Dealing with the feedback loop: Traditional and Global OD

One of the major changes that Traditional OD needs is a remodelling of the underlying assumption that feedback and discussion generated by feedback serve as the ultimate platform to make organizational  improvements and create behavioural change.

Within cultures, there are certain things that are not discussed, from taboo to giving feedback about a characteristic that cannot change. The content of what is not discussed may change from culture to culture, but all cultures have the category of things that are not discussed. There is phenomenal variance between cultures on what is not discussable.

Cultures have different ways of discussing discrete & sensitive issues in what they see in an appropriate manner. For some cultures this may in a  very closed forum, or with close friends that you trust. Other cultures prefer management meetings.There is phenomenal variance between cultures about what is discrete and sensitive.

Cultures have different ways of viewing emotions including anger. In some cultures, emotions including anger must be part of a discussion to prove you are genuine. In other cultures, you must smile when you are angry to repress any emotion. And strangely, in another culture, one must speak in a civil manner, yet to write flaming emails is ok!

In the global organization, we can see a lot of these differences coming into play. Western cultures have almost a religious belief that discussion creates an opportunity to improve. In many other cultures, the price that is paid for disrupting harmony by having a such a discussion is so high that the risk is not worth taking.

Western OD promulgates genuine and authentic feedback and discussion as platforms for improvement. Clearly as someone raised in Traditional OD, I believe in the power of genuine and authentic feedback. However, as a global OD consultant, my beliefs are irrelevant and I need to ensure that I do not use my position to push people to take risks that they think are not worthwhile.

So, the global OD consultant often work behind the scenes to deliver messages and “make things happen”, whilst external harmony is maintained.

The Traditional OD consultant will continue to be a missionary of discussion Uber Alles. And when work dries up, he or she  will wait till the market gets better.

PS-Example I shared with my friend Peter A

Bill is Asia Pacific Area Manager. Som is Thai  Area Marketing Manager. Bill wants to tell Som that his resistance to a certain marketing idea is unacceptable. Bill told his consultant that in the past, Som has “yes yessed”, then Som feels insulted. Allon suggest that Bill call Som’s colleagues in Viet Nam and the Philippines, and praises them for accepting the marketing idea. Bill then ensures that Som’s colleagues update Som that Bill has called. Bill talks to Som via his colleagues.

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12 thoughts on “Dealing with the feedback loop: Traditional and Global OD

  1. Great insights Allon. I have limited “global” experience but even in my own work across Canada, the US and Bermuda (which might appear homogenous to the untrained eye) I see the differences that you note.

    Without appreciation and accommodation (perhaps there is a better word) interventions such as feedback definitely do more harm than good, creating set backs that are often unrecoverable in the time span available. It seems to me that feedback (both in public and in private) is particularly sensitive because it also triggers our personal (human) responses in addition to the complexity of our organizational and geographic cultures.

    Really appreciate your insights and would love to hear stories.

  2. I learnt this in spades during my work in Malaysia. Ismael, one of the team members, who had a higher status than the others in the Muslim faith declared: “The meeting is over.” He took the issue to the Mollah who adjudicated the case from the Charia (It was an issue of persistent unsafe work practice). Afterwards, the driver of the CEO, who had befriended me and with whom I had open exchanges confided: “Mr. Lévis, you must understand that you are an infidel.” Of course, there is more to that story. This was an important lesson in global O.D. I needed more than just cultural awareness and sensivity to how human behaviors are assessed by the Muslim faith and the Malays; I needed to revise the basic assumptions upon which I had been trained as an O.D. practicioner. In some way, Ismael was saying to me: “When it comes to global OD, you are an infidel” Later, I also learned that, even in a North American cultured organization, authenticity and openess have many shades of grey. I am deeply grateful to all those in my life who have taught me the value of humble inquiry.

  3. The article is both interesting and helpful. I’ll send it to my daughter who studies law in England . Coming from Romania, she’ll do the most of it.
    As far as Romanians are concerned they are not at all open to discussions or feedback. Such practice will surely improve their work provided they give up
    their mentality :unpalatable truth is out of the discussion .

  4. Good points, Allon. I can testify to their validity within the United States where they vary by company. In some you can speak frankly; in others you dare not; and in still others you do it in a roundabout way. Writ large, they’re the global differences you point to.

  5. Dear Allon,
    Thanks for your insights. They reminded me, born and raised in London and now living in Israel, of a number of experiences I have had working with Russian-speaking groups. Running experiential team-building and leadership development programmes, one of the basic tenets of the process is “Challenge by Choice” – encouraging people to step out of the familiar ways of performing and to discover and learn from the unexpected and the unknown. Coming from a Western culture, my preconceived assumption was initially that my participants would understand the essence of this principle; that is, until I discovered that there is no word in Russian for “Challenge”. Here, I first needed to detail to the group the nature of this foreign concept, connecting it to the content of my programme, and then it was essential for me to be sensitive to the level of “challenge” that I could expect from the participants to commit to. Push too hard and the group may either shut down defensively or alternatively simply not understand what I’m on about!
    I have found that in this situation, transparency, explanation and clarification of the concepts and the aims of the programme with the participants at the very beginning will help everyone to have meaningful experiences and and attain relevant learning.
    One more thing – a lesson my dad taught me very early on… Nothing is Obvious!
    Thanks again,

  6. Great article as ever, Allon! Interestingly, I find it also differs among industries, not only cultures. I worked a lot with humanitarian agencies, and the amount of taboos they have is incredible! Most are related to their unquestionable belief in the ultimate “goodness” of their almost “God-given” mission (irrespective of what actually happens in the field). That makes it quite hard to help them re-focus and do something else, that makes more sense and is really needed.

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