George swallows a fishing hook

On a fishing expedition

It was warm and sunny; a perfect Tel Aviv spring day last Saturday. George and I went to the beach where he was unleashed and allowed to run free for two hours

As we walked on our 12 kilometer walk, I listened to Radio Swiss Classic and George played with other dogs, took an unauthorized dip in the cold Mediterranean and feasted on pitta, kebab, steak bones and what have you left behind by the night crowd before the cleaning squads had arrived.

After two hours, George and I headed home. At the first stop light, I noticed a fishing line hanging from his mouth. I thought it was just stuck in his teeth so I opened his mouth and saw it was not attached to his teeth. I gave a pull and nothing happened. George felt no pain at all; he was wagging his tail and licking my hand.

I was worried sick however. I drove to  the vet, Dr Yuval, whose clinic is open  and fully staffed on Saturdays. Dr Yael, the duty veterinarian, made several efforts to extract the line and when that failed, she took an X-ray. “It’s not good. He needs urgent surgery. I will call Dr Yuval to come in to operate. It will take time. He is up north”.

Dr Yuval was tending to his vineyard in Zichron, which is an hours drive from the clinic. Within 40 minutes, Yuval ran in, and George was put under the knife to extract the fishing hook from the muscle where his esophagus meets his intestine. The surgery took a long time. And I watched it on a monitor, feeling that I just cannot let him go though this without me being as close as I can.

Under the knife-George’s stomach

I was terribly  upset before during and after this incident. I also felt guilty for unleashing George and trying to pull out the fishing line.I told myself  that I wish that  this was happening to me and not to George.

“Go home and come back at 9 pm (in 7 hours)”, I was told.

Take me home

As directed I returned to the clinic, shaking like a leaf. George pulled himself to his feet, although he was certainly not wagging his tail. That’s for sure.

After a course of antibiotics, tender loving care, half a chicken a day and a few pain killers, George has fully recovered, playing Frisbee, having great sex with his favourite  pillow and begging me to replace his dog food with yet another roasted chicken.

Thanks to Dr Yuval and Dr Yael.

אין כמוכם

Back to normal

 

 

 

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“Communication” problems often lead you down a rat hole

Jacques told me in our initial intake  the he had invested a “shit load amount of money” into a startup which was going belly up because of “communication problems”.

Yves called me in because his CFO and Marketing Manager had “communication from hell”.

And Hans asked me to do some work because with introduction of the new ERP, communication between various functions had broken down.

In all three cases, the client self diagnosed incorrectly.

Indeed all three companies had communication issues, but  communication  was either a symptom or a clue that something else was wrong.

In Jacques’ case, the head of development and the head of product marketing did not agree as to product requirements and the CEO could’t decide because he was a bean counter and idiot.

Yves turned out to be playing his marketing manager and CFO against one another and he himself was the problem.

In Hans organization, the ERP was too rigid for the flexible nature of the organization. As a result, the ERP did not work very well; lo and behold people needed to use their common sense. (should unit 1 or 2 pay for staff expert Tom’s flight).

The moral of the story is the early bird gets the worm. No, just joking.

The moral of the story is that self diagnosis of communication problems is highly unreliable in many cases, often masking other issues which are more deep rooted.

 

 

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Dealing with a client’s wrath

Illustrative case-

I confronted CEO James that unless he replaced his buddy Serge as focal point for the Thai/Singapore/Indonesian office, there would be massive churn of key sales people. James turn livid and told me that “I didn’t hire you to replace Serge, but rather to align the South Asian offices to our culture. So, if you cannot do that job, maybe I need to replace you. You cost me a lot of money, and you don’t deliver.”

Comments-

Speaking truth to power means, “when necessary confront the powers that be about what they are doing wrong without fear.” Speaking truth to power was a cornerstone of organizational development.

I am aware that the “speak truth to power” generation of OD professionals has either retired or died…or perhaps (like me), they are still in the game albeit towards the final “laps”.

I am aware that the newer generation of OD consultants strives to “please” clients,  creating a “wow” outcome, or what Reddin called “apparent effectiveness”.

I have never been reticent of confronting my clients, It is a central tenant of my practice. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons that I am still hired.

In the course of my career, I have incurred a huge amount of initial wrath from clients upon confronting them with unpleasant truths. While it helps that I am personable and have a good sense of humour, there is something unpleasant when the client lashes back.

Here are a few things that keep me afloat when under attack.

  1. It is natural for clients to respond this way.
  2. The client is apparently very involved, which is very positive.
  3. I must check the content of what the client is saying, because I may be wrong.
  4. I did what I did because I am doing my job. I am also being paid a high fee to take the heat.
  5. This type of interaction will make me into a better consultant and the build the clients’ trust.

And when it gets really hard-one minute at a time.

 

 

 

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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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