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. Alvin thought that challenge he would be facing was to upgrade the level of 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.

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. 

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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After an acquisition, the organization caste system changes

An acquisition is not a tea party, especially if you happen to be on the acquired side. Beside the very few people who get a hefty payment for selling off the firm, the acquired team’s patricians  are often stripped of their status formally and informally, visibly and invisibly, physically and emotionally.

Patricians  of the acquired team have new masters, and these masters are not just the people in parallel positions of the dominant  company.

An acquired CFO (who is probably demoted to Business Unit Financial Officer)  does not only have to deal with his new boss, but also with the mindset of every finance employee who claims that “we bought you”, so do it our way. 

An acquired HR manager will see access to key figures blocked off; programs from the old company will be labelled legacy, and then killed off. The verbiage and lingo, titles and perk-management will be realigned with the ways of the new ruling caste.

Engineering management will force-feed new procedures and tools, hindering and crippling development efforts of the acquired company, even if the acquired company was purchased for its innovation.

Changes in the IT system will make life a nightmare for the acquired company, making it very hard to do the simplest things for months after months. 

In short the dominant caste of the acquired company is decimated, although there may be an OD violinist  playing a song in the background about “Merging Two Cultures into One”.

However, it does happen that people in the acquired company get enhanced status, far more than they had in the legacy company. For example-

If the acquiring company is Chinese or Israeli, Mandarin or Hebrew speakers in the legacy company will have more importance than it in the past.

If someone was extra cooperative in the due diligence process and spilled the beans about the weaknesses of the acquired company, these “turncoats”, so to speak, may be compensated with enhanced status.

And of course, key account managers of the acquired company get a “pass” into the new ruling class by dint of the relationships that they hold with legacy clients.

At the society level, caste dies very hard, if at all, in processes that last centuries. In organizations, death by caste reassignment happens quickly and thus, allows us to observe changes in the caste system at a galloping pace. Is all the above inevitable? I would say that the process is Darwinian, and the human effort can mitigate the pain by proper risk mitigation planning during the post merger integration phase, which takes up to six years.

 

 

 

 

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Working from home will end with the corona vaccine

Once the corona virus is eradicated, which will happen within less than a year from now,  people will return to work at their offices, perhaps working from home one day a week at the most.

Working from home allows less control of management over employees, or perhaps less perception of control. The need of  management to perceive  that they are in control will be a major factors in driving people back to work.

Creative and informal dialogue cannot thrive when people are working from home. With the informal chit chat and face to face interaction, innovation is starved of its oxygen and withers. That too will drive people back to work from the office.

Interpersonal interaction within homes has taken a huge blow as people under the same roof are under each other’s’ skin, inflicting huge emotional damage on the quality of life.  Friendships, marriages, parents, whatever: the pressure cooker in which we have all been boiling during 2020 will burst open at the first opportunity as humanity seeks to flee from the cage we all have been sharing.

The market place invests huge bucks which will get us back at work-with ads for cars and the need to dress fashionably being the major factors which will pry people out of their home.

Levi Eshkol, one of Israel’s wiser prime ministers, warned of making a tragedy into an ideology. Working from home is ok from time to time. But it is an emotional tragedy. And on the very day when our arms are aching from the corona vaccine, we’ll all be scurrying back at work.

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Ten Very Hard Questions and Suggested Answers: Guideline for an OD Consultant at Initial Stages of Contracting

There are no “pat” answers to hard questions that OD consultants are asked, especially at the initial stages of contact with a client. But I have tried to share the generic answers I have used over the years.

1 Client: Do you work for a success fee?

Consultant: If you promise to fully implement all suggestions and recommendations that I make, then yes.

 

2 Client: Why is your hourly fee so high?

Consultant: Because when you hire a highly skilled consultant, you will need to pay for far fewer hours.

 

3 Client: How can success be measured?

Answer: It cannot. If after a few months, you feel that change is starting to happen, it’s going well. If not, fire me. Btw, initially things may get worse; that’s a good sign.

 

4 Client: Can you kindly send me a proposal with the goals of the process, definition of the stages, and expected take-aways.

Answer: Not really. It’s guess work. I can write something for you, but it’s just a stab in the dark. The goals could remain constant, but on the other hand, they could be in a constant state of flux.

 

5 Client: Why is your report so short?

Answer: Because I invested a lot time in writing it.

 

6 Client: What is your personal experience in writing software/civil engineering/machining/refinery/fast food?

Answer: I have spent my whole professional career learning.

 

7 Client: Have you ever failed in a project?

Answer: Of course I have. More than once. And whoever you hire, I suggest that you be very wary of someone who has never failed.

 

8 Client: Can we get a reduced rate on volume?

Answer: The more I work for you, the more dependent I become on one source of revenue. I am not interested in having my revenue  stream depend on one major client, and you certainly do not want a consultant who is dependent on you. 

 

9 Client: Can you start your work with middle management?

Answer: Absolutely not. There are problems which manifest themselves at middle management but these problems are very often if not always symptoms of deeper problems.

 

10 Client: What is your approach to unions?

Answer: I respect unions; they take care of employees just like management takes care of themselves and stakeholders. They mistrust OD consultants and this is natural, because often the type of dialogue OD promotes is counter to their interests. However, I always tell union guys that I will never ever step into their sphere-and I keep my word.

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Phantom and referred pain in organizations

Until this very day, with over 45 years of experience, whenever I have even a challenging meeting with a client, I get strange pains in body. My eyelids twitch, my breathing becomes shallow, my digestion backfires or my clothes feel tight. In the past, I had baffled many doctors with these pains. Once, a week before a meeting in LA between 3 companies that were merging into one, I was sure that my eyesight was declining in one eye. And my shoulder ached something awful. After the meeting (which was difficult but successful), I was fine again.

The aches, pains and weird symptoms, that is the transfer of mental and emotional stress to other symptoms are called referred pains. The “something that hurts, is something else”.

I am never ever stressed about the upcoming events themselves; no CEO is too challenging for me. I can facilitate the most difficult of problems with ease. I simply get aches and pains that vanish after the event.

The “transfer of symptoms” from actual source of pain itself to somewhere else occurs in organizations as well as people.

Here are a few examples.

1-People do not speak up in meetings about certain slips in schedule. Progress reports step-side quality issues. Risks are played down. The not-at-all obvious reason? A client has been sold a very poor product that will not work as promised when delivered. However, some of the features of the dysfunctional product will provide just enough value to provide the client with a strategic advantage over its competitor. That is the skeleton in the closet. The CEO’s of the seller and the buyer know that explicitly-no one else does, except for everyone.

2-Jimmy is a horrendous CEO. His technical skills are outdated; his relationships with investors are tense and his staff hates him. He has been managing the company for 5 years. The hidden reason: the 5 investors each think that they can run the company better than the others. Jimmy allows them to continue to fight, and not resolve their differences; this status quo preserves another company of theirs which is doing very well and funding all their escapades.

3-JIT has 14 outlets in 3 districts. All outlets are doing well, except for one outlet in each district. Every attempt to get these three failing district outlets to change course fails. What’s the skeleton in the closet? Management needs a failed outlet in each district to write off expenses in order to pay less tax.

4-Beware if asked to “strengthen middle management”; that issue is almost always a phantom pain, the root cause of which is a double message from senior management, contradicting priorities, poor teamwork at the top, or overzealous HR manager, who wants to control something but is not strong enough to be relevant.

So how do we get our hand around issues which surface like phantom or referred pains?  Here are a few guidelines:

  • The obvious may not be so obviously obvious.
  • What is not said is part of the diagnosis. There are problems no one talks about.
  • An impacted tooth may not hurt.
  • Look for hidden agendas even when things make sense, and always when they don’t.

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OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

To my absolute surprise, my workload has increased ever since it became clear that this virus is not going away; not only are  the lemons not about to become lemonade, but  the plague is  worse than expected . As the poet Ogden Nash wrote in Seaside Serenade

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.

Yet it is a time for good OD practitioners to find work, much to my surprise. I want to share some of the characteristics of work that has come my way as well as some reasons why I think this is happening.

Life with covid is not going away. And the reality of the world is now nasty and brutish. I am not an optimist  nor am I known as an optimist. Quite the opposite,I am a pessimist with a good sense of humour as well as a love of the absurd, which makes it easy to deal with what I say because of how I say it.  Furthermore, once people realized that  ‘back to normal” is messianic nonsense, my pessimistic nature has become more appealing.

During my entire career, I have held two principles as my compass: say things simply and be practical. So, my message has been -“we are up shit’s creek and no one knows anything; let’s take this hour by hour and yes, give me a can and I’ll help you bail out the boat”.

Difficult problems have become almost impossible during covid. Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried. Ok, what’s new? If you believed that things were much better, then this new reality is all but unbearable. Yet I have believed for the longest time that stakeholders worry only about themselves, long term commitment between management and staff is feigned propaganda-so for me, the present situation is just a bit worse than it used to be, It is not paradise lost. I have confidence and I am neither appalled or frightened of being seen as incompetent. OD is not perfect. It has huge value,but it ain’t rocket science.

(This reminds me of people who claim that America is more divided than ever. America has almost always been divided for heaven sakes.Trump is the most racist president ever? No more than Carter was (his days as Supervisor of Education were horrendously racist)  and certainly less than Kennedy acted as he dragged his feet on civil rights.)

The problems that my new clients have asked me to lend a helping hand to alleviate are difficult, multi dimensional and stubborn. I am not sure exactly or what approach to take, and I have no tricks up my sleeve. My new clients respect my lack of conviction about how to proceed.They feel safe that I am thinking as well as acting with caution seasoned with pragmatism, not peddling some elixir like cod liver oil or employee engagement or “we are all in this together”.

Probably my present value proposition to my clients is my sense of humour, my ability to learn,and my lack of ready made solutions.

In memory of Alex Kornhauser-brilliant, fair, exact, humane and humble. A great leader, a fine man; sadly missed.

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