Tuesday, May 31, 2011

50 EUR Note or How to Lose Talent

Jokingly, the 500 euro notes in Spain are called "bin ladens": they exist in theory, but nobody has seen them (I am not sure if this joke is still relevant in the light of the recent developments). The jokes are only funny when they are not played on you, thoght... I did not have to deal with a note as large as a 500-euro bill but even a tenth of it gave me quite a headache today.
Speaking metaphorically, I fell prey to the global drive of wading away from cash transactions and eliminating cash from the value exchange. I had to take a bus from Plaza de Castilla in Madrid to go to Alcobendas, the fare for which is EUR 1.50. I arrived at the bus station 10 minutes in advance with a general feeling that everything was under control and I had more than enough time to get the bus and maybe even enjoy a coffee on the way. Imagine my dismay when I relaized that I only had a 50-euro note in my wallet and no coins at all. I start darting around the terminal looking for someone who would change it into something more tradeable as the bus driver refused to accept it upright. Now... the ticket machines did not accept it, the ticket office did not have change and even the hot-dog-stand vendor could not help, even though she was a most amiable lady. My last hope was an ATM, and when I asked for EUR 50 hoping that I would get two twenties and a ten as usual, the wretched thing spat out another 50-euro note at me and that was already happening 30 seconds before the bus departure. Cursing the banking system, the electronic means of fund transfers and the public system of the Community of Madrid, I went back to the ground level and got a taxi. Taxi drivers always have change for some strange reason.

Still being in the metaphorical mood, I started contemplating the implications of having "500-euro notes" in organization, i.e. senior seasoned and well-qualified employees who do not fit the structure any more. That happened to Shell South Africa a couple of years ago, when after a successful implementation of Global SAP many employees who were working on the project could not be integrated back into the workplace because they have outgrown their old positions, the organization has become much flatter due to streamlining of the business processes and, in general, there are fewer jobs at the top (the champagne bottle effect). So they were like those 500-euro bills: high value, looking pretty but hardly utilized in the new environment, which suddenly became extremely transactional and controlled. As a result, many had to exit the company.

Moral of the two stories: sacks of coins are heavy to carry but having just large bills may get you nowhere, thus balance is the magic word. There is a caveat though... this rule does not apply if you have LOTS of money and can swap the bus station for a helipad :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stupid interview questions

I borrowed these cartoons from http://theoatmeal.com/comics/interview_questions; I am sure you'll also enjoy them, and sometimes they do come across exactly as shown below!

Enjoy the last working day of the week!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Language Barometer

I am teaching English again. A friend of mine went to France to attend his brother's wedding and asked me to substitute him for two weeks at a small Spanish company in Madrid. It's nice to be back in teacher's shoes and finally do what I was trained to do academically in the first five years of my University studies (I am a teacher of English and German, after all).

As is common, the company is trying to attract as much international customers as possible, and actually a large part of their customer base are non-Spanish speakers. "Firing" is a curse word in the Spanish language and it virtually does not exist in the Spanish legislation and business practice. Thus, since laying off the linguistically-challenged working population and employing new, young and internationally savvy workforce is not an option, the company is forced to arrange English classes for their employees. Some interesting observations:
  • 50% of those who are supposed to attend those classes (company-sponsored!!!) never show up;
  • the control from the company's side over the syllabus and student progress is hardly seen;
  • some students have been learning English for 4 years already, still are at the Intermediate level or so and the company continues to invest in their training.
I am only there for two weeks and surely I am not going to rock the boat and play the part of the indignant fiery revolutionary a-la Dolores Ibárruri, yet - I have seen it oh so many times when the sole purpose of the learning budget is simply to be spent.

I agree: calculating ROI on learning interventions is extremely difficult, but not doing anything about it is unacceptable. Sayonara.  

P.S. IE has just publsihed this article about the shifting perspectives on learning foreign languages.

IE and busuu.com present the 2011 Language Barometer

Madrid, April 2011. IE Business School and busuu.com, a European online community for learning languages, have conducted the 2011 Language Barometer survey, the world's largest online report on the future of language learning. More than 16,000 people from over 150 different countries took part in the survey which was carried out in March 2011.
37% of the people surveyed believe that one of the best ways to learn a language is online. 24% specifically identify Web 2.0 platforms as the most efficient way to learn a language and 13% prefer individual online language learning. 32% of them believe that language courses abroad are the most efficient way to learn a language.

The lifetime average amount spent by survey participants on language learning is around 750 euros. More than 17% have spent even more than 1,000 EUR (1,400 USD) on language learning over time. 71% of them believe that the ability to speak a foreign language will directly improve their financial situation.
The reasons that people learn a new language are changing. The people surveyed want to learn a foreign language for travel (37.7%), business (35.7%), fun (37.1%), school/university (27.4%) and personal/family reasons (22.1%).

Regarding the difficulties found when learning a new language, 24% say that they don't have time, 16% think it is hard to keep up the motivation, and 15% believe that not having access to native speakers hampers their learning process.

82% of the people surveyed believe that knowing a foreign language in the workplace is important.  The report shows that 40% of companies actively support their employees when it comes to learning a new language.

52% of the people surveyed believe that the language of the future is English, 23% chose Mandarin and 8% Spanish. The rest are split between languages that include French, Japanese, Arabic, and German.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My IE Consulting Project with Unilever

Read about this fantastic experience that we had in the electives part of the MBA program at IE Business School in January-April 2011:


Our team of four was responsible for benchmarking Unilever CSR initiatives against a group of peers and competitors. Our project had a specific focus on the role of communication and particularly using the social media platforms to reach out to the key stakeholders.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

MBA Graduation Tomorrow - What I Learnt This Year

A year has passed like a speed train. This is the greatest tragedy and pleasure of one-year MBA programs: time and opportunities for reflection are scarce and precious, while you do not even get the feeling that your are truly away from the workplace.

Paraphrasing Haruki Murakami, the most important lesson that I have learnt at the business school is that the most important things cannot be learnt at school. The graphs and charts and frameworks are important - that is the dry takeaway you get in the classroom, but that is not what makes you a good manager. Hence, my first lesson: capability is important but attitude is key. You need to be open-minded and inquisitive enough to go home and reflect on everything that happens at school, including the time in work and project groups. If you fail to reflect and arrive at your own conclusions about the topics discussed in class, I would be doubtful about the quality of such learning. If you are uncapable of such reflection, why are you here at all? Julia Lambert said that real actresses don't play in movies. My challenge would be: do real managers go to business schools?

The second big thing is about time management and prioritizing. You can only focus on the essential - there is no way you can do everything given the humongous amounts of information that is being dumped on you by the faculty. Thus, it is critical that you decide what you want to focus on and invest most of your time and efforts there. Besides, there is beautiful and exciting Madrid out there, as well as Spain and all the neighboring European countries. Finally, you might have brought a significant one with you or an entire family, who also would like to enjoy some of your attention. Following the pyramide principle, there are three priorities that you could consider, but in reality you can only achieve two of those successfully:
So, these are the options: engross yourself in studies, spend time with the significant other(s) or venture out to get the most of the local flavors. Which two out of three would you choose? I have observed that the choices are always personal and the whole MBA crowd is quite varied in its preferences.

In a similar vein... This year should also be about fun. If you take things too seriously, you are going to burn out and really - you did not pay all that money just to study-study-study. Doing fun stuff, getting engaged in extracurricular activities, joining clubs, doing sports is a great way to optimize your learning and maximize the MBA experience: it takes your mind off academic stuff and helps recharge while you get numerous opportunities to network, and networking is another big MBA thing. Your future career is largely predicated by the quality of the network that you have managed to build and the business school is a great place to practise your schmoozing skills.

Similarly, the alma mater (IE Business School in my case) is now a brand that will help you to get ahead, so you have a vested interest in its success. At the same time, your success is there success, so get the CEO seat as fast as possible. Surely, the expectations must be managed correctly and you won't be an international CEO in your next job, but I am pretty sure that personal success and the success of your academic institution are positively correlated.

In conclusion, I feel empowered and energized after this year or gruelling studies and lots of fun. I am really excited to be back at the workplace. It is like with rental cars - you get one with a full tank and you are supposed to return it full. I am overflowing with petrol at the moment.

IE, I am so looking forward to missing you!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ways to make your job more exciting

The Health & Safety function often falls under HR (for example, at Vestas), but yes... it does take away the adrenalin as we see from these educational photographic examples :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How to write understandable e-mails

Today I came across this article at Forbes.com on how to write effective business emails:

I could not agree more - it really happens very often that I want to pull my red pen out and start correcting emails right there on the screen. The article dwells on some grammar aspects of business writing, but that is not what most often annoys me... what really gets me going is the utten inability to express what someone wants to say in a crisp, clear and concise manner that would be understandable to a nine-year-old, be it in English, Spanish, Japanese or Swahili.

Besides the ones mentioned in the article, the bad habits that email writers often fall into are:
  • excessive wordiness: hiding the essential important information in a sea of meaningless or non-critical words and fancy phrases;
  • blinking words: words and phrases that sound nice but don't mean anything. For instance, in a sentence "We really need some good leadership here" it is totally unclear who "we" are, what "good" means, what sort of "leadership" is missing, and where this ambiguous "here" is;
  • capital letters: in business communication CAPITALIZATION means SHOUTING!!!
  • colors: if you work for a Fortune 500 company don't make it look like you are a lemonade stand employee;
  • jargon and abbreviations: yes, I know, all managers truly need to use those three-letter monstrocities (anything beyond three letters gets too complicated for the simplistic business world) and they thrive on throwing in shop-talk words that sound like jibberish for the outsiders, but then that is exactly what your message becomes - jibberish;
  • fancy language: I agree, words like "ensconce" and "terpsichorean" sound sophisticated and make you feel sapient and important (I suffer from this illness too), but nobody is going to open their Webster to check what you mean, so most likely your email will travel straight to Trash (by the way, I get my daily linguistic delicatessen from http://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day/).
The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You (Bk Business)If you are not the best writer in the Universe, do not give way to despair. There is a ton of marterials that will help you to organize your thoughts in a way that will be understandable by the majority of your audience, and that is alreayd 80% of success. Add a bit of flavour, get your pronouns and split infinitives rights and you have your perfect email. I can recommend a book called The Hamster Revolution, which apart from giving some practical advice on how to sort your email and manage the Inbox, proposes the ABC of composing messages:
  • Action
  • Body
  • Conslusion
Start with what you want to get, give the rationale in the body and a few words to conclude. I believe there is nothing wrong with following a template in this case, since business communication is not a creative writing contest - all you need is being understood.

Monday, May 2, 2011

6 Tips To Improve Your Cover Letters

A great blogpost on wirting a Cover Letter...

6 Tips To Improve Your Cover Letters

There are a bunch of tools you need for your job search (Job Search Marketing Toolkit), one of which is the Cover Letter.
If you don't know what this is take a look at the link listed below. Your cover letter is most likely the first correspondence a potential employer will see, so it pays to take the time to get them write. No, I did not make a mistake when I wrote "them".
You should have several cover letters, each tailored to specific jobs or audience (see the links below as well). On to the tips.
1. Why One Cover Letter is Not Enough - You will be sending cover letters to potential employers at companies where you would like to work (no specific job application), recruiters, blind intro letters, you get the picture.
2. Okay, I need a cover letter. Where do I start? - First, you need to decide what type of a cover letter you are writing. Then you need to understand the main sections of a cover letter.
  • How to Write a Great Cover Letter - Describe your desired outcome, take a look at the construction of a cover letter, take a look at the sample and you are on your way.
3. Formats, formats, formats, who has a format? - Okay, if you've not defined the types of cover letters and your goal, then now is the time. Once you've got the basics, you need to include an explanation (why are you writing it), who are you and why they should look at your resume. Technical format is as important as well.
  • Cover letters: types and samples - This article will help you fill in the blanks as mentioned above, but also covers technical format, a few sample cover letters and then a number of links to additional samples. Also take a look a the related topics at the bottom of the page.
4. Pick a format and content that is right for you - As you start to look at some of the resume samples, you may notice that many are industry specific. If you are writing to someone with a specific industry in mind, pick a sample for your industry. On the other hand, maybe your cover letter is all about introductions, and in that case pick a format that suits your goal.
  • What Makes A Great Cover Letter, According To Companies? - Main points of this article is don't make your cover letter sound like a form letter. Make sure "you" come through and that the letter represents information that is appropriate to the person/company. Lots of great information in this article (including the simple stuff we so often get wrong - like spelling). A long article, but worth reading every word.
5. Create a list of what you are trying to accomplish - I love lists. We so often think we know exactly what we need to do and, for that very reason, we so often forget some of the basics. One rule of thumb is to let someone else read your cover letter formats in case you missed something. But you should still make a list. 6. It's easier to change something than it is to start from scratch - Yes, you can start with a clean sheet of paper and write your entire cover letter(s) from scratch. But, you will likely get a better result if you start with several of the samples and edit them down to something that works for you.
  • 50 Sample Cover Letters - 50 examples is a good place to start. This link has a number of different types with 2 or more samples for each.
Good luck in your search.

Author: CareerAlley


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