Sunday, March 27, 2011

An outfit that fits – finding ways to self-renaissance

About two years ago, I met a friend who was transferred by her company to their office in France. I asked her why she wanted to go. And, she gave me a non- typical answer compared to what I have learned from my fellow Indonesians before (or perhaps I just haven’t talked to enough number of people!). Usually the answer I found was: wanting to learn more, wanting to know what it’s like to work with others with different cultural backgrounds, and wanting to earn more money than what he or she can make here.

This friend of mine, was different. She said, she’s become a big fish in a small pond, her outfit got too snug for her and it made her difficult to move. She wanted to again become a small fish in a big pond, wanted to feel again of what it was like to be afraid coming to office. These feelings she didn’t get anymore. She knew that anything she said or did would not create any criticism anymore, no one would challenge her, even if she was actually talking bullshit.

I was stunned. There she was, a person with enough self-humility to say that she NEEDED to feel afraid again. To me that was such an admirable self-awareness, a refusal to self-complacency, that I do not often find anymore. Many times if someone is already at a certain level – she or he will want to stay there, perhaps out of comfort, perhaps out of a feeling that the unknown is now too risky to explore, or perhaps it is just unthinkable to get out of that outfit.

I ask myself, will I be able to do so when my outfit gets too snug for me?. Not by going off to a place far away – but just to do something that is very challenging, or something that is totally new that it will require a lot of effort for me to ‘be known’ again. My friend did not go to a different industry – she will do what she does well here. But she will do it with a bunch of different people, from a different culture, in a foreign country. To me that required a lot of effort because there is a lot of uncertainty there to face and learn and adjust to.

Talking to her has certainly sparked my spirit to never stop challenging myself. Often we are bound too much to our current lives by our fears and worries, feeling that we would never be able to do something different. While if only we search ourselves hard enough, we actually have learned more than enough to make new steps. And at times, these steps do not have to be huge, little steps will do as long as we do not stop and be lazy to think of the next steps. Little steps, are what making big things evolve.

Well, self-renaissance is a continuous process, or so I believe. And I thank God that in my journey, I have found many intriguing people that have inspired me, and told me indirectly, that stopping is certainly not the way to go. There are more ponds to find, more outfits to try on, so why not – there are always ways to go back to where we were as long as we have enough self-humility to admit mistakes, and enough courage to continue walking.

(R I R I)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Managers, train and promote your employees wisely, it will go back to you!

The issues of training and promotion have always become one of the hot topics, especially in the industry where I work where talents are rare. Training is often treated as ‘on the job’ rather than as a structured activity – with the excuse that understanding market research is not as simple and as client’s problems are various, training becomes more difficult to structure. While promotion is a challenge because in market research, sometimes it is difficult to determine what skills are needed for a certain level, since one role to another sometimes have similar work to do.

That’s why, since day one I started working in this industry, those two issues have always come up in most discussions about human resources. As I moved up the ladder, I have gotten questions around those from my colleagues. I have asked the same question myself and often consulted with either my superiors, or people from HR in the company I worked in. The question around training always revolves around what to give, and how to structure it so that it makes sense to us and the employees and of course at the same time can get them ready for the next level. While the question on promotion is always how can we promote someone according to the skills needed, while at the same time create a differentiation of role between one title to the other.

Amongst the many answers that I have received, one of the best answers was somewhere along the line of: think of your employees as your brand ambassadors. They can either put a bad, or a good name, on you depending on what skills they bring that are supposed to fit that title.

That line of thinking comes from a very simple logic.

However unstructured, training at the end of the day must answer one very simple needs: to enable the person to do the job that he has to do. So, before we even think of training, we must first understand: what is the job. In other words, we have to come up with clear job descriptions. I am sure every person who has read any books on human resources has already known this. But how often have we really adhered to it, or even tried to understand ourselves and make sure that our expectations of that person and the job that he needs to do, fit with the job descriptions?. I am sorry to say that I have seen too many examples where people just don’t do that often enough. Expectations to the person can be too low, or too high, from the actual jobs that he has to do. And hence, training becomes erratic. Or worse, is not done properly.

And this of course affects on how promotion is then done. Without a proper look at job descriptions, promotion can be done haphazardly. Sometimes it is done on reasons that have nothing to do with the jobs, e.g. in order to keep up with the salary increase, to keep up with the years of working, to keep people from leaving, and so many other reasons. While there is nothing wrong with those reasons, but there is a danger in doing so: we forget to look long and hard at what skills have the person equipped with for the next level, does he/she fit enough with the title that requires certain skills to do the job well in that role. And I think we even often forget to ask ourselves if we are the managers: what have I done to equip that person well enough to go up the ladder.

If you notice, that process always comes back to us as managers. Yes, because at the end of the day, it is not just the responsibility of the employee to understand what he has to do, it is also our responsibility as managers to really understand what the job expects the employees to do, and to equip them with skills to do so.

Let’s ponder for a while. Have you ever encountered a situation when you have hired an employee, who has worked in other company, and then wonder after sometime: what has this employee got in the previous company in terms of training?. And sometimes even make you wonder: how on earth did this person get to his previous position in the first place? How is training and promotion done in that company?.

I have faced those situations more than once in the 16 years of my career in market research. And that can mean a good sign – that the employee performed even better than I expected. Or, the other flip of the coin, the employee did not know even the basics of what he/she had to already know given the position. And more often than not, those situations did take me to think of where the employee has come from – what company, and sometimes even, who was his/her boss. Which, if you work in an industry as small as market research, the best bet is, everybody will know who everyone has worked with before, who was the boss.

So is it wrong to say then, that as managers we cannot ignore the fact that we will also be judged based on the people whom we have worked with, and supposed to have been trained by us?. You can say that other people’s judgment in that area does not matter. But, let me tell you. I have often heard stories that a company declines from hiring someone for a managerial position because of the reputation that the person does not train people well. So it does, matter.

Even when you think you do not want to leave the company where you work now, it still matters. Because your employees, ARE your brand ambassadors. If they are good in what they do, as the situations that I have given earlier, people will want to know where they have come from, and who they have worked with. And I did not make it up. There are excellent people in the market research industry, who are known as good managers, whom people would love to work with them, and many companies would love to have those people on board. When you have good brand ambassadors, you will also have no difficulties to get good people. Hiring people will not be so much of a challenge because you have the reputation and people will want to learn from you.

So, just like karma I guess, it does go back to us. How we build our reputation does not only rely on how good we are in getting money into our company. But there is something beyond that. How we are contributing to the development of talents, is also an important part of what we should consider, to have a good name in any industry that we work with.

It may sound idealistic, but in the world that keeps on changing, talent development will become a key issue everywhere. And our ability to prepare employees for the changing world, by giving them the right training and prepare them well for the next level, may one day be one of the key skills that companies will look at when judging a manager. And also will become a factor that employees will consider when they wish to move to a certain company. I know, because I’ve been in those situations.

(R I R I)

Friday, March 4, 2011

God, our only True Friend

“Do you believe in God?”, in his broken English, he asked me.

Bewildered, I answered, “Yes, I do”

“That’s good. Do you pray to your God?”

“Yes, everyday”

“Will you pray for me?. I don’t think God will hear me, I have left Him for too long. But will you pray for me?. I am having difficulties in my life and I don’t know what to do”

“OK, I’ll pray that all your problems will go away”

“Thank you. You are a kind person”

“I’ve gotta go now, you take care”. I patted his shoulder, he looked at me briefly, nodded, and stared somewhere far with a blank stare

In most of my travels with Cip, or when I traveled alone, interesting encounters with people always happened.

That conversation took place on a street bench in Paris, in the Latin Quarter around Sorbonne University. I was waiting for Cip who went to buy our lunch at a small and crowded student café. And this man approached me from across the street, sat right next to me, and suddenly asked me those things. It was 8 years ago.

As we walked off, I watched him from across the street. He looked desolate, alone, desperate. At that time, I prayed only one thing for him: that God will not let him kill himself, and that whatever he was facing, went away quickly.

I still remember that encounter clearly until now. For some reason, that hit me right in the face.

It’s true, isn’t it. When our life is good, as we trod happily along, sometimes we forget how much has been given to us. Sometimes we even attribute our happiness to ourselves. That what we have gained and achieved, is because of our own efforts. We often forget that there are basic things that if they are not there, we will not be able to achieve anything.

You know, things like the air that we breathe. The sun on the face. The rain that gives the earth water so we can live. The landscape on which we step on. The body that we use to do many things. Nobody could have invented those. Not even Einstein. But there are times when we feel so great about ourselves that we forget about these things. Forget about where we came from, and where we are heading. Our final destination.

But what happens when we are down and low?. Many times, only then we remember that there is a greater being who MAY have answers for us, because nobody does. We search for It like a headless chicken. Frantic. Praying. Hoping. Wishing.

I don’t know what that man was facing. It was a very short conversation. But whatever it was, it had made him remembered what he has forgotten. It had made him felt the need to go back to the road where he came from. But was too ashamed to go back, too afraid of being rejected.

I really pitied that man. Not because he has left his way to God, but because of how lonely he must have felt at that time. So lonely that he could see a stranger as a beacon, though temporary, to the path where he should have gone himself.

And that struck me, at the end of the day, God is actually our truest friend.

When we are at our lowest point in life, how many times do we experience, or we know others have experienced, that we do not have many friends to rely on. That there is a saying, I think. That you will know who your true friends are when you are at the lowest point in life, because that is when we are alone, truly, alone.

Human nature is cruel. But when I met that man, I realized one thing. It has to be cruel. Otherwise we never realize that hanging on to one truth, is all it takes to make this life bearable and nicer. I have met people who have faced so many challenges in their lives, and yet they never despair. And their answer tends to be the same. “Why despair, God has made life full of highs and lows. So someday, I will be at my high”. “I know there will be help along the way. I know God will never leave me alone”.

So, are we going to leave our Truest friend especially at our high points in life?. I hope none of us does that. Because we never know when we will need God, at what point in this life will we need to hang on to that one hope. And we all need a friend, a good friend, who will listen unconditionally. And only God can be that ‘person’.

(R I R I)

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