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.

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Allon

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Here is why the term “trust” is too vague

Many corporations preach trust as a critical success factor. The word trust appears in many organizational artifacts: the way clients are to be treated, mission statement, core values etc., ad nauseam. Yet when examined up close, the term trust seems to lack shared meaning.

An underlying dynamic which impacts perceptions of what constitutes trust are the basic assumptions about “how do get things done”.

  • In cultures where people assume that building a system that works enables people to get things done, trust is achieved by behaviours which strengthen the system, like `following procedures`, sticking to roles/responsibilities and accuracy.
  • In other cultures, where people assume that a web of relationships will enable things to get done, behaviours which strengthen the web of relationships will  enhance trust, like `trading favours`, insider dealings, and scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Indeed, trust means too many different things to different people and is achieved by drastically divergent means.

  • In some cultures, people trust one another because they know that conflicts will never be aired. This strengthens relationships!
  • In some cultures, trust is augmented after an “argument” because then each side knows that the other truly cares. This also strengthens relationships.
  • Many Dutch will trust you if you are direct whilst many Thais will build trust if you avoid giving them direct messages which are unpleasant.
  • ·Germans may develop trust with people who follow the process. Chinese and Israelis will need to trust someone first before they follow a process.
  • Mr. Wu and Mr. Smith sign a 40 million dollar deal. Then Mr. Wu asks Mr. Smith to hire his son for a year so that the son can get a visa to the US. Smith does not trust Wu because he thinks that he corrupt. Wu does not trust Smith because “I just did him a favour, and he won’t even help me with my son”. Here is the conflict between systems and relationships at its peak!

I am publishing  a book of exercises geared to create enhanced global mindfulness of key organizational terms. In this upcoming book, one of issues I shall address is trust in global organizations.

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Four questions to determine if a candidate has global literacy.

Several times each month, I interview people who are candidates for roles which have a large degree to of global exposure to vastly different cultures. Clients ask me to provide an assessment of the candidate’s global literacy and a suggested coaching plan where relevant.

I generally ask 12 questions. I will share 4 of these questions with my readers. For these interested in what I consider “global literacy”, here is a link to another post.

1) Describe what you think are the biases of your own culture, and how do they impact the way you manage conflict, communication and teamwork.

2) Describe 2-3  behavioural patterns of other cultures which you find most challenging to deal with and explain.

3)  Respect is a term that many cultures use, yet often it means different things to different people. Explain how you would show respect, differently, to various populations that you work with.

4) How do you go about establishing trust in a society with an insider-outsider dynamic?

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Dealing with the cynicism encountered with managers from Former Soviet Union (FSU)

In my previous post, I pointed out some of the characteristics I have encountered in managers from the FSU with whom I work .

In this post, I will provide 3 tips on how to deal with the cynicism, which can be tough to take for western yes-we-can OD consultant/manager.

1) There is no need to counter every cynical remark that is made. Just listen to  these comments as “this can be tough”. It’s often no more than that.

2) Use these cynical comments as a springboard to work out a rational set of risk mitigation tactics.

3) When a very, very cynical person comes your way (and they do exist), use a paradoxical intervention, such as “So there is nothing to do, we need to avoid wasting out time”. I have been surprised at how well this has worked.

I train managers and consultants to better manage folks from FSU. Lot of what you need to do can be counterintuitive, so it takes time.

If you succeed, you will generally have a hard working and dedicated resource on your team, albeit cynical.

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Creating Value and large scale change via being Eclectic

The dumbing of OD has led to use of tinned OD solutions, superimposed on complex organizational situations. Management via IT process and the need of managers  to look great as soon as as possible has led to massive use of these tinned solutions. When these tinned solutions fail, the vendor can be blamed and another “vendor” hired.

There is another much better of doing things however, as this post illustrates. I will illustrate a complex project based on a totally eclectic approach.

A large corporation hired me to work on a prolonged crisis between the central HQ-based Technical Presales Team and the various RSTs, i.e., Regional Sales Teams in South East Asia, Japan, China, Europe and the Americas.

There had been turf wars between the HQ-based function and each of RSTs, yet the reasons for the turf wars were different. Ideally it would have made sense to decentralize Technical Presales, but due to the lack of product experts, it was impossible.

A well-known consulting firm had just failed in this very endeavour, leaving behind a bible filled with process flow, roles and responsibilities, and what have you. My mandate was to `create uniformity“ so that everyone `works to processes”. I turned this mandate down, and suggested a more eclectic approach.

My point of contact was a very competent HR manager, very unlike my Gloria character. The HR manager and I agreed that the solution may not be uniform, and the starting point will not be the bible of processes, rather, we will do whatever works, with a very eclectic approach.

Quickly I discovered that there was huge variance in the HQ Technical Presales –RST interface between regions.

·      In some countries, the sales force was equipped only with `connections“ and after clients’ doors were opened, the RST expected that technical pre sales do everything else, including signing the deal and legal work.

·      In other countries, the RST was highly technical and all they wanted from Technical Presales was promotional marketing material!

·      In another set of countries, the Technical Presales Team was seen as “bunch of spies for corporate“ serving as an unneeded gate to prevent selling of customization of the products to local needs. Thus, the RST did everything alone, bypassing Technical Presales; however corporate could not build the customizations that the RSTs sold.

My work did not focus on all RSTs at once. First, I did a show case project with one area (Europe) and the change was very positive. The CEO and senior executives bragged about the `turn-round“ between Europe RST-HQ Technical Presales in several senior forums. Eventually, my project expanded to each RST and a 3 year effort was crowned as a major success.

The solution in each RST looks very different. In some RST`s, we worked on trust and communications, in other RST`s, we worked on mutual expectations. In yet other RST`s, we needed to replace managers with negative political agenda. In the Technical Presales team, there was a 10% increase in headcount and a massive investment in travel and personal effectiveness coaching.

The procurement department in this company had recommended not hiring me. There was no scope of work I was willing to commit to a priori, I could not estimate budget, and my travel expenses were high.

Three months into the second year of the project, the Head of Procurement told me that he heard that `the results are worth the investment, even though you (Allon) did not handle the initial  negotiation “appropriately”. And he has a point.

All thru the project, HR provided me with air cover, promoting the eclectic approach of tinkering, seeing what works and solving the problem.

No workshops or OD pre-packaged modules were used.

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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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Listening is a guessing game in many cultures

Some cultures are relatively blunt and to the point. One rarely needs to guess what a Dutch, German, French or Israeli means when they express themselves in business. True, nuances and cultural clues may be be missing, but after some exposure, getting the point is pretty straight forward.

In other cultures, corporate communication is much more difficult to decipher. In some cultures, this  difficulty comes from face saving (e.g. Thailand, Philippines) ; in other cultures the difficulty comes from a cultural uniformity which negates the need to be explicit , like Japan. In the USA, the difficulty in figuring out what something means is negatively impacted by political correctness, which obfuscates clarity.

In cross cultural communication, a key skill that one needs to acquire is how to understand corporate communication when a lot is “unsaid”.

Example: A senior manager asks the Japan Office if he can visit the first week of August. The answer he gets is yes. Then, the senior manager asks how many people will be on vacation that same week. When he learns that 70% of the people will be on vacation that same week, he asks if the first week of September is better, and gets a “yes”, only to learn later on that this date is also unsuitable.

Here are a few suggested ways to get around this impediment of implicitness:

1) Don’t try to get people to be explicit. While it can be done, it is very humiliating for the other side.

2) Ask many people the same question and compare answers.

3) Learn to provide alternatives, as opposed to asking questions the answers to which are yes or no. (Do you prefer I come on this date or that date).

4) Listen very closely to what is not said. Watch eye content, pay attention, putting  all communication in (age, role, situational) context.

5) Watch for purposeful ambiguity. E.g, Is this a good time to meet? “Yes, it may be”.

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In praise of the global organization-and a toast

Nothing like spending the last month running to and from bomb shelters with my dog Georges to make me think. Today,  I  propose a toast to the global organization.

Coming from me, this may sound strange. This blog and my satiric blog focus on some of the more serious defects in global organizations.

Over the past  month, my thoughts were tortured watching the worst of human behaviour manifest itself in the Middle East-beating on the war drum, mutually exclusive narratives which drive fanaticism, so much hatred and senseless violence. I found myself asking how is it that global organizations, with all their weaknesses, never bring out such evil behaviour. When I compare the behaviour of people in global organizations to the behaviour of people in nation states, global organizations eat nation states for breakfast.

I work with one team of technical pre-sales engineers based in Tel Aviv, Cairo, Ankara, Dallas, Shanghai Munich and Riyadh. Yes, there are tensions, infighting and problems of synergy. And yes, there is squabbling about how does what. Yet folks work together, laugh together, and communicate well and strive for success together. Even In the hardest of geopolitical times, the team’s behaviour is matter of fact and to the point.

Here is what I believe are a few success factors which explain why global organizations succeed where nations fail.

1) Membership in a global organization is temporary and based on achievements. This provides clear focus, sense of purpose and direction, as well as a healthy sense of the  temporary nature of belonging.

2) While there is plenty of violence in global organizing, there is no use of physical force at all.

3) The desired  ways of behaving are defined, measured, policed and enforced.

4) Religion has no place whatsoever in the public domain.

5) There is no democracy whatsoever in global organizing, so a huge mob with the wrong ideas has no impact. Yes, there is heavy handed leadership at times, but shelf time is limited and there is periodic life cycle regime changes.

So, Georges and I propose a toast to global organizing. Cheers!

Le-Haim-To life.

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Dealing with the feedback loop: Traditional and Global OD

One of the major changes that Traditional OD needs is a remodelling of the underlying assumption that feedback and discussion generated by feedback serve as the ultimate platform to make organizational  improvements and create behavioural change.

Within cultures, there are certain things that are not discussed, from taboo to giving feedback about a characteristic that cannot change. The content of what is not discussed may change from culture to culture, but all cultures have the category of things that are not discussed. There is phenomenal variance between cultures on what is not discussable.

Cultures have different ways of discussing discrete & sensitive issues in what they see in an appropriate manner. For some cultures this may in a  very closed forum, or with close friends that you trust. Other cultures prefer management meetings.There is phenomenal variance between cultures about what is discrete and sensitive.

Cultures have different ways of viewing emotions including anger. In some cultures, emotions including anger must be part of a discussion to prove you are genuine. In other cultures, you must smile when you are angry to repress any emotion. And strangely, in another culture, one must speak in a civil manner, yet to write flaming emails is ok!

In the global organization, we can see a lot of these differences coming into play. Western cultures have almost a religious belief that discussion creates an opportunity to improve. In many other cultures, the price that is paid for disrupting harmony by having a such a discussion is so high that the risk is not worth taking.

Western OD promulgates genuine and authentic feedback and discussion as platforms for improvement. Clearly as someone raised in Traditional OD, I believe in the power of genuine and authentic feedback. However, as a global OD consultant, my beliefs are irrelevant and I need to ensure that I do not use my position to push people to take risks that they think are not worthwhile.

So, the global OD consultant often work behind the scenes to deliver messages and “make things happen”, whilst external harmony is maintained.

The Traditional OD consultant will continue to be a missionary of discussion Uber Alles. And when work dries up, he or she  will wait till the market gets better.

PS-Example I shared with my friend Peter A

Bill is Asia Pacific Area Manager. Som is Thai  Area Marketing Manager. Bill wants to tell Som that his resistance to a certain marketing idea is unacceptable. Bill told his consultant that in the past, Som has “yes yessed”, then Som feels insulted. Allon suggest that Bill call Som’s colleagues in Viet Nam and the Philippines, and praises them for accepting the marketing idea. Bill then ensures that Som’s colleagues update Som that Bill has called. Bill talks to Som via his colleagues.

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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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