-boy (my dog), and avoid television. The latest books I have read are the Automobile Club of Egypt , all of Steinbeck’s novels, and the biographies of Nixon, Reagan and Johnson.

I am a great fan of Radio Swiss Classic, and never miss the daily  Haaretz and the weekly Economist. 

I author the Gloria blog, which saves me mental health charges. I am a nonconformist, an acquired taste and in some ways, a “most peculiar” man.

Part of  family has been in Israel since the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine after Word War One. The rest of my family comes from England and Montreal.

I have 4 grandchildren, Daniel, Johnny, Maya and Rona, and I had a real British grandmother.

 

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Doing and believing – On “changing” company culture

Readers of my blog may be surprised to learn that despite my being a complete atheist, I have made a point to study (adult) university courses in religious thinkers over the past 4 years.

To be specific, I have studied the teachings of Paul, Augustine, Spinoza, Maimonides (Rambam) and Leibowitz.

I have been introduced to the vast differences between a focus on dogma, beliefs and faith on one hand, and a focus on  deeds, behaviours, and actions on the other. I find this area fascinating, full of paradox, intrigue and extreme cognitive/emotional complexity.

In this post I want to share with my readers a few free associations I have had about changing company culture, based on the stuff I have been studying from a totally unrelated area, ie, religious thought.

Although there is almost no parallel between the subject and the metaphor, whilst studying the complex link between between beliefs/action in religion led to me to thinking about company culture/ which I have always claimed cannot be “changed” as consultants claim it can. And I got myself thinking about the amount of focus on beliefs and dogmas in promulgating company culture, as opposed to the focus on acts and deeds.

I thought about a company that has a poor level of customer support, because their product is unstable, the service engineers get no cooperation from development team, the IT system is too slow and tier support level 2 and 3 are understaffed. In this company, over $200,000 has been invested in creating a culture focusing on “client intimacy”.  Of course, nothing changed. Except that $200,000 has been pissed away.

Culture cannot change by inculcating a series of beliefs or dogmas.Things need to  done differently, as this may  result in a  “change of culture” after a certain time gap.

Naturally, things need to be done differently within a given context,  and that context  is no doubt on based on beliefs.  Yet the major focus must be on consistent action, otherwise nothing will change.

Action without appropriate beliefs may result in some change. Belief and dogma not translated into action are a futile effort. As a matter of fact, belief and dogma do NOT impact culture at all. Culture is changed ONLY by concrete actions.

One more free association. Do staff need to understand why they are asked to behave in a certain way? Here is a true story, I worked for a company  that promised that clothes purchased could be returned NO QUESTIONS asked. The salespeople were furious because they claimed that customers bought clothes, went to a wedding and then returned them. Staff refused to comply because they felt humiliated, or “frayers” in Hebrew, dumb suckers.  Finally after a few people were disciplined, the automatic refund started to be implemented.

So yes, there is an element of “just do it” in company culture. And if you do not understand it, do it anyway.

 

 

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