This is the story of an OD consulting firm founded in the Middle East. The Middle East is one of the most difficult places to preach a new way for managing organizations and leading them to grow.
In 2003 a senior OD consultant decided to move from the United States to the Middle East driven by a vision to contribute to the development of the region.
Upon arrival he established an OD consulting firm that adopted both a unique consulting approach with organizations and a commitment to work only with organizations that share such a vision.
As he began building his consulting organization, and dealing with different clients he was surprised with the level of potential he found. In these client organizations he found individuals that were young-at-heart, smart, self-motivated, and shared a dream of building a better workplace and a stronger nation.
Why was this potential unleashed? Perhaps the easier question was identifying the obstacles.
The founder was triggered by his mission to develop the region to respond to the following areas:
- Immature Infrastructure: Due to the under-developed education and development arms within the region, most organizations lacked a strong management and leadership capacity that would inspire and motivate people to be committed to extra-ordinary performance.
- Consulting Approaches: Most of the consulting businesses within the region were designed to give the client “advice” or recommendations in the form of fancy reporting and presentations with little value add. Due to the lack of capacity within client organizations to implement and operationalize these recommendations, in most cases these reports were placed in office shelves of HR directors or CEO’s.
- Peoples’ Potential: Most people working in the region - especially young professionals who were exposed to global tools and education systems or were enrolled in private schooling - have great potential. They have the willingness to learn and flexibility to experiment with new ideas and concepts.
Revolutionary paradigm in organizational design
Extremely well designed recruitment
Love, Care and Closeness
Non-linear Development focus and belief
The innovation in this consulting firm is its core culture, and the nature of its leadership. Though the culture was initially shaped by the founder of the consulting firm, it was refined and matured collaboratively by its people in a company workshop. The first and most important of the core values was “Love, Care and Closeness”. Though this sounds politically incorrect, it was how every person working in this organization felt towards their fellow employees. They loved them unconditionally; hence almost always made positive assumptions about them, cared enough for them to give his/her support at anytime and provided feedback when necessary. Further, employees are close to each other and are able to sense when each other is in need. On more than one occasion and with different members we have seen how individuals would call on each other before calling on their own family for support.
What made this really happen, I believe, was the very innovative selection process. We selected our people not based on qualifications or years of experience, but based on who they are and how they go about life. We asked questions related to:
- How do they do community service?
- How do they relate to their families?
- How do they make choices in life?
- What are their passions?
The final decision for each interviewee rested upon the team. Every short listed candidate met a sample of team members, who don’t interview him/her but rather sit with them in a social setting and talk to them about themselves, our organization, our challenges and how we deal with them. We then ask about how they feel about what they have heard and if they felt they could contribute to it and how.
Another important aspect is self regulation. We have very general guidelines that are directly cascaded from our values and the rest is up to the team member and the cultural leaders. People are very well oriented by who we are as an organization, what we stand for and what our core competency is as an organization. We also tell them who they can get information from, and assign them with a team and an OG or “Organizational Guide”. This is someone who knows the organization and has played several roles within it. Team members choose what sort of development they need, determine how to get it and identify when they will have time for it. They also decide on how they will work with their teams (in collaboration with the team). Basically the member decides his/her life within the organization.
The leaders are cultural not functional. This stems from the focus on the importance on the core culture of the organization. The founder promoted people who lived this culture and its five core values (Love, Care & Closeness – Development – Integrity – Client Focus – Diversity ) as the role models of the organization and the people to go to for mentoring and guidance. Another example of the organization focus on the culture rather than the functional/technical aspects is the lack of organizational structure. The organization is run by different teams performing “roles”, that may change every 6-12 months based on organizational needs. Roles do not signify a certain status or a given authority; they are merely a functional accountability.
The organizational baggage people come in with – though we had a very specific and aligned selection process, we still had to deal at some instances with people coming in with old system baggage. Some would at some point actually try to understand and be open to a new paradigm but others would take us for granted, and in some cases abuse the system. Those in most cases were pointed out by the strong cultural mechanisms; team feedback, coaching, mentorship and cultural leaders.
-The receptiveness of client organization – in most cases It was very hard for our clients to understand how we don’t have senior consultants and how we all interact as if we belong to the same fun house!
-Effectiveness of new model – because we don’t have a benchmark or a specific reference we are always in a state of development and in many cases we don’t have the answer and we have to work our way to organizational mechanisms that would address the challenges we are going through. A huge example was development.
- Because we are an open culture, very friendly and self regulated; we would sometimes slip into a more relaxed/social organization. However, again in most cases this would immediately be picked up by cultural leaders or other organizational mechanisms and managed.
One very strong well bonded team, with all the wealth of its dynamics (positive and negative)
People’s potential unleashed/fulfilled
members of the team played different roles with flexibility
Loyalty – very low turnover during financial crises
Business growth: 12 countries of operation, expansion to Africa – a whole new set business lines; all of which are lead by leader from within the organization.
A strong culture builds a strong organization and a strong aligned team