Accessing the Political Skills of Potential Job Candidates

We all know how hard it is to access the compatibility of candidates for a job. Tests, interviews, graphologists, peer interviews: we have all had to eat our humble pie after massive errors of judgement.

I have been way off many times and I am not kind to myself after I miss. But thankfully, my clients are nicer to me than I am to myself because I try to do my best to innovate in order to improve.

One of the factors that I try to access in each interview is the level of political savvy that a potential client has, since more often than not, it is the organizational politics that plays a critical role in the adjustment of the candidate. There are a lot of organizations which don’t test for political skills, especially organizations that are very political. The army and family businesses are a good example, as are large and older organizations.

I will provide some examples of how I try to access political skills.

  • For a family organization

The CEO, your boss, is extremely dominating. Furthermore, some of his critical decisions are made in haste. The CEO’s mother wants to speak to you next week. She is the former chairwoman and founder. What are your thoughts? Plans? Fears in any? Describe your approach.

  • For an engineering job at a senior level

You have been asked to submit a budget to present to the Board which covers 60% of what you actually need. Your boss has told you that the budget submission is a political act, and later on down the line, he will allocate “whatever is necessary”. How will you react to your boss’s request?

  • For a business development role for hi-tech

You are about to meet with new investors who may be interested in injecting money into the company for which you work. You have been thinking of jumping ship because the next  product releases are 1) too buggy and 2) too late; you are pretty negative about where your company is heading. You know that these investors will really bad mouth you if you mis-represent, but you need to stay put until you get a new job (which is not easy) because of your mortgage payments. What’s your plan?

These are just a few of the many examples I have developed.

Try doing so next time you are fishing for a candidate. It may add just a bit more of validity in the perilous process of predicting success.

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Organizational Stupidity

Andy Borovitz’s book Profiles in Ignorance documents the increasing degree of stupidity in the political domain, documenting such figures as W Bush, Quayle, Reagan, Pailin and Trump.

Phenomenally funny book. And it got me thinking about stupidity in organizations.

But first and to be fair, the book is one sided.  There are other examples of ignorance BOTH sides of the political scale, such as Kerry’s middle east policy, knocking off Senor Kaddafi, and Carter’s total misreading of Iran as a island of stability just before the old Shah was disposed.

It appears that stupidity is not limited to one side. In organizations, this is doubly true. At face value, organizations have become more sophisticated over time. Augmented by computing power, easier financing terms and a manpower pool from the global economy, vast knowledge about the market, organizations should have become much smarter. But this has not happened.*

Organizations’ increasing stupidity is often fueled by the innovations that they have adopted. In this post, I want to point out examples of organizational stupidity all based on my experience and observation. 

1-Your customer base and our technology acquisition.
We have a great technology but a weak customer base. You have a strong customer base but your technology is weak. So, let’s create synergy by acquisition and sell our technology to your customer base.

And I ask, how stupid do you have to be to know that this seemingly simple plan almost never works, because of all of the personal, political and technical issues involved?

2-ERPs
Enterprise resource planning certainly solved a huge set of issues (speed, compliance, built-in siloism) only to create a shitload of new problems, such as the elimination of common sense, lack of flexibility, process Nazism, and a thriving blaming culture fuelled by constant escalation of issues to senior management to solve problems fueling by these very “integrated” processes.

Sounds stupid? It certainly is, unless you understand that all innovations solve certain problems and create others.

3-Spokesmen and Perfuming Pigs
In an attempt to deal with image problems stemming from the intrusive role of the media, organizations began to view “looking better” as much more important than becoming better. This lofty goal was delegated to the spokesperson, and or course, often times this fueled lack of trust on the part of the consumer, as well as the process of “hiding” information from and by the spokesperson.

Can you really sell a 20 Euro ticket from Barcelona to Rome, or a 15 Euro ticket between London and Dublin or an 8 Euro trip between Cairo and Entebbe whilst providing good service? Can airports handle the inevitable havoc as the serfs and hoards start to wander almost freely? Of course they can’t, but by perfuming the pig, organizations appear to be “cruisin’ for a bruise” and/or digging their own grave.

4-Shadow work
Organizations seem to believe that you work for them. And thus, they download their jobs to their consumers (shadow work), generally via phone support which is often almost impossible to reach. Try installing a new router on your own, or transitioning to fiber optics; try assembling a water filter every six months.
Shadow work denigrates the reputation of companies, results in huge turn over in call centers, and to a lack of customer loyalty.

5-Constant Reorgs

In another post, I have spelt out the stupidity of constant reorganizations.

And back to stupidity, becoming media savvy probably has created politicians who know how to “look good” as opposed to being compatible to the job. And constant innovation and the need to be fast and flexibile have created new organizational configurations, riddled with stupidity.

……………………………………………………..

*Today’s organizations remind me of great boxers with a powerful punch on one hand, like Floyd Patterson or Amir Khan or Vladimir Klitchko, yet with a glass chin- meaning critical weaknesses that leave them exposed to being knocked out in well fell swoop.

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Suggested emphases for Organization Improvement in 2023

Yeah, I know. 2023 plans have already been put in place and signed off on. What can I do?

Perhaps I am not the Speedy Gonzales that I used to be.  

Nevertheless, a bit late,  here is a list of things that I will continue to look at closely in my diagnostic work in this coming year.

  • To what degree has digitalization negatively impacted interface with the customer base and what is the recovery strategy for this?
  • What types of skills are to be lost with the introduction of artificial intelligence of different sorts? Has there been appropriate risk mitigation?
  • For which organizational weaknesses do the “product heroes” compensate? What plans are in place if these heroes jump ship?
  • Where has common sense been eliminated by process Nazism? How is it possible to restore the rule of common sense in such situations? And as US-based consultant Peter Altschul has added more about common sense in personal correspondance, “what is the relationship between common sense and policy? How do the two influence each other? To what extent is common sense connected with culture?”
  • How can in house communication and trust be improved by making sure that electronic communication is not used to blame or transfer hot potatoes?
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The problem with transparency as a corporate value

Yes, lots of firms have Transparency as one of the core values embedded on their flag.

But what is embedded on the company flag is very often what companies have a great deal of problems accomplishing. So instead of doing it, they subscribe to values like Transparency mainly as a symbolic gesture and/or as an esposed (as opposed to actual) religion.

Transparency as a core value is extremely problematic for several reasons which I will point out in this post. If you are a reader based in the west and doing business in the west, read this anyway because it may apply to you.

  • Many companies misrepresent their capabilities during the sales process. Subsequently, they misrepresent expected timetables. Upon delivery, the client can be surprised or unhappy about what was delivered, yet keeps on buying because of the temporary advantage that the product delivers. IF A COMPANY IS NOT TRANSPARENT WITH ITS CLIENTS, THERE IS ZERO CHANCE FOR INTERNAL TRANSPARENCY.
  • In many parts of Asia (especially China and Taiwan), Russia & the FSU as well as the Middle East, Transparency is often seen as a bizarre western quirk. The common approach is “why share knowledge i.e, power? Why give others an advantage? Why expose weaknesses? Transparency will enable HQ to fu-k us! Or other development sites will take our knowledge away”.
  • Being Transparent is indeed is often being stupid for the nerd in the trenches: you get more work; you get more pressure; you are more vulnerable. Not strangely, HR is the function which most often promulgates Transparency because it is easier to manipulate the staff when their guards are down all hyped up by transparency (and authenticity).

Now don’t get me wrong. Transparency is a great enabler of better management and healthier organizations. Ah-ma-ma (a Hebrew slang for “but what”), it is often resisted (justifiably) and not always REALLY beneficial for the interface with the client.

Example:

It’s September and there is a deadline which is impossible to meet in December. If I am transparent, I will voice my opinion immediately and will be worked to the bone from now on. If I surface my “concerns” in December just before the deadline, I will have just a few days/weeks of pressure and the delivery will be rescheduled.

Okay, so you have reached this far and and think, “he’s crazy, of course I want my organization to support and celebrate Transparency.”  Just to make sure, take this small test:

  1. Do you support the idea that staff share one another’s salaries, perks and bonuses with one another?
  2. Is your engineering department free to discuss all the products’ shortcomings with clients, and provide a realistic timeframe for them to be fixed?
  3. Are you willing to diviludge what are the real reasons why highly incompetent people retain their job, even during the most severe downsizing?
  4. Is Supply Chain mandated to negotiate the contracting services so ensure that ALL vendors (not just strategic ones) makes a fair profit AND get paid on time with no lame excuses? Again I emphasize, all vendors.
  5. If you do not give out salary increases when the going is bad, do you compensate when the going is good? Or do you have a bullshit excuse when the going is good as well?

Now, do the math.

 

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Let’s look at leadership close up for a minute

Let’s look at leadership carefully for a moment.

I have worked with several leaders in my career who should never have succeeded.

Kim could not make a decision to save his life. He dithered and dilly dallied and hemmed and hawed. He told everyone what they wanted to hear and when he finally made a decision, he did what he wanted in a clandestine manner, only to be caught red handed. Kim bet on one technology that turned out to be a smashing success, which made him and his team very rich. History was rewritten to make him into a hero and management guru.

Saul was extremely loquacious, and not the brightest lightbulb. His English was mediocre, at best. He spent hours and hours talking to his team members, one on one, to ensure that they were on board with his decisions, which he never made. Saul was a sports fan and often chewed off the ears of his staff with long monologues about what this or that player “should have done”. In a bad year when 3 of the released products failed to produce desired results, Saul managed to sell the unhappy customers new (undeveloped) products which saved the revenue stream of his company. Saul also managed to raise a huge amount of money even when his investors were bombarded with bad news about client dissatisfaction. Saul, like Kim, was reframed as a Churchill.

Allan is rude; he cannot listen more than a minute before he loses his patience. He knows how to do everyone’s job better than they do. He bullies employees and he makes sexist jokes. His personal assistants last no more than 6 months. Allan, faced with a quickly changing job market place, imported labour from abroad solving “a lack of skills” shortage. He scrapped an IT project which was diverting management attention and focused the company on “3 major wins”, as opposed to 50 small projects. He stabilized the product road map. Allan is also a Churchill like figure.

Of course, some leaders look great even though they are /may not be great. While I despise the Russian aggression and Russian leadership, certainly I do not think that Zalensky is a good leader. He provoked, he teased without a risk analysis, he bet the farm on western support and so on and so forth. And yes, he is a great actor, even better than Reagan. But what about the results? Ukraine is in ruins-no electricity, no water, nada. But Zalensky? He wears a nice green habit, and inspires his people;  even more, he inspires western liberals. His present stature makes Churchill into Mickey Mouse.

What do we really know about leadership?

 

Kim, Saul and Allan are thought to be great leaders.

All over the world, people vote for right wing leaders who give them “meaning” and a “sense of belonging”, not proper governance.

Depressed people used to be dipped in ice water. That was the state of the art cure. In another époque, they were paraded to be shamed out of their depression. Now it’s all about serotonin. And ketamine. What do we really know about depression?

Or leadership. Very little.

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Working remote and “do me a favour”

Horrid bureacracies with their rigid processes that cannot factor in common sense often have several workarounds, aka shortcuts.

Managers often allow breaking the rules (that they themselves are asked to enforce); furthermore people in the trenches do each other favours, especially in cultures where relationships are more valued that process. China, Israel, Holland and Taiwan  serve as  good examples.

Noam has been called to the campus at 2 AM to repair an extremely complex valve. He arrives at the campus without his security card, which is in his wife’s car! The gate does not open. He honks furiously. The guard who does not know Noam refuses to open the gate. But Noam knows the other guard sitting in the control room, because they have often had supper together when Noam does the night shift. Noam calls his friend in the control room who lets him in, against every single security policy.

Things like this happen every single day, greasing the idiocy that bureaucracy creates. But not when people work remote: I have not measured that, but I have worked extensively with organizations in which remote workers refuse to bend rules for people that they do not know, and wfh has created lots of opportunities to hide  common sense in a rule book or create buck-passing.

Any organization that wants to promote wfh, which is a very positive thing, need to promote “common sense” that stems from the power of relationships.

 

 

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Myths of Centralization and Decentralization

Both centralization and decentralization processes have their myths and misunderstandings.

In this short post, I shall share my experience in facilitating hundreds of such transitions.

  • It is not either or. When you centralize certain components, others must be decentralized. And the opposite. Example: When you decentralize reimbursement policy, it is wise to centalize control. When you centalize travel policy, you need to decentralize discretion-based exceptions.
  • Prolonged centralization does not lead to more control. Eventually, it can lead to lack of control. People will learn the weakness of the centralized system, and eventually beat it. 
  • Decentralization and centralization are not ideologies. They are the pendulum of a clock that over time go back and forth, to compensate for the weakness that each state creates.
  • Centralization and decentralization can co-exist for the same function. You can decentralize Purchasing in some geographies and centralize in others, depending on the amount of corruption.
  • You cannot decentralize something that does not exist and hope that things get better. It is best to decentralize things that work well, and hope that they get better.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tom White learns a lesson: Using western-biasesd OD in the wrong place

Tom White, OD Manager for a US based law firm, was sent to Asia to do some interviews for the corporate in Asia and solve burning issues “on line”. Tom was top of his class in OD in an Ivy League University and he was also a certified coach. He had undergone study groups in Tavistock and T Groups in the States.

One of the Brits in the Bangkok office told Tom that he had heard gossip from a secretary that Lawyer Jai (f) was very upset with her subordinate Lawyer Phrem (m); Phrem (who studied law in the US and France) had shown a lack of respect to Jai on their last trip to a client in Belgium. Phrem pushed Jai aside by speaking out when Jai was looking for words and used his knowledge of French to make Jai look bad. What made this worse was that Jai was the account manager on the deal, and Phrem was supposed to be a quiet #2.

Tom approached Jai and asked for another meeting, even though he had interviewed her in the morning. “Hey Jai, can you tell me a little bit about what happened in Belgium as week.” Jai smiled and said the trip was `wely sasexful“.

Well, said Tom, can you describe the dynamic with Phrem-he asked.

Jai evaded and Tom then told Jai what he had heard, emphasizing the lack of respect that Phrem had shown. Jai felt she wanted to throw up and felt dizzy…..so she smiled.

Tom said,“I want to give you some direct feedback, Jai. Managerial responsibility entails the ability to provide Phrem with feedback so he can improve his performance and learn from mistakes. It also makes no sense holding your anger inside: do you see things differently“ Jai smiled and said“-ok Khun Tom“

Tom told Jai he would organize a 3rd party intervention that afternoon and Jai smiled.

Tom asked Phrem at lunch how the trip to Belgium went and Phrem told Tom how important it was that he was invited: “Jai is such a good lawyer and I complemented her oral English“, said Phrem who wanted to make an impression on Tom, who was at time struggling to understand Jai.

Tom asked Phrem if he would be ready for a 3rd part intervention w Jai and Phrem agreed. `Great“said Phrem.

Tom sat Phrem and Jai down in a room. The goal of the meeting was to debrief the Belgium visit in a no penalty zone environment and establish some lessons learned which can be agreed to and possible shared. (Jai felt dizzy)

There may be some disagreements, said Tom, but we can meet in the middle. After all, isn’t that the most sensible thing to do. (Jai was seeing double)

Jai was asked to describe what happened at the client site. She said: “Thank you so much, K Tom. But we is lawyers and we hap (have) mek (made) a good contac.“

I agree, said Phrem. “What is this meeting about anyway, Tom“-said Phrem-stabbing Tom in the back, and smiling at Jai.

Tom gave a short lecturette on managerial maturity and open communication. Jai asked him how he was enjoying his first trip to Bangkok.

Jai sent VP HR Asia and Japan the following email.

Dear Khun HR Manager,

Maybe Mr Tom can focus on Japan office or Singapore office. He seems to suffer from heat. He get all confyus and maybe not feel so good.

Thank you we not see him again.

Jai

That night, Jai sent Tom to a restaurant in a cab which passed thru a 2 hour traffic jam. The restaurant was closed due to reconstruction.

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Mergers and Acquisitions after Corona

No I have not changed my mind. There are no mergers, just acquisitions. But there is a limit on how many myths I try to bust without flushing myself down the drain. Mergers and acquisitions have never been easy; in the post corona era, they are harder than ever. I will list the three major challenges that I have experienced as well as what can be done, if anything, to mitigate the new challenges.

a) Any talent acquired in the acquired company may not be there in a few months. Yes, you can buy them perhaps physically, but committment is impossible to buy. So you better be very very sure that what you are buying is there to stay for as long as you expect.

b) Mergers and acquisitions are painful; long hours; lots of travel and lots a headaches. The level of pain people are willing to tolerate appears much lower than before corona. So whatever time frame is expected for the merger/acquisition to work, I suggest quadrupling it.

c) Generally there is a process of the unification of shared services, such as supply chain/ purchasing, travel coordination, finance, HR, IT etc. I would think ten times about merging supply chain. The supply chain is disrupted enough externally without self created disruption.

d) Building trust by Zoom is absurd. There is an illusion that lots of work can be done virtually, including trust building. Post merger trust cannot be built easily at all-and certainly not remotely. So no short cuts-don’t shower with a raincoat. 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing an OD consultant-6 guidelines

I know, I know. If I were not 72 going on 73, I would recommend that someone who is shopping for an OD consultant ensure that the potential candidates are equally female, male and bi-sexual. And perhaps a candidate who thinks that Zelensky is the new Churchill. However…

Since I come from a different generation, I want to suggest some questions and issues you clarify when choosing a potential OD consultant.

  • Does your candidate have domain experience relevant to your firm? If you run an insurance agency, an OD consultant with 30 years’ experience in petroleum will not be effective. Domain experience is critical in the present level of complexity and competitiveness. Don’t anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Do you like the candidate? As India-based guru Joseph George points out in his comments to this post, this “liking” can lead to a slippery slope given the parallel requirement of choosing a no nonsense consultant, which is also discussed below. Furthermore, I say this even though I personally am an acquired taste. However, if there is not enough initial personal chemistry, my advice is to think twice. So much of the OD dialogue is based on trust that working against your own intuition is not worth the risk. Let me give an example. If I were to meet a consultant who was late for a meeting and did not apologize, corrected my use of traditional gender pronouns, and used sloppy grammar, I would cut the conversation short. 
  • If your candidate wants to conduct remote interviews or Zoom sessions even some of the time, forget it. Face to face interactions with an OD consultant are as important as are face to face interactions with a dentist.  
  • Is your candidate willing to clearly define goals and eventual results in the initial meetings beyond the basic generic nature of the OD process (which must be made clear up front)? If so, don’t hire because it cannot be done. Project goals emerge slowly over time and shift /sway.
  • Does the candidate appear to be a pleaser? If so, be careful-because OD people must challenge & authority. They should not be compliant or pleasers. 
  • If your staff is ethnically or internationally diverse, if your candidate culturally fluent? Or is he or she   a captive of the culture into which he was born? Give this quiz when in doubt. 

 

 

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