I am arriving to the party late, again. Figuratively this time, as I have returned to blogging after nearly a 6 year hiatus that started with all of the difficulty using my livejournal account in China.
So what brought me back to this medium of communication? I had accepted that it would be a smart brand building move for some time to write down my thinking on work for some time, but I had a certain inertia that I found difficult to overcome. Then today I stumbled upon a link quiet accidentally on a google search request that took me to my former colleague Freeman’s blog.
In this particular post Freeman had copied and pasted an e-mail exchange between him and our former employer. That was my flash of inspiration. The gist of the e-mail was that our former “leader” wanted Freeman, who had quit some months before, to come back in and work for free since a problem was his “responsibility.”
As I read about the ludicrous request to have Freeman take the time to come back to the office and reinstall windows XP on his former computer which Freeman had installed a now expired trial windows 7 on I was struck by similarities with my own experience. Here was my former General Manager telling him how “you broke it, you need to fix it” and insinuating that if he didn’t take time out of his schedule to come across Shanghai to insert the CD to reinstall xp he would not be a positive reference for Freeman in the future.
I was instantly taken back in time to 2008 and my falling out with the same “leader.” I was being told how I owed him and the company two case studies after I had left the company five months or he wouldn’t finish payment for the nearly 10,000 USD the company still owed me and hadn’t begun payment on 18 months after it was due. He went on further to insinuate I was selfish and possible unethical to ask for the money owed to me by contract.
In no uncertain terms I told him where he could stick his money and his case studies.
As I started to re-center my work focus on employee engagement since my departure from that company in 2008 I began to focus particularly creating engaging cultures and leaders. I have often been tempted to anecdotally return to my previous employer. Part of me though felt that my own e-mail dust up turned particularly ugly and shouldn’t be included in any civilized discussion on appropriate interpersonal behavior.
But here again in Freeman’s case I saw what I had come to identify with some of the inherent problems that beset the training and HR consulting industry in China. That is when a senior established part of the community uses their power to profit from young talent, leverage work hours, and in some cases seek emotional dominance over younger employees rather than constructively coach and develop their subordinates.
This in turn got me anxious to write about what I was seeing and inspired to start this blog.
From a business point of view Freeman’s story echoes back to what I firmly believe, that the key to success in this industry (HR services) is by building empowered trainers and consultant who have their own brand worth in the market place. I know that the counter argument is that these people will leave your company and start their own as soon as they feel they have their own clients and opportunity to jump ship.
There is something to this argument because history clearly sides with this case. Just look at how many training companies have spun off from China market leaders such as IWNC, ALTEC, and recently ClarkMorgan and are attempting to simulate their material (going so far as in the case of TW Allison to directly put old CM content on new slide backgrounds) and make a profit. To some degree you cannot control personal ego, if some people feel like they need to own their own company and be their own boss there is not much that can be done about it. Other than not to give these people a leg to begin with I suppose.
My opinion though is that two things are happening to the majority of these disengaged HR services employees. The first is that they don’t see a way for them to develop significantly with an ego-centric company that largely revolves and grows around the branding of a central figure(s) and rather than be paid less for work they have learned to do on their own is to “go rogue.” The other is that they have the freedom to deliver product and create their own materials but receive a fraction of the value for their work while the company shareholders take the lion’s share. I think some guy named Marx wrote about the existential angst that comes from making peanuts while someone else laughs all the way to the bank.
Interestingly the HR industry is often working to create engagement, but suffers from some of the worst engagement I have observed. So this incident dragged me out of my shell to write about some of my experiences as I try to create a new model for creating an engaged “community” of HR practitioners. In a sense working to set up Sino Associates is a giant social experiment that appeals to the social scientist in me.
I will also chronicle some of my experiences with developing leaders in China and the barriers and opportunities the companies I work with are facing. This year and next year I also promise a few stories about companies building engagement cultures as I work on corporate culture programs. This year I am currently involved in two such projects and about to start a third. Hopefully some of these stories will resonate with readers of this little blog.
Here is looking forward to an interesting future of stories and anecdotes from my work here in China!