Misuse of feedback in the global organization

OD and change consultants who want to remain relevant would be wise to  stop drinking academia’s warmed over cool aid, check their western biases, step away from force feeding western values when inappropriate, and get real. Want an example? Let’s look at the feedback loop’s appropriateness to the global organization.

Feedback is one of the building blocks that OD introduced into organizations. Feedback consists of information about an organization, a group and an individual which is “recycled” to provide a basis for assessment, reflection and as a basis for corrective action.

OD’s toolkit and values froze over a long time ago, whilst organizations globalized their configuration.  The blanket misuse of feedback in global organizations is an example at hand. There is a need to align the feedback loop to the huge cultural variance that exists in the global workplace, which is what I will do in the post.

Let’s look at some cultural variance in the global workforce.

  1. In some cultures, it is easy to talk about the future, but if the past is discussed, there is/may be a  loss of face.
  2. In some cultures, corrective action may be more effective if positioned as adaptive change,without use of explicit lessons learned from the past.
  3. In some cultures, direct and authentic feedback of any kind is seen as extraordinarily rude.
  4. In some cultures, the essence of leadership is to “protect employees by assuming responsibility for their errors” and keeping it all hush hush.

Clearly, the existing feedback loop with all its western biases, must be retooled for the global organization.

As we align organizational design and development to a global configuration, here are a few components worth developing.

1. Develop and legitimize opaque communication tools that allude to the past in order to plan corrective action.

2. Develop and legitimize indirect and “back door” feedback so as not to cause any perceived discomfort whatsoever, yet enable change.

3.Develop a contingency feedback model that allows a legitimate trade off between the feedback and the perceived harmony of relationships.

4. Budget much longer time cycles for giving feedback so as to allow face saving.

Have you ever attended an OD conference that put this issue on the table? Have you read a text book that focuses on western OD’s irrelevance? Of course not, global organizations are side shows which challenge the dominant western bias of OD. And there is a power elite that keeps it this way.  

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The OD “House of Lords”- is a crumbling palace

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate to many issues impacting global organizations. As a matter of fact, OD is biased in action and behaves with the same intolerance which gave birth to OD’s creation.

Text books, articles and web sites dedicated to OD ignore the irrelevancy of the OD profession to problems of global organizing.  Even OD conferences pay only minor lip service to the crushing need to develop OD’s relevance.

Written material and conferences recycle the same traditional old crap repackaged in new slogans. Alternatively, folks reminisce about the good old days… the good old days when white liberal UK and US based males established the OD profession which the next generation inherited and then “froze” OD’s design. The world changed and OD stayed put, except for the moronic design of OD products, whose goal was to make money, not further OD’s cause.

There is a wonderful expression in Chinese 哑巴吃饺子,心里有数 which means “When a mute person eats some dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, albeit he cannot speak. In other words, people know things that they do not or cannot express.

OD practitioners know how much irrelevance is bombarded at them by the old guard, they just do not speak up. Why? Because the old guard controls the keys to the palace. The palace may be crumbling, but they have the keys…the keys to keynotes, the key to publications, the keys to budgets-because they sit in the House of Lords.

OD conferences are good for networking and PR, but little else. In other words, we all know that besides networking, conferences have minimal value. New content is not provided, but no one says anything. Few OD books really innovate anything new, except new tools for a crumbling paradigm.

The old OD guard is trying to ensure that OD stays at it is. At most, practitioners need “some cultural skills”, mumble the Lords. Nonsense, claims this author. It is OD itself that needs to be modified. In the domain of global OD, the present elite needs to listen, not preach, read and not write. They are not ready.

Imagine that the Lords of OD stopped perfuming the pig and dedicated a conference, or a book, to examine how to make OD relevant in global organizations.

Could you imagine a book, or OD conference on these 5 subject?

1) Root Canal 101: Breaking Away from the Founding Fathers

Since organizational reality has changed radically since OD’s founding fathers first murmured their ideas, OD can become relevant when its tools are not biased. The profession must be realigned around global organizing.

2) Organization diagnosis in discrete and face saving cultures

3) A culturally contingent role of OD Consultant:

Expert, Mediator, Enabler, Masked Executive

4) Retooling OD:

What are the alternatives to free flowing team interventions,”conflict management” and ways and means of by-passing the need for direct communication, and how to do OD “offstage”.

5) Managing the Major Polarities in Global OD

-openness and discretion

-involvement and stability

-respect and change

-ascription and achievement

The OD power elite in OD does not have a clue about these topics so they shut these topics down. So the voices of those of us who advocate the globalization of OD are expressed mainly in avant guard blogs like this.


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Challenging your clients’ belief system

When practised as a professional service, Organization Development challenges clients’ belief systems in the everyday course of work.

Every OD practitioner develops skills on how to do this ghastly task effectively, unless he/she has morphed into a moronic mode of “how to merge a company in 3 easy steps”.

This post relates to several aspects about how to go about challenging a clients’ belief system more effectively.

     1 Build a caring relationship with your client.

I am not an easy person with whom to work.  I “speak truth to power”, I am very direct and as I come armed with lots of miles/kilometres on the road, it is hard to push aside my arguments. I challenge my clients all the time.

But my clients know I care. I am not talking about social media caring.  I am talking about really being compassionate. And each of my client feel justly feel that I truly care about them personally and their success.

All this serves as a safety net, so when I challenge their beliefs, they know I with them, on their side.

     2 Understand the view point of your client, as he sees things.

Harping on one’s exclusive narrative leads to narrow-mindedness and righteousness and the inability to have impact on another’s’ belief system. Look at reality as your client does.

When I began my career, I worked for in the hotel industry. In each hotel and department, I would work with the staff and managers on all the shortcomings that need to be corrected. Staff and managers taught me that many problems disappear when certain guests/nationalities leave the hotel.  At the beginning, I labelled that as “defensive behaviour”. I was dead wrong. Until I understood that point of view and internalized it, I did not understand that industry, and they knew it.

The key is empathizing, not merely listening and yes-but consulting behaviour. Once you empathize with the others’ belief system, there is more intimate discussion and fewer pissing contests, which often characterize the  ineffective challenging of a belief system.

     3 There are some things that are best left unsaid.

There are plenty of incorrect client belief systems that are not going to be changed. Because of human nature, or the nature of each specific industry or whatever.

So pick your battles; leave things unsaid when change is impossible. If you focus on something that is very important but unchangeable, you spread the change effort too thin. Focus only on what can be changed.


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OD espouses tolerance, but is intolerant-in-action

At face value, the profession of Organizational Development exudes tolerance. But this is misleading.

Much of OD is trapped in the past, and often demonstrates intolerance towards innovation except for repackaging, buzzwords and marketable fads.

More shameful is OD’s embracing western values to the exclusion of others, a topic that I address most often on my blog and published work.

Things were not always this way. But now, faced with a world that they do not understand, traditional OD ers are stuck in the past when they encounter realities they do not understand. OD’s elite is protecting its vested interests as do all power elites, and by and large OD conferences burn incense and do not provide the needed innovation.

Global organizations of today have more behavioural variance than the organizations for which OD was designed. For many employees of today’s’ global organization, many (not all) values of OD are offensive.

  • The feedback loop and openness, critical cornerstones of OD, do not taste and feel good to people who comes from societies which prefer discreteness and face saving.
  • Participative decision making is threatening to people who see relationships as very unequal by design
  • Conflict management is totally offensive by the many employees who believe that talking about conflicts makes them worse.

When OD encounters  behavioural variance in a global context, it pays lip service to some “cultural differences” yet continues to impose the values of OD, because OD has yet re examine its core values in light of globalization and adapt its so call  tool kit.

  • “Jie, let’s be honest, and get this conflict out in the open.”
  • “Chan, why don’t you tell HQ what you really need from them? You are so opaque!”

I have personally learnt about OD’s intolerance in many ways. I shall list three

1-Massive resistance about the need to globalize the practice of OD. This resistance is disguised as yes but-ism.  “Yes Allon you may have a point, we need more “cultural sensitivity; but that is not main stream OD“.

2-For many years, an OD list almost threw people overboard who were not PC, or not “civil” or not “nice” or too temperamental, as judged by  “universal” Mid Western US standards.

3-The OD and HR satiric Gloria blog encountered fierce resistance because it is not “nice”. It was even marked as promotional material and banned by an OD list  on LI. The truth had struck too close to home. (In the meantime, the Gloria blog has been monetized and has almost 900,000 hits.)

Steeped in trauma of post-World War Two, the white middle-age men who founded OD were fighting the battle of their time. For the epoch in which they lived and experienced, the values of OD served as a beacon that enabled organizations/people to introspect as well and evolve more positively than even before. OD was a revolutionary force in its day. Today, OD force feeds Western values, and navel gazes about ‘cultural differences”.

This type of OD behaviour reminds me of the multi-culturalist who enjoys tasting the food of various minorities and even shows interest in their holidays, yet this same multi-culturalist behaves in such a liberal and inclusive manner only when the position of being the dominant cultural is ensured.  When faced with real cultural variance, the multi-culturalist retreats.

In the civil domain I support a multicultural society which maintains its boundaries, as in French secularism/laïcité. However in its professional domain of global organizing, OD cannot claim that its values are dominant. When OD claims to be tolerant but behaves oppressively, we have espoused tolerance and intolerance-in-action!

OD’s intolerance-in-action has positioned the profession as ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of global organizing.

All that is left of traditional OD in face of global complexity is: “Speak up Jai, even though I respect that it is not your culture”. And perhaps some ethnic food at lunch.

So how did it happen that our profession, a bastion of liberalism, become so backward?


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Allon  אלון

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The best way to look at a system is to learn how to subvert it

I have a severe addiction. I read the Economist weekly. I have been doing so for decades. In the October 25th 2014 edition, Schumpeter writes: “The best way to understand a system is to look at it from the point of view of people who want to subvert it.” (page 63)

During my 9 kilometre walk today, I thought how useful this sentence is for those of us who deal with change, be it as OD consultant or as change manager.

In the last decade, the powers that be have tried to enlist the change professions to serve as Vaseline to force the wrong changes, such as reorganization number 3 in as many years. Or an employee engagement project in a government bureaucracy. Or implementing a “customer intimacy program” in a organization governed by a dictatorial IT process.

Generally , “Change Management” prepares a deck of 70 slides to explain how any change can be managed, so clearly they are blind to what Schumpeter suggests. On the other hand, professional OD  looks at any change via the lense of  “why won’t this work”. Hence OD’s value-the underlying dynamic!

And when management insists on implementing silly plans  whilst HR wow wows and kowtows to the system, the OD consultant  must stand his/her ground. The ensuing dialogue between what management wants to happen, and the perspective of possible subversion, is the very heart of the OD dialogue. 

Furthermore, the wow wow HR cheer leading and the OD perspective is the source of the tension between the professions.

And once again, there is nothing like the Economist. It is proof positive that there is still a brand of journalism that is non sensationalist.

Follow me @AllonShevat


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