Billy-boy misunderstands his Dutch and Israeli direct reports

Bill manages a cutting edge development team based in Durham N.C., Amsterdam Holland and Haifa Israel. The team is working on Version 21.1 to be released in 3 weeks

A crisis in India has arisen with version 19.5 and 3 engineers need to fly to the client. This will be tremendous wear and tear on the other members of the development team.

Hank (Holland) said this pressure reminded him of a joke and proceeded to tell a very off colour joke; naturally, Chicago based Nancy White, EVP HR jotted this down as an urgent “actionable item” for her upcoming 1/1 with Hank. After the joke, Hank  said that the decision to bend over backwards to accommodate the Indian customer was “idiotic”.

Hadas (f) from Haifa criticized Mike for “poor judgement”. She then lectured for 20 minutes on priority management and “what I vud do if I was in your shoes”. She then  asked Bill: “Have you fallen on your head”? and “Are you crazy”?

Bill was flabbergasted at the pushback. He expected is team to perhaps disagree with the decision yet commit to make it happen.

Which is exactly what was happening, except Billy-boy did not understand it. Hank’s bluntness and Hadas’ lecture and verbal pushback had nothing to do with what both will DO.

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The importance of constant availability and culture

George from Portland manages the Sales Organization.

Smadar, his EMEA director  is based in Israel. His APAC director, Ming (m), is based in Taipei. Smadar and Ming talk and sms (text) on their cellphones all the time.

George is about to have his annual sales meeting in Salzburg Austria. George has been asked by other members of his staff to ensure that Ming and Smadar turn OFF their phones during meetings, and surrender their phones to the admin at the start of each session.

George shot off an email to Ming and Smadar telling them of the phones off rule for the upcoming pow wow. George also said an admin will ensure enforcement.

Ming was highly offended; Ming believes that he must be available ALL THE TIME for his clients and agents. While Ming’s clients and agents would not be angry  were he not to answer, they would feel Ming is not respecting them.

Smadar thinks that George is ramming yet another rule down her throat and if there were less rules, there would be more Sales. Smadar believes urgent things are important things and answering calls is urgent.. She believes that a client who calls her NOW may not call her back “later”.

Ming and Smadar both believe George does not respect their way of doing business.

Smadar plans to take calls and will not surrender her phone to the admin; she will label each call “an exception”.

Ming plans very long and frequent bio breaks with a second phone he is bringing.

George will open the Sales Meeting with a lecture he will give on “Focus, Focus and Focus”. Ming will be in the lobby; Smadar will be texting.

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Cooking classes used to “shape” behaviour

Sima (Israel f) is Head of Travel for a global concern. Chosen to lead travel for a US based company because she speak 7 languages fluently, Sima works 20 hours a day, 7 days a week and  uses 3 mobile phones-sometimes simultaneously. Her customers are thrilled with her yet travel costs are high.

Patty (US) is a senior purchasing executive for the same global company. Patty is a cutting edge professional  who knows when buy quality and when to be “cost effective”. She has cut costs 5% quarterly for the last 4 years.

Sima has just received a call from John (English from HK), the firm’s Chinese-English interpreter who is now in Sydney. A wild cat strike “may” close Australian airspace in 6 hours, and John must be in Manila the next day. John’s present flight is to leave an hour after the strike “may” begin.

Sima has “come up” with a solution. John can fly out in an hour, but only on a first class ticket at a 12000 USD cost.

Corporate policy states that purchasing can sign a purchase order for first class travel  if the CEO signs off. Sadly, the (new) CEO just got on a gruelling 17 hour flight from Singapore to NYC, in her first visit to Asia Pac.

Sima wants to act quickly and get John on his way, taking “full responsibility” and “get the ok ex-post-facto.” Patty wants to go by the rules, and not get on the wrong side of the new very cost conscious CEO. Patty refuses to sign off.

Using a creative manipulation, Sima transfers a budget surplus from a cancelled trip in another division and bypasses Patty. John flies out first class.

The CEO gets off the plane and reads a 34 long email   thread in which Patty and Sima tear one another to shreds.

The CEO takes no sides and texts to both: “I am CEO, not baby sitter: solve this without me”.

They don’t.

EVP HR Gloria Ramsbottom-Lemieux is called in and both are sent to a “cooking workshop” to learn “high-power cooperation”.

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Delegation skills and culture

Those wishing to promulgate delegation via skill training and via a “culture change” would be best to consider some observations about cultures where delegation runs against the grain.

1) In many cultures, delegation is seen as unfair downloading of responsibility. “If you are a tiger, rule the mountain.”

2) In many cultures which are survival oriented and have a paranoid streak, delegation is seen as setting up a victim to blame.

3) In cultures where there is a healthy and real work-life balance (and not merely lip service to work life balance), delegation may be seen as negative to the balance.

4) In entrepreneurial cultures where people look beyond their role and see the organization end to end , delegation on “some issues” but not all relevant parameters, is seen as highly manipulative. A customer service agent who is delegated “total responsibility” for the customer, yet cannot provide input on policy is a good example.

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Email Escalation and Culture

Secretaries and admins have almost no ability to “filter” what the boss reads and more.The massive use of email enables direct and indirect escalation via use of cc and bcc.

Furthermore, the pace of business imparts a feeling of constant urgency. Add to this the fear of losing a job and the derivative need to “transfer blame.

The above provides a perfect context for a culture of escalation, where almost everything  “floats to the top.”

Culture also impacts the degree to which one uses escalation.

Bat-Sheva (f, from Beersheba Israel) believes that bosses in general, and her boss in particular, make errors all the time. She also believes that “hierarchy” and “undue process” do not solve urgent problems. Bat-Sheva escalates almost everything via cc and bcc.

Joe (m from Durham NC, USA) is matter of fact, polite and positive. He works the system well, and following process. Joe rarely shows his anger, however he does express emotion “expediently”. Joe however can write very aggressive and flaming emails, which vent horrendous rage. Often Joe can meet someone in the hall, whom he has attacked, and says: “Wow, did you see that email I shot off?”

Nu (f from Bangkok) uses email for transmission on facts and data. Nu never escalates anything by email. To give info to the boss’s boss, she has lunch with his sister, a colleague of hers. Nu expresses emotion by ignoring emails. She has a special filter  that transfers all emails from Joe and Bat-Sheva to the bin.

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Ralph fails to motivate his global team

Ralph (LA, USA) met with his entire 14 man global project team in Toronto for a 2 day “crisis management” session.

Due to a change in customer deadlines, delivery of a key project needs to happen 2 weeks earlier than planned, and the schedule is very “aggressive” even before this recent 2 week change.

To make matters worse, Ralph’s team has many Chinese, Russians, Indians  and Israelis who will now be forced to work weekends for 4 months.

Ralph decided to make his motivational “pitch” based on three elements:

+a fat bonus for success

+painting a gloomy scenario in case of failure

+becoming a winning team

This motivational pitch aggravated almost everyone in the room.

1) The Israelis felt that “waving a bonus under our nose to get hard  work makes the staff  into whores”.

2) The doomsday scenario appeared to the Chinese team as “meaningless propaganda” and Ralph lost their trust.

3)  The winning team flag waving appeared “too American” to the Indian team. Folks expected to hear a firm demand “to put aside your differences” to make this happen. A demand like this would have put the Israelis and Chinese in a more cooperative mode, since they are always trying to cannibalize work given to India. Paresh mumbled: ”Ralph is weak, naive and detached from reality”.

The Russian team saw Ralph’s “winning team flag waving” as weakness, and concluded he was desperate, which made Ralph look pathetic. 

EVP HR manager Gloria Ramsbottom-Lemieux sent Ralph a text after his session: “Gr8 leadership-Glo”.

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Depositing money in the bank, and culture

It is 1430 on a very hot summer day in Tel Aviv. The bank closes at 1500 and Miri (f, Israel) has 25000 USD in cash to deposit in her account . Traffic is horrible, there aren’t even illegal parking spots available and Miri thinks she is going to miss the bank closing.


It is 230 PM in Boston on a rainy summer afternoon. The bank closes at 3 pm and Annie (f, USA )also has 25000 USD in cash to deposit in her account . Traffic is horrible, there aren’t  parking spots available and Annie thinks she is going to miss the bank closing.


Miri keeps the mobile phone number of her banker in her “quick dial”. She calls up her banker and says “Adi, please DO ME A FAVOR, I am going to be late. Please let me in via the back door. I have a lot of cash with me. I’ll text you when I arrive.” Adi agrees.  Adi and Miri both believe that very often, systems do not work, and relationships must be leveraged to work around the system.


Annie, looking at her watch thinks: “I’m late; I will have to come back tomorrow morning. I don’t like keeping all that cash at home, but the closing hour of the bank can’t be negotiated.” Annie’s banker left the bank at 3.01 pm. Both Annie and the banker believe systems are made to work.

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Cultural bias of the matrix organization

The matrix organization assumes that folks have some degree of tolerance for multiple bosses and that the source of authority can be split.

Perhaps the matrix can work well in some cultures; it surely cannot be implemented successfully in all cultures.

Luckily, “make the matrix work” in places like Taiwan, Israel, China and Spain is a great source of revenue for an OD consultant, even in bad times. Here are 3 examples where culture inhibits successful implementation of the matrix.

1-One tiger on the hill

There  is a Chinese expression which says: 2 tigers cannot share a hill. In other words, one leader creates stability, many leaders create chaos. In cultures where this is the cultural belief system, matrix organizations (often imposed by a US or European HQ) are cess pools of manipulation. Many Asian cultures come to mind.

2-I win if you lose

Many cultures which see win win as a manifestation of imperial opulence and a manipulative game of the gentry; in such cultures, organizational life is hard ball, or a boxing match. The matrix brings out the very worst of these cultures. Survivalist cultures (Israel, S’pore) come to mind.

3-Cultures where problems are delegated up, not down

There are cultures where people actually believe that problems need to shifted up, not downloaded. These cultures see the boss as having privileges, and duties as well. These duties include making decisions about conflicting demands, not “tossing them down to the man in the trench”. Many African cultures come to mind.

In all of the above examples, implementing the matrix is, as another Chinese expression goes, playing the piano for the cow.

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