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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Competency trumps culture and gender

Recently a CEO hired me to sit in on 5 meetings of his senior management team. The team consists of executives from the USA, Canada, France, Israel, Singapore and Tokyo. There are both men and women in this team; the men tend to be older than the women.

The CEO was surprised when I shared my findings. He had expected that I would discuss the dynamic whereby a certain younger female US based executive constantly criticizes Asia based managers on their lack of transparency. He also expected to hear from me about the poor communication, which is rooted in the vast cultural differences.

My feedback related to the gap between the professional competency of the staff. Clearly, there were team members who were highly experienced and professional, and others who did not know the difference between their ass and their elbow. Two examples will suffice; one female executive had no answers whatsoever to questions she was asked and constantly asked to “check with my people and get back to you”.  One male executive used empty slogans to address complex problems, claiming that “if we just get on the same page, we can tackle the problem, as a team”.

My suggestion to consultants is as follows: cultural and gender differences are important, all things being equal. Things in this case being competence. If there is a huge variance in levels of competence, culture and gender may appear important, but they aren’t. Nothing trumps competence.

Example-

Israel based Daniel, head of research and development, constantly locks horns with US based CFO Jeanette in management meetings. Daniel claims that Jeanette needs to learn what questions to ask; he refuses to answer any question without first cutting her down.

Jeanette came from an investment bank and clearly does not yet understand the intricacies of budgeting R&D.  Furthermore Jeanette does not have her hands on the steering wheel; she is “fed” by an Israel based accountant who basically deals with authorizing purchase requests. The problem indeed is Jeanette’s competency, not Daniel’s style nor Jeanette’s gender.

 

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Opinions and facts in global organizations

Some but not  all people, distinguish carefully between facts and opinions; for these people there is a time to understand and a time to make a form an opinion.

For other people, stakes (opinions) are put in the ground  after which appropriate facts are sought out to support the opinion. For such people, all the facts, or the wrong facts, are plain damaging, because truth is not what the facts are, but what they should be. (This was very common in Communist art).

And for some people, facts are lies, because the facts display what Marx called a false consciousness, meaning that people perceive what they should not be perceiving.

In global organizations one can often find people from various cultural backgrounds who view opinions and facts very differently.

  • Einat from Israel changes her strongly held opinions many times in a discussion and finally, she agrees on the facts.
  • Nick from the US, believes that facts come before opinions, the former being the basis of the latter.
  • Hans from Munich believes that a grasp of the facts, and all of them, serve the basis for making rational choices, rather than personal opinions.
  • Wong from Beijing believes that  selective facts and  opinions must serve his bosses’ goals.
  • Sergei from Moscow believes that facts and opinions are very often manipulated to serve deep rooted interests, and that it is critical to understand what these interests are and act accordingly. For Sergei, initial facts and opinions are both raw intelligence data.
  • For Som from Bangkok, facts which may embarrass anyone are not real facts; they need to be distorted to maintain a feeling of positiveness and comfort, which serve the ultimate truth of avoiding shame at all costs.

In global organizations, these differences need to factored into so called  models of problem solving.

 

 

 

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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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