A World Leader Global OD Solutions

Global OD

Western OD is a local “dialect” (or version) of the OD profession practiced in North America. It is a widely spoken dialect, but it is not the only dialect of OD.This article will illustrate differences
between the North American dialect of OD and the global dialect of OD. OD as practiced in global companies on global problems, Global OD is another “dialect” of the profession. The values of the profession of the global dialect of OD and the skills of the practitioner are very different from those of the western dialect. An OD project done at Masari, a San Francisco-based global software and service company in the banking, insurance, and financial industry, will both illustrate some of the issues facing Global OD as a profession and show how Global OD differs from its North American counterpart.

The Case of Masari

The difficulty starts with the names. Not all names of the executives in Masari are English names, and it is hard to discern if they are male or female. Thus, I have provided Masari’s organizational chart below. I could have changed the names to make them all “vanilla,” but the names are part of the challenge!

Otis (male, 50) is stationed in the States and is the CEO of Masari. Otis lives and works in San Francisco. Otis founded Masari. John (male, 40) is stationed in the States and is Corporate VP Head of Customer Service and Operations. John lives in the Valley and works in San Francisco as well. Itamar (male, 37) is stationed in Tel Aviv Israel and is worldwide assistant vice president for Customer Service. Masari’s R&D facility is also conveniently located in Tel Aviv. Itamar lives in Jerusalem and commutes to work every day.

Chaiyan (male, 26) is stationed in Bangkok Thailand and is the Head of Customer Service in Asia Pacific, including South East Asia, China and Oceania. Chaiyan is a second generation Chinese Thai. His parents came from Hubei, China. Keith (male, 31) is stationed in Sydney and is Head of Customer Service in Australia. Keith was born in Sydney. He served in the Australian Air Force for 5 years.

Masari’s products are used for online banking. Using Masari’s products installed on the Internet and on the IT platform of financial institutions, banks and insurance companies, customers can do on-line deals 365 days a year 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. Masari has had rapid growth and is now in a support crisis.

400 banks and 300 Internet providers have installed Marsari software. In Asia and Oceana, from Christchurch New Zealand through to Tel Aviv Israel people use Masarai’s products to do global banking and financial dealings. And from Athens Greece to London England people in Europe use Masari’s products to do global banking and financial dealings. And from St John’s Newfoundland to San Francisco California, North Americans use Masarai’s products to do likewise. Many service issues still exist. Computers freeze up and people do not know if the deals they made were processed or not. Hacking and fraud are rampant, creating security fears. And many people make errors due to a lack of computer literacy, which creates a huge amount of service issues.

Some of the service issues are solved by the banks and financial intuitions during daylight hours, if they are linked to problems that can be solved at the local level. Often however, it is unclear if a problem is local or is linked to problems in several of the central data bases Masari uses. These shared and central databases are also scattered all over the world. Due to a plethora of complaints about service issues (lack of responsiveness, speed of service etc), the level of 24 hours a day, seven days a week support needs to be augmented to drastically improve service. If not, Yachin Afek (VP Marketing) believes that Masari will be wiped off the map in a few months. Usage is down 80% in the last three months after an incredible 6000% growth in sales in the last three years. The goals of improving service are clear and have been spelt out by John. All bug fixes must happen within an hour and Masari’s customers (banks, financial intuitions and insurance companies) must get an email within 3 hours of each complaint explaining how the problem/s have been resolved. The present “turn around time” on a customer complaint is 37 hours. John believes that he has done his role in setting up a process to fix the problem and improve service. He has redefined roles and responsibilities of all involved so as to eliminate bureaucracy and delegate ownership of bug fixes down to the field engineers. He has written a detailed process whereby all engineers are empowered to fix bugs themselves and if they cannot fix them, they can escalate directly by telephone to the Tel Aviv office, where 24/7 support has been set up in the Israeli R&D office. However, John’s efforts are failing. Since these changes John made have been set up to enable rapid turnaround of bug fixes, all service matrices show a drastic decline in the level of service. John has asked an OD consultant to come in and rapidly deploy an intervention that has the following goals:

  1. Transfer “ownership of bug fixes” to the lowest possible engineering level in the field to ensure rapid fixes.
  2. Improve the communication and escalation skills of field engineers to Tel Aviv R&D.
  3. Improve R&D-CS communication interface during the telephone escalations
  4. Achieve the three hour turn around rate.

A series of interviews were carried out by the consultant to see why John’s changes had any influence at all and the findings were presented. While John thought he had done enough to fix the issues, the report indicated that others felt he had done nothing that was relevant for the non- American parts of Masari. It appeared that cultural norms and expectations were affecting the success of John’s procedures. Itamar disagreed with many of the decisions that John made. Itamar believed that all these definitions and processes were important for those who believed in the power of the Masari organizational system and the power of the process. Itamar believed however, as many Israelis do, mainly in the power of dialogue and group commitment to solve issues. Itamar believed that dialogue would create the needed ownership. The report of the consultant indicated that Itamar believed that the Asians had no initiative and did not take ownership. Itamar wanted to confront the Asians ask them why they were so passive. He also wanted to have an open discussion on what it meant to be an “owner of a bug fix”. John wanted to “define” ownership and that drove Itamar to question John’s common sense.The consultant’s report stated that Itamar did not see definition of ownership as the issue. Itamar claimed that the Asians had an attitude problem, and thus the Asian engineers were doing the very minimum in the field to fix bugs, and preferred escalating all bug fixes to Israel around the clock. Due to their poor English, the telephone escalations made by the engineers and as well as their email escalations were a comedy of errors.

No one in R&D understood very much and it took hours to decipher what the engineers wanted fixed. Thus John’s system was falling apart, claimed the report of the consultant. The consultant pointed out that many cultural issues were at play causing John’s policy to fail. Chaiyan, Itamar’s chief of customer service in Asia, agreed verbally to the new policy of “transferring ownership” for bug fixes his field engineers. The rational behind corporate policy of having the engineer’s own the bug fixes meant that the engineers would either solve the bugs themselves, or escalate the same night to R&D in Tel Aviv Israel to make sure bugs would get fixed. In all cases, the engineer would “own” the process of bug fixes by remaining a single point of contact between the customer and R&D. However, Chaiyan’s agreement to this “bug ownership” was a polite verbal agreement given as a sign of respect to his boss., Chaiyan knew that John’s plans would not work because the engineers in Asia would see themselves as rude if they had to escalate to R&D managers and engineers and “demand” fixes in a timely fashion for their customer. The Asian field engineers felt that they could not “escalate” to managers in R&D who were older than them. The engineers could not “demand” and “push” for rapid fixes from R&D people who were better educated and commanded the echnical respect of the field engineers. Chaiyan knew that instead of escalating selected bugs to Tel Aviv, his engineers would pass on all bugs to R&D, causing a bottle neck in Israel. However, this would be a sign of giving respect to the R&D teams since it would place the Asian engineers in a position that R&D would tell the field engineers what could be done, saving the engineers from telling R&D what needed to be done. This would be “saving the Israeli’ R&D’s face”. Since the Israeli R&D engineers would be in charge of the situation and not taking orders from customer service engineers. Chaiyan, the head of Customer Service in Asia, expected from his boss (Itamar in Israel) and from Itamar’s boss (John) to learn about these obstacles faced by the Asians on their own. It is the boss’s role to know these obstacles, thought Chaiyan. Chaiyan knew that it was not his role to “tell” his bosses what the obstacles were. Chaiyan wondered why John was overly involved in writing long memos in hardto- understand English. The report of the consultant noted that the trend that was developing between customer service engineers and R&D was worsening with acute tension developed between the Asian customer service engineers and the Israelis in R&D. The Asians escalated as per corporate policy and the Israelis were unresponsive due to communication problems. Chaiyan became more and more angry, but controlled his anger, as Chaiyan had been taught all his life. Chaiyan’s Thai engineers, the best engineers in all of Masari, started to quit. The report pointed out that there were also problems in Oceania, which also reported into Chaiyan in Bangkok. In Australia, for example, customer service manager Keith Matilda had two interesting observations. As far as taking responsibility for bugs at the lowest possible level, this new approach was meant to put work on the shoulders of the little guy in the trenches, which is abhorrent to the Australian who views managements’ motives with great suspicion. And as far as escalating to Tel Aviv was concerned, Keith was sure that neither he nor his engineers would want to burden their mates in Tel Aviv with work at unfair hours. So the Aussies would rebel and not obey the new directive, since collegial behaviour to one’s mates is more central to Australian business culture than satisfying one’s boss’s directive. Keith was not thrilled about reporting into Chaiyan either. He believed Australia should belong to Europe’s customer service manager for “cultural reasons”. John thanked the consultant for the report. He invited all the people to an open discussion at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. No facilitator was brought in, but the report was used as a basis for the discussion. The session in the Fairmount Hotel blew up. John gave a long Power Point presentation with lots of baseball terminology. Itamar challenged John and they had a screaming session in front of everyone. Chaiyan spoke very little, however he did ask for a clearer direction. Keith avoided speaking out and instead of actively participating; Keith dozed off during the sessions at the Fairmount and used his trip to the San Francisco session to enjoy the city at night. At the end of the session in the Fairmount, Keith said that he would be willing to come back to San Francisco any time in the future for a further discussion!

CEO Otis M’Buy was well aware of the failure of the Fairmount talks, since Otis was invited to the wrap up of the session. Otis called consultant was called back and told the consultant that as of now, Otis owned the OD project, not John. Otis asked for a quick fix and promised that any recommendation that made sense would be adopted. The consultant had several issues on his mind as he approached the problem of Masari. He needed a long time to get to know what the Asians thought. He needed time to build longterm relationship with them so they would open up. If he took the time, he would loose the trust of the fast moving Otis M’buy and John, who wanted a fix now. Itamar was a brilliant guy but he argued all the time. If stopped Itamar from arguing, he would lose Itamar’s commitment. But if he let Itamar go on and on,nothing would be resolved. The consultant later learned that when an Israeli argues, he gets more committed, not less committed, and often an Americans desire to do things quickly is driven by the American thought - prejudices that eventually things will be done the American way.

The consultant had other dilemmas. If the consultant did a facilitated team building or skill session, the Asians would clam up. If all the work was one-on-one, the US based people felt that the vision of the change would not filter down. The consultant wondered what to do to solve the problem and get bugs fixed. Should Masari expatriate US managers to manage the change? Should people be trained in proper English pronunciation? Should the policies be changed? Should the technology be changed?

The consultant also pondered how to position himself. The US based people wanted a trainer (a smart trainer, but a trainer) for a short-term project. The Asians wanted the consultant to be an expert who would tell people what to do. The Israelis wanted to exchange opinions and think out loud with another smart guy, and argue things out until a solution was reached.

Global OD Issues

The consultant who was called in was himself western-educated in the North American dialect of OD. During his studies, he was taught to value teamwork and participatory management. Work related emotions
and feeling could be expressed although “expediently” so as not to have too much unnecessary conflict.

Managers should manage, remove obstacles, and delegate. Problem solving takes place when a consultant facilitates, communication and open dialogue are encouraged and group problem solving takes place, creating commitment. The consultant saw that many of these principles would not work in Masari. The Asians would not speak about their concerns in public and wanted Masari management to dictate solutions, albeit with compassion.

Emotions, especially frustration and anger, had to be hidden.Even information sharing was a problem .The Chinese customer service team in Masari said privately they would be unwilling to publicly share information with anyone in a meeting since sharing information would hurt them. This indeed has been the case in the past, as the Chinese see information sharing as a pathetically stupid western habit.The Thais and Chinese wanted communication to be opaque by design in order to save face.The Israelis wanted open argument and vocal dialogue in order to promote group commitment and cohesiveness! The more you argue, the more you care, claimed Itamar. Masari needed a global OD intervention. Masari had multiple sites with high dependencies between these sites. Masari needed a fast solution that would be implemented.

The solution would need to integrate between Western-driven values of efficiency and openness and Eastern-driven values of relationship maintaining through discretion.

The Global OD Intervention

The intervention was composed of various components. The intervention had to deal with the removal of obstacles culture was posing on the understanding of the issues. The intervention needed to neutralize the negative effect that the “virtuality” was having on Masari. Organizational design had to change and obstacles to managerial effectiveness had to be removed.

Mediating Culture’s Effects

Most meetings were held one on one because of the Asian aversion to public discussion. When group interventions were called for, the results were prepared in advance. John argued with Itamar, but Itamar and John met with Chaiyan and dictated the solution.In backroom discussions and not in public, the consultant made sure Chaiyan agreed and discretely fed back to management some of the disagreements that Chaiyan had. The consultant spent 70% of his time at this stage telling people what the other side meant.He did this via 3rd party mediation where needed, and not necessarily by waiting until all people had acquired the appropriate cultural skills. Honesty was an issue that impeded trust. John and Itamar thought the Asians were being dishonest by being verbally in agreement with the change but then telling the consultant they disagreed. The consultant needed to explain that Chaiyan, the Thai team, as well as the Chinese team, were being honest to what THEY saw as most important, and that is respecting their bosses and giving them face. I also explained that the Asians saw delegation as a dishonest practice,since it gives workers too much of their boss’s responsibility. What honesty meant in Masari now had been reframed.

Mitigating Virtuality’s Limitations

Since no one trusted anyone else, all meetings were held face to face. With the situation so intense and with the language in emails and teleconferences so unclear, the issues could not be dealt without face to face contact.

The project had a travel budget larger than the consulting fee itself. The consultant threatened to quit when Otis asked him to do interview work by phone with the Asians. Otis acquiesced and the consultant spent two weeks in Asia.

Major Changes that were Made

Otis changed the organizational design of Masari. R&D was decentralized, with time zone management rationality being introduced into R&D. The term “ownership of bug fixes” as a term for junior engineers in Asia was abandoned and replaced with professionalism. Standards of service were decentralized. Some Masari services were eliminated in certain parts of the world, where the complexity of fixing problems in a timely fashion threatened the long term interest of the business. Expats were used where cultural differences could not be overcome. Masari expatriated a Chinese American to manage China and ensure sharing of information and implementation of all decisions.

Managerial Effectiveness

John was replaced. He had neither the cultural skills, the intellectual capabilities to deal with the systemic problems, nor the trust building capabilities to deal with the virtual and global issues. CEO Otis himself issued a profile of the new manager that he required for John’s role. The three major skills Otis was looking for were the ability to create trust, the ability to communicate messages differently in different cultural environments, and the ability to drive complex change in a spirit of trust. Patrick Berwick, a multilingual American (born in New Zealand) with rich cosmopolitan skills was hired.

The Consultant and Global OD

The consultant analyzed the work he had done at the end of the project. Almost nothing he had done fit what he had been taught to do in his western training. He spoke the global dialect of OD during the whole project, not the Western dialect. Instead of having open discussions, he had mediated between people, conveying messages that people were just incapable of doing on their own. He often made John and Itamar communicate by keeping them apart and explaining to each one what each side was saying. The consultant had spent over 60% of his time ensuring that he was able to talk with Asian staff via good
relationships he had built up with them. He spent 40 hours with Chaiyan until Chaiyan opened up. The pure task related issues took up less than 20% of the consultant’s time. He bared hard messages where face needed to be maintained. Discretely, he told Chaiyan that his English was poor and he told Chaiyan that Chaiyan had unrealistic expectations from a foreign company. He told Chaiyan that unless he fixed this, he could never manage Keith. When Chaiyan said Keith was a racist, the consultant called him on that and told Chaiyan that he lacked the skills to manage Keith, just as John did not manage Itamar. He bared this message very softly. Itamar, who heard a tape of the meeting, said the consultant was too much of a smooth-talker. John heard the tape and said the consultant was too vague. Chaiyan shone with improvement as time went by. He visited R&D in Israel and built relationships with his peers in Tel Aviv, he was more direct with his own people, clarifying to them that Masari was a “faraang” (foreign) company and Thai engineers could not expect things to be run as they would be run in a traditional Thai company, where managers do not delegate but rather dictate. Chaiyan also took a course in diction and his spoken English improved drastically. The consultant himself saved people’s face time and time again by praising them in public and working the issues discretely. He diagnosed many situations while socializing. The consultant was often was called upon to make judgments. Both Chaiyan and Otis demanded that the consultant make very decisive comments. Chaiyan wanted to know if Keith would ever respect Chaiyan as a manager (the consultant said it would take 3 years at least) and Otis wanted to know if John should be fired (the consultant said yes).


Western OD, which deals very little with Masari’s challenges, is for me a North American oral dialect of a vastly complex profession called Global OD.While both global and North American OD are both “midwives” enabling change, thus sharing the essence of the OD profession, the way the change is enabled to so different that I argue that global and western OD are very distinct dialects of the same profession. Dialects can often become distinct languages and “break away” from the common core to which they belong. Western OD as presently practiced is deeply rooted in Western Anglo tradition. While Western OD principlescan be taught in university and in courses, these principles cannot be promulgated in practice globally. Outside the US and Europe managers rule and dictate with compassion. Truthfulness and openness are often vile, rude and upsetting to the social order, face needs to be maintained. Thus, some communication is opaque by design and sharing information is seen often seen as foolish or treasonous. Since the attitudes, beliefs and axioms are different in the non vanilla environment in which the global OD consultant works, so is the skill set required to “treat” the client different. The global consultant needs to know each culture intimately so he can translate various happenings across
various cultural membranes. He must be able to mediate and bear bad messages. Furthermore he needs to be able to facilitate. He needs to judge and mediate as well as bridge cultural differences, vacillating between an expert and the OD classical facilitation role. He needs to build relationships for months before he gets any information of any value. He will need to appreciate and thrive in a vague and opaque communication mode. In a global environment the OD consultant needs to understand when to facilitate and when to mediate. He needs to understand organization design so that unneeded dependencies can be driven out of overly complex organizations. In OD, there are many dialects. The two most prominent dialects seem to be the dialect of the more traditional value driven OD person and the dialect of the management consultant. Until the people practicing Western OD learn more of what happens east of New York City, we may see the profession fragment even more into those speaking the dialect of Global OD and those speaking the dialect of Western OD.

Allon Shevat has been working in South Asia, China, the USA, Japan and Tel Aviv, Israel for 33 years. Educated at McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Allon returned to Israel in 1968. Allon left the Israel military as a career officer in 1976 ;since 1980 has been a principal and CEO of the prestigious GR Institute for Organizational Development. His fields of interest include managing across international borders, virtual organization, management of very aggressive commitments, multi-client OD interventions and Global OD in an acutely diverse environment . His clients include leading multinationals in all continents. His hobbies include walking on the beach, the treadmill, reading, writing, and trying (in vain) to learn Chinese. He lives in Israel where he and his two children reside.