If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

I took this image in the Old Quarter, Hanoi. As the old adage goes, it paints a thousand words. For me the following come to mind: busy, touristy, colourful, polluted, industry, resilient, familial, noisy, hipster hangout, chic…

But there’s a lot more that can be said that is unseen. I had watched a BBC documentary on the Vietnam war before visiting and couldn’t get the depressing images of the estimated 3 million people who were killed out of my mind. With each conversation, I found myself wondering what effect the catastrophic event that visited the parents and grand-parents had, and continue to have, on the person I was talking to. A devastating event that began with the words “let’s send in a few more advisers”.

Little wonder I was annoyed one evening when I overheard a middle aged American tourist chastising a Vietnamese waiter for bringing her the wrong order. She wouldn’t let up even after this was rectified, apologies given and wrong dish offered for free. She kept on about it with her friends for quite some time. I know, different time, different context.

Nevertheless, words are fateful. They create our social worlds. This happens one conversation at a time. Can’t help wondering what’s was being created between the American lady and the waiter in this seemingly harmless exchange.


As a consequence of the international aid scandal, I’m wrestling with the question of how leaders can create organisation cultures that have zero tolerance to all forms of abuse without inadvertently creating a draconian culture of surveillance, blame and suspicion?

What does getting the right balance look/feel like? Comments below please.

Can Oxfam “sex scandal” controversy be completely avoided?

Between the human condition and the extreme conditions international aid work is often carried out, probably not. Not entirely. That said, screening, safeguarding and whistle blowing processes must be in place to prevent abuse of any nature. However, when deplorable acts are uncovered and dealt with, they should be seen as a success of these processes, rather than an indictment of the agency concerned. The wrong doings of a few rogue elements shouldn’t be used to ‘pathologise’ the whole organisation as bad, as some have done in the case of Oxfam, an organisation that has and continues to do so much good.

The best any organisation can do is to put in place rigorous processes to reduce the risk of abuse and to enact protocols for dealing with transgressions when they happen, swiftly and openly.

For British charities, developing and codifying (mis)conduct, safeguarding and whistleblowing  policies is mandatory and in many ways the easy part of the equation – write the policies, stipulate the consequences and sanctions for misconduct and communicate this throughout the organisation.

However, turning desired behaviours into lived practice and creating a culture of zero tolerance to abuse given the geographical spread, busyness, complexities and chaos of crisis response is another matter altogether.  Getting the whole system to live up to the highest ethical standards is a relational achievement that involves carefully planned Organisation Development activities that results, not only in organisational members embracing but also embodying espoused values in ways that heightens vigilance to unacceptable behaviours. Unfortunately in a sector increasingly obsessed/stressed with meeting compliance requirements and driven by KPIs and ROIs such culture building activities are often seen as a luxury and a waste of time.

International charities need to be both diligent about developing and implementing preventive policies; and pay equal, if not more attention to co-creating an ethical culture where all organisation members are working towards eliminating all forms of malpractice. Having done this, when things go wrong, and they will, we should hold the organisation concerned accountable for learning from their mistakes and for making tangible improvements, rather than hounding them in ways that reduce their support and consequently their ability to serve their beneficiaries.

Oxfam is a great humanitarian organisation that has and continues to do so much good. They should be encouraged and supported to do better. A retributive approach does not serve the greater good.

Most aid workers put themselves in harm way to serve others. When the instinct is to run away from danger, this special breed of people run towards it. They do so out of compassion and a desire to alleviate suffering. What this current debate ignore, is that for each incident of aid workers abusing beneficiaries, there are an equal, if not more, abuses perpetrated on aid workers and volunteers in the cause of their work. The ones I know carry on regardless. Don’t let the misdeeds of a few taint the honourable, often self sacrificial work of the many.

Extra, Extra…Read all about it. Especially as it’s free for the month of Feb!

I had a really pleasant surprise last week when this email hit my inbox:

Dear Patrick Goh,
I’m delighted to inform you that your article published in Voluntary Sector Review was one of the Journal’s top five most read articles published in 2017. As such we will be making it free to access for the month of February and marketing it on our website (http://policypress.co.uk/journals/free) and on the Voluntary Sector Review twitter feed.

As the email didn’t ask me to fill in my personal information, I’m fairly certain it’s not spam. :)-

My reward? It’s being featured as a free download for the month of February 2018… so get it while you can.

#Don’t you wish your boy / girl friend was hot like me? JK! 

The article’s called Systemic practice and workplace as community: alternatives to managerialism

Data Analytics in People Management

Why am I wary about the use of data analytics in OD/People Management? Let me count the ways…

Human systems are dynamic while people surveys are temporary and static (ie, at best they only provide a snap shot in time).

Management by data analysis is a disembodied form of organising. It focusses on numbers and statistical analysis rather than real experiences.

It is based on on scientific assumptions of how the world/people works. Organising as quantitative science rather than qualitative human knowing.

It’s unrelational. Data doesn’t take account of quality of relationships and social effects of politics, power).

Benchmarking data against other organisations is uncontextual. We don’t know the context behind the stats of other orgs, so data is treated unrealistically as ‘ceteris paribus’, when we know its not.

It’s based on notion that truth is objective and discoverable through scientific/statistical endeavour rather than subjective and socially constructed.

It’s based on belief that the analyser can be separated from the analysed when everything is connected.

It is based on individual, logical rationalism rather than communitarian sense-making.

It’s is based on the assumption that the analyser can be neutral and unbiased.

(Language) Games People Play: #1 The Performance Appraisal

Are performance appraisals subjective? Yes.

Are performance appraisals done in the context of differential power relationships and personal agency? Yes.

Are performance appraisals influenced by office politics? Yes.

Despite this consensus, like a juggernaut the practice rolls on.  We’ve even tired to improve the ‘game’ by adding 360 degree feedback into the mix.

If we know that this is a flawed system why can’t we, don’t we, come up with something more meaningful?

I think Richard’s Rohr’s observation about Western culture also applies to organisational culture. He notices that there three kinds of cultures in the Western world today each with its own “bottom line”: political cultures based on the manipulation of power, economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God. These ‘discourses’ have detrimental social consequences, although this is usually denied or unconsciously created by proponents. The  underlying values and their implicative effect of these discourse are usually hidden from the causal observer because they are uncritically accepted as the norm, ie, it’s the way we do things around here. Rohr gives a dramatic, perhaps overly pathologising warning about the effects of these dominant discourses when he concludes that “evil gains its power from disguise”.

What is the effect of your leadership on others?

There’s a saying… “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” I think it’s the same with leadership…

“Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”

I’m not advocating the ‘thought’ police. However, having seen how words can hurt, I think there are times where we need the ‘talk’ police.