In the room, people come and go talking of…..Meetings in Israel

To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock- TS Eliot

Meetings in Israel have many unique characteristics: loose agendas, going out on a tangent most of time, argument, reopening of decisions, debating for debating sake and yes-but-ism.

There is yet but another challenge (for the non Israeli) in our meetings, and that is the frequent coming and going in/out of the meeting room.

The latter is the subject of this post.

Today, I stood outside the Lord Balfour Room and asked those coming in/going out of the room what their story was. The meeting in Balfour was scheduled to start at 1000 AM. It started at 1017.

At 10.22, Alisa and Fatima came into the room. They were both on the same train that ran late; both mentioned that the air-conditioning on the train was malfunctioning and thus, they had stopped  to get a bottle of water with ice before entering the room. The ladies asked me to carry in the ice bucket.

At 10.27, Maor left the meeting room, because his son had called him to ask if he could have the car in the afternoon, and if so at what time. “And Dad, by the way…” Maor went back in at 1040.

Sivan left the room at 10.42 to take a call from her Dad’s doctor,  for which she had been waiting for  3 weeks.

Miki, Simon and Iggie had a double booked meeting and arrived at 1045.

CFO Riki left the room 3 times: once to speak to a supplier who had not been paid; once to field a call from a board member and once to smoke.

The meeting which was supposed to end at 1130 ended at 12.30, so lunch was ordered in and the discussion went on for another hour, even though a third of the people invited had left.

Why does this happen?

1 Personal issues can be dealt with on company time.

2 Immediate responsiveness is more valued than keeping to the plan.

3 People multi task all the time as a way of life and if there is a gap, they retro fix it.

4 Keeping to plan/schedule has some espoused importance but other things are “equally important” and everyone  must  decide his/her  priorities. Besides that, shit happens.

5 Some of the decisions that were made in the meeting can be revisited by people who were not in the meeting when the decisions were made, so  lack of discipline is complemented by lack of consequence-all of which is compensated by deep commitment and willingness to do everything to get the job done! 🙂

Is this chaos? Yes for the outsider; No for the local. Why? That’s another post. 

578 total views, 10 views today

Share

Good teamwork is a result of compromise between strong people and their respective agendas

枪杆子里面出政权 (Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun) Mao

This is no country for old men (Yeats)

 

Much advice is available about how to improve team work-leadership, recruit for attitude, culture, team bonuses and what have you. If you ask me, the most critical piece of advice is often missing. 

It is critical to  ensure that power is balanced between team members, without which team work is impossible.

Frank is CFO; he is also the watchdog of Carmen, the main investor and director of the board. Efraim is R&D manager and CEO,  Chris run Sales. Eve runs HR and Administration. Dr Paco is Director of Clinical Trials whilst Claire runs purchasing.

Frank not only sets and controls budgets, but he controls budget utilization within each departments’ budget. Frank brings each and every purchase order of more than 3000 Euro to Carmen for approval. Eve must bring each and every job offer to Frank, who gets Carmen’s approval, or disapproval.

The team work in the team is atrocious. Efraim cuts Frank out of loop, and by passes process left right and centre. Eve has a slush fund for bonuses. Dr Paco once threatened to hit Frank after Frank said, “we pay you too much for too little.”  If Claire has to make a 10,000 Euro purchase, she makes five purchases of 2000 Euro each. When Frank calls her to task once too often, she tells him to “fuck off”. This happens several times a month.

Efraim has had 3 management coaches and the team has gone offsite for three times in five years. Twice, Frank was not able to attend for health reasons; he apparently  suffers from painful hemorrhoids.

There is no teamwork because Frank has too much power. Carmen runs the business, not Efraim. And Frank is COO in disguise, not CFO. In its present configuration, this team will never work well together.

Teamwork is the result of pragmatic compromise between strong people and their respective and often conflicting agendas. Too much emphasis on shared values and lovely-dovey do not create teamwork, any more than universalism creates a peaceful world.

Strong people work together well, especially if they are equally competent.  When some are strong and others are weak, there is a massacre.

I am sorry that I have not mentioned gender until now, but it is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

 

 

 

578 total views, 2 views today

Share

The outdated profession of organization development-an example

Barry has just raised 15 million dollars from investors by promising  to deliver a product within 2 years that will detect pain in canine and feline pets in order to advise the owner whether or not a trip to the vet is necessary.

Barry knows that 2 years and 15 million dollars are not enough. More likely, he will need eight years and  triple the amount of money. It may even be necessary to purchase another company which specializes in canine ophthalmology at a hefty price.  Only Barry knows this.

As CEO, Barry will provide unachievable goals to his staff. Milestones that need 9 months will be planned for 3 months; each staff member will be burdened with the work of 4 people. There will be no link between the plan and the do-able.

Barry will burn out most of the people who work for him. They will be replaced and the board will probably accept the derivative delays that stem from employee turnover. Every single plan and budget will only serve one purpose-managing the investors’ expectations. 

Employees will bitch, morale will be low, many engineers will suffer from insomnia and digestive problems. Barry will divorce, see a shrink and age. Ten years later, Barry will be a very wealthy man, and his company’s history will appear in almost every business magazine.

Classical Organization Development has no added value in such a situation, because transparency and a healthy work environment are building blocks of our outdated profession, which is geared to a world that is almost disappearing before our very eyes.

What can be done for start up? That is a different post. 

 

 

 

1,318 total views, 4 views today

Share

Don’t mitigate an organizations’ pain

There have been screaming matches between Sales and R&D (Dev) ever since the market release of the last product.

Unhappy clients have communicated thousands of complaints which are besieging management! It is now very hard to get the  Sales and Dev teams to sit in the same room in order to solve problems. There are nasty emails threads going back and forth with personal insults, buck-passing and character assassination.

Stan, the CEO, has no time to deal with this. The investors are on his back for a faster return on investment. He needs to replace his CFO who he caught “chirping” to the board about revenue forecasts. Stan  expects the head of Sales, Lucien, and the head of R&D, Deepak, to be mature and handle the issues at hand like adults. “Boys”, said Stan, “get these teams aligned. Use HR or a consultants as needed”.

The HR manager ran an on-line survey to see what needed to be done to “calm things down”; staff described their level of pain as 9 (on a ten point scale). Job satisfaction was rated high (8) and interdisciplinary teamwork was low (6).

A consultant was hired  to do outdoor training to lower group pain. A  yoga coach  was hired to relieve the stress/pain of the last few months at the individual level. Lucien and Deepak were given each individually 2 hours of anti-stress coaching provided by an on-line vendor via Skype. As is said in the Merchant of Venice, the goal of both interventions was  “Hiding the grossness with fair ornament”.  Act 3, scene 2. Or as is pointed out in a comment (in Hebrew) below by a reader  Mr. Koren, the emphasis was placed on feeling well, not getting better.

However, this mess  was all about the risk taking behaviour of CEO Stan. In order to show his investors a pattern of growth, CEO Stan had oked the design and release of a totally immature project, which no one yet knew how to design let alone build. Sales numbers were high because the install base is in the third world, where agents pay off corporate purchasing to buy almost anything.

The product, now released, has cause huge pain. Sales cannot deal with the angry clients and expects R&D to send people to the client site to get the product working. R&D expects Sales to “manage the the customer” until a half decent “fix” can be concocted.

The moral of this story is that organizational pain is an important indicator, and thus need not be/must not be suppressed. Quite the opposite, the pain can lead us to the dysfunction, albeit not directly.

Mitigating  pain symptoms  in organizations is often the least indicated solution to organizational problems. Mindlessly mitigating pain is a happy happy, wow wow, useless useless exercise which has corrupted organizational development of the worst kind.

Oh yes, coaching for individuals is often (certainly not always)  the mother of all pain mitigation elixirs. Coaching for the individual often means, “Let’s work together on how you overcome other peoples’/system problems”.

 

 

 

 

3,624 total views, 12 views today

Share

Tell tale signs that an organization will not make its commitments

The commitment

The fully functioning product which you purchased will be delivered, installed by Nov 4th and set to go the very same day.

What happened on Nov 4th?

The product was delivered in May, however it had not yet been fully tested. 60% of revenue generating features were “still in the pipeline”. The client threatens to litigate although the vendor is blaming the client for “having misled us on the level of site readiness and employee skill”.

The scribbling on the wall 

No one should have been surprised because the slip was scribbled on the wall, if you just know how to read it.

Here are a few clues that will allow you to perhaps foresee the crash, albeit not prevent it.

  1. The client “over buys”, meaning he presses for a client commitment because he himself is in trouble. For example, the client needs to increase market share by 30% “or you are out of a job”.
  2. The aggressive commitment is made by shoving it down developers throats. Nay sayers are pushed aside and people with high confidence and low technical savvy take over.
  3. Employees indeed are willing to make aggressive commitments, but only like this: “when Silvan delivers his piece, and QA has signed off, and the real-time folks deliver their piece, I”m sure we can make it, even if it’s a bit challenging”.
  4. Risks, obstacles are smoothed away by fancy verbal tap-dancing. Certain things are no longer documented and status reports are cryptic and ambiguous.
  5. More people are thrown at the job, but the number of skilled people is in decline because the top professionals have left or checked out.

When you foresee all this shit, it still cannot be stopped. Often, this is the way that the particular business cycle functions and everyone is making lots of money despite this apparent insanity.

1,170 total views, 14 views today

Share

The job interview

The job interview, with all its probing questions, is likened to alchemy or witchcraft in many articles on social media. And using a CV is apparently also out of grace, given the plethora of social media from which to garner information about candidates.

Well count me out on that fad. I am often asked to interview experienced candidates for senior positions; I find the job interview as extremely useful. True, I have been fooled and duped. I have been unduly impressed as well. I have written off people who have later succeeded in the job, only to caste my judgement into doubt. Yet over a protracted career of 48 years, I feel the interview helps to provide the client with valuable information and  lessen the margin of error.

Just for the record, I want to point out some of the things I look at in job interviews-verbal skills, lies and discrepancies in the CV, explanation of failures, career aspirations, reactions to various role plays which parallel the job for which the candidate is applying and when necessary, cross cultural literacy.

The job interview is not a sales pitch for the company to which the candidate is applying. The experience of the interview must be respectful yet challenging. Not a walk in the park. The candidate should feel that the organization is mitigating its risks by making an effort to get to know him/her and that the experience engendered is akin to a challenging hard work out.

My assessment of most of the people I interview is fraught with errors in judgement, misreading and guesses, some educated and some stupid. But it is infinitely better than accepting a candidate based on any other means. It’s an indispensable and very imperfect tool.

Oh heavens, I forgot to mention. Candidates who take calls on their mobile during the interviews are generally rejected.

1,734 total views, 4 views today

Share

Lessons Learned from Hernia Surgery

As part of my preparation for hernia surgery, I watched a number of YouTube videos which helped very much ally my fears.

So to chip in to others who will undergo this ordeal, I want to share my ‘lessons learned”. This post is aimed at people who, like me, may be absolutely terrified of going under the knife.

Just for the records, I have a bilateral repair with 3 tears and two meshes inserted by keyhole surgery.

  1. Don’t dither about having the surgery. There is no other way to fix a hernia. Do it. Putting it off for a few weeks/months make no sense whatsoever.
  2. It’s been a week now, and my major take away is that it is not all that bad. Is it a walk in the park? No. It hurts, but by far the worst part was the fear in my mind, which was of my own making.
  3. Don’t google and read about hernia surgery. There are many good sites, with lots of information, but very little is relevant. Having googled “hernia surgery” 3 weeks before my operation, I feared being denied surgery due to white coat hypertension, vomiting after waking up, severe constipation, inability to pee, inability to think straight for a few hours, severe abdominal pain, infection, sore groin pain and horrendous fatigue. None of this happened. Zero. The worst suffering I had came from too much information before the procedure.
  4. The night before the surgery is tough. Do breathing exercises, take a sleeping pill, and roll with the punch. The night before is a son of a bitch.
  5. Being rolled into the operating room is also tough. The few minutes you are still awake seems like an eternity. I counted backwards (in French) from 100 and never reached 70. I also closed my eyes.
  6.  If your blood pressure is normal at home (mine is 129/71), don’t worry about the count prior to the operation. It’s their job, not yours, to get your BP under control. (My BP was 190/100 when I checked in!)
  7. In the half day that you stay in the hospital for surveillance, talk to the people around who are suffering more than you. 
  8. Don’t be brave if it hurts. Tell the staff and they will help you. That’s why they are there.
  9. When you leave the hospital, focus on anything else except the pain. The pain is there, but it is bearable. Divert your thoughts.
  10. And good luck-if I did it with my preoperative anxiety level, anyone can.

It’s a week now. I’m driving, I have been to the beach, and I have walked one km a day since day two, each day adding on one kilometre.

It’s now six months after surgery. The scars are very small. almost invisible. There have been no after effects, no pain whatsoever, and I am glad to have this behind me.

 

 

 

 

1,434 total views, 10 views today

Share

Presenting to an Israeli audience-10 guidelines

  1. Start at the end. Then explain how you got there. Otherwise the arguments you encounter  along the way probably mean you never get to the point.
  2. I know that you want to take questions and audience comments , but refrain from doing so, except at the very end, or for predefined short intervals. There is no problem in Israel to get people to comment; the problem is rather allowing the presenter to present.
  3. Constant smartphone usage by the audience is something you cannot defeat. Surrender.
  4. Be direct. Audiences do not pick up on innuendo all that well.Feel free to say things like, “I disagree” or even “you are wrong”.
  5. Present yourself by your first name, dress informally and don’t toot your own horn.
  6.  Delve into detail as needed to show your competence. Avoid sloganeering. Audiences are allergic to platitudes.
  7. If comfortable and appropriate, use humour.
  8. There is no need to control emotion when you present. Anger, passion and disgust are tolerated.
  9. Audiences tend to be sophisticated. So avoid speaking down, and any hint thereof. (The Israelis often say of those who speak down that “he thinks the sun shines from his ass”)
  10. If you have ground rules for your discussion, present them firmly. Be consistent because inconsistency is weakness, and you’re a dead duck if you cave in on your own ground rules.

1,526 total views, 8 views today

Share

Understanding rapid changes of opinion by Israelis

Case

Gilad is an Israeli engineer working in Cleveland on a three year relocation assignment. Tommy is his Nevada-born and bred boss.

During the course of a discussion in the Planning Committee (Plan of Record) on the expected development time for a new feature, developer Gilad strongly expressed three opinions.

  1. There is no way we can make the May 9th deadline; let’s be real.
  2. The May 9th deadline is challenging but clearly doable.
  3. I’m absolutely against promising the client a May 9th delivery date, but who knows?

Tommy, was aghast. Tommy called Gilad into his office and told him that he would be wise to understand the facts, then form opinions. Tommy told Gilad that his wavering behaviour appeared unprofessional, “which is a shame because you are one of our more talented developers”.

Explanation

The rapid changing of opinions by Israelis is common; it baffles and annoys managers who have been raised to think differently. I shall attempt to provide a few reasons why Israelis appear to change opinions at the drop of a hat.

  1. We tend to have less distinction between facts and opinions. Very often, people have opinions and then look for facts to support them. This is a manifestation of a very ideological society.
  2. Words are important yet less significant as a commitment to action than is western cultures. There is even an expression,`just words`, IE, meaningless prater. (רק מילים)
  3. Entertaining very opposite opinions  at the same time, and then reaching a decision, is the very essence of the way Israelis think out a problem. Faced with impossible situations on a daily basis, this is an ultra pragmatic defense mechanism.
  4. There is no need for a safety net when changing an opinion,  because contradicting yourself is part of thinking things out. There is no expectation that people in a constant case of crisis be consistent.
  5. Anything that you say is true at the moment you say it, but everything changes all the time. This is survival mode in action.
  6. Any decision made (except for written contracts) can reopened for further discussion. This is also survival mode in action.

A common Hebrew idiom explains it all, אז מה שאמרתי (az ma sheh amarti). Here is how it is used.

  •      A-Let’s work this out over supper tonight.
  •      B-I thought you said that  tonight you need to take your daughter to see your mother.
  •      A-Az ma sheh amarti! (so what if I said it).

 

 

 

1,522 total views, 6 views today

Share

Trust busters in virtual/remote teams

Remote and virtual teams have chronic ailments. These ailments exist in almost all teams of this nature. The goal of this post is to point out the most severe generic impediments to provide a context for readers interested in this common organizational configuration.

 

  • Hidden Agendas around control

Hidden control agendas are based on who tells whom what to do, which site is strategic and which site is tactical, and who is the dog that wags the tail.

Over time, the stronger more controlling sites gets the sexy work, the budget and the senior management patronage so necessary for long term growth of the local site. The other sites whither and are downsized, or are relegated to boring continuous engineering.

 

  • Transparency

Most remote sites have more internal transparency to one another than they have towards other sites. It is a type of local patriotism. Information that is shared internally within a site may not be as freely shared with members of another site.

And to be even more blunt, transparency between remote sites is are rare as democracy in the developing world, Middle East and Africa. Transparency is often viewed as weaknesses, in the Darwinian struggle between sites.

 

  • Competency

Various sites tend to have very different competencies. US based sites are close to the market; Israel based sites are highly innovative; India sites are very flexible; Japanese sites have unique customer intimacy, and the list goes on and on.

The lack of trust between the sites often  reflects the tension between the competencies; for example the Japanese site will obsess about what the client asks for. whilst the Israeli site will focus on what the client “really needs”, whilst the American site will try to ensure that the demands of the Japanese don’t divert the product from an agreed upon (American) product road map.

 

And a final comment. There is very important work to do in order to enhance the individual skill of the remote/virtual team member. Nevertheless it is important to carry around individual skill enhancement  within a context of the trust-busting environment in which ALL remote teams function, so as not to saddle the individual with the burden of the organizational design.

1,234 total views, 2 views today

Share