27
Feb
10

Transformations

Tonight I wrapped up my final shift on the call floor. I would really much rather be sleeping right now, but once again there’s a lot I want to get down. I keep coming back to the fact that I will ultimately have to stand in front of my superiors and stakeholders back home and answer to the question, “Will this work?” Going back to my earlier analogy of trying to reanimate the dead patient on the operating table, my answer is “No.” If we continue, exactly as we have been so far, there is no chance of success. We’re doing chest compressions on a patient who’s missing half of his head. The only way we succeed is by tossing out the stiff, and wheeling in a new patient that at least has a pulse, albeit weak. That pulse is the willingness to change course.

It’s challenging to describe the issue while protecting identities and not divulging company secrets. We’ve been letting the local management call the shots far too often, and we’ve been too trusting in their expertise in running the business, and they’ve run it right into the ground. Finally, it seems that we are stepping in and saying “Yeah, we tried it your way and it failed. This is how WE do business.” Maybe I’m being overly optimistic here, but it seems like people are finally starting to listen to the answers I give when they ask “If you had to make it work…what would you need?”

My colleagues and I have a couple things going for us. We’re all pretty bright people, all modesty aside. And we’re able to admit when we’re wrong, to accept input from all levels, and to entertain other ways of approaching a problem. I have very little doubt that if anyone had listened to the objections that we raised at every step down the path to our current perilous predicament, this fiasco might have been avoided. At this point, I’d like to raise a very loud WE TOLD YOU SO!

Now that that’s out of the way, what’s next? Well, first we need to outline what we’re changing. That part’s easy: Everything. The tricky part is getting the proper authorizations to make it happen. There’s an old AA saying that I’ve used before: Half measures avail us nothing. Basically, you can’t half-ass it or you might as well not even try. If we say, “They need X hours of training.” And management comes back and says “Well, how about 1/4 X and they can do it from home?” then we need to stand our ground. It’s been a death of a thousand cuts trying to get this site off the ground. Every specification has been eroded to the point of being unrecognizable in the final plan. That needs to change. I came here expecting to find a lost cause, and for the first couple weeks that’s what it seemed to be. Somewhere toward the end of the second week I started seeing signs of that willingness to reinvent that I mentioned earlier, and it’s given me a little hope.

This trip has been an eye opener in a lot of ways. Intellectually, you know the people that work here are real people. You know that it’s a hard job, because you’ve done it yourself. Still, actually being here adds an immeasurable human element to both sides of the equation. They see that there’s a real person behind the nameless, faceless boss. Someone who can be a mentor, coach, leader, or just a sympathetic ear. And conversely, they’re not just warm bodies in seats. They’re individuals. Some are dedicated, engaged, interested in learning and committed to doing a good job. Some are just there to pick up a check and then leave. Just being able to make contact with everyone on the team, and get to know them at a personal level, made this trip well worth the price of admission for me personally. For the company, the test will be to see if we can build on the framework that we’ve created in the last couple weeks and create a working machine.

I’m actually going to miss these guys when I go back home. I’ve got photos and tons of great memories and stories. One thing that I won’t miss is having everyone greet me with “I have this customer who is facing an issue…”

Personally, it’s been a transformative trip for me. I’ve never really been a leader or a motivator before. I’m last picked for the team, usually. And I’m a bass player for chrissakes! Having people listen and take action based on my input is not something I’ve experienced much up to this point in my professional life. It’s kind of a head trip. You step into a role, and you become the role. And it happens so seamlessly that you wonder what else you might be capable of, if you pushed yourself a little further in one direction or the other.

There are two main holidays in India. One of them is a holiday where everyone spends time with their families, much like Thanksgiving in the US. The other is called Holi (pronounced “holy”) and from what I can tell it’s the most fun that you can possibly have with your clothes on. Apparently the whole country turns into a cross between Mardi Gras and a paintball match or something. Everyone says that you basically get coated from head to toe in multicolored pigments. It sounds like the coolest thing you could ever hope to witness while carrying a camera, and it happens the day after I leave to go home. Shit. Note to self: Come back for Holi some time.

I saw monkeys outside my hotel window again today. Everyone here thinks it’s funny how excited I get over monkeys. They’re like squirrels here. They’re just critters that you see fairly frequently on roof tops, or pretty much anywhere. I’ve heard tales, and these may not be typical encounters, of monkeys actually stopping pedestrians and frisking them for food. Or snatching handbags and searching through them and then discarding them. I find the idea of coexisting with (other) mischievous primates fascinating. I may have to get a monkey…and maybe a Kenworth.

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