3 lessons which taught me why traditional OD is not appropriate in non Western and global organizations

As I mentioned in a previous post, I came from a very traditional Organization Development background. Over the years, I became convinced that OD`s western ethnocentric bias negatively impacts its effectiveness in a non western and global organizational configuration.

The `wake up call`I got about traditional OD was not gradual. Three events really shook me up, accelerating my thought process about  the need for a global version of OD.

I shall share them with you in this post.

1) In a group discussion with security personnel in the Mid East, I ask a question. The participants clarified  among themselves (in Arabic, which I speak) who is the oldest participant. He answered my question first; all other participants aligned with what he said.

2) In  Beijing, I ask a question and the managing director gives an inaccurate answer. I then solicit other answers, which are better than the answer that the MD gave me. I congratulate the person who gave me the `best“ answer. I lost the MD`s trust for a long time.

3) I facilitated a “lessons learned“  between Dutch management and Japanese customer service folks about a major crash at a client site. The level of emotion was very high, since a lot of business had been lost because of this incident. I laid out `ground rules“ for the discussion which included: No Defensive Behaviour. Once I showed that bullet, the Japanese did not trust me.

A facilitator with a global orientation will ask less questions because of the complexity inserted by honorific based issues; furthermore, the consultant will accept that only via a lot of defensive and opaque communication can issues be ferreted out.

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OD preaches change, but refuses to change

A What is this all about?

For almost a decade, I have been harping on the Western bias of Organization Development, and how to align OD with global organizing.

My argument is that OD’s values and tools have a western bias which render OD inappropriate in global organizing. OD should not be the tool to impose western values, but rather the platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways. To claim that traditional OD has relevance for global organizing is preposterous.

B Where did I start? Where am I now?

I started this line of thought in the Organization Development Journal (Vol 21) in 2003 in my article “Making OD Global”, which was initially ignored and is now often quoted. For years after that, I engaged with junior and senior alike practitioners in the ODNET discussion group about the western boas of OD.

At present, I am engaging people about coming to terms with their Western bias in both LinkedIn Groups, and via this blog which has about 600 hits a day. I recently published an article called “Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing”.

I am writing an exercise book for managers and consultants to expand their global awareness.

C) Resistance I encounter

A very small population of OD practitioners understands both my strategic direction and the derivative tactical need to cast aside concepts and tools of traditional OD in global organizations.

By and large, I encounter massive resistance to my ideas, and in this post I point out various ways in which my ideas are resisted.

1) There is nothing new except for Allon’s arrogance.

Folks who make this claim appear to understand that my argument, if correct, is very threatening to the status quo. Thus, I become part of the status quo.

2)  Allon may have a point, I need to acquire some intercultural skills”.

Folks who make this claim conveniently ignore the point that a global  practitioner does not need some cultural understanding, but rather the ability NOT to act with a western bias.

3) “Allon exaggerates a bit”.

Folks who make this claim prefer to believe that “in the end, people are all the same; they want to be “open”, face saving does not apply to the young, and no one really wants to defer to authority”. OD is a process which will “enlighten” the East lies at the heart of this claim.

4) Some folks find my ideas so repulsive that I get hate mail.

5) Some folks agree that what I claim is true, but only in the global organization.

I find the word “only” pretty shocking, because everyone is obsessing about the future of OD, and global organizations is where the world is going.

D) Let’s not go on pretending

I waging this campaign, driven by an overwhelming feeling that OD can have universal application only if its key values/concepts and derivative tools are revised and adapted to global reality. Because OD does not “get” global organizing right.

In the past, I was a main line, traditional  ODer, with a Tavistock background.I was a career officer for many years in the IDF, and that sure pushed me to conform.I graduated from Montreal’s McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, neither of which promoted too much intellectual innovation.

I will continue this campaign of mine, despite the very limited impact I am having on the way mainstream OD practitioners think about and “do” OD. I will do so because it needs to be done.

 

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5 indicators that you have a western bias as a consultant (revised)

By far, this is the most widely read post on my blog, with 21,000 people having read it in the past 4 months. I have made some minor changes and thus re-publishing it . I must admit that it is a great source of pride that people are least getting exposed to this message.

Instead of confessing, it is much easier for OD consultants to haggle with my claim that OD values and tools are culturally tainted!  In one forum I participated in, someone even claimed that I have a personality disorder which has led me to claim that OD itself needs to be globalized in order to deal with global organizing. Psychological reductionism is much easier than taking ownership of ones’ limitations and biases.

When OD consultants admit their western bias, there is a lot of “unlearning” to do, and new skills need to be acquired. That’s a high price to pay!

To asses the degree of your western cultural bias, answer the following 5 questions with a YES or NO.

1) Is having an ongoing candid dialogue at work better than ignoring differences and pretending that they do not exist?

2) If someone misrepresents key facts in a meeting on purpose, are they lying?

3) Do people all over the world think that teamwork means collaboration with their peers?

4) Is being mildly authentic at work generally preferable to showing rigid emotional restraint?

5) Does honest feedback generally motivate all staff, world wide, regardless of culture?

If you answered YES for all five questions, I would suggest that you try to better understand your biases, and start unlearning the universality of your beliefs.. Otherwise forget about being effective in the global workplace.

I spend tens of hours each month helping consultants and managers rid themselves of these biases. The hardest bias to work on is #2. And that’s the truth! 😉

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Organizational Development needs to be adapted to Global Organizing

OD was developed in the West and is compatible with developing organizations with a Western cultural bias. Yet, OD principles as practiced in the Western world are not universally applicable, because Western values are not universal values. And as organizations assume a global configuration, OD core and applications need to be reinvented to support global organizing.

Western OD is based on humanistic values; OD promotes the leveraging the full potential of individuals as a major component in developing organizations, emphasising the individuals needs and desires from the world of work. Western OD proscribes the way people and their leaders should interact. OD also proscribes ways of communicating. Words and concepts like openness, delegation, collaboration, teamwork, and delegation are very frequently used.

Yet, when working in groups which are truly global and encompass a wide range of cultures and very acute diversity, thoughts comes to mind about the relevancy of OD as practiced in the West. In many parts of the world, group identity is far more salient than individual identity. In many parts of the world, conflict is totally avoided. Power is not shared since the ability to influence is safeguarded as an extremely rare resource. Leaders and followers have mutual expectations in their genetic code which are based on obedience, piety, face saving and emotional detachment.

I suggest that the foundations and basic assumptions upon which Western OD is based, are not universally applicable. I claim is that people do not share the same genetic code about organizing. The organizational needs of human beings’ vary all over the world vary dramatically.

1- The gaps between the values of openness as opposed to the value of discretion is huge.

2- Teamwork is not seen universally as “cool”. In many quarters, teamwork is seen as betraying your boss.

3- Win win is not something universally strived for; for many, win-win is stupidity at best and suicide at worst.

3-Empowerment provides an opportunity to develop others in some parts of the world; in other parts of the world, empowerment means giving away the crown jewels of a rare resource.

4-Participatory decision making makes better decisions for some; for many others, top down decisions, sweetened with compassion, is the way to best make decisions. 

The role of the OD consultant should be to ensure that one set of values does not over rule the other. Yet today, OD consultants do not even understand the world of organizing outside of what they learned and experienced in the West.

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Instilling a sense of Urgency, and a case study (revised)

This post will relate to how to instill a sense of urgency.

Instilling urgency is a major reason that clients ask me for support. Most organizations turn to me for help after they have applied pressure, and more pressure, yet staff  still behaves as if they have forever at their disposal to get the job done.

Clients typically complain  that their staff do not have a sense of urgency and “drag their feet”, or as my late father used to say, have “lead up their ass”. The employees who allegedly have no urgency also “do not understand the business, and live in la la land”.

This initial self diagnosis may be symptomatically correct yet the real cause of lacking sense of  urgency is often misunderstood.

Let  us take an example. Claude’s manager told me that Claude & his team of software developers have no sense or urgency. I went to France and met with the team & Claude. The deadlines which had been dictated to this team were  totally unrealistic. The developers correctly believed that were they to have a “ sense of urgency” from day one, they would have bust their ass every single day and night whilst still not making the delivery date anyway. Thus, they prefer not having a sense of urgency until a few weeks before delivery date, when they will obviously get an extension of time. Claude prefers not to confront his people and “come clean,” renegotiating an apirori reasonable time frame.

So, rule number one: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look for unrealistic commitments as a root cause.

Let us take a second example. Dr. Hana’s boss told me that Hana and her 14 life scientists, who are working on “one pill a month” asthma treatment, lack a sense of urgency.

Dr. Hana and her team lead a laid back life style. Indeed, they are working on a drug, yet it is about 10 years before anything will be productized, if ever. The more progress the scientists report, the more commercial pressure will be applied, increasing the chances their start up company will be sold. So the scientists slow down, to preserve their present “development culture”.

So, rule number two: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look at the perceived  consequence of the lack urgency in the eyes of the staff.

There is a need to factor in cultural elements to the subject of urgency as well. Urgent means different things to different cultures. For some, if you do not reply for an hour, you are not responsive. For others, a reply within a few days, if well detailed, is very responsive. Furthermore, many Asians and Israelis respond well to urgency relative to western cultures because they value relationships more than systems, so they reply immediately. Americans have their “plans” and the Germans have their love of data and risk adverseness, which make urgency more difficult to respond to.

Summary

When management and staff act the way they do, it makes no sense to say that they lack a sense of urgency. Instead, focus on grasping the present set of motivations that make folks tick, and give them a real  reason to change their behaviour.

I have included below a case studies for people who want to use this as an  exercise. This will appear in a book of exercises which I am preparing.

Case study on Instilling a Sense of Urgency

Ram manages a call center. 98 people work in this call centre, 10 of whom are  team leaders.

Ram’s boss, Vered, asked you to work with Ram and his team leaders on “instilling a sense of urgency”, because too many complaints reach the CEO, into whom Vered reports.

Indeed, 67% of ALL complaints are escalated by service agents and 5%  reach the CEO.

You spoke to Ram and his team leaders. Ram and his team leaders really do not care all that much about customer satisfaction any more; for months now, the service providers are “serving the CRM software” which itself resides on a faulty IT structure.

Each and every customer issue requires 4 minutes of data entry. Irate customers are put on mute and calls dropped as customer service agents shield themselves from the customers’ ire so that data can be entered.

The CEO and Vered are aware of the CRM and IT issues but want the service agents to “assume ownership” of customer issues, “based on a sense of urgency”.

What is the plan of action to instill a sense of urgency?

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The “wonder consultant” in context

In my last post, I wrote about the wonder consultant who appears on the scene spreading false-messianic hope via sloganeering, as well as by charismatically delivered, simplified  bullshit whilst clipping a hefty coupon.

This post will provide a wider context for these wonder consultants, beyond the deep despair and desire for a quick fix I described.

1) The “motivational speaker” market has created a huge need for the wonder consultant. Management believes that motivational speeches motivate (they do not) and the speakers address a market need.

2) As the emphasis of OD switched from effectiveness to what Reddin  called “apparent effectiveness”, lots of events started to “compete” with OD; puppet shows, cooking classes, and what my late mother called “everything and the kitchen sink”. As such, the wonder consultant is an entertainer, and should be evaluated and paid as such.

3) With the trend set by software companies which make promises and “deliver in phases”, it has become almost normative not to fully deliver, except in the world of mindless motivational management tweeters. Thus, who really cares about what the “prophet” said. The question is, was he wow enough?

4) When immediate satisfaction is measured via” likes”, or the rah rahing that goes on during the session, no one gives better results that a charismatic charlatan. The charisma delivers the wow. The charlatan makes it all so easy.

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Manager as system integrator; employee as subcontractor.

A system integrator drives independent component subsystems into a coherent and functioning whole. The emphasis here is on the word independent. I posit that in many industries, the art of managing is becoming more like the role of a system integrator working with subcontractors. I believe that this  inevitable trend has long term repercussions about training managers.

Here are two major reasons why managers will become system integrators:

1) The dwindling long term commitment between employer and staff.

Since many organizations can no longer offer their employees any stability nor take care of their staffs’ needs, employees are loyal first and foremost to themselves & their ability to be survive economically, wherever they work-with no specific loyalty to anything except their ability to make a living.

2) The political zoo that develops when jobs are scarce.

The work place has become a political zoo because of the scarcity of jobs. Employees act as sub contractors as opposed to members of a coherent integrated team, to secure their own survival. No one wants to be indispensable.

True, consultants and HR are pushing employee engagement programs; however the prognosis for employees becoming altruistically engaged is low. As employees focus on their own survival, they become less engaged with the company’s survival. They focus on their own personal survival.

Pretending that employee engagement is the issue is dysfunctional.

Developing managers is not about engaging employees as much as how to structure and manage work as a system integrator.

Preparing managers to be effective system integrators is far more effective than traditional managerial training which deals with solving yesterday’s problems.
Here are a few elements which may be included in refocusing the managerial role to that of system integrator
1) More “contract” based interaction and ways of payment
2) Emphasis on very detailed planning
3) Less to no everyday power
4) Contractor can and does choose to cop out so there are “alternative sources”
5) Make and buy decisions.

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On organizational leniency

Case One: Einat comes to work late 15 minutes a day; her lunch break lasts longer than anyone else’s. No one has ever said a word.

Case Two: This month, Ori ordered a $40000 spare part circumventing Supply Chain. He does this from time to time. His boss emails him to “try to avoid” this type of behaviour.

Case Three: Zeev always waits till the very last minute to order his plane tickets, so that he will have a more expensive ticket and thus be eligible for an upgrade. Since Zeev travels a lots, nothing is said.

This post is a short case study on organizational leniency, IE, showing more tolerance than expected when things do not go well.

All government agencies are very lenient towards their employees; unionized shops can breed a type of leniency which leads to decay, and crony capitalism breeds a great deal of leniency which leads to economic catastrophes. In this post, I am NOT referring to the above types of examples.

Rather, I am referring to organizations in the private sector which are not unionized and where there is no crony capitalism, yet nevertheless leniency is displayed in the face of gross malfunction.

The case I will describe is the unique leniency of Israeli organizations.

A-What does this leniency look like?

1-The reticence to fire people unless absolutely necessary. Although this norm has changed since 2008, Israelis hang on to excess people much longer than North American organizations would.
2-“We are all guilty” syndrome. In other words, individual accountability is downplayed and to use an Americanism, it is very rare to “hold someone’s feet to the fire” due to an error. The ownership of malfunctions is very obtuse.
3) Working around a problem instead of fixing it.

B-Reasons for leniency

1) Having been the victim of aggression for so many centuries, there is a tendency internally not to “pin” anything on anyone and scapegoat.
2) There is a deep belief that if an organization is not lenient, creativity and commitment will wane.
3) Because life in Israel is very challenging, there is an expectation not to “throw people to dogs” just because of a work related error.
4) For many centuries while scattered all over the world, we learnt how to learn the system and “work it”. It was not our system. There is still lingering unwillingness to “be the system”.

C-Value of the leniency

1) More risk taking at work
2) Better team work
3) Lots of creativity

D-Damage of the leniency

1) Due to lack of consequence, there is corrosion of responsibility and accountability
2) The development of a “so what” attitude in the case of inappropriate staffing
3) Corrective action takes a long time because things need to get very bad to end the lenience.

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Organizational Development in Special Situations. #1 New Product Introduction

There is an constant and frankly non constructive dialogue that goes on about whether or not OD is passé. 

The answer is that OD is definitely not passé although it is not as widely commissioned as it used to be. While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and people are not as valued as they used to, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

In the next three posts, I shall outline 3 special situations where the added value of OD is overwhelming.

The first special situation is New Product Introduction.

1) Typically, a new product goes from R&D to Engineering and then to Process Engineering and Production Engineering, which are in Operations. (There can be lots of variance to this, clearly.)

2) The more complex the product  is, and the faster the organization is moving, the transition as described above is anything but smooth. Operations wants a plug and play product kit, while  R&D wants to wash their hands of the dog food and move onto the next invention, with Operations left to fill in the blanks.

Add to this that  products do not flow smoothly along; they often move one step backs and then two steps forwards etc.,  until problems are defined and solved.

3) Add complexity of different geographies and cultures, this is a perfect cess pool for OD. Smile

4) The most frequently made mistakes that managers and change managers make is to try to define the process more clearly. This attempt to `define away complexity`is what my late Dad used to call pissing into the wind. And I grew up in Quebec where the wind is mighty strong. Mais oui! There is no way that this process can be perfectly defined.

5) Another frequently made mistake is to put too much focus on Gating and Handshakes in the process. It is simply more complicated than setting up a Customs-Douane at every `station“ on the way, especially given the time to market pressure.

6) New Product Introduction is enabled by teamwork, sharing of risks and overlapping responsibility. This is a classic domain where nothing beats the effectiveness of OD. Not even outdoor training or a motivational speaker. Smile

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The treachery of HR business partnership

In an attempt to remain relevant in an economic environment which puts less weight on the value of the human resource, HR migrated to a mode of so called “business partnership”, and the idea itself and its implementation has turned into a fatal mistake.

The meaning of this business partnership has been to subjugate “representation” of the human resource in decision making in exchange for a “higher and more elevated” role of ensuring that the management of the human resource is “aligned” with the needs of the business.

The HR “business partnership” absolved HR from “protecting”  and lobbying for the human resource, because the HR business partnership co-opted the HR function and defanged it. This so called partnership has robbed HR of the necessary credibility to do its role.

This HR business partnership reminds me of  a Chief Financial Officer who misleads the Board and Investors because he is the CEO’s business partner. Clearly, there are some CFO’s  who have gone down this road, having made a mockery of their profession. However this deception is not the espoused religion of the CFO. In the case of HR, business partnership has led to abandoning the people for the numbers. In parallel, many very skilled HR people were replaced by a generation of mindless technocrats whose expertise was sycophancy

As the  so-called HR business partnership became more real, the deception became more evident, as is witnessed by the growth of wow-wow-ism which focuses on making sure that things are fun. HR  communication became sloganeering, reminiscent of the old communist newspaper which praised the socialist reality and ignored the breadlines.

HR became a profession deeply mistrusted and hated by the workforce.

What has happened in this country in the past few years is no surprise. Massive unionization has come to haunt the HR business partners. These powerful unions have sprung up overnight in finance, mobile communications, high tech, insurance and even in large taxi companies.

The new unions have pounced on the emptiness and perceived treachery  of the “HR business partnership”, and have provided an alternative, seen by workforce as far more reliable.

This change has pushed HR into a far worse position than they have ever been, ie-HR becomes the isolated so-called business partner of the CEO and the Union becomes the voice of the employees.

CEO’s need people next to them who talk numbers, talk sales, talk marketing and talk people. Not HR business partnership. And if HR does not get it, the unions do.

I always tell my clients that it is better to deal with an empowered HR manager who represents the people lobby, than a union steward. Few have listened; many are learning the hard way.

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