On very very aggressive goals

In this post, I want to define what constitutes very very aggressive goals, run though their upsides and downsides for both managers and employees, and finally  discuss the practical implications for consultants who deal with organizations which have very very aggressive goals.

For the sake of this post, a very very aggressive goal is a goal which requires very hard work (often but not always) over a protracted period of time within a rigid and non-negotiable set of stringent budget, performance and quality requirements. Very very aggressive goals are often not achievable without some “slippage” or retreat , especially schedule, budget or “scope retreat”.

Why do organizations set very very aggressive goals?

1) To promise a key client something that they are demanding. Example: upgrade your last release or we will uninstall your software from our system.

2) To help build the career of a key decision maker. Example: Colonel Yair wants to use his unit to take out the enemy, because he is up for promotion in a few months.

3) In order to survive. Example: Ghetto Warsaw uprising. Or competitor emerges with prices that will destroy your market share. Or life saving medicine in a pandemic.

4) To gain huge strategic advantage in a very short time. Example: an application in the area of cyber security in a state under constant immediate threat.

Now let’s look at very very aggressive goals’ impact of various populations:

1 Employees

Newer employees and fresh meat can be very motivated by very very aggressive goals because of the platform it provides to shine quickly and get ahead without the tedious process of seniority slowly down the runway to promotion.

Veteran employees, who have seen this all before, take out their protective armor which includes making the “right” promises, “apparently agreeing”, prepare excuses and think who can be blamed when the shit hits the fan. “I did my piece but the specs we got were not accurate”, or “the client doesn’t know his ass from his elbow”.

I cannot overstate the protective armor that staff develops against very very aggressive goals. Example, “I won’t start working hard yet, because when the pressure really comes, I will already have ruined my family life”.

As Bangalore based OD guru Dr Joseph George points out in his comments below,  “sustainable achievements require a psychologically safe work environment in which one can attend to challenges as they occur, and deal with the stress of taking on initiatives that look promising, before they are completed”. The veteran recognizes the threat; the newcomers sees only the opportunity.

 

2 Managers

Middle managers are in a real quandary.  To maintain the trust with their employees, they need to listen to and factor in all the constraints and problems that surface to them, which often force them to ask the men in charge for more time and resources. The middle manager is often very aware that some goals are undoable, but cannot say so freely.

The senior managers at first often whip their horses more often than they plan to. Then, they pooh pooh away constraints, they show disdain for defeatism, they eventually start to hear only what they want to. They show little fear when they see cracks in the wall, but rather anger at the “incompetence of the troops”. Finally, senior managers craft stories about why the goals were not achieved: “circumstance changed”; the market changed-and/or they chop off a head or two and or pull off  a reorg which buys time from the board or key stakeholders. In other words, they provide a context that paints the failure as a non-failure, pushing forward doomsday to a later date.

3) OD consultants

I have been falsely accused of explaining how not to do OD,  and not focusing on what needs to done. Anyone who reads this blog knows what this is not true. I have  written many posts on how to deal with over-commitments and I will provide a few links. Like this. And this.

Now,  some practical tips on how to consult with companies whose goals are very very  aggressive:

The key to understand how to do successful consulting in such a situation is to understand how the organization will eventually de commit. (Goffman calls this process  “cooling the mark”.)

The first step and the most critical is bridging between what the managers say and what the employees know. 

De-commitment from the initial commitment may look like this:-

  1. Wow wow wow-we can do it.
  2. We are doing our best.
  3. There are some difficulties but we are confident
  4. There are some features we want to improve and this will take time,
  5. We will do “phased delivery”,
  6. We have a crisis!
  7. Renegotiation.

My experience is that the OD consultant needs to initially try two or three tricks that are known a priori will not be fully effective, yet will allow the gradual breaking of very bad news to the CEO. Interventions may include “coaching” for the head of R&D or one of his teams, various team building sessions or whatever. Within a month of two of OD being commissioned, “things are in process and while there is some improvement”, this change is not fast enough; then the management team can stop perfuming the pig both internally and with the client and come clean.

My experience also has taught me never to lose the trust of the programmers/first line employees. I once consulted on a project which management thought was “almost all done” while proof of design was severely flawed. I resisted all attempts to consult  people to “manage their priorities better-aka work even harder”. The moment that a Dilbert  feels that a consultant is there to apply pressure, the Dilbert  starts lying to you as well.

My experience has also taught me in situations of severe over commitment, people who “step up to the plate” and try to “make the impossible happen” may be very opportunistic and looking for a short term PR win. There are no fast fixes when the gap between the commitment and reality are too large. The OD consultant must be wary of factoring in commitment from these heroes-in-waiting.

Finally, 5 things you may not know about very very aggressive  commitments.

1 Culture counts. Risk tolerant cultures accept very very aggressive commitments because they are more tolerant about failure.

2 Very very aggressive commitments can be achieved especially when the winds of luck blow in the right direction.

3  Truth and facts die in an organization whose OS (operating system)  is based on constant very very aggressive goals. No one ends up knowing what is doable.

4 There are some very successful organizations which over commit and under deliver. In the real world of course, not in OD text books.

5 Very very aggressive commitments do breed positive by products in the short term-short cuts, risk taking and in-house innovation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning not to plan-and not worrying about it

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, said world champion boxing champion Mike Tyson. Very wise words, not only in the ring.

Corona has struck us in the face. And the new variants of the corona virus may well do the trick and finally  teach the world how to deal more effectively with exceedingly prolonged ambiguity as an ongoing state of affairs.

For the middle east and third world, this is nothing new. There simply is no clarity in the middle east. Everything is up in the air and unknown. Leaders are fickle; geopolitics are like volcanos which rumble and spit out periodic lava, and there is no rhyme and even less reason. It is what it is-unknown.

As a result of this, Israelis for example see planning as a waste of time or a ritual one has to go though to please those who come from more stable environments, in which planning is the staple of life, as in-“shall we book a trip to Tenerife this summer?”

  • “Will the bus I am travelling on explode?”-let’s hope not.
  • “Is the guy who just got on the minibus a terrorist?”-let’s not think about that.
  • “Is it safe to take Road 6 or is it being targeted from Gaza?”-drive to road 6; you cannot let terror guide your everyday decisions.
  • “Can we book a room in Jerusalem?”-is it ever safe to go anywhere?

In many third world countries as well, people know better than to plan all that much. You miss a train-maybe the next one is in a day or two-or next week. Maybe. Or-a typhon puts the internet service out of service, for a month or two, or six. And that apartment  I just rented in that new building-will it be ready in 2 weeks, or perhaps two years? Is that a real cop at the intersection, or a crook? 

So my western friends, join the club. Life is now one big unknown. The world health crisis has not caused a bad case of disruption as much as it has replaced order with constant and ongoing, endless disruption playing havoc with our adaptive mechanisms. And put this is your pipe and smoke it: Planning is counter indicated when the semblance of order has vanished.

It makes much more sense to focus on now, the next 100 meters ahead of us, the next few days. Less vision-more bread and potatoes. More fun-less anxiety. More que sera, sera-and less tight-ass attempts to stay young, healthy forever, and “ahead of the curve”.

All of this has a huge impact on the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of OD, in terms of our focus upon changing, as opposed to adapting to, reality. We have far less control that OD as a profession would leave us to believe.

But that’s another post-although I would love to read your comments about that.

 

 

 

 

 

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When a good company is acquired by a lesser company-what is the focus of OD?

This is a highly specialized article about doing a post merger OD intervention in a situation whereby a less successful  company with fewer competencies acquires a more successful and competent company and/or when a large, rigid behemoth acquires an innovative company, as illustrated by consultant Terry Seamon in his comments to this post.

First of all, let’s talk about what not to do:

  • don’t focus on creating one culture or merging the two, which cannot be done in any case.
  • don’t initially focus on the interfaces.
  • don’t work on cultural differences.

The initial focus should be on:

  • structure that accommodates as much autonomy as possible for the short term as well as minimizing interfaces where the gaps in competency are overwhelming.
  • short-term decision making forums based on parity, i.e. an equal number of decision makers from both sides, if at all possible. It’s not perfect but it’s probably the best that can be done.
  • preservation of competencies in the acquired company. 
  • reputation management with the client base with special attention to account managers
  • as much relocation as possible for as long as possible; this can be used to mitigate impact of less successful layers and augment the impact of more competent if done properly
  • creation of a House of Lords in order to relocate members of the acquiring company who need to be moved aside elegantly

For a cookbook on how to choke an innovative company to death, here is a link.

 

 

 

 

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Leadership and Management are a real-world activity-with a bright side and a darker side. A very dark side.

The way that people lead and manage is a function of the economic system in which they serve. Years ago (1961), David Granick illustrated this ever so skilfully in his book the Red Executive.

Of course, the present “capitalism-on-steroids ” develops a certain brand of leaders as well. Leaders and managers do some pretty awful things to get to the top, and  to stay there. As consultant Robin Cook points out in his comments to this post, this is due in part to the instant gratification’ culture (served by)management…most decision making has been short term (and is) based on tomorrow’s stock price &/or next quarter’s earnings statement”.

First, I shall provide a few examples of managerial behaviours which serve the system -after which we will have a look at what all this means for OD practitioners in our practical consulting work.

  • They say contradictory things to different audiences. Not just different emphasis! Different things altogether. 
  • They promise things that cannot be done, and then, slowly decommit, or recommit to yet another unachievable set of goals.
  • They allocate blame ensuring that very little “sticks” to them.
  • They please certain powerful stakeholders to the detriment of others. 
  • They set deadlines and apply pressure that endanger people’s mental health.
  • They pay as little as possible to get as much as possible, especially in labour intensive industries.
  • They scheme to crush organized labour. 

These activities are practised not only by poisonous and “loser”  managers, but also by very good and effective managers. Yes, management is a real-world activity-with a bright side and a darker side. A very dark side.

So what does this mean for OD and the people who train managers? Well, I’ll tell you what it has meant for me in my 45 years of practice with some pretty senior people. I always talk about things as they are-discussing all the possibilities and the trade offs.

  • “Yes, you can fire the present R&D manager to take the blame for the delay-but let’s examine what that means for your positioning  with the team, who knows you force fed these crazy deadlines.”
  • “The re-org you are proposing will buy time, but the shit will hit the fan anyway. If you take appropriate corrective action now, you know what you are facing. If you delay action by a bogus re-org, you will deal with the devil you don’t know.”
  • I avoid discussing the role of the leader as do most OD people, ie as a super hero and passionate visionary who walks on water, inspiring people by dint of his (or hers, or its) personality, charisma or  whatever. Leadership and management just do not work like that. Sugar-coating the art of management ruins your credibility.

 

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What can happen when the work place does not factor in the input of employee’s spouse?

Before you start reading this post, please note that I am not politically correct, nor do I use gender pronouns as is currently popular. And while all comments are welcome, I ignore comments that relate to my PC compatibility . Now let’s get down to a case study.

Fred, aged 48, has worked as Deputy CFO at large and well known international law firm, for whom he has been working 20 years. Fred’s boss, Harold, is 58 years old and has been with the firm since day one. Harold focuses on relations with tax lobbyists, PR in the financial community, and ensuring that he is involved in large new contracts to ensure profitability. Fred, on the other hand, does all the grunt work, at which he is very very good: thorough and meticulous.

Fred’s wife, Joselin, thinks it’s time that Fred take a crack at a CFO job and leave the law firm where “you will never get promoted till Harold kicks the bucket”. Joselin feels that the law firm takes Fred for granted, although he is very well paid. But, the company doesn’t allow Fred to travel first class to Japan (5 times a year) whilst Harold does have that privilege. And Harold has purchased a flat for his 4 kids, while Fred and Joselin can be generous, but not that generous.

Joselin also thinks that her husband needs to start to play “major leagues”, and not “plod on like a run-of-the mill ‘comptable’ (accountant in French)”.

It’s November now and the firm is planning its review process. Joselin has been pouring it on very thick lately, and Fred has even acquiesced to meeting a few young entrepreneurs who want a CFO to build the company, raise money, keep the firm on track, and join all negotiations. And the start ups are offering huge options and fat salaries.

No one on Fred’s firm knows too much about Joselin except that she is French (Canadian), the Head of The Physics Department at a local (very well known) university, dresses well and appears to be an excellent supportive partner to Fred as well as a devoted mother.

Fred is about to get the regular feedback -“huge asset to company; what would we do without you; 15% salary raise; one day the CFO job is yours; you need to trust your people more”. Joselin, in the meantime, is turning the screws, and Fred is torn.

It’s easy to claim that there is a separation between family life and work. But this is not always true. In many cultures, it is never true, especially in Middle eastern cultures and family businesses. In Western cultures, there is separation barrier, but a weak one.

But one thing is sure-the impact of the spouse on decisions that an employee makes are critical-and those who take the separation barrier to be very rigid, do so at their peril.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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Examples of the radical changes needed to renew OD’s relevance

I emerged dejected from a cordial meeting of very smart people on OD’s relevance in face of the massive change and crisis we are all experiencing.

I felt at times like I was in a group of Latin speakers, discussing how to further inculcate the use of Latin in written passports and diplomacy.

Now I have way of being in people’s face and speaking my mind, but I did try to behave until I heard words like “permanency” and “awareness”. Thankfully, one colleague from Missouri noted that the language we used during the meeting was somewhat out of sync. I felt, “thank god I’m not alone”

I decided to try to be positive today about the whole matter. I am recovering from a 3rd corona shot (which is no easy task) and it’s so hot that I dare not venture outside except for taking George outside to “relieve” himself. So I pondered-“what can be done”.

What  OD needs to do now to become relevant. (like yesterday!)

  1. Speed as strategy; whatever we need to do, it needs to be fast. 
  2. Work with clients to ensure that expertise is well positioned and empowered, even if it means less emphasis on teamwork.
  3. Similar to other professions, we need to intervene in order to diagnose. “Take this pill, if it works, then your symptoms are depression. Install this software, and we’ll test it down the road”. Diagnose, intervene measure; freeze unfreeze-are irrelevant. Eg, X is incompetent. Outsource the capability NOW.
  4. Stop standing on the shoulders of the founding fathers. They are old, dead and partially irrelevant. Show respect by breaking with tradition, as they did.
  5. In the army, I learnt that OD is done best before a battle and after. So when necessary, mitigate overdosing on reflection, awareness and activities that hinder short term survival. Yes, short term.
  6. Political survival of key figures, aka-what’s in this for me, becomes a dominant theme in extreme crisis. Factor this into your understanding of what is/needs to be done.

 

 

 

 

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Dealing with white lies and blatant fibs in organizations. And in OD!

Budgets, sales forecasts, dates of product releases, product quality: these are all issues that organizations lie about in order to ensure their existence in turbulent times. False data is fed to the market, to customers, to investors, to boards and often to competitors. 

Very often, without these fibs, the liar would have become a goner.

Example: The present budget for the new IT system is 4 million euro, claims the CEO to the Board, which oks the investment with great difficulty. Eight months later and 3 months before project completion, the CEO announces that 7 more months and 2 million additional Euros are needed to complete the project. The board caves in. Of course the CEO  knew in advance that this is the only way he could have pried out the money from the board, which eventually will cost 9 million Euro and 4 years to complete.

What are the main dangers posed by this “prologue” of initially lying? Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Within the organization, people need to pretend: fake goals; fake KPIs; fake updates; a culture of blaming someone else for the delay/quality/price. 

Or perhaps there is a double set of books! Like what we mean and what we say.

Or what we learn not to say.

And what happens to nay-sayers who challenge the fibs? Who thrives and who drowns in such a culture?

It all really becomes one big fucking lie. But the organization survives.

And of course we need to ask, what type of OD is done is such a context. Does OD help perfume the pig, as it were, stirring up the troops to do their level best to “make it happen”? Rah-rah; wow wow!

Or does OD unravel the web of lies, which poses short term existential threats which may cost the OD consultant his, or her, job. Yes, his or her. 

I have been fired 3 times for unravelling lies. I even consulted a company that had missed a delivery date by 3 years on a minor software release, on which no one was even working, albeit that the end customer was paying for its development.

Of course OD also has it little white lies, to say the least. Is what we do actually good for business always? Do the latest trends that OD practitioners push really add value? Like “love in the workplace” or “hire for neuro-diversity”. Is wellness achieved at work, for God’s sake?  Does teamwork pay off? Is process and value alignment necessary, or do the conflicting demands between the two create the necessary tension needed to get the job done? Can we strengthen middle management; Does it do any good? 

I suggest that before we attempt to undo the fibs and lies of our clients, we deal with our own shit. If you get my drift.

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Letter from Tel Aviv as cease fire comes into effect

Living in an area which was not spared bombing on 3 nights, as well as working on-site with clients which were constantly bombarded, made the last 11 days into a rough patch, to use some British understatement. The British understatement comes from my maternal British grandparents. All in all, I ran to bomb shelters over 50 times.

Yes, the body came back to my thoughts again. I had put it aside for years. In 1973, on the way to the Syrian front on the Golan Heights, we saw the body of a recently killed Syrian soldier. On the way back from the Syrian front the next day, the body was still there. However it stank something awful and there were flies all over it. It was bloated,  about to explode. The sites of that body never really haunted me; but I did think about it as I lay in bed with the sounds of rockets whizzing overheard, now, in 2021.

Last Wednesday, as  I left my client’s site this week (in Ashkelon) and travelled home, there was a huge rocket barrage. On the radio, I heard the warning to “take cover” for the very area I was travelling thru.  Most drivers stopped their cars and took cover. I heard my late Dad’s voice telling me “floor it and get the fuck out of there”. That’s what I did, as I closed the radio and returned to my audiobook Hidden Valley Road, a book about a family heavily impacted by severe mental illness.

Did I think about Gaza? In my military days, during one of the courses, I was stationed there for a few months. Not on the border of Gaza, but in Gaza City. I used to buy myself Seven Up and Hershy Bars, which were unavailable in Israel at the time.

To get back to my question! I did, but not the way that many of my readers probably did. I thought about what happens with the people there who have no say whatsoever about how their government operates. I thought about the devastating impact of religious beliefs on the Gazans. I thought how lucky I am to be secular. How lucky I am to have been born on the winning side, although I am aware that the world press is most sympathetic when the Jews lose. 

And I remembered all the time what my fate would be if we were not strong. No dhimi for me, thank you very much.

My daughter called me every day urging me not work. She rarely calls me once a week! My son called me often as well. I reminded each of them where the will is and told them that at 71+, I prefer death by bombing more than other health atrocities which await me.

Am I critical of my own government? It’s hard to expect too much from the thugs who run our show, influenced as they are by their right wing, fascist religious base.

Both sides have their lunatic fringe, yet if you take the most open minded and liberal people on both sides, they are still light years apart. This is a blood/religious/territorial  feud of the worst kind; no end is in site. Would a left wing government acted differently? Well I have a strange answer for that. My guess is that a left wing government would have have bombed Gaza much earlier due to the incendiary balloons  lobbed at us for years. Only a right wing government such as the one we have could have waited so long.

So now it’s back to “normal” for a while, until the next break down of the “hudna” , a must know Arabic word for people who want to know how violence ends in this neck of the words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why so many cultures mistrust “process”

Austin-based Alvin has had a bad start to his new role as senior VP of Process Release Control at the software company that he  joined recently. Until recently, Alvin’s career has been with companies based in the US and Canada; now Alvin is working with a US based multinational with branches in the UK,  India, China, Russia  and Israel. So it is fair to say that Alvin has some learning to do. 

Alvin thought that challenge he would be facing was to upgrade the level of process compliance by introducing friendlier systems; instead “I am facing an insurrection as well as a silent rebellion against all process; this place is a fuc-ing madhouse.”Oh yes, Alvin put his CV out on the market in a clandestine manner after two months on the job.

With the corona virus raging, forcing people to work from home, Alvin cannot get any face to face time; all his interactions take place via Zoom, which he finds exhausting and not much more than perfunctory communication. So Alvin commissioned a white paper (Alvin is not all that aware of diversity-compliance) to give him an idea how to approach the challenges he faces. 

Alvin was expecting that the white paper would provide him with a process to close the gap between current behaviour and the process; instead Alvin was actually confronted with a rude reality-he needed to adapt himself! Alvin turned whiter than the white paper; he was livid with anger as he read the white paper.

The paper suggested that some of the people in his company believe that process is a “trap” that management sets up to ensnare people into unrealistic commitments. Others in the company are convinced that only by working around process and bypassing it can things get done, because the process serves the bureaucracy and not the task. Others believe that a firm relationship between the developers and the client is the only way to deliver on time, because the process is so detached from the ever-changing needs of the client. And worst of all, some of his staff actually believe that one needs to bow down to process and feign compliance, while carrying out the task in sly and evasive manner.

In a recent call with 15 participants , one of the engineering leads said, “Fuck process, Alvin, we need to deliver-the client is a moving target; the clients’ marketing and operations don’t agree about what they have ordered from us. We cannot work from the formal specs”.

After 17 months on the job, Alvin left the company after he found a job in the HQ of a state owned utility in North Dakota.

And the moral of the story? Process can help to get things done in some cultures, not many. Other cultures get things done by beating the system, close relationships and even cheating the system via anti-process client centric entrepreneurship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why are Israelis so willing to vaccinate-a glimpse into Israeli culture

More than six million Israelis have been vaccinated; by March the economy will fully reopen (already happened) , with nearly universal vaccination for populations-in-danger, and anyone else who wants to put an end to the hellish existence of the past year.

In this post,  I will underline the cultural underpinnings which explain the willingness of our population to roll up their sleeve and take the jab. True, the government and our superb public health system did procure and provide logistic support for this endeavour, but that alone does not explain the willingness of the population to get jabbed. I trust that this short post add another layer of explanation

  1. Israelis are risk tolerant.  It starts with our history. The ingathering of the exiles from the Diaspora into Turkish and then British-mandated Palestine, into what is now the State of Israel, was always a high risk endeavour (which most Jews opposed until the Holocaust).  Against all odds, from the late 1800s until today, almost every single achievement has been achieved by risk taking. Many risks paid off; many others fail. But bottom line, we owe our existence to our risk tolerance.
  2. Israelis have a proclivity for action. Israel was a pioneer society, with something of a wild mid-west mentality. There still remains  an anti-intellectual streak which values doing over thinking. In Chinese, there is an expression “should I push at the door or should I knock at the door?”, which is used to describe dithering and dawdling. We do not have that in our culture-we do. Often with poor results, but usually with huge success.
  3. Fast and dirty. We bypass process, then mop up. Process takes the back seat to speed. Speed is strategy. Software is released quickly, then we clean up, We build apartments, then roads. We take the vaccine, and mitigate the fear of side-effects.
  4. Life is hard, and then you die, so cheer up. Life here means inevitable hardship-wars, terrorist attacks, threats, endless security checks when we travel, high taxes, shitty government and a religious minority trying to shove religious observance  up our asses. So cheer up and enjoy life while you can. Israel is a place with lots of fun and action. We do anything we can do to enjoy life. Drink, party, liberal sexual mores, great comedy, lively bohemian scene, great food, music and innovation. Get vaccinated, then be merry… until shit hits the fan, which it inevitably will.

Hope that sheds light on what’s happening. And on Jan 19th, I get the second vaccine. (Happened-no side effects)

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