Focus on what needs to be changed, not what you have been hired to change

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! Smile

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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7 Tips for successful coping with organizational chaos (revised)

Organizational life moves faster and faster, propelled by information technology and fluctuations in the market place.

Organizational structure, roles, responsibilities, missions and goals have limited impact in creating stability; de facto more often than not, organizations hover between the threshold of chaos and deep chaos.

Clients (and consultants whom I supervise) often consult with me about what can be done at the organizational “architectural” level to ensure effective functioning in the “threshold of chaos mode”.

Threshold of chaos is the area that exists between superimposed unreal man made stability (eg, our mission, charter) and the ugly reality (e.g., the need to make a commitment to win a tender, then immediately break the same commitment once we define what is “doable”)

Here are some of the cornerstones for successful coping strategies  for life on the “threshold of chaos”.

1) Ensure that staff has an end to end understanding of how things work, to prevent staff from optimization of sub systems. (“I don’t care how they DO it, I sold it)

2) Overinvest in the infrastructure of trust and strong personal relationships which serve as “credit” for enabling frequent change.

3) Loosen up rigidity by emphasizing the importance of overlapping roles and responsibilities augmented by ongoing dialogue and communication.

4) Hire people who know how to learn.

5) Deal with poor teamwork immediately upon the very first sign of dysfunction and never accept team clusterfucks as inevitable. (50 emails to get one purchase order ok’ed)

6) Be real! Deemphasize the “religious” doctrinal nature  of mission statements and other organisational artefacts which breed cynicism and contempt.

7) Focus training, consulting and coaching on enhancing staffs’ capability to function in ambiguity, which should be a major leitmotif of services provided to ensure strengthen people and teams.

Too many consultants swim against the current, trying to stabilize the inevitable chaos, after change is managed! (which it is not) 

Leverage the major critical difference between Change Management and OD. That being-Swimming with the current of change, working with clients to constantly adapt without the need for a so called “change management” effort each  time that a change is needed, which basically all the time.



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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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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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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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Organizational Development needs to be adapted to Global Organizing

OD was developed in the West and is compatible with developing organizations with a Western cultural bias. Yet, OD principles as practiced in the Western world are not universally applicable, because Western values are not universal values. And as organizations assume a global configuration, OD core and applications need to be reinvented to support global organizing.

Western OD is based on humanistic values; OD promotes the leveraging the full potential of individuals as a major component in developing organizations, emphasising the individuals needs and desires from the world of work. Western OD proscribes the way people and their leaders should interact. OD also proscribes ways of communicating. Words and concepts like openness, delegation, collaboration, teamwork, and delegation are very frequently used.

Yet, when working in groups which are truly global and encompass a wide range of cultures and very acute diversity, thoughts comes to mind about the relevancy of OD as practiced in the West. In many parts of the world, group identity is far more salient than individual identity. In many parts of the world, conflict is totally avoided. Power is not shared since the ability to influence is safeguarded as an extremely rare resource. Leaders and followers have mutual expectations in their genetic code which are based on obedience, piety, face saving and emotional detachment.

I suggest that the foundations and basic assumptions upon which Western OD is based, are not universally applicable. I claim is that people do not share the same genetic code about organizing. The organizational needs of human beings’ vary all over the world vary dramatically.

1- The gaps between the values of openness as opposed to the value of discretion is huge.

2- Teamwork is not seen universally as “cool”. In many quarters, teamwork is seen as betraying your boss.

3- Win win is not something universally strived for; for many, win-win is stupidity at best and suicide at worst.

3-Empowerment provides an opportunity to develop others in some parts of the world; in other parts of the world, empowerment means giving away the crown jewels of a rare resource.

4-Participatory decision making makes better decisions for some; for many others, top down decisions, sweetened with compassion, is the way to best make decisions. 

The role of the OD consultant should be to ensure that one set of values does not over rule the other. Yet today, OD consultants do not even understand the world of organizing outside of what they learned and experienced in the West.

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What can we learn from consultants that make miracles happen? (revised)

The longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming.

Arthur Schopenhauer

This post is about miracle consultants in the realm of organizational behaviour.  First, I shall start with a few words about miracle consulting. Pretty much in the same way that man invented God, insatiable needs have invented miracle consulting.

I myself used a series of miracle consultants when my late wife was very ill. We went from one miracle consultant to another, until she died. One consultant analysed finger nails, another touched her feet and another waved his hands over her stomach. I felt like a character in one of Camus’ novels; I was doing something I did not believe in, but I did it “nevertheless”.

There is a huge market to address needs which cannot be satisfied! This is the context of the miracle organizational consultant.

There are many types of consultants to be found all over organizations, who often at cross-purposes or in a non-coordinated fashion, due to turf wars and politics. Training hires “skill trainers”; HR hires (compliant)vendors to implement people processes and non-strategic changes, while  senior management hires strategic consultants and/or people who they have trusted for many years. These consultants often feel threatened by miracle consultants, but there is nothing to fear. There are no miracles.

These miracle consultants are either hired by the CEO, or the Board may have “inserted” these consultants in the “spirit of cronyism” . The miracle consultant comes like a bird, flies over, dumps, and flies off.

The miracle consultant has a magic bullet, a series of buzzwords, false hope and a satchel of promises. They may be called organizational architects, organizational magicians, organization energizers, organizational monks and “organizational free thinkers”. These folks charge a very large fee to elaborate truths and insights.

Here is a bit of context which may allow us to understand the appearance and disappearance of these consultants.

1) There is magic to be found in the addictive quick fix which the miracle consultant promises.

2) Often these miracle consultants “blame” something/someone else and absolve the CEO from responsibility.

3) These wonder consultants often have built up such a brand name that senior management believes that “they cannot be wrong”.

Miracle consultants disappear very quickly. The messiah is proclaimed false very soon after a few sermons. A lecture, a month, or until the second or third invoice arrives.

The appearance of miracle consultants often indicate deep despair, stupidity and denial at the top, or all three.

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When Organizations turn into Jungles, what can be done? (revised)

There are several components that can turn organizations into political jungles and cesspools of intrigue.

  • Feigned commitments to the market used to “blame” people who do not meet numbers/release dates
  • Dysfunctional boards which manage various parallel “shadow organizations”
  • Competition between competing geographies for control of strategic products/roadmaps
  • Contradicting demands without top-down integration, such as “make the deal and be fully compliant”.
  • Overpaid, detached leadership while employees are policed by process and over fertilized with “engagement programs”.
  • Severe leadership gaps in “walking the talk”
  • HQ-field dynamics based on too much control or confusion

The behavioural aspects of this dysfunction manifest themselves as:

  •  Squabbling about roles and responsibilities
  • Obsessive redefining of process
  • Lack of trust
  • Partial transparency
  • Deteriorating teamwork
  • Blame-shifting email threads and finger-pointing as long as the equator

When the organization is so “zoo-ish”, pathological forms of HR tend to wow-wow and rah-rah employees and managers around slogans which obfuscate the challenges that the organization needs to address. For example, the lack of a long term commitment of employers to their employees is often coupled with engagement sloganeering. 

Overly commercial OD can add damage by developing OD packages that deal with the symptoms of the political zoo, (such as engagement packages) while what the root causes are left alone. In such cases, OD kicks itself in the ass by becoming a hand maiden of the system pathology.

However, there is good news. OD can dry up organizational political swamps, not via OD products, but rather by an OD process that focus on:

  • Identifying the reasons why basic survival instincts drive behaviour at all levels.
  • Classify what/is not in controllable to work on lessening the level of fear and anxiety that leads to reliance on such basic survivor instincts.
  • Gradual lessening of perceived threats to survival, basic on real change, not sloganeering.

Sounds hard?-you bet it is. But that is what professional OD brings to the table. Mais oui! 🙂 

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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.

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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.

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