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! 😉


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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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.


Instilling a sense of Urgency, and a case study (revised)

This post will relate to how to instill a sense of urgency.

Instilling urgency is a major reason that clients ask me for support. Most organizations turn to me for help after they have applied pressure, and more pressure, yet staff  still behaves as if they have forever at their disposal to get the job done.

Clients typically complain  that their staff do not have a sense of urgency and “drag their feet”, or as my late father used to say, have “lead up their ass”. The employees who allegedly have no urgency also “do not understand the business, and live in la la land”.

This initial self diagnosis may be symptomatically correct yet the real cause of lacking sense of  urgency is often misunderstood.

Let  us take an example. Claude’s manager told me that Claude & his team of software developers have no sense or urgency. I went to France and met with the team & Claude. The deadlines which had been dictated to this team were  totally unrealistic. The developers correctly believed that were they to have a “ sense of urgency” from day one, they would have bust their ass every single day and night whilst still not making the delivery date anyway. Thus, they prefer not having a sense of urgency until a few weeks before delivery date, when they will obviously get an extension of time. Claude prefers not to confront his people and “come clean,” renegotiating an apirori reasonable time frame.

So, rule number one: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look for unrealistic commitments as a root cause.

Let us take a second example. Dr. Hana’s boss told me that Hana and her 14 life scientists, who are working on “one pill a month” asthma treatment, lack a sense of urgency.

Dr. Hana and her team lead a laid back life style. Indeed, they are working on a drug, yet it is about 10 years before anything will be productized, if ever. The more progress the scientists report, the more commercial pressure will be applied, increasing the chances their start up company will be sold. So the scientists slow down, to preserve their present “development culture”.

So, rule number two: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look at the perceived  consequence of the lack urgency in the eyes of the staff.

There is a need to factor in cultural elements to the subject of urgency as well. Urgent means different things to different cultures. For some, if you do not reply for an hour, you are not responsive. For others, a reply within a few days, if well detailed, is very responsive. Furthermore, many Asians and Israelis respond well to urgency relative to western cultures because they value relationships more than systems, so they reply immediately. Americans have their “plans” and the Germans have their love of data and risk adverseness, which make urgency more difficult to respond to.


When management and staff act the way they do, it makes no sense to say that they lack a sense of urgency. Instead, focus on grasping the present set of motivations that make folks tick, and give them a real  reason to change their behaviour.

I have included below a case studies for people who want to use this as an  exercise. This will appear in a book of exercises which I am preparing.

Case study on Instilling a Sense of Urgency

Ram manages a call center. 98 people work in this call centre, 10 of whom are  team leaders.

Ram’s boss, Vered, asked you to work with Ram and his team leaders on “instilling a sense of urgency”, because too many complaints reach the CEO, into whom Vered reports.

Indeed, 67% of ALL complaints are escalated by service agents and 5%  reach the CEO.

You spoke to Ram and his team leaders. Ram and his team leaders really do not care all that much about customer satisfaction any more; for months now, the service providers are “serving the CRM software” which itself resides on a faulty IT structure.

Each and every customer issue requires 4 minutes of data entry. Irate customers are put on mute and calls dropped as customer service agents shield themselves from the customers’ ire so that data can be entered.

The CEO and Vered are aware of the CRM and IT issues but want the service agents to “assume ownership” of customer issues, “based on a sense of urgency”.

What is the plan of action to instill a sense of urgency?


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.

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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.

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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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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.