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


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.











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


OD as a “Mature Commodity”-and how to deal with it

Last week, I got a call from someone who asked me if I would like to “bid” for series of 3 workshops on post merger integration, which is one of my specialties.

She said, “I have heard that you know what you are doing, but please make sure that your bid is cost effective”. That was the gist of our short call.

This illustrates the bizarre and tragic productization of OD interventions:

1 Because “cost” rules as the “product” is seen as mature,the wrong service  is “ordered” in the wrong way.

2 The vendor ( OD) is blocked from influencing the definition of the problem and the proposed intervention because a “solution” in already being procured.

3 The client trades off a  (non existing) “product” with a cost to make a balanced decision. Neither parameter is the most relevant for the type of service that is needed.

This pitiful dynamic has developed an inevitable derivative of large consulting firms creating profit by providing new college graduates with a set of so-called products (and a slide pack to make it happen). The large vendor “clips the coupon” of repeatable scalable OD productized interventions.

The clients’ life is also made easy: the OD product is easy-to-understand, and comparable to other products of its kind. And any Gloria can manage the procurement process.

The only problem is that OD is not a product, and the provided product is a sham.

The best way to deal with this is to stick your guns. Be patient. If you know what you are doing, patience pays off.  A lot of my work has been procured when an OD product failed. When the gateway into the organization is procurement or  training, my suggestion is to back off and turn work down. Refrain from food fights with procurement, hoping to improve things later. Remain professional. stick to your standards, and do good work. The good work you do will get you more work.

Follow me @AllonShevat


Manager as system integrator; employee as subcontractor.

A system integrator drives independent component subsystems into a coherent and functioning whole. The emphasis here is on the word independent. I posit that in many industries, the art of managing is becoming more like the role of a system integrator working with subcontractors. I believe that this  inevitable trend has long term repercussions about training managers.

Here are two major reasons why managers will become system integrators:

1) The dwindling long term commitment between employer and staff.

Since many organizations can no longer offer their employees any stability nor take care of their staffs’ needs, employees are loyal first and foremost to themselves & their ability to be survive economically, wherever they work-with no specific loyalty to anything except their ability to make a living.

2) The political zoo that develops when jobs are scarce.

The work place has become a political zoo because of the scarcity of jobs. Employees act as sub contractors as opposed to members of a coherent integrated team, to secure their own survival. No one wants to be indispensable.

True, consultants and HR are pushing employee engagement programs; however the prognosis for employees becoming altruistically engaged is low. As employees focus on their own survival, they become less engaged with the company’s survival. They focus on their own personal survival.

Pretending that employee engagement is the issue is dysfunctional.

Developing managers is not about engaging employees as much as how to structure and manage work as a system integrator.

Preparing managers to be effective system integrators is far more effective than traditional managerial training which deals with solving yesterday’s problems.
Here are a few elements which may be included in refocusing the managerial role to that of system integrator
1) More “contract” based interaction and ways of payment
2) Emphasis on very detailed planning
3) Less to no everyday power
4) Contractor can and does choose to cop out so there are “alternative sources”
5) Make and buy decisions.

Follow me @AllonShevat


You may want to build a contingency plan in case Employee Engagement fails

From academic journals to blogs and Twitter, employee engagement is a hot topic.

Practical as well as fuzzy ideas and tool kits are available to get your workforce engaged; in short, the full Monty is at your disposal.

My suggestion both to management as well as to fellow consultants is to hedge your bets and make a backup plan about what happens if employees will no longer engage, as appears to be the case in several cases.

There are many reasons why employees are not as engaged as in the past:

  • employees know they will be “shot at dawn” at the drop of a dime to make the numbers look good;
  • engagement is often manipulated by management and HR to get more for less,
  • work processes totally dominated by technology subjugate employees to mindlessly “servicing the software”.
  • the virtual work place is not all that engaging; relationships are superficial as well as highly annoying and the work place has become a political cesspool.

Furthermore, it is clear in many instances that engagement which leads to loyalty may not be all that desirable to management, because management needs to pay more. So yes, the perception of engagement is “engage until you cost too much”.

So since people are not stupid when it comes to the skin on their ass, I believe employee engagement may become a thing of the past.

As engagement becomes passé, there needs to be a whole new set of assumptions about how to manage.

Two examples will suffice. I have a client who runs a wedding hall. 15% of his waiters can quit during work because they gets a Whats-app about a party, or some other happening! So there are more buffets and less waiters. And I also have a client has had to structure work so that churn will impact the firm less, following the introduction of a cost saving yet “dumbing” software.

The words we use are often words on management and OD are often from a managerial perch. (History is written by the victor)  However, from a non managerial point of view, is engagement the right word to describe what management is looking for? Perhaps, in some cases; in other cases management wants self sacrifice at low cost without a mutual commitment. Sounds like a “pleasant hallucination” to me.

I believe that we are migrating to a model of employee as subcontractor. I see that all around me in terms of attitude and mindset, albeit not yet in structure. In such a reality, focusing on outdated Pravda-like campaigns to raise employee engage is not the brightest idea around.

Follow me @AllonShevat


On organizational leniency

Case One: Einat comes to work late 15 minutes a day; her lunch break lasts longer than anyone else’s. No one has ever said a word.

Case Two: This month, Ori ordered a $40000 spare part circumventing Supply Chain. He does this from time to time. His boss emails him to “try to avoid” this type of behaviour.

Case Three: Zeev always waits till the very last minute to order his plane tickets, so that he will have a more expensive ticket and thus be eligible for an upgrade. Since Zeev travels a lots, nothing is said.

This post is a short case study on organizational leniency, IE, showing more tolerance than expected when things do not go well.

All government agencies are very lenient towards their employees; unionized shops can breed a type of leniency which leads to decay, and crony capitalism breeds a great deal of leniency which leads to economic catastrophes. In this post, I am NOT referring to the above types of examples.

Rather, I am referring to organizations in the private sector which are not unionized and where there is no crony capitalism, yet nevertheless leniency is displayed in the face of gross malfunction.

The case I will describe is the unique leniency of Israeli organizations.

A-What does this leniency look like?

1-The reticence to fire people unless absolutely necessary. Although this norm has changed since 2008, Israelis hang on to excess people much longer than North American organizations would.
2-“We are all guilty” syndrome. In other words, individual accountability is downplayed and to use an Americanism, it is very rare to “hold someone’s feet to the fire” due to an error. The ownership of malfunctions is very obtuse.
3) Working around a problem instead of fixing it.

B-Reasons for leniency

1) Having been the victim of aggression for so many centuries, there is a tendency internally not to “pin” anything on anyone and scapegoat.
2) There is a deep belief that if an organization is not lenient, creativity and commitment will wane.
3) Because life in Israel is very challenging, there is an expectation not to “throw people to dogs” just because of a work related error.
4) For many centuries while scattered all over the world, we learnt how to learn the system and “work it”. It was not our system. There is still lingering unwillingness to “be the system”.

C-Value of the leniency

1) More risk taking at work
2) Better team work
3) Lots of creativity

D-Damage of the leniency

1) Due to lack of consequence, there is corrosion of responsibility and accountability
2) The development of a “so what” attitude in the case of inappropriate staffing
3) Corrective action takes a long time because things need to get very bad to end the lenience.


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.