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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OD’s fate is “signed and sealed”

According to Jewish tradition, one’s fate is signed on New Year’s Day (Wednesday evening, Sept 24th) and one’s fate is sealed on the Day of Atonement, which falls the week after New Year’s. The days between the signing and the sealing of one’s fate are the Days of Awe, when supposedly the verdict can be overturned. (For those of us who resent having religion rammed down our throats, this is a punishing time to live in a semi-theocracy.)

However, while I am agnostic and I spend these “holy” days at the beach doing non-holy activities, the tradition and metaphor are useful.

OD’s fate is signed and sealed. There are many reasons why OD is rotting away. Follow this link if you want the gory details. The grisly execution of OD has been in progress for the decade. Unlike the executions we all see on TV as of late (which happen in my liberal neighbourhood), the dying process of OD is prolonged.

So what is there to atone about?

Well, universities and colleges and other institutes of learning are pumping out OD consultants as if the demand for OD is insatiable. This is an absurdity because there is very little work in OD for the new generation of OD “technicians”, unless they want to work for some canned-training company or support degenerative BPRs which are the very antithesis of OD.

Students spend years and years learning a disappearing profession which is self-destructing and being cannibalized. I must get 50 calls and emails a month asking me “if I need an assistant” or “where can I find some work, anything”. My message to these people is loud and clear-you chose the wrong profession. Go get retrained.

Yes there is plenty of work if you have been on the road as long as I have and have built up a reputation and areas of domain expertise (in my example global organizations, new product introduction and mergers). But there is almost nothing around for the newcomer, who wants to do OD the right way, not as an order taker for “3 workshops on people skills, medium rare”

And the universities need to atone for misleading thousands of people who have made the wrong career choice. Probably they cannot, because universities themselves are trapped in their own paralysing paradigm.

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Don’t ignore the underworld of poor team work.

No other discipline can deliver results as powerful as can OD in the domain of teamwork.

This having been said, too many OD practitioners look at teamwork out of context and proceed to work with organic teams or “cousin groups”  to develop team effectiveness before examining the context in which the team operates.

This post will focus on what an OD practitioner needs to both look at and deal with in order to create a context for team work, regardless of the specific team.

1) Does the organization have an expectation that clearer defined roles and responsibilities as well as adherence to process are essential to team work?

Because the truth is:  teamwork’s added value is that it compensates for the inability of process and total role clarity to enable the work flow. Often poor team work is a result of overdosing on process and clarity  to control work flow.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on teamwork as a compensation for the system in order to get it to work.

2) Does the organization recruit team players at the top?

Because if the organization is led by people who maximise their subsystems. there “ain’t gonna be no teamwork”.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on the optimization of subsystems at the top of the organization.

3) Does the organization fund face to face interaction?

No amount of technology can compensate for the alienation inherent in the global configuration of organizations. People who do not meet face to face will not be able to work well as a team, especially if the issues at hand are complex and need a lot of healthy heated interaction to solve.

Creating a context for teamwork entails insisting that face to face dialogue is budgeted.

4) Does the organization overcommit to its customers?

If the organization has hallucinatory  commitments to its customers, the entire organization will be covering their ass to show that they are not guilty for the inevitable slips that will occur in both schedules and costs. Teamwork in over committed organizations is a critical success factor, but very rare.

Creating a context for teamwork entails removing the “blame game” and working on the over commitment, not just the team work.

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Dealing with the imperfection of OD

In one of my last posts, I dwelt on the natural imperfection of the OD endeavour.

Unlike the OD product vendor who sells a cock-and-bull story about the results that can be “delivered” by the application of his/her OD product (such as the 2 hour Wow-Wow Post Merger Integration Module), the OD practitioner who provides a professional service is faced providing an imperfect service (by nature).

Here are a few tips, based on ideas that I have used which I have found to be helpful.

1) In your Sales effort with new clients, emphasize the senior managers and successful organizations with whom you have worked over time; avoid focusing on what you know how to do and/or deliver.

2) Negotiating with corporate procurement (whose role is to nail down the vendor down with a clear statement of deliverables) needs to be avoided at all costs. Your internal client should be your interface to Procurement. If the client cannot do so, then you are probably working with someone too junior to do any meaningful work anyway.

3) Goals of the OD intervention need to be constantly reassessed; as a matter of fact, the ongoing reassessment of goals in a major achievement of the OD process!

4) Avoid the use of all measurement tools to evaluate OD work. OD interventions have huge impact; none of them can be isolated and measured.

5) Contractually, ensure that it is easy to fire you. This can take lots of heat away off defining success criteria of a project.

6) Admit mistakes and do so as they happen. Model how imperfection can be used as a powerful development tool.

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The perfect storm: The fearful HR clerk and the OD “brush salesman”

In my previous very widely read post, I described the imperfect nature of the OD intervention.

The goal of this post is to link these imperfect OD interventions to what is happening to HR, which often commissions external OD interventions.

The positioning of HR organizations is in a state of drastic decline. HR domain has been cannibalized by IT technology, Legal Departments as well as by the declining perceived value of the resource that HR represents, i.e. people and their loyalty/satisfaction.

As a result of HR’s speedy and painful demise, the anxiety level of the remaining HR executives is sky high. Management and peers of HR constantly “question the value” of HR, as illustrated in the satiric HR Gloria blog. Like a third rate politician frightened by plummeting rating, HR becomes motivated by fear.

There is a still a group of HR managers, mainly (but not only) in their 40s +, who stand their ground and do an admirable job in this hostile environment. However there is also a younger set of HR managers , transactional technicians,  who accept that the HR consists of sycophancy to the regime  (obsequious flattery) and transactional efficiency. These HR technicians guard their position by “apparent effectiveness” and wow-wowing, i.e., organizational cheer leading.

At the meeting point between the imperfect world of OD interventions and the anxiety of transactional HR technicians, the perfect storm occurs.The OD practitioners can only commit to a process that questions the regime’s assumptions, and the HR technician deals with its own anxiety by wow wowing and cheer leading.

The result of the perfect storm is that the type of OD intervention which is chosen by HR is aligned with the fear level of HR and not the needs of the organization. The OD “vendor” must ensure that the intervention is fun, measure-able, and creates a wow buzz. Luckily for HR, there are many OD hacks who have morphed into doing this shit.

Just to provide a small example. Recently I received a call from the HR manager of a company which had recently been acquired. The call went like this, “Hi this is Dorit speaking. I am the HR manager of XXX, which has recently been purchased by YYY. Do you have an “engagement package” for technical staff. And how much does it cost?. I need this by 2 pm”.

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When someone is professionally competent, cultural skills may be less important. (revised)

When a manager lacks professional competence, cultural competence becomes far more  important for success.

To illustrate: In 2 different companies, Lynn and Morris both lead a major Supply Chain/IT effort to regulate the suppliers to whom work is contracted.

Morris and Lynne have both been told “not to rock the boat with the remote offices too much during the transition” yet ensure that the software be deployed globally with one year.

Morris is a top notch professional with business domain knowledge as well as IT skills which garner huge respect. Lynne comes from project management. She is a manager and an integrator. She lacks the professional business and IT knowledge that Morris has.

Although their personal style is similar, there is far more noise/ rumblings about Lynne. Folks complain that Lynne “does not understand the mentality” of the local offices. Strangely, Lynne encountered the strongest resistance in France and Belgium, although she speaks French fluently!

The level of professional competence that Morris exhibits mitigates the importance of his lack of his cross cultural competence. His professional competence lessens his need even to be seen as culturally competent. For Lynne, without cultural competence to win over initial trust, she may be a goner.

I train dozens of managers yearly in “cultural literacy and competence”. Cultural competence can compensate for lack of professional competence, and professional competence can lessen the need to be culturally literate.

Training departments would be wise to take this into account instead of “across the board” one size fits all.

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Focus on what needs to be changed, not what you have been hired to change

Companies use OD to drive difficult change in line with structure and values of the corporate, which are usually highly impacted by Western values.

Often the proposed changes may be the wrong changes, not do-able in  some of the local cultures where the company operates. The role of the OD consultant tasked with facilitating the change should be to raise a flag and prevent the change from happening, or at least do risk mitigation. In order to understand the issues in advance, the consultant needs to be aware of the cultural barriers to change.

The OD consultant  however is often in denial about his/her own cultural  bias, which stem from OD’s core concepts and tools.These cultural biases may lead to the ineffective imposition of an ill planned changed.

For example, let us assume that  headquarters dictates that two managers (two in a box) will co-manage a certain organizational sub-unit and share power. One manager is to focus on engineering, and the other is to focus on development and product architecture. The two are to “cohabit” in the “leadership space”.

Let’s assume that the local culture where these 2 managers are to co-manage  is characterized by “One hill is not for 2 tigers ”, i.e, power cannot be shared, and power is exercised autocratically. In such a case, there is no chance that two managers will share a management role if they hail from such a culture. Instead of two-in-a-box, we will have two in a boxing ring! Smile

An OD consultant with Western values who is asked to facilitate the change may take the 2 managers and  try to define clarity of decision making processes, build trust, or build various mechanisms to minimize conflict and power games. But the two managers want another type of clarity-who the f-ck is the boss?-and constantly battle, like two tigers on a hill.

And the more that the western consultant tries to push his values on the local culture, he may find himself looking like an American politician trying to organize a cease fire between intense enemies who want to knock the crap out of one another, and prefer death to compromise.

What can an OD consultant do to prevent using OD to implement change the wrong way?

  • Look at the cultural alignment of each change.
  • Understand what can change, and what cannot change.
  • Put your OD values on hold.
  • Focus on what needs to be changed, behaviour in the field or corporate policy.  Focus the OD effort in the right direction.(If you have been hired by someone junior or a possessed by looking good, this will be hard.)

In the above case in China, it is best to focus on not implementing two in a box policy.

Here is another example.

Corporate asked me to work with senior management on “the value of transparency”. One key manager in this process believed everyone is lying to him all the time by padding effort estimates. This manager hated the word “transparency” and thought it was “western propaganda”. The focus of my  work with him centred on building a group of people whom he could trust, and avoiding “religious” statement like “the value of transparency” which challenged his belief system. We totally avoided the use of the word “transparency” to the chagrin of the internal team “measuring OD’s effectiveness”.

It is important that OD work of this nature is commissioned by someone internally who is not obsessed with looking good, but rather someone who wants to get it right.

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Strategy Shift for HR after the establishment of a union

The long struggle against unionization is generally led by internal and external lawyers, board representatives, the CEO, HR and in some cases by a PR firm.

In my country, the last two years have shown that although the struggle against unionization fails, every management team tends to fight the war to prevent it from happening.

After the war against unionization is over and the union is established, the role of HR undergoes a major strategic shift. This post will spell out the suggested strategy shift for Human Resources professionals after unionization is a fact of life.

1) First we need to understand how the battle against unionization is waged.

During the battle against the establishment of a Union, management claims that there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, employees who care about the company and those who want to destroy the company, the noisy minority who wants a union and the silent majority who supposedly does not want a union.

When a union is established, the union becomes the sole voice of labour. So, the first shift in strategy is that HR must work thru the union and only the union, after its establishment. The good guys and all the silent majority become irrelevant. If HR maintains a parallel dialogues with the Union and the staff, the way that the Union operates will be much more militant and brutal.

2) Second, we need to look at the division of labour between Legal and HR after a union has been established.

The struggle against unions is very lucrative business for the legal profession. Even “in house legal” gains  lots of power in the struggle against the establishment of a union. During the struggle against the establishment of the Union, lawyers generally call the shots. At times, the firms’ lawyers even talk to the press directly! After a union is established, the legal folks don’t really want to move out of the space they occupied in their struggle against the union.

Yet, lawyers cannot manage industrial relations after the establishment of a union, the second shift of strategy is repositioning “legal” in a more minor position, and re-positioning HR to become the owner of the industrial relations portfolio. This is a difficult shift in strategy, because getting control of industrial relations means a battle with the internal and external legal folks. In many cases, the CEO will also want to manage the industrial relations portfolio. (It takes up to 2 years before a CEO learns how stupid this is).

3) The third strategic shift is the change of narrative and behaviour.  After a union is established, the narrative within management and the narrative with the union needs to change.

During the struggle against unionization, management rhetoric becomes heated and the same empty slogans are repeated again and again. “The company will be ruined by a union”. “We cannot compete if we are unionized” etc. ad nauseam.

After the establishment of a union, many words said during the struggle need to be “taken back” and narratives need to be rewritten.


The monumental task of repositioning HR after the establishment of a Union are probably the most interesting task an HR manager or OD consultant can take on. Stakes are high, yet there is a protocol for success. So my suggestion is follow the protocol and do not improvise.

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If organizations are like zoos, what does this mean for a consultant?

In organizations, the best and worst of human natures’ forces are at play.

Along with compensation, the achievements and innovations of organizational life, organizations are also zoos where Darwin’s battle for the survival of the fittest transpires.

The ability to cooperate and communicate along with selfishness, back-stabbing deception and manipulation live side by side.

Several factors impact between the positive and negative:

  • The worst the economic situation is, the more likely it is that negative behaviour will dominate as managers often almost cannibalize one another in an effort to survive.
  • The personality of the CEO and the staffing of key management positions have an impact on the precarious balance between good and bad. It must be noted that people who reach the top are often the master of Darwinism.
  • The technology itself often impacts the balance between the forces. A software shop,a call center, an accountancy firm and a System Integrator will all strike a different balance because the need for cooperative behaviours in getting the job done varies.

The consultant is often called in to change the balance between positive and negative. So it is important to ask with what basic assumptions about human behaviour do (and should) consultants bring to the table in order to tinker with the balance.

Some consultants behave like born againers, preachers, and yes-we caners, raw rawing the employees to set aside their bad behaviours and see the Lord. Many coachers, change consultants, traditional OD consultants and OD-product vendors fall in the category. Members of the OD establishment also dwell herein, because it is such a good selling point.

Other consultants try to remain neutral, pragmatically accessing each situation for its merit.

Others, like me, prefer to assume that egoism, back-stabbing, bad politics etc. are like pain, which need to be accepted and managed as part of the system. Not only can these negatives not be driven away, these negatives are enablers and a legitimate part of the eco system of human organizing. No cheerleading or rosy optimism can drive them away. Like the animal keeper, the consultant should know/respect context in which the lion operates.

(This is time for me to “thank” the pain I feel as a daily runner. Were the pain not to have slowed me down, I would have been dead long ago.)

 

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Besides consulting, I am the keeper of Georges, who watches me write the blog

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Aligning the Feedback Loop to Global Organizations

Feedback consists of information about an organization, a group and an individual which is “recycled” to provide a basis for assessment, reflection and as a basis for corrective action.Feedback is one of the  building blocks that OD introduced into organizations.

This posts related to how can feedback be integrated into organizations given the many cultural constraints that the global organization faces, for example:-

  1. In some cultures, it is easy to talk about the future, but if the past is discussed, there is/may be a  loss of face.
  2. In some cultures, corrective action may be more effective if positioned as adaptive change,without use of explicit lessons learned from the past.
  3. In some cultures, direct and authentic feedback of any kind is seen as extraordinarily rude.
  4. In some cultures, the essence of leadership is to “protect employees by assuming responsibility for their errors” and keeping it all hush hush.

The feedback loop must retooled for the global organization.

As we align organizational design and development to a global configuration, here are a few emphasis worth changing.

1. Develop and legitimize opaque communication tools that allude to the past in order to plan corrective action.

2. Develop and legitimize indirect and “back door” feedback so as not to cause any perceived discomfort whatsoever, yet enable change.

3.Develop a contingency feedback model that allows a legitimate trade off between the feedback and the perceived harmony of relationships.

4. Budget much longer time cycles for giving feedback so as to allow face saving.

OD consultants who want to remain relevant would be wise to  stop drinking academia’s warmed over cool aid, check their western biases, step away from force feeding western values when inappropriate, and get real.

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