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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Trust busters in virtual/remote teams

Remote and virtual teams have chronic ailments. These ailments exist in almost all teams of this nature. The goal of this post is to point out the most severe generic impediments to provide a context for readers interested in this common organizational configuration.

 

  • Hidden Agendas around control

Hidden control agendas are based on who tells whom what to do, which site is strategic and which site is tactical, and who is the dog that wags the tail.

Over time, the stronger more controlling sites gets the sexy work, the budget and the senior management patronage so necessary for long term growth of the local site. The other sites whither and are downsized, or are relegated to boring continuous engineering.

 

  • Transparency

Most remote sites have more internal transparency to one another than they have towards other sites. It is a type of local patriotism. Information that is shared internally within a site may not be as freely shared with members of another site.

And to be even more blunt, transparency between remote sites is are rare as democracy in the developing world, Middle East and Africa. Transparency is often viewed as weaknesses, in the Darwinian struggle between sites.

 

  • Competency

Various sites tend to have very different competencies. US based sites are close to the market; Israel based sites are highly innovative; India sites are very flexible; Japanese sites have unique customer intimacy, and the list goes on and on.

The lack of trust between the sites often  reflects the tension between the competencies; for example the Japanese site will obsess about what the client asks for. whilst the Israeli site will focus on what the client “really needs”, whilst the American site will try to ensure that the demands of the Japanese don’t divert the product from an agreed upon (American) product road map.

 

And a final comment. There is very important work to do in order to enhance the individual skill of the remote/virtual team member. Nevertheless it is important to carry around individual skill enhancement  within a context of the trust-busting environment in which ALL remote teams function, so as not to saddle the individual with the burden of the organizational design.

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If you want team work, put your money where your mouth is

If you overeat, you get fat.If you text and drive, you may mow someone down and ruin a few lives. If you don’t buckle your sear belt and you hit an air pocket, your vacation may not be a lot of fun.

Consistency between action and results are pretty important, “if you ask me”. Which is why poor teamwork is so frequent.

Organizations do not position teamwork as an absolute “must have” in the recruitment process. Time and time again, skills trump teamwork when push comes to shove, relegating teamwork to a “nice to have” position. Real shitty team players are “excused” because they are “top–notch professionals.”

Organizations do not have performance reviews for teams; but rather the individual is sized up on a yearly basis, stuffed with feedback like a goose. Naturally, the interfaces between teams, (eg, between Sales and Engineering) are not subjected to the review process.

Compensation is very much aligned to the individual, never to the “interface between teams”.

Individuals are developed much more frequently than teams.

People are often fired, but teams are never fired.

People are recruited, not teams.

Diversity and inclusion efforts are aimed at colour, sexuality, disability, but never at accommodating other professions who look at the world differently (eg R&D vs Finance; Legal vs Sales).

So, if you are sure that you need team work (and not every organization needs team work), put your money where your mouth is. Hiring a consultant to clean the dirty diaper after the organization has been poorly “architected” is pissing into the wind, an expression which my dear late Dad used all the time.

Sorry for not being able to control myself.

 

 

 

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Enhancing a sense of personal ownership in an organization with very aggressive goals

I am not a magician. Far from it. Albeit my “in your face” style, I tend to be very realistic in my approach to managing and mitigating organizational pain,foremost by creating appropriate expectations. My interactions with Ed will demonstrate how this is done.

Ed called me a month ago;  we had 6  conversations. In our first meeting, Ed described the reason he had approached me “Allon, I want your help to install a sense of personal responsibility in order to grow our company by 7% per quarter for the next year”.

Ed’s  company is in a high growth area, so his growth goals were not all that bizarre. What was totally misguided was his desire to enhance the sense of  “personal ownership”.

Personal ownership is counter-indicated to achieving aggressive growth. I told him as such and explained.

“Ed, when aggressive growth goals are set, the major concern of staff at all levels is “what do these goals  mean for me”?  For example the developers do not  want to release sloppy code; account managers do not want to deal with angry clients who feel that they have been duped. Customer service wants scripts to  solve client problems and product marketing wants to maintain a stable product road map.

Aggressive growth is achieved by trading off the maximalistic goals and wet dreams of each function/profession to create a runway that enables a fast take off for growth. It’s all about trade offs, compromise, sharing of risks, not ownership of a subset of goals.”

I explained to Ed how a enhanced sense of personal ownership in the context of aggressive growth  will drive managers to set very high standards for their respective functions,  and subsequently to refuse to negotiate pragmatic trade offs/compromise. And worst of all, a culture of blaming and finger pointing will thrive.

As a result of our conversations, Ed went offsite with his team with me to discuss “how do we share risks?”

By setting appropriate expectations up  front, the intervention was shorter (less commercially viable) and very effective..But I built a reputation with Ed, and that will pay off over the coming years, if I am still around.

 

 

 

 

 

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Organization Developments’ dangerous fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is the strict unwavering, inflexible adherence to principle, most often  but not solely religious.

We all know what religious fundamentalism looks like as well as the damages/mass stupidity it can inflict both on its own believers and its enemies. The user experience at airports since 9/11 is a testament to this.

Not only religions have fundamental principles- so do professions, including organization development.

The fundamental OD principles were based on where, when and by whom OD was founded, and served as the platform for the profession and its subsequent development.  While the world of organizations has changed, the principles have not, rendering OD’s fundamentals as outdated as a man waving a sword chopping  off peoples’ heads off because he  wants to recreate his 6th century grandeur.

Let’s take a few examples.

Democracy:

OD was a response to the dangers of fascist regimes and many OD interventions encourage democratization. In 2019, it is democracy which is facing huge challenges. Not only is it clear that democratic processes can lead to extremely dangerous decisions, but over time the types of people who rise to the top can be very dangerous and corrupt.

The empowerment of the individual:

What a mess this has become! System problems (such as aggressive deadlines and enforced loneliness aka remote work) are ignored. Coaching the individual, wellness programs and engagement voodoo take the system problems out of the spotlight, wallpapering them with an irrelevant focus on the individual.

Authenticity

OD places a premium on authentic communication. However, in many cultures, authenticity is akin to farting in an elevator. Even in the west, authenticity does not pay off. Authentic people often get fucked, when they don’t get fired.

And I can go on and on. But I won’t. I will however end this post by a description of how an OD fundamentalist facilitates a merger. Ignoring Machiavelli and Darwin, the OD fundamentalist with try to take the best from each culture to form a new culture, based on the best of both worlds. This inevitably fails. However, an OD consultant who has moved beyond fundamentalist will assume that there are no mergers, just acquisitions, and let nature take its course, serving as a midwife for the inevitable survival of the fittest.

 

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Can organizations be helpful with the mental health of their staff?

Many years ago, while I was taking care  of my  wife who dying from cancer, I was prone to try absolutely everything that worked. We visited alternative medicine clinics, visited specialists who “rewire mental energy,” and frequented near-magicians. After a  few months ,she died. I look back at the days I dragged her around to various quacks and still feel guilty. She was tired and worn down- and we were being fucked over by quacks.

I believe that organizations create a lot of mental health issues. They set impossible goals, pit people against each other, measure your performance against ambiguous/fake yard sticks , rank and rate you, and force feed slogans the goal of which are to get more for less. Management is very often toxic. Change after change creates tons of anxiety. On top of it, people are asked to be authentic, and punished  when they are.

It is my deep belief that organizations should stay away from helping employees deal with mental health issues. They are suspect; they often exacerbate mental disorders and in some case cause mental disorders.They should provide no in house  counselling whatsoever. Wolves should not be allowed in the chicken coop, even if it is guard duty.

I also believe that discretion promised to troubled employees is often violated.

People with mental health and their support group should manage mental health issues outside of the work place if at all possible. Allowing organizations to meddle in employees mental health is akin to falling victim to quackery, or extreme naivete.

Wolf, stay away with your stretch goals, authenticity, play room, coaching-for-stress and toxic management.

 

 

 

 

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Fake information in organizations

Fake information has been around in organizations for more than two decades. It has had a devastating impact on the way that organizations function. In this brief post, I will document frequent manifestations of fake information which I have encountered in my consulting career in North America, the Mid East, Europe and Asia.

  1. Fake commitments. Company A competes for a tender by promising to deliver non existing product features in an impossible time frame. The tender is won, and the delivery as promised never really happens, or is delivered as a so called  “phased delivery” in a long and painful process of de-commitment.
  2. Fake planning. As a result of the fake commitments,  aggressive deadlines are driven down to the troops in Company A in order to deliver the non existent product features on time. The nerds provide feigned agreement to the plans.  As due date comes, things start to “slip” and no one is really surprised. New nerds are recruited, only to slow down the development process. Lessons learned passes off the blame left, right and centre, but never to the initial original sin of a fake commitment.
  3. Fake team work In order to drive costs down, people from all over the world are recruited to work in virtual teams. These teams are negatively impacted by trust issues, language issues and cultural differences. However these difficulties  are patched up with fake team work, a series of pyrotechnical activities which sort of, or sort of not, “put us all on the same page”. As a result, the hidden agendas flourish mainly under the surface, where they are harder to observe and treat.
  4. Fake wellness Caving in to management gurus as well as  slick salesmanship and fads, organizations hide their intention of getting “more for less”  via “wellness programs” for those nerds caught up in the above scenarios. These programs perfume the pig by better nutrition, gym membership preferably on-site, and perhaps breathing exercises.
  5. Lies in due diligence No where are there more blatant lies than in the due diligence phase before certain (though not all, obviously) mergers, aka acquisitions. The acquired company misrepresents its product, assets, liabilities, market share and pipeline in often a (desperate) effort to find a perfect “suitor” who can inject cash and put them out of their financial, client-related or technical misery.
  6. Mergers There are no mergers. Just acquisitions.

 

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