Self perpetuating mediocrity in OD

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate to many of issues impacting global organizations.

Nevertheless OD conferences pay only minor lip service  to Global OD. Books, articles and many web sites dedicated to OD ignore the irrelevancy of the OD profession to problems of global organizing.

Conferences  and books recycle the same traditional old crap repackaged in new slogans; alternatively, folks reminisce about the good old days. (We call this in Hebrew-anu banu-we came and we built, i.e., thoughtless reminiscence which leads nowhere.)

There is an expression in Chinese 哑巴吃饺子,心里有数  which means “When a mute person eats some dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, albeit he cannot speak. In other words, people know how much irrelevance is bombarded at them by the old guard, they just do not speak up. Why? Because the old guard controls the keys to the palace. The palace may be crumbling, but they have the keys…the keys to keynotes, the keys to budgets, the keys to the house of lords.

OD conferences are good for networking, but little else.  In other words, we all know that besides networking, conferences have minimal value. New content is not provided, but no one says anything. And few OD books really innovate anything new, except new tools for a crumbling paradigm. The old OD guard is trying to ensure that OD stays at it is. At most, practitioners need some cultural skills.

However it is OD itself that needs to be modified.

Imagine that OD stopped perfuming the pig and dedicated a conference to concrete steps that need to be taken to make OD relevant in global organizations.

This is what 5 sessions might look like:

1) Root Canal 101: Breaking Away from the Founding Fathers

With all due respect, organizational reality has changed radically since OD’s founding fathers first murmured their ideas. This lecture will spell out why traditional OD is irrelevant in the domain of global organizations. The lecturer will draw parallels between Traditional OD in the global workplace, and other forms of cultural, economic and linguistic colonial behaviour.

2) Organization diagnosis in discrete and face saving cultures

3) A culturally contingent role of OD Consultant:

Expert, Mediator, Enabler, Masked Executive

4) Retooling OD:

What are the alternatives to team interventions, ways and means of  by-passing the need for direct communication, and how and when to work “offstage”.

5) Managing the Major Polarities in Global OD

   -openness and discretion

     -involvement and stability

-respect and change

            -ascription and achievement

The reason that Global OD conferences like this do not take place is that power elite in OD does not have a clue about these topics. As a result, OD conferences are planned by looking into the rear view mirror to preserve the power of the elite.











Power Games within the Organization Development Community

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate in global organizing.

Global OD is a platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways.

Once global OD’s appropriateness is accepted, a lot of western OD interventions done today will be akin to  “bloodletting” to treat a headache.

I have lectured on Global OD in  Vancouver, London, Hong Kong, Munich, Paris and Tel Aviv. My presentations are always well attended and lively. But nevertheless, the plenary sessions of these conventions where I lecture are always about mainstream OD, given by people from the established school of OD. I am a  bizarre character from who will present……a sideshow! I am “Side Show Bob”, the character from the Simpsons. No need to worry; mainstream OD is in control.

Imagine what it means if indeed I am correct about Global OD’s relevance and Western OD’s inappropriateness in global organizations? 

It means that there is a Western OD power establishment which can (and will) be replaced with people who have the skills to do OD appropriately in a global organizations, without ramming western values down peoples’ throats, to  be polite.

Global OD’s will  detract from Western OD’s dominance of “the truth”. The Western OD establishment is not quite ready for that. For example, on the ODN list,  I felt that I was constantly alienating main streamers by my ranting about Global OD.  I was seen as not civil enough, an instigator with style issues. I  did not promote Global OD in a nice enough manner. I spoke my truths, without being so damn f—king nice.They got angry and I left.

Nowadays, many folks on LinkedIn try to co-opt my ideas saying that they are all for cultural awareness. (Global OD is about acting differently, NOT cultural awareness.)

In retrospect, some of the resistance to my ideas is content- based and a lot of the resistance is based on OD opinion leaders clinging to their power. They cling to the paradigms in which they are comfortable.

Were I to organize a OD conference, many of the classical OD interventions would not even get a slot as a side show, because of their antiquity and inappropriateness. Applying Western OD to global organizations is preposterous, and Western OD opinions leaders have a lot to lose if I am right.

Follow me @AllonShevat



Dealing with trust issues that become exacerbated by the speed of business (revised)

Acute trust issues between people in different geographies in global organizations is not uncommon. This post looks at what can be done to address the issue, especially when the speed of  doing business in the global organization exacerbates the level of mistrust.

Speed exacerbates mistrust between various cultures because it accentuates conflict. When the cycle of business is slower, conflict can be mitigated in the context of sustainable relationships. This is not the case when  organizational life is moving rapidly, powered by technology and by the 24/7 “follow the sun” cycle of organizational life. In such instances, decisions need to be made on the spot and in real time, imposing a style of  “openness” and directness, which are seen as trust breakers in Asia, many parts of Africa, and South America.

To be effective in dealing with trust issues caused by speed,  the western form of conflict management serves as  one option. The western values of directness, openness and expediency certainly have their advantages in getting things to move faster. No doubt-the ability to move quickly is the greatest forte of the western style of doing business.

However the idea that “face saving and opaqueness just slow things down”, which sounds like a compelling argument for the dominance of western values does not justify (in my view) force-feeding western values.

I suggest a different approach when dealing with the mistrust inflicted by “speed”. If we agree that speed forces communication which is too direct for some employees, there are several prophylactic steps which can be taken.

1) Focus on staffing of key positions appropriately. It makes no sense whatsoever to have people with substandard communication skills and poor emotional intelligence in “busy junctions”, regardless of their technical ability.

2) Use expats and people of mixed ethnicity to “cushion” areas of acute conflict, instead of focusing on “Americanizing a Thai”, or creating a Japanese Israeli.

3) Instead of promulgating a simplistic “can do” attitude, acknowledge the problems and difficulties of execution even whilst moving at high speed. A gung ho  “can do” attitude is deeply flawed when applied blindly to deep rooted problems of trust caused by speed.  Demonstrating humility in face of great challenge may be more useful than being naive or arrogant cheer leading.

5) Focus efforts on a deep understanding of cultural gaps, providing a detailed protocol for communication in 3 areas- oral, email and chat. Ensure that team member foster relationships instead of just expediting tasks.

Follow me @AllonShevat


3 lessons which taught me why traditional OD is not appropriate in non Western and global organizations

As I mentioned in a previous post, I came from a very traditional Organization Development background. Over the years, I became convinced that OD`s western ethnocentric bias negatively impacts its effectiveness in a non western and global organizational configuration.

The `wake up call`I got about traditional OD was not gradual. Three events really shook me up, accelerating my thought process about  the need for a global version of OD.

I shall share them with you in this post.

1) In a group discussion with security personnel in the Mid East, I ask a question. The participants clarified  among themselves (in Arabic, which I speak) who is the oldest participant. He answered my question first; all other participants aligned with what he said.

2) In  Beijing, I ask a question and the managing director gives an inaccurate answer. I then solicit other answers, which are better than the answer that the MD gave me. I congratulate the person who gave me the `best“ answer. I lost the MD`s trust for a long time.

3) I facilitated a “lessons learned“  between Dutch management and Japanese customer service folks about a major crash at a client site. The level of emotion was very high, since a lot of business had been lost because of this incident. I laid out `ground rules“ for the discussion which included: No Defensive Behaviour. Once I showed that bullet, the Japanese did not trust me.

A facilitator with a global orientation will ask less questions because of the complexity inserted by honorific based issues; furthermore, the consultant will accept that only via a lot of defensive and opaque communication can issues be ferreted out.


OD preaches change, but refuses to change

A What is this all about?

For almost a decade, I have been harping on the Western bias of Organization Development, and what needs to be done to align OD with global organizing.

My argument over the years is consistent. OD’s values and tools have a western bias which render OD inappropriate in global organizing.

OD should not be the tool to impose western values, but rather the platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways. To claim that traditional OD has relevance for global organizing is preposterous.

B Where did I start? Where am I now?

I started this line of thought in the Organization Development Journal (Vol 21) in 2003 in my article “Making OD Global”, which was initially ignored and is now often quoted. For years after that, I engaged with junior and senior alike practitioners in the ODNET discussion group until I left.

At present, I am engaging people about coming to terms with their Western bias in both LinkedIn Groups, and via this blog which has about 600 hits a day. I am about to publish an article called “Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing” in a leading OD textbook.

I am writing an exercise book for managers and consultants to expand their global awareness. I hope it is released within 3 months.

C) Resistance I encounter

A very small population of OD practitioners understands both my strategic direction and the derivative tactical need to cast aside concepts and tools of traditional OD in global organizations.

By and large, I encounter massive resistance to my ideas, and in this post I point out various ways in which my ideas are resisted.

1) There is nothing new except for Allon’s arrogance.

Folks who make this claim appear to understand that my argument, if correct, is very threatening to the status quo. Thus, I become part of the status quo.

2)  Allon may have a point, I need to acquire some intercultural skills”.

Folks who make this claim conveniently ignore the point that a global  practitioner does not need some cultural understanding, but rather the ability NOT to act with a western bias.

3) “Allon exaggerates a bit”.

Folks who make this claim prefer to believe that “in the end, people are all the same; they want to be “open”, face saving does not apply to the young, and no one really wants to defer to authority”. OD is a process which will “enlighten” the East lies at the heart of this claim.

4) Some folks find my ideas so repulsive that I get hate mail.

5) Some folks agree that what I claim is true, but only in the global organization.

I find the word “only” pretty shocking, because everyone is obsessing about the future of OD, and global organizations is where the world is going.

D) Let’s not go on pretending

I waging this campaign, driven by an overwhelming feeling that OD can have universal application only if its key values/concepts and derivative tools are revised and adapted to global reality. Because OD does not “get” global organizing right.

In the past, I was a main line, traditional  ODer, with a Tavistock background.I was a career officer for many years in the IDF, and that sure pushed me to conform.I graduated from Montreal’s McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, neither of which promoted too much intellectual innovation.

I will continue this campaign of mine, despite the very limited impact I am having on the way mainstream OD practitioners think about and “do” OD. I will do so because it needs to be done.



5 indicators that you have a western bias as a consultant (revised)

By far, this is the most widely read post on my blog, with 21,000 people having read it in the past 4 months. I have made some minor changes and thus re-publishing it . I must admit that it is a great source of pride that people are least getting exposed to this message.

Instead of confessing, it is much easier for OD consultants to haggle with my claim that OD values and tools are culturally tainted!  In one forum I participated in, someone even claimed that I have a personality disorder which has led me to claim that OD itself needs to be globalized in order to deal with global organizing. Psychological reductionism is much easier than taking ownership of ones’ limitations and biases.

When OD consultants admit their western bias, there is a lot of “unlearning” to do, and new skills need to be acquired. That’s a high price to pay!

To asses the degree of your western cultural bias, answer the following 5 questions with a YES or NO.

1) Is having an ongoing candid dialogue at work better than ignoring differences and pretending that they do not exist?

2) If someone misrepresents key facts in a meeting on purpose, are they lying?

3) Do people all over the world think that teamwork means collaboration with their peers?

4) Is being mildly authentic at work generally preferable to showing rigid emotional restraint?

5) Does honest feedback generally motivate all staff, world wide, regardless of culture?

If you answered YES for all five questions, I would suggest that you try to better understand your biases, and start unlearning the universality of your beliefs.. Otherwise forget about being effective in the global workplace.

I spend tens of hours each month helping consultants and managers rid themselves of these biases. The hardest bias to work on is #2. And that’s the truth! 😉


OD will be globally relevant when it adapts new professional values, not global competencies

There are those who believe that OD practitioners need a new skill set to be globally competent. There is even a questionnaire being circulated to garner input as to what these global skills may be.

I  suggest a radically different approach: OD needs to realign its core values, which are at present totally western.  Without a change to the  OD profession’s present western values, it makes no sense to define a global consulting skill set.

The list of key OD values  exposes a Western cultural bias.

  • Respect and Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Self-awareness
  • Empowerment

These values mean radically different things in different places. For example,

  • Respect and Inclusion is-“Give face gets face in return”.
  • Collaboration looks more like “obedience to authority; there is “one tiger to a hill” and collaboration with other departments may be seen as betrayal of authority.
  • Authenticity looks more like “total control and repression of emotion as a desired state” and authenticity is weakness.
  • Self-awareness looks more like “appear” professional and collected at all times, showing no emotion.
  • Empowerment may look like “do what you are told, and I will protect you”

We can even drill down one level deeper on the idea of “respect” to show the depth of the gaps that may exist between various populations in a global company.

  • Helmut shows respect by keeping to schedule. Baharat from Mumbei shows respect by answering calls from his clients immediately, even when he is running a meeting. Moshe from Israel shows respect by giving you as much time as needed, ignoring the “formal” schedule he is supposed to be following. Paco shows a huge respect for people, yet their time is not a valued resource for Paco, so his US colleague Paul feels a huge lack of respect.
  • Daw from Huahin Thailand gives respect by never inconveniencing people with whom he works. In public meetings, he is courteous and tends to be amicable to all suggested directions, reserving his disagreements for a private conversation. He sees the gap between what he allows himself to say in public and private as giving a huge amount of respect.
  • Mark from St Paul gives respect by separating between people and issues. He can deliver a critique of an idea, but he never is critical of a person; he is careful to remain civil. Mark sees in civility the ultimate manifestation of respect.
  • Ngai Lam from Hong Kong shows respect by always being in her “professional” persona, concealing much of her emotions, expression of which may be seen as showing lack of respect for the work place.
  • Hank from Holland as well as Moti from Israel show respect by being blunt so that no one needs to guess what their intention is, which would be disrespecting and uncaring.
  • ·Olive from Germany and Oya from Japan show respect by a very formal use of language when addressing people who merit respect.

So really, even we all try and rally around something as universal as “respect”, we see a lack of shared context for organization development, unless OD decides that the values of the west can and should be imposed. 

So for those who want to jump the gun and define global competencies for OD, hold your horses and start by examining the current western biases of the OD profession.

Only when OD ceases to impose western values can OD serve as the enabling platform for various cultures to work together without cultural imposition. That is our future.

Follow me @AllonShevat


Organizational Development needs to be adapted to Global Organizing

OD was developed in the West and is compatible with developing organizations with a Western cultural bias. Yet, OD principles as practiced in the Western world are not universally applicable, because Western values are not universal values. And as organizations assume a global configuration, OD core and applications need to be reinvented to support global organizing.

Western OD is based on humanistic values; OD promotes the leveraging the full potential of individuals as a major component in developing organizations, emphasising the individuals needs and desires from the world of work. Western OD proscribes the way people and their leaders should interact. OD also proscribes ways of communicating. Words and concepts like openness, delegation, collaboration, teamwork, and delegation are very frequently used.

Yet, when working in groups which are truly global and encompass a wide range of cultures and very acute diversity, thoughts comes to mind about the relevancy of OD as practiced in the West. In many parts of the world, group identity is far more salient than individual identity. In many parts of the world, conflict is totally avoided. Power is not shared since the ability to influence is safeguarded as an extremely rare resource. Leaders and followers have mutual expectations in their genetic code which are based on obedience, piety, face saving and emotional detachment.

I suggest that the foundations and basic assumptions upon which Western OD is based, are not universally applicable. I claim is that people do not share the same genetic code about organizing. The organizational needs of human beings’ vary all over the world vary dramatically.

1- The gaps between the values of openness as opposed to the value of discretion is huge.

2- Teamwork is not seen universally as “cool”. In many quarters, teamwork is seen as betraying your boss.

3- Win win is not something universally strived for; for many, win-win is stupidity at best and suicide at worst.

3-Empowerment provides an opportunity to develop others in some parts of the world; in other parts of the world, empowerment means giving away the crown jewels of a rare resource.

4-Participatory decision making makes better decisions for some; for many others, top down decisions, sweetened with compassion, is the way to best make decisions. 

The role of the OD consultant should be to ensure that one set of values does not over rule the other. Yet today, OD consultants do not even understand the world of organizing outside of what they learned and experienced in the West.


Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization.

Many organization hq’ed in Europe and the West promote “open” organizational communication, the legitimacy of conflict at work, and  the importance of solving conflict expediently and moving on. These same hq’s play down the importance of not discussing issues, discretion and solving problems by ignoring them.

In many parts of Asia and the Middle East, organizational and conflicts are resolved discretely and under the radar, to prevent loss of dignity, loss of face, and/or to prevent undermining authority. Very often disputed points are ignored and never discussed, or resolved “back room” by innuendo, silence or a carrier pigeon.

Corporate values, change consultants, OD consultants and coaches promulgate a western approach to conflict resolution. This often has disastrous results. Here are a few things folks have told me.

Som from Bangkok: “I have been taught my whole life to keep my opinions to myself and control my emotions to create harmony. I used to love this company, but in the new training program, i was forced to betray myself by “resolving a conflict”  and I feel abused. I am getting out.”

Emi from Japan: “The entire staff got along very well until the recent team development exercise to develop transparency. Now that all this damage has been done, our office is very tense. They (HR and facilitators) do not understand that when we showed our anger to one another, we may never communicate well again.

Inam from Amman: As per company policy I shared some of my thoughts with my boss. I really did not want to, but HR was really riding us to be compliant with company “values” in the way we operate. I now need to look for a new job because my boss is upset.. Everything has been ruined.

Colonization often meant severed limbs, decimated local cultures and massive executions of the vanquished. Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization. And OD is often used as the tool of beating the locals into submission.

You can follow me @AllonShevat


Why some cultures do not value conflict resolution

Many change agents, OD consultants and coaches roam the corporate world peddling wares to solve conflicts expediently, as in : we all need to see the “value” both in conflict and its ready resolution.

Yet many folks come from cultures which do not place as high a value on expedient conflict resolution.

Following is a list of attitudes which characterizes cultures which do not seek to “move ahead, move on, compromise, and put the conflict all behind us”.

1) These cultures tend to have more principles and less preferences. These principles are non negotiable, for the very reason that they are principles.

2) These cultures are not in a hurry. They believe that time is on their side, and if the conflict can wait for a year, a decade or a thousand years, they will get a better deal.

3) Compromise equals a loss of dignity. Better to die standing up than remain alive crawling like insect, goes the argument.

4) Meeting somewhere is the middle is a perceived disgrace to both sides. In a compromise/solution mode, “both sides look bad”.

5) There is an expectation from leadership/management that they be strong, not “solve” issues with other parties.” That makes followers “look good”.

6) Leadership perceives that solving a crisis will weaken them and set up an alternative power structure. There is no perception of “ we all get a bigger piece of a larger pie”.

Change agents who work with such populations need to

a-understand the basic assumptions of the protagonists

b-set realistic expectations about what can/cannot be achieved

c-use “temporary” resolution instead of final status resolution

d-avoid having protagonists meet, preferring an imposed solution.