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”.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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 kilometer.

 

 

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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.

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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).

 

 

 

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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.

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If you want team work, put your money where your mouth is

If you overeat, you get fat.If you text and drive, you may mow someone down and ruin a few lives. If you don’t buckle your sear belt and you hit an air pocket, your vacation may not be a lot of fun.

Consistency between action and results are pretty important, “if you ask me”. Which is why poor teamwork is so frequent.

Organizations do not position teamwork as an absolute “must have” in the recruitment process. Time and time again, skills trump teamwork when push comes to shove, relegating teamwork to a “nice to have” position. Real shitty team players are “excused” because they are “top–notch professionals.”

Organizations do not have performance reviews for teams; but rather the individual is sized up on a yearly basis, stuffed with feedback like a goose. Naturally, the interfaces between teams, (eg, between Sales and Engineering) are not subjected to the review process.

Compensation is very much aligned to the individual, never to the “interface between teams”.

Individuals are developed much more frequently than teams.

People are often fired, but teams are never fired.

People are recruited, not teams.

Diversity and inclusion efforts are aimed at colour, sexuality, disability, but never at accommodating other professions who look at the world differently (eg R&D vs Finance; Legal vs Sales).

So, if you are sure that you need team work (and not every organization needs team work), put your money where your mouth is. Hiring a consultant to clean the dirty diaper after the organization has been poorly “architected” is pissing into the wind, an expression which my dear late Dad used all the time.

Sorry for not being able to control myself.

 

 

 

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Enhancing a sense of personal ownership in an organization with very aggressive goals

I am not a magician. Far from it. Albeit my “in your face” style, I tend to be very realistic in my approach to managing and mitigating organizational pain,foremost by creating appropriate expectations. My interactions with Ed will demonstrate how this is done.

Ed called me a month ago;  we had 6  conversations. In our first meeting, Ed described the reason he had approached me “Allon, I want your help to install a sense of personal responsibility in order to grow our company by 7% per quarter for the next year”.

Ed’s  company is in a high growth area, so his growth goals were not all that bizarre. What was totally misguided was his desire to enhance the sense of  “personal ownership”.

Personal ownership is counter-indicated to achieving aggressive growth. I told him as such and explained.

“Ed, when aggressive growth goals are set, the major concern of staff at all levels is “what do these goals  mean for me”?  For example the developers do not  want to release sloppy code; account managers do not want to deal with angry clients who feel that they have been duped. Customer service wants scripts to  solve client problems and product marketing wants to maintain a stable product road map.

Aggressive growth is achieved by trading off the maximalistic goals and wet dreams of each function/profession to create a runway that enables a fast take off for growth. It’s all about trade offs, compromise, sharing of risks, not ownership of a subset of goals.”

I explained to Ed how a enhanced sense of personal ownership in the context of aggressive growth  will drive managers to set very high standards for their respective functions,  and subsequently to refuse to negotiate pragmatic trade offs/compromise. And worst of all, a culture of blaming and finger pointing will thrive.

As a result of our conversations, Ed went offsite with his team with me to discuss “how do we share risks?”

By setting appropriate expectations up  front, the intervention was shorter (less commercially viable) and very effective..But I built a reputation with Ed, and that will pay off over the coming years, if I am still around.

 

 

 

 

 

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Organization Developments’ dangerous fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is the strict unwavering, inflexible adherence to principle, most often  but not solely religious.

We all know what religious fundamentalism looks like as well as the damages/mass stupidity it can inflict both on its own believers and its enemies. The user experience at airports since 9/11 is a testament to this.

Not only religions have fundamental principles- so do professions, including organization development.

The fundamental OD principles were based on where, when and by whom OD was founded, and served as the platform for the profession and its subsequent development.  While the world of organizations has changed, the principles have not, rendering OD’s fundamentals as outdated as a man waving a sword chopping  off peoples’ heads off because he  wants to recreate his 6th century grandeur.

Let’s take a few examples.

Democracy:

OD was a response to the dangers of fascist regimes and many OD interventions encourage democratization. In 2019, it is democracy which is facing huge challenges. Not only is it clear that democratic processes can lead to extremely dangerous decisions, but over time the types of people who rise to the top can be very dangerous and corrupt.

The empowerment of the individual:

What a mess this has become! System problems (such as aggressive deadlines and enforced loneliness aka remote work) are ignored. Coaching the individual, wellness programs and engagement voodoo take the system problems out of the spotlight, wallpapering them with an irrelevant focus on the individual.

Authenticity

OD places a premium on authentic communication. However, in many cultures, authenticity is akin to farting in an elevator. Even in the west, authenticity does not pay off. Authentic people often get fucked, when they don’t get fired.

And I can go on and on. But I won’t. I will however end this post by a description of how an OD fundamentalist facilitates a merger. Ignoring Machiavelli and Darwin, the OD fundamentalist with try to take the best from each culture to form a new culture, based on the best of both worlds. This inevitably fails. However, an OD consultant who has moved beyond fundamentalist will assume that there are no mergers, just acquisitions, and let nature take its course, serving as a midwife for the inevitable survival of the fittest.

 

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