Monday, July 04, 2005

Back at the start, again...

From my desk at work, I wish you a happy fourth of July. For some odd reason, this holiday is not recognized by all the world, and I have, <gasp!> WORK today.
I did not, as per previous posts end up at the embassy: Couldn't be bothered. There was another celebration at T.Y. Harbor Brewery that was apparently good as well, but making the trip into Tokyo with my son in tow is not my idea of a restful holiday. Actually, neither is varnishing my deck, which is what I did end up doing.
My excuses for not posting are mounting, and none are particularly great, except perhaps a general malaise that is infecting most of what I am supposed to be doing. Call it the rainy season blues.
On Friday, the president of the company gave a speech on the new strategic direction of the company. When I came here two years ago, there was a one-day orientation. In that orientation, someone from HR told us all with a straight face that we were going to double our customer base in three years time. I thought it was a joke, as would anyone who actually knows this market. But there was such a serious, positive attitude that of course we would make it, that I put aside my initial doubts that perhaps a couple of executives were on crack. I shouldn't have. Two years later, we are barely where we were when the goal was made. At the time, I did question the goal, asking 'what is the strategy to actually double our customer base?' There was none. Or, rather, there was this strategy called 'aim to gain' which was so high-level as to be useless, and cannot really be called a strategy as much as a motto.
Friday's speech gave some hope: The goal, while nowhere close to doubling our market share, is nearly as challenging as the previous one, owing to a slowdown in new subscribers as the market has become saturated. The difference is that there is an actual strategy to achieve the target. I actually had lunch with the president last Monday, in a session called 'speak your mind', which included seven other employees from various parts of the company. I was really impressed with his ability to listen. He didn't try to dominate or change our minds, he just listened, asked questions to clarify points he didn't understand, and took lots of notes. My question was one that I considered to be important, but the look on his face suggested it wasn't one that he was happy about. It turned out that was because he actually considered that one of the major problems facing our company, and he referred to my question in his speech.
I am feeling somewhat better about the direction things are going. I think that if our current president can stick around for a couple of years, and if global doesn't muck around with us, that we have a brighter tomorrow than today. That is a good feeling, and I hope that it is justified. Then again, I have this sinking feeling that there are too many really lame people, and worry that no matter what the best intentions of top management, they will still be lame. And I worry that my lack of motivation will make me one of those lame people.
My boss sent me a job notice from the group company in the Netherlands. Generally, this is not a good sign: Is she trying to get rid of me?
Actually, I think that it is not the case that she is sick of me and wants to see me gone. I was asked to join another part of the company several months ago, a part of the company much more in keeping with what I had done previous to working here. There were several changes, though (both of the guys that interviewed me, my new general manager, as well as his boss, the division head, were asked to leave), and the paperwork was typically late, so that it got stopped after the changes were effected. There was, additionally, a very strong element of racism in both of the people who took over from the former managers. They were very nice about it, but explained that people in their division were sick of foreigners, and that they didn't see how they would be appointing one a manager. I had actually taken over the group, and were managing them, since they were without a manager, and both my division head, and the other guy (who was replaced) had agreed on the transfer. Things were going fairly well, considering that it was a completely new job, and there was a pretty heavy learning curve. And then the lack of progress regarding the transfer paperwork just pissed off my (official) boss and my division manager, and they told me to get back.
I invested a lot in doing the other job: My hopes, my position within my division, my energy. I am lucky to be back with no real reprecussions (the division head, who is a very traditional Japanese guy, told me that if he thought I had gone around him to get a transfer, he would have fired me: In this company, your loyalty is to your group, rather than to the company as a whole.).
When I returned, my boss and I spoke really frankly, and she told me that she thought that I should look abroad if I wanted a career in the company. This was not long after the evaluation 'levelling' took place, and I am reasonably certain that I took a hit there (again). It is ironic: I have achieved all of the projects that I have been assigned, on time and under-budget. Until recently I was in charge of activities which were vitally important to the way that a half-billion dollar decision was made, and which were not being done before I saw the need and took it on. The fact that the decision went in such a way as to elimenate my job was fine with me. I am not saying that there were no problems, no failings, and nothing I could have done better. I think that my boss is right, though: This is a company that I probably cannot succeed in progressing in. No matter how much I respect the president and trust his ability to bring us up again, I don't fit in. I am a foreigner, which is one problem, but the other is that I don't feel a need to make things more complex than they need to be. In I.T., where I am now working, they make simple things incredibly complex. Most people don't do development, deployment, or other value-added work, so what do they add? Complexity. We are in the complexity business, and by selling complexity we maintain our positions, our budgets, and our stranglehold on how others in the company can work. I would rather be in the solutions business.
Call it the Monday blues: It is raining outside, and I can barely see to Tokyo bay from my position at the top of the highest building in the neighbourhood. One of my colleagues did pass the leadership program test, and I am happy for him, but a little blue for myself. Tomorrow we move our desks, back to where I used to sit when I started in the company more than two years ago. I guess I feel like that mystical doubling of customers: I have had my ups and downs over the last 2+ years, but end up right back where I started.


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