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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Why American managers often fail managing Israelis

American managers, whether they relocate to Israel or not, have a dismal track record managing Israeli organizations and/or their Israel based subsidiary which is more often than not a development team.

In this post, I will point out several  reasons for this ongoing failure.

Israelis do not believe that organizational systems (or any system) work. Israelis hedge system failure/rigidity with an intense set of relationships which serve as shock absorbers for rigid and corrupt bureaucracies. In order to get things done, you need to know the right people, not master the system. American managers often focus time and effort on getting Israelis to follow process, which is next to impossible.

Israelis argue as a way of life. Although this arguing often sounds aggressive and impeding of cohesion, it is not. Arguing is a way of working out the pros and cons whilst thinking out loud, weighing all sides of the equation using forceful opinions that change constantly. Many American managers simply cannot adapt to this “tribal” method of communication.

Israelis, due to a siege mentality, do not value planning. They prefer improvisation and excel extricating themselves from situations that could have been avoided by basic planning mechanisms. The disdain for planning drives American managers around the bend.

Israelis constantly challenge authority of their managers. Almost nothing and no one goes unchallenged. Israelis are used to this constant push back and it does not phase them. American managers get very angry when day after day and hour after hour, they need to deal with what they see as “lip”.

Finally, Israelis rarely see decisions are final. Decisions are viewed as tentative and temporary, and thus, decisions are almost always “revisited” many many times before implementation. This behaviour erodes the trust of the American manager, who often believes that a decision should lead to implementation.

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Explaining the unique Israeli term “frayer”

Adi (m) writes promotional material against very aggressive deadlines; his boss Segal (f) always has more corrections and suggestions. Adi has learnt not to submit material to Segal too early in order not to be dragged over the coals too many times. “I am not Segal’s frayer”, she explained to me.

Corporate purchasing policy now requires all purchases over $500 to be extensively justified. Local Israeli CEO Alon has instructed “that it is better to buy two printers at $499 each than one good printer at $501. “I don’t want us to be corporate’s frayers”.

6 parking spots have been set aside “for visiting dignitaries”, These spots are constantly used by regular employees in the summer heat because employees “don’t agree to be anyone’s frayer”.

Some people have suggested that frayer is a sucker, patsy, dupe or a naive innocent. My belief is that the word “frayer” cannot be well  translated, because it relates to a unique Israeli characteristic, like rosh gadol, which I explained in a previous post.

Here are the basic components of the frayer.

  1. “Systems” screw people, so be wary and outsmart the system. If not, you are a frayer.
  2.  The early bird gets the worm; other birds (frayers) die of hunger. The loser (frayer) gets knocked out; he never loses on points. So knock out or get knocked out. Fight or die.
  3. Don’t t leave yourself open to exploitation; the world is a cruel place.

Have you understood this article? If not tough luck. I am not going to be your frayer. My explanation is clear enough!  🙂 🙂

And a note for non Israelis managing Israelis. Here are 3 tips that will lessen the chance that your native Israeli will think you are making him/her into a frayer.

  1. Lead by personal example.
  2. Rank and station give you no head start. Earn your stripes every day as you march along.
  3. Show respect: give information, explain, and don’t hide behind your boss.
  4. Be tough. After you have been fair, be brutal if needed.

 

 

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Typology of “disconnects” between senior management and troops

It is common place for organization consultants to deal with the disconnect between the top layer of management and the rest of the organization.

This disconnect is characterized by a totally differing view of what is transpiring as well as what needs to be done to better cope with challenging external and internal realities.

Example: CEO Paul believes that the new software release must get to market within 3 months. His entire staff believes that nothing market-worthy can be developed in such a time frame and the minimal required time for development is half a year. CEO Fred believes that his sales force lacks motivation and has no passion to win whilst the Sales staff believes that Fred is out of his fucking mind and in total denial of product under-performance.

I have been lucky enough to have consulted many very senior managers of mid size and large size companies. Some of them have been very disconnected from what is going on in the trenches. I am sharing with you what I see as the major reasons why they appear to be disconnected.

  1. They feign to be disconnected but they are not. They know what is going on and want to squeeze the lemon as much as possible. Managers like this are very well paid and have a wonder golden parachute if they fail.
  2. They truly do not know what is going on because they manage by fear, and have surrounded themselves with staff who tell them what they want to hear.
  3. They are grossly incompetent and do not understand what is going on. Often it is hard to believe this when you see it, but it does happen and not infrequently.
  4. They come from the world of Sales, so the solution of problems is spin and more spin, and they believe in their own bullshit.
  5. They are ideological optimists who systematically ignore or pass over bad news.
  6. They believe that they know something that no one else knows, like “our competition is doing no better and we just need to outlast them”.
  7. They have political backing of the board, so that they can outlast most failures and push the blame to someone/something else.

Each type of disconnect has a different protocol for OD intervention, and on this will come further posts.

However, a word of caution to young optimistic consultants. Very often, if it looks and feels and smells like incompetence, it is. And this type of finding cannot be “od-ed” away.

 

 

 

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Books and books, and more books

I make an effort to read a lot. At present I am reading 3 books: I am listening to an audio book of the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes; I am reading a Korean novel “Pachinko” and finishing off (for the second time) Dr Christine’s Montross book on severe mental illness, “Falling into the Fire”.

The truth is that whilst I read for my own enjoyment, reading has brought value to me as a professional. Reading is great enabler for starting a conversation. Books and stories provide wonderful metaphors with which to work. And let’s not forget that literature preceded psychology as a way to understanding human behaviors.

I no longer read OD related material. I find it pretty much useless…..for too mechanistic or detached from organizational reality as I know it. I am amazed at how so little I have learned from OD professional literature.

On the other hand, some of the books I have read provide great insight for those of us interested in change. For example, “Iron Gustav” by Hans Fallada, should be a must read for people interested in OD.

Reading also improves my attention span, serving as a counter weight to digital distraction. And an increased attention span is a critical skill to my getting things right, as opposed to reacting to the last input that passed my way.

Over the years, the OD practitioner has been degraded from being a well informed and practical intellectual who serves as a sparing partner, to become a technician cum quack, administering various standard tools and peddling snake oil cures. So for me, reading keeps my horizons not only deep, but wide. For me, reading is the great mother of context and thus meaning.

 

 

 

 

 

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Left wing, right wing-and organizational change

Professor Arlie Hochschild’s  book “Strangers in their Own Land” brilliantly describes the bitterness that certain Louisianian Tea Party supporters believe when they are told that what they believe is less important that what they should believe. The book also spells out the historical, cultural and religious consistency of a world view wary of government intervention.

Personally, I am a liberal, secular and  left of center. This having been said, the world view of the rightists described by Hochschild enabled me to look at my own set of beliefs in context, as well as enabled me to understand “the other” world view as an integrated and respectable whole, and not as a set of psychiatric symptoms stemming from ignorance and having been overly Bible bashed.

I wonder how many organization consultants spend their time helping management to get employees to change their belief systems, perhaps via such things as engagement programs. And I wonder how many consultants work with dysfunctional teams, “plying” the importance of cooperation and transparency. Just how much time does our profession spend telling people what they should be thinking!

My personal take away from Hochschild’s book is the need for OD practitioners to develop an effective “over the empathetic wall”  understanding of various belief systems within an organization. Perhaps once that empathy exists, most of the change happens itself.

Case study-CEO Mike called in an OD consultant 3 months after a key customers’ business was lost due the premature release of a product which had caused a system 2 hour outage of all  ATMs in  a city of 4 million people. Mike had had to fire 10% of his employees and  cut benefits in order to survive. Mike wants the OD consultant to “support managements’ efforts to a “back to business as usual mode”, after having implemented a lesson learned cycle. Now, how would YOU do this project without getting people to believe something else, different from what they believe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enhancing the placebo effect of organization development

CEO Morris send me a Whatsapp ; “Hey Allon,  the management meeting this week went exceptionally well. It came up several times that you Allon ask the right questions. Thanks Morrie”. In this particular organization, I had merely interviewed 6  out of the 15 members of the senior management team.

My guess is that some cynics may ask why I even bother writing a post about placebo effects of organization development. Tangible, real  effects of organization development are very real, yet are immune to standard measuring instruments. So why worry about leveraging placebo effects for our very uncertain profession?

The reason for this post is that I do believe that the placeo effect is one of the best medications ever invented. And when the placebo effect is transferred to OD, it can indeed be leveraged to create a perception of change, which serves as a platform for other more tangible changes.

So now to be practical, I want to spell out a few ideas on how to go about creating the placebo effect of an organization development process.

  1. Price your services high. It is easy to be dissatisfied with a consultant who charges $80 an hour; it is much harder to be unhappy who charges quadruple that amount.
  2. If your project is controlled by an HR manager, there is a good chance that few people will want to make the project shine. The HR manager will more often than not try and control the project, which positions OD as a commodity. However, if OD is owned by the CEO, it needs to look good, almost by definition.
  3. Never negotiate fees with Procurement. If fees are negotiated, procurement will made it well known than they “chipped off”  x% of your fee. And that is not very conducive to a service producing a placebo affect.
  4. Avoid long sessions which can be judged as “success” or “failures”. In other words, don’t hand the executioner the rope. Work in smaller, shorter sessions, placing the burden on the client and not on your showmanship,

 

 

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Acts of humility and kindness don’t change political reality, however

Life can be beautiful, mais oui!

Individual acts of kindness cannot change complex geopolitical reality.

At the age of 68, I know that I have no ability to influence political reality in my country, which has overdosed on right wing expansionism cum Messianic nonsense.  And it is not to be ignored that the middle east neighborhood in which we live  is violent, tough, cynical, frightening, fragmented and driven by not only my country’s messianic mania, but also the dangerous religious beliefs of our enemies which feed on the crumbling of their civilization.

Allon with too much sun screen and a happy lad

So, what is to be done? Politically, nothing can be done by the individual. Both sides get the leadership they deserve and wallow in shit.

Once, I tried to be politically active but failed. I have no patience at all, and no tolerance whatsoever for religious beliefs, ours nor theirs. And here in the Middle East, don’t dabble in politics without god at your side.

So looking for something I can do,  I have volunteered to accompany Palestinian kids to the beach every week in the framework of Min El Bahar, which means ‘from the sea’ in Arabic.

El bahar-the sea

The dedicated women (and some men) of Min El Bahar bus Arab Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to the beach in Tel Aviv, where they swim, eat sandwiches, watermelon and icy-icy, and then on to Tel Aviv-Jaffa harbor, to go for a boat ride, subsequently returning to the west bank in the evening. This happens every day, Sunday to Thursday during the summer months. (Thursday is my day).

Icy icy

When they arrive in Tel Aviv, the kids and their parents are shy and watchful  at first. But we all  end up playing ball, splashing one another with water, learning the basics of how to float, swim and play ‘one man out’ in the water.

Each week, I am literally reduced to tears by both by their happiness and by the joy I feel by  giving. These acts will never change middle east reality. But it sure does make me a bit more ‘ok’  with myself as someone who lives under a government whose messianic  polices I detest.

And many thanks to the brave women of Min El Bahar.

 

 

 

 

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Unsolvable organizational problems

This post will not surprise anyone from the Middle East . So if you live in my neck of the woods  (where the locals know than most problems do not have a solution), then don’t waste your time reading. Now, for the rest of you folks…..

Although the  almighty positive western mindset tends to relate to problems as “solvable” or “manageable”, this is not  always the case. There are both personal problems, political conflicts as well as  organizational problems which are unsolvable.. The most salient political problem that comes to my mind is the Syrian conflict and its ramifications. For unsolvable math questions, click here.

This brief post relates to how organization development practitioners  can deal with insolvable organizational issues, instead of taking the wild toro (bull)  by its horns.

Let’s take a few examples of unsolvable organizational problems.

  1. CEO Lex and his family own and manage  a chain of 18 hotels. One of the hotels is managed by the least talented of Lex’s sons, on the insistence of the mother, whose family provided the initial capital for Lex to start the business. The son has no management skills whatsoever, and boozes heavily on the job.
  2. Gary is the CEO of a small start up selling hundreds of millions of dollars of products to South East Asia, where there are a lot of under the table dealings. A huge public firm has just purchased Gary’s company; due to compliance issues, all the under the table dealings must now be made transparent. This move will kill Gary’s Asian business, a fact overlooked by a sloppy due diligence team.
  3. Dr Frank worked his way up from engineer to Chairman of the Board. Dr  Frank was and is a most brilliant engineer, and he still meddles daily  in Engineering’s priorities. Every consultant hired to work on this issue has been dismissed by a very intolerant Dr. Frank. However 4 Engineering managers have also quit in the last 5 years due to Frank’s meddling.

A western “yes we can” mindset would look at possible solutions to the above problems. Perhaps Dr Frank would get yet another coach. Or Lex’s bum of a son would be sent to AA, or Lex’s mom would get some feedback and move her naughty son out of the role.

I do not share this mindset. First, I believe in “first do no harm” in situations like this; second, I believe that organization development lacks the tools to deal with such situations. So, as a famous Russian said, “what is to be done?”

Here are a few guidelines on dealing with unsolvable problems so as to prevent consultants acting as yet another set of folks off to solve the Syrian conflict or “liberate” Mosul from “extremists”.

  • Define what you believe in insolvable and leave it alone; you can probably only make it worse. For example, if Dr Frank leaves, the business may well  crumble.
  • Work around the problem. Keeping Lex’s son in the job yet keeping him on the road burdened with many business development corporate tasks may be the structure of a reasonable by pass.
  • Focus on what can be done by admitting defeat. For example, it probably is a good time to get Gary’s business more active in the less corrupt parts of world. Or perhaps having Gary work with due diligence teams are the next acquisitions.

For those interested in a short satiric parody about making all problems solvable, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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