Challenging your clients’ belief system

When practised as a professional service, Organization Development challenges clients’ belief systems in the everyday course of work.

Every OD practitioner develops skills on how to do this ghastly task effectively, unless he/she has morphed into a moronic mode of “how to merge a company in 3 easy steps”.

This post relates to several aspects about how to go about challenging a clients’ belief system more effectively.

     1 Build a caring relationship with your client.

I am not an easy person with whom to work.  I “speak truth to power”, I am very direct and as I come armed with lots of miles/kilometres on the road, it is hard to push aside my arguments. I challenge my clients all the time.

But my clients know I care. I am not talking about social media caring.  I am talking about really being compassionate. And each of my client feel justly feel that I truly care about them personally and their success.

All this serves as a safety net, so when I challenge their beliefs, they know I with them, on their side.

     2 Understand the view point of your client, as he sees things.

Harping on one’s exclusive narrative leads to narrow-mindedness and righteousness and the inability to have impact on another’s’ belief system. Look at reality as your client does.

When I began my career, I worked for in the hotel industry. In each hotel and department, I would work with the staff and managers on all the shortcomings that need to be corrected. Staff and managers taught me that many problems disappear when certain guests/nationalities leave the hotel.  At the beginning, I labelled that as “defensive behaviour”. I was dead wrong. Until I understood that point of view and internalized it, I did not understand that industry, and they knew it.

The key is empathizing, not merely listening and yes-but consulting behaviour. Once you empathize with the others’ belief system, there is more intimate discussion and fewer pissing contests, which often characterize the  ineffective challenging of a belief system.

     3 There are some things that are best left unsaid.

There are plenty of incorrect client belief systems that are not going to be changed. Because of human nature, or the nature of each specific industry or whatever.

So pick your battles; leave things unsaid when change is impossible. If you focus on something that is very important but unchangeable, you spread the change effort too thin. Focus only on what can be changed.

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Allon  אלון

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Avoid using these 3 OD religious tenets in Global Organizations

Readers of this blog know that the stubborn author keeps harping on the need to adapt Organization Development to the complexities of global organizations.

Presently, I am working on a book ten exercises which will expand the capabilities of the OD practitioner to be effective not only in a parochial western organization, but also in global organizations.

Writing a book is not writing blog, and I keep forcing myself to focus on “what are the key messages that I want to make “, so as not to drive my readers crazy, like my satirical character Comrade Carl Marks.

By asking that question of myself day after day in the course of writing my book, I seemed to have also arrived at the major points I want to make in all the posts in this entire blog. So here they are:

While the tenets of OD are applicable to western organizations, their application to global organizations are ill appropriate. 3 major religious tents of OD need to be avoided, in alignment with cultural humility

  1. Avoid unpleasant interactions stemming from the authentic and open “management” of conflict. Deal with conflict discretely, quietly and try to work around it.
  2. Avoid “open and authentic” feedback, when the feedback is seen as damaging cohesion and diminishing face. Use non verbal clues and back-door obtuse communication.
  3. Avoid use of semi-structured meetings with free flowing communication when this will embarrass people who prefer to express discretely matters of importance . Prefer one on one, face to face, more structured communication.

 

Dear subscribers,

In order to clean up the spam, all blog subscriptions were deleted and a new subscription system installed.

Please re register and sorry for the trouble.

Allon

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Open source and OD

Organizations use a plethora of IT, managerial and  behavioural systems to drive operational  uniformity and create predictability of deliverables. Some of these systems are apparently more coercive (IT) whilst others are more intangible.

Conventional wisdom has it that these systems do get organizations to be effective, even though there are deviations, aberrations and exceptions that need to be managed.

My assumption about organizations is that there are many people who try to beat the systems and/or work around them because of human nature and cultural preference.  Many cultures have educated people that systems do not work as well as relationships or negotiating.

As far the systems themselves,  I see organizations as more and more “open source”. By that I mean that control and command systems just do not have the capabilities to get people to behave/act in the prescribed manner. The real control of what  goes on is dispersed, and/or a matter of good will.  So, some of the formal mechanisms which are in place may never work well any more.

And this needs to be factored into the OD consultant’s value proposition to the client. OD should support adaptation to this new reality, and not get the old model to keep working when it’s falling apart.

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What can we learn from consultants that make miracles happen? (revised)

The longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming.

Arthur Schopenhauer

This post is about miracle consultants in the realm of organizational behaviour.  First, I shall start with a few words about miracle consulting. Pretty much in the same way that man invented God, insatiable needs have invented miracle consulting.

I myself used a series of miracle consultants when my late wife was very ill. We went from one miracle consultant to another, until she died. One consultant analysed finger nails, another touched her feet and another waved his hands over her stomach. I felt like a character in one of Camus’ novels; I was doing something I did not believe in, but I did it “nevertheless”.

There is a huge market to address needs which cannot be satisfied! This is the context of the miracle organizational consultant.

There are many types of consultants to be found all over organizations, who often at cross-purposes or in a non-coordinated fashion, due to turf wars and politics. Training hires “skill trainers”; HR hires (compliant)vendors to implement people processes and non-strategic changes, while  senior management hires strategic consultants and/or people who they have trusted for many years. These consultants often feel threatened by miracle consultants, but there is nothing to fear. There are no miracles.

These miracle consultants are either hired by the CEO, or the Board may have “inserted” these consultants in the “spirit of cronyism” . The miracle consultant comes like a bird, flies over, dumps, and flies off.

The miracle consultant has a magic bullet, a series of buzzwords, false hope and a satchel of promises. They may be called organizational architects, organizational magicians, organization energizers, organizational monks and “organizational free thinkers”. These folks charge a very large fee to elaborate truths and insights.

Here is a bit of context which may allow us to understand the appearance and disappearance of these consultants.

1) There is magic to be found in the addictive quick fix which the miracle consultant promises.

2) Often these miracle consultants “blame” something/someone else and absolve the CEO from responsibility.

3) These wonder consultants often have built up such a brand name that senior management believes that “they cannot be wrong”.

Miracle consultants disappear very quickly. The messiah is proclaimed false very soon after a few sermons. A lecture, a month, or until the second or third invoice arrives.

The appearance of miracle consultants often indicate deep despair, stupidity and denial at the top, or all three.

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When Organizations turn into Jungles, what can be done? (revised)

There are several components that can turn organizations into political jungles and cesspools of intrigue.

  • Feigned commitments to the market used to “blame” people who do not meet numbers/release dates
  • Dysfunctional boards which manage various parallel “shadow organizations”
  • Competition between competing geographies for control of strategic products/roadmaps
  • Contradicting demands without top-down integration, such as “make the deal and be fully compliant”.
  • Overpaid, detached leadership while employees are policed by process and over fertilized with “engagement programs”.
  • Severe leadership gaps in “walking the talk”
  • HQ-field dynamics based on too much control or confusion

The behavioural aspects of this dysfunction manifest themselves as:

  •  Squabbling about roles and responsibilities
  • Obsessive redefining of process
  • Lack of trust
  • Partial transparency
  • Deteriorating teamwork
  • Blame-shifting email threads and finger-pointing as long as the equator

When the organization is so “zoo-ish”, pathological forms of HR tend to wow-wow and rah-rah employees and managers around slogans which obfuscate the challenges that the organization needs to address. For example, the lack of a long term commitment of employers to their employees is often coupled with engagement sloganeering. 

Overly commercial OD can add damage by developing OD packages that deal with the symptoms of the political zoo, (such as engagement packages) while what the root causes are left alone. In such cases, OD kicks itself in the ass by becoming a hand maiden of the system pathology.

However, there is good news. OD can dry up organizational political swamps, not via OD products, but rather by an OD process that focus on:

  • Identifying the reasons why basic survival instincts drive behaviour at all levels.
  • Classify what/is not in controllable to work on lessening the level of fear and anxiety that leads to reliance on such basic survivor instincts.
  • Gradual lessening of perceived threats to survival, basic on real change, not sloganeering.

Sounds hard?-you bet it is. But that is what professional OD brings to the table. Mais oui! 🙂 

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #3 “Support Centre” for Organizational Life

Posted on March 8, 2014

This is the third of 3 posts to illustrate that OD is not passé.

While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and organizations do not value people as much as before thus weakening OD’s value proposition, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

The first situation I described was  New Product Introduction. The second  post related  to use of OD to relay intent in cases where cultural obstacles prevent dialogue.

This post will examine in brief OD practitioners greatest added value: as a “support centre” helping people think and act in organizational life.

The essence of this support is working with managers on their understanding of their cognitive/emotional organizational assumptions, serve as a reality check for  perceptions of organizational  meaning and context, “think through”  alternatives of action,examine the management of risk/opportunities and work on issues stemming from organizational politics.

Here are some of the reasons why many Organization Development practitioners do not provide  this service.

  • OD practitioners have not all been trained to do so.
  • The misplaced focus of OD practitioners  on OD products has detracted from the ability to focus on less structured  support for  “thinking”.
  • It is very hard (impossible) to market  this service.
  • Providing this type support does not create scalable revenue. Senior OD people cannot delegate this type of work to new college graduates and clip a coupon. It simply cannot be done. So this type of work means that the senior OD practitioner need to continue to consult, not manage.
  • The results of this type of work cannot be measured, thus creating a battle between the OD consultant with the organization’s procurement  department and the Gloria’s of the world.

Nevertheless I believe that is where the value of OD is.

On a personal note, when I look at the types of people I work with well, they are/have been highly intelligent people who seek out “someone smart” with whom to talk. I have never worked well with someone who wants a product. For the life of me, I do not even know what an OD product is, although I see all the “brush salespeople” peddling them all over the place.

To conclude this series….is OD passé? In Hebrew we use a double negative: לא ולא which means absolutely not (no and no). While the use of OD is less universal than it was, OD is highly applicable in special situations with the right clients.

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #1 New Product Introduction

There is an constant and frankly non constructive dialogue that goes on about whether or not OD is passé. 

The answer is that OD is definitely not passé although it is not as widely commissioned as it used to be. While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and people are not as valued as they used to, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

In the next three posts, I shall outline 3 special situations where the added value of OD is overwhelming.

The first special situation is New Product Introduction.

1) Typically, a new product goes from R&D to Engineering and then to Process Engineering and Production Engineering, which are in Operations. (There can be lots of variance to this, clearly.)

2) The more complex the product  is, and the faster the organization is moving, the transition as described above is anything but smooth. Operations wants a plug and play product kit, while  R&D wants to wash their hands of the dog food and move onto the next invention, with Operations left to fill in the blanks.

Add to this that  products do not flow smoothly along; they often move one step backs and then two steps forwards etc.,  until problems are defined and solved.

3) Add complexity of different geographies and cultures, this is a perfect cess pool for OD. Smile

4) The most frequently made mistakes that managers and change managers make is to try to define the process more clearly. This attempt to `define away complexity`is what my late Dad used to call pissing into the wind. And I grew up in Quebec where the wind is mighty strong. Mais oui! There is no way that this process can be perfectly defined.

5) Another frequently made mistake is to put too much focus on Gating and Handshakes in the process. It is simply more complicated than setting up a Customs-Douane at every `station“ on the way, especially given the time to market pressure.

6) New Product Introduction is enabled by teamwork, sharing of risks and overlapping responsibility. This is a classic domain where nothing beats the effectiveness of OD. Not even outdoor training or a motivational speaker. Smile

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