Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing, Part3

By Allon Shevat



VI Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing:

Diagnose with different tools and lenses

Organization Development diagnostics in diverse, global organizations is very different from traditional OD diagnostics.

While in the West one can introduce oneself as a consultant and start bombarding the other side with questions, this is not possible or desirable in the East. An interviewee will give information only if there is a degree of personal trust, and if expressing “opinion” does not make the interviewee stand out like a sore thumb. The interviewee must not lose face, nor be asked to be critical of someone in authority.

To make things more complex, outside the “western world” there is an expectation that a consultant should be an expert not just a process person; experts need to know and not ask so many questions. Asking too many questions is seen as “trickery” or “game playing” or “feigning weakness”. This is not exactly what Organization Development 101 taught us.

Since OD starts with a diagnosis, the question arises, how does one learn about the organization without asking “too many questions”. What are “too many questions”? Here are some practical guidelines:

  • A diagnostic interview is not a one hour “fling”. Diagnosis is a series of many meetings where a relationship is established and information starts to leak out. It takes a long time to diagnose in Asia, for example. I use a lot of informal discussion to learn about the organization. I go drinking at night with the salary men in Japan; I take long lunches with lots of chit chat in Thailand; I listen to the gossip in a Singapore office. I build very friendly relationships in India. I rely far less on formal interviews.
  • An expert can ask for input from others if he put words into people mouths and asks for confirmation. For example, let’s assume I am trying to learn about perceptions of Ethan, I may say: “I am trying to understand. On one hand, Ethan seems to get the business right yet I have heard that other things need some improvement, especially the way he talks to customers! Or I am wrong? Help me understand this.”
  • Often one needs to use external attribution to interview. Let’s say you want to know if a customer respects Ethan. You can say: “I have heard that the customer respects Ethan” and also “I have heard that Joe has a better relationship with the customer than does Ethan”. Using attribution, an interviewee can join a group and not stick out like a sore thumb when providing an “opinion”
  • Another useful tool is to use non-existent rumours and see what people have to say. For example, “I have heard that the customer would do more business were Ethan not managing the account….but this may be wrong”. Then, just wait for a response.
  • Another useful tool is to use futuristic events, because these events have not happened yet and thus, there is no loss of face. “Management is thinking of giving Ethan a huge role as Key Account Manager in a new huge deal. Is this a good idea?” The expression of an opinion in this case is easier because nothing has happened yet, i.e., there are no face issues. Furthermore the criticism of Ethan may even be seen as face saving for the interviewer,
  • Yet another tool is dogged persistence. Let’s say X does not want to say whether Ethan is effective with customers, yet X’s opinion is critical. It is acceptable to be very persistent. “I may fail if I do not have your input, the CEO would not be happy with me; I understand that you cannot answer me today. We can talk about this tomorrow”. Then, ask others what X thinks and confront him with that: “I heard that you are embarrassed when Ethan makes technical errors at the customer site. Am I wrong?” This manipulation (which would rarely work in the West) works wonders!
  • Try as much as possible to discuss, and not ask questions. There is much more openness to discussion than to questions, where answers are needed.
  • If accents are hard to understand, apologize profusely for not being fluent in your interviewees’ language. Do not give up because this shows lack of respect, even if it takes all day. I have sat with Koreans and Japanese for 7 hours each on an interview I could have polished off in an hour in Canada or Israel.




Read more: VII Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing

Go back: I Prologue

Go back: III Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing


read also: Contribution