Things are foul at this chicken farm-a case study

The heat was already over 100 when I arrived at 0730 to MBD (David’s Poultry Farm), on the Israel/Syrian Border. There was calm on both sides of the border, and one could see the outposts of the Syrian Army.  In MBD however, things were less than calm.

MBD is the largest Poultry farm in the North of Israel; the proprietor is David, a 55 year old native of Tiberius. David is trying to enjoy the fruits of his 35 years hard work by stepping back, and he has transferred almost all of the managerial responsibility to Alexandra (a native of the Former Soviet Union), who immigrated to Israel in 1973.

Alexandra is a PhD is agricultural science and served in the Soviet army in Logistics of Food Transport. Since Alexandra has joined and stepped into her role as “Operations Manager”, all hell has broken loose. Sick leave is up, the new time clock was sabotaged 23 times, and there have been all sorts of maintenance issues cropping up which are unjustified.

BUT-Production is up 75% and market share has grown drastically due to accurate shipments.

David, who remembered me from McGill where we studied in the same years, asked me to visit and make recommendations.

Alexandra said that David was soft on the workers and this is a transition period which will be painful. “It vill take a year”. David treated the Russian workers softly, so they came late, left early, and malinger when there is no work or it is too hot, claims Alexandra. The “native Israelis” workers are constantly arguing and asking “why” and David never demanded obedience. “They must stop asking “lama” (why) or dey vill be fired”

The workers from Arab villages,  come very early (515 am) after morning prayers, and David paid them for sitting around and waiting till work begins simply because David loved to banter with them-since David’s native language is Arabic. “Ve now have shifts dat start at 0700, and if they come early it’s der problem”, said a proud Alexandra.

Alexandra told me that David must FULLY step back and ” I vill whip dem into a team in a year.”

A former supervisor named  Igor (m, from Ukraine) told me that Alexandra is an OK technologist and has no idea how to manage. Igor told me that Alexandra stripped him of his title as supervisor and his peers laugh at him for taking commands from a Babushka (Russian Granny). Igor and David run together on the weekends.

Igor is married to David’s cousin.

Inam (f, Arab) told me that Alexandra installed a time clock, and checks daily if people have stamped in. This is highly insulting because David worked on the trust system “and when there were problems, we dealt with this quietly, via our oldest worker, who acted as an intermediary between David and the workers”. Alexandra does not understand that the girls need to travel ALL TOGETHER in in one truck organized by her village in the morning, or else, “there may be trouble” and added “We do not set the timetable of the village truck with the male escort.”

David had hired a consultant before me and he had done a “group discussion” and “outdoor training” which failed to produce changes.

Since each population requires a different style of management, David now needs to make some tough choices.

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9 thoughts on “Things are foul at this chicken farm-a case study

  1. Allon, I love your global OD stories.

    By coincidence, I was driving along some backroads here in New Jersey yesterday and noticed some chicken farms. Not big ones like Perdue. Small scale, family farm type chicken farms. We have had such farms here in the Garden State for a long time. I remember meeting an OD Guy some years ago, who was also a chicken farmer. There is something real and humble about farming and raising chickens that nourishes the soul of OD. My mother was raised on such a farm and she has influenced me deeply.

    (This news article is about the OD Guy mentioned above, and his family.)

  2. i have witnessed two such circumstances: In one case « Alexandra » stuck with her plan and style as those who could not stand it gradually left. Sales went down for a period before they picked up. In the second case, I met individually with the key players followed by a group meeting where commonalities and differences were named around three distinctions:
    The why = Intention = Be
    The how = Strategy= Do
    The what = Results = Have
    The biggest challenge I had was with the owner when exploring the question: « What do you really really want? : Results he wanted to see (the have) and why (the intrntion in wanting to see those results (the be) i have found that much of O D is about answering this question followed by a reflexion on a second question: « How will he stop himself from achieving it. »

  3. Now, David may have had a shadow side, and that was about being able to assert his own needs. Did he see that in Alexandra, in that she could get from others, what he found difficult to? David also has a ownership through financial investment. So he possibly does not see that his system is not only the land, its people and the context they represent, but also contextual knowledge about what makes them tick when they are on his farm. They possibly care for what’s on David’s farm, because of the way he showed up for them. They on their part never probably saw his options, financial or otherwise. From the narrative, the decision to divorce responsibility but not the accountability is what David needs to revisit. From the workers’ point of view, they’ve learned that their perceived autonomy has turned out to be rebellious for Alexandra. Allon can at best get Alexandra to see the workers’ mental models through David’s own expectation setting; and in a quid pro quo get David to see his own mental model of ownership coming in the way of outcomes through Alexandra’s presence. Perhaps, David may then decide how much he wants from the financial proceeds, and leave the chicken to tend to their barnyards. Letting go, is after all a touch call.

  4. Even chicken farm employees deserve answers to “why” questions. There may be more than one way to reach a goal.

    David may well have been a “pushover.”

    If the chicken farm’s employees can be poached by competitors or join a union, then their collective opinion can hurt the enterprise and Alexandra’s methods could backfire in the longer run.

    It sounds like Alexandra depends too much on positional power. The best bosses, and she does need to be a boss, get subordinates to cooperate because of affective power and greater expertise.

    Precisely why did productivity go up? Is there a less coercive way to maintain that productivity?

    Given the increase in productivity, do the employees and Alexandria have different ideas on the proper stint?

    How and why are the employees compensated the way that they are? Is there room for work teams and some incentive pay in running a chicken farm?

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