OD need not straggle behind

 

Almost every aspect of organizational life has changed beyond recognition in the past decade.

  • People who share neither values, culture or language work together. (new diversity)
  • Global organizational politics is riddled with complex, survival site agendas. (new conflicts)
  • People “message”/ email more than they talk, because teams are mainly virtual. (new communication)
  • Management is all about task promotion and self-survival. Employees are far less engaged. (new values)
  • The human resource is seen as dispensable. (new motivations)

What has changed in the way OD is practiced?

In my opinion, very little. OD is tap dancing and dithering on the stage, with lots of internal focus and debate about side issues as organization life is reconfigured.

This is happening because the gatekeepers of OD are holding back. As OD lost  ground,  OD guidelines became an orthodox religion.

This is why the battle for globalizing OD is an uphill run. The hill is steep and the wind is blowing in our face.

My advice to OD people who want to remain in shape and relevant is to learn about Global OD instead about how to market yesterday’s produce.

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Power Games within the Organization Development Community

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate in global organizing.

Global OD is a platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways.

Once global OD’s appropriateness is accepted, a lot of western OD interventions done today will be akin to  “bloodletting” to treat a headache.

I have lectured on Global OD in  Vancouver, London, Hong Kong, Munich, Paris and Tel Aviv. My presentations are always well attended and lively. But nevertheless, the plenary sessions of these conventions where I lecture are always about mainstream OD, given by people from the established school of OD. I am a  bizarre character from who will present……a sideshow! I am “Side Show Bob”, the character from the Simpsons. No need to worry; mainstream OD is in control.

Imagine what it means if indeed I am correct about Global OD’s relevance and Western OD’s inappropriateness in global organizations? 

It means that there is a Western OD power establishment which can (and will) be replaced with people who have the skills to do OD appropriately in a global organizations, without ramming western values down peoples’ throats, to  be polite.

Global OD’s will  detract from Western OD’s dominance of “the truth”. The Western OD establishment is not quite ready for that. For example, on the ODN list,  I felt that I was constantly alienating main streamers by my ranting about Global OD.  I was seen as not civil enough, an instigator with style issues. I  did not promote Global OD in a nice enough manner. I spoke my truths, without being so damn f—king nice.They got angry and I left.

Nowadays, many folks on LinkedIn try to co-opt my ideas saying that they are all for cultural awareness. (Global OD is about acting differently, NOT cultural awareness.)

In retrospect, some of the resistance to my ideas is content- based and a lot of the resistance is based on OD opinion leaders clinging to their power. They cling to the paradigms in which they are comfortable.

Were I to organize a OD conference, many of the classical OD interventions would not even get a slot as a side show, because of their antiquity and inappropriateness. Applying Western OD to global organizations is preposterous, and Western OD opinions leaders have a lot to lose if I am right.

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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.

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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! 😉

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OD will be globally relevant when it adapts new professional values, not global competencies

There are those who believe that OD practitioners need a new skill set to be globally competent. There is even a questionnaire being circulated to garner input as to what these global skills may be.

I  suggest a radically different approach: OD needs to realign its core values, which are at present totally western.  Without a change to the  OD profession’s present western values, it makes no sense to define a global consulting skill set.

The list of key OD values  exposes a Western cultural bias.

  • Respect and Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Self-awareness
  • Empowerment

These values mean radically different things in different places. For example,

  • Respect and Inclusion is-“Give face gets face in return”.
  • Collaboration looks more like “obedience to authority; there is “one tiger to a hill” and collaboration with other departments may be seen as betrayal of authority.
  • Authenticity looks more like “total control and repression of emotion as a desired state” and authenticity is weakness.
  • Self-awareness looks more like “appear” professional and collected at all times, showing no emotion.
  • Empowerment may look like “do what you are told, and I will protect you”

We can even drill down one level deeper on the idea of “respect” to show the depth of the gaps that may exist between various populations in a global company.

  • Helmut shows respect by keeping to schedule. Baharat from Mumbei shows respect by answering calls from his clients immediately, even when he is running a meeting. Moshe from Israel shows respect by giving you as much time as needed, ignoring the “formal” schedule he is supposed to be following. Paco shows a huge respect for people, yet their time is not a valued resource for Paco, so his US colleague Paul feels a huge lack of respect.
  • Daw from Huahin Thailand gives respect by never inconveniencing people with whom he works. In public meetings, he is courteous and tends to be amicable to all suggested directions, reserving his disagreements for a private conversation. He sees the gap between what he allows himself to say in public and private as giving a huge amount of respect.
  • Mark from St Paul gives respect by separating between people and issues. He can deliver a critique of an idea, but he never is critical of a person; he is careful to remain civil. Mark sees in civility the ultimate manifestation of respect.
  • Ngai Lam from Hong Kong shows respect by always being in her “professional” persona, concealing much of her emotions, expression of which may be seen as showing lack of respect for the work place.
  • Hank from Holland as well as Moti from Israel show respect by being blunt so that no one needs to guess what their intention is, which would be disrespecting and uncaring.
  • ·Olive from Germany and Oya from Japan show respect by a very formal use of language when addressing people who merit respect.

So really, even we all try and rally around something as universal as “respect”, we see a lack of shared context for organization development, unless OD decides that the values of the west can and should be imposed. 

So for those who want to jump the gun and define global competencies for OD, hold your horses and start by examining the current western biases of the OD profession.

Only when OD ceases to impose western values can OD serve as the enabling platform for various cultures to work together without cultural imposition. That is our future.

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