Companies use OD to drive difficult change in line with structure and values of the corporate, which are usually highly impacted by Western values.
Often the proposed changes may be the wrong changes, not do-able in some of the local cultures where the company operates. The role of the OD consultant tasked with facilitating the change should be to raise a flag and prevent the change from happening, or at least do risk mitigation. In order to understand the issues in advance, the consultant needs to be aware of the cultural barriers to change.
The OD consultant however is often in denial about his/her own cultural bias, which stem from OD’s core concepts and tools.These cultural biases may lead to the ineffective imposition of an ill planned changed.
For example, let us assume that headquarters dictates that two managers (two in a box) will co-manage a certain organizational sub-unit and share power. One manager is to focus on engineering, and the other is to focus on development and product architecture. The two are to “cohabit” in the “leadership space”.
Let’s assume that the local culture where these 2 managers are to co-manage is characterized by “One hill is not for 2 tigers ”, i.e, power cannot be shared, and power is exercised autocratically. In such a case, there is no chance that two managers will share a management role if they hail from such a culture. Instead of two-in-a-box, we will have two in a boxing ring!
An OD consultant with Western values who is asked to facilitate the change may take the 2 managers and try to define clarity of decision making processes, build trust, or build various mechanisms to minimize conflict and power games. But the two managers want another type of clarity-who the f-ck is the boss?-and constantly battle, like two tigers on a hill.
And the more that the western consultant tries to push his values on the local culture, he may find himself looking like an American politician trying to organize a cease fire between intense enemies who want to knock the crap out of one another, and prefer death to compromise.
What can an OD consultant do to prevent using OD to implement change the wrong way?
- Look at the cultural alignment of each change.
- Understand what can change, and what cannot change.
- Put your OD values on hold.
- Focus on what needs to be changed, behaviour in the field or corporate policy. Focus the OD effort in the right direction.(If you have been hired by someone junior or a possessed by looking good, this will be hard.)
In the above case in China, it is best to focus on not implementing two in a box policy.
Here is another example.
Corporate asked me to work with senior management on “the value of transparency”. One key manager in this process believed everyone is lying to him all the time by padding effort estimates. This manager hated the word “transparency” and thought it was “western propaganda”. The focus of my work with him centred on building a group of people whom he could trust, and avoiding “religious” statement like “the value of transparency” which challenged his belief system. We totally avoided the use of the word “transparency” to the chagrin of the internal team “measuring OD’s effectiveness”.
It is important that OD work of this nature is commissioned by someone internally who is not obsessed with looking good, but rather someone who wants to get it right.
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