Have you sold your soul as an OD consultant?


Before you start reading: Although this is a short post, several links are provided. These links provide illustrative and satirical support for the point I am making.The links are well worth reading.

The crisis OD is facing has caused many practitioners to sell their soul. Now “selling one’s soul” is a tough thing to admit, and we all probably look at other consultants and claim that they, not I, have sold out.

So I prepared a short quiz that will indicate the degree of having sold out.

There 6 signs may indicate the severity of the sell out. I am not going to define what this means, because, like pornography, we all know it when we see it.

The Quiz:

If you agree with 3 of these statements, we know what profession you are in, so please quote the price.

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What does Organizational Sloganeering indicate?

Sloganeering is the repeated use of empty words geared at influencing behaviours and/or attitudes.

Politicians use slogans all the time. Those of you who live in democracies know that slogans are often empty promises. Those of us who live in other types of regimes know how to decipher slogans and guess what the regime really means.

Organizations use slogans almost as much as politicians.

Most of us are less skilled at understanding slogans in an organization that we are in understanding political slogans.

 I want to provide possible directions of what sloganeering can indicate.

1-There is a gap between actual and desired behaviours that management does not how to bridge, so they are using slogans. Let’s call this sloganeering due to ignorance.

2-There is only a message that management wants to purvey; there  is no willingness  to commit resources to make it happen, so slogans are being used to obfuscate.Let’s call this sloganeering as malicious lipservice.

3-Instead of solving problems pragmatically, there is a corporate religion which is being promulgated, in the hope that more religion will cure the organization. Let’s call this organizational religious  fanaticism.

4-Slogans are used as imperialistic tools to conquer someone else’s territory. The massive  use of “big data” and “internet of things” are illustrations of this. Let’s call this sloganeering as weaponry.

Case Studies

  • The slogan: Worship your customer.

This company was not willing to invest in the necessary IT to serve its customers, so they invested in sloganeering internally and externally.

  • Let teamwork make it happen

This company hired managers who built empires and after several failed attempts to create more synergy, slogans are being administered, which makes “more sense” that replacing managers.

  • Quality is everybody’s job

This company makes very aggressive commitments to the market which are unachievable. So initial product releases are crap. Yet the CEO truly believes that everyone should own quality. BTW, the measurement system supports speedy releases.

In all the supervision work I do with consultants, I place a major focus on how to diagnose and use the company’s slogans to understand and deal with organizational pathologies.

One final word of caution. Has a company hired you to train its employees about how to implement its slogans? Don’t do it since the chances of being relevant are very very very (3 verys) low. But you sure can get burned!

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An OD consultant should not approach chaos like a Change Manager

When Jean invited me to work with this management team, he had prepared a few slides to brief me on what he sees as the major issues. I have worked with Jean twice in the past, so Jean was fair enough to tell me “this is how I see things, Allon; I am not telling you how to do your work”.

Jean’s slides boiled down to three issues:

  1. Role ambiguity between Engineering and Customer Service results in lack of accountability during customer deployment
  2. Lack of priorities per department and lack of shared priorities result in constant chaos
  3. Planning not accurate results in “resource allocation as a constant ongoing negotiation” between line and staff

Jean had tried to solve these issues with his (cost effective) internal change management team, consisting of industrial managers and change managers. “Every time I think of you Allon, I think of my root canal surgeon, so you can imagine I have tried everything before having you come all this way to make my life miserable.”

I spoke with Jean’s team members, 8 in number, consisting of 2 Germans, one Israeli, and five North Americans, including one French Canadian besides Jean himself. My view of things was that Jean is running a highly innovative company in a fast moving market, and all of the 3 issues Jean had pointed out are “par for the course.”  To be more specific,

1-The product is so innovative and deployment is so early that it is indeed impossible to define what is owned by Engineering and Customer Service

2-Everything is indeed urgent; there are no firm priorities because the market is moving so quickly

3-No plan, however extensive, can be useful in a market where expected quarterly revenue runs between 4 and 90 million dollars.

The problems that I noticed are:

  1. The two Germans (Finance and Planning) and Israeli (Engineering and Deployment) had totally different coping mechanisms with the chaos, the German preferring drowning in details in attempt to conquer the chaos and the Israeli preferring making an ideology out of chaos.
  2. Each senior manager managed to juggle well within their own group, but as a senior juggling team, they were useless because they were blaming one another instead of assuming joint ownership of the juggling task.
  3. Planning and control, Finance and HR were trying to fit old economy and rigid models/mechanisms onto the organization which did not match reality.

Jean promised to fix the third issue. He also told me to coach the German and Israeli, separately and as a team. I worked with them on global competencies.

Jean asked me, how we fix 2? Joking, I told him that his purchasing department had asked me for a detailed roadmap for fixing 2 as well. And thus the work began. We focused on mutual accommodation, organizational juggling skills, teamwork and delphi prediction techniques.

All in all, I made three trips from Tel Aviv to Geneva and Zurich, and the entire project took ten days. Not one single day was devoted to either role clarity or reaching agreement on one firm list of shared priorities.

In our final meeting, all members of the team said that the learning experience and change had been phenomenal, and they invited me out to my favourite steak house, and we ate and drank, and drank.

The greatest compliment came from the German who told me, “you did not change anything, but every”z”ing changed.

Follow me @AllonShevat and follow Gloria at @GRamsbottom

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