Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Chinese prevarication

I finally discovered the secret agenda (or one of them) of the endlessly annoying, demanding, slippery Chinese guy I had to meet with in the first half of this week. He had been pestering me - directly, and via my rather over-accommodating Chinese colleague - to give them more time, to stay longer.... but he hadn't wanted to say why. Only as I was leaving did it slip out that the local mayor was attending a formal year-opening ceremony of the university the next morning. Now, if only he'd told me...... Well, no, actually, there was no way I could have crowbarred this into my already overstuffed schedule. And these events are brain-squelchingly tedious. And this one was slated to begin at 7.15am. So.... all in all, a lucky escape for me!

But really - what is the problem here? Why can't people just come out and tell you what's on their minds??


My liaison with the second client I visited - the one that had given me all the grief about my choice of hotel - was madly chaotic about giving me credible or intelligible guidance on travel times. My paranoid side suspects this was at least partly deliberate, an attempt to manoeuvre me into staying at a hotel adjacent to the campus. But maybe it is just that she is utterly clueless about judging time (my [recently] much-maligned Chinese colleague has much the same failing).

Amongst the highlights of our fraught few days of exchanges on this topic:

Projected travelling time from 1st campus to 2nd campus -
30 mins (Actual time: 2 hours)

Projected travelling time from 2nd campus to my hotel in Wuhan -
2.5 hours (Actual time: not much over 1.5 hours, even in the height of the rush hour)

Projected travelling time from my hotel to Wuhan airport -
2 hours (Actual time: 25 minutes)

Because she had given me an estimate of 4 hours for getting from the campus to the airport, I felt I had little choice but to cancel the morning session at the University that I had originally planned. (If 4 hours is an accurate estimate, I'd like to leave at least 6 hours to allow for disastrous contingencies. And then, I'd really have to stop for lunch along the way somewhere. And - kind-hearted fellow that I am - I wouldn't want the University's driver getting home in the middle of the night, so..... basically, I wouldn't want to be setting out much later than 9 or 10 in the morning, in order to make a 5pm flight.) I ramped up the schedule for Thursday, to make our University partner feel loved and wanted and attended to; and I slotted in an extra meeting on Friday with the educational company in Wuhan which set this project up for us. So, it all worked out pretty nicely in the end. Of course, if I'd known that the drive to the airport couldn't possibly take longer than 3 hours and, with a bit of luck, only 2, well, I could have put in another full morning at the Uni, and stayed for another of their excellent boozy lunches too.

Why don't the Chinese understand the importance of planning and timing??


Returning to Slimeball Sam, the villain of the first half of this diaristic rant.... something of a cloud was cast over what was mostly a very successful and enjoyable week by the fact that Slimeball complained to my Chinese colleague that I had given him cause to worry about the likely pass rate on our course; his response to this was to threaten to withdraw about 75% of the students enrolled on the course. And of course, he did this entirely behind my back - not one hour after he had said goodbye to me all smiles, thanking me for my excellent presentations, beaming that he no longer had any doubts or worries about the course at all. Un-fucking-believable!!

I despair of trying to work with evasive, dishonest, unreliable little shitheads like this.

It probably wasn't nearly as much of a crisis as my office was painting it to be (the students were already enrolled, their fees collected, the coursebooks ordered, the teachers briefed [by me] on how to teach the course and looking forward to it enthusiastically, the college principal was strongly on our side, and additional students were coming forward to apply after my rousing promotional presentation on the previous evening - there is no fucking way Slimeball Sam could unilaterally pull the plug on our course at the last minute like that.... and I am bewildered as to why he would even discuss the possibility [well, no, not that bewildered - if this is really what he said, I must suppose that he was angling for a bribe]). My Chinese colleague, alas, has an unfortunate capacity to crank up the emotional temperature of any exchange: she somehow mirrors back - and magnifies - whatever emotion she perceives, or thinks she perceives, in her interlocutor, and this soon creates a dangerous feedback loop. This is why the simplest of my disagreements with her tend to get rapidly rather tempestous. I think it is also why - sometimes - clients come to her with a very small quibble or concern and in no time at all we get a "Sky is Falling!" newsflash.

My graver concern here is that my boss - a sales guy through and through - has this misplaced anxiety that, as the academic standards troubleshooter, I am the natural enemy of the sales team, and will be creating these sorts of problems left and right with my indiscreet remarks about how, you know, if students can't speak any English at all, you probably shouldn't admit them on to this course.

I am, in fact, extremely discreet about how I address some of these potentially troublesome issues (but address them I do; I don't believe you can just avoid them and pretend they don't exist, which does seem to have been the prevailing company culture up until now). I think we need to teach our Chinese sales people the concept of 'inoculating against criticism' - i.e. anticipating potential problems, and raising them yourself rather than waiting for the client to do so, but simultaneously outlining solutions. It is an enormously powerful sales technique which, at present, we seem to be entirely overlooking. Instead, our sales staff seem to be allowing our clients to meander along with the happy delusion that a pass on one of our courses is automatic. Alas, that is not the case. They are going to hear that from me. But I should not be the first person they're hearing it from!

Furthermore, I do not accept that there is an inevitable conflict between the maintenance of academic standards and the drive for sales growth. Our clients will only increase their student numbers if they gain a reputation for a high success rate; they will only gain a high success rate if they are extremely selective about the English ability of students admitted to the course; strict selectivity on English ability will mean that student numbers are small in the first year or two after start-up, but can grow rapidly thereafter. Alas, our partner centres don't have the patience to accept that. And neither, it seems, do we. If we pursue big numbers immediately, by relaxing or dispensing with English entry level requirements (as we seem to be constantly pressured to do), then pass rates will be abysmal and the whole business - ours and and our partners' - will go tits up (which does seem to be happening).

So..... there is a lot of tension in the workplace. It is, I fear, rather unlikely that I will be remaining long in this position. The question is: will I resign, or will I get fired? Place your bets.


Tulsa said...

oh, goodness. look at you. dealing with a work crisis. an office work crisis.

in all the time i've known you (admittedly not long, but if my reading of your biography - aka blog - is worth anything, then I've known you decades) i've never seen you discuss such basic, standard, day in day out, office crisis.

quite the different feel for our froogville hero, isn't it.

I do not think you'll be fired.

Neither do I think you'll resign.

Neither do I think the company you work for will go belly up.

I do think it will all sort out. And it won't be painless, but you and your office mates will be better off at the end of it.

Froog said...

No, I'll resign. Petulantly and theatrically. Flouncing out out is what I have in mind.

Of course, it will probably be in 18 months time rather than next week....

tulsa said...

petulantly and theatrically.

that I can imagine ;)

snopes said...

Please try not to get fired. A very unpleasant business, that is. And it does hinder your future employment prospects so.