Friday, February 1, 2013

Getting in the way of competitiveness and development

No pain no gain” is not as powerful as “pwede na ‘yan”? Unfortunately we seem to get discombobulated whenever we hear opposing views or the equivalent of rocking-the-boat? And “where we are coming from” would explain the temperament of Juan de la Cruz? Does it start with parochialism and respect for hierarchy – and which is why competitiveness and development seem to elude us? As Tim Cook of Apple explains, at Apple, they are not expected to be other than who they are as individuals – they are about meritocracy. Is it any wonder they are extremely competitive and have built Apple into the largest enterprise?

Apple is an MNC and we even patronize their products, yet in the Philippines we’ve had a love-hate relationship with MNCs. Is one reason because we carry absolutism in our value system and thus we generalize instead of discriminate – e.g., foreign is bad and local is good? Or in corporate Philippines hierarchy has absolute rule? Consequently one of the givens amongst success models, that of “buy-in,” is something we take for granted? In our heart of hearts leadership means to dictate – and Marcos knew that well? One of the traits of Steve Jobs that Cook talks about was the former’s ability to change his mind no matter how aggressive and overwhelming his style was.

Jobs was not exactly unique in that sense, progressive MNCs culturally are egalitarian. And I remember that the CEO of my old MNC employer, perhaps knowing I was oriental, was the first visitor to my new office after I had moved to headquarters. With a grin on his face, he tapped the nameplate on my door – no mister but my nickname preceding my family name. “In the Philippines you call me mister, here you call me Reuben; and everyone will call you by your nickname. When you call my extension I will answer unless I am not available. Bill does the same. He may be a “big” guy (he meant a big 6-footer who happened to be the president) but that shouldn’t bother you.” And the culture was tested and passed with flying colors when I had to disagree with them. And so when teams from HQ traveled the world, doing our homework first was a given if we were to get "buy-in" – even corporate leadership that we represented wasn't absolute.

My Bulgarian friend has his own style: he would express a thought but then walks around and replays it to as many that should hear and challenge him, and in the process from a seed of an idea would blossom a great initiative, including the caveats that have formed. And so the execution plan would incorporate the dos and don’ts of the undertaking. [“Execution” can’t be dissociated from "the idea" – ideas are only as good as they are executed. There is a world of difference between “pwede na ‘yan” which is characterized by sub-optimized results and "expertise" which yields optimized outcomes. And expertise comes from moving beyond skills that have become instinctive and going deeper into figuring out the “downsides” like in the practice of medicine. Examples would be the downsides we’ve paid for dearly from our power crisis, NAIA 3 and the absence of a strategic industry base in PHL?]

Out of deference, Juan de la Cruz doesn’t really give himself the chance to form his best thinking and falls back on “pwede na ‘yan”? And yet especially with competitiveness and development where dynamism is central, we need our best thinking. And the best thinking does not necessarily reside at the top of the house. But what about speed, does it suffer in an egalitarian environment? One of the challenges that a group of MNCs commissioned the Conference Board (the New York-based think tank that does the ongoing consumer confidence index) to study was precisely about speed. And while these progressive MNCs were geared for speed they still wanted very badly to step up speed – “pwede na ‘yan” never figured in their calculus. [And as my Bulgarian friends have realized, putting discipline in the way business is done, including product development and innovation, enhances speed.]

We may take pride in respecting elders (or hierarchy) but then again, to be absolute is something we have to revisit in light of the imperative to be discriminating – for the common good? Otherwise “pwede na ‘yan” will continue to undermine our best thinking?  

No comments:

Post a Comment