On communicating well with Israelis/Israel based organizations

Israelis have a unique communication style, and it is not easy to cope if uninitiated. If you interface/interact with an Israel based organization or sub-unit, you may find these tips useful.

This post is compact. I have chosen major five characteristics of their communication style, and suggested  coping strategy.

  • Israelis tend to interrupt one another. When someone talks, airtime is shared. This is due to both impatience and the perceived “right” tribal members have to burst into one another’s words. The only way to deal with this is to join the brawl.

 

  • Israelis argue a lot, about anything, all the time. Argument is seen as an affirmation of commitment. They also change their minds on a dime. I suggest learning the value of this form of discussion-creativity, paradigm smashing and refinement of complexity. Once you see the value, it’s easier to join in. You need to accept strong emotions as a natural part of working with the tribe.

 

  • Israelis may speak Hebrew among themselves when others are in the room, especially on con-calls. It may be because they are arguing , explaining to one another a lost point, or planning a reply. It is fair enough to ask for (demand) an English only rule. There won’t be any push-back.

 

  • Communication appears chaotic. Israelis don’t follow agendas well. They ramble, divert, jump back and forth, and open issues that appear to have been decided. However, there is rhyme and reason to this “apparent chaos”. If you sit back for a few meetings, you will notice that things get done, albeit differently. Observe, appreciate and then join in.

 

  • Israelis communicate best around crisis. Routine gets mangled and pooh poohed away. If you manage to advocate for discussing routine, you won’t be ignored. But you need to advocate, and not meekly. “That is not country for old men.”
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Improving leadership capabilities of highly technical people

Over the course of my 40 year career, I am lucky to have been entrusted with upgrading the skills of world class, very highly competent technical people who are not good managers.

“Not good” in an understatement.

Morton solved all problems on his own, belittling his 23 member team. Zehava worked 19 hours a day, proofing reading her proofreaders edits, and generally finding errors! Gordon could not make a clear decision; he was constantly dithering. Jacques gave the same task to 5 people, and ensured they did not know about the others, “to avoid hurting their feelings”.

Generally, these technical experts tend to have several of the following characteristics:

  1. They see only certain types of detail, blind to other types of detail.
  2. They tend to be impatient.
  3. They over-rely on themselves.
  4. They do not understand underlying people/political dynamics until it’s pointed out, and even then, they may not get it.
  5. They troubleshoot well and fail in routine.
  6. They do not communicate effectively with employees or peers, yet senior management is by and large satisfied with their overall skill set.

What is the best idea to work with someone like this?

Well, similar to what historian Prof Uzi Rabi claims about the ‘best idea” to tackle the woes of the Mid East region: “there is no best idea”. There are many leads to follow, some may work for some, but nothing works wonders.

Here is what I have found to be useful.

  1. Acknowledge their expertise. The expertise is who they are. Once they feel you respect them, they listen better.
  2. Show your own expertise. Be an expert, not a facilitator. Experts respect other experts, especially those with a different expertise. This may mean that you need to be more prescriptive than thought-provoking. No big deal.
  3. Let them talk, then ready, aim and fire.  These managers are used to being on top of things; they will assume that YOU don’t understand. Let them  explain, even if they ramble on-then ask for stage time. Aim first. You don’t have too many arrows in your sling before you can be dismissed.
  4. (Over) Use logic when possible; if they do not understand, tell them that you are teaching them a different logic they do not yet understand.
  5. Work with their teams to lessen the expectation for managerial babysitting.
  6. Use their technical analogies, like, “we need a system reboot for the way you get marketing and sales to work together” or, “let’s look at this from a system architect perspective”, or “let’s debug the process”.

Trial and error, no grand theory, lots of patience, and learn to love or leave. It’s not easy. I love it.

 

 

 

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In global organizations, which liberal western values don’t fly?

Highly influenced by works that explain the decline of liberal values, I want to share with my readers five beliefs about organizations that many people in the west assume  to be universal, but which are not shared outside the western world. (I, personally, define myself as a very liberal realist).

First, I want to share reading material which has provided me a view from the inside of the non-liberal mind: Strangers in their own land; Hillbilly Elegy, and The Righteous Mind. These works are essential to understanding the eco systems which have led to the decline of liberal values.

Getting back to organizations, many assumed beliefs held by HQ’s in the western world  are not shared by most employees in Africa, the Mid East and Asia. The following beliefs are not inapplicable outside the western world, there are also grossly parochial.

  1. Openness and authenticity are the desired means of communication.
  2. Empowerment of and delegation to  employees is welcomed by most employees.
  3. Facts need to be disclosed even if they are uncomfortable.
  4. Gender “equality” is something to be valued and striven for. The emphasis is on the use of the word equality.
  5. Leaving an organization for a better job/more pay, is fair and square, as long as contractual obligations are fulfilled. 

In further posts I will elaborate, but for those eager beavers who cannot wait, I will elaborate now on #1.

Full emotional self control, maintaining an exterior veneer of restraint, and total avoidance of making the other feel uncomfortable are far more valued by far more people than the western liberal value of openness and authenticity, which put the individual before the group.

Openness and authenticity are seen in many places as rude, insulting and totally out of place. And this will not change. Ever.

And as far as delegation is concerned, read this.

 

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End-to-end understanding of how the organization works

What is an end to end perspective? What is its value?

Imparting an end- to-end understanding about how an organization operates is one of the most critical skills an employee needs. The marketer looks at the unique  opportunity and market value creation, the system architect looks at the interfaces to client systems, the developer asks how will this can be built and how interesting it will be; finance looks at where the profit is and how to drive costs down and HR looks at how to keep key performers on board and recruit people to do the tasks.

When staff has an deep, empathetic, end to end understanding of how each role sees reality, there is far less friction, less politics, less managerial overhead and a smoother ride, even over stormy seas. 

Yet end to end understanding is rare. In its lieu, escalation to management for decisions that fall between the cracks becomes the norm, bogging the organization down with severe constipation.

Why is an end to end understanding so rare in todays’ organizations?

  1. It is impossible to fully clarify roles and responsibilities due to the pace of business, which calls for role flexibility and inevitable role overlap. Yet there is incomprehensible effort made to define away complexity, creating false expectations that role and process clarity will make things run smoothly. Clearly a false prophecy.
  2. IT has enabled people not only to communicate quickly, but also to deflect responsibility forward and or backward on the work flow process. Huge email threads are needed to solve the simplest of issues as the problem gets passed like a hot potato, with each side attempting to lessen an ever growing workload, which itself stems from far too much communication.
  3. In order to overcome the bad attitudes, politics and ping-ponging, organizations try to recruit good team players and /or do surveys which feed back the issues to management and the troops. But the bad attitude and ping ponging stem from the organization’s IT business processes coupled with the expectation that complexity can be defined away.

How to impart an end to end understanding? 

  1. A cross-mentor  enables people from from one discipline  to train people from another discipline how to look at reality.
  2. Lessons learned using an end to end methodology (which I have developed) enables debugging the organizational work flow, as opposed to only correctly the actual event that went astray.
  3. Buck passing, finger pointing and deflection should be discouraged. People should be enabled to take risks to get the job done, even if risk is involved since people may overstep their role into someone else’s domain.This is very hard to implement in organizations, but it is possible. For example, a check out cashier in a hotel may be empowered to drop charges from a mini bar it the client claims that he did not drink from the minibar. (In this case, the check-out cashier is focusing on creating client satisfaction, not minibar profit.)
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Fake decisions

Der Chef organisiert von Zeit zu Zeit den Betrieb völlig um. Das schadet aber nichts, weil ja alles beim Alten bleibt. ( The boss reorganizes the company from time to time completely. But that does not hurt, because everything stays the same.) 

Kurt Tucholsky, 1924

Plus ça change, plus c’est reste la même chose. (The more things change, the more things remain the same.)

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849

 

What’s done cannot be undone.

Lady MacBeth (whilst sleepwalking)

 

Case One

Igor, Hadas, Natalie and Vadim own/manage a very successful niche chartered accounting firm dealing mainly with clients in the media, including celebs and investor-tycoons from all the countries from the FSU, former Soviet Union, especially Georgia.  Despite their success or because of it, severe tensions plague the quartet who constantly argue about issues such as ‘what constitutes a pure billable hour, what is monetary value of maintaining an intense relationship with academia and with senior  clerks from the Ministry of Finance, and how many resources should be allocated to digitalize client interfaces”. There were also less intense disagreements about whether the language in management meetings should be in Russian, Hebrew or English, although this was minor because all partners are fluently trilingual.

An OD intervention was commissioned after Vlad and Hadas had a  horrendous shouting match that the entire staff of 30 heard with furniture in the meeting room having been smashed.

After 6 months of work, agreements between the four were signed and sealed. The consultant was even payed a bonus!

One year later, all agreements had undone themselves.

Decision making by the quartet is paralyzed/severely paralyzed yet business has never been better.

Case Two

Gerald (the son of the chairman of the board) is an excellent technologist and incorrigibly poor R&D manager, with a team of 159 developers many of whom with PhDs, spread all over the world. Following a massive turnover of staff, the chairman commissioned an OD intervention during which Gerald was moved into the role of CTO and Carmella was recruited to manage R&D. Two years later, the chairman retired, Carmella was axed and Gerald returned to run R&D.

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These cases illustrate the return to the status quo ante following what had appeared to be a successful OD intervention. This post will elaborate several reasons why this occurs.

First however, I want to drift off a bit and illustrate that return to status quo ante happens in politics as well. The failed Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart at the seams, making a very bad situation even much worse, just as the ink dried on the signed agreement. Some experts claim that neither side was ready to accept a western compromise force fed onto a Middle East reality where winners take all, and losers loose. (There are many experts in the Middle East who explain failure).

There are several reasons that agreements made during an OD process can fall apart.

  1. The agreements that were made are ahead of their time.
  2. Agreements made are not backed up by a tenable change to the power structure.
  3. The agreements made were made following too rigid a process, which ignored under the water iceberg dynamics.
  4. The consultant was too dominant and the agreements were made with too much imposition.
  5. The agreements were based on apparent agreement.

I believe that because OD is very imperfect, things like this will happen. (I am reminded here of my dentist who used a strong antibiotic when pulling a tooth telling me that only one in a hundred people are impacted by the antibiotic. I was the ONE, and suffered from stomach pain for 6 whole months.)

Partial prevention of return to the status quo ante can be mitigated

1-by slowly phasing out of the OD project over the period of a few months/years, based on the complexity of the changes.

2-Clients can be initially informed/ warned that this phenomenon exists building in the necessary prophylactic awareness.

3. And, most important, when making really big changes, the question of ‘how can this is undone” needs to be addressed in nightmare scenario planning.

 

 

 

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Managing people whose job is not all that meaningful

Let’s be honest. Despite the hype on social media and in magazines, many people have roles which are not all that meaningful, either for them personally or for the organizations for which they work.

Over the last few months in the framework of work,  I have spent hours observing leaders who manage people whose jobs have little meaning. I spent over 24 hours at a car wash, 3 days at a bakery and a 14 hours at a call centre which sells financial products.

I watched people doing the most tedious of jobs who were totally engaged without the use of any measurement matrix or enslaving IT process.

These are the behaviours that I observed which were seen as highly motivating.

  1. Care for the employee. “Get out of the sun, Ahmad.”  “If you are not serving anyone, sit down Natalie”. “After a call like that, take a smoking break, Giselle.”
  2. Laughing AT a client with the employee after the client has been served. “No wonder he is so fat”. “She probably was calling you while sitting in the toilet”. “Rude fucker, I hope he is married to someone he deserves”
  3. Siding with the employee when the client is wrong. “Wait your turn, Bud. He will get to your car in 15 minutes, Stand back and let him work”. “Lady, if you need more time to decide what else to buy, please step aside so that our server can serve the next customer.” “When people hang up on you like that, it’s all about them, not about you.”
  4. Use of informal language. In Hebrew, there is a marked difference between street Hebrew (with some Arabic or Russian swear words thrown in) and a more sophisticated office Hebrew, which would include lots of English words. The use of the street language was seen as  highly motivating.

My major take away from all these hours of observation is that the work itself does not need to be meaningful; it is enough for the work related interactions to be pleasant.

 

 

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What makes OD projects easy

A potential client interviewed me for a new project on Thursday. I was asked about the more challenging projects I had facilitated and I mentioned these three.

1) A wealthy company of 30 people acquired a company in crisis of 400 people and took over full command.
2) Mexicans, Americans, Japanese and Israelis worked together in a split-site development project which was 8 months behind schedule.
3) Two huge independent vendors (Chinese and Israeli) , working for a German client, ask me to do an OD between the 2 vendor organizations, along with the client.

Later on during the day, I thought to myself how easy these 3 projects had been for me, because they were free of the filthy politics which traditionally accompanies OD work. How did this happen?

Projects for which there is no cook book or protocol allow the OD practitioner freedom to “develop” solutions along with his/her clients, and not deliver some well packaged snake oil products. Furthermore, there is no competition from motivational pep talkers and magicians who solve all issues within 45 minutes.

Furthermore, in all the projects I mentioned above, OD had been commissioned by the folks on top; as a result:

• The eager beavers of procurement have little say to say about price or scope
• The project is owned by the CEO, not HR, so that there is less need for apparent effectiveness and wow wowing
• Leadership will support the consultant, not step aside and download the risk to the consultant, as often is the case in Change Management

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Towards designing an ecosystem in the changing world of work

There are lots of organisational design questions about managing in general and managing change in particular with teams full of contractors, permanents, and virtual teams.

While present ecosystems are coping with these changes albeit with great difficulty, the major challenge that remains is that technology change is so frequent and so massive that everything else lags behind. Organizational design is always trying to catch up with technology.

In this post, I want to focus on what I see as five design issues (there are many more) which can serve in redesigning organizations which are more adaptive to the world of work which is being dragged/pushed along by technology.

  1. The approach to design needs to be piecemeal, that is constantly in flux, not too rigid, not too orthodox, without assuming that one size fits all. A purchasing process will look differently in China and the USA. Hiring may need to adhere to a few basic principles, but there will be exceptions. In brief, French grammar….a few rules and thousands of exceptions. Oui!
  2. Fairness is a key design element which needs to be factored into organizational design. In the present political climate, the left sees fair as egalitarian and the right sees fair as proportional. In post modern organizations, lack of fairness has yet to be fully understood, categorized and re-engineered. A contractor working side by side with a salaried employee have totally different motives. The contractor may want to get the job done now; the salaried employee wants to fill up the hours he or she works. It is impossible to avoid the fairness issues. It is so blatant. It cannot be defined away by process or legal means.
  3. Some cultures are not transparent by design. Some cultures believe in win lose. Some belief systems are exclusionary of the legitimacy of other belief systems. Thus, behavioural codes must factor in (or out) the immense diversity that is obfuscated by the massive use of the English language, messaging and other technologies by making us all seem/appear similar. To address this variance, there needs to be far more, or far less, tolerance. Probably both!
  4. Except for a the western rich educated liberal, people have tribal needs of belonging. These tribal needs are neglected when contractors, salaried and temps work together. When tribal needs are somehow met to foster a sense of belonging, we will have come a long way. Oh yes, if the model of belonging  is to be ‘multiculturalism’, forget it. It doesn’t work all that great except in the mind of  rich educated liberals and on social media.
  5. Leaderless solutions need to be flushed down the toilet. The complexity of the ecosystem, the inherent lack of trust, the inevitable silos and the competitive  economic model all dictate the need for wise, mature and very flexible leadership. And the vast majority of followers outside of the rich democratic countries prefer strong autocratic leaders.

Thanks to my friend Andy Spence for the inspiration.

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Why is OD so parochial as to be nearly irrelevant?

When Wang (China) looks at the marketplace, he looks for, and finds, people with whom he has trustworthy relationships. Into these relationships, he plugs in business, leveraging on the value of the relationships.

When Moshe (Israel) looks at the marketplace, he sees a bunch of clients who think they know what they want, but Moshe knows what they need. Moshe sees the gap between what clients want and what clients need as the area where he can creates value and does business.

When Francis (USA) (f) looks at the market, she sees clients who expect to get what they want, when they want it, with high quality and low cost.

When Hans (Germany) looks at the market, he sees the need to be predicable and reliable to his long term customers, producing very high quality products and services which compensates for high costs.

Naturally, Wang, Moshe, Francis and Hans naturally prefer different forms of organizing to achieve their goals.

Wang prefers organizations with a solid insider culture of which he is part. Moshe prefers a lose, undisciplined semi structured blob, where he can innovate. Francis prefers clear structure, a defined process and roles and responsibilities which are clearly delineated. Hans like a very well controlled process, heavy in detail.

To enable effective sustainable global organizing, OD practitioners must mediate between very different sets of expectations people have about the ideal form of organizing, and not try and change these basic instinctual desires unless absolutely necessary.

At present, we do not do that. OD pedals North American values about organizing. That makes OD very parochial. And irrelevant.

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Truth and lying in organizations-advanced short case studies

Morris (US)  has just finished supper and said to Jean-Marie, his visiting colleague from France, “you should come over next time”. Jean-Marie wonders how Morris can be so dishonest.

Art (US) asked Wang (China) “what does this quarter look like” on a concall with 6 other participants . Wang said “looks good”. After the concall, Wang called Art and told him that the quarter looked bad. Art told himself that Wang cannot be trusted as he is a pathological fibber.

Oya (Japan) call Max in Detroit and told him emotionally, “Max-san, if you do not fly over 3 engineers now to Japan, the customer will throw us out”. Max thought to himself, “Oya always bs’s to get me to act with a false sense of urgency because he thinks we so not care about his Japanese customer”.

Peter (UK) told Moshe (Israel) that “that’s a good idea which needs more work”. Moshe wrote off Peter as a sweet-talking phony.

Stan (US)  told Miyamoto (Japan) that the product was “commercially deployable”. When 4000 bugs were discovered, Miyamoto thought he had been stung because Stan claimed the bugs were not “revenue impacting”.

Bill (US) corrected Zhang (China) in front of Zhang” subordinates on a minor factual issue.  Zhang believes Bill’s “vulgar correction” means than he has lost Bill’s trust, because face to Zhang is a more important truth than stupid facts.

So, when working globally, leave your personal judgement about truth at home. Understand the cultural context which basically says, truths are  often culturally defined artifacts.

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