The victory of wow over content

Here is a sad but true story. The names have been changed to “protect the innocent”.The story illustrates the victory of form and wow over content.

Paul Wight is the Head of  R&D, is based in Denver. Paul oversees several development sites in Brunswick, NJ, Vancouver BC, Quebec City and Manchester UK.

Sales are slow, profitability is down and the management has  to cut costs. Paul has been asked to close down one development site as well as downsize his whole organization by 30%. Paul will convened all his site managers in Denver to execute this plan.

The biggest issue facing Paul  is which site to close. He plans to discuss this issue at the Denver meeting. Paul has asked his HR manager to prepare a short team building activity to facilitate trust to kick off the meeting.

The head of the Manchester UK  site is Chester who  really mistrusts Paul to make the right decision; Chester believes Paul does not like the time zone difference, the late night and early morning con-calls as well as the management overhead of flying to Manchester once a quarter in coach class.

Denise Thibadeau  leads the Québec site. She believes Paul will close the Quebec site due to a hidden agenda stemming from communication difficulties.  Paul always shows lack of patience on calls when he cannot understand what people say “the first time around”.

Denise and Chester have been speaking informally as of late on how to “throw a block” at Paul’s attributed attempt to close one “of the remote sites”.

Denise and Chester have agreed to form a coalition. Despite the technological animosity between Denise and Chester, they will agree to cooperate and assume joint responsibility for continuous engineering of a profitable legacy product, and jointly commit to develop a new platform in record time and very low costs. They have agreed to lie about how long the new platform development will take and “clean up the mess” later on.

The team building activity prepared by HR VP Gloria Ramsbottom was a cooking class, followed by a short webinar of a horse running faster and faster, albeit eating less and an interview with the horse’s trainer. After an hour, she told Paul the team has “loosened up” and serious discussion can begin.Gloria described the team building activity as wow.

The Denver meeting was superficial, rambling and indecisive. Two weeks after the meeting, Paul closed the Vancouver site. Denise and Chester grew their respective sites by 20%.

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Case study – diverse patterns of communication under duress

Mohammed is a 2nd generation American whose family comes from Egypt. He heads the Middle East and Asia Sales for a Dutch-French conglomerate.

Mohammed has convened a meeting of his staff in Cyprus and has just conveyed bad news…..there is an 30% drop in revenue in 2015, and this will have massive impact on the region. Using a lot of emotion by slightly raising his voice, Mohammed asked all his managers to provide input to “make this problem go away”.

Hans, a German who heads sales in Indonesia, gave a very, very detailed blow by blow description of what was causing delay in revenue, product by product and client by client.   Mohammed, never known for his patience, told Hans to “focus on the woods and not the trees.”

Anat, an Israeli, (Israel, Cyprus, Turkey Region) argued that the way corporate recognizes revenue “makes no sense”. “Anat”, Mohammed  said, “I am also a Middle Easterner, but sometimes bargaining and positioning need to end”.

Watanabe, a Japanese managing Japan and Korea, sat and was silent. Mohammed told Watanabe that “silence is unacceptable”. Watanabe looked at him in shock. “I am thinking, Mohammed-san”. Do you want me to act with haste on such a serious issue”?

John  the American finance guru of the group suggested that no one go home before there is a detailed plan.

Mohammed pondered how to get all his team on the same page. Anat said “let’s start doing something”; Wantanabe was astonished.

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Driving cultural change after a merger-acquisition-updated

Following a merger or acquisition, leadership often has wet dreams about leveraging the merger/acquisition to maintain the best cultural components of both company via the forging of a new culture, enhanced by the stronger points of each component.

Yet, there is no such thing as creating a new culture in a merger, based on the best of both companies. Following an acquisition or merger, there is an inevitable Darwinist struggle between weaker and stronger cultures.

In this short post, i shall relate to driving a culture change in a post-merger/acquisition environment.

One culture (generally the acquiring company) asserts its culture on the other and dominates it. There is very little that can be done to prevent this, although the degree subtlety may appear different. I am not even sure that this Darwinism is bad, because companies need one dominant culture  to enable integration.

Over time, the acquired company’s culture may have some minor impact, but this will be in the context of the dominant culture.

There are three areas of focus which can create some cultural change in the year or so after merger/acquisition period.

1 The acquiring company will need to focus on the creation of scalability in order to get value from the acquisition. This need can drive massive change.

        2. The acquiring company will need to create a loyal power structure in the        acquired      company,which does not try to preserve autonomy.

2 The acquired company needs to go thru a period of mourning, to accept the new regime and to eventually join the acquiring company as individuals, not as a group.

Final comment:

Beyond the consultants role in enabling,  planning, execution and monitoring of mergers, a consultant would be wise to see his/her role as a midwife, not trying to fight some of the natural course of post merger events.

This having been said, there is a lucrative  market for pre-packaged crap (protocols)  that merge 2 or 3 cultures into one in a few easy steps.

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Culture and knee jerk reactions to crisis

In a crisis, the cultural assumptions of staff often play a role in shaping their knee jerk, initial  reactions.

Lets’s look at the following case and see how culture impacts the initial reaction of Fred from the USA, Som from Thailand, Humi from Israel, and Mitsumi from Japan.

Mitsumi, the Key Account Manager for an unhappy Japanese client went straight to the CEO and stated that all business could be lost “unless we show a road map within 48 hours to the customer of corrective action”   Mitsumi knew the clients’ demands were unfair but Mitsumi sees her role as the advocate of the client whose role is to slavishly amplify customer demands because the customer is God in Japan.

An internal meeting was convened with all parties to deal with this crisis , led by Fred, the US based head of Product Delivery.

Product Manager Humi from Israel paid no heed to the “moaning” of the Key Account Manager Mitsumi. “These new product releases take time to stabilize so  let’s roll up our sleeves and start working. I’ll fly to the client site tonight and give a detailed explanation; the clients’ expectations need to be managed. Fred, please ask Mitsumi to come with me to the customer to translate exactly what I explain. ”  Humi places a premium on action, and believes in talking straight to the customer, which are very Israeli characteristics.

Fred from the US said that “an overall high level comprehensive plan” is needed-then “you can fly wherever you want, Humi”. Fred believes than plans and planning enable more control of the environment, which is a frequent American assumption.

Engineer Som from Thailand smiled during the entire meeting-her team had developed a major component and she was very embarrassed. “What are you laughing at, Som? What is so God damn funny, asked Fred. Som was smiling the Thai smile of shame.

Hans, the German PMO wanted “more detail before we “mof+ forward”. And he started delving into detail which drove the other team members to distraction. Hans believes that without details, the team cannot make proper plans or appease the fuming customer. Fred told Hans, “look at the forest Hans, not the trees”. Som smiled and Humi checked flight schedules.


One of ways to avoid situations like this is to have an apriori discussion with your team members about culture and crisis. This provides team members insight about knee jerk reactions of their peers.



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