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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strange fetishes of organizations

A recent visit to the Museum of Sex in Amsterdam enlightened me about various strange sexual fetishes. I grew up in the sixties in an era when, let’s put it this way…I assumed that there was very little I did not know. I was wrong.

So I got to thinking, is there such thing as a fetish in organizational behaviour? If we describe fetish as obsessive interest, the answer is a resounding yes. So in this post, I want to provide three examples of rampant organizational fetishes that I have seen, and I believe that my readers can see, all around them

  1. The fetish of defining away complexity. Given the complexity of reality, overlapping responsibility is often necessary, creating the need for people to communicate and decide together in the areas of disagreement where overlap occurs. Instead of focusing on addressing this need, organizations prefer to focus on over-definition of roles, responsibilities and process clarity. Thus, our first fetish.
  2. The fetish of overdosing on gender diversity. Oh yes, I may be in trouble for this. However, there are roles where professional competency trumps gender as a selection criteria. When a hospital wants to recruit 6 brain surgeons, three of them of each gender, this makes no sense at all. As a patient at least heaven forbid, I would prefer their recruiting six top surgeons, in the unlucky scenario that I would need their services.
  3. The fetish of engagement. Most management (except perhaps on social media) is about getting as much as possible for as little as possible over an optimized period of time. In a bad market place, employers exploit employees, and in a fast growing market with skill shortages, employees squeeze and extort their employers. It’s a market dynamic for the most part and since 2008, it is a blood bath for employees. Engagement is a sedative aiming at dulling the true nature of the relationship. The goal of engagement is more for less, regardless how the pig is perfumed. Most people know this, but the fetish is rampant.

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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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