Major challenges facing Organizations (and OD consultants)

Recently a few incidents have occured that have ignited my curiousity about what new challenges organizations could be facing.

An airline changed the time of one of my flights a month in advance, causing huge inconvenience and a need to shift about plans. After a frustrating interaction with their customer service in which all my requests were refused, I got an survey by SMS asking me how satisfied I was from the level of service. None of the questions actually enabled me to tell them how they had fucked up my plans.

A client of mine is looking for 3 people who have skills that are in very very short supply. As a result of the inability to recruit these people, one piece of equipment is inoperable,causing quality issues with the final product.

Developers in a company are telling the users that the service and product they bought is fraught with problems, and they recommend not using their product which is “too expensive and not what it was dressed up to be”. 

A company which until recently branded itself as the greatest people place you’ll ever see in your entire life, just fired 28% of its staff. And that is just the beginning.

In the meeting, no one is paying attention, and everyone is texting on their phone. The meeting is well organized; am important issue is being discussed. Noa is texting her daughter. Fred is texting his first wife. And Sammyis texting his son.



When a company does not care about customer service, how can an (inevitable) total meltdown be prevented? What are the indicators needed to point out that customers are on the breaking point? At what point do we shift from an apparent, fake customer focus to a sincere dedication to the customer?

If skills are unavailable, what machinery, technology and know how do we need to phase out, instead of pressuring Recruitment to find people who don’t exist.

If “loyalty” is passe, what basic assumptions do we need to change in the way we communicate with our customers when selling products and services?

Is fun-fun, happy-happy or wow-wow a sustainable people strategy? Or are you setting yourself up to be knocked out cold.

How can we ensure focused conversations of complex problems, when no one has the span of attention to do so?















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Can OD become aligned with our Diminishing Attention Span?

Given our diminishing attention span, I have written  this post  so that it will take only one and a half minutes to read. Less if you just scan it briefly. If needed, I can send you a brief summary.

OD’s true value expresses itself in enhancing peoples’ relationships, creating a context of cooperation which goes beyond certain specific transactions. That’s the unique and essential “core” of developing an organizations’ human capabilities.

And it takes time to do so.  Meetings take time. And the “time” I am referring to is not a minute here and a minute there between looking at your phone or PC. I am referring to protracted periods of time working on improving the people part of organizations.

Everyone actually has the needed time, there is no doubt about that. But they don’t have the attention span, thus the time spent focusing on any given issue is a few minutes at best. Probably less. We have lost the ability for protracted focus, and this is a boundary condition in which we work. This is not good news for OD. There is no doubt in my mind that we have to adapt to this reality. It is bigger than us; we cannot change it. True, there are consultants who claim that OD can take on huge mega tasks of societal change, but these are the very consultants who often fail at smaller tasks, such as retaining their own clients. So be it. 

Here are a few things I have done, with a very heavy heart, that allows me to continue to practice on in the hostile focus-less époque.

  • No more long group meetings. 90 minutes far max. Even these are few and far between.
  • Personal sessions are 45 minutes at the most. Often less.
  • I tend to ignore people glancing at their phones two or three times during a meeting; if it is more frequent, I suggest that we reschedule.
  • I try not to deal with a wide range of issues, but rather try to keep more focused.
  • At times, I myself use messaging for clients who are extremely busy all the time, albeit I detest myself for doing this.

Let’s be honest; it is a battle of retreat. With all the technology, working from home, and the ubiquitous use of cell phones, relationships have become transactional. And, as a result, most  OD has morphed into a water-down form of “motor oil” to keep the transactions squeaking on and/or by perfuming the pig with wellness, gender parity or diversity. All the former are real issues, but do not focus on the true value OD, namely that good, trusting relationships, healthy interfaces based on fulfilled and negoitiated mutual dependencies  serve as a very solid platform to enable things getting done.


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Strange Ways that Organizations Change their Culture

Consultants do not change organizational culture. Consultants and management can change the way that things are done, and as a result culture is perceived as having changed. But there are much faster and different  ways that culture changes. Here are a few.

  • Get a major customer in Japan. This will drive a positive change in customer focus, product quality, and the creation of a long term account strategy.
  • Get heavily fined. If the court slaps a crippling fine on an organization for any one of many infringements, culture changes much more quickly. This works incredibly well especially if the management team is arrogant and self-serving.
  • Be acquired. If an organization is acquired, its culture is usually decimated with a few months to a few years. Cultures die upon acquisition.
  • Massive failures drive cultural change. This includes loss of major clients, severe prolonged fall in stock price or military defeat.
  • Departure or death of a founder. Departing dominant founders who fail to produce the next generation of leadership (especially but not only in family businesses) will trigger a rapid change of culture, not necessarily for the better.

Sadly, companies hire consultants to change culture and it always, always fails, unless external factors are leveraged to harness the change.

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Second Time OD

From time to time, an organization can attempt a OD endeavour a second time, after a first attempt has failed.

For the consultant, this is a challenge with many pitfalls, and in this post I will spell them out, with a few recommendations.

  • The previous consultant did good work, but the organization wanted fun and wow wow wow. This can happen when the work was commissioned by an internal OD and Training Manager, who is fearful for her/his standing in the organization. Example: Galit (internal OD) wanted the sales team to improve their soft skills. The consultant recognized that the products that the Sales team were failing to sell are of low quality and highly priced. But the VP of Engineering has a lot of clout with investors, so it is difficult to remove him to improve product quality. The consultant asked to investigate this issue in more depth and was fired for “poking around and overstepping his mandate”. In cases such as these, 2nd time OD will probably fail, unless the consultant also practices the second oldest profession in the world.


  • The previous consultant did poor work and was booted out. I have replaced Kumbaya consultants, rigid old-fashioned consultants who promulgate OD’s western values in the wrong places, flirtatious ladies, and consultants who just did not have the brain power to do the right things. However, the motive of “doing better work than my predecessors” is not a smart one, because it becomes “all about you”. The correct mindset is that the organization, not you, are trying again. If YOU want to succeed where your competition failed, you are setting yourself to be knocked out by your own ambition. Focus on what needs to be done, not where others failed.


  • For certain types of clients, second time OD is very difficult. Organizations with a very strong culture which has become a religion are prone to fail because the OD consultant, if not a high priest of the religion, is a heretic. I remember doing a project where transparency was a religion. Of course, it was not, but it was forbidden to admit it. Or I worked for an organization where every decision had to be made by consensus. This of course never occurred, but again, saying so was heresy.So, take a look at WHY your predecessor failed, and if you observe that the organization probably failed because it is impervious to change, but cannot admit it, stay away.
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Why things get worse when an OD intervention starts-and what to do about it

Don’t believe those who say that OD cannot make things worse. The truth is that OD does develop organizations, enabling them to better leverage horizontal team work between functions, mitigate unnecessary escalations, and repair organizational “bugs” by re-empowering people to evoke common sense. However this takes time and initially, things get worse.

Here’s why.

When people start talking about their problems, their expectations go up. However the speed of change is much slower than the rise in the level of expectations. The result is the perception that things are getting worse. This is common sense.

OD projects change the allocation of power generally from top to bottom, but also from side to side, ie, from one function to another. People resist these changes and fight back. How often? Always. For how long? As long as management is not consistent in supporting the change effort.

OD projects have opposition. The opposition arises from managers who see impending threats, from internal OD who moan and groan why they are not allowed to do the work, and from Finance since professional OD is expensive. Often the internal opposition initially creates lots of noise to undermine the success of the OD project.

OD efforts are often trial and error. The trials are sometimes unfortunately similar to finding a good antidepressant-it takes time and some pain.

Change is painful, and very often old problems disappear and new ones surface. Because OD does not solve problems, it replaces them with new ones, of a different magnitude. For example: we have now empowered our hotel maintenance staff to order spare parts directly without going thru the Hotels’ Management Chain’s purchasing bureaucracy. Maintenance is faster; guests are not complaining any more.  But now we need to change the methods/ culture of control and recruitment. New problems. New pain.

My suggestion is that an OD consultant always inform and explain this “initial setback” when before signing up for a job. If the management wants fun and wow, it’s better to clear this up front, and not get burnt.

And remember, HR and internal OD have a VERY low pain threshold, especially if they are the ones that have chosen you to do the work.

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