dimanche 6 septembre 2009

The meaning of it all

February 01

As mentioned in a previous entry the last couple of months at work have been spent trying to reconcile conflicting interests: Applying the client's business strategy - with its potential impact on me - and defending my company's interests. Where the conflict arises is in harmonizing different interests and understanding the sense of it all for me, personally.

I have to explain here that my company is in the process of renegotiating our contract with our client and that my client's procurement service have inserted a clause in the contract stating that a re-evaluation of the workforce volume, of what we invoice the client, could be envisaged. This is a polite way of saying that if "Procurement" so decided a reduction in our workforce was to be undertaken. It's important to note this because it sets the context for the rest of the story.
...I have been trying to persuade my client to think big, think global and exploit the resources at their disposition, exploit the advantages of their Near & Off shore sites, for a new business and retrieve a part of this new business for my team. Doing so would cover a certain slice of my team's activity for the financial year that was just beginning to take shape.

The challenge was to do all that and get the best possible out of it for my team, company and me. But the results were not apparent. Maybe I'm not seeing the big picture but until now I'm not seeing any long term solution, just a case by case response to individual problems but then as I said I'm not aware of the big picture, the agenda - apparent or hidden for that matter. (Every now and again I hear and see things that confirm the impression I have that others within the client's organization have their own (hidden) agendas that central management dedicate a certain amount of time and effort to the controlling and curtailing of. I even get the feeling my team is occasionally used in the curtailing of certain ambitions.)

But back to my problems. The possibility of laying-off members of my team is very real so the prospect of obtaining a fairly sizable chunk of a new business would guarantee work for my team and stabilize the team until, hopefully, the end of the financial year.It was here that another conflict arose. I could not accept to take on this new business at any cost and during one meeting with the client's business manager and newly appointed ops manager I made this perfectly clear, very much, it would seem, to their consternation... How could a contractor, in such a situation - yes they were aware of the situation with our contract - pass over a golden occasion? Well it’s easy! Motivation...motivation and conditions of acceptance! The ops manager wanted me to take on all the business at all costs and distribute it amongst my team because that's what he did when he did my job (I'll explain this later*)! I had already explained to the ops manager that this was not possible. My project managers were already fully booked with a legion of small accounts and projects that occupied them full time and brought in very little revenue and I wasn't going to push walls to fit in more! This met with further consternation and interrogation! Why not get the team to work overtime! well why not? ... and yes there is a slight hint of irony in my words!

This new business was a occasion in a million, I was told. The chances of replicating it again this year were very, very slim so I should seize on it, I was lead to understand! ...and there I was again with my motivation... Yes I would like to take on this new work, I told them, but they would have to do what was necessary to make it possible, e.g. take away some of the small accounts that absorb us so much and how about some financial incentive? What about a reconsideration of the contract we (my M.D. to be exact) are still trying to finalize? Not their role they let me understand. They did, however, say that a re-evaluation of the contract was always possible! Well why not! and there I go again with my irony, mainly because I felt as though I was hearing what they thought I wanted to hear. All that was missing was the paternal tap on the shoulder.

Another reason for irony is that I spent a lot of time and energy over the last year (my wife can vouch for that) trying to convince the business manager to liaise with the then ops manager, who doubled as financial manager - in charge of the contract with my company (get the ramification? No? OK I'll get there) to get some sort of a operational team strategy set up to handle such requirements. The equation being: New business = evaluation and assignment of the required resources = work for all, including my team = an improved ROI.
But they don't seem to see it like that. For a business that sells "Translation & Localization" services in a Global Communications environment it sometimes seems to me that this very same business is in need of some training in internal communications (talk to my hand). The people concerned sit in adjoining cubicles but could well be across the other side of the planet for all the apparent good their physical proximity was. For a business that wants to develop and apply their strategy on a global scale it’s sometimes hard to fathom where they're going but then again I am only a contractor and not privy to all their strategies and agendas. But at the end of the day the problem is evident. The client, and here I beg to be proven wrong, does not have the means to exploit the near & off shore sites as they would like. The resources are not available and hiring within the client's organization is not easy as it would seem so they resort to persuasion, not to call it "Brow beating", to get my team to do the work. It’s not through altruism that they're giving us the work but through lack of (rapid) alternatives. The problem is that the psychology applied is not subtle and unfortunately "be thankful we don't give the job to someone else" leaves me cold. The Damocles sword is already over my head and I'm no longer predisposed to patronizing attitudes.

* BTW The operations manager I refer to in the above is in fact the person I took over from when he left my company to join the client's in 2005. The captain leaving the boat before it runs into an ice field....a metaphor to illustrate the state of our business when and since he left and other off shore sites started ramping up and taking over business we had been doing until then. The same ops manager who followed a strategy of expansion and development during his time as team manager now admitted invoicing the client a surcharge to cover the extra work. I can't recall if any of my team or I saw anything of the surcharge! Whatever, he apparently didn't understand that things had moved on in the 3 years since his departure and that such measures are no longer taken (either that or he's playing it close). From our point of view the notion of incentive and motivation had been profoundly altered since his departure...management techniques have also been altered since he left, options have been closed and budgets rethought... very certainly corrective actions to rectify some of the "Techniques" he applied during his time as my team manager. (In a following meeting with my M.D. the ops manager asked my M.D. to explain my reticence to take on extra work at any cost. My M.D. diplomatically explained the current situation. Our company could no longer surcharge the client for even the slightest extra "effort" and as such could not recompense the team and so motivate them to working overtime. On the contrary - with the prospect of a reduction in the workforce, a reduced end of financial year bonus and a freeze on wages - just how can you be expected to motivate the workforce? Certainly not by cramming them with more work than they can reasonably manage and then tell them they should be lucky to have a job!!!)

Conclusion I need to get a better understanding of where the client wants to go. I will adhere to and apply the client's strategy but my role and motivation as a contractor but also as a resource of a certain expertise and value add has to be understood. Meeting the challenges my client sets me is an essential part of my job and enormously stimulating but not at any cost. Not like its being done so far. Not as long as certain elements try to play my team against others factions. Not as long certain elements of the client's team adopt a "Kleenex" or condescending attitude towards my team and myself and lastly but most importantly: Not until the client's director decides otherwise.

One last point. In the current situation its better not to be ambiguous. Furthermore the attitude of certain elements within my client's organization, elements who relish in pointing out that my project managers and I are not part of their team, elements who relish in putting us in our place should perhaps understand that as long as we are under contract with the client and an integral part of the business. It’s frustrating to hear some of the gratuitous, counter-productive and pointless remarks (and yes I do have examples). If these elements persist in adopting a "Kleenex" attitude towards my team so be it but then they shouldn't then be surprised by the boomerang effect or by what may be seen as an apparent lack of flexibility by my team. What's in it for them? What's in it for me? An extended contract with workforce flexibility and recognition for implication and special efforts? I'm open to negotiation!

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