The blaming culture-root causes and what can be done

A Story

When the “Ogen” software release hit the market, the shit hit the fan. 550 clients had to close down their electrical grid as software bugs caused many “early warning” systems to alert that a disaster was impending.

The CEO, inundated with angry calls, convened a management meeting and ripped his entire team over the coals. The Head of Sales complained that “Engineering will ruin my reputation”. The Head of Software Engineering blamed the “Deployment Unit” for not understanding how to install the software. The Deployment Unit claimed the software was a piece of horse shit. Finance blamed Sales for the fact that “we will face a huge revenue shortage next year.”

Definition-a blaming culture is characterized by shirking of responsibility by shifting it down to the next level, up to the next level, over to a peer, or on to a different unit..

The blaming culture is a mega epidemic, especially since 2008 when jobs become very scarce. Root causes for the blaming culture include-

  1. Parking the blame for unrealistic goals
  2. Maximization of the goals of each sub-unit
  3. Fear of being dismissed
  4. Email mail/chatting technology
  5. Lack of personal contact between staff
  6. Overdose of matrices
  7. Compromising seen as not worthwhile
  8. Overdose of “yes-we-can ism” coupled with lack of resources
  9. Leadership  Machiavellian-ism
  10. “Dumbing” of the workforce due to IT systems replacing common sense

The ONLY way to go about eliminating the culture of blaming is to deal with manifestation of blaming at the top of the organization. Nothing else works. Once the blaming issue is solved at the top, it trickles down to the rank and file within a few years.

In the case above, the CEO knew that the software release was faulty, but gave a “go ahead” because”we can always fix things on fly. None of clients will throw us out because  their CTO’s career is dependant on our success”.

For those who are interested on how blame is managed, click here.

 

 

 

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Why do some OD consultants whore?


In her book about severely ill  mental health patients “Falling into the Fire”,  Dr Christine Montross illustrates how the psychiatrists  come to resent these patients who make them feel so inadequate. As Montross points out, this deadly dynamic works to the severe  detriment of the very people who need help the most.

In organization development, a parallel exists. Managers and organizations can present huge challenges to the feeling of competence of the OD practitioner, especially since 2008 when the shit hit the fan and people became more of a commodity than an important  resource, challenging OD’s basic assumptions.

Whilst psychiatrists tend to blame their patients, OD professionals tend to try and please their clients by pimping and whoring pre-packaged nonsense, useless tips and empty models and promises. The rational behind the whoring is not merely commercial. It is driven by a feeling of “if I do the right thing, I will be branded as incompetent by the idiot client, and fired for the wrong reasons.”

OD was not always about pleasing sycophant HR managers and narcissist CEO’s. My generation grew up trained to confront the client and challenge basic assumptions.

And if you are skilled and fear not, it is still possible to do a good job. I have encountered clients who make me believe that I would feel better had I participated in the boxing match between  Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, known as the Thrilla in Manilla rather than consulting them. But I try and stick to a core OD value -speak truth to power.

Let’s not forget the famous words of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav-all the world is but a narrow bridge, and most important of all is to fear not. (kol ha olam kulo, gesher tsar mod, vhaiqar, lo lefached klal)

gesher-tzar-meod_0

 

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Yes, we have no bananas

Over the years, I have worked with clients who have verbally disagreed with ideas with which I presented  them, yet implemented these very ideas as if there had been no verbal disagreement.I can give hundreds of examples but one will suffice.

Example: CEO Herb told me that CFO Garry undermines him in management meetings. I suggested to Herb that he co-opt Garry into planning these meetings together. Herb disagreed yet a month later, I walked into Herb’s office and there sat Herb and Garry planning a management meeting.

I believe that there are several explanations for this phenomenon

  1. Change happens somewhat chaotically. So this phenomenon may not have a clear reason.
  2. Face saving. This behaviour allows the client to face save and not rely on “tips” from a consultant. This may be true, but it is too easy an explanation.
  3. Herb thinks he is tricking Garry, not co-opting him. So the consultants’ idea is being implemented but within a different context.
  4. People who get to the top learn to take credit for themselves without even realizing it. So Herb may not know how to manage Garry, but he sure knows how to manage the consultant!
  5. In the process of learning, there is a pro versus con, “back and forth” dynamic in the thinking process of the client.  Herb’s choice may have developed after the “no” and Herb had not bothered updating the consultant.
  6. Clients often say things and do the opposite.

I am sure that all readers know that there are clients who feign implementation….but that is the next post.

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Coping with very severe organization problems-Primum non nocere

The commercialization and productization of OD (as performed by magicians or wonder-consultants)  has masked some of the real issues that an OD practitioner faces. The OD “vendors” are reticent to discuss the hardest issues they face, like a surgeon who does not want to discuss how many died under his or her knife.

This is not a blog written to promote my profession, so I allow myself to deal with the “dirt under the finger nails”.  So……

Strategies for dealing with very difficult organizational problems which are almost insoluble are the subject of this post.

First I shall illustrate two such problems.

  • A senior team has been in place for 12 years with more or less the same leaders. They are located in 3 continents. There is a low level of transparency, very poor teamwork, and having worked together for so long, there is a lot of mutual contempt. The company that they run is very profitable.
  • There is constant bad blood between Customer Service and Development teams. Due to market conditions, a company has released a very immature product to the market, against the recommendation of the Development Team. The clients are furious. Customer Service does not know how to handle customer complaints, so they demand that the Development Team deal with the customers. The developers refuse to see customer demanding that management must “give us time to write the bloody code, not deal with customers who are justifiably angry.”

Now let’s look at a few strategies.

First there is a matter of mindset. 

  • The superman “I can fix it all” mindset which many snake oil consultants use leads to nowhere, except great revenue for the consultant.
  • The mindset of impotence and despair, whilst rationally justified perhaps, obviously makes no sense. The appropriate mindset is being pragmatic, avoid wow-wowing to maintain credibility and risk mitigation.

Now let’s address the question of how much intervention is needed. My suggestion is that for very difficult organizational problems, the best intervention is of low intensity spread over a long time, as opposed to intense happenings, like a quarterly offsite.

The role of the consultant in such a mess is primum non nocere (“foremost do no harm”. ) Great damage can be inflicted by applying snake oil to severe problems. For example, a teamwork session for the senior team mentioned above is counter-indicated.

I also  suggest a focus on containment of pain with compassion and humour, if possible  addressing issues whilst managing appropriate expectations and keeping things from getting much worse.

 

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Brexit, Siloism and Tolerance

“Siloism” is the maximization of one set of goals to the detriment of a wider common good, the assumption being that teamwork and synergy (not siloism) achieves common good via optimization and integration of all subsets of goals.

Leaders, consultants and trainers fight combat organizational siloism with slogans, training programs and many other weapons de jour.

Yet siloism remains rampant, since the average Joe in the trenches believes that organizations are war zones, and if he does not watch out for his own ass, no one else will do so. And often this is true, since in bad times, management maximizes its own survival goals and shafts the Joes-of-the-world via massive downsizing and outsourcing.

Brexit is an example of political siloism. Not enough Brits saw the value of what they saw as  subjugating their countries’ goals to larger “common good”. In other words, the benefits of larger common good did not filter down to enough people.

It is very hard to market a lot of what the EU has to offer in the short run, ie the next 100 years, beyond the life time of many voters. When you lose your job to a robot or an offshore location and view at your doorstep the massive amounts of illegal immigration from the melt-down in the Middle East,  it is no surprise that the common European good did not sell well. 

In my work with hundreds of organizations fighting siloism, I have learnt to respect the voice of the silo builder, who has a rationale for his behaviour. I do not agree with the motives for siloism, but I understand these motives. The same must be said of the Brexit. Were I British, I would have voted Remain. I believe in  a pan EU. But I am a member of the elite which benefits from things like this.

Leaders would be wise to respect not only the vote, but accept the motivations behind the vote. The first stage to combating solo-ism is empathy with the silo builder.

I live in a country in which many people are both religious and very right wing. I am secular (totally atheistic) and very, very left wing. Yet many of my clients and a few of my close friends have a very different belief system than mine. People who know me are aware that I am by  no means a patient person. Yet the dialogue with people who have very different opinions has both enriched and mellowed me. I make every effort to understand the consistency and world view of ideas different from mine.

 

 

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Self management is a manipulation and cop out

Self management certainly has its place and time in the right context. The value of self management over command and control is  not disputable. This having been said, self management is often promulgated as an ugly manipulation. One fable will suffice.

The fable

Paul heads a team of 50 top notch developers based in Tel Aviv for US based company selling software for public electrical and water utilities worldwide. Paul’s team is overwhelmed due to the massive amount change requests flooding his team.

Clients are supposed to funnel their change requests via Change Request Management, which is part of the Product Management group based in New Zealand.

However, the Product Management/Change management group lacks technical knowledge, and so clients often turn directly to Paul or to the developers themselves for changes.

Alternatively, changes are requested via Sales, who have no problem forwarding these requests to Paul, ccing the CEO.

Paul has asked that Change Management acquire more technical skills in order to serve as a better filter. This however is too expensive to execute since it would mean hiring engineers to replace the present set of administrators, who serve as change managers.

Paul then asked for more staff, in order to build a technical change management team in Tel Aviv, through which priorities can be set. His request was put off till 2017 budget talks in November.

When the level of client bitching got out of control, the CEO summoned Paul to a meeting with EVP HR, a certain Gloria Ramsbottom. A decision was made that the developers “become better aligned with the principles of self-management”. A training vendor “specializing” in self-management was hired and a webinar on the virtues of self-management was commissioned.

The moral

Self-management can be used by management as a cop out to abscond from their responsibility  of setting priorities and applying more resources. Self-management, when applied in this manner, is a manipulation of the more evil ilk, exploiting the very people who need to be assisted.

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Am I missing something?

Following the social media as best as I can as an agile 66 year old, it would appear that organizations are undergoing a radical revolution.

  • Hierarchies are being replaced by holocracies and adhocratic configurations.
  • Leadership strives to engage.
  • HR has shrieked “Eureka” having embraced data analytics as the ultimate elixir.
  • Talent needs to be titillated and won over, or else there will be severe intense and painful retention problems.

What am I missing?

I am still very active as a consultant although I put aside one day a week to study history. And I have just not seen all the above happening in the field. Here is what I do see-

So what am I missing?

 

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Why On-Boarding Fails

The case

Valerie is the new VP of Product Management. Her references are impeccable. To ensure her success in the new role, Valerie was assigned an on-boarding consultant who worked with Valerie on her entrance strategy and supporting tactics.

After one year in the firm, Valerie left the company in the first dramatic failure of her career. The Head of R&D had cut her out of all strategic decisions and the Office of Project Management cut her out of the tactics.

Valerie was caught in a power struggle at the top and was knocked off in cross fire.

What’s the moral of this story?

We all remember Aesop’s Fables, don’t we? All stories need a moral!

On-boarding activity is often aimed and tailored for the individual. This is a strategic error. On-boarding especially at senior levels is not only a skill or get-used-to-the-culture issue. A critical success factor of senior on-boarding is often a system change, which pre and post on-boarding process need to address. 

We have all seen senior management recruiting Superman to solve a system problem, hoping for a quick fix or someone to hang. In the case above, Valerie was thrown into the fray to address the systemic power imbalance between R&D, Project Management and Product Management. 

A proper on-boarding intervention would have to be aimed at Valerie and her warring colleagues, with the active participation of the CEO.

Simplistic on-boarding aimed at the individual fail; on-boarding must be a system intervention. If the on-boarding is aimed for the “fresh meat” as an individual,  on-boarding efforts become what the Chinese call “对牛弹琴” or playing the piano to the cow“, IE, an exercise in futility.

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Addressing Lack of Ownership via OD

I cannot count the number of times that clients have contacted me because “we have a problem of ownership”. Typically a crisis with clients or suppliers triggers a compelling event which launches an OD project to enhance ownership.
Just last month, a CEO called me in because a very strategic supplier had refused a huge contract because “it takes 6 months and 200 emails to get paid, and no one seems to own paying us”.
Dealing with ownership issues effectively necessitates a very accurate diagnosis, in order to prevent the solution from turning into just another engagement plan.
In this short post, I want to share what I have found to be the root cause of “lack of ownership”.

1) ERP has been implemented brainlessly, eliminating common sense and closing all by-passes. This is by far the most common reason behind lack of ownership.
2) Irrational and non-achievable commitments have been made, and as a result, no one wants to be stuck with the dirty end of the stick, guilty of non-delivery.
3) There is an overemphasis (NOT an under-emphasis) on role clarity. Many problems need to be jointly owned (eg by Development and Customer Service) and not arbitrarily pinned on someone who is powerless.
4) Recent downsizing almost always drives a collapse of ownership. This is almost always incurable in the short term.
5) Too much data can cause a lack of ownership! For each slide and for every chart showing lack of ownership and poor responsiveness, employees learn to hide even better to make the charts look betters. (Eg, call centers which answer the phone within 2 seconds and cut off the call).

Enhancing ownership means addressing these issues at their core. It is root canal work, not a mere filling. Here are 3 tips on how to be effective in such projects.
1) Make sure that your project has a clear owner, because often the ownership of the OD project replicates the ownership problem of the organization.
2) Work from the micro to the macro. Start with delving into cases, not studying charts.
3) Get lots of input from the front line. Speak to the soldiers much more than the generals.
4) Learn the IT system and its constraints.

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The survivor mentality in Israeli organizational behaviour

For many reasons which are beyond the scope of this post, Israel and Israelis tend to have a survivor mind set which manifests itself in various domains such as internal politics, policy making and external affairs.

In this post, I will relate to the ways that the survivor mentality manifests itself in organizational behaviour, which is the domain of this blog.

Since there is a lot of deviation within any given population vis a vis specific behaviours, not every Israeli or Israeli organization will display these characteristics.

However I am dealing here with generalizations which are frequent enough to merit mention.

  • Emotional (life is a struggle)
  • Insider-outsider dynamic,or us or against us (friend or enemy?)
  • Paranoid about other’s hidden agendas (can you be trusted?)
  • Fast and responsive (matter of life and death)
  • Lots of argument about minute points; trees are as important as forests; not expedient (it is all about principle, not priority)
  • High level of involvement and commitment (it’s a war)
  • Very pragmatic and action orienteddo anything that works; hands on (shoot, don’t talk)
  • Extremely adverse to planning, preference to improvisation (hush hush about intentions)
  • Points of agreement constantly re-opened and negotiated (win, not win win)
  • Entertainment of parallel strategies all the time; not consistent (one upsmanship)
  • Speed as strategy ; build first and scale later, sloppy (slow and steady looses)
  • Challenge authority constantly but highly loyal in the crunch (commando)

So, what are the keys to being effective when you work with Israelis? The answer is a post in and of itself so I will leave you with 5 tips in the meantime.

  1. Talking on the phone is more effective than email.
  2. Be strong and negotiate all the time.
  3. Avoid expediency which is seen as a near fatal weakness.
  4. Don’t try to buy performance (Your bonus depends on this.)
  5. Discuss underlying trust issues openly. Israel ain’t Japan and the more open you are, the better.

This post is dedicated to my 4th grand daughter Rona, a 5th generation Israeli, born at 9 am this morning after a prolonged 8 minute labour! Speed as strategy.


rona

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