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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“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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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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Read this if you work with an Israeli manager

Working under an Israeli manager may prove a challenge for the non-Israeli, although most people I have interviewed very much learnt to appreciate some of Israeli management quirks. Following are the top  things to expect, and a suggestion of what to do in italics.

  1. They expect their decisions to be questioned, so feel free to express your opinion, even after the decision was made.
  2. They work very hard and long hours, texting and emailing all the time. State your limits in no uncertain terms.
  3. They are compassionate so if you have a personal issue, open up and ask for time off, help, whatever. In return, they expect loyalty, eg, not quitting before an important milestone.
  4. They are not all that politically correct. Get used to it.
  5. Praise sounds like ‘not bad’. Never expect gushing praise, because that is seen as unreal and too American.
  6. Failure is an option so take risks. Don’t fear repercussion from failure. 
  7. Planning is seen as ok up to a point, but it’s also seen as a ritualistic waste of time. So plan yes, but don’t exaggerate. 
  8. They view process as nice to have, but human ingenuity as critical. Don’t hide behind a process you think is wrong.
  9. Israeli managers care more about content then pyrotechnics. Get the facts across as concisely as possible and as accurately as possible.
  10. Israelis are not patient people. Get to the point.

 

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Billing issues in Organization Development

Billing issues are often discussed between colleagues who have become friends, or between professionals not operating in the same geography. In this post, I shall share some of my lessons learned from my many years on the road.

1) Never work for a success fee, unless the client promises to implement everything you recommend, which of course never happens.

2) Your initial price will never really creep up very much over the years, so remember that what seems ok at the beginning will not appear so after ten years.

3) Don’t negotiate with Supply Chain about your prices; if your internal client is not willing to do that messy work for you, the client does not have the power to own and drive an OD project.

4) Do not submit an overall budget of the project hours until you have a  good idea about scope. That means for the first few months, one should bill on an hourly basis.

5) If the client wants to know about your black box (how much profit you are making), in some cultures it is necessary to do so. I often say that “this is a very hard profession and I want to make it worth my effort”. 

6) Never set a different price for training or for different levels of management. Ever. It will bite you in the ass, with sharp teeth.

7) If pay day has come and gone, collect. Don’t let the days float by. Clients won’t appreciate a consultant who does not run their business properly.

8) In very hard times, don’t discount but work for free.  Working for free will be appreciated but discounts will become permanent.

9) When you negotiate with clients aboard, make sure that they pay money transfer fees, which can be extraordinarily expense. This can be worded as: “the client will agree that money transfer fees will be “ours”.

10) Make sure that up front it is clear that meetings which are rescheduled on the same day are billed at full price.

11) If you are working abroad, and you have already left your own country, all work cancelled or rescheduled is fully billed.

12) Always provide a work sheet which spells out who you met and for how long. Round your hours back to the last 15 minutes, so that 2 hours and 22 minutes is billed at 2 hours 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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