Towards a new Operating System for OD-Developing Global Leaders

 

Minahan and Norlin in their recent article “Edging Toward the Center” (OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013) suggest a move away from the extremities of OD which may have been applicable in the past in the happier days of OD and suggest that OD should migrate to the centre, i.e., towards bringing more value to clients without abandoning OD’s core values. I suggested in my critique of that article that this is “too little too late” because OD has been almost “voted off the island”; I also suggested we needed a new Operating System for OD, not a bug fix or service pack. I proposed six principles.

The goal of this post and the next 3 posts is to provide examples of each of the 6 principles I proposed as a new operating system for OD.

3) Develop global leadership/followership capabilities across acutely diverse cultural divides, which factor in value and behavioural  preferences of  all major cultural constituencies. (By acutely diverse, I do not mean merely a colour or food preference divide)

Amir (m) is an outstanding global leader. He is aware of the limitations of his own culture; his basic assumption is that things get done very differently all over the world. Amir has pushed back with vigour on HR attempts to push for unified way of doing things, promulgated in phoney globalism training.

Amir is multi-lingual. He speaks 3 languages and reads books, novels and newspapers of every country he visits. Before his recent visit to Turkey, he read Hurriet for a month, to be savvy of what is going on. When Amir visits different sites, he generally stays for the weekend.

He uses what works: Amir is high on relationships in Asia and in the Mid East, high on process in the US and parts of Europe. He is forceful yet tolerant when dealing with the creative yet undisciplined Israelis and orderly and disciplined when dealing with the Germans. Amir defines this cultural flexibility as his key skill.

When East meets West, Amir does not force feed western ways. Amir does not even push traditional “transparency” in cultures with “face issues”. Amir is quoted as saying “It’s my job to learn the bad news”.

In HQ, Amir’s chooses to surround himself with senior managers from different cultural backgrounds to ensure that the touch and feel of the organization’s HQ has huge variance so that it is user friendly to the extreme. For example, he constantly grills product managers about the cultural  variance of each major market before he ok’s travel.

When he visits Japan, he uses an interpreter and the meetings are in Japanese.

Amir looks at his role as a trust builder between his unit and the rest of the world. “I create a platform on trust and deals are plugged into that platform”.

Amir is very different from the managers who are trained by todays’ OD consultants, who promulgate “patience”, and “sensitivity” and listening skills, and perhaps even “know thyself”. Yet underneath todays consulting is a hidden bias of….one day folks will be develop and do things “our way”. Why does OD have this bias? Because OD itself which”leans” to and on western values.

When OD gets this right builds development of global leadership into the operating system, the sky is the limit of how much impact OD has.

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Cross Cultural Literacy: A major component of the OD Operating System

Minahan and Norlin in their recent article “Edging Toward the Center” (OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013) suggest a move away from the extremities of OD which may have been applicable in the past in the happier days of OD and suggest that OD should migrate to the centre, i.e., towards bringing more value to clients without abandoning OD’s core values. I suggested in my critique of that article that this is “too little too late” because OD has been almost “voted off the island”; I also suggested we needed a new Operating System for OD, not a bug fix or service pack. I proposed six principles.

The goal of the previous, this post and the next 4 posts is to provide examples of each of the 6 principles I proposed as a new operating system for OD.

2) Drive cross cultural organizational literacy, so people from different cultures can understand the different view of organizational life
.

Cross cultural organizational literacy is the ability to understand organizational life as someone different from you understands it, and thus design organizations and organizational life appropriately.

People from all over the world see organizational life very differently and behave differently.
While the external veneer of organizations may superficially appear to be similar, “disturbed” somewhat by some background noise stemming from cultural differences, the perceptions of organizational life and desired behaviour actually have huge variance.
Time after time, despite the variance, OD mostly supports organizational alignment around Western values and norms, and thus, OD looses its relevance as a tool to debug problems caused by the global organizational configuration.
Many of the bugs of present day organizing can be debugged if OD approaches this issue holistically: structure, control mechanisms, enabling mechanisms, types of leadership and followership, training, policies, values etc.

Moshe argues to show committment; Shayakit does not give bad news in order to show committment, Hans follows process to show committment.

Stan (US) plans in order to control. Adi (Israel) does not plan, in order gain control. Anil (India) prepares to plan, but them improvises.

When Obe (Japan) is silent, Fred disconnects. When Fred (US) thinks out loud, Obe disconnects.

Sima (Israel) argues with her boss because she cares; then they have lunch together. Sam (Canada) discusses things with his boss, but must be careful not to ruin his career. Chai (Thailand) defers and shows respect to his ignorant boss, whom he criticizes behind his back at lunch with his peers.

Fred (US) focuses on strategy to get the long term right; Yossi ignores strategy to ensure survival; Yossi does not care about the long term. Fred writes off the short term (he lives in an Empire.

Paul (Canada( arrives on time to show respect; Sivan (Israel) will never allow a time constraint to interfere with content, because she respects content not form. Helmut (Germany) believes form is content.

Sally (US) show excitement and optimism to engage people around selling a new product. Pierre (France) feels that undue optimism and excitement disengage him. Som (Thailand), turns off when she hears how “great” everything is.

Organizing has a global configuration today, but OD relegates the aforementioned issues to the realm of “cultural training”. Typically OD would prefer Western managers have patience, and suggest that others grow; thus the growing irrelevance of OD.

Aligning organizations to be global is not cultural training; it is the very heart of OD.

And OD must understand that acquiring the ability to have us all understand how others view organizing is THE critical success building block of the new OD operating system.

Once we get this right, we can become important players in organizational design issues and develop prophylcatic and corrective interventions, far beyond the impact of cultural training.

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The new proposed OD operating system-an example

Minahan and Norlin in their recent article “Edging Toward the Center” (OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013) suggest a move away from the extremities of OD which may have been applicable in the past in the happier days of OD and suggest that OD should migrate to the centre, i.e., towards bringing more value to clients without abandoning OD’s core values. I suggested in my critique of that article that this is “too little too late” because OD has been almost “voted off the island”; I also suggested we needed a new Operating System for OD, not a bug fix or service pack. I proposed six principles.

The goal of this post and the next 5 posts is to provide examples of each of the 6 principles I proposed as a new operating system for OD.

1) Provide a culturally-agnostic, contingency based platform which enable people with very different values and communication styles to work effectively in a global organizational configuration, in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation.

Example:

Sales VP Alex Cunningham (Raleigh) has complained at the most recent meeting of the senior management team that in “deal reviews”, he never gets a straight answer from the Asia Pac Team. Fred (Boston)  who leads the North American Sales Team is very forthcoming with data and risk analysis, while Watanya (Bangkok) who leads the Asia Pac Sales team “hems and haws” and “always surprises us.”

Classical old style OD: Make Watanya understand that openness and transparency are key business values, and while Alex needs to be patient, Watanya needs to change. In other words, Alex, be patient until we transform Watanya into Wanda.

New OD OS:

1) Redesign the deal review process so that it is no longer one size fits all.

2) Scrap the shared value of transparency and rework it so that data gets exposed but people save face.

3) In this aforementioned case, train Alex; don’t change Watanya. Watanya needs to trust Alex and there need to be less concalls and more face to face meetings.

4) In some cases, of course, Watanya will need to change her behaviour. But “who changes when” is contingency based, and not the present mode of “we will be patient until you become like us”.

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What are some of the basic components of a new Operating System for OD

Minahan and Norlin in their recent article “Edging Toward the Center” (OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013) suggest a move away from the extremities of OD which may have been applicable in the past in the happier days of OD and suggest that OD should migrate to the centre, i.e., towards bringing more value to clients without abandoning OD’s core values.

I suggested in my critique of that article that this is “too little too late” because OD has been almost “voted off the island”; I also suggested we needed a new Operating System for OD, not a bug fix or service pack.

The goal of this post is to suggest some initial basic components for this new Operating System:

1) Provide a culturally-agnostic, contingency based platform which enable people with very different values and communication styles to work effectively in a global organizational configuration, in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation.

2)  Drive cross cultural organizational literacy, so people from different cultures can understand the different view of organizational life.

3) Develop global leadership/followership capabilities across acutely diverse cultural divides, which factor in value and behavioural  preferences of  all major cultural constituencies. (By acutely diverse, I do not mean merely a colour or food preference divide)

4) Create an accepted mediation paradigm for clashes between different styles and behavioural preferences in order to enable rapid and adaptive behaviour.

5) Foster massive trust building and relationship building techniques to gap-fill for the limitations of virtuality and to compensate for the hidden agendas of global organizing.

6) Create a set of agreed upon code of ethics to mitigate negative organizational politics stemming from global organizing, especially but not only “control agendas.”

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Comments on the article: Edging Toward the Center (Minahan and Norlin) OD Practitioner: Vol. 45: 4, 2013

I received a PDF today from Dr. John Scherer with an article by Minahan and Norlin called “Edging Toward the Center”. The article was published in the OD Practitioner: Vol 45: 4, 2013

The article is thoughtful, extremely well written and well worth reading. As a matter of fact, I would say it is a” must read”.

The article contains an excellent diagnosis of the issues facing OD in the context of the present economy, mapping out the challenges of working in the private sector as well as the public sector. Furthermore, the authors ask the most cogent and painful questions about the derivate issues between clients and OD practitioner in light of these the present  challenges we face.

And best of all, the article point out how irrelevant some of OD’s behaviours appear  when practiced in the extreme. Table 1 of the article should be on all of our desktops….. an absolutely brilliant description of just how absurd our values, beliefs and actions are when manifested in the extreme.

When the authors spell out “ What is to be done”,  the article falls short of what I expected. For example, the authors suggest to cease “fixating on creating space for “onlys” and other small groups at the expense of the needs of the whole.”  And they suggest that OD be more accepting of the legitimacy of power and the system. And the authors state that OD could stay focused on “strong humanistic and democratic values” , “stay out of content and focus on process ” and focus on “capacity building and development of the system”. Furthermore, OD should  not loose its focus on the  purpose of being a central  building block in the creation on “effective and healthy human systems”.

When I read the initial part (diagnostic section) of the article, I tend to reach different conclusions.

1) In the organizational reality which has been created by the present economic conditions, OD as practiced has been “voted off the island” due to its irrelevance. The values we represent are seen as out dated, not just in extreme, but almost “ in toto”.

2) In the global configuration of organizations in today’s economy, the focus on democratic and humanistic values is far too parochial and thus, almost irrelevant to global organizing.

3) A focus on process renders OD irrelevant in places where process is not the way to get things done, like in about 80% of the countries in the world (where relationships or tradition or authoritarianism play a major enabling role).

4) As far as OD’s purpose as serving as a cornerstone for Impacting human systems, I see this proposed “purpose” as  illusionary omnipotence as well  misguided use of limited energy. This is far beyond the capabilities of OD in our age of economic determinism. I see this as almost a self evident truth.

The Israelis tell a story of someone who goes to a zoo and sees a giraffe with a very very very very very long neck. When s/he leaves the zoo, s/he says to himself, “that cannot be”.

It appears to me that the authors gave us an excellent mirror into which to look, but they themselves were reticent of using the very  mirror they provide.

People may ask me what I recommend?

1) I would reply that only when OD  internalizes the depth of the crisis that we are facing can we turn to solution engineering.

2) Being practical is fine, but let’s agree we need a new operating system, not a bug fix. Now this may sound impractical, but a sinking ship needs more than “some focus”. And unless we have that new OS in place, we will find ourselves working with the lessening circle of  clients who share the somewhat archaic world view of traditional OD.

3) As far as purpose is concerned, I view the propose of a new OD operating system as the creation of a culture-agnostic  platform which enable people of  different values and  communication styles to work effectively in a global organizational configuration, in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation.

 

This having been said, get your hands on the article and read it.

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“Signal to Noise” ratio OD

Signal-to-noise ratio is a scientific measure which compares the level of a pure signal with the level of background noise, expressed in decibels.

I will use “noise to signal ratio” in this post to describe the amount of background noise generated in the organizational domain in which OD is done, as opposed to the OD work itself.

The level of political driven  noise involved has grown over the past years, and at present ,the level of noise is so high it is punishing.

I love doing OD and any burn out I may feel is caused by the noise, not by the OD itself.

Here is a list of major noise generating factors in OD:

1) The HR gateway into organizations, staffed by people like Gloria Ramsbottom, the HR manager we know all too well.

2) The number of coaches, cooking workshops, team building via rope climbing, etc which purport to do organizational development have rendered building a trusting relationship with clients into a steep uphill run.

3) The huge damage done by hacks who have chopped  OD into “products” has forced  OD into a vendor status, at least at the beginning of the relationship.The vendor needs to “please the client”, not to do what needs to be done. Now…..fixing this is OD work, but the low pegging of the vendor status creates horrific noise.

4) Since 2008, no one looks very good; management is hooked on quick fixes, in order to look “less bad” a.s.a.p. This causes huge noise as HR prompted by management pushes for short cuts  to look good and feel wow.

5) In many organizations, there are 4-5 consultants on the same playing field, which leads to lack of change and internecine conflict between consultants.

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On interactions between Israelis and American Jews/ non-Jews in global business

The global configuration of business, the huge amount of US companies with an Israeli subsidiary (generally R&D), the growing number of Israeli owned company with a US office (generally marketing and a “shingle” for Wall  Street) ensure that Israelis and Americans are in frequent business interaction.

Some of the Americans are Jewish; some are not. This post related to observations accrued over time in working with the interfaces of Americans Jews/non Jews with Israelis.

It is important to state a priori that the most frequent error Americans and Israelis make when starting to work together is the assumption of “apparent similarity”, i.e., the attitude that the 2 cultures are pretty much culturally aligned. This is not the case; there are huge cultural gaps between the US and Israelis in communication style, decision making and basic assumptions about how organizations work. The pain caused by the differences is made all the more worse because of the initial assumption of similarity.

The pain causes some interesting things to happen.

1) At times, American non Jews will ask American Jews to try and explain the Israelis’ behaviour. The American Jew quickly learns “how very American he is” and he may find himself feeling somewhat alienated from his “co religionists”

2) An Israeli manager may assume that an American worker who is Jewish may give him better information about a certain situation. This never happens and the Israeli manager is stunned at “how American” the American Jew is behaving. When the Israeli is ultra- nationalist, he may see the American Jew as almost treacherous.

3) Israelis, known for their preference of the informal network as opposed to working the system, will often turn to a Jewish American. But the Jewish  American is American, and he will often not play the game. Thus, the informal networking that Israelis eventually work is the networking done with Indians and Chinese, more than with American Jews.

4) Americans often chose an American Jew to liaise with the Israelis, only to witness that while at times it may work well, this choice  often adds an unneeded hidden dynamic.

5) Many American Jews are very assimilated. Interacting with Israelis makes their ethnic background more salient, and they may feel more uncomfortable in dealing with the Israelis.

6) Americans often find great value in working with an Israel-based Israeli who is American born and bred. Israelis find huge value in working with a US based  American who is Israeli born and bred.

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