How do organizations function without trust

Trust is a great enabler and meaningful success factor in organizations. But many organizations have low levels of trust, yet perform well or beyond expectations in some cases, at least for the short run.

The goal of this post is to point out how organizations compensate for lack of trust.

  1. Escalation. In lieu of the capability of solving issues between people or functions, things get escalated up to a more senior level. Often, this escalation is done by emails to a large list of people. Eventually, a senior manager puts people out of their misery and makes a call.
  2. Feigned trust. Like  some of the orgasms some of the time, trust can faked. It is often faked by apparent agreement, nicey nicey fuzzy statements and decisions which are ambiguous, like, “we need to address this issue at a higher level some time by the end of the quarter”.
  3. Blaming. Rabid blaming can replace trust, and often does. The root cause of any given issue is not dealt with, so someone or some function gets hanged. For example in software, when release dates between development and marketing are not agreed upon, release managers get fired. Furthermore, this often happens between governments and their  military. The government can claim military incompetency while the army can claim that the “goals of the mission were unclear”. A perusal of most Israeli newspapers will provide ample examples.
  4. Brute force. Coercion and fear can get jobs done. It is not popular to say so, but it’s very very common. Good? NO. Frequent, heavens yes.

So go for building trust yet realize that if it ain’t going to work, there are bypasses which are not wow wow, but they are usable. If this is the case, focus on damage control.

 

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What do organizations forget?

Last week, I discovered a small sum of money that I am entitled to withdraw, given my advanced age, 68.

So I went on line, spent hours and hours filling out forms and uploading documents to forward to the financial institution so they can forward me the funds. Among the documents included was my identity card that states my age.

I then called the call centre to check that all the documents are correct. After 2 hours and twenty minutes, they answered the phone; after a document check I was told that I need to sign a form that I am over 60 years old. However, the form is not available on line. The form will be sent to me by (a very unreliable 3rd world) Israel Post. “But you have my ID card”, I protested. The clerk ignored my comment, then told me that “she understands my anger” and thanked me for calling the call centre.

All of which led to the first thing that organizations forget- 1) common sense.

There are many more things that organization forget.  Here are a few more-

2) How important mediocre people are to success, ie, plain ordinary people who want to do their job as directed, and go home.

3) Luck plays an important role in the success and failure of the company.

4) Organizational culture cannot be changed. Things can be done differently and this may Impact culture over a protracted period of time,  but it is almost impossible to “change culture” by acting on cultural artifacts.

5) The possibility of human stupidity is endless. When you think that you have covered everything, watch out. A common example of this is end endless attempts to “define away” complexity of roles and responsibilities.

6) Diversity is not mainly about skin colour, race, sexual preference, or bathrooms for transgenders. Diversity is mainly is cognitive styles, cultural preferences, and emotional proclivities.

7) The only secret that exists is when two people know something, and one of them is dead. Everyone eventually knows everything.  This includes who earns what and who is fucking whom.

8) Everyone, absolutely everyone, thinks about change ONLY in terms of “what’s in it for me”?

9) There are no mergers, only acquisitions. The acquired companies culture is ultimately decimated.

10) Often, doing a job well requires less people, not more.

 

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On surviving the protracted rule of the right wing

I have never voted for a party that has been elected. For years I have found myself in disagreement with almost every law passed by my (Israeli) government. Religious practices are rammed down our throats; messianic lunacy drives our illegal settlement policy.

Furthermore, the political system is itself is systemically corrupt. The corruption started with the Bolshevik style of the very first generation after Ben Gurion. The right wing under Netanyahu “perfected the system” shamelessly.

The actions of the governments in my country are a deep source of shame for me.

My liberal  American friends and colleagues are now learning to live in a country dominated by “others”. Social media and traditional media are brewing with anti Trump resistance. Polarization and bi partisanship is rabid. Everything appears to be either/or, our way or their way. I have been in such a milieu for over 20 years. So, I want to share with my readers a few tips about how to survive.

1-You need to understand why you are in the minority. You need to stay there, in the minority, for a long time, until you get it. I suggest reading about the philosophical underpinnings of the right. You don’t need to agree with them. But understanding them is a must. I would start with Strangers in the Their Own Land.

2-For those not willing to take the intellectual journey, as to why we are witness to the return of the right,  you can always focus on achieving small things. Small things enable victories. In the last few years, I have focused on Beach Day for Palestinian kids.

3-Read different perspectives about the same problem. I often read Israeli right wing press, left wing press, the Egyptian press, the Saudi press and the Turkish press to develop an understanding of Iran. In other words, stop inhaling your own smoke. It’s worse than living under a leader with whom you disagree.

4-Keep friendships across partisan lines. I have many friends who are more left than me (one state solution) and many friends who are observant (although not messianic). Use friendship as a bridge to understand the internal logic of the other side.

5-Think  about democracy. Are you a democrat until the opposition is in power? Think hard about that. Personally I am struggling because illiberal democracy is not my cup of tea.

6-Also, think about what the real issues are for you . Save your energy for important matters. Personally, I pretty much ignore issues like the rights of transsexuals to choose their toilets, or should the trains run on Saturday. Because trains will not run on Saturday, ever. And the rights of transsexuals to choose their own toilets is a symptom of the agenda-less-ness.

7-Finally, think about if you want to be politically involved or not. Because the time we all have is limited and the “right “is going to be in power for an awfully long time.

8-And finally, stop attacking Trump on his mental condition. Kennedy, Johnson, Lincoln, McKenzie-King, and Churchill all had severe issues of mental health. If Trump bothers you more than Trumpism, you are pissing into the wind. If you don’t know about McKenzie-King, you are missing some wild stuff.

 

 

 

 

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Improving leadership capabilities of highly technical people

Over the course of my 40 year career, I am lucky to have been entrusted with upgrading the skills of world class, very highly competent technical people who are not good managers.

“Not good” in an understatement.

Morton solved all problems on his own, belittling his 23 member team. Zehava worked 19 hours a day, proofing reading her proofreaders edits, and generally finding errors! Gordon could not make a clear decision; he was constantly dithering. Jacques gave the same task to 5 people, and ensured they did not know about the others, “to avoid hurting their feelings”.

Generally, these technical experts tend to have several of the following characteristics:

  1. They see only certain types of detail, blind to other types of detail.
  2. They tend to be impatient.
  3. They over-rely on themselves.
  4. They do not understand underlying people/political dynamics until it’s pointed out, and even then, they may not get it.
  5. They troubleshoot well and fail in routine.
  6. They do not communicate effectively with employees or peers, yet senior management is by and large satisfied with their overall skill set.

What is the best idea to work with someone like this?

Well, similar to what historian Prof Uzi Rabi claims about the ‘best idea” to tackle the woes of the Mid East region: “there is no best idea”. There are many leads to follow, some may work for some, but nothing works wonders.

Here is what I have found to be useful.

  1. Acknowledge their expertise. The expertise is who they are. Once they feel you respect them, they listen better.
  2. Show your own expertise. Be an expert, not a facilitator. Experts respect other experts, especially those with a different expertise. This may mean that you need to be more prescriptive than thought-provoking. No big deal.
  3. Let them talk, then ready, aim and fire.  These managers are used to being on top of things; they will assume that YOU don’t understand. Let them  explain, even if they ramble on-then ask for stage time. Aim first. You don’t have too many arrows in your sling before you can be dismissed.
  4. (Over) Use logic when possible; if they do not understand, tell them that you are teaching them a different logic they do not yet understand.
  5. Work with their teams to lessen the expectation for managerial babysitting.
  6. Use their technical analogies, like, “we need a system reboot for the way you get marketing and sales to work together” or, “let’s look at this from a system architect perspective”, or “let’s debug the process”.

Trial and error, no grand theory, lots of patience, and learn to love or leave. It’s not easy. I love it.

 

 

 

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End-to-end understanding of how the organization works

What is an end to end perspective? What is its value?

Imparting an end- to-end understanding about how an organization operates is one of the most critical skills an employee needs. The marketer looks at the unique  opportunity and market value creation, the system architect looks at the interfaces to client systems, the developer asks how will this can be built and how interesting it will be; finance looks at where the profit is and how to drive costs down and HR looks at how to keep key performers on board and recruit people to do the tasks.

When staff has an deep, empathetic, end to end understanding of how each role sees reality, there is far less friction, less politics, less managerial overhead and a smoother ride, even over stormy seas. 

Yet end to end understanding is rare. In its lieu, escalation to management for decisions that fall between the cracks becomes the norm, bogging the organization down with severe constipation.

Why is an end to end understanding so rare in todays’ organizations?

  1. It is impossible to fully clarify roles and responsibilities due to the pace of business, which calls for role flexibility and inevitable role overlap. Yet there is incomprehensible effort made to define away complexity, creating false expectations that role and process clarity will make things run smoothly. Clearly a false prophecy.
  2. IT has enabled people not only to communicate quickly, but also to deflect responsibility forward and or backward on the work flow process. Huge email threads are needed to solve the simplest of issues as the problem gets passed like a hot potato, with each side attempting to lessen an ever growing workload, which itself stems from far too much communication.
  3. In order to overcome the bad attitudes, politics and ping-ponging, organizations try to recruit good team players and /or do surveys which feed back the issues to management and the troops. But the bad attitude and ping ponging stem from the organization’s IT business processes coupled with the expectation that complexity can be defined away.

How to impart an end to end understanding? 

  1. A cross-mentor  enables people from from one discipline  to train people from another discipline how to look at reality.
  2. Lessons learned using an end to end methodology (which I have developed) enables debugging the organizational work flow, as opposed to only correctly the actual event that went astray.
  3. Buck passing, finger pointing and deflection should be discouraged. People should be enabled to take risks to get the job done, even if risk is involved since people may overstep their role into someone else’s domain.This is very hard to implement in organizations, but it is possible. For example, a check out cashier in a hotel may be empowered to drop charges from a mini bar it the client claims that he did not drink from the minibar. (In this case, the check-out cashier is focusing on creating client satisfaction, not minibar profit.)
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On dysfunction of very senior teams

Lots is written about the dysfunction of the team that Trump has assembled: backstabbing, turnover, intrigue seem to be common. Not very surprising and not very new.

This post will spell out a few reasons why I believe that dysfunction is so frequently  “built into” the genetic code of very  senior teams. Severe dysfunction at the most senior level is something that I expect. I am very surprised when this is not the case.

First however, a small historical anecdote.  At the beginning of the 20th century, very senior competing officialdom in England botched up the middle east for more than one hundred years by issuing in parallel conflicting and diametrically  opposed policies such as the  McMahon-Hussein correspondence  and the Sykes Picot agreement. This dysfunction has caused endless chaos and countless wars. We are not anywhere close to extricating ourselves from this mess which was caused in great part to the most severe senior dysfunction at the senior level of the British administration.

Jumping forward in time, I will provide my observations about why very senior teams have such severe dysfunction.

  1. Senior leaders have limited time, so gatekeepers have more power than experts, a critical component for creating severe friction.
  2. It is VERY common for the guy at the top to be an extremely paranoid player who plays one team member (and interest) against the other as a default. It is very hard to get to the top if you don’t have this skill. Those who float to the top are a special breed; they are extremely adept political animals who shift blame with great skill. The glory (when created) goes to the leader; the blame is shifted downwards. So there is often nothing to gain and much to lose by being a team player. 
  3. People who work with senior leaders learn to be sycophants who please the leader almost to the exclusion of all others.
  4. Many senior leaders want the people around them to churn  out of the organization every so often, thus eliminating the creation of alternative power bases. So they create a rotating exit door to keep the power of others at bay.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,and hastens to the place where it rises.

 

From Wiki-Help Britain fight Turkey and gain independance

 

Sykes Picot (from Wiki) Divide the Middle East between England and France per “areas of influence”

 

 

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Competency trumps culture and gender

Recently a CEO hired me to sit in on 5 meetings of his senior management team. The team consists of executives from the USA, Canada, France, Israel, Singapore and Tokyo. There are both men and women in this team; the men tend to be older than the women.

The CEO was surprised when I shared my findings. He had expected that I would discuss the dynamic whereby a certain younger female US based executive constantly criticizes Asia based managers on their lack of transparency. He also expected to hear from me about the poor communication, which is rooted in the vast cultural differences.

My feedback related to the gap between the professional competency of the staff. Clearly, there were team members who were highly experienced and professional, and others who did not know the difference between their ass and their elbow. Two examples will suffice; one female executive had no answers whatsoever to questions she was asked and constantly asked to “check with my people and get back to you”.  One male executive used empty slogans to address complex problems, claiming that “if we just get on the same page, we can tackle the problem, as a team”.

My suggestion to consultants is as follows: cultural and gender differences are important, all things being equal. Things in this case being competence. If there is a huge variance in levels of competence, culture and gender may appear important, but they aren’t. Nothing trumps competence.

Example-

Israel based Daniel, head of research and development, constantly locks horns with US based CFO Jeanette in management meetings. Daniel claims that Jeanette needs to learn what questions to ask; he refuses to answer any question without first cutting her down.

Jeanette came from an investment bank and clearly does not yet understand the intricacies of budgeting R&D.  Furthermore Jeanette does not have her hands on the steering wheel; she is “fed” by an Israel based accountant who basically deals with authorizing purchase requests. The problem indeed is Jeanette’s competency, not Daniel’s style nor Jeanette’s gender.

 

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Opinions and facts in global organizations

Some but not  all people, distinguish carefully between facts and opinions; for these people there is a time to understand and a time to make a form an opinion.

For other people, stakes (opinions) are put in the ground  after which appropriate facts are sought out to support the opinion. For such people, all the facts, or the wrong facts, are plain damaging, because truth is not what the facts are, but what they should be. (This was very common in Communist art).

And for some people, facts are lies, because the facts display what Marx called a false consciousness, meaning that people perceive what they should not be perceiving.

In global organizations one can often find people from various cultural backgrounds who view opinions and facts very differently.

  • Einat from Israel changes her strongly held opinions many times in a discussion and finally, she agrees on the facts.
  • Nick from the US, believes that facts come before opinions, the former being the basis of the latter.
  • Hans from Munich believes that a grasp of the facts, and all of them, serve the basis for making rational choices, rather than personal opinions.
  • Wong from Beijing believes that  selective facts and  opinions must serve his bosses’ goals.
  • Sergei from Moscow believes that facts and opinions are very often manipulated to serve deep rooted interests, and that it is critical to understand what these interests are and act accordingly. For Sergei, initial facts and opinions are both raw intelligence data.
  • For Som from Bangkok, facts which may embarrass anyone are not real facts; they need to be distorted to maintain a feeling of positiveness and comfort, which serve the ultimate truth of avoiding shame at all costs.

In global organizations, these differences need to factored into so called  models of problem solving.

 

 

 

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The selective death of shame

Sexual harassment is a major  issue in organizations and justifiably so. Shame and shaming  play a meaningful role in the anti harassment effort; all sexual harassment must end hopefully without sterilizing the work environment as described in the Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan-

Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.

So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded.

And I expect you’ll all agree
That he was right to so decree.

However in many area of organizational life, shame is dead.  Here are just a few examples that come to mind. The great push for job-eliminating technology; the masquerading of unemployment as the gig economy. Health care gets better the higher you are ranked in the organization. Management buys new gadgets whilst cutting benefits to labour. Management flies first class, or business, absolving themselves from company travel policy. Reduction in force is carried out whilst senior management is on ski vacation. The list goes on and on. (I forgot to mention pay gaps between the plebs and the patricians).

Certain OD consultants and many HR-cum-spinner business partners serve as pacifiers for these ugly phenomenon which impact more than  one gender.

HR is the classic servant of the status quo, so I do not expect them to challenge anything like the issues I describe.  HR will often “bless it and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament.” (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice)

OD practitioners who sell commercialized products are probably making a living doing engagement surveys which “test” the waters letting management know how hot the water is. Or perhaps they are doing “coaching” to under-performers. Or perhaps cross dressing as change managers for a new reorg.

Shame/shaming is every so rare, because there is no real challenge to the present economic model and the derivative organizations forms which serve the economic model.

I do hope that shaming will eventually address these issues, because it a very effective tool. But OD won’t be there. Our values died when we stopped being contrarians and jumped into bed with HR business partners. And pardon me for saying “bed”.

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