Avoid using these 3 OD religious tenets in Global Organizations

Readers of this blog know that the stubborn author keeps harping on the need to adapt Organization Development to the complexities of global organizations.

Presently, I am working on a book ten exercises which will expand the capabilities of the OD practitioner to be effective not only in a parochial western organization, but also in global organizations.

Writing a book is not writing blog, and I keep forcing myself to focus on “what are the key messages that I want to make “, so as not to drive my readers crazy, like my satirical character Comrade Carl Marks.

By asking that question of myself day after day in the course of writing my book, I seemed to have also arrived at the major points I want to make in all the posts in this entire blog. So here they are:

While the tenets of OD are applicable to western organizations, their application to global organizations are ill appropriate. 3 major religious tents of OD need to be avoided, in alignment with cultural humility

  1. Avoid unpleasant interactions stemming from the authentic and open “management” of conflict. Deal with conflict discretely, quietly and try to work around it.
  2. Avoid “open and authentic” feedback, when the feedback is seen as damaging cohesion and diminishing face. Use non verbal clues and back-door obtuse communication.
  3. Avoid use of semi-structured meetings with free flowing communication when this will embarrass people who prefer to express discretely matters of importance . Prefer one on one, face to face, more structured communication.


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Does telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitute a lie? – revised

Many cultures value the collective more than the individual. In such cultures, the harmony and cohesion of the collective are served by strong and powerful leaders. In cultures, authoritarian leadership is accepted, respected and deferred to. Whilst there may be complaints about excesses of authoritarian style, few would prefer the  lack of harmony which arises due to weak leadership.

Harmony and cohesion in such cultures are more valued that the accuracy of this or that factual detail.

In such cultures, it is acceptable that a boss be told in public what the boss wants to hear, even if this includes a few inaccurate facts. This is not considered a lie, because it serves a higher perceived truth, i.e., maintaining the position and face of he who maintains harmony around whom all are rallied, willingly or less so.

This position of the leader is “more important” than a few uncomfortable facts, which can and will  be relayed, but discretely.

“Do most people agree that most people believe that telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitutes a lie? Not a lie at all for some-rather the ultimate truth, harmony and a strong boss, can naturally be maintained by a few factual inaccuracies. Yes, for others, this is a bald lie, but not for all. A split jury.

OD and change-management types may find this type behaviour offensive. Indeed OD’s development  was rooted in anti-authoritarianism. However, OD ignores these cultural genetic codes to the detriment of our profession. Neither OD, change management nor a strong corporate culture can re engineer such deep genetic cultural codes.

So in the following case, is Wang lying? Art (US) asked his direct report Wang (China) “what does this quarter look like” in a con-call with 6 participants.  Wang said “looks good”. After the con-call, Wang called Art and told him that the quarter looked bad.

Wang has maintained the ultimate truth; he has avoided making his boss look bad. He did this by lying.


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The Global Mindset, as presented by John Scherer

A colleague and good friend of mine John Scherer just released a video about the Global mindset, based on my last posting on this subject.

John’s Wiser@Work is well worth subscribing to, as of December 3rd.

The video is here  https://vimeo.com/johnscherer/review/112689584/e2a3bcc5e9




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Ten questions: Do I have a global mindset?

These ten questions access the extent of your global mindset.

  1. Do you believe that discussing contentious issues openly in a group setting can generally help resolve issues within very diverse teams in a global organization?
  2. Do you believe that interdisciplinary teamwork is seen universally as a positive attribute of organizational behavior in all cultures?
  3. Do you believe that time, as a resource, should be universally valued?
  4. Do you believe that being authentic with your emotions is generally considered a healthy thing in the work place?
  5. Do you believe that some degree of participatory decision making is something folks all over the world subscribe to as desirable in organizations?
  6. Do you believe most people in the world want their managers to delegate authority?
  7. Do most people agree that telling your boss what he wants to hear, and not the truth, constitutes a lie?
  8. Is transparency valued in most cultures?
  9. Can a well -defined corporate culture bridge all cultural differences?
  10. Are the terms “trust“ and “respect“ universal enough to serve as a bridge for the inevitable challenges of global organizations?

For every question that your answer is YES, my suggestion is that that you work on upgrading your basic assumptions and skills in order to develop relevant capabilities to be effective in the global organization.

Here is a video on this subject, by John Scherer.


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Here is why the term “trust” is too vague

Many corporations preach trust as a critical success factor. The word trust appears in many organizational artifacts: the way clients are to be treated, mission statement, core values etc., ad nauseam. Yet when examined up close, the term trust seems to lack shared meaning.

An underlying dynamic which impacts perceptions of what constitutes trust are the basic assumptions about “how do get things done”.

  • In cultures where people assume that building a system that works enables people to get things done, trust is achieved by behaviours which strengthen the system, like `following procedures`, sticking to roles/responsibilities and accuracy.
  • In other cultures, where people assume that a web of relationships will enable things to get done, behaviours which strengthen the web of relationships will  enhance trust, like `trading favours`, insider dealings, and scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Indeed, trust means too many different things to different people and is achieved by drastically divergent means.

  • In some cultures, people trust one another because they know that conflicts will never be aired. This strengthens relationships!
  • In some cultures, trust is augmented after an “argument” because then each side knows that the other truly cares. This also strengthens relationships.
  • Many Dutch will trust you if you are direct whilst many Thais will build trust if you avoid giving them direct messages which are unpleasant.
  • ·Germans may develop trust with people who follow the process. Chinese and Israelis will need to trust someone first before they follow a process.
  • Mr. Wu and Mr. Smith sign a 40 million dollar deal. Then Mr. Wu asks Mr. Smith to hire his son for a year so that the son can get a visa to the US. Smith does not trust Wu because he thinks that he corrupt. Wu does not trust Smith because “I just did him a favour, and he won’t even help me with my son”. Here is the conflict between systems and relationships at its peak!

I am publishing  a book of exercises geared to create enhanced global mindfulness of key organizational terms. In this upcoming book, one of issues I shall address is trust in global organizations.

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Avoid trying to build too much “buy-in” into decision making

There are global companies that attempt to elicit “buy-in” for key decisions. There is no place for a priori eliciting of “buy-in” in very diverse global firms. It just does not work. The goal of this post is to explain why not and provide an alternative.

In many parts of the world, management is autocratic and autocracy is not a pejorative term. Autocratic management has the right and privilege to decide, and in return, autocratic management assumes responsibility and does not share blame. Autocratic management can be more compassionate than more democratic forms of leadership, because compassion comes with the territory of being an autocrat.

The autocratic manager has subordinates who feel relieved that they are asked to do, not decide. They willingly relinquish the power of decision to the autocrat, as well as the larger salary and reserved parking spot.

Autocratic management is often prompted up by religious beliefs, such as the 5 unequal relationships of Confucius. There also may be a political preference for autocracy due to a societal fear of the instability which stems from the divisiveness caused by overly democratic decision making process.

The  global companies that try to get buy-in for key management decisions believe that there is a phenomenal upside. It is true; buy-in has a phenomenal upside, in some cultures. Yet, cementing a priori buy-in is limited to very few cultures and appears to be a bit of an idiosyncratic quirk, observed in such diverse places as Japan, starts ups of a certain nature, companies with a strong participative ideology slash religion of participation, and companies which have perhaps overdosed on OD as a religion!

Too much focus on buy-in may result in a growing lack of trust in management’s ability in cultures with an autocratic streak to them. Worse, too much reliance on buy-in may cause folks to feel that management is dithering and the company is “unsafe”.

Pragmatism is suggested as the best medicine. In autocratic cultures, it is best to dress up buy-in as risk mitigation, rather than challenging the decision itself.

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When faced with an impossible situation, what can be done?

I imagine that all of my readers have faced impossible situations, both personally and at work.

Since this is blog about OD, it is so easy to conjure up impossible situations, characterized by poor products, impossible deadlines, poisonous management, a dysfunctional culture or a Board with their heads up their ass.

I am not the kind of person who generally easily accepts boundary conditions or limitations. Quite the opposite as this entire blog indicates, I challenge assumptions and turn over the apple cart quite often. This explains the work I get, the work I do not get, my success stories and failures.

Work and life have taught me to go slower when dealing with hard (for me) situations. Age has been a contributing factor in helping me be realistic. Age has played strange tricks.. As I have aged, I have learnt that if I cannot run 7 days I week, I can run five days a week. And on days when I cannot run 5 kilometers, I can walk 9 kilometers. And after the flu, I may not be able to exercise within a week, but I will be able to do so in a 3 weeks, or a month.

But what about impossible situations?  I think that I am making progress here as well, thanks to Shyka.

Shyka is a dog with a psychiatric depressive disorder. He takes massive amounts of anti depressants and the meds have stabilized him. Having torn up the living room of his past 4 owners due to anxiety attacks when left alone , Shyka lives in a well kept kennel. He has been without an owner for 2 years. Every Sunday, I take Shyka for a long walk in the framework of volunteer work that I do.

Entering the kennel is very very hard for me; the barking of the many abandoned dogs breaks my heart every time I pick up Shyka for his weekly walk. Shyka awaits me with the saddest of eyes .I know that he only gets walked 3 times a week. I know that the medicines that have placated him are also killing him. And I know that Shyka will never have another owner.

Shyka however has taught me that when everything seems impossible, do what is possible.

And when I walk him back to the kennel, I am at peace with myself. I have done what I can.

By the way. Shyka loves the bones I bring him, and slowly, he is showing me affection, not an easy feat for a dog who has been abandoned so many times.

You are my boy, Shyka.



Smelling the land



שייקה ידידי My friend Shyka


Dec 2 2014

Update Jan 2015

My daughter just smsed me that Shaika has been adopted and is living in Tel Aviv.

Some stories have really happy endings. Here is Shaiya resting, and putting on the Ritz.



At rest-בא מרגוע לעמל



Putting on the ritz-חתיך




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