A Company has a Social Task

I am deliberately not using the phrase “social responsibility” in the title and throughout this blog entry, because the story has only partially something to do with the well known “corporate social responsibility” or CSR.
I mean something different with the “social task” and here is what.
The story happened quite a couple of years ago, when I still did some sort of marketing for some division of the company I work for, which included organizing our booths on trade fairs.
I am no engineer whatsoever, I studied Japanese studies, English literature and dramatics… however, we had two machines on that booth, one was doing task A and another was doing task B as a consequence of what happened at machine A. I told our assembly factory so and they sent me a drawing with the two machines on the booth, but alas, without a connection between them (a conveyor belt). I picked up the phone and asked the guy in the factory who made the drawing, how the heck the product was supposed to get from machine A into machine B without a conveyor belt between them.
The dude’s answer was… “Oh, you’re right! I forgot. Okay, I’ll add a conveyor belt.”
I simply couldn’t believe this amount of stupidity. At next opportunity, I showed the NG (no good) drawing to the factory manager and complained heartily about the lack of a conveyor belt and the lack of basic intelligence.
The factory manager asked me who made the drawing, I gave him a name. He showed a pained and knowing smile and said in German: Regina, eine Firma hat auch eine soziale Aufgabe. = Regina, a company has also a social task…
All my anger puffed away and I could do nothing but laugh.
Ever since, this sentence is kind of a guiding star for me and I’m trying to remind myself of it whenever I encounter complete dumbness in the company.
Unfortunately, my patience is being tested again recently. We have not only one, but two dudes in the office who are completely useless and cause nothing but anger and frustration to everyone who has to work with them. Nobody is giving them tasks anymore, because it is really better, faster and easier if you do it yourself or ask someone else, than to try to get these two dudes of corporate horror to perform any sort of meaningful work. The worst thing about that is that one of them is even a manager and everyone around him asks him/herself who the hell made this loser a manager and why.
Anyway, I’m dearly trying to appreciate the social task of a company to keep people in bread and butter as long as possible when I look at these two guys. To have companies acknowledging their social task is also a sign for a decent civilization without harsh hire and fire. But it’s at times really hard not to lose your patience with people like that and to not get bitter about these salary thieves. Well, I shall keep on trying and recite that “soziale Aufgabe” sentence in my head as a mantra… 😉

That Thing About Trust

I’ve been on a business trip last week to the headquarters in Germany and attended a three day workshop of the business unit I now work for. The German boss of the unit called for “volunteers” half a year ago to work on “soft” topics like leadership, collaboration, strategy deployment and communication. It’s an interesting group from all over the world. We have members from the US, Mexico, Germany, Hungary, India, China and I’m the representative of Japan. We also have a lady from Cuba in the German team and another Chinese colleague in the German team as well, so it’s not even weird that the representative from Japan office is not Japanese.
We struggled through our workshop and came to a point where we realized that all this talk about better communication and collaboration etc. does not really mean anything, because there is an underlying issue beneath the surface and that’s lack of trust. We don’t trust the management and the management doesn’t trust us and the working level doesn’t trust each other either. So we better start with building trust, but how… we were supposed to present our results at something that we call a “town hall” meeting, meaning the management “gives info” to a few hundred people.

The first hour of the town hall meeting was boring top-down stuff about figures and business situations. The big boss who supports us said, you better stay for the presentation of the “soft stuff” group. Despite that several people left after the facts and figures were done. Then we presented out progress, more people left, then we dared it and “froze”, asking “do you think this will change anything”. People looked confused. We had a deliberate painful moment of silence and finally one of our guys said, “Is this it? Is that all? What about trust?”

We were all very dramatic about it. One of our colleagues then told a story about trust, trying to get people thinking. More people left with shaking heads. We had placed cards with questions under the chairs of people asking stuff like, “Do you trust your colleagues?” “How can we collaborate globally if we don’t even collaborate locally?” and things like that. We asked the remaining folk to discuss these questions. A few did, a few looked bluntly at the cards and talked about I don’t know what.
I hope we managed to reach a few people in the audience. No matter what, at least the twenty of us from the team had a nice “dramatic” and also “human” moment. I don’t think we’ll change too much, but at least that little team has a nice bond now. It really didn’t matter anymore where we come from and at least the few of us are beyond borders, nationalities and prejudices. It’s cool that something like that can happen in a big company and it’s cool that a few rare guys are around who allow something like that to happen (the big boss in Germany). So, all in all it was a tough but also a good week.

That Thing About Collaboration

In a company there are buzzwords going around once in a while, one year it’s “we need to take care of our efficiency” and everybody is talking that topic to death, next year it’s better quality, the year after its strategy and so forth. This year it’s collaboration in the area I work at. We have “collaboration days” events in the engineering area, a month later in sales, since March some initiative on a division-wide global level, trying to get 7000 people to collaborate over all continents… good luck with that!
When I look at the tiny section of 90 people where I’m working at at the moment in Japan – not even we manage to collaborate.
I don’t want to blame my male colleagues but collaboration does not seem to be their thing really, because, let’s face it, there is a constant game going on in the background of who gets promoted and gets a “career” and who doesn’t. Alliances are formed and shift, people are sidelined. For a while it’s the German expats against the Japanese local staff, then a mixed gang against another mixed gang and so forth.

It would be fun to watch if I wasn’t half a part of the silly game. I’m an outsider in the game simply because I’m a woman, and man, am I happy about that, pun intended. When I see my male colleagues at their pissing contests, I’m glad I’m not really a part of the game anyway.
I don’t think women work like that. Don’t get me wrong, the ladies can be super mean to each other but we are mean in a different way, lol.
Last week there so much of “my dick is longer than yours” going on at the office, it was fascinating. It’s exhausting and does not help the matters at hand. A bunch of alpha animals fighting for the best spot is surely not the best model of collaboration. Concepts like collaboration globally and “we are all nice to each other and respect each other” are nice, but in my humble opinion an illusion, since in the end we are all still animals and act much less rational than we think we do, which shows itself in those unnerving alpha male pissing contests… that was a little corporate working life report for a change. Cheers!