Monday, September 17, 2012

Saying "Goodbye": How or Why

Nobody likes good-byes. At least not when you like someone. In organisations this line might be blurred at times and you would actually be looking forward to seeing someone out and maybe you were the one who has engineered the proverbial sack.

Even if someone is leaving the company at will (like... found a new job or going on an international assignment with the same company), it's still not the same. Even though you are connected and might continue to be working together on projects or virtually, you won't be able to come up to that person's office and offer to grab a coffee just to chat... for no business reason.

It can be worse. You may find out that someone you liked is leaving from an announcement on the intranet. If it was a unilateral desire to part ways, the phrasing is typically around "left to pursue other career opportunities".

So, people leave for whatever reasons. It still does not make it easier to say "goodbye" to them. I have been through many "business breakups" like this, when I knew the reasons, the timelines and the feelings, and I know that it is toughest when you have grown attached. Hence the maxim: don't get too close to anyone who might potentially be fired/find another job/move house/die. Not always practical and virtually impossible unless you are an emotional freezer.

Staying connected to those you like is important for two reasons:

  1. Personal. You feel comfortable around them. They can give good advice. They are going through a tough time: you can help them and in the meantime learn how to handle it. You like them.
  2. Professional. I do not know many people who are fired for underperformance (apart from those whom I fired myself). People leave because they have been ousted by the system, because they lost a political battle with someone who stays in the organisation, because they could not handle a conflict or maybe because they really found a better job - in any case, they possess something that made them stand out - for better or for worse. Staying close to those who stand out and learn from them is a good idea. 

Doing so is trickier. Here are a couple of helpful tips that might help you stay in contact:

  • Plan regular coffees/lunches/theater trips. Nothing better than regularity will help you to kindle the relationship.
  • LinkedIn Profile organizer is a useful little functionality that helps you sort out those contacts who "left to pursue other career opportunities" and have your own strategy of staying connected to those.
  • Don't miss an opportunity to offer them your Facebook friendship if you really feel close.
  • Make sure to get their personal e-mail and send a "what's up" note after a week or two. A personal touch.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sometimes I get really wild career questions...

...and my only reaction would be...

But who am I really to tell someone if it is the right or wrong path to take? Iam not God Almighty and not even a Madame Zingara of sorts. What I can say is what to do and what not to do if you want to get a certain job in a certain company - all based on my personal experiences, network and management books that I have had the misfortune to read up till now.

The only two functions of a Careers Office are

  1. Technical: fine-tune your CV, put some corporate make up and pepper your vocabulary with ten-dollar words so much loved by the recruiters
  2. Emotional: make the candidates believe that they are worth their dream job.
Which function is more important? Both, depending on the candidate. Prognistication is not one of them, so why do career counselors think themselves to be Cassandras and pretend to know what is best for this or that candidate? Beats me all the time.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Are we having fun yet?

Having fun at work is essential, until there is too much of it, but workforce productivity is directly correlated with the amount of fun the employees are having with their colleagues. So, let's have some fun!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You are an MBA and You Want to Work in Russia?

Russia is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" - Winston Churchill could not have explained it better.

Up until the 80s Russia was behind the "steel curtain", unavailable for foreign investment. The 90s have seen the frenzying madness of the Western invasion and the radical change of the business practices. Back then to grab a piece of the Russian market was easier than stealing a candy form a child - consider just one example: the Production Sharing Agreement of the Sakhalin II project. As the government was regaining its stake and say in the "free" market in the 2000s, foreign investors (including those who helped the country survive the cash-lean 90s) are being gradually ousted either by giving preferential contractual terms to the national companies, by imposing quotas and restrictions (e.g. visas) or by direct attack as in the case when importing of Georgian wines was completely banned. Yet, it's a BRICS country and the market potential is enormous, and having a Russian location on your CV is well-regarded by the international headhunters. If you are young, ambitious, you are not afraid of challenges and multiple setbacks, you want to learn fast and make your career double-quick, Russia is definitely for you. The question is: are you definitely for Russia?

Let's consider two variants: (1) you are Russian and (2) you are not.

For Variant 1, there are also two options: (a) you have got a Russian MBA, you are a United Russia party member and working in Gazprom is the summit of your career aspirations - Russia needs you! You will have no problems whatsoever to get a job and retire happily from the same company having no need to learn English or any other language whatsoever. Option (b) suggests a bleaker future: let's assume that you went abroad to study, you share basic democratic values and you believe that performance and pay must be somehow related. Forget about the Russian companies (for reasons click here) - unless you are extremely adaptable, a good actor and have thickish skin, the system will manage you out… or throw out offhand… you will be luckier in the latter case. Hence, it is the Western or Western-like companies, i.e. those Russian companies that have accepted the international business practices and at least know what a Conflict of Interest or Anti-Corruption legislation are. Off the top of my head, examples of such companies are Yandex, TMK or Kaspersky Lab. These companies combine both: the satisfaction of getting the adequate reward for your ideas and services and being still unspoiled by the corporate dogmas of the process driven blue chips. When it comes to opting for a Russian branch of a large multinational, you already know what you signing up for… with a Russian twist.

Now - suppose you have set your mind on a prospective employer in Russia: it's only a part of the deal. Even though increasingly the workplace flexibility becomes a popular demand item, the Russian labor legislation has not moved an inch yet - read my earlier post on this: the country is not ready. If you are a Gen Y biz whiz expecting to work by your own rules, do spend a could of weeks studying the Labor Code of the country you are potentially going to work in. Add to this a possibility of the authorities not renewing your permit, the cost of living (1st in Europe - check, traffic congestion, sky-high salaries, rich cultural life, -35 C in winter, kind but unsmiling people, and boundless business opportunities - and you've got the mix that you need to consider.

Keep in mind that the market requirements for top execs and for recent MBAs or mid-level professionals differ significantly. If only a few years ago merely being a foreigner with some corporate experience would have bought you a one-way Aeroflot ticket to Russia, today this privilege is mostly reserved for the CEO -1/-2 level executives. If you are still on the steep curve of your career, the following requirements are essential:
  • Speak Russian
  • Possess a rare skill (marketing, subsurface engineering and industrial safety are no longer considered rare skills)
  • Be humble about your expatriate roots and conceal well your intentions to revolutionize the way business is done in Russia
Having previous work experience in Russia or in one of the Russian-speaking countries is, of course, desirable, just like education in a Russian educational institution. Skolkovo is the most popular business school in Russia today, but be careful whether their offer aligns itself with your career aspirations. Their executive education programs are stellar and provide you with an invaluable network of contacts, Skolkovo MBA still needs to prove its worth. One important point: many Russian top executives choose Skolkovo primarily for the opportunity to gain contacts - while Executive MBAs elsewhere attract mostly mid-level managers aspiring to proceed to the next level of their careers, in Skolkovo you will be studying in one class with CEOs, VPs of huge Russian corporations and self-made extra successful businessmen. I gave a class on Change Management a month ago to an Exec MBA class, and I should say that the level is there.

  How to get to a Russian company - the scheme is pretty much universal:

  1. Strain your personal connections: even now Russia is more an Aseopian country than Eurasian, so friends and family matter more than rules and papers;
  2. Have a strong network of recruiters and headhunters: the market is hot right now and I have never been refused a personal meeting with a recruiter from any well-known agency if I wished to;
  3. Shortlist your desired future employers, put on your best suit and start visiting their HR departments (with a little bit of LinkedIn preparation and prior phone calls).

  The decision is yours just like choosing the way how you are going to build your career in Russia. Working here is like walking on thin ice: exciting but dangerous. Make sure that you are familiar with Russian history, culture and political life (even if you are a Russian!).

Having started with a British politician, I would like to finish with a verse by a famous Russian poet Fyodor Tuytchev - you decide which you like better… but only after you have really come to know this vast and passionately cold country:

You won't perceive the Russian Land,
You'll fail to measure it with measures.
From common way apart it stands -
You can but trust in Russian treasures.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Laughter Therapy

When we were running a two-day Stress Management course in Shell South Africa, laughter therapy was one of the modules. It is incredible what a few minutes of laughter can do to your mood and energy levels. Have a laugh this weekend!

There would be only one negative aspect of laughter though... when the politicians are laughing at their people.

Bush and Berlusconi sharing a toast back in 2008

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Passion Trumps Intellect

Gary Hamel is going to revolutionize talent sourcing as we know it. Initially, all companies were looking either for conscientiousness and discipline when looking for blue-collar labor or smarts when recruiting for top brass. Back in the 80s the big multinationals realized that the soft skills would also come handy when dealing with the rapidly diversifying business across the globe. So all kinds of "helicopter view" assessments sprang up. At Shell, for instance, the graduate selection criteria are about Capacity (thinking), Achievement (doing) and Relationships (people) - the CAR, as we used to refer to it.

So this Hamel guy comes up with the idea that Intellect accounts only for 15% of what an employer should look for in a potential candidate. Together with Obedience and Diligence, these three account only for 20% or one-fifth of a desired employee profile - they have become commodities, available at will anywhere in the world. What comes on the top of the list? You will find out from the following short video:

Generation Illiterate?

Scene at the cafeteria today:
I am paying for my lunch. The cashier, a young lady of 20-something, is punching in the pre-programmed selections and the total comes up to 230 rubles. I hand her in the 500-ruble note and then the unexpected happens. For some reason, the system did not give her an option to calculate the change, so she got up, walked to the next cash register, picked up a calculator and computed that 500-230 was indeed 270.
All pensive, I picked up the tray, sat down and ate my lunch deep in thoughts... 
Some call them Generation Einstein, and they have all the reasons to do so. They know the answer to any question, they can make complicated calculations and spell better than Shakespeare and Oxford professors, but --- they can only do all of that if they are aided by the modern technology. I recall my not so distant school years when we were forbidden to use calculators in the Maths class. We were not allowed to use dictionaries writing essays and other in-class assignments. We had to commit difficult formulas and long poems to memory. We were the you-are-what-you-know generation. Now we are having the you-are-the-speed-of-your-processor generation.

Is it progress or degradation?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Russia, Business and Two-Headed Eagles

If you feel like an Asian in the West and like a European in Asia, then you must be a Russian.

Today at work I had a discussion with a colleague of mine on the subject of sustainability of using the natural resources to keep the Russian economy afloat. My argument was that fossil fuels is not the answer, while he maintained that Russia can afford for good many years not invest into its science and technology, because we can buy whatever we want with the money flowing from the ground. Oil, gas, diamonds, gold - we are hostages of our own wealth.

Surely, I stuck to my guns maintaining that the only competitive advantage a country might have is its flexibility and ability to learn. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. For the sake of an argument let's assume that very soon a new source of energy will be discovered that could be available anywhere and cost less than water.  The cost of oil & gas will plummet and all the OPEC nations together with Russia will go around the world with a beggar's cup jingling it periodically to squeeze morsels of pity from the richer neighbors for old days' sake. State hospitals are in ruinous conditions, children at school have problems reciting classical 18th century poems (the Golden Age of Russian poetry!!!) and all brains have been drained back in the 90s. The government are doing everything to ensure that the remainder of those who can make a difference leave the country as well... I don't know why Russian science is stifled - maybe to ensure that nothing is invented that might distort the natural (stagnant) way of modern Russian history. Even though I do not believe in the conspiracy theory, it is difficult to explain why the Michelin No Air Tires are not still in production, unless the major tire and automotive producers block any innovation as they need to recover their sunk costs invested in current production facilities.  At the same time, what is the probability of the improbable? I hope you have read the Black Swan to know the answer... In short, should the proverbial mass hit the fan, what will Russia do to compete with other countries?

To explain how things are, I'll give just two examples that were shared with me by a friend who recently started his new job with a large energy company, 100% Russian-owned and controlled.

Example 1: The first story is about initiative and silos. My friend discovered very soon that such a tool as Outlook Calendar is not used in the company at all. Naturally, he inquired with his colleagues why they did not use it - it is so convenient. The colleagues looked at him with bewilderment,
"Why would we need it?"
"Well", reasoned my friend, "what if you would like to book some time to discuss an issue with your boss?"
The colleagues got seriously concerned with my friend's mental health,
"If our boss wants to talk to us, he will ORDER us to come, it does not work the other way around."
My friend was insistent. After all, he is hopelessly spoiled by the Western management practices,
"And in case you want to arrange a meeting with your co-workers from other teams".
The colleagues recoiled in shock,
"If our bosses want us to meet, then my boss will talk to your boss, and they will arrange for us to meet."

Example 2: The second story is about unsubstantiated arrogance and close-mindedness. Since this Russian company is desperate for money, it has to set up JVs and deal with foreign companies. Cash is still king, whether you are a Russian energy company or a Chinese lemonade stand. The Finance Director of a foreign JV sent an email to the Chief Accountant of our Russian company. After waiting for the answer for a month, he forwarded the message to his counterpart asking to chase up. This message eventually landed in the hands of my friend, who went to the Chief Accountant lady to set things straight. She blankly negated the very fact of receiving such email. When my friend showed the email to her (where she was copied), she exclaimed:
"But of course! It's in English! Since I don't speak it, I deleted the message".

Is the message clear yet? Come tomorrow and that tomorrow is not about fossil fuels, what does Russia has to offer? Its imperial ambitions? Its 98% literacy rate? Its nuclear arsenal. I'm afraid all that is already in the past, and the future is too smeared to see clearly through the political mud. We see Russia all beautiful and powerful, but aren't we looking in the rear view mirror?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Strategy and Mice

The mice grew fed up with their powerlessness and the fact that they always fell prey to those who are stronger. They decided to go to the Old Wise Owl for advice. The Owl contemplated them for an instance and pronounced his decision:
- Hedgehogs have needles to protect them from predators. You must become hedgehogs.
The mice were ecstatic with joy and went home happy that soon their misery would be over. Passing the rye field they stopped all of a sudden having realized that they had absolutely no idea how to become hedgehogs. So they turned on their heels (or whatever it is that the mice typically would turn on) and went back to the Old Wise Owl. The Owl was not happy to be bothered again as it disturbed him from an extremely critical task of sitting high perched up in a tree and looking terribly important. The mice squeaked in perfect unison:
- Dear Owl. You are omnisapient and awfully clever, please, do tell us how we should become hedgehogs.
The Owl looked down at them in disbelief:
- How should I know? It's pure tactics, and I am all about strategy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Generation Y: Russia is Not Ready

Today I was a guest speaker at Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, trying to convey the Executive MBA students the importance of Change Management and why it should or should not belong to the area of responsibility of HR. One thing struck me as hard to believe: those heads of large departments and directors of companies have never heard about the Generations Theory, do not know anything about the Millennials, Boomers or that they belong to Generation X, and they give no cognisance to the fact that the nature of their workforce is changing.

I shared just a couple of slides to rest my case on changing demographics and Russia's total unpreparedness for that shift. Let's begin with some numbers. These are the projections of the State Committee of Statistics for the demographic picture of Russia 10 years from now - in 2012. The chasm (words fail me to come up with a better definition for what's looming in a very near future) cannot be negated: in 10 years the number of 20-24 year olds who form the core of the future potential of a company or of the entire nation will be half of what it is now. Given that we are already struggling to resource the business and the war for talent is rampant, I fear to imagine what it is going to become in the years coming. Should there be no strategy for talent import in place pretty soon, the business will be facing a collapse situation. A basket case of a country...

But that gap will become everyone's headache in a couple of years. Right now everyone seems to be relaxed and laid back, watching listlessly the revenues from the natural resources Russia is so lucky (or unlucky) to possess. We are so content with the situation that no heed is taken that the workforce is changing and that Generation Y is voluminous enough to make its statement in the world of business. The European businesses have recognized the needs of the new generations and have taken the necessary steps to make sure that they are able to attract and retain the top performers by providing the so-much-valued flexibility and the opportunities for self-actualization that characterize Generation Y. Below is a slide from Top Employers research done last year across Europe:

What do we see in Russia? The business (nor the Government) could care less what type of people will be shaping the nation's economy or are shaping already. Why? Let's take a simple example of working from home. Across the world, it's a reality. In Russia,
  • if you don't come to the office, according to the Labor Legislation it is an absence;
  • there are provisions for home work, but if you decide to go that way, the employer will have to attest the working conditions and certify that your apartment is fit for working - can you imagine conducting an exercise like that?
  • if you work from home and an accident occurs, is that an industrial injury and the company is liable?
  • etc, etc, etc.
The legal hurdles to such a seemingly simple issue are tremendous, and everyone is keeping silent: the unions (which is a joke in Russia right now, really), the business, the government, the civil society (which is maybe even a bigger joke than the unions).

Thus, what I left the students with were questions and problems. Hopefully, they left the classroom with more questions than they had come with because that definitely was my intention. Skolkovo is supposed to nurture crème de la crème of the Russian busines elite, so if they don't start asking the right questions at the highest levels, who will?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Signature Process

A signature process as Lynda Gratton has put it is something that works like clockwork in your organization, is extremely effective, easy to describe and understand, but virtually impossible to copy. Looking at this picture I can't but think of organizations who make clumsy attenpts to copy other companies' best practices and end up pear-shaped :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Thank You Economy

A fresh (relatively - 2011) read on the importance of relationships and taking care of your customer. The authors explore various ways of connecting to those who buy your products and services, placing a specific emphasis on the role of various social media.

The key take-aways from The Thank You Economy summarized by Get Abstract:

  • Your great-grandparents grew up in a world where good customer relationships mattered.
  • But corporations’ restless pursuit of profits has led to the elimination of all unnecessary niceties in order to cut costs.
  • Social media have returned power to the customer, making firms more mannerly and creating the “Thank You Economy,” which cares “obsessively” about customers.
  • The “culture of caring” must start at the top and reverberate through the organization.
  • If you want your culture of caring to reach the customer, your employees must share your philosophy. Care more about them than about your clients or your competition.
  • Interactions with your customers must be heartfelt, visceral and authentic.
  • If your forays into social media haven’t worked, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  • Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media initiatives. “Use shock and awe to blow your customers’ minds and get them talking.”
  • Despite – and due to – technological advances, marketing is more difficult now than ever.
  • Social media likely will change in the future as new technologies give rise to new ideas and platforms, but the vibrant, vocal online community is here to stay.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What to Do with Millennials?

Millennials have arrived. They are young, energetic and numerous. Their arrogance makes your blood boil and their contempt for authority is exemplary. From workplace amusement they are turning into a palpable economic threat for older generations. I am one of them.
I read Managing the Millennials during my Christmas vacation this year. It's an easy read - something that you would swallow in a gulp being caressed by the easy breeze of the ocean, or maybe you are really struggling with these intrusive, obnoxious and outstandingly creative youngsters that are flooding the workplace. I recognized myself. It was not always a very pleasant revelation: there are Gen Y traits that I am not particularly fond of but it was an empowering experience to read about myself and understanding why I was succeeding or failing in various situations in the past.

It is a cute attempt at trying to reach out to the managers of older generations and trying to explain to them (and teach them) how the Millenials can be managed. It's spelling out the co-habitation rules with the youngsters. The way the information is presented was not appealing to me personally because
  • it is too americanized (the statistics, the examples, the way it is narrated, etc.)
  • it is too structured (I thought immediately that a consultant was writing it, and later I found out there were three of them)
  • it is written for older generations only (man, that should be clearly stated at the title page: 35+ only!). While it is instructive to read about your own generation (doing the reflective rounds in your head on your own Weltanschaung), the style and manner have not been adapted for my likes, so I guess the authors have lost a large chunk of potential readers and admirers.

Secondly, they offer an interactive self-assessment tool online. It's something like ten pages of questions with no pictures or conversations in them and at the end they promise to send you the personalized report the following day as a "thank you" for participation. I have received a confirmation message that my answers have been submitted, but I am still waiting for the report until this very moment. Dudes, that's not cool.

Among many others, one idea I liked in particular: I think it was very creative on the part of the authors to draw parallels between the Maslow's theory of needs and how different generations relate to work. It is summarized in the picture below: while for the earlier generation merely having a job was already God's blessing, for Millennials work is a way to express themselves, and changing a job for this "texter" generation sometimes is as easy as post an update on Facebook.

Summary: if you are interested in another behavioral model (now adapted to fit the generations theory), give it a go and spend a couple of hours with the book. Otherwise, I guarantee that the world will not sift away from under your feet if you spend your time on something else. Having a cup of coffee with a Millennial, maybe. After all, to understand one, you need to talk to one. Ta!


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