Impressed by anger

Au urgent meeting was convened to discuss the ramifications of a further  2 week delay in the “go-live roll out” for a software project which was to impact 50,000 cable-TV users in Australia.  Australian cable companies are presently fielding customer anger because customers have paid for, yet not received, this delayed service.

Invited to the meeting were Arthur from the Australia (the account manager), Arturo ( a developer) from Mexico, Erez (a developer)  from Israel and Tim (master scheduler)  from Germany. Arthur is based in Australia; all the others are US based company HQ.

Tim came into the conference room 5 minutes early and mentioned that he has yet to receive an agenda.

Erez called into the meeting because he had to take his kids to a school play and one could hear his wife castigating him in the background: “why don’t you go and live at work”? The quality of Erez’s connection was also unclear and he got cut off three times.

Arturo came into the meeting 20 minutes late, asked everyone how things are going. Then  just as the meeting was coming to end, Arturo said, “I have a few important issues that are not on the agenda which impact the estimation of readiness for deployment”. Arturo then communicated really bad new of even a further delay of 6 weeks. Arturo suggested that Arthur “bargain for an extension”.

Account manager Arthur maintained his cool until Arturo suggested bargaining for an extension with Australian client. “Listen mate, you can bargain in Mexico, but not in Australia!” Arturo fought back; Arthur got furious and lost his cool. Erez added: “This is the first time I see you really care about the delay, Arthur; we can help you by working weekends!” Both Erez and Arturo had been really impressed by Arthur’s anger.

Tim mentioned that the plan would need to be adjusted to reflect reality. “We need to be transparent” stated Tim, who seemed irrelevant in the semi Levantine reality in this post modern team. Arturo and Erez just don’t get Tims’ hang up on transparency. Erez and Arturo view transparency as counterproductive to managing (not meeting) customer expectations.

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An interesting clash of values blows up a deal

Mr. Lau from Hubei China and Mr McDougal (from Cincinnati) are about to sign a contract. The contract is for 200 million dollars over the next year, with Mr Lau purchasing equipment from the American McDougal.

Mr. Lau has one request. “I have a son and  I would like him to work in your company. Keep an eye on him;  he can go to US to learn English if you sponsor him”.

Mr. McDougal thinks: I cannot trust this guy. He is totally corrupt.

Mr. Lau thinks: I cannot trust this guy. I give him 200 million dollars business and he does not value our relationship.

The deal falls apart.

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How well do we get to know virtual colleagues?

Eleanor Rigby…
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
                                                  (lyrics from The Beatles)

There are many tools that enable people to communicate/work together in a virtual environment. Personally I have used Skype, Whats App video, and many other high quality methods of video conferencing. And yes, these tools work, but how well do they work for everyone? How much depth is lost when we use gadgets to communicate?

It has been claimed that it is possible to get to know and trust ones’ colleagues very well, without any  face to face contact. Even the renouned psychiatrist Irvin Yalom now touts the virtue of psychotherapy via texting in his latest book Becoming Myself.

However for me, nothing but nothing replaces face to face contact.

There was an Israeli prime minister (Eshkol) who wisely warned against making “a tragedy into an ideology”. So whilst virtual communication is now the norm, it sure isn’t the “communication venue of choice” that brings out the best of me.

I have been told by people who have met me after years of virtual communication that they are surprised that I am a warm, compassionate person. Until we have met,  I often come across only as brash, bright and/or an aggravating contrarian. And yes, I do have a good sense of humour and write a satirical blog, but I am rather a “serious type” in conversation. And I had another surprise last year when a client with whom I had worked remotely told me that “I am surprised how much I like speaking with you face to face; sometimes I tried to avoid the calls we had scheduled .”

So while global configuration mandates constant virtual communication, I’m not done travelling yet, despite the delays, security checks, loss of baggage and horrendous hours of take off and landing.

 

 

 

 

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Why don’t Israelis value planning?

The Israeli disdain for planning is legendary. It has been suggested that Israelis know how to extract themselves from situations which they could have avoided via basic foresight. Many Israelis would agree, but planning takes a back seat to doing and fixing it later. Lack of planning is not exactly only a ‘lack”; it is a disdain.

The goal of this post is to suggest root causes as to the cultural preference to do without planning. Following is some standard Israeli logic about planning.

  1. When speed is strategy, planning is seen as a luxury. And in Israel, speed indeed is strategy.
  2. The culture is of risk taking, and punitive measures following failure are relatively rare. So planning is not perceived as a necessity.
  3. Planning is something that “they” should do; then we can outsmart them.
  4. The environment is not predictable; we can only adapt to changes of the world around us, so planning can encourage rigidity.
  5. One needs to do a little bit of planning all the time, The best time to plan is after doing. At that point, some thought can be given to planning. Then, continue doing. Subsequently,  all planning decisions made in planning can be reopened, since all decisions are reversible.
  6. If we plan too much we may become too predicable and transparent, we can be fooled.
  7. Relying on systematic planning is far less reliable that relying on human ingenuity.
  8. Lack of planning can be compensated for by tightly knit team work of high performers and constant and intense communication.

I have worked with countless America, German, Dutch and Canadian managers who have tried to get the Israelis whom they manage to plan more. It is a hard uphill run.

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Frequent follow up, trust and culture

Lee  is the Tel Aviv based manager of Paul (USA), Lars (Denmark) and Shaul (Tel Aviv).

Lee has asked all of her three direct reports to submit a report within 2 weeks detailing all known risks in the next two quarters. These risks are to be discussed at a critical meeting with investors in one month.

Lee is very anxious; on one hand the risks must be transparent, because any big surprise will mean her ass is on the line. On the other hand, too much risk may mean the end of funding. As a result of the pressure she is under, Lee has not been sleeping well, so she decides to call all three almost on a daily basis to see how their risk analysis report is coming along.

Shaul has no problem with Lee’s frequent follow up. It is a sign that she cares. As a result of Lee’s intensive follow up. Shaul and Lee have had some interesting chats which have shed light on risks that are more red herrings than real risks.

Lars resents daily follow up. He feels that Lee may not trust him; Lee’s style projects the constant hounding he feels from his anxiety driven pushy boss. Lars is working very hard on his document and plans to get it to her before schedule, especially if she leaves him alone.

Paul wishes that his former boss James had not been replaced by Lee when James quit. James trusted people, or replaced them. But Paul has worked with Israeli managers before. He knows that they love to dig into the details. He also knows that Lee trusts him. He also recognizes that Lee is stressed out. So when Lee calls Paul to follow up, Paul asks Lee how high her blood pressure is, and then asks her if she wants to fly over to San Francisco ‘and do my work instead of me’. Lee lays off nagging for a while, but wishes that Paul was “not so American”.

Frequent follow up can generate a feeling of mistrust on the part of the employee. But also frequent follow up can indicate caring and generate informal dialogue. Often frequent follow up is a sign that the manager is under a feel of stress.

I am sure that some people are asking themselves, ‘how can frequent follow up indicate caring?’ It goes like this. The boss give you a task, you have many tasks. You may think, does the boss really want this done? Is she/he serious about this?  The boss nags. Now my priorities are clear. I need to do it. And I will use the frequent nagging to my benefit to discuss the issues with her. That will prevent rework of my report.

Got it? 🙂 If not, keep reading my blog. Merci!

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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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Consulting people who know one another too well

Peace keepers have been coming to the Middle East for decades, trying to bridge differences between nations which are assumed not to know one another well enough to cut a deal. The truth is that a deal hasn’t been cut  is because people know one another far too well!

Consultants often make a similar error; the goal of this post is to spell out how best to consult with people who know one another too well.

Let’s take an example. Rob and Tyler have been working together for 16 years, and will work together until they retire.

  • Rob believes that Tyler under-promises in order to minimize risk taking. Rob “does not believe a word” that Tyler says.
  • Tyler believes that Rob will do anything to “look good” at Tyler’s expense. Tyler feels that Rob would “sell his own mother” to get promoted.

Rob and Tyler have lunch together every day. They discuss sports and their shared hobby, running. Rob and Tyler joke with another quite a bit and appear to be jovial in one another’s presence. The formal meetings between them produce fuzzy decisions which are undone the moment they leave the room.

Recently Tyler and Rob have just had shared a major failure. Due to miscommunication and excessive ambiguity, a very faulty product was delivered to a key customer resulting in the loss of the client. The CEO has asked an OD consultant to work together with Rob and Tyler “to improve things without rocking the boat”.

Clearly, Rob and Tyler have learnt a pattern to cope with one another that it is almost impossible to change without rocking the boat and exposing the shit that lies beneath the surface.

I would suggest 3 DOs and 3 DON’Ts in such situations.

Do

  • Focus on very, very specific issues, not on “trust” or “communication”
  • Use a written problem statement issued by a senior manager
  • Act as a “go-between” focusing on building agreement and zeroing in  on disagreement.

Don’t

  • Don’t try to break most of  their entire coping patterns; focus on changing very small things.
  • Don’t focus on what happened, rather focus on what should happen in the future.
  • Don’t drag things out; rather work quickly before they learn to adapt themselves to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interviewing people with poor English language skills

Allon asks-“tell me about the type of input you would like to get from HQ”. Answer- “Me no hap no sahlale inkalez lohne tahm, lah.”

Yes, interviewing people whose native language is not English is hard for for the interviewer! In the above case, it took me about 5 more minutes to understand that this Thai engineer had not had a salary increase for a long time, which did not even address my question as I had asked it!

Interviewing people whose level of English is poor presents a cultural as well as linguistic challenge. In many of my posts, I have provided tips on how to deal with cultural differences in an interview. In this post I will deal with the linguistics of interviewing someone whose English is substandard,.

  1. Prepare simply worded questions and pluck out all the tough words. Utilize becomes use; sinister becomes bad, harass becomes bother.
  2. Ask each question several times and in several ways. Please explain how Som deals with customers? Do customers annoy Som? How does Som solve customer problems? If you get very different answers, then try again, since many interviewees feign understanding.
  3. When there is a really hard concept to convey in a question, it makes sense to put the question in writing in the interviewees native language. One case I remember is asking “is there is an emphasis on the individual doing everything possible to get the job done”. This was really tough to convey to various populations.
  4. Some words don’t translate and you need to prepare a “work around”. For example there is no such word as “expedient” in Hebrew or teamwork in Chinese. So instead of asking if Dov solves problems expediently, you can ask if Dov is capable of functional compromise.
  5. Never assume you are understood. It is much better to assume that you are going to be misunderstood unless proven differently.
  6. Triple the time you allot for an interview.
  7. Take breaks frequently because in some cases, the interview process can be brutal. I remember one very painful migraine after interviewing one particular person in Seoul.
  8. Enjoy the ride. There are funny moments that can be enjoyed. Like when I asked how to pronounce someone’s name and it took me 15 minutes to get it right. Or when some asked me “you chew”, meaning “are you Jewish”?

 

 

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What happens when Indians and Israelis work together

Over the years, I have consulted more than a hundred teams of Israelis and Indians working together in all configurations. Israelis with Indian bosses, Indians with Israeli bosses and Indians and Israelis with a German boss.

Whilst India is a huge country and Israelis are a very diverse and individualist lot, there tend to be several common characteristics  that I want to share.

  1. Israelis challenge authority as a way of life; India based managers have a difficult time managing their “overly opinionated ” Israel based employees.
  2. Indians often request permission from their bosses if they need to overstep their role; their Israeli counterparts view this behaviour as “hiding” behind their bosses.
  3. Both Indians and Israeli bypass the system and leverage personal connections to get things done; this serves as an excellent platform for solving what seem to be insurmountable problems.
  4. Indian employees exhibit deference and their Israeli bosses often think that there is agreement on a course of action, when there is no agreement whatsoever.
  5. Both Israelis and Indians negotiate all the time as a way of life. The better the negotiation skills are, the more mutual respect is garnered. (These negotiation skills can drive US and German managers out of their mind.)
  6. Both Israelis and Indians work very hard and put in long hours, with constant availability via their mobiles. These similarities build trust.

Consultants who work with Israel Indian teams should focus on clarifying relationship to authority, defining expectations from follower-ship, communication styles under duress, ways to augment transparency and face saving. mechanisms.

On a personal level, I love working with Israeli and Indian teams. Both populations show consultants a lot of appreciation and warmth if the consultant does the work properly.

 

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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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