Why so many cultures mistrust “process”

Austin-based Alvin has had a bad start to his new role as senior VP of Process Release Control at the software company that he  joined recently. Alvin thought that challenge he would be facing was to upgrade the level of compliance by introducing friendlier systems; instead “I am facing an insurrection as well as a silent rebellion against all process; this place is a fuc-ing madhouse.”

Oh yes, Alvin put his CV out on the market in a clandestine manner after two months on the job.

Until recently, Alvin’s career has been with companies based in the US and Canada; now Alvin is working with a US based multinational with branches in the UK,  India, China, Russia  and Israel. So it is fair to say that Alvin has some learning to do. 

With the corona virus raging, forcing people to work from home, Alvin cannot get any face to face time; all his interactions take place via Zoom, which he finds exhausting and not much more than perfunctory communication. So Alvin commissioned a white paper (Alvin is not all that aware of diversity-compliance) to give him an idea how to approach the challenges he faces. 

Alvin was expecting that the white paper would provide him with a process to close the gap between current behaviour and the process; instead Alvin was actually confronted with a rude reality-he needed to adapt himself! Alvin turned whiter than the white paper; he was livid with anger as he read the white paper.

The paper suggested that some of the people in his company believe that process is a “trap” that management sets up to ensnare people into unrealistic commitments. Others in the company are convinced that only by working around process and bypassing it can things get done, because the process serves the bureaucracy and not the task. Others believe that a firm relationship between the developers and the client is the only way to deliver on time, because the process is so detached from the ever-changing needs of the client. And worst of all, some of his staff actually believe that one needs to bow down to process and feign compliance, while carrying out the task in sly and evasive manner.

In a recent call with 15 participants , one of the engineering leads said, “Fuck process, Alvin, we need to deliver-the client is a moving target; the clients’ marketing and operations don’t agree about what they have ordered from us. We cannot work from the formal specs”.

After 17 months on the job, Alvin left the company after he found a job in the HQ of a state owned utility in North Dakota.

And the moral of the story? Process can help to get things done in some cultures, not many. Other cultures get things done by beating the system, close relationships and even cheating the system via anti-process client centric entrepreneurship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncle Rupert

Of all my Dad’s friends, I liked ‘Uncle Rupert’ most of all.

Unlike my Dad, Uncle Rupert was short, and had almost no neck. He had an infectious laugh, and a great sense of humour. He loved to smoke, drink, and to play golf very poorly.

However, Uncle Rupert was absolutely brilliant. ‘So Nupping, why are you on the same page of your homework for twenty minutes’, asked Uncle Rupert as I sat at the dining table doing homework while my Dad and Uncle Rupert smoked and had a drink in the adjacent living room’. ‘I’m doing an unseen in Latin’,  I complained. Uncle Rupert got up, stood behind my back, and translated every word that I had marked. Many years late, Uncle Rupert asked me, ‘Nupping, is it still 26-9-48?’ He had helped me set my combination lock a decade before-and still remembered.

There is one memory that sticks out in my mind more than any other. Dad, Uncle Rupert and I had flown to Northern Quebec to fish, and we were driving the last 200 miles to Wapoo-Sibi fishing camp. I was still a young boy, and I was lying in the back seat, exhausted from the day’s travel. Uncle Rupert heard my stomach gurgle and said to my Dad, ‘pull over at the next restaurant, Phil; Nupping is hungry’.

Sitting in our back yard in 1967, Uncle Rupert asked me what are my thoughts on the Greek military coup. I gave a dumb answer, and for over an hour, Uncle Rupert gave me an overview of the history of military coups, Greek history, and how radical changes in government ‘screw the little guy’.

Dad often told me that Uncle Rupert can talk about almost every subject in great depth. ‘The man has a great mind’, was Dad’s one liner on Rupert. My Dad had one-liners for a lot of his friends.

When I started to talk, nupping was the way I pronounced nothing, and Uncle Rupert never ever called me anything but that.

When Uncle Rupert passed away, I had returned to Israel. The news devastated me and I wrote to his wife, Auntie Selma, who was a head taller than Uncle Rupert. I received a very touching answer from Auntie Selma, who was an artist.

Montreal is a city with so much to remember: bitter winters, skiing at Tremblant and Mt Gabriel, rue de la Montagne where my Dad lived, the Main, the French ambience, my summer working at Expo 67, Schwartz’s Deli, McGill, Orange Julep,  Place des Arts, McGill, 7 graves of family members, my remaining cronies from childhood, and memories of Uncle Rupert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why are Israelis so willing to vaccinate-a glimpse into Israeli culture

More than two million Israelis have been vaccinated; by March the economy will fully reopen, with nearly universal vaccination for populations-in-danger, and anyone else who wants to put an end to the hellish existence of the past year.

In this post,  I will underline the cultural underpinnings which explain the willingness of our population to roll up their sleeve and take the jab. True, the government, personal connections, our superb public health system did procure and do provide logistic support for this endeavour, but that alone does not explain the willingness of the population to get jabbed. I trust that this short post add another layer of explanation

  1. Israelis are risk tolerant.  It starts with our history. The ingathering of the exiles from the Diaspora into Turkish and then British-mandated Palestine, into what is now the State of Israel, was always a high risk endeavour (which most Jews opposed until the Holocaust).  Against all odds, from the late 1800s until today, almost every single achievement has been achieved by risk taking. Many risks paid off; many others fail. But bottom line, we owe our existence to our risk tolerance.
  2. Israelis have a proclivity for action. Israel was a pioneer society, with something of a wild mid-west mentality. There still remains  an anti-intellectual streak which values doing over thinking. In Chinese, there is an expression “should I push at the door or should I knock at the door?”, which is used to describe dithering and dawdling. We do not have that in our culture-we do. Often with poor results, but usually with huge success.
  3. Fast and dirty. We bypass process, then mop up. Process takes the back seat to speed. Speed is strategy. Software is released quickly, then we clean up, We build apartments, then roads. We take the vaccine, and mitigate the fear of side-effects.
  4. Life is hard, and then you die, so cheer up. Life here means inevitable hardship-wars, terrorist attacks, threats, endless security checks when we travel, high taxes, shitty government and a religious minority trying to shove religious observance  up our asses. So cheer up and enjoy life while you can. Israel is a place with lots of fun and action. We do anything we can do to enjoy life. Drink, party, liberal sexual mores, great comedy, lively bohemian scene, great food, music and innovation. Get vaccinated, then be merry… until shit hits the fan, which it inevitably will.

Hope that sheds light on what’s happening. And on Jan 19th, I get the second vaccine.

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Is it wise to send Dr Freida to Japan? Depends who you ask.

Dr Freida is a senior technology superstar who often claims that “clients need to better informed about their needs than they actually are”.  Her contact with customers is matter of fact and brilliant yet Dr Freida shies from social niceties.

CEO Bob proposed sending Dr Freida to Japan to deal with severe customer issues for a year. Bob called Sato and made the  proposal.

Sato (Japan area president) told CEO Bob that sending Freida to Japan for a year may be a good idea. Frieda may have a chance to learn about Japan and then, she can perhaps understand the importance of the customer. Till now, Dr Frieda is  focused on technology and not satisfying customer needs. Having a very  senior lady in our office is in line with what is happening in some industries.”

Bob said he was happy that Sato agreed to the proposed relocation of Frieda.

Allon (a consultant) told CEO Bob, “Hey wait a second Bob; this matter does not sound “kosher”; then Allon called Sato as per Bob’s request.

“Sato-san, am I wrong that perhaps it is best to wait a while before Frieda comes to Japan because we need to discuss it more?” Sato said: “Allon san, you very well may be right”.

After my call to Bob updating him , Bob, never a man to avoid cussing,  said, “What the fuck is this about? Allon explained that “Sato don’t want no Frieda. Use of the term may does not indicate agreement, especially since  you presented this as an almost-made decision in a hasty call. Sato also explained to you all the reasons why NOT to send her. Bob, you’ve got to start listening to what is not said”.

 

 

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Giving and receiving face

In many parts of the world, face-giving and face-saving are a critical skill for an OD practitioner to possess .

Via mastery of face issues, the consultant gains respect and trust which is leveraged to gather data, intervene and garner success.

Given the Western nature of OD training, few consultants know and appreciate what face is, i.e., how to give face and how to save face. Thus, the many errors OD consultants make in global organizations and the ensuing lack of trust which prevails towards OD consultants.

Face is external manifestation how people are held/perceived in the minds of others. In some ways, face can be seen as the “net worth” of how one looks and how one is presented. Face expresses the external net worth of one’s prestige, status and reputation, vital to the person and his family.

One gives people face by showing (exaggerated) respect, honour, praise, consideration and recognition in public. “Thank you Mr. Wu for inviting me to your office. It is my great privilege to be here. I hope that I will not waste your time. Without your support, our company could never succeed.” Please note, self-deprecation can be an important part of face giving.

In return, Mr. Wu may lift your value and give you face. “Mr. Shevat, your time here is very valuable for all of us”.

One causes people to lose face by pushing them to speak directly about a sensitive or an embarrassing issue, especially in public. People also lose face by being criticized, or forced to acknowledge any problems and any limitations, in public but not only in public . “Mr. Wu, why did revenue decline last quarter”?

So if one is so busy with face, how do you get to the real issues “in a timely fashion”?
Answer-you don’t.

There are many ways of getting to the real issues, i.e., real in Western terms. But first, the client needs to feel you have given him real, prolonged face, and that you will protect him. This takes weeks, months and more.

Then the doors will open wide enough to crawl in. If you also have cultural humility. 

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10 take-aways for diagnosticians thanks to the Corona Plague

The present pandemic has provided a rich platform for Organization Development professionals to hone their diagnostic skills.

I want to point out the major points that should warrant consideration  in organizational diagnosis. All these points have been amplified by the present plague, but have “been around” for a long time. Corona has merely dusted them off and brought them to the surface.

  • It can take an awful long time to cope with serious problems.
  • Some problems have no solutions whatsoever. None. Nada. שום כלום
  • Skills needed to get you to the top are not predictive of the ability to cope effectively with a senior job; quite the opposite can be the case.
  • There are no objective experts who cannot be contradicted by another objective expert.
  • A rich and diversified web of co-existing cultures presents obstacles in reacting quickly to rapid change.
  • Followers have ridiculously exaggerated expectations from leadership.
  • Uncalled for positivism can be poisonous. Delivering bad news without sugar-coating is a skill all but absent in present-day leadership; promising only blood, sweat and tears apparently ended in World War 2.
  • Faced with proof positive that something does not work, a system will strive to return to the past and try not to reinvent itself.
  • Compromise is not necessarily meeting in the middle. It may turn out to be totally sacrificing today for tomorrow.
  • What most/many people choose to do and believe is not necessarily the guide to making good decisions.

I believe that all of these factors serve as underpinnings/tools/building blocks critical to our mindset as diagnosticians.

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Observations on political leadership in the age of Corona

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are so disappointed by the quality of political leadership during this plague.

Let’s look at what leaders need to do in order to get elected. They need to distort the truth, promise things and renege, divide and conquer, please as many people as often as possible , explain away complexities and compromise core beliefs in order to build as wide a power base as possible. None of these skills are in any way relevant to the challenges of coping with Corona.

How do elected politicians communicate? They hammer home simplistic messages and sloganize; they work with professionals who wordsmith away obstacles, stepsidding controversy when needed and create controversy out of non issues. But dealing with Corona presents challenges that are hard to comprehend, involve balancing between complex forces and present  issues that are very hard to communicate.

What drives politicians? Being elected again. Dominating palace intrigue. Pleasing people with populistic garbage. Once again-not all that relevant to coping effectively with corona.

I don’t understand why people expect Trump to tell them to wear a mask. Trump wants to be get reelected, that’s all. And he assumes that telling people to wear masks will not serve his purpose. So why the disappointment? Who are the dumb ones-the leader or the disappointed?

There are very few political leaders who care anything else except for the skin on their own asses. And the sooner that people realize it, the healthier we will all stay. Get smart and take care of yourselves.

 

 

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Israel is losing its battle with Corona-and here’s why

With 3000 new cases a day, Israel is ranked at present as number one in the ratio of corona cases per million inhabitants.

And there are very good reasons why this has happened. I want to point out the major ones,  most of which stem from Israeli culture, which has been a periodical subject of articles in this blog.

  1. Everything in Israel is political. Sports, flight schedules, licensing food outlets, planning bus lines, advertising, accreditation of universities; you name it. Because of our political system, or lack thereof, neither the left or the right can form a government without the ultra-religious factions, and so-most decision making serve as a platform to placate the ultra-religious minority. In the case of corona, religious politicians want to preserve their style of communal life, which means life-as-usual.
  2. Due to their life-style dominated by lots of family-based activities, large families living in cramped quarters and large study halls for religious studies, the ultra orthodox cities and neighbourhoods are petri dishes for breeding corona. Yet the political power that they hold (see 1), prevents decision making which would negatively impact their way of life.
  3. Arab Israelis have a lifestyle rich in family occasions with multiple generations in one home. They also tend to view themselves as victims all the time, and dish out blame and responsibility to the state at the same time as not fully cooperating. This mentality when coupled with religious based fatalism creates a “what will be will be” mentality, which impacts the lack of mask wearing and social distancing.
  4. The secular Israeli community are sprint runners. Creative, highly undisciplined, innovative and short cutters, this community has created a plethora of innovations in telefonia, agriculture, water management, IT solutions, fintech,  traffic control and what have you. Most of this has been done by doing things differently and challenging common accepted practice. This community can solve impossible problems, but cannot deal with problems that need routine and discipline. “We can outsmart problems” is a typical mindset of this sector. Which is the major reason why almost all Israel innovation gets acquired by companies abroad and does not scale up from Israel; our behaviours are not disciplined or scalable. Fighting corona entails following routine with discipline. Need I say more! 
  5. Israel is held together by a state of conflict with our Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian neighbours. Other than that, there is very little cohesion between the sectors of Israelis society. We all go to different schools; we do not pay the same level of tax; the threads which bind us together are very thin. The solidarity needed to fight corona is totally non existent. For example, when the government wants to limit prayer to 20 people, it quickly comes to “we cannot agree to limit prayer participation if people flock to the beach by the thousand”. So no decision gets made.
  6. There is very little enforcement in Israel, except for tax collection and speeding. Everyone has an excuse and the heavy hand of enforcement just isn’t there.
  7. The political elite  initially set down a list of limitations on public behaviour and then were the first to violate them, caught red handed. So leadership lost the trust of the masses. No one believes anything that leadership says anymore.
  8. Israelis have the capacity to live in very tough situations for the longest time. In other words, life can and does go on as we absorb a severe and constant beating. So Corona has become another missile from Gaza or Lebanon, that is, something that you need to live with. This ability to live along side of tragedy is a gift, yet a two pronged sword as well.

So what will happen? My guess is that when the virus subsides, it will subside here as well. Israel is like a boxer with a glass chin. We have a great punch, but corona has landed a left hook and we are out on our feet. Or, when someone finds a vaccine, the nightmare will end. Until then, wish us luck.

 

 

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Skills and competencies in the age of Corona

This is an extraordinarily difficult  time during which to manage.

The odds leaders face are almost insurmountable, yet some are doing much better than others in navigating this awful, prolonged mess.

I have observed people shining, and I’m sharing what I have seen as working.

Project calmness

In her masterpiece Becoming, Michelle Obama describes how Barack Obama would become calmer and calmer in the face of challenge. The harder the challenge, the more calm he projected. This was a great gift for the people who surrounded him.

No doubt, this is one of the greatest assets one can have as a leader in the age of corona, nor only in politics, but in business as well.

One day at a time

This is no time for long term vision, dreaming and wow-wowing. No one knows where this is leading, and almost everything we know and do is being threatened. We are not creating reality; we are responding to exogenic forces which are shaping our reality. Some days are bad and others are worse. One day at a time projects a realistic platform onto which people can hold,and this creates trust.

Fairness

Fairness is the ultimate ersatz currency in an time when costs can be chopped, perks cut, and people axed with the drop of a hat.The return on investment for being fair is at its  peak.

Being there

Elifaz, Bildad and Zofar who came to comfort Job waited seven days before they started providing him with (some say) misguided advice. They were just there for him. Being out there, available and present, is yet another powerful tool for your folks, who are, like you, seeing everything around them crumble.

 

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From bad to worse: Corona in Israel

Israeli summers are hot and whilst wearing a mask, they are hotter. It is almost unbearable to wear a mask all the time when outside. But wear a mask I do, because Corona is everywhere. It is lurking in every meeting, in stores, on handles, and on elevator buttons. In car washes, on paper money, on buses, trains and on banisters.

Not in pools however. Because the pools are closed. Synagogues, where so many people have become ill, are open yet pools are closed. Yes, the virus has created a lot of hatred and sectarianism as well. As if that was lacking.

Every plan is tenuous because people are coming in and out of quarantine. And if  they are in quarantine and Zoom is being used,  be prepared for chaos  because for some very strange reason, Zoom has voice issues in Israel. Voice issues meaning no voice. Just to be clear.

Poverty is ubiquitous. Closed stores, depleted goods, grim faces and seething anger as things go from bad to worse.

My hands are raw from washing and I find it harder to go out of my home each day to work for fear that I will be infected. Indeed I am in (very) good shape for someone my age but I am, alas, a bit frightened. Strangely enough and against all odds, I have a lot of work, all of it face to face. We sit 2 meters apart with doors and windows open.

Recently I have been reading a lot of leadership biographies: de Gaulle, D’Israeli and Truman. I do wish someone like Truman was our leader now, or even like a Disraeli.

But we are led by ineffective, corrupt, and idiotic scum. Each member of our government fought battles about “who could reopen fastest”, and we all got fucked.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

 

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