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.


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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.

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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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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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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.

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Organizational Stupidity

Andy Borovitz’s book Profiles in Ignorance documents the increasing degree of stupidity in the political domain, documenting such figures as W Bush, Quayle, Reagan, Pailin and Trump.

Phenomenally funny book. And it got me thinking about stupidity in organizations.

But first and to be fair, the book is one sided.  There are other examples of ignorance BOTH sides of the political scale, such as Kerry’s middle east policy, knocking off Senor Kaddafi, and Carter’s total misreading of Iran as a island of stability just before the old Shah was disposed.

It appears that stupidity is not limited to one side. In organizations, this is doubly true. At face value, organizations have become more sophisticated over time. Augmented by computing power, easier financing terms and a manpower pool from the global economy, vast knowledge about the market, organizations should have become much smarter. But this has not happened.*

Organizations’ increasing stupidity is often fueled by the innovations that they have adopted. In this post, I want to point out examples of organizational stupidity all based on my experience and observation. 

1-Your customer base and our technology acquisition.
We have a great technology but a weak customer base. You have a strong customer base but your technology is weak. So, let’s create synergy by acquisition and sell our technology to your customer base.

And I ask, how stupid do you have to be to know that this seemingly simple plan almost never works, because of all of the personal, political and technical issues involved?

Enterprise resource planning certainly solved a huge set of issues (speed, compliance, built-in siloism) only to create a shitload of new problems, such as the elimination of common sense, lack of flexibility, process Nazism, and a thriving blaming culture fuelled by constant escalation of issues to senior management to solve problems fueling by these very “integrated” processes.

Sounds stupid? It certainly is, unless you understand that all innovations solve certain problems and create others.

3-Spokesmen and Perfuming Pigs
In an attempt to deal with image problems stemming from the intrusive role of the media, organizations began to view “looking better” as much more important than becoming better. This lofty goal was delegated to the spokesperson, and or course, often times this fueled lack of trust on the part of the consumer, as well as the process of “hiding” information from and by the spokesperson.

Can you really sell a 20 Euro ticket from Barcelona to Rome, or a 15 Euro ticket between London and Dublin or an 8 Euro trip between Cairo and Entebbe whilst providing good service? Can airports handle the inevitable havoc as the serfs and hoards start to wander almost freely? Of course they can’t, but by perfuming the pig, organizations appear to be “cruisin’ for a bruise” and/or digging their own grave.

4-Shadow work
Organizations seem to believe that you work for them. And thus, they download their jobs to their consumers (shadow work), generally via phone support which is often almost impossible to reach. Try installing a new router on your own, or transitioning to fiber optics; try assembling a water filter every six months.
Shadow work denigrates the reputation of companies, results in huge turn over in call centers, and to a lack of customer loyalty.

5-Constant Reorgs

In another post, I have spelt out the stupidity of constant reorganizations.

And back to stupidity, becoming media savvy probably has created politicians who know how to “look good” as opposed to being compatible to the job. And constant innovation and the need to be fast and flexibile have created new organizational configurations, riddled with stupidity.


*Today’s organizations remind me of great boxers with a powerful punch on one hand, like Floyd Patterson or Amir Khan or Vladimir Klitchko, yet with a glass chin- meaning critical weaknesses that leave them exposed to being knocked out in well fell swoop.

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Suggested emphases for Organization Improvement in 2023

Yeah, I know. 2023 plans have already been put in place and signed off on. What can I do?

Perhaps I am not the Speedy Gonzales that I used to be.  

Nevertheless, a bit late,  here is a list of things that I will continue to look at closely in my diagnostic work in this coming year.

  • To what degree has digitalization negatively impacted interface with the customer base and what is the recovery strategy for this?
  • What types of skills are to be lost with the introduction of artificial intelligence of different sorts? Has there been appropriate risk mitigation?
  • For which organizational weaknesses do the “product heroes” compensate? What plans are in place if these heroes jump ship?
  • Where has common sense been eliminated by process Nazism? How is it possible to restore the rule of common sense in such situations? And as US-based consultant Peter Altschul has added more about common sense in personal correspondance, “what is the relationship between common sense and policy? How do the two influence each other? To what extent is common sense connected with culture?”
  • How can in house communication and trust be improved by making sure that electronic communication is not used to blame or transfer hot potatoes?
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The problem with transparency as a corporate value

Yes, lots of firms have Transparency as one of the core values embedded on their flag.

But what is embedded on the company flag is very often what companies have a great deal of problems accomplishing. So instead of doing it, they subscribe to values like Transparency mainly as a symbolic gesture and/or as an esposed (as opposed to actual) religion.

Transparency as a core value is extremely problematic for several reasons which I will point out in this post. If you are a reader based in the west and doing business in the west, read this anyway because it may apply to you.

  • Many companies misrepresent their capabilities during the sales process. Subsequently, they misrepresent expected timetables. Upon delivery, the client can be surprised or unhappy about what was delivered, yet keeps on buying because of the temporary advantage that the product delivers. IF A COMPANY IS NOT TRANSPARENT WITH ITS CLIENTS, THERE IS ZERO CHANCE FOR INTERNAL TRANSPARENCY.
  • In many parts of Asia (especially China and Taiwan), Russia & the FSU as well as the Middle East, Transparency is often seen as a bizarre western quirk. The common approach is “why share knowledge i.e, power? Why give others an advantage? Why expose weaknesses? Transparency will enable HQ to fu-k us! Or other development sites will take our knowledge away”.
  • Being Transparent is indeed is often being stupid for the nerd in the trenches: you get more work; you get more pressure; you are more vulnerable. Not strangely, HR is the function which most often promulgates Transparency because it is easier to manipulate the staff when their guards are down all hyped up by transparency (and authenticity).

Now don’t get me wrong. Transparency is a great enabler of better management and healthier organizations. Ah-ma-ma (a Hebrew slang for “but what”), it is often resisted (justifiably) and not always REALLY beneficial for the interface with the client.


It’s September and there is a deadline which is impossible to meet in December. If I am transparent, I will voice my opinion immediately and will be worked to the bone from now on. If I surface my “concerns” in December just before the deadline, I will have just a few days/weeks of pressure and the delivery will be rescheduled.

Okay, so you have reached this far and and think, “he’s crazy, of course I want my organization to support and celebrate Transparency.”  Just to make sure, take this small test:

  1. Do you support the idea that staff share one another’s salaries, perks and bonuses with one another?
  2. Is your engineering department free to discuss all the products’ shortcomings with clients, and provide a realistic timeframe for them to be fixed?
  3. Are you willing to diviludge what are the real reasons why highly incompetent people retain their job, even during the most severe downsizing?
  4. Is Supply Chain mandated to negotiate the contracting services so ensure that ALL vendors (not just strategic ones) makes a fair profit AND get paid on time with no lame excuses? Again I emphasize, all vendors.
  5. If you do not give out salary increases when the going is bad, do you compensate when the going is good? Or do you have a bullshit excuse when the going is good as well?

Now, do the math.


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Let’s look at leadership close up for a minute

Let’s look at leadership carefully for a moment.

I have worked with several leaders in my career who should never have succeeded.

Kim could not make a decision to save his life. He dithered and dilly dallied and hemmed and hawed. He told everyone what they wanted to hear and when he finally made a decision, he did what he wanted in a clandestine manner, only to be caught red handed. Kim bet on one technology that turned out to be a smashing success, which made him and his team very rich. History was rewritten to make him into a hero and management guru.

Saul was extremely loquacious, and not the brightest lightbulb. His English was mediocre, at best. He spent hours and hours talking to his team members, one on one, to ensure that they were on board with his decisions, which he never made. Saul was a sports fan and often chewed off the ears of his staff with long monologues about what this or that player “should have done”. In a bad year when 3 of the released products failed to produce desired results, Saul managed to sell the unhappy customers new (undeveloped) products which saved the revenue stream of his company. Saul also managed to raise a huge amount of money even when his investors were bombarded with bad news about client dissatisfaction. Saul, like Kim, was reframed as a Churchill.

Allan is rude; he cannot listen more than a minute before he loses his patience. He knows how to do everyone’s job better than they do. He bullies employees and he makes sexist jokes. His personal assistants last no more than 6 months. Allan, faced with a quickly changing job market place, imported labour from abroad solving “a lack of skills” shortage. He scrapped an IT project which was diverting management attention and focused the company on “3 major wins”, as opposed to 50 small projects. He stabilized the product road map. Allan is also a Churchill like figure.

Of course, some leaders look great even though they are /may not be great. While I despise the Russian aggression and Russian leadership, certainly I do not think that Zalensky is a good leader. He provoked, he teased without a risk analysis, he bet the farm on western support and so on and so forth. And yes, he is a great actor, even better than Reagan. But what about the results? Ukraine is in ruins-no electricity, no water, nada. But Zalensky? He wears a nice green habit, and inspires his people;  even more, he inspires western liberals. His present stature makes Churchill into Mickey Mouse.

What do we really know about leadership?


Kim, Saul and Allan are thought to be great leaders.

All over the world, people vote for right wing leaders who give them “meaning” and a “sense of belonging”, not proper governance.

Depressed people used to be dipped in ice water. That was the state of the art cure. In another époque, they were paraded to be shamed out of their depression. Now it’s all about serotonin. And ketamine. What do we really know about depression?

Or leadership. Very little.

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Working remote and “do me a favour”

Horrid bureacracies with their rigid processes that cannot factor in common sense often have several workarounds, aka shortcuts.

Managers often allow breaking the rules (that they themselves are asked to enforce); furthermore people in the trenches do each other favours, especially in cultures where relationships are more valued that process. China, Israel, Holland and Taiwan  serve as  good examples.

Noam has been called to the campus at 2 AM to repair an extremely complex valve. He arrives at the campus without his security card, which is in his wife’s car! The gate does not open. He honks furiously. The guard who does not know Noam refuses to open the gate. But Noam knows the other guard sitting in the control room, because they have often had supper together when Noam does the night shift. Noam calls his friend in the control room who lets him in, against every single security policy.

Things like this happen every single day, greasing the idiocy that bureaucracy creates. But not when people work remote: I have not measured that, but I have worked extensively with organizations in which remote workers refuse to bend rules for people that they do not know, and wfh has created lots of opportunities to hide  common sense in a rule book or create buck-passing.

Any organization that wants to promote wfh, which is a very positive thing, need to promote “common sense” that stems from the power of relationships.



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