Face Saving and Maintaining a Façade: The Difference


A few months ago, I decided to revive my French language skills, which over the years had rusted away. During Expo 67 (Montreal) at the world’s fair, I worked at The Human Cell Pavilion (aka la cellule humaine) with an Australian named Karen and a Quebecois named Arthur. The three of us spoke only in French; Arthur really got a kick out of making fun of our “over-correct” grammar and our avoidance of using any English even when Karen and I spoke to each other.

When I decided to “revitalize” my French, I found it was in a sorry state. I could not string a sentence together and often found myself translating directly all the time from Hebrew or English, which is impossible because French is so different. Finally after about 20 lessons, I am pretty fluent.

However, I am very ambitious and it is not enough for me just to be able to express myself. I want to be able to express complex ideas, so I choose difficult subjects to discuss with my French tutor.

Today I chose to explain “face saving”. My tutor knew nothing about the term; she teaches languages. C’est tout. After my explanation, she asked me what the difference is between maintaining a façade and face saving. Good question. I hope I gave a good answer.

The word façade implies that underneath the veneer of appearance, there lies an unpleasant reality. As in, her façade gave no hint of her anguish. Façade also implies an outer layer which hides something deeper underneath it-perhaps something more sinister or unpleasant.

This is not the case with face saving, at least as I understand it. Face saving means that relationship maintaining is more important than the “truth”. The truth is irrelevant because it undermines something which is far more valuable, that is the centrality of the harmony of close relationships.

When a Chinese gay filmmaker returns from the USA to visit his family and decides not tell his grandfather that he is gay, he is not maintaining a facade. He is asserting that harmony of his relationship with a very old man is far more important that authenticity and other values which pretend, incorrectly in his world view, to be in centre stage.

Share Button

Simple Guidelines to an Organizations Pathology-and the proper treatment

Poodles tend to have weak rear legs.

Older people get cataracts, shingles and what not. Kids get measles, mumps and chicken pocks.

Boxers often get dementia. Tennis players get bad elbows.

People who sit next to a computer all day get various aches and pains.

All of the above “come with the territory”, and are almost unavoidable.

Similarly, different types of organizations have different pathologies. The pathologies are not avoidable because they come with the territory of being what they are.

In this post, I shall provide a short taxonomy of pathologies I have encountered in my long career in 4 types of organizations, and suggest how to best deal with them.

  1. Bureaucracies eventually ossify to the point that that they work against doing their own job. Ministries of Housing slow down building of new houses; Welfare Ministries keep people poor. Ministries of Defense go to war. Income Tax creates a black market. My approach to working with bureaucracies has always been to work with empowered project teams from different functions to create a counter force to the functional structure and logic of bureaucracies.
  2. Start Ups create new technology, but they do not change human nature. Start-up founders are often extremely arrogant, know-it-all, and believe that they are so special that their shit smells like a rose. They have little trust in consultants, until things get really bad. My approach with start-ups has generally been to try and create around the founder more common sense. The founder is often not part of the solution, but the problem itself which needs to be counterbalanced.
  3. Organizations which are growing quickly often believe that they are doing everything right, and that is why they are growing quickly. This is very often total nonsense. They are growing because in the past, smart decisions were made. In the present, they are creating the reasons why they will stop growing. My approach to working with organizations which are growing quickly is to work on mitigating the damage to the “critical core” (people, ideas, behaviours) that made the company great; it is these very people who lose their power and influence when the company grows quickly.
  4. Organizations of about 20-30 people have a problem of infrastructure. They are no longer a small company, but they cannot afford to create “staff” roles. As such, everything slows down and it becomes very hard to do simple things. My approach has always been to focus on hiring an over qualified individual who have vast experience in companies of this size. Hires from start-ups or very small companies have a hard trouble adapting to companies of this size.

One final comment. OD consultants must have domain experience. If you have done OD in family businesses, it does not “count” as relevant experience for any other type of organization.


Share Button

Dad takes me to a Montreal Expo’s Game

“It’s a really slow and boring game, but let’s go anyway,” my Dad suggested in the first season (1969) that the Montreal Expos entered the  American baseball league. Dad added, “we can get ourselves a chien-chaud (hot dog) and a few Labatts (beer); I’ll doze off and you can wake me up when it’s over”.

Dad loved sports. He had played professional football after the airforce and he was an avid skier and golfer as well. Baseball was not his cup of tea but joking around with me about  baseball gave him a kick.

Dad knew no French at all (ok, he knew 30 words) but he knew that I loved French. He knew how interested I was in what words would be used to translate the various roles in baseball, and how the PA announcer would (mis) pronounce different names.

At Stade Parc Jarry (Jarry Park) he parked his Pontiac, lite up yet another Export A, and we tried to make our way to the seats. Dad was hard of hearing and the attendants who gave directions at Jarry spoke only French. Dad kept asking me ‘what did he say”? I laughed at that; he didn’t. “What a sick sense of humour you have, boy”.

A few things stand out in my memory from that game. First and foremost, I ate 3 hot dogs, chips (frites), popcorn and ice cream. Another memory: the the PA announced the name of the next batter:  “l’arret-court, the short stop, John Bocabellllllllllllllla.” I was ecstatic. The French word for short stop and the Bocabella name dragged out.

Later on in the game, a batter came up whose family had originally come from Quebec, although he himself was playing for an American team (LA Dodgers) , having been born and bred in the US. His name was James Kenneth LeFebvre. The announcer said “Second base, deuxieme base, Jim Le-Feeber, Jacques LeFebvre”. The crowd went wild.

On the way home, Dad asked me if I wanted to drop into the Dairy Queen for a sundae. Of course, he knew that I had eaten like a pig. After he asked me that question, he laughed for a long time, while smoking yet another Export A.

When we got out of the car Dad said, “Jesus what a f-cking back ache I have. I prefer watching boxing from bed, to be honest.”

Oh how I miss him.

Share Button

Indicators that an Internal OD function is not properly focused

In a previous post, I described internal OD departments as chicken shit brigades, a pejorative term that I do not regret using.

I reread the post and instead of updating it which would force readers to re-read it and find the differences, I have put together a case study that illustrates a few symptoms indicating that an internal OD function needs to be refocused, to use a polite term.

  • CEO Stan stated in his yearly goals that middle management needs to assume ownership of problems, and not escalate almost every issue to senior management for resolution.The level of teamwork and alignment between Stan’s direct reports is non-existent. Stan over-delegates to his direct staff and they have become warlords, who micromanage middle management.

Stan’s HR VP, Gloria, has an internal OD department, which coordinates training programs, allots parking space, coordinates the health/wellness project and leads the Early Bird Retirement Plan for staff fired before the age of 40. Gloria is about to present how internal OD will support the changes Stan strives for. Here is her plan.

  • Middle managers will each be coached on how to assume responsibility. 2 hours per month. 5 external independant coaches will be commissioned from the National Coaching Institute.
  • The Middle Management Steering Committee will put together a mission statement and critical success factors. The committee will be composed of the top 3 middle managers, the HR director and the internal OD function.
  • Middle Managers will get a monthly lecture, on Zoom, on empowerment, out-of-the-box thinking and authenticity.

Internal OD departments which focus on people, not processes or systems, reduce the scope of the real issue to get senior management off the hook. They serve as a mild sedative which transfers blame and delays a solution. At best, they are often irrelevant. At worst, they make solving the problem much harder by delaying system changes until a crisis mode develops.

Share Button

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?















Share Button

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.


Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.
Share Button

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.

Share Button

Accessing the Political Skills of Potential Job Candidates

We all know how hard it is to access the compatibility of candidates for a job. Tests, interviews, graphologists, peer interviews: we have all had to eat our humble pie after massive errors of judgement.

I have been way off many times and I am not kind to myself after I miss. But thankfully, my clients are nicer to me than I am to myself because I try to do my best to innovate in order to improve.

One of the factors that I try to access in each interview is the level of political savvy that a potential client has, since more often than not, it is the organizational politics that plays a critical role in the adjustment of the candidate. There are a lot of organizations which don’t test for political skills, especially organizations that are very political. The army and family businesses are a good example, as are large and older organizations.

I will provide some examples of how I try to access political skills.

  • For a family organization

The CEO, your boss, is extremely dominating. Furthermore, some of his critical decisions are made in haste. The CEO’s mother wants to speak to you next week. She is the former chairwoman and founder. What are your thoughts? Plans? Fears in any? Describe your approach.

  • For an engineering job at a senior level

You have been asked to submit a budget to present to the Board which covers 60% of what you actually need. Your boss has told you that the budget submission is a political act, and later on down the line, he will allocate “whatever is necessary”. How will you react to your boss’s request?

  • For a business development role for hi-tech

You are about to meet with new investors who may be interested in injecting money into the company for which you work. You have been thinking of jumping ship because the next  product releases are 1) too buggy and 2) too late; you are pretty negative about where your company is heading. You know that these investors will really bad mouth you if you mis-represent, but you need to stay put until you get a new job (which is not easy) because of your mortgage payments. What’s your plan?

These are just a few of the many examples I have developed.

Try doing so next time you are fishing for a candidate. It may add just a bit more of validity in the perilous process of predicting success.

Share Button