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?


Self perpetuating mediocrity in OD

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate to many of issues impacting global organizations.

Nevertheless OD conferences pay only minor lip service  to Global OD. Books, articles and many web sites dedicated to OD ignore the irrelevancy of the OD profession to problems of global organizing.

Conferences  and books recycle the same traditional old crap repackaged in new slogans; alternatively, folks reminisce about the good old days. (We call this in Hebrew-anu banu-we came and we built, i.e., thoughtless reminiscence which leads nowhere.)

There is an expression in Chinese 哑巴吃饺子,心里有数  which means “When a mute person eats some dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, albeit he cannot speak. In other words, people know how much irrelevance is bombarded at them by the old guard, they just do not speak up. Why? Because the old guard controls the keys to the palace. The palace may be crumbling, but they have the keys…the keys to keynotes, the keys to budgets, the keys to the house of lords.

OD conferences are good for networking, but little else.  In other words, we all know that besides networking, conferences have minimal value. New content is not provided, but no one says anything. And few OD books really innovate anything new, except new tools for a crumbling paradigm. The old OD guard is trying to ensure that OD stays at it is. At most, practitioners need some cultural skills.

However it is OD itself that needs to be modified.

Imagine that OD stopped perfuming the pig and dedicated a conference to concrete steps that need to be taken to make OD relevant in global organizations.

This is what 5 sessions might look like:

1) Root Canal 101: Breaking Away from the Founding Fathers

With all due respect, organizational reality has changed radically since OD’s founding fathers first murmured their ideas. This lecture will spell out why traditional OD is irrelevant in the domain of global organizations. The lecturer will draw parallels between Traditional OD in the global workplace, and other forms of cultural, economic and linguistic colonial behaviour.

2) Organization diagnosis in discrete and face saving cultures

3) A culturally contingent role of OD Consultant:

Expert, Mediator, Enabler, Masked Executive

4) Retooling OD:

What are the alternatives to team interventions, ways and means of  by-passing the need for direct communication, and how and when to work “offstage”.

5) Managing the Major Polarities in Global OD

   -openness and discretion

     -involvement and stability

-respect and change

            -ascription and achievement

The reason that Global OD conferences like this do not take place is that power elite in OD does not have a clue about these topics. As a result, OD conferences are planned by looking into the rear view mirror to preserve the power of the elite.











Dealing with trust issues that become exacerbated by the speed of business (revised)

Acute trust issues between people in different geographies in global organizations is not uncommon. This post looks at what can be done to address the issue, especially when the speed of  doing business in the global organization exacerbates the level of mistrust.

Speed exacerbates mistrust between various cultures because it accentuates conflict. When the cycle of business is slower, conflict can be mitigated in the context of sustainable relationships. This is not the case when  organizational life is moving rapidly, powered by technology and by the 24/7 “follow the sun” cycle of organizational life. In such instances, decisions need to be made on the spot and in real time, imposing a style of  “openness” and directness, which are seen as trust breakers in Asia, many parts of Africa, and South America.

To be effective in dealing with trust issues caused by speed,  the western form of conflict management serves as  one option. The western values of directness, openness and expediency certainly have their advantages in getting things to move faster. No doubt-the ability to move quickly is the greatest forte of the western style of doing business.

However the idea that “face saving and opaqueness just slow things down”, which sounds like a compelling argument for the dominance of western values does not justify (in my view) force-feeding western values.

I suggest a different approach when dealing with the mistrust inflicted by “speed”. If we agree that speed forces communication which is too direct for some employees, there are several prophylactic steps which can be taken.

1) Focus on staffing of key positions appropriately. It makes no sense whatsoever to have people with substandard communication skills and poor emotional intelligence in “busy junctions”, regardless of their technical ability.

2) Use expats and people of mixed ethnicity to “cushion” areas of acute conflict, instead of focusing on “Americanizing a Thai”, or creating a Japanese Israeli.

3) Instead of promulgating a simplistic “can do” attitude, acknowledge the problems and difficulties of execution even whilst moving at high speed. A gung ho  “can do” attitude is deeply flawed when applied blindly to deep rooted problems of trust caused by speed.  Demonstrating humility in face of great challenge may be more useful than being naive or arrogant cheer leading.

5) Focus efforts on a deep understanding of cultural gaps, providing a detailed protocol for communication in 3 areas- oral, email and chat. Ensure that team member foster relationships instead of just expediting tasks.

Follow me @AllonShevat


3 lessons which taught me why traditional OD is not appropriate in non Western and global organizations

As I mentioned in a previous post, I came from a very traditional Organization Development background. Over the years, I became convinced that OD`s western ethnocentric bias negatively impacts its effectiveness in a non western and global organizational configuration.

The `wake up call`I got about traditional OD was not gradual. Three events really shook me up, accelerating my thought process about  the need for a global version of OD.

I shall share them with you in this post.

1) In a group discussion with security personnel in the Mid East, I ask a question. The participants clarified  among themselves (in Arabic, which I speak) who is the oldest participant. He answered my question first; all other participants aligned with what he said.

2) In  Beijing, I ask a question and the managing director gives an inaccurate answer. I then solicit other answers, which are better than the answer that the MD gave me. I congratulate the person who gave me the `best“ answer. I lost the MD`s trust for a long time.

3) I facilitated a “lessons learned“  between Dutch management and Japanese customer service folks about a major crash at a client site. The level of emotion was very high, since a lot of business had been lost because of this incident. I laid out `ground rules“ for the discussion which included: No Defensive Behaviour. Once I showed that bullet, the Japanese did not trust me.

A facilitator with a global orientation will ask less questions because of the complexity inserted by honorific based issues; furthermore, the consultant will accept that only via a lot of defensive and opaque communication can issues be ferreted out.


5 indicators that you have a western bias as a consultant (revised)

By far, this is the most widely read post on my blog, with 21,000 people having read it in the past 4 months. I have made some minor changes and thus re-publishing it . I must admit that it is a great source of pride that people are least getting exposed to this message.

Instead of confessing, it is much easier for OD consultants to haggle with my claim that OD values and tools are culturally tainted!  In one forum I participated in, someone even claimed that I have a personality disorder which has led me to claim that OD itself needs to be globalized in order to deal with global organizing. Psychological reductionism is much easier than taking ownership of ones’ limitations and biases.

When OD consultants admit their western bias, there is a lot of “unlearning” to do, and new skills need to be acquired. That’s a high price to pay!

To asses the degree of your western cultural bias, answer the following 5 questions with a YES or NO.

1) Is having an ongoing candid dialogue at work better than ignoring differences and pretending that they do not exist?

2) If someone misrepresents key facts in a meeting on purpose, are they lying?

3) Do people all over the world think that teamwork means collaboration with their peers?

4) Is being mildly authentic at work generally preferable to showing rigid emotional restraint?

5) Does honest feedback generally motivate all staff, world wide, regardless of culture?

If you answered YES for all five questions, I would suggest that you try to better understand your biases, and start unlearning the universality of your beliefs.. Otherwise forget about being effective in the global workplace.

I spend tens of hours each month helping consultants and managers rid themselves of these biases. The hardest bias to work on is #2. And that’s the truth! 😉


What is a Global Literacy? (updated)

In the spirit or brevity, I have put together a very short list of components which constitute “global literacy”, i.e., the ability to be fluent and effective in the acutely diverse global workplace. This list is based on my observations of highly effective managers in the global work place.

  1. Understand where other attitudes and behaviour different from your own come from due to an awareness of the limitations of your own culture
  2. Non-judgmental about how things get done
  3. Ability to build personal trust to transcend differences
  4. Ability to mitigate the imposition of your own cultural preferences. (like: be open)
  5. Behavioural and attitudinal flexibility to work with people and teams whose major shared domain is that they are different
  6. Ability to shelter global staff from corporate absurdities whilst inculcating central values and behaviours which cannot be compromised/

This is the focus of ALL the coaching/consulting that I do with teams and individuals who need to acquire global literacy. My experience is that very little falls outside this list.

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #2 Relay of Intent

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

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. The first situation I described was  New Product Introduction.

This post relates to use of OD to relay intent in cases where cultural obstacles prevent dialogue.

Due to globalization and speed as strategy, people from extraordinary different cultural assumptions need to work together. Use of the English language has enabled people to understand the words (as it were), but they  certainly do not understand the intent of one another in many cases. Many of the obstacles faced in the global workplace are insurmountable without a 3rd party who helps each side “relay intent”.

While culture training purports to educate people to one another’s sensitivities, relay of intent is an on-line translation service, yet the translation is the translation of intent.

Here is an example, with intent  in red. The 3 parties are:  American Fred (Head of Sales), Thai Som (Regional Head of Sales) and Israeli Moshe (Regional Head of Sales)

Fred: Hi guys. Can we discuss what Q2 looks like until now?  I am getting some mixed signals. What’s really going on with Q2? Don’t surprise me.

Moshe: We are waiting for technical pre sales material. Fred, can you update us? Fred, you do your job and I will do mine.

Som: There are several important client visits planned, even though our market is driven by costs. The product is too expensive; nothing is happening.

In order to do translation of intent, the OD consultant must

  • understand all cultures s/he deal with, so that the message can be relayed in a way which relays maximum intent and.does minimal damage 
  • have business domain knowledge
  • build trust with all sides to do this grisly work Smile
  • understand when direct dialogue is possible and when a 3rd party is necessary.

Unlike most consultants, I believe direct dialogue in some cases hurts business, especially when speed is strategy. Direct dialogue  has too many obstacles when the speed of  business is mission critical.





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


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.