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.

—————————————————-

Dear subscribers, In order to clean up the spam, all blog subscriptions were deleted and a new subscription system installed. Please re register  on the right side, or below and sorry for the trouble.

Allon  אלון

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

Why the results of OD interventions are not perfect

Recently, I have finished major dental treatment which I had put off for years, due to fear and dilly dallying; finally l decided to just do it. The treatments took six months.

During the tens of meetings I had with my dentist during this half year, I found myself observing his work . And as the work came to a close, it was evident  that he felt satisfaction at the near perfect results. Indeed, my smile is “luvly”.

I have executed many complex OD projects over the years: post merger integration, interventions with very senior managers, and working with cultures where OD values appear incompatible. I have also done lots of work with Fortune 500 companies and very demanding start-ups.

My business grows via referrals and although my style is an “acquired taste”, at the personal level I have a sense of humour and it is easy to interact with me, so clients “like” me. This having been said, I have never delivered a “perfect” result, like my dentist has.

If properly executed, OD interventions cannot be perfect. Organizations themselves are very imperfect. Once the human race started organizing and we all  became dependant on one another, there is severe anxiety built into the very essence of organizing, and all forms of organizations. This anxiety is not soluble.

OD creates more effective coping mechanisms, flexibility and a better breed of manager, follower and team. Yet often, once OD mitigates the noise caused by one problem, another problem surfaces, which is totally natural.

Many so called OD practitioners try and sell OD products  which can be “plugged in and played” , as it were,  to any organization. They promise “client satisfaction” and perfect results. This brand of OD practitioner, the snake oil salesman, wants his client to be thrilled. I don’t. Being thrilled with the results an OD project makes no sense at all, because at best, human organizing is so imperfect.

The OD which I practice delivers a professional service and not a product. The results that I deliver are very real and concrete, because they are not “perfect”. Certainly since most of my business is repeat or referral, the clients are satisfied, but they are not thrilled! Mais non!

And alas, in dentistry so much is dependant on the dentist, whilst in OD, so much dependent of client-consultant interaction. So here is a paradox to think over: in OD, only the unskilled deliver perfect results.

Share

When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

OD consultants and other change professionals are commissioned at times by clients who are stuck and dither when facing a serious problem.

Two examples:

Take the merging 3 small companies into one and management insisting on “creating a new culture, based on the best parts of the 3 companies.” Management dithered on this issue for two years with the hope that things would somehow stabilize as the social fabric fell apart in political warfare.

Or, take the example of a company which needed  to really commit itself to transparency with its own staff to ensure credibility, yet focused on word-smithing, sweet-talking and sloganeering as the company employees become more and more “militant” and unionizes.

In such situations there is natural tendency of the consultant to push hard for decisiveness. And to make matters worse,  when  decisive action does not occur, the client may even blame the consultant for the slow pace of change!

Here is the crunch: If you push the client too hard because YOU want to succeed, then you may find yourself out on your ass. On the other hand if you accept the clients’ pace, you become part of the system.

This problem has no easy fix. For those of us who have learned to drive in heavy snow, it is helpful to remember how to free yourself from a snow bank….backwards and forwards, slowly, until you get the leverage to jolt forward.

And remember, ultimately it is the clients’ mess, not yours. If you feel that you are the one who is failing, your actions as a consultant will probably be less effective.

Share

Working under bombardment

 

In this recent outbreak of Middle East violence, I have found myself working and living in areas under heavy bombardment.

I want to share with  readers some of these experiences, personal and work related.

1) Between missiles, life goes on. People walk or run to shelters, boom, and then back to work. There is constant smsing-texting and phone calls in order to ensure that friends and family members are ok, but multi tasking via messaging is part of life in Israel in any case.

2) One’s political view deeply impacts how the present conflict is viewed. The right wing sees the conflict as an inevitable outbreak in a one hundred year old conflict; the left believes that the present government (and those before) have frittered away opportunities that may have prevented this present round of violence.

Political issues are very rarely discussed, because politics tears apart relationships, and detract from camaraderie which develops under fire.

3) A sense of perspective creeps into life. When life can end with the next hit, how important is this work related issue that I am dealing with?

4) For some, one’s internal emotional world is calmer because the enemy is exogenic. As missiles pour down on your village and work place, one does not really need more noise than what rains down.

5) Schedules constantly changes.Work gets cancelled, rescheduled and decisions get “pushed out” till “this is all over”. Yet this does not phase anyone.

6) There is an amazing defense  mechanism: “nothing will happen to me”. Even more anxious people (like myself) adapt this defense mechanism and, it really works well. Apparently,  the more serious the threat is, the easier it is to be positive.

And a word of thanks to the many people who have asked me how I am doing.

Follow me @AllonShevat

 

 

Share

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.)

 

Picture 004

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

Follow me @AllonShevat

Share

Avoiding authentic discussion in order to be effective

 

Alfred is a product manager, based in the Philadelphia US HQ. Alfred’s role is to ensure that the global sales force sells what is on his products’ road map, in order to ensure that the product will not “disassemble” into hundreds of diverse versions.

Som is a Thailand based Sales Manager in the same company. When Som looks at Alfred’s product, she believes it is overpriced and has too many features for the cost sensitive Thai market. There is also a color issue, because the red logo of the product has political implications. Som thinks that if she exposes Alfred’s product to her customers, she will be accused to trying to rip them off. She will lose friends and face. Furthermore, Som believes that Alfred superlatives about his product are “demeaning” and make her clients feel talked down to.

Alfred is coming to Thailand to promote his product and wants to meet “directly” with Som’s Thai customers; Som is doing everything she can to block Alfred’s meeting with them. Till now, Alfred’s 12 meeting requests have been turned down by the customers.

Business unit manager Karol Plessis (my client) has asked me to “patch up” the relationship “ between Alfred and Som so that “we don’t look like a bunch of clowns”.

Alfred wants a 3 way meeting (Allon, Som and Alfred) to work out the details of the visit.

Som wants “not to discuss this issue with Alfred, because I need to keep working with Alfred”. Som told me that if she loses her temper with Alfred, “we will never be able to work well again”. (I did NOT tell Som that she is not working well with Alfred, because she thinks that she is… by NOT telling him her concerns directly).

Som told me to “tell Alfred what I think, and propose a compromise. I agree to any compromise you make.”

My belief is that someone from a traditional OD background would explain to Alfred the sensitivities of Som and in parallel, explain to Som what she needs to change in order to be effective with Alfred. Then in a facilitated meeting, Som and Alfred would meet to discuss the issue, meeting somewhere in the middle.

The global OD consultant would probably assume that the possibility of building healthy communication between Som and Alfred in a short period of time is low and thus, their communication should be “mediated” as much as possible. A Global OD consultant would prefer work out a compromise between Som and Alfred in separate meetings to cement a very detailed agreement on Alfred’s upcoming meeting, including ground rules in the unfortunate case that they decide to go to clients together. When the consultant has a meeting between the two, everything will have been agreed in advance.

The global OD consultant would not automatically prefer direct dialogue Som and Alfred because forcing Som to be open means, for Som, that she may not be able to continue working with Alfred.

The nightmare scenario of the global consultant is “apparent agreement” whereby Som agrees to compromise, but only verbally. The global OD consultant does not want Som to tell her clients that she is bringing a big shot from HQ; please meet him but don’t worry, he does not really make any decisions.

The traditional OD consultant on the other hand believes that direct communication is best; when people have disagreements, they should talk things out and meet in the middle.

Follow me @AllonShevat

Share

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.

 

Share

The “wonder consultant” in context

In my last post, I wrote about the wonder consultant who appears on the scene spreading false-messianic hope via sloganeering, as well as by charismatically delivered, simplified  bullshit whilst clipping a hefty coupon.

This post will provide a wider context for these wonder consultants, beyond the deep despair and desire for a quick fix I described.

1) The “motivational speaker” market has created a huge need for the wonder consultant. Management believes that motivational speeches motivate (they do not) and the speakers address a market need.

2) As the emphasis of OD switched from effectiveness to what Reddin  called “apparent effectiveness”, lots of events started to “compete” with OD; puppet shows, cooking classes, and what my late mother called “everything and the kitchen sink”. As such, the wonder consultant is an entertainer, and should be evaluated and paid as such.

3) With the trend set by software companies which make promises and “deliver in phases”, it has become almost normative not to fully deliver, except in the world of mindless motivational management tweeters. Thus, who really cares about what the “prophet” said. The question is, was he wow enough?

4) When immediate satisfaction is measured via” likes”, or the rah rahing that goes on during the session, no one gives better results that a charismatic charlatan. The charisma delivers the wow. The charlatan makes it all so easy.

Follow me @AllonShevat

Share