The shifting tectonic plates – part two

In my previous post, I shared about the first of two significant changes that rearranged the contours of my life two days after my fourth-cycle birthday. This post focuses on the second, work-related change. As this is work-related, I will endeavor to write about it in a way that is appropriate and does not ruffle any communications policy feathers.

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The morning that I dropped Tawn off at his parents’ house, for them to look after as he recovered from his severe allergic reaction to some medication, I headed into work and shortly afterwards a corporate announcement appeared in my inbox:

Ms. CCO (the Chief Commercial Officer, who was also the head of the business unit I support in my role as Director, HR Business Partnering) has left the company over differences in the strategic direction of the business with the CEO.  In the interim, the Mr. CEO will head the business unit as we search for a replacement.

Note that this information was publicly released at the same time, so I am not sharing any proprietary information with this announcement.

The back story is that the CCO had specifically asked me to step from a leadership development role into this HR business partner role six months ago, to help her turn around what has been a financially struggling business unit. This was a leap of faith for me and a challenge that I decided was worth undertaking.

Along the way, I struggled to understand my new role and see how I could best bring value to the CCO and to the organization. In fact, just the week before, I had dinner in Hong Kong with my former boss and another colleague and, discussing this challenge, arrived at the conclusion that I needed to be more up-front in confronting the CCO and bringing my independent voice to her counsel.

No sooner had I returned from Hong Kong, then the following week, the CCO left!

This was a shock to me and as the head of HR for the business unit, I was unsurprisingly the recipient of a flurry of questions. Concerned employees, especially regional ones, wanted to know what was happening, whether their jobs were safe and – oh, by the way – did you know that I would be just great at such-and-such a role in operations?

It was a challenge because nowhere in our HR standard operating procedures describes how to handle the unexpected resignation of your head of business unit. So I charged forward, comforting people, reminding them that we need to focus on what we can control: our reaction, our mindset and what needs to be done.

The weeks that have followed have been interesting – there is no better way to learn than to face crisis and uncertainty – and also frustrating, because you want to help people but you have no real information to share, nothing substantial you can provide. The only thing you have is an empathetic ear, which is maybe the most valuable thing in times like these.

A few weeks later, a second major announcement came: my boss was promoted to be the global head of HR, a role that the CEO (and, previously, the CCO) had held. This would appear to be a good thing – after all, one thing I have appreciated about working at this company is that despite it being a large multinational, I have been able to work directly with our most senior leaders.

Two days after the second announcement, a third announcement came: a restructuring in HR, in which my former boss (the one I had dinner with in Hong Kong) and three of her team members were cut. This was personally devastating for me, as these are people who are colleagues and also friends. Only six months ago, I was part of that team and the most compelling reason I chose to join this company was because of the connection I made with my former boss when she interviewed me. This was someone whose vision I believed in and whose balance of high standards and high nurturance created the robust environment in which I could thrive.

A fact of life in businesses is that restructurings happen. People, through no fault of their own, are cut from a company. Their work, which is often a large part of their personal identity, is taken away. And in my new role as an HR business partner, the last few weeks have given me a lot to think about, in terms of how that process is done. How best can we conduct an inherently inhumane event in a humane way that esteems and treats with dignity the people who are being let go?

As a manager several years ago, I had to deliver this difficult news to scores of people as my company went through two rounds of layoffs. And I have been on the receiving end of a layoff when my previous employer wanted me to stop working remotely from Thailand and return to the United States. Based on those experiences, I have some idea how layoffs can be done with dignity.

Just as the tectonic shift in my relationship with my father-in-law has changed the landscape surrounding my marriage, this tectonic shift in my organization has changed the landscape surrounding my job.

My reflection is that there are two ways to go: I could give in to cynicism and start to look for a way out of the turbulence, seeking something more certain and stable. Many friends have encouraged me to take this route. Alternately, I could follow the advice given by a few other friends: choose to stick with the challenging route through the rearranged landscape, because it is in these challenging times that the opportunity to make a difference is greatest.

As with all earthquakes, there is a risk of aftershocks. We do not know when they will come, nor what their severity will be. But in the meanwhile, I think the best route forward is through the rubble. There are people in need of direction and support and there is rebuilding to be done.

 

The joy of working with a good team

Two weeks ago I was in Hong Kong for our annual learning and development conference. This is where we pull together all of our L&D talent from across the company. Despite having 28,000 employees in 36 countries, our formal L&D talent is only thirteen people. Outside of that we rely on local leaders and subject matter experts to conduct training.

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During the week, I reflected on how fortunate I am to work with such a talented and passionate team of people. While most of us do not work together on a daily or even weekly basis, we form a network who help achieve¬†our mission of building the company’s talent.

What I especially like is how our team has quickly established norms that allow for a high level of psychological safety (see the Google re:work page on this) – there is lots of sharing and also lots of nurturance. People genuinely care about each other and there is a lot of caring.

Coming out of that week of meetings, I felt a stronger sense of being supported. More people who can give feedback and help me think about leadership development, which is my area of responsibility. It’s so refreshing to work in this type of environment and feel that way.

 

What I Do

In my previous post, I wrote about quitting my job. As difficult as it is for me to quit, it is even more difficult to stay in a position where my interests and passions are not well-aligning with my opportunity to fulfill them. So what are those interests and passions?

IMG_0698My interest and passion is in helping people reach their full potential. How do I do that? Mostly through the field of “Organizational Development”. This subset of Human Resources goes a lot deeper than just training – a one-time event – and looks at the full experience of talent within your organization.

How do you find, attract, and on-board the right people? How do you get them up-to-speed quickly? How do you ensure that all of the processes, incentives, expectations, and tools align with the outcomes you expect from your people? How do you ensure they can perform at a high level? And how do you retain them, giving them new opportunities and the ability to advance? All of these fall under the “HR OD” umbrella.

IMG_0694At one level, my work still involves building and delivering workshops. I find myself in front of a conference room full of people, helping them make sense of different subjects and, most importantly, understanding how to apply those subjects in their day-to-day-work.

The workshop delivery itself is just a small part of my work. The more important part is looking at the underlying skills and capabilities people need and what those look like when applied in real life. “Communication” is a broad thing: what does effective communication look like when you are conducting a 9:00 am Monday sales meeting? By knowing this level of detail, I can design learning interventions that best help people build those skills and capabilities.

IMG_0696Ultimately, I find it very satisfying when I hear back from people weeks, months, and even years later, telling me that something I said, some way I explained things, helped make them more effective in their jobs. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from some people I worked with 15 or 20 years ago – in the late 1990s! – who thanked me and shared what they learned from me.

That’s ultimately the most satisfying part of my work, and it is the reason that I am heading to a situation that I think will better allow me to achieve more of that.

The Upside of Quitting, or Why I Resigned

“Opportunity Cost” is an economic concept. It is defined as, “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” In other words, if I decide to spend 20 minutes writing this blog entry, I have lost any benefit I could have enjoyed from spending that 20 minutes doing something else. This applies to work, too. If I spend the next year working in a particular job, what benefits have I lost by not doing something else?

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That’s a question I have been asking myself a lot lately, after spending nearly two years working as a consultant for a family-owned HR Organizational Development consultancy. In that time, I have learned a lot (usually by metaphorically stubbing my toes and learning not to repeat that mistake!) and have worked with some very talented and committed people. Still, the question of opportunity cost has bubbled up in my mind frequently and I have repeated asked myself whether I am growing, or just learning.

Another economic concept is “sunk cost”. It is defined as, “a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.” In behavioral economics, people often make irrational decisions because they have already invested so much time, money, or other resources. In my case, that would be the part of my mind that kept thinking, “I’ve already invested almost two years to this job; I should keep at it a while longer.”

Ultimately, I decided to quit. I’ve been working for nearly 30 years and know myself pretty well. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, my motivations, and my aversions. So when two opportunities came along through my network, I recognized quickly that either opportunity would better match with who I am while allowing me to continue growing.

The decision to quit was not easy, but as I recall from one Freakonomics podcast called The Upside of Quitting, we have to recognize when something is not right for us and be able to face it squarely, own up to it, end it, and then move on. As I look at my life, I’ve had examples where I’ve been able to do this well (I attended three schools and majors en route to my bachelor’s degree) and examples where I’ve struggled on at something that wasn’t worth struggling on with (my second boyfriend).

On Friday, I gave my notice. It was a nearly two-month notice to allow sufficient time to transition all my projects and clients smoothly. Over the weekend, I’ve realized that for the first time in nearly a year, I feel very unburdened. This reinforces to me that I’ve made the right decision.

In the coming weeks and months I will share more about the new job. I anticipate it will give me time to resume blogging, which is another good sign.

Starting Week Four

Tomorrow morning marks the start of my fourth week of full-time employment. After nearly a year of freelancing, I’m extremely happy with how the new job is developing. Since I had done some work for the company in the tailing months of the old year, I already knew some of the people and projects I am working with.

At the same time, they haven’t been shy about adding more responsibilities to my plate, including three major clients! As my mentor explained when we discussed the company’s view on work-life balance: over the long term, it is definitely a marathon and you need to pace yourself. But for the first six to twelve months, you had better sprint.

That’s the case with all new jobs, right? Work hard to prove yourself and compensate for your learning curve.

This past week the CEO sat down with me to lay out her vision of where I will be in the next two years as well as what she expects from me over my first ninety days. She’s one of the most respected leaders of her field, HR development and executive coaching, so it was exciting to hear that she has some very specific ideas about how I will fit into the company’s strategy.

Of course, when you are hearing this directly from the CEO, it creates a pretty high bar over which to jump!

All things considered, though, I’m having a blast. The experience reinforces for me that I stayed in my old job a few years too long and was stagnating rather than growing. I’m thankful, really, that they decided to give me the ultimatum of either moving back to the US or being let go. It was a decision that was long overdue.

The only downside? Now that I’m working so much, my time for blogging is diminished. I’m committed to doing it as often as possible, though, so stay tuned.

 

Virtual Work World

As I have shared over the past few months, my 12+ year job working remotely for a company in the US came to an end in mid-February. Since then, I have been searching for a new full-time position here in Bangkok without luck. Along the way, I have managed to pick up many freelance jobs, some of which are one-off projects and others of which are ongoing. While I don’t feel entirely comfortable with this uncertain income stream, I am enjoying the variety of work, workplaces, and clients.

For example, one client is the CEO of a start-up social media marketing company. I have the opportunity to provide feedback and coaching around his performance, his business model, and how he is structuring the organization as it rapidly grows. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to do some interesting things such as write the script he used to shoot a video infomercial and accompany him to the studio here in Bangkok where it was shot.

As you can see, it was shot in a green-screen environment and the “studio” was added digitally (visible in the monitor on the left). The interviewer and the CEO are sitting on two chairs in front of a green sheet of fabric but on the screen, it appears they are sitting at a desk in a fancy TV studio.

Considering I graduated as a Communication major with a TV Production emphasis, this was one of the few times that I have directly used the skills in the workplace that I studied in university!

So far, knock on wood, each project seems to lead to additional projects and new contacts. I would still like to secure a full-time position at a firm and I continue to apply at different companies. But for the time being, the freelance approach seems to be working out well enough. In the back of my mind, I feel I have to trust that this path will lead me to where I need to be. Sometimes, though, it is hard to have the patience to trust that things work out alright over time.

 

Green Shoots

Just hung up on my final conference call, the last thing I had to do for my job. That’s it, after more than thirteen years with the company, it is over. It is hard not to be a bit sad. There’s a lot I’ve invested in this company and definitely feel like many of the projects and people are my own children. Anyhow, it has come to an end and it is time to move on.

On another note, here’s a nice picture taken just after a heavy rain of some of the Hawaiian Currant tomatoes growing on my balcony. There are about three dozen fruit on the plant. Of the two plants that are currently flowering, this one is the more productive. Another few weeks and they should be ripe – I hope!

The Reason Why

sta-clara-university I owe you an explanation.  Normally, I don’t time-stamp past entries back into the present.  In this case, though, I felt the need to time-stamp the “Getting to Know Me” entry because I anticipated some new visitors after I participated Wednesday morning in a panel discussion about working overseas.

A few months ago, the director of the Santa Clara University career center contacted me.  She was looking for alums who currently live and work overseas to participate in a panel discussion.  I eagerly accepted the invitation, being a strong believer in the importance of networking.

This was to be the university’s first-ever panel discussion hosted via Skype video conference call and streamed live.  It took a few practice calls for the director and the panelists to work out most of the technical glitches.  The experience actually served to illustrate one of the challenges of living and working overseas: unreliable internet service!

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The lush grounds of Mission Gardens at my alma matter.

The discussion itself lasted an hour and featured eight panelists: two from Thailand, three from China, and one each from India, New Zealand, and Nicaragua.  An hour didn’t give us a lot of time but we were able to talk about what made our work-abroad experiences unique and what suggestions or advice we would give people interested in working abroad.

While there were a lot of different experiences, there were at least two common themes:

  • First, the importance of networking.  Whether through your alumni association or just through informal socializing, when you live abroad, many of your best breaks will happen because of a friend-of-a-friend or an “Oh, I was just talking to someone the other day who is looking for someone with that skill” conversation.
  • Second, you really have to be patient and take the big picture view.  Living overseas – and especially working overseas – involves a lot of challenges and uncertainties.  Few things ever go the way you plan and even fewer go easily.  Being able to put things in context and not let small things bend you out of shape will help save your sanity.

Near the end of the call, I shared my blog address as an additional resource for people who might be curious what life in Thailand is like.  That’s why I anticipated some new traffic.  If the first thing they saw was a picture of the emergency slide rafts of a Boeing 747, they might get the wrong impression.

If you are interested, you can view the recorded event here at Livestream.com.  There were a few technical glitches but all in all, still interesting.

 

Air Conditioning Fiasco Resolved

A week after it started, we finally resolved the air conditioning situation.  You will recall that we moved the unit from bedroom A to bedroom B because it was a bit too loud for Tawn.  But the replacement installed into bedroom A stopped working after exactly one night.  Since the owner of the air conditioning company was out of town on a New Zealand holiday, we had to wait for his return to do anything more than have the new unit and compressor removed.

Instead of replacing the Panasonic unit that lasted only one night with another Panasonic unit, the decision was made to return to the same Mitsubishi model that we originally had installed in bedroom A – the one that we removed because it makes too much noise. 

According to the sales person, the noise issue was because of how it was installed and isn’t related to the machine itself.  That may be true, since I work in bedroom B and haven’t heard any noises when running the Mitsubishi until throughout the week.

In any case, this should help lower our electricity bill next month, since for the past week we had the main living room air con running all night and used fans to blow the cool air into bedroom A.

Check that off the list!

 

The Air Conditioner Drama

It started innocently enough.  We called the air conditioning service company out to move a unit from one room to another and install a new unit.  A simple procedure that should have been unworthy of note.  And yet it managed to develop into an unfinished saga, a tale needing to be told in a blog entry.

Unlike homes in the United States, which have central heating and air conditioning, homes in Southeast Asia have a much more efficient and tidier solution: individual units in each room.  This way you are only cooling the space you occupy, instead of the entire house.

Our condo has three air con units: a large one in the living room, a medium-sized one in bedroom A (the master bedroom) and a smaller one in bedroom B (which is the area partitioned off from the living room by a pair of pocket doors).

About six months ago, the unit in bedroom A finally failed.  It was probably ten years old and despite many service calls, it was time to replace it.  The new Mitsubishi unit with the “smart eye” sensor was efficient at cooling, but Tawn felt like it made a little too much noise and was disturbing his sleep.

A few months later, the unit in bedroom B also stopped cooling.  Since that bedroom is at the corner of the building and gets a good cross breeze when the windows are open, I’ve been content to save money on electricity and just spend my days working with a fan and the breeze to cool me off.  As the weather has become hotter – a string of days in the mid 90’s with little breeze last week – I finally cried “uncle” and asked Tawn to call the air conditioning company.

We’ve used this company, based on a recommendation of a friend, for more than two years and other than the occasional lack of attention to detail – which seems typical of most manual workers here in Thailand – we’ve been pleased with their work.

Tawn arranged for them to come out and do three things: move the “new” unit from bedroom A into bedroom B (removing the broken unit in bedroom B and disposing of it), install a new, quieter Panasonic unit in bedroom A, and then clean the remaining unit.

The team of five workers and one supervisor showed up Wednesday afternoon with a new Panasonic air conditioner and compressor and set to work.  It was kind of a circus act, in all meanings of the word.

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They were like contortionists, squeezing themselves into the space on top of my work armoire, which is quite heavy to move.  This is in bedroom B and contains my computer, printer, etc.  I have no idea if it is constructed solidly enough to have two people sitting on top of it.

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They were like high wire artists, improvising a scaffolding between our balconies in order to get to, remove and reinstall the compressor.  What did they use?  An aluminum ladder.  Because of the position of the compressor, the ladder wouldn’t rest on both balconies, so they simply used a rope to tie one end to the balcony railing.

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Yes, he sat out there, four stories above the car park, working on the unit.  When I exclaimed that it seemed rather dangerous, he assured me that he had done the same thing the other day on the tenth floor of a building.

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Even more daring, this young man is sitting on the compressor support frame that is bolted to the concrete wall.  I would assume that it was installed when the building was completed ten years ago.  Now, he’s a pretty small guy – maybe 110-120 pounds – but even at that weight I still wouldn’t be sitting out there!

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Continuing the circus motif, they were also a bit like the clowns that climb out of the impossibly small car.  They had more equipment spread around the condo, six of them stumbling over one another, dripping water everywhere and generally making a mess that didn’t get very effectively cleaned up until I did it.

 

All of this would be well and good if the story ended there with the new unit installed, the previous unit relocated, and the condo properly cooled.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it turned out.

Wednesday night we turned the air con unit in bedroom A on and it ran cool and quieter than the Mitsubishi unit that had been in there before, but by the middle of the night it seemed like even though we had it set to 22 C (about 70 F) it wasn’t that cool.

Thursday, Tawn called the service company and they said they would come out on Saturday and take a look.  But Thursday night when we turned the unit on again, it wouldn’t cool at all.  You could hear the unit drawing power as if to turn the compressor on, but it didn’t cycle on.

We had to sleep with the bedroom door open and the units in the rest of the condo running full, with two floor fans directing the cool air into the bedroom and circulating it.  Not the most efficient way to cool things and I can’t wait to see how high our electricity bill is next month.

Friday morning Tawn called them again.  He told them that they needed to come out that afternoon.  The owner, whom Tawn had tried to track down, had just left for a week’s vacation in New Zealand, so he couldn’t get hold of anyone who would accept responsibility and authorize replacing the unit.

One thing Tawn wanted to avoid was them trying to repair the unit they had installed.  In his mind – and I agree – if it is already having problems on day one, then it is going to continue to have problems even if various parts are replaced or repaired.  Better to pull it out and demand a new unit.

Friday afternoon the team showed up, inspected the compressor, and pronounced that there had a fatal flaw.  Tawn insisted they take the unit out entirely and bring it back to their office until the owner returned from holiday.

So here it is Monday night.  Tonight will be our fifth night sleeping with the multiple air conditioning units and fans running to keep us cool. I’m thinking of dragging the mattress out to the living room, but then if guests come over that might be a bit awkward.  And we do have guests in town so the likelihood of that is high.

I wish there was some neat ending to this story.  Some, “and it all turned out wonderfully in the end” that I could add.  Unfortunately, there isn’t, yet.

Stay tuned, though…