Friday, July 18, 2008

What does YES mean?

One of the biggest ahah I got when starting to work internationally was that the same word had a different meaning in different countries. It goes from time management all the way to the simple word YES. When you tell a call is at 5PM to a German, he will call in at 5, an Italian (particularly from the south), may call in between 5 and 5:30.

When I started to work with my Indian colleagues, I was in a number of teleconferences with them. In one of those, I asked them for some material and got an enthusiastic yes. I really felt good, those guys were so willing to help. In the following days I actually became nervous as I did not see anything coming. So, what the heck was this. Were these unreliable guys? I called them back and reminded them of what they had promised me. And that's where I got the shock. They did not feel they had promised me anything. Their yes did not meant they were going to send me something, but yes they had understood what I said.

It's much later that it dawned on me, when one of my friends told me there were 40 ways to say yes in Hindi and no way to say no. Whether this is fully correct or not, I don't know, but yes can mean many different things, from yes I hear you say something to yes I agree, with the whole spectrum in the middle.

ph-10420Ever since, when I work with them, I finish my calls by asking them what they are going to do. If the answer is, "do we need to do something", then I know I have to be more precise in what I am expecting. I rewind and start all over again.

I have shared this many times in conferences and more than one have come back to me telling me they had similar experiences, so keep that in mind, what does a yes actually mean.

On a different subject, I am going to take some holiday, so the blog will be quiet for a little while. Don't worry I'll be back. Have some good time, and don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is he working?

I had an interesting discussion in the office yesterday with another manager who was talking about one of his remote employees. He explained me that he saw little outcome and asked himself whether the person was actually working or not. And here is where it got fascinating. He told me he had asked his employee to be online with instant messaging. He told me he spent quite some time on the phone in telecons and others, so using a mobile phone to communicate was not an option. Rather using IM was a way to get a quick answer in parallel with the phone call going on.

HPIM4646It was also a way to see whether the employee was actually at his desk or doing something completely different. I frankly had never looked at IM in that purpose. Yes, I am using the tool to get a quick answer from some of my team members when I get a question in a telecon. I am also using it if I want to talk to them, prior to picking up the phone and interrupting them. It's an easy way to know whether they can spare a minute to discuss a particular point.

However, using IM as the web 2.0 badging system is new for me. It raises however a good point and that is how to evaluate the work done by remote employees. There is a need for some trust, as one cannot just look up and see they are working. It also requires more mature people. Although the home office is getting more and more popular, there is still place for the good old office, isn't it?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Web 2.0, use within the enterprise?

As I mentioned in my last entry, I am currently traveling in Asia. I had the opportunity to meet with a series of business leaders and in at least two occasions, the use of the web 2.0 tools came up. If you are not familiar with the term web 2.0, you may have heard about blogs, wiki's, instant messaging, facebook or linkedin etc.

The point that was raised is whether it makes sense to start using the web 2.0 tools in the enterprise. My feeling is absolutely yes, and for two reasons. First, as the younger generation, who grew up with IM, SMS and facebook, comes on board, taking advantage of their familiarity with these tools, it is a tremendous way to increase the communication with them. Whether they are part of the enterprise, or part of the customer base, they are expecting you to communicate with them using those tools.

But there is a second reason, and that is what I call the "virtual coffee corner". Let's remember the time we were all located in the same office and we got all the gossip and informal communication happening at the coffee corner. That quickly became an essential communication vehicle in the company. It allowed the informal network to develop itself. And we all know and experience the importance of that informal network. ph-10546

Unfortunately, the desk sharing, home office, tele-working etc. which many of our companies have put in place, have tried to kill the informal network, the gossip and the "corridor radio" as we used to call it. That in return has reduced the loyalty of many employees towards their enterprise. I dare to advocate the importance of rebuilding those networks and would like to suggest the web 2.0 tools give us a unique opportunity to do this. They will allow us to rebuild the strength of the enterprise.

Many CIO's today are afraid of the security risks many of those tools are posing. So, they cut out the IM message streams, make Skype illegal, and discourage the use of any tools such as linkedin, plaxo and others. I believe it is a fundamental mistake. Yes, we need to ensure the IT environment security, but we also need to implement the tools that maximize the productivity of the organization. Web 2.0 is definitely part of that. So, let's start the web revolution within the enterprise!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Understand the language

I am currently in Kuala Lumpur and this morning we had a conference call with a customer in China regarding a project they were asking our advise on. The discussion was held partly in English, partly in Cantonese. Frankly, my knowledge of Cantonese is zero, or even worse, which means I did not get anything of what was said in that language. Fortunately, I had with me in the room one of my friends who can understand the language reasonably well.

This sounded invaluable, as it allowed me to assess more or less the thinking and feeling of the customer. Not being able to see him, it is important for me to understand how what I am saying is actually coming over. In some cultures, and when you know the language, you can assess that from the tone used. Unfortunately, when things just sound as a series of sounds without any meaning to you, it is very difficult to assess things.

That's the reason why it is of the uttermost important, when holding such discussions, to have somebody with appropriate language (and culture) understanding to keep you on the right track. And it needs to be a person you can trust. Particularly with Asians, that are very good at not showing their emotions, having such an ally is critical for any serious negotiations. Here again, I can HPIM5074_edited-1only stress the importance of gaining a good understanding of what is in the mind of the person at the other side of the line. Keep that in mind when having discussions over long distances. Otherwise, you will be flying blind and may end-up in completely the wrong place. Remember this old Chinese proverb (actually this is how it was explained to me) "If you do not know where you are, no map will help"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


A couple days ago I received a survey result from NFI Research on telecommuting. The majority of senior executives and managers(65%) spend 20 percent or less of their time telecommuting and/or working any place other than the office. Actually more than 40% spend 10% or less. Only 10% spend 50% or more.

Despite a strong believe that telecommuting and/or working remotely significantly increase (15%) or increase (33%) productivity, not more people are doing it. This got me thinking.

About one year ago, our office, (yes, I am still going there) moved and most of us migrated to hot desks or shared desks. The reaction was actually pretty negative. A personal desk is still a symbol in our part of the world, and taking it away was like being removed from the IMG_0088_edited-1community of people working in the office. Particularly for somebody like me, who travels a lot, and as a result works from everywhere, it's a strange feeling. I can't explain it, but feel less attached to the company than I used to be. This is scary for HR professionals, I'm sure.

Now, if you think rationally, when most of your colleagues work from other locations than yours, whether you are in the office, at home or on the road does not make a difference (except time zone obviously). So, why are we so attached to our desk? Good question, maybe you have an answer.