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”.

 

 

 

 

1,920 total views, 38 views today

Share

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).

 

 

 

968 total views, no views today

Share

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.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,243 total views, 8 views today

Share

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.

 

892 total views, no views today

Share

6 phenomena you may notice in business meeting with Israelis- and what they mean

Lois Martin is the Americas sales manager for an Israeli firm which sells drug detection technology to police forces. Lois, a Toronto resident, was recruited 9 months ago; she has just finished her first visit to Israeli HQ, in Tel Aviv. Lois was absolutely shell shocked after a week of meetings.

Lois and I met for lunch today to debrief her on her impressions. Here is what shocked Lois, and the meaning I ascribed to augment her understanding.

1 Lois-Decisions appear to be final; then they are revisited and then undone.

Allon-Correct. No decision is binding until the very last second. It is common practice to challenge decisions all the time. This does not detract from commitment, rather it is a sign of commitment.

2 Lois-No one follows a meeting agenda. They jump from subject to subject.

Allon-Indeed. Issues get discussed but not as per a planned agenda. Free association and “I have something related to this” constantly shift the focus of discussion. However, everything get done but just in a different order.

3 Lois-Everyone is glued to their cellphone, all the time.

Allon-Everyone is glued to their cellphone, all the time.

4 Lois-People interrupt one another all the time, and raise their voices; it’s pandemonium.

Allon-People talk at the same time, butt in and contradict people before the other has finished speaking. It is not pandemonium; it is a discussion with different rules of engagement. You don’t use the rules of baseball in a football game. Discussions in Israel have their own rules. Join the mob or sit on the sidelines. And there is a lot to be said for almost total absence of “feigned commitment” so frequent in more polite cultures.

5 Lois-There are many off colour jokes; I was shocked.

Allon-Isn`t that refreshing-not to have all that PC rammed down your throat? Lois smiled, clearly not in agreement.

6 Lois-I noticed that people come to meetings late, and at times deal with family issues or bureaucracy during work.

Allon-Being on time is not all that important. A minimum ten minute delay is common practice, And Israel has a crushing bureaucracy which drains endless effort, especially if people are taking care of elderly parents or dealing with an insensitive government agency. For example, it can take 2 hours waiting to get a package at the post office, which often is open only until 2 pm. Or another example, cars have a compulsory “test” at a government accredited garage, a procedure which often entails quite a few hours. There are many more chores which need to be done, often on company time.

 

 

 

 

717 total views, no views today

Share

Consulting individuals who are severely misreading reality

CEO Liz leads a company with an outstanding product suite and market leadership, yet sales are missing the numbers due to  market slow down and increasing price sensitivity. Liz believes that her last 3 sales managers have been incompetent.

Liz hired me to look into the Sales organization. I found a group of highly skilled and highly motivated people who were doing a great job under the toughest of circumstances.

When I presented my findings to Liz, she was upset. “I did not hire you to hear that”.

I have been working with Liz for 9 months. She has not changed her espoused opinion about the Sales organization, but she is happy with the work I am doing with her (about how she manages).  I have not managed to change her views about how Sales is run, but I have changed some of her behaviours towards the Sales organization, Liz talks the same, but acts differently.

Here are a few things I have done with Liz,

  1. Used paradoxical interventions. “Liz, how about firing the whole lot of them now and biting the bullet. I’m sure you could turn this around in a quarter”. Or, “Liz, you aren’t busy enough, why don’t you run sales as a pastime?”
  2. Put Liz’s misunderstandings into context. Liz rose to the top quickly. She never failed. She prides herself on her spectacular career. She sees people as winners or losers. Once I understood this I could be more compassionate. (She sees me as a winner.)
  3. Winter driving techniques. Having learnt to drive in Montreal, I know how to get out of a snowbank, thanks to Mr Canning, my driving teacher. Back and forth-slowly. No force-just go back and forth. With Liz it’s same-same but different. Sometimes I entertain two opposite ideas, rocking her mind back and forth. because it’s stuck. “Liz, how about putting pre-Sales under a different manager, or setting up a technical pre-Sales department, or better localizing the Sales team”..Such sessions of “rocking her mind” are the ones she appreciates the most, subsequently settling back into rigidity.
  4. Giving Up. Sometimes I tell her that she looks at a giraffe and does not see its neck (an Israeli euphemism). That I cannot do anything. That she has defeated me. This gets her very angry, then she softens up.
  5. Humour. Liz and I share a sense of humour, Making her laugh about her own rigidity is very helpful.
  6. Understand the personal bias. Liz comes from a technical background. This is what we have cooked and it tastes great, Just sell it. Liz does not understand the complexity of other peoples’ non technical roles, yet.

 

 

829 total views, no views today

Share

Anxiety in organizations

Anxiety is built into organizations.

The anxiety stems from peoples dependence on one another.

  • If I build something but you do not sell it, I may get blamed.
  • If I cook a feast but the person who designs the menu makes it appear unattractive, then fingers may be pointed at me.
  • If I teach a course but the room is too hot, people may walk out on me.
  • If I answer the clients’ queries but the IT system is too slow, then the level of service provided gets knocked.

This inherent anxiety happens both within organizations and well as between organizations. Lawyers are used to lessen the anxiety between organizations. Sometime SLA’s (service level agreements) are used, with very partial success, to mitigate anxiety between people and functions within one organization.

Nothing whatsoever can eliminate this anxiety.  It is a built in feature. The only way to mitigate the anxiety is to talk about it, acknowledge overlapping responsibilities, maintain realistic goals, reward cooperation and hire-for-both-attitude and competence.

In the framework of the supervision I constantly hammer my young flock to avoid jumping to wow-wowism and sloganeering to paper over the basic anxiety  all organizational members carry on their backs or in their gut.

It’s there, and we need to learn to live with it. It cannot be otherwise, nor should it be. Depending on others is no mean feat.

 

 

1,694 total views, 4 views today

Share

Preconditions for Enhancing Ownership

Blame shifting, buck passing and turd-on-the-table avoidance are rampant in many organizations.

There are very good reasons why this happens: lack of long term mutual commitment between employee and work place, the gig worker/external vendors upon whom blame is easily shifted, goals which are overly aggressive and “a victim must be found”, the shocking lack of solidarity between what was once “the working class”, and the use of digital communication which make shirking of ownership so easy.

Many organizations play lip service to enhance the level of ownership. These organizations PREACH ownership, put the word ownership in job descriptions and mission statements and T shirts. However, this is what Israelis call “hasbara”, or (mindless) propaganda.

Other organizations want to enhance ownership but do not know how. This is my advice:

  1. If the goals that are set are too aggressive, forget about enhancing ownership. If you set up your employees to fail, they will not tolerate it. They will not agreed to be screwed. They will avoid being hanged at all costs.
  2. If risk assessment is shared, then ownership can be enhanced. This sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. The sharing of risks provides the context in which people can assume ownership yet feel safe. Force clarity of language. “Challenging”, “obstacles”, “threats”, “probable.”…these are words which hide more than they reveal.
  3. Use shared KPIs so that team members help one another to succeed. Do NOT rely on goodwill or teamwork. No one should be able to look good if they don’t help their peers succeed.

 

 

2,889 total views, 2 views today

Share

The cruelty of the so called flat organization

Flat organizations have a very cruel dynamic which I will highlight in this post.

A flat organization is way or organizing which has no hierarchy or very few layers of hierarchy. Supposedly, these organizations are superior  places to work, giving more room for creativity, abstaining from forcing decisions and  less infighting and bureaucracy.

I have worked for 8 flat organizations. Two are listed on Wall Street and are technology powerhouses. Three are industrial/agricultural collectives in Israel, and three were start ups.

Here are a few shared dynamics between all 8 organizations.

  1. There was a huge gap between what the way that they operated, and the way they claimed that they operated.
  2. There was a power elite in all these organizations, whether or not the people held office or not.
  3. There was massive social pressure to conform.
  4. The culture of these organizations was viewed as a ritual, ie, one must behave according to the rules in the spirit of a blind leap of faith.
  5. There was a lot of apparent buy-in to decisions.
  6. A language developed to hint at disagreement without actually saying it. Eg, the goal is really tough, yet if we all hunker down, it may be possible.
  7. There was a lot of cynicism about organizational life.
  8. Decision making was a nightmare.

Organizations need hierarchies to coordinate, make decisions, allocate resources and manage the inevitable kindergarten that exists in all organizations. And often, there is a dirty diaper to change. Lack of hierarchy causes extreme dysfunction and massive anxiety, so a de facto hierarchy is re-construed under the “non-hierarchy”.

The challenge of good organizing is about making more effective hierarchies, not via taking away the very scaffolding which provides sanity against extreme anxiety, albeit many many negative side effects.

 

2,946 total views, no views today

Share

Coping with the Critical Flaw of a Senior Manager

Meet three of my clients from the past: a Quebecois, an American and an Israeli. Jacques, Marshall and Zeev are three outstanding executives whose organizations have constantly  over-performed for the last decade. Each manager has a critical flaw in his style.

Jacques sells all the time. When he should be consulting with his management team, he sells them his ideas. When he should be telling them what to do, he sells to sell them his ideas.

Zeev lacks emotional intelligence. Severely! Despite outstanding cognitive capabilities and strategic depth, he fails to factor people into his decisions.

Marshall commits his organization to impossible goals out of an almost fanatical religious belief in aggressive over-commitment. His teams constantly over achieve yet few executives (none) can stay with Marshall for more than one year due to mental and physical exhaustion.

Over my long career, I have worked with outstanding managers like these three on their critical (and near fatal) flaws. In this post, I want to share what I have learnt in the hope that can help someone.

  • Many of these flaws are like chronic pain. They are here to stay. There are good times and bad times, but the flaw is best recognized as permanent. By doing so, appropriate expectations can be set.
  • Taking the bull by its horns (“stop selling to me Jacques”) is rarely effective. Damage control strategies appear to be more effective. (What happens if your people don’t buy in, Jacques?)
  • Working around the flaw has proven itself in many cases. (Zeev should empower his HR partner to provide input and guidance for to augment his poor instincts).
  • Paradoxical interventions are very effective. For those who are not acquainted here is a link. Paradoxical intervention should not be practised without appropriate training. (Marshall, why not have your staff work on New Year’s eve? Just give them the appropriate carrot).

And the consultant must remember that he or she is not a brain surgeon. Dealing with critical flaws is a slow uphill crawl. It’s not about your own competence; don’t push to be overly effective otherwise you will lose your clients’ trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,191 total views, no views today

Share