When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

OD consultants and other change professionals are commissioned at times by clients who are stuck and dither when facing a serious problem.

Two examples:

Take the merging 3 small companies into one and management insisting on “creating a new culture, based on the best parts of the 3 companies.” Management dithered on this issue for two years with the hope that things would somehow stabilize as the social fabric fell apart in political warfare.

Or, take the example of a company which needed  to really commit itself to transparency with its own staff to ensure credibility, yet focused on word-smithing, sweet-talking and sloganeering as the company employees become more and more “militant” and unionizes.

In such situations there is natural tendency of the consultant to push hard for decisiveness. And to make matters worse,  when  decisive action does not occur, the client may even blame the consultant for the slow pace of change!

Here is the crunch: If you push the client too hard because YOU want to succeed, then you may find yourself out on your ass. On the other hand if you accept the clients’ pace, you become part of the system.

This problem has no easy fix. For those of us who have learned to drive in heavy snow, it is helpful to remember how to free yourself from a snow bank….backwards and forwards, slowly, until you get the leverage to jolt forward.

And remember, ultimately it is the clients’ mess, not yours. If you feel that you are the one who is failing, your actions as a consultant will probably be less effective.

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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.

 

PS

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Allon

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In what way does living in the Middle East impact how I practice Organization Development

Man is but a template of  the landscape of his homeland, wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. These are atrociously difficult times in the Middle East, days which have led me to think about this statement of his.

In this post. I want to delve into the ways that living in the Middle East has shaped the way that I approach the practice of Organization Development. For the sake of brevity, I shall limit myself to 3 major influences that the Mid East has had on my OD work.

1) The hopeless of solving problems teaches the importance of setting realistic expectations

The middle east conflict is insoluble. Religion, poisonous exclusionary  narratives, energy, water, righteousness, tribalism, world war 1 leftovers, Sykes-Picot  and world politics have created the ultimate cesspool for a “perfect” conflict to perpetuate itself.

Living in such a situation decade after decade leads to questions like: what can and cannot be changed? Where is the value: visionary goals and long term strategy?  What can be solved,  what needs to be managed and where is it wise to give up?

The reality of hopelessness breads a very healthy approach to setting appropriate expectations. I don’t tend to sell rose gardens.This realism on my part has led to trust being developed over the years.Clients know I do not bullshit them. I promise less and deliver more that  wow-wow yes we can optimists who live in places where the sky is the limit.

2) Chaos is a system

To get things done in the Middle East, one must understand how the “system” works, because nothing is the way it appears to be. There are accoutrements of western ways, western dress, technology and widespread use of English. But the Middle East ain’t Canada, the US, Germany, Britain or Switzerland. Understanding the  underworld of relationships. corruption, ethnicity and insider/outsider dynamics can shed light on situations which appear undecipherable.Underneath the veneer of the West is another system that has a rhyme and reason of its own. For all its foibles, it is what is it is, and it is the “currency” people use.

As an OD consultant, I tend to somewhat downplay the  organizational veneer, structure, process and HR sloganeering. Instead I tend to look at power/politics,relationships and trust, and Darwin.

I have no naive stars in my eyes which prod me to promulgate my world view about what organizations should look like. Rather, I work with what there is.

The mid east is all about survival, and equipped with this insight and applying it to organizational reality, so much falls into place.

3) Be pragmatic and get real

For many years, I was an Organization Development in the Israel Defence Forces. Liberated from commercial interests, I was free to practice OD “comme il faut”. Freed from “pleasing” the commanders for whom I worked,I learnt to challenge authority all the time. This has been a real gift to me.

However the real value of doing OD for an army of a country at war is zero tolerance for theorizing or pontificating, so to speak. Either the consulting is pragmatic or she/she is sidelined.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Living in the Middle East is a painful, frustrating and at times debilitating reality. However,I believe I am a better consultant for having learnt and practised OD in this hopeless yet fascinating neck of the woods.

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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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3 lessons which taught me why traditional OD is not appropriate in non Western and global organizations

As I mentioned in a previous post, I came from a very traditional Organization Development background. Over the years, I became convinced that OD`s western ethnocentric bias negatively impacts its effectiveness in a non western and global organizational configuration.

The `wake up call`I got about traditional OD was not gradual. Three events really shook me up, accelerating my thought process about  the need for a global version of OD.

I shall share them with you in this post.

1) In a group discussion with security personnel in the Mid East, I ask a question. The participants clarified  among themselves (in Arabic, which I speak) who is the oldest participant. He answered my question first; all other participants aligned with what he said.

2) In  Beijing, I ask a question and the managing director gives an inaccurate answer. I then solicit other answers, which are better than the answer that the MD gave me. I congratulate the person who gave me the `best“ answer. I lost the MD`s trust for a long time.

3) I facilitated a “lessons learned“  between Dutch management and Japanese customer service folks about a major crash at a client site. The level of emotion was very high, since a lot of business had been lost because of this incident. I laid out `ground rules“ for the discussion which included: No Defensive Behaviour. Once I showed that bullet, the Japanese did not trust me.

A facilitator with a global orientation will ask less questions because of the complexity inserted by honorific based issues; furthermore, the consultant will accept that only via a lot of defensive and opaque communication can issues be ferreted out.

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OD preaches change, but refuses to change

A What is this all about?

For almost a decade, I have been harping on the Western bias of Organization Development, and what needs to be done to align OD with global organizing.

My argument over the years is consistent. OD’s values and tools have a western bias which render OD inappropriate in global organizing.

OD should not be the tool to impose western values, but rather the platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways. To claim that traditional OD has relevance for global organizing is preposterous.

B Where did I start? Where am I now?

I started this line of thought in the Organization Development Journal (Vol 21) in 2003 in my article “Making OD Global”, which was initially ignored and is now often quoted. For years after that, I engaged with junior and senior alike practitioners in the ODNET discussion group until I left.

At present, I am engaging people about coming to terms with their Western bias in both LinkedIn Groups, and via this blog which has about 600 hits a day. I am about to publish an article called “Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing” in a leading OD textbook.

I am writing an exercise book for managers and consultants to expand their global awareness. I hope it is released within 3 months.

C) Resistance I encounter

A very small population of OD practitioners understands both my strategic direction and the derivative tactical need to cast aside concepts and tools of traditional OD in global organizations.

By and large, I encounter massive resistance to my ideas, and in this post I point out various ways in which my ideas are resisted.

1) There is nothing new except for Allon’s arrogance.

Folks who make this claim appear to understand that my argument, if correct, is very threatening to the status quo. Thus, I become part of the status quo.

2)  Allon may have a point, I need to acquire some intercultural skills”.

Folks who make this claim conveniently ignore the point that a global  practitioner does not need some cultural understanding, but rather the ability NOT to act with a western bias.

3) “Allon exaggerates a bit”.

Folks who make this claim prefer to believe that “in the end, people are all the same; they want to be “open”, face saving does not apply to the young, and no one really wants to defer to authority”. OD is a process which will “enlighten” the East lies at the heart of this claim.

4) Some folks find my ideas so repulsive that I get hate mail.

5) Some folks agree that what I claim is true, but only in the global organization.

I find the word “only” pretty shocking, because everyone is obsessing about the future of OD, and global organizations is where the world is going.

D) Let’s not go on pretending

I waging this campaign, driven by an overwhelming feeling that OD can have universal application only if its key values/concepts and derivative tools are revised and adapted to global reality. Because OD does not “get” global organizing right.

In the past, I was a main line, traditional  ODer, with a Tavistock background.I was a career officer for many years in the IDF, and that sure pushed me to conform.I graduated from Montreal’s McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, neither of which promoted too much intellectual innovation.

I will continue this campaign of mine, despite the very limited impact I am having on the way mainstream OD practitioners think about and “do” OD. I will do so because it needs to be done.

 

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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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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.

Summary

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?

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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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3 questions OD consultants are asked before a process starts.

During the process which proceeds the initiation of an OD project, it is not uncommon to be asked questions for which there are no easy answers, since OD is neither a commodity, nor a standard professional service.

Here are three frequent questions, and guidelines for answers.

1) What are the milestones of progress in this project?

The project has  no traditional “milestones, because it is a process that we are undertaking and not a project. There process has three distinct stages. The first stage is a diagnosis. The second stage is presenting an action plan, and the third stage is implementation.

2) If that is the case, how can progress be measured?

An ongoing dialogue takes place between us all the time to ensure we are making progress, as opposed to us “measuring” something at any given interlude.

In organizations, lots of stuff which is measured may not be indicative of real progress; yet many things which cannot be measured are critical for an organization to make progress.

If there is progress, we will all know it; if we are stuck, it will be very evident.

3) Why don’t you work for a success fee?

Well, the organization may not do what I recommend, and perhaps rightly so. So I cannot be measured that way!

This process is a joint effort, not my success or my failure. And the organization needs to cooperate with the process, not control it via a success fee.The very process itself is designed to move the organizations away from such a mode of behaviour.

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