Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Global Recycling

This is one of my least read posts but one I liked more than most. The re-post is a shameless attempt to see if giving it a new title (that is more appealing on search engines) will increase the readership. My apologies to those who now get to this page looking for info on a different type of recycling. I am always interested why some posts get 10X the number of hits as others.

Chain(s) of command
From early childhood, we learn the concept of chain of command - in our homes, in school and later in the workplace. Everyone has a boss.

In each culture the chain of command plays out differently but in the end, everyone is ultimately accountable to a higher power.  Anyone that begins to climb the proverbial corporate ladder needs to learn political survival skills and that success does not always depend on what you do but how you "manage up".

One of the joys of an ex-pat's life is that often the boss is several thousands miles away - distance and several time zones tend to give the person working overseas more freedom than their peers in the home country. This was certainly true in my case. After eleven years in Asia, I was not eager to return to the US. From a business perspective, my overseas assignment had been a success. Over 11 years, sales in Asia increased >8 times and profits ~10 times. I enjoyed the freedom and the company was happy with the results. The family loved the time overseas too so it was a good move all the way around.

Unfortunately I enjoyed being away from HQ so much that after a few years, I let many important relationships grow distant. In my case "out of sight" really became "out of mind". I made the naive assumption that "results speak for themselves".  If I had only stayed  overseas 3 years as my original ex-pat agreement suggested, there would have been no issue as all the same people in "high places" were still in the same roles back home. After 5 years, things changed - I moved from Japan to China and was dealing with a very different culture and ignoring that the company culture back home was changing too. New Division leadership, new values. The people who knew me for what I had accomplished and believed I could accomplish more were replaced with people who saw me as a name on an org chart and a large ex-pat cost center. The new thinking was that "the market in Asia was growing" and I might be "just riding the wave". While I knew the reality was quite different, I made the mistake of thinking that just continuing to do my job well would be enough to demonstrate my value to the new team. I should have been more active in managing perceptions on the US side.

Fortunately, in time, the new Division President began to appreciate to some extent what I was doing but the business had grown to the point where more and more people wanted to be involved. I was told I needed to be more "inclusive" of the increasing stream of three day visitors from the US. I began to sign as many visa "invitation letters" as I did sales contracts.  More time passed; the business and the local team continued to grow. More profits and more headcount attracted more attention.

After 10 years in Asia, I was told that I would be moving back to a "global position" but was given a year to "make a smooth transition". Of course, I always knew the day would  come when we would return. The timing was good -  my younger daughter was graduating from Shanghai American School and returning to the US for university.

Unfortunately for me, about the same time corporate management changed - a new CEO and a new "Vision".  More pressure on our growing Division. More "expert advice" from people unfamiliar with our the details of our business.

My years of experience with the "old regime" became a liability rather than an asset. When my new global position was announced, the CEO and a board member happened to be in town. At a reception the board member overheard me indicate to a colleague that I really would prefer to spend a little more time in Asia. He was furious that the company would give such an "ungrateful" person a more responsible position. The CEO, who had just met me the day before was not happy. The board member was new and did not know me either. Had I done a better job of staying linked in to the new org structure it is likely my overheard comment would have been taken for what it was - a statement that I had thoroughly enjoyed 11 years overseas.

I was told by my Division leadership to "lay low" and things "will improve in time". The best line was "you are critical to our Division's success" but it is best if the CEO doesn't "hear from you directly".......

Lesson learned - no matter you accomplish in your day to day work,  you always need to be sensitive to the environment you are in. Results are great but they are only part of the package.