I knew this sabbatical was going to test my mettle. I knew it would slosh around emotions like a great hurricane. Hell, I was warning myself about these vicissitudes only a couple weeks into this hiatus. My Mandarin studies are a known source of emotional disruption. The effects of professional enterprise–individual projects and the occasional offer to re-enter Big IT–are difficult to predict.
At sabbatical start I planned for “about one year”. But I admitted to friends and family that the right job offer might change my mind. There are so many things I want to accomplish in a sizable and growing organization. I want to build an organization of trust, accountability, reward, empathy, and positivity. I would not pass up a chance like this. Such an opportunity landed on my doorstep several weeks back.
I just returned from my short holiday in Tokyo and Beijing. I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon writing a piece titled “The Value of Ignorance” for this blog and “When Not To Use Big Data” for my professional blog. I was set to post the personal entry here when I stumbled across a shocking figure. 71% of Americans are not engaged or actively disengaged at their jobs.
Seventy-one percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive. That leaves nearly one-third of American workers who are “engaged,” or involved in and enthusiastic about their work and contributing to their organizations in a positive manner.
Above quote from Gallup poll available online.
I stumbled upon this fact in the first couple of pages of Dave Coplin’s book, Business Reimagined. (And it was a bit of serendipity that I stumbled across the author when he wrote a Financial Times piece about which I emailed him.) Even as I write this I mumble over the implications of this stunning number. Are three quarters of the US workforce on autopilot, as I described earlier? Coplin faults standardization, the legacy of the industrial revolution, for today’s disenfranchisement.
But later in his book, Coplin describes my biggest complaint about large office environments. If I am going to blame one thing for disengagement, one enslaving force, one subjugator of the human spirit, it is email. Nothing turns a challenging and exciting job into emotionally crushing task management more than processing hundreds of emails a day. I know of few people that live without the heavy burden of email management on their shoulders.
The sickness of email continues to spread. It is trivial to cover our rears by adding one more address to the “to:” line. It is hundreds of times easier to add an email to someone’s inbox than for them to properly process it. Because email is easier to spread than to contain, the sickness is growing. The tumor has metastasized.
A big part of how companies hire is based on easily measured skills, both hard and soft. We look for people that understand the technology, have demonstrated competence in execution, can communicate and lead, etc. And clearly these aspects are important to job success. But a previous personal blog entry got me thinking about activities indirectly related to success but possibly just as important.
That previous article focused on a team’s communication practices as a sign of health. But that is clearly not just dependent on policy and environment. Individuals’ capabilities are important. Not all people communicate as easily or effectively. There are degrees of directness in language, an ability to turn thought into words, the skill of reading a listener and modifying the message. All of these add up to communication intelligence that predicts part of a person’s contribution to a team.
My new responsibilities at EMC make me a part of a large transformational project. I have never before had the privilege of building or changing culture. But my managers have brought me into such a project. And we are doing it at very large scale. Thousands and thousands of people.
The first outward signs of the scope of this project came from a blog post by my second-level manager. If you are not in the industry the import of Chad’s post may be difficult to decipher. But those of us in technical sales recognize the ambitious nature of this change. Chad is not just trying to change reporting lines. He’s trying to change culture.
In May of 2010, my first week in Singapore, my manager PB* gave me a friendly warning about communication in Asia. “Be indirect,” he said. I have been pondering that thought and occasionally writing about it for a year and a half. A couple weeks ago PB sat down with me to discuss a variety of aspects of my first Asian tour. He again kindly and firmly repeating his warning: be indirect.
We all have good days and bad days with email. In the same week my boss gave me this friendly nudge, a colleague of mine complemented my patient and kind emails. PB has much more experience in Asian business than this colleague and I put together. But I could not figure out how one person could think I was writing well while the more Asian-savvy PB saw room for improvement. So I started to mull over what I might be missing.
On this week’s plane flight to Sydney I developed a lead in this mystery. I heard a common flight warning and connected a strange characteristic of Singaporean English with PB’s advice. I had been laughing to myself about this weird facet of the local English. But now I realize it is likely deliberate and not something to laugh at.
I just left Beijing, the first stop in an Asia Pacific tour of training I am delivering for my coworkers. This was my first time in the greater China region and my expectations were low. I had only 72 hours in the city and knew that work would dominate my time. Also, and I cannot explain why, but I was unenthusiastic about visiting any part of the Chinese mainland. But this trip was a professional joy and a personal delight. I am already counting the ways I can use my one year multi-entry visa for China.