Archive for the ‘International Facilitation’ Category

THERE ARE TIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

Friday, May 21st, 2010

There are areas of mediation and conflict resolution that are all too often ignored by even the largest of companies. If I had to characterize the omission, it would be close to not having automobile insurance, not taking fire precautions, not locking your car door in a city or not taking preventive medication.

A positive case in point that may illustrate the type of problem that arises is a story of a large fortune 100 company, whose financial division included a marketing department and the CIO’s (Chief Investment Officer) department.

These two groupings employed well over 1,400 people. The “powers that be” decided that it would be worthwhile, due to the departure of the executive in charge of marketing, for the CIO to take over and combine the functions of both of these departments. The problems that arose from this combination were many and yet, when we investigated, it was in large measure due to the perceptions that each department held of the other.

According to Marketing: “The CIO department sits in an ivory tower and makes (word altered here) “stuff” up that has no application in the real world and expects us to make it palatable”.

According to the CIO group: “Marketing doesn’t really do anything anyway. They throw parties and put names on hats and golf balls”.

The challenge here was not the mechanical or functional merge between these diverse portions of the same organization, but rather the cultural merger. Could the perceptions that each held of the other be changed? What were the factors and blocks that stood in the way? Would the organization take an active structural role through a shift in the way it rewarded the employees so that cross group and team function was a portion of the bonus structure? Was it possible for the individuals at the top of this grouping to genuinely attribute value to their interaction with the other department and model that for the whole group?

In this case, perceptions were changed and structures were shifted through the application of mediation and conflict resolution approaches. After a year of our input we found that a natural synergy had been developed, that project managers for the CIO service would always request participation by the Marketing department in the earliest stages of development and the reverse was also true. These departments became intertwined, and the group leaders requested that the leadership structure be moved into the same suite of offices so that they could cooperate more easily. Through the wisdom and sensitivity of leadership, mediation help was asked for at the right time and the results were excellent.

By contrast if we look at the rise and fall of the Daimler-Chrysler merger, we can see that they believed a tremendous amount was to be gained by the merger of technical expertise and manufacturing capability. Indeed, the technical levels of both organizations were raised considerably. The final results only a few years later were characterized as deception and betrayal. The short lifespan of this merger was due to the lack of will to invest in making a conscious cultural merger. This might have been be carried out by consultants who had a wide range of communications, mediation and conflict resolution skills being brought in during the initial merger talks and not left as an afterthought to the financial or just to chance.

Sometimes it seems that even large companies with billions at stake don’t want to take their medicine. The use of the professional services of cultural mediators early on can be the “Spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down”.

Richard Dash

The Comodity of Time

Friday, April 9th, 2010

 In mediation, we learn the value of identifying the emotions that strip our spritits and psyches of being present, in the now.  Unfortunately, all to often in litigation these are these emotions are the very tools and essense of  “solving” conflict.  This post will address a perspective from a publication that we greatly respect. 

The Futurist is a magazine that covers trends, forecasts and ideas about the future and is published by the World Future Society, a non-profit educational and scientific organization chartered in Washington, D.C.  Their website is www.wfs.org.

The Futurist May-June  featured an article titled, Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s World/Forecasts and Implications for Business, written by Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies.  During the next few weeks we will be periodically presenting segments of their article as they relate to businesses and business owners.  Here is our overview and perspective of their article regarding The Commodity of time. 

Time is becoming the world’s most precious commodity.

  • Computers, electronic communications, the Internet, and other technologies are making national and international economies much more competitive.
  • In the United States, workers spend about 10% more time on the job than they did a decade ago.  European executives and nonunionized workers face the same trend.
  • In these high-pressure environment, single workers and two income couples are increasingly desperate for any product that offers to simplify their lives or grand them a taste of luxury – and they can afford to buy it.
  • China’s rapid econo0mic development means its workers are experiencing faster-pace and time-pressured lives.  In a recent survey the Chinese new portal Sina.com, 56% of respondents said they felt short of time.  That 64% said they were never late and were intolerant of other people’s tardiness suggest a new cultural challenge to the traditional Chinese concept of a leisurely existence.
  • Technical workers and executives in India are beginning to report the same job-related stresses, particularly when they work on U.S. and European schedules.

 

Implications

 

            Stress-related problems affecting employee morale and wellness will continue to grow.  Companies must help employees balance their time at work with their family lives and need for leisure.  This may reduce short-term profits but will aid profitability in the long run.

            As time for shopping continues to evaporate, Internet and mail-order marketers will have a growing advantage over traditional stores.  Workers seek out convenience foods, household help, and minor luxuries to compensate for their lack of leisure time.

Time & Conflict

In the fast moving, ever changing world we live in, it is even more important than ever to be aware and conscious of how we, as well as others,  can often get caught up in that powerful, dangerous river of anxiety, fear, and anger.  How do we find peace within that very conflict and change?

There is a powerful  Eastern axiom that goes something like this:  “Meanings that we attribute to objects are subjective.  We make life real by the thoughts we project.”

In mediation, by creating space (time) between words and expressions, all parties are given the opportunity to listen and are guided towards actively understanding the other parties “truth”, as well as their “meanings”.  We can all practice this for ourselves on a daily basis, simply by practicing a basic technique.  When you feel anxiety, whether it by with another person, an event, etc:  accept the emotion that you are feeling and give pause (space & time).    You may find that in the brief time of the pause, that a subtle gentle light of empathy may appear within – and/or with a bit of luck, the other party will feel that they are actually being heard.

To our reader:

What techniques have you learned in your life experiences that bring you to a point of presense that allows your acceptance of another parties position? 

How does this post relate to your business experiences?

If  intellectual property is a part of the value of what you do, can you see how IP folks can often more readily adapt to mediation as a means of resolving conflict?

           

Mediation – Often, People Just Need to be Heard

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

 “Sometimes we just get lucky”

I was asked to facilitate the mediation of an internal dispute between one of the largest divisions of a company among the top ten in the U.S. fortune five hundred list and their joint venture partner in several countries in Europe. To give you a sense of scope at the time, this J.V. was the third largest foreign investor in just the nation of Poland. Their operations were reaching a stage of expansion and disputes began to arise relating to decision making, procedure, philosophy and risk tolerance.

Under normal circumstances I would have interviewed several of the executives from both corporations and those directly operating the joint venture to get a clear scope of the roadblocks from their varying perspectives. This would also give me an insight into, and connection with, all the parties and form a basis of initial trust in me, and the process. The largest company decided that they could handle that “minor detail”, had already done so, and sent me a digest of the interviews that outlined the areas of dispute. Three days later we were to meet. From these transcripts I learned a great deal about the differences of opinion they were encountering technically, but nothing of the personalities, emotional or cultural issues that were behind these differences.

Please know that I would not have recommended this type of process to anyone who genuinely wished for realistic, lasting and qualitative resolution, but I had agreed to do this for a colleague who was in a bind. This was shaping up to be like going swimming with shoes on.

The evening before the meeting I was graciously invited to dinner with the junior executives who had set this session in motion. As we spoke over dinner, I tried to find out as much as I could about the personalities involved and their histories in business and as people. This also provided the chance to see the thinking of these junior executives as a reflection of their corporate culture.

That dinner was the key to how the process would unfold. It seems that the joint venture partner was originally a refugee from Europe and had come to the U.S. with only the shirt on his back. He had developed his business to the degree that he could return to the place that had reduced him to a nearly sub-human condition as a major player with one of the largest companies in the world. For the folks who had brought me into the there were no issues beyond the “bottom line” in their perception of what was involved in the J.V. arrangements. At the end of the dinner I told my hosts that I would be setting aside a special time for listening deeply to the chairman of the smaller company and I wanted their cooperation and non-interference with that process. They agreed but said they didn’t see what that had to do with the issues.

We had the very restricted time frame of 8:30 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. with the top decision makers from all the parties. After the introductions and welcoming statements we moved on to hearing from the gentleman who started the smaller company. I prompted him with questions that might allow him to express his feelings beyond the issues and kept him speaking for over 35 minutes. By 9:45 A.M. he had been thoroughly “heard”. Suddenly, it seemed there were no real issues to be resolved from the past and we moved on to how they all might work in the future. Animosity was dissolved and creative approaches were generated through the rest of the day.

After the meeting my hosts wondered how I “divined” how to handle the situation. I explained that what was a business arrangement to them was almost like a firstborn child to the other side. The issues were not material but emotional and by addressing them in that fashion it was really a simple problem. I guess I could have kept the mystery by saying that sometimes we just get lucky.

 

“Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.”  ~Native American Indian Proverb

Written by Richard Dash

Understanding the Cultural Matrix

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

 

Here is a further example of the importance of the cultural matrix behind successful solutions and how assumptions can lead to a resounding failure

While in the Middle East, I was the personal business consultant to the chairman and CEO of one of the largest publicly traded development and construction corporations in Israel. My assigned task was to head a project that would help meet the housing needs of a massive immigration from the Soviet Union. Over one million immigrants would enter Israel, an increase of almost 25% of the population within a two-year period. That would be the equivalent of 80 million new immigrants coming to the United States within two years.

Virtually all building there is done with concrete and stone, both for exteriors and interior dividing walls. This is a tediously slow way of doing construction but was the norm throughout the region. The government was encouraging the use of rapid building techniques for both temporary and permanent housing for the new immigrants, in search of solutions to this urgent need. I was responsible for finding the best systems and sources internationally, negotiation of joint venture agreements with those foreign providers of materials and expertise, and establishing projects for the creation of many millions of dollars worth of homes.  

I had sourced and established cooperative relations with some outstanding firms including one of the largest building companies on the NYSE, arranged for the uniting of alien plumbing and electrical systems, substituted coating materials best suited for the harsh sun of the region, shifted roof vent systems among thousands of other details in the planning stages of a small pilot project of some ten million dollars. We had two rooms constructed as test models for assembly systems. The collective wisdom of our building engineering firm and our architecture experts were all satisfied and ready to go. The evening before our final meeting to launch the project I chanced to be in the test rooms while two of the workmen were cleaning up and overheard the following:

1st man: What do you think of this new stuff?

2nd man: I like it. It’s pretty and clean and all the corners are square.

1st man:  Right. I’m not used to everything level and square but that I can live with.

2nd man: You sound like there is something you can’t live with. What is it?

1st man:  Well, I wouldn’t live in it because (he said as he banged his fist on the wall with the      resulting hollow sound that comes from sheet rock) it won’t stop a bullet.

How close we came. All of us, with all our expertise and experience hadn’t taken into account the consumer and one of the most basic of their needs, culture norms and approaches. Our unexamined assumptions would have brought us to inevitable failure. Sheet rock construction for exteriors would never succeed in the Middle East. Although the immigration pressure was immense, permanent housing was and would be virtually all created from block and concrete. All the residents know that concrete will stop a bullet.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Confucius

Written by Richard Dash

IP Facilitation: The Critical Awareness of Perspective

Monday, March 1st, 2010

 

Business negotiators and mediators all too frequently ignore the cultural and historical factors that are an unseen basic that make conflicts seem insoluble.

 

I was called to provide some facilitation and coaching for the top leadership of one of the largest paper manufacturers in the world. Getting communications to penetrate through this rather gigantic organization was a problem in all levels of the company from the Board of Directors through the structure all the way to general employees. We spent time over several days with the top management of the company sharpening individual communication capability and practicing the individual communication of a new corporate vision.

One of the participants in my group was responsible for the manufacturing units located in the former Soviet Union. This executive was an American and had been sent to get the manufacturing in Russia up to speed and standards with the existing global employee base. Between sessions he said that he could not understand why it was so difficult for policies, announcements and news in general to reach throughout the fifteen thousand employees for whom he was responsible. He spoke of all the technical approaches that he had taken and the lack of success he still faced.

My question to him related to the cultural norms that he was facing. When he asked for further explanation, I took him through an understanding of the Russian mentality under the Soviet structure. In that seventy-year period workers did not have great control of their economic lives and neither did their supervisors and “bosses”. Where someone in that situation could feel that they had control was in the area of information. The statement “Knowledge is Power” had a peak of reality in that culture. So now under a freer market system, the cultural bias is still to keep control through keeping information to themselves. It is that cultural reference frame that needs to change. Did the company reward for information transfer? Were bonus structures in line for those who got information to all their employees? Had this executive addressed directly with his direct reports the value he attached to this as a function of management?

Without understanding our own cultural reference frame, and the frameworks of those who are party to a negotiation or mediation, although we may be capable of dealing with the principal material points of a dispute, we may be headed towards a distinct lack of success in resolving the underlying conflict. We must always keep in mind that each party has a historical, cultural and psychological background that makes their perspective unique and requires a unique resolution matrix.

Richard Dash, Mediator & Facilitator

“We must not always try to plumb the depths of the human heart; the truths it contains are among those that are best seen in half-light or in perspective” Francois R. Chateaubriand (French author and diplomat, 1768-1848)