How aware are you about others’ perception of your own culture?

Bob Small (Iowa) , who has been running the Integration Team for two years, informed his staff that he has accepted a new role with a competitor and is leaving in a month. Bob is unaware that his move is seen as self-serving whoring by several of his staff-because he puts his individual needs before those of his team.

Manfred (Munich) has just learned that his direct report Emma (Italy) invited Selene from presales agreed to attend a design review meeting. Manfred sent Emma an angry text message; Emma spoke to HR to get a transfer away from “Manfred’s control obsessiveness”. Manfred cannot understand why Emma did not run this decision by him first.

Shauli (Israel) asked Sanjay (Hyderabad) to suspend a certain safety routine for 5 minutes to allow him to fix a bug on site at a customer. Sanjay told Shauli that he will do so “after I tell my boss”. Sanjay thinks Shauli is overly pushy.

Sanjay (Hyderabad) told the same Shauli  that he has indeed taken care of the purchase order for new CAD tools. Shauli has got the same answer for six months and he thinks Sanjay is a liar. The truth is that Sanjay has asked for budget, but has not “yet” received an answer. 

True, Sanjay, Shauli, Manfred, Emma, Bob and Selene should learn about the cultural values of those people with whom they work. However, my belief is that the precursor to any cultural awareness learning is a thorough knowledge of how others’ see your very own culture.

This self awareness is often hardest for those who believe that other cultures are “less developed” than their own, i.e.- commonly Anglo cultures and Japan. Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, Israeli and Russians have an easier time learning about themselves because they tend to be less defensive about how “right” they are. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What can happen when the work place does not factor in the input of employee’s spouse?

Before you start reading this post, please note that I am not politically correct, nor do I use gender pronouns as is currently popular. And while all comments are welcome, I ignore comments that relate to my PC compatibility . Now let’s get down to a case study.

Fred, aged 48, has worked as Deputy CFO at large and well known international law firm, for whom he has been working 20 years. Fred’s boss, Harold, is 58 years old and has been with the firm since day one. Harold focuses on relations with tax lobbyists, PR in the financial community, and ensuring that he is involved in large new contracts to ensure profitability. Fred, on the other hand, does all the grunt work, at which he is very very good: thorough and meticulous.

Fred’s wife, Joselin, thinks it’s time that Fred take a crack at a CFO job and leave the law firm where “you will never get promoted till Harold kicks the bucket”. Joselin feels that the law firm takes Fred for granted, although he is very well paid. But, the company doesn’t allow Fred to travel first class to Japan (5 times a year) whilst Harold does have that privilege. And Harold has purchased a flat for his 4 kids, while Fred and Joselin can be generous, but not that generous.

Joselin also thinks that her husband needs to start to play “major leagues”, and not “plod on like a run-of-the mill ‘comptable’ (accountant in French)”.

It’s November now and the firm is planning its review process. Joselin has been pouring it on very thick lately, and Fred has even acquiesced to meeting a few young entrepreneurs who want a CFO to build the company, raise money, keep the firm on track, and join all negotiations. And the start ups are offering huge options and fat salaries.

No one on Fred’s firm knows too much about Joselin except that she is French (Canadian), the Head of The Physics Department at a local (very well known) university, dresses well and appears to be an excellent supportive partner to Fred as well as a devoted mother.

Fred is about to get the regular feedback -“huge asset to company; what would we do without you; 15% salary raise; one day the CFO job is yours; you need to trust your people more”. Joselin, in the meantime, is turning the screws, and Fred is torn.

It’s easy to claim that there is a separation between family life and work. But this is not always true. In many cultures, it is never true, especially in Middle eastern cultures and family businesses. In Western cultures, there is separation barrier, but a weak one.

But one thing is sure-the impact of the spouse on decisions that an employee makes are critical-and those who take the separation barrier to be very rigid, do so at their peril.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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“Mutual Adaptation”: Case Study of OD in a global context

When faced with complex issues in a global context, many practitioners fall back on the more traditional values of the OD profession. These values, western in their etiology, are built into the type of input OD professionals provide, as well as the  tools that the OD practitioner administers. When the tools and interventions are aimed at a Miami water utility or a Houston department chain, that’s one thing. In a global environment, a less value driven approach is more appropriate.

I have found that bringing  people to “mutually adapt” to one another is an extraordinarily useful approach. It is not value-neutral but it is not ramming my values as a consultant down someone else’s throat-and subsequently failing, to boot.

Leveraging “Mutual Adaptation” rather than naïve value imposition,  does drive behavioural change in organizations with acute diversity.

Mutual adaptation basically provides the client with the following platform: you all are both very different. You have a common task, but you probably understand it differently. The way to get it done is in your hands. Find a way to work together. If you hold onto your own way of doing things, it may/may not work, but there are prices to pay. Try to adapt to one another. Assume your partner will do the same. Or he/she may not. That needs to be worked out.

Case:-

Sherman Whitehead is an American executive who likes to shoot straight, make decisions expediently and delegate. Sherman is New Product Introduction VP.

His colleague Nathan Ramos from the Philippines prefers to concentrate authority, delays decision making until he can try to please most of the stakeholders, and sees each and every decision as a matter of principle. Nathan is Key Greater Manilla Area Account Manager.

Sherman is driving the introduction of  a new product into Nathan’s territory. Until now, it has been a massive failure.

Sherman and Nathan have a great difficulty working together. Sherman has his foot on the gas; Nathan has his foot on the brakes. Sherman takes risks; Nathan plays it safe. Sherman makes decisions; Nathan says yes and then sabotages. No client is willing to meet with Sherman and Nathan’s sales may plunge within a year, or may not. But the heat between them reached HQ.

A traditional OD consultant was called in to “jump start” their relationship. The consultant, armed with the corporate values of “focus on implementation” and his own preference for openness/transparency and “meeting in the middle”, soon lost Nathan’s trust by force-feeding transparency. In parallel, the consultant lost Sherman’s trust for slowing things down and sloganeering.

Elan is yet another consultant who was hired after the first consultant failed. Elan  sat with both parties separately and then together; he explained that they need to find a way to mutually adapt to one another. This may mean compromise; overpowering one another; cutting a deal, backstabbing, helping one another look good. Whatever. But the consultant says he has no preference. “Find a way to adapt; I can work with each of you together, or separately, or you can figure it out on your own.”

Then Elan sat with both parties separately, and explained the world view of the other party is his own words, removing nuances which could aggravate mutual adaptation.

Nathan called Elan to have supper and explained to him that he, Nathan, was fearful of losing a key government account if he took too many risks. Sherman had a drink with Elan at midnight and asked Elan to “tell me what I need to do to move this thing forward”.

Elan’s approach was to pressure each side to assume ownership of adapting to the other. At times, but rarely, he offered a compromise when both sides agreed up front to accept it because they were stuck.

Since the prognosis for mutual adaptation is hampered when one party is more powerful than the other in role, power, or the way power is used, the use of “mutual adaptation” must be modified given a gap in power differential. Elan either sets ground-rules up front  and/or abandons the technique and reverts to a more executive type of  OD intervention. And thanks to Peter Altschul for pointing out the need to clarify the impact of power differential on the dynamic.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who pays the bill, Phil?

 

You have been offered an OD project to improve the information flow between management and employees in an unionized shop. The entire shop is unionized except for customer service reps which is an outsourced service. The union opposes the project. What are your alternatives?

This post includes a short article clarifying the relationship between OD in a unionized shop as well as a quiz!

By OD, I am not referring to training, outdoor training, personal coaching or anything else that masquerades as an OD effort, but rather to OD as a system intervention aimed to remove non tangible barriers to change.

The relationship is not all complex, as long as we keep our thinking straight and don’t inhale our own smoke. Let’s look a few axioms.

  • Management pays for OD efforts. That says a lot, does it not!?
  • Unions are legitimate, elected representatives of the employees. The unions represent the interests of the employees, and if the employees do not feel represented, they vote the Union out of office.
  • OD practitioners may feel that the Union should/could/must be represented or not be represented in OD activities. Yet, this is not for the OD practitioner  to comment on, because it gets him, or even her, involved in political intrigues between management and union, with management paying the bills.
  • OD as a profession is neither pro nor anti -Union. It is agnostic on this issue, however it is not perceived as such because our bills are paid by management, and we try to build trust and direct communication between management and employee, which may not be in the Union’s interest.

Now that I have put forward my axioms, here are a few tips.

  • Avoid becoming a player/mediator in any interaction between management and union.
  • Avoid commenting/addressing any controversy or disputes whose etiology is a political struggle.
  • Answer all questions that you may be asked with by a union representative with full honesty.
  • Think of each and every intervention you do as something which may have political ramifications, and then reconsider if you want to risk an entire project for one naïve move.
  • Introduction of technology, systems, AI and whatever are not agnostic in the power balance between union and management. Again, do not be naïve.
  • Now a comment to my American brethren: Since OD’s “traditional” values are so much aligned with democracy, remember that Union representatives are elected and management are appointed.

Quiz

Management is revamping the performance evaluation system and the union steward from the IT department calls you to ask how much “weight” be given to seniority. He asks to meet you. My answer: Meet with him/her along with a manager and provide your honest assessment.

 

You have been asked to lecture the software team on “Critical Success Factors of Team Work when working from Home”. Of the 50 team members, only 6 show up because the union has boycotted all OD and Training  due to management’s decision to cut benefits of staff who work from home. My answer: I would not give the lecture if it’s being boycotted, or girl-cotted.

You witnessed an incident where one employee cursed another using an ethic slur. There is pre-dismissal hearing and since you were the only witness, you have been asked to state what you heard. The curser was a member of the union. My answer: Of course I would not. I’m not internal. But I would informally leak what I heard, and leaked that I’ve leaked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why is Organizational Development so rigid and out of step?

 

As organizations have changed beyond recognition since OD was founded, the profession has not shown much resilience. OD practioners cling to outdated values, irrelevant tools, and outdated assumptions.  There are many reasons for this rigidity and in this short post, I want to point out what I believe to be the major barriers to change.

  • OD was a revolution. Revolutions become institutionalized. Prophets are replaced by priests; rebels are replaced by bureaucrats. The bureaucrats and the priests auger power and sanctify the revolution as “over”.
  • Many people who teach OD do not practice OD, except for lectures and guest appearances. Some have never had a long term client in their life. As opposed to a great legal mind who knows the law but has never been in court, or a philosopher whose very detachment from the everyday enables new perspectives, OD professors who have not spent years in the field are worse than useless; they promulgate an understanding of organizations as they existed more than half a century ago.
  • There have been very few innovators in the field of OD. The innovative brains of OD are in the field doing OD, practising OD, but not renewing it from positions of power from within the profession.
  • As organizations changed faster than OD, OD became more fundamentalist, much like the Amish, Hassidic Jewry or the Bible Bashers of the South. Believers blinded themselves to a world that they did not accept, and sanctified the past.

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Get a new plan, Stan

“The answer is easy if you take it logically” Paul Simon

How has OD adapted itself to the changes in organizational configurations? Let’s take a look.

First I will spell out just a few ways that organizations have changed in the last few decades.

  1. Organizations sell things that do not exist, install half-cooked crap, and fix it constantly, until it works-and then sell an upgrade which is managed the same way.
  2. Most communication is not face to face.
  3. People who work together do not work in the same building; as a matter of fact, they work in different time zones and-lo and behold, may not share common values.
  4. Business travel is dead due to a plague impacting the globe.
  5. Nothing is predictable, most of all supply chain, stability of order flow, and relevancy of existing products.
  6. Service provision has been digitalized.
  7. ERP’s have produced brainlessness and the near death of personal ownership.

I would be very interested in knowing if and how OD has adapted to these changes?

Imho, it hasn’t-which is why there is so much standing on the shoulders of the tired and very dead founders. If you are interested in what needs to be done, most of the posts in this blog provide an answer. Start here. Then here. Now this.

After which, you can plough through my blog-and most of the changes that OD needs to adopt are spelt out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Examples of the radical changes needed to renew OD’s relevance

I emerged dejected from a cordial meeting of very smart people on OD’s relevance in face of the massive change and crisis we are all experiencing.

I felt at times like I was in a group of Latin speakers, discussing how to further inculcate the use of Latin in written passports and diplomacy.

Now I have way of being in people’s face and speaking my mind, but I did try to behave until I heard words like “permanency” and “awareness”. Thankfully, one colleague from Missouri noted that the language we used during the meeting was somewhat out of sync. I felt, “thank god I’m not alone”

I decided to try to be positive today about the whole matter. I am recovering from a 3rd corona shot (which is no easy task) and it’s so hot that I dare not venture outside except for taking George outside to “relieve” himself. So I pondered-“what can be done”.

What  OD needs to do now to become relevant. (like yesterday!)

  1. Speed as strategy; whatever we need to do, it needs to be fast. 
  2. Work with clients to ensure that expertise is well positioned and empowered, even if it means less emphasis on teamwork.
  3. Similar to other professions, we need to intervene in order to diagnose. “Take this pill, if it works, then your symptoms are depression. Install this software, and we’ll test it down the road”. Diagnose, intervene measure; freeze unfreeze-are irrelevant. Eg, X is incompetent. Outsource the capability NOW.
  4. Stop standing on the shoulders of the founding fathers. They are old, dead and partially irrelevant. Show respect by breaking with tradition, as they did.
  5. In the army, I learnt that OD is done best before a battle and after. So when necessary, mitigate overdosing on reflection, awareness and activities that hinder short term survival. Yes, short term.
  6. Political survival of key figures, aka-what’s in this for me, becomes a dominant theme in extreme crisis. Factor this into your understanding of what is/needs to be done.

 

 

 

 

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August Letter from Tel Aviv

It is about a five minute drive from my home to the clinic where I will get my third corona vaccine tomorrow. It’s scheduled for 17:52 ( 5.52 pm). Now that’s Israel for you-some things work (health services) and some things don’t; it will take me about an hour to find parking once I get to the clinic. There is no parking to be found-legal or illegal.

Of course I know that I am a guinea pig and I don’t give a shit. I would much rather risk a few side effects than risk choking to death. I know of very few people my age who will not get the shot. Except of course for those who have already died of something else.

Masks have now returned to style, albeit often worn on the chin. Wearing a mask in the summer heat is not at all comfortable, to say the very least. But as delta rips across the country, imported by cretins  who took  summer vacations in unsafe places, the mask is making a comeback. How much of a comeback? I’d say as frequent as is condom use.

Every night there is a short programming-spot (on channel 11) which tries to “make sense” of the corona data. After each broadcast, I am more convinced than ever that the experts remind me of the various specialists who treat back pain: “live with it”; “exercise less”, “exercise more”, “you have a curvature of the spine”; “try acupuncture”; “I can operate”, “look, you are 71, what do you expect?”. And of course “it’s in your mind”.

Consistency is lacking not only in corona data, but in public policy. The country club mandates that all people coming into the club have been vaccinated twice. But this does not apply to the staff. Or the kids. Or the contractors. Actually, it applies to no one. Or perhaps it applies to the specific person at the entrance. Alexi is on his cell phone and doesn’t care who comes in; Fatima is typing her thesis and doesn’t even look at who comes in. Perla does care, but she caves in to people who “will get vaccinated next week”. How did we ever win a war? 

Well, at least we have a saner government now. Except perhaps for the corona-is-not-a-danger Minister of Education who is a PhD and a woman, so criticism seems to be mild. After all, gender trumps competence in today’s dialogue. She also hails from a city way north on the Lebanese border, so she can’t be wrong. After all, she is not from Tel Aviv. 

Thankfully, we do have a very vibrant society and Israelis know how to suffer danger and live at the same time. That truly is an advantage we have over the Americans who have discovered that their society is not so great, and over the more smug European nations who are surprised that such a small country as Israel is coping far better than most places on the globe. Why? Because almost every Israeli has a post doctorate in “grin and bear it”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More information? Or better filters? Preliminary ramblings

I remember the cigar lady at Ruby Foo’s Restaurant in Montreal-“Cigars, Cigarettes, Tiperellos”, she would say softly, as she roamed from table to table, dressed in a gorgeous Chinese robe. Smoking was not bad for your health; it was a social pleasure even though I did not “run” to tell my father that I had bought a pack of du Maurier. Later of course, that pleasure was to end as smoking became as healthy as inhaling fumes from a Mac truck.

Two eggs a day were a must in “Canada’s Health Rules”, drilled into my head by Mrs. MacLean, Mr Colebrook, Mrs Pert and Mrs Taylor. Spending time in the sun didn’t cause melanoma-it provided Vitamin C. 

In my 71 years, I have seen and heard almost every food labelled as a cause of cancer and/or an elixir for good health.

Many diseases that had been able as “triggered by stress”, were later to be redefined years later as caused by something else. Nowadays, “viruses” and “stress” are very popular. 

Recently I have been asking myself what are we taking for granted now that years from now will be defined as nonsense. My guess is that it will be “what is information, and how much of it, whatever it is, do we need?”

I really don’t know what information is anymore. It’s not that I am being a smart-Alec; I really don’t know.

Clearly it’s not anything on the evening news. It’s not what politicians tell us. Certainly it is not religion, for me anyway. It’s very hard to get an agreement on an agreed version of what is a historical fact. Most sciences have changing paradigms, as Kuhn pointed out years ago.

I also practice a profession which no one can define. Definitions of my profession range from applied social science to an art form. Those differences in themselves are hard to define.

Realities don’t always change because of better knowledge, but also because of fads, fashion and political infighting within disciplines. 

Which leads me to believe that we need much better filters, not only less misinformation.

And we need to treat the information that comes our way like water that needs to cleaned, milk that needs to be pasteurized and air that needs to be clean.

Filtering information-is that just another hype, or a real need? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts about leadership in tough times

These are very tough times in which to manage. The vast scope of external chaos, the partial upsetting/paralysis of supply chains, the inability of forecasting, the endless  waves of disease. Many leaders are looking bad and feeling even worse. 

This is a perfect time for OD practitioners to look our profession to  ask: what do we need to change about how we look at leadership?

Here are a few of my thoughts as well as questions that I am asking of myself and of colleagues.

  1.  People may have unrealistic expectations from leaders in hard times. What are the real and unreal things that people expect from leadership in such times?
  2. Is full transparency on the part of leadership a good practice? When coupled with ignorant masses, isn’t full transparency a risky bet?
  3. What can leaders do when they cannot control anything?
  4. How can we help leaders better communicate when their people do not want to hear the message?
  5. Do experts make better leaders than natural leaders in time like this?
  6. What is the shelf time of charismatic leadership in very tough times?
  7. Churchill was ousted at the end of the war. Can we learn anything from this?
  8. What type of dangerous leaders can prosper in hard times?

 

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