Doing OD in a face saving culture

Hank is a client of mine from Holland. I know him from McGill University. We met in a Chinese history class in the sixties. He tracked me down because he knows I do global OD.

Hank leads a global Sales Forces in China for a Dutch company. Two of his key and most talented, well connected subordinates (A from Sales of Next Generation Products and B from Account Management) do not cooperate. No information is shared. No leads are shared. Both A and B bad mouth one another to the clients. Sales have plummeted.

Hank summed up what he w\anted. “Dez guys behavior vill kill us. Fix it qvickly”

So, I was asked to improve the way the subordinate work together. The subordinates (Mr. A and Mr. B) speak some English. My Chinese is poor (I would say horrendous). Yet we manage to communicate, at times using a translator.

I have spent about 50 hours each with A and B to build a personal credit line. We have had lots of informal time together. They know about my kids and grand-kids . I know about their family. We are not friends. Yet they trust me. I have helped them with issues they have with Hank (I have arranged business class tickets for their wives for non-business related travel and helped them hire people that D did not want to hire.)

Hank has told me that “we have no more time for process; these two bums must cooperate now”.

Here is the conversation I had with A and B. It reflects a different way of doing OD. Some may claim it is not OD. It is- but not Western OD.

1) I (Allon) have a problem.

2) Hank hired me to improve the way we work.

3) There are rumors that there is no information sharing.

4) There are badmouthing rumors. Maybe some clients are playing games.

5) I need help because I am failing.

6) Can you help me?

Within a week, Hank sent me a bottle of wine. A and B were working well together.

Some folks may ask: why did Hank not do the work himself? I suggest that if you asking this question, start brushing up on the intricacies of developing a global mindset

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12 thoughts on “Doing OD in a face saving culture

  1. Well, Allon, I know precious little about “face” or “saving it” but it seems to me that your approach did several things. First, it allowed them to do something about the problem without having to publicly fess up or accept responsibility for it. Second, it positioned their presumably corrective actions not as fixing a problem they had created in the first place but as providing assistance to you and helping you be responsive to your client who is also their boss. In helping you they helped their boss. Finally, it put you in their debt. As we would say here, “You owe them one.”

  2. Furthemore, “owning the problem” and “accountability” don’t fly well is societies with face. But there are ways around this.

  3. I like Fred Nickol’s analysis very much and agree with him.

    Additonally, I see from what you did in the 50 hours with A and B was to develop a sense of debt to you. If not debt, then at least a propensity to help you.

    What was most beautiful in your story is Step 5 (“I need help because I am failing.”) and especially Step 6 (“Can you help me?”). To look the other way from your failure would be too declare themselves inhumane. However to say – in lack of deeds, if not words – that they can’t help you would be to say they have no power on top of no heart. Very nice snare you built!

    • Ed, thank you for reading my blog and following my work on Global OD. Your comments and our ongoing dialogue over the years have assisted me greatly. I have this “debt” to you. 😉

      • You are the GREATEST, Allon.

        I have enjoyed learning from you. You are a great teacher – on so many levels.

        My best to you for continued success and joy.

        Kind wishes

        Drive On!

    • Dear Joseph
      Over the years we have spoken a lot, met and shared stories. These face to face interactions with colleagues like you have enriched me greatly. I thank for the time we spend together and the richness of our dialogue.

  4. As I found from research – many Asians find Westerners arrogant and or racial ; although they wont say so to their face. Conversly most westerners would be surprised to learn they are seen that way. In my view we ( I am Western/Kiwi who lived for many years in S.E.Asia) are not, but few of us take the time to understand Asian Epistemology. That is, the (far different) way those with an Asian heritage may think. This provides the basis for my book
    DIVERSITY CHALLENGED INTERVIEWING (only out as an Amazon/e-book) which shows why and how there is a difference. We accept the difference between male/female or parent/teen but over-look cultural differences.

  5. Well in China, losing face in public can be horrible. I think you have a quite good understanding of this part and you do a great job of applying your awareness of cultural differences into real OD intervention.

  6. Pingback: Just a few tips about doing OD outside a North American context | Allon Shevat-אלון שבט

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