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?

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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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What can we learn from consultants that make miracles happen? (revised)

The longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming.

Arthur Schopenhauer

This post is about miracle consultants in the realm of organizational behaviour.  First, I shall start with a few words about miracle consulting. Pretty much in the same way that man invented God, insatiable needs have invented miracle consulting.

I myself used a series of miracle consultants when my late wife was very ill. We went from one miracle consultant to another, until she died. One consultant analysed finger nails, another touched her feet and another waved his hands over her stomach. I felt like a character in one of Camus’ novels; I was doing something I did not believe in, but I did it “nevertheless”.

There is a huge market to address needs which cannot be satisfied! This is the context of the miracle organizational consultant.

There are many types of consultants to be found all over organizations, who often at cross-purposes or in a non-coordinated fashion, due to turf wars and politics. Training hires “skill trainers”; HR hires (compliant)vendors to implement people processes and non-strategic changes, while  senior management hires strategic consultants and/or people who they have trusted for many years. These consultants often feel threatened by miracle consultants, but there is nothing to fear. There are no miracles.

These miracle consultants are either hired by the CEO, or the Board may have “inserted” these consultants in the “spirit of cronyism” . The miracle consultant comes like a bird, flies over, dumps, and flies off.

The miracle consultant has a magic bullet, a series of buzzwords, false hope and a satchel of promises. They may be called organizational architects, organizational magicians, organization energizers, organizational monks and “organizational free thinkers”. These folks charge a very large fee to elaborate truths and insights.

Here is a bit of context which may allow us to understand the appearance and disappearance of these consultants.

1) There is magic to be found in the addictive quick fix which the miracle consultant promises.

2) Often these miracle consultants “blame” something/someone else and absolve the CEO from responsibility.

3) These wonder consultants often have built up such a brand name that senior management believes that “they cannot be wrong”.

Miracle consultants disappear very quickly. The messiah is proclaimed false very soon after a few sermons. A lecture, a month, or until the second or third invoice arrives.

The appearance of miracle consultants often indicate deep despair, stupidity and denial at the top, or all three.

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Essence of the difference between OD and Change Management

The goal of this post is to pinpoint the essential  difference between Change Management and OD.

Let us take as an example the implementation of shift from a functional structure (F) to a matrix structure  (M)

Change management puts together a plan to “manage” the change, migrating various components like roles, responsibilities and processes systematically from F to M. The role of the change management is akin to the PMO of the “change” project, which has a beginning and an end. The change plan has milestones and deliverables, which can be measured.

The Change Manager will report periodically to the CEO on progress. The CEO will see in the Change Manager  a key staff function.

The only problem is that change cannot be “managed” in such a manner, albeit the very marketable pitch than change management has developed and sold to managers interested in apparent control.

The major focus of the OD practitioner is to remove resistance to change,  in order to enable a constant and ongoing dynamic reconfiguration of the way work gets done in response to external threats.  For OD, the critical success factor is ability of the organization to serve as a “pliable platform” to effectively adapt.  Thus, F to M  is a window of opportunity to develop organizational flexibility. Obstacles that should be addressed to gain organizational flexibility include power, politics, “what’s in it for me”, lack of involvement, and the whole unseen “underworld” of assumptions that staff have about their behaviour.  Once these issues are dealt with, the “change” will happen. Change management may want to deal with these issues, but do not know how.

The OD consultant will constantly focus management on dealing with the hidden dynamic which hinders flexibility. The Change Manager will appease management by showing everything is under control.

The CEO sees the change manager as a partner and then as a buffoon, blaming the CM for resistance.

The CEO sees  the OD consultant as a pain in the ass at times, and not easy to manage, Yet via trust and dialogue, the CEO and OD consultant serve as midwife to change, as melting resistance enables the organization to unfold, once again.

For the OD practitioner, Change Management models and formats are  great tool kits to have. They are highly marketable and add apparent effectiveness.

After several years on the road, most change managers agree with OD about the underlying dynamic, but they are not in the plumbing business.

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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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Is OD hard to explain?

In my last post on OD as a commodity, I received a comment stating that OD is  difficult to market, since it is hard to explain what OD actually does. In parallel, Change Management is far more “explainable” and user friendly for the client…..except that Change Management often does not deliver.

This comment deserves some elaboration.So this post will relate to the difficulty of marketing OD, and what I propose as a strategy to promote your practice.

I believe that OD is not a commodity and not marketable as such. Were OD to be a commodity, marketing OD would be easier. There are marketing experts who know how to package commodities and lessen “shelf time”. (Unsold hours are shelf time in the OD world). In many cases, these marketing experts succeed in perfuming the pig, passing off stones as pearls, as is the case with change management programs.

OD is a professional service and can be promoted as such. However, OD  has uncomfortable truths:

  • We cannot predict when an projects ends successfully.
  • We need to confront management all the time.
  • In some cases, we cannot work with the focal point with whom clients want us to work (HR).
  • Our output cannot be measured in KPI’s or by procurement folks.
  • You need a long term investment in OD to see results.

The above makes OD unmarketable in the traditional ways that professional services are promoted. So how do you spread the word and promote your practice?  Here are a few guidelines.

1-Do good work. This is by far the greatest thing you can do to promote your practice. The more “non commodity” OD work is, the more traction is created that will spread the word.

2-In OD, big is bad.Stay small to leverage your advantage and use your knowledge for clients. Experienced consultants need to spend their time with clients;  if the experienced consultants are running big businesses, their time is invested in teaching people who often do not meet client’s expectation.

3-Network with people you have worked with and maintain relationships. Look at your relationships like the only sales tool you have.

4-Price high. High prices sell-as long as you deliver value.

5-Stop trying to explain what OD is. Tell stories of what you have done, and have other clients explain the value you have brought.

To wrap up….this winter albeit a flu shot, I had a very violent case of the flu which knocked  the crap out of me, despite the fact that I am in very good shape. It took me a month to get back to my daily running. My doctor’s advice was not to focus on running, but focus on breathing exercises and stretching….then the ability to run will return-as it did. So…focus on doing great work and meeting people, and let’s put aside explaining our profession as a commodity.

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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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When Organizations turn into Jungles, what can be done? (revised)

There are several components that can turn organizations into political jungles and cesspools of intrigue.

  • Feigned commitments to the market used to “blame” people who do not meet numbers/release dates
  • Dysfunctional boards which manage various parallel “shadow organizations”
  • Competition between competing geographies for control of strategic products/roadmaps
  • Contradicting demands without top-down integration, such as “make the deal and be fully compliant”.
  • Overpaid, detached leadership while employees are policed by process and over fertilized with “engagement programs”.
  • Severe leadership gaps in “walking the talk”
  • HQ-field dynamics based on too much control or confusion

The behavioural aspects of this dysfunction manifest themselves as:

  •  Squabbling about roles and responsibilities
  • Obsessive redefining of process
  • Lack of trust
  • Partial transparency
  • Deteriorating teamwork
  • Blame-shifting email threads and finger-pointing as long as the equator

When the organization is so “zoo-ish”, pathological forms of HR tend to wow-wow and rah-rah employees and managers around slogans which obfuscate the challenges that the organization needs to address. For example, the lack of a long term commitment of employers to their employees is often coupled with engagement sloganeering. 

Overly commercial OD can add damage by developing OD packages that deal with the symptoms of the political zoo, (such as engagement packages) while what the root causes are left alone. In such cases, OD kicks itself in the ass by becoming a hand maiden of the system pathology.

However, there is good news. OD can dry up organizational political swamps, not via OD products, but rather by an OD process that focus on:

  • Identifying the reasons why basic survival instincts drive behaviour at all levels.
  • Classify what/is not in controllable to work on lessening the level of fear and anxiety that leads to reliance on such basic survivor instincts.
  • Gradual lessening of perceived threats to survival, basic on real change, not sloganeering.

Sounds hard?-you bet it is. But that is what professional OD brings to the table. Mais oui! 🙂 

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Manager as system integrator; employee as subcontractor.

A system integrator drives independent component subsystems into a coherent and functioning whole. The emphasis here is on the word independent. I posit that in many industries, the art of managing is becoming more like the role of a system integrator working with subcontractors. I believe that this  inevitable trend has long term repercussions about training managers.

Here are two major reasons why managers will become system integrators:

1) The dwindling long term commitment between employer and staff.

Since many organizations can no longer offer their employees any stability nor take care of their staffs’ needs, employees are loyal first and foremost to themselves & their ability to be survive economically, wherever they work-with no specific loyalty to anything except their ability to make a living.

2) The political zoo that develops when jobs are scarce.

The work place has become a political zoo because of the scarcity of jobs. Employees act as sub contractors as opposed to members of a coherent integrated team, to secure their own survival. No one wants to be indispensable.

True, consultants and HR are pushing employee engagement programs; however the prognosis for employees becoming altruistically engaged is low. As employees focus on their own survival, they become less engaged with the company’s survival. They focus on their own personal survival.

Pretending that employee engagement is the issue is dysfunctional.

Developing managers is not about engaging employees as much as how to structure and manage work as a system integrator.

Preparing managers to be effective system integrators is far more effective than traditional managerial training which deals with solving yesterday’s problems.
Here are a few elements which may be included in refocusing the managerial role to that of system integrator
1) More “contract” based interaction and ways of payment
2) Emphasis on very detailed planning
3) Less to no everyday power
4) Contractor can and does choose to cop out so there are “alternative sources”
5) Make and buy decisions.

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