3 questions OD consultants are asked before a process starts.

During the process which proceeds the initiation of an OD project, it is not uncommon to be asked questions for which there are no easy answers, since OD is neither a commodity, nor a standard professional service.

Here are three frequent questions, and guidelines for answers.

1) What are the milestones of progress in this project?

The project has  no traditional “milestones, because it is a process that we are undertaking and not a project. There process has three distinct stages. The first stage is a diagnosis. The second stage is presenting an action plan, and the third stage is implementation.

2) If that is the case, how can progress be measured?

An ongoing dialogue takes place between us all the time to ensure we are making progress, as opposed to us “measuring” something at any given interlude.

In organizations, lots of stuff which is measured may not be indicative of real progress; yet many things which cannot be measured are critical for an organization to make progress.

If there is progress, we will all know it; if we are stuck, it will be very evident.

3) Why don’t you work for a success fee?

Well, the organization may not do what I recommend, and perhaps rightly so. So I cannot be measured that way!

This process is a joint effort, not my success or my failure. And the organization needs to cooperate with the process, not control it via a success fee.The very process itself is designed to move the organizations away from such a mode of behaviour.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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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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Developing Political Intelligence about an organization (revised)

In January 2014,  past year, I began a series of short posts illustrating how to get executives to  develop  better political awareness.

In a widely read post in this series, I related to a lack of systematic initiation into organizational politics, resulting in talented and motivated people losing out to folks with more political acumen.

The goal of these posts has not been to prescribe behaviour, rather to illustrate a gamut of frequently observed political behaviours, both positive and negative. It is my belief that in the same way that young kids should not learn sex from watching porn stars, neither should young managers learn organizational politics by being screwed, or by listening to some idealistic consultant or coach describe organizational life as it “should” be.

This is final post series. In this post, I will relate to 5 question that should be addressed upon entering a new organization and/or a new role.

The answers to these 5 questions provide a  guide for a street-smart “initiation” into the inevitable political web that will encountered  in all organizations post 2008.

1) Who comprises the “power elite”?  This elite may be managers, board members, assistants,  wives, mistresses, technical heroes,etc.

2) What is the dominant way that executives really get things done? It may be lobbying, looking good, overpromising, being exact, being vague, serving someone’s agenda etc..

3) What does the organization really award? It may be ass-licking, innovation, blind loyalty, conservatism, heroism, not standing out etc.

4) What is the main gap between what the organization says it does, and what it really does? For example, it says it values service, but it really emphasis low cost of service and “slogan-ism”. This is probably the most important question of all.

5)To what extent are budgeting and planning exercises real and transparent ? Many very political organizations go thru budgeting and planning as ceremonies to please stakeholders, but in reality, the plans are not real and budgeting is an anthropological ceremony.

In the political coaching that I do with my clients, I tend to focus on 5 and 2.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization.

Many organization hq’ed in Europe and the West promote “open” organizational communication, the legitimacy of conflict at work, and  the importance of solving conflict expediently and moving on. These same hq’s play down the importance of not discussing issues, discretion and solving problems by ignoring them.

In many parts of Asia and the Middle East, organizational and conflicts are resolved discretely and under the radar, to prevent loss of dignity, loss of face, and/or to prevent undermining authority. Very often disputed points are ignored and never discussed, or resolved “back room” by innuendo, silence or a carrier pigeon.

Corporate values, change consultants, OD consultants and coaches promulgate a western approach to conflict resolution. This often has disastrous results. Here are a few things folks have told me.

Som from Bangkok: “I have been taught my whole life to keep my opinions to myself and control my emotions to create harmony. I used to love this company, but in the new training program, i was forced to betray myself by “resolving a conflict”  and I feel abused. I am getting out.”

Emi from Japan: “The entire staff got along very well until the recent team development exercise to develop transparency. Now that all this damage has been done, our office is very tense. They (HR and facilitators) do not understand that when we showed our anger to one another, we may never communicate well again.

Inam from Amman: As per company policy I shared some of my thoughts with my boss. I really did not want to, but HR was really riding us to be compliant with company “values” in the way we operate. I now need to look for a new job because my boss is upset.. Everything has been ruined.

Colonization often meant severed limbs, decimated local cultures and massive executions of the vanquished. Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization. And OD is often used as the tool of beating the locals into submission.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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Why some cultures do not value conflict resolution

Many change agents, OD consultants and coaches roam the corporate world peddling wares to solve conflicts expediently, as in : we all need to see the “value” both in conflict and its ready resolution.

Yet many folks come from cultures which do not place as high a value on expedient conflict resolution.

Following is a list of attitudes which characterizes cultures which do not seek to “move ahead, move on, compromise, and put the conflict all behind us”.

1) These cultures tend to have more principles and less preferences. These principles are non negotiable, for the very reason that they are principles.

2) These cultures are not in a hurry. They believe that time is on their side, and if the conflict can wait for a year, a decade or a thousand years, they will get a better deal.

3) Compromise equals a loss of dignity. Better to die standing up than remain alive crawling like insect, goes the argument.

4) Meeting somewhere is the middle is a perceived disgrace to both sides. In a compromise/solution mode, “both sides look bad”.

5) There is an expectation from leadership/management that they be strong, not “solve” issues with other parties.” That makes followers “look good”.

6) Leadership perceives that solving a crisis will weaken them and set up an alternative power structure. There is no perception of “ we all get a bigger piece of a larger pie”.

Change agents who work with such populations need to

a-understand the basic assumptions of the protagonists

b-set realistic expectations about what can/cannot be achieved

c-use “temporary” resolution instead of final status resolution

d-avoid having protagonists meet, preferring an imposed solution.

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The treachery of HR business partnership

In an attempt to remain relevant in an economic environment which puts less weight on the value of the human resource, HR migrated to a mode of so called “business partnership”, and the idea itself and its implementation has turned into a fatal mistake.

The meaning of this business partnership has been to subjugate “representation” of the human resource in decision making in exchange for a “higher and more elevated” role of ensuring that the management of the human resource is “aligned” with the needs of the business.

The HR “business partnership” absolved HR from “protecting”  and lobbying for the human resource, because the HR business partnership co-opted the HR function and defanged it. This so called partnership has robbed HR of the necessary credibility to do its role.

This HR business partnership reminds me of  a Chief Financial Officer who misleads the Board and Investors because he is the CEO’s business partner. Clearly, there are some CFO’s  who have gone down this road, having made a mockery of their profession. However this deception is not the espoused religion of the CFO. In the case of HR, business partnership has led to abandoning the people for the numbers. In parallel, many very skilled HR people were replaced by a generation of mindless technocrats whose expertise was sycophancy

As the  so-called HR business partnership became more real, the deception became more evident, as is witnessed by the growth of wow-wow-ism which focuses on making sure that things are fun. HR  communication became sloganeering, reminiscent of the old communist newspaper which praised the socialist reality and ignored the breadlines.

HR became a profession deeply mistrusted and hated by the workforce.

What has happened in this country in the past few years is no surprise. Massive unionization has come to haunt the HR business partners. These powerful unions have sprung up overnight in finance, mobile communications, high tech, insurance and even in large taxi companies.

The new unions have pounced on the emptiness and perceived treachery  of the “HR business partnership”, and have provided an alternative, seen by workforce as far more reliable.

This change has pushed HR into a far worse position than they have ever been, ie-HR becomes the isolated so-called business partner of the CEO and the Union becomes the voice of the employees.

CEO’s need people next to them who talk numbers, talk sales, talk marketing and talk people. Not HR business partnership. And if HR does not get it, the unions do.

I always tell my clients that it is better to deal with an empowered HR manager who represents the people lobby, than a union steward. Few have listened; many are learning the hard way.

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