It’s funny: six months ago, I was starting to freak out about the fact that I had a mere five weeks before departure. I was worried that I wasn’t “excited” about it and what that said about me and still had an administrative to-do list as long as my arm (that was probably contributing to my lack of happy-excited feelings). Here I am, with five weeks to go in country now… and I can’t believe I have to leave soon. Last Thursday, I got up in a headstand unsupported for the first time. Didn’t stay there long – but I did it. I’ve started making my own chai now that I’ve found whole cardamom here (they keep it behind the counter) and I’m doing quite well with it, if I say so myself. And I went to my first Indian wedding on Sunday so I can cross that off my bucket list too. Things are going well, in other words, in terms of just living here. But I have a lot of stuff to accomplish in the next five weeks, and I’m not particularly excited to leave. Interesting how things come full circle.
So, as I promised, this is a “work-y” post… what’s that you say? You want to hear about the wedding? Alright…
It was a Sikh wedding; the son of a colleague at work was getting married and the whole office was invited. Sunday was the wedding ceremony and reception – Sikhs get married during the day, unlike Hindu weddings which are usually at night. The venue was pretty far away, took us a couple hours to get there by auto, metro, then another autorickshaw. It was hot and sunny and when we got there, and even though we were hours late, there really weren’t that many people there. They had a bunch of chaat stands from different parts of India and guys coming around with drinks (non-alcoholic) and snacks (all vegetarian). The couple was supposed to have gotten married before they arrived, but y’know… Indian Standard Time. So they came to the reception and did their processions and pictures and all that before they technically got married. We had lunch, it was a big buffet and was, of course, excellent. There wasn’t any dancing or entertainment at this one, though the groom’s procession had a band that marched him in. I really wanted to see the actual ceremony, so we went to the gurdwara for that. Seems like a pretty straightforward ceremony; there are some prayers and readings and the couple walks around the altar (not sure if that’s what it’s called) four times, and then they’re married. Overall impressions: it wasn’t nearly as crazy as I was expecting. I was told later that the Sikhs are much better behaved at their weddings while the Hindus are responsible for more of the wild weddings we think of when we thing “Indian Wedding.” It was also much less about the bride and groom than other weddings I’ve attended. People just come, eat, socialize, and go as they please, there’s not really any pressure to be there for a certain time or stay for the entire event, especially since it’s not particularly structured. It was very sunny, but mercifully not humid. Still, when I got home I just collapsed with a sun-headache for the rest of the evening and drank about 3L of water and was not at all hungry for dinner.
the kid was covered with Rs. 10 notes… I’m not sure why, but I think it’s a symbol of prosperity or something
we’re in suits instead of saris, as this is a Punjabi wedding
photobombing the bridal procession… this was massively embarrassing for us but our colleague just threw us in there and said they wouldn’t mind
ceremony in the gurdwara
Now, back to business. Because I’ve had some real concerns here about the likelihood of meeting my objectives, I’ve been paying careful attention to the other side of my development: my professional development against what those of us at Pfizer know as our Core Competencies. I was surprised that my development here has been much more about soft-skills and organizational understanding than technical skills or even cultural understanding. My work has actually been going a lot better in the last couple weeks. Basically, I reached the point of frustration where I refused to accept that this six month best-professional-development-opportunity-of-my-life was not going to come to anything. So I started getting a little pushy. Let’s call this self-directed leadership. I started booking meetings and hosting teleconference calls to get this Livelihoods Learning Circle moving, and lo and behold, people seem quite happy with me for taking the initiative. I felt a little funny because it wasn’t really my initiative to take – but it’s in my objectives to do something with it so I was being selfish in wanting to make some progress on this. I still find I have to do a lot of pulling and pushing of people to make things happen, but it’s working and my manager and colleagues really seem to appreciate my work. I’ve found that leadership has more to do with others’ perceptions of your ability to be in control than how much you may actually be in control. I don’t have a lot of control here; I can’t make people do anything but if I call a meeting and set the agenda and take ownership for a lot of the action items, people start looking to me to lead the process – I think they’re just grateful that someone else will take this on and are comfortable just participating. A lot of the important stuff that needs to happen here is in the organization and administration/management side of work. Some people have great ideas but they need someone else to build them the platform and organize things. This is fine with me. I’ve found it can be hard to get “ideas” people to stay on track when we need to discuss the boring things, but these technical and administrative parts are really important if this is going to work. In this sense, leadership is really more facilitation than visionary: building an environment that lets others do the best work they can do. What I’ve found is, rather than asking people what they want, I instead present an analysis that I’ve already done and give my suggestions. They can then yay or nay it, and they generally just go along with whatever I suggest. It was just taking too much time letting people “think about things and get back to me.” I can’t make them think on my schedule and I have deadlines. In order to move forward, a decision has to be made. There’s a tendency in CARE to let change happen organically and I actually think this is a big mistake, particularly in our situation right now where we’re going through significant organizational and work culture changes. I don’t think I’m going to change it, but while I’m here I think I can help move things along.
I’m also trying to set the example of my expectations by “announcing” my activities, in this way drawing attention to the things that I think are useful or important. Yes, it could be argued that I should be more sensitive to their way of working, but as far as I’m concerned, their ways aren’t working and I don’t think you can get into any sort of cultural sensitivity debate on this. So in a meeting, I’ll start wrapping up by announcing the time. “OK, it’s 11:29 now so just to recap…” to illustrate that it’s important to me that we end on time. And I’ve actually had comments about my well-managed meetings, so I think this is appreciated. I’ll promise during the meeting to send an email that afternoon and in it I’ll reiterate others’ points, with credit, to make everyone more involved. It reminds them of their own contribution, which I think encourages them to contribute even more. I try to let people know they’re wanted and welcome; even though I’ve found exclusivity is important to people here, I don’t think it’s conducive to the organization CARE wants to become. I also start almost every group email by saying thank you – even if I need to do a smack-down “why haven’t I heard from you yet?”, I start by thanking everyone for their LAST contribution and remind them how fruitful the last meeting was. I also give them a verbal warning that there will be a follow-up meeting so they aren’t left wondering when we’ll be talking about this again – it helps to reinforce the importance of the topic if it’s shown that it can’t wait for too long. One thing I’ve noticed is that just because people aren’t doing things the way I think they should be done doesn’t mean they’re actually happy with the way they’re doing things, I think they just feel sort of powerless to change when everyone is doing the same thing. So if my work habits present them with another option and I can show that it’s working for me, they might be more inclined to try things this way. Realistically, I know I have no hope of changing this Indian office into a well-oiled Swiss timepiece, but I have to make this situation work for me in some way, so while I’m here, I’m taking on the job of demonstrating follow-through, commitment, organization, and time-management.
I’ve noticed that how you talk influences how people think of you: they’re very impressed by the way I word things and my “Corporate Tone of Voice” so I’ve been using that a lot more, and I’m becoming a lot more outspoken. They like lots of long words and the kind of punctuation you can almost see in the air. I have to lower my pitch a bit and change the cadence so I have less of the Canadian upwards inflection, which sounds too questioning and uncertain in this context. It’s partly my accent, but, according to what I’ve read, partly the way women speak in general because we tend to look for agreement in our audience. And, while consensus is considered important here, decisiveness isn’t, so we often end up at an impasse if everyone sounds like they’re still thinking about things. I’m also doing a lot of writing in “convincing” ways, rather than just presenting facts. For example, to get people to want to be a moderator we’re using the tried and true Pfizer way of promoting it as a development opportunity to get someone to do more work. I’m having to “sell” my ideas more by the way I word things and I’m trying not to sound too much like a cheerleader but still make things fun and exciting. This office doesn’t have much fun; I wouldn’t say there’s a good sense of corporate humour, even though I think people like to laugh.
I’m also learning a bit about presenting ideas in ways that make sense for others. It’s hard for me to put myself in someone else’s shoes sometimes when it comes to preparing platforms and materials. I have no background in design or any aesthetic sense at all, and visual representations just don’t matter that much to me. I’m not very good at formatting things because I really don’t see that much difference in fonts or understand the importance of space on a page; it makes absolutely no difference to my understanding or appreciation of the content. So to put an abstract organizational concept in a visual schematic that not only makes sense but adds sense for people who rely on this kind of thing is actually quite a stretch for me. I launched the Program Approach microsite last week and web design is certainly something very new to me. It’s just a free Sharepoint platform so we’re pretty limited anyway, but IT was showing me how to add space between webparts and honestly, the need for this just never would have occurred to me. I think I’m pretty good at empathizing with people emotionally, but empathizing with others’ learning styles and visual/mental processing is a lot harder. At first I found it annoying (“Really? You want me to draw coloured bubbles on a page and pretend that’s work?”) but people here REALLY like what I’ve done, and in reality it was a useful mental exercise for me. So now I’m getting more requests for schematics which is a little strange for me as I neither need nor like them, but apparently no one else is very good at coming up with them either. 🙂
So overall… still some frustrations in that I feel like I’m alone in trying to drive these projects a lot of the time, but I’m definitely learning a lot in the process. There are a lot of challenges left to tackle and unfortunately I won’t be here for a lot of the big changes, I’m just laying groundwork. People love what I’m doing for the most part, though sometimes I’m not sure if they need a standards adjustment, or if I’m actually doing a good job. It’s taken me a long time, but I think I’ll actually be able to call this trip a personal and professional success!