Lesson 6: Reported speech

•September 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

After three days, the promotion department realized that they didn’t make a good decision and told us to stop going out.

In a way, we were relieved. There were all sort of comments about being out those days, in the sun, waiting for clients that just didn’t show up or that couldn’t afford to pay for our virtual school.
It wasn’t all lost, really. We found out something important: the true product that we should have been selling.

Most of the people that went out those days, received the same comment from several people. Or the same question, rather.
Do you have any professional training? Can I study to become an accountant on-line? Can I become a business administrator studying online? Can I study a second career in your virtual school?

And you know what? These were people that were willing to PAY to study in the manner that we were advertising. ‘Wherever you want, whenever you want.’A person who wants to study college could easily get a job to pay for our services. For them, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t expensive either. It was quite attractive to be able to study at their own pace and on their own schedule.
This was our target market. It was revealed to us on those days.
So everyone had the idea that, if we had virtual courses to obtain a degree, like a college level degree, we would probably find more students (a.k.a., clients). We told Larry, we told Sam, Todd and even Mr. Gestures.

During that time, Mr. Gestures was negotiating scholarships with the government. He wanted the government to offer a system where it would pay for half of the tuition of people who wanted to study high school and we (the school we were working in) would finance the other half. This was attractive for the government because it would say that it was investing on education.
And Mr. Gestures would have gotten a load of students, hence income to keep the project going.
But the governor told him ‘you know what? I think that junior high is a better bet. You design and make junior high courses and you have a deal.
And so we did. Mr. Gestures got everyone working on junior high lessons and completely ignored the fact that college degree apparently had more demand. More teachers were hired and we got back to designing classes.
People kept asking us for college level courses (relatives, acquaintances, friends and so on), but we couldn’t give them a date because we weren’t even working on that. Everybody said that everyone they knew told them ‘why the heck aren’t you doing college level courses?’ The conventional/ traditional schools have no capacity to hold for this demand of students.
It seemed like everyone was aware of that, except our own leaders, Todd and Mr. Gestures.

Junior high got designed, recorded, edited and uploaded. And we have yet to receive our first generation of students. I believe we have two or three students studying junior high. But I can’t be sure because they never let us know the real quantity of students that we have. Nobody knows why. Or if someone knows, they don’t tell us.

The decision to make junior high and ignore what we had found out, would prove to be not such a good one, further on.

So, the lesson is: Listen to your employees. Pay close attention to what they say. Consider their opinion. Analyze their proposals, evaluate what they are suggesting. Don’t discard their ideas just because they might not know as much as you do.
If Mr.Gestures had been a little smarter, he would have asigned a team to work on junior high, and another one to design college level courses. In case junior high wasn’t a success, or the governor changed his mind, he would have still be able to promote a new product. In other words, have a plan B.

Keep in mind that Mexico has corrupt politicians and they tend to move finances to the best of their knowledge (or conveninence), so if a public person tells you he or she will do something for you, you shouldn’t keep your hopes up. Most of them don’t deliver unless they receive a benefit. At least, most of them do this. So, more the reason for Mr. Gestures to think about this and keep a plan B up his sleeve. At least in this case.

At that moment, Mr.Gestures had money to invest. So he could have done both things with a hand tied behind his back. But this didn’t occur. When junior high was finished, guess what happened? The government simply stated: ‘there is no money to fund your proposal, sorry.’ And that was the end of that.

To this day, they are still searching for partners. They are looking for big companies to finance scholarships so that their employees are able to finish high-school in our virtual environment. But companies here don’t want to educate their employees because they wouldn’t have any people left to work for them. That’s the general idea here, but that’s a story for another time.

In the mean time, I think I’ll take a seat and wait for students to enroll, because if I wait on my feet, I’ll get really, really tired.

Next: That’s great! Now make it right.

Lesson 5: Staring at the sun

•September 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This title is the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about what I would write for this lesson.

All the lessons were recorded. Great. Editing was doing their part now. The rest of us were uploading questions and other information so that the system could work as a virtual environment designed for learning.

The big boss, Mr. Gestures had his right-hand man. He is a systems engineer called Todd. Yes, that is how I shall name him. He is not very sociable, I believe he is a few years younger than me, but between him and Mr.Gestures, they made all of the important decisions of the project.
And an important part of the project is publicity. This project had a publicity department made up of several receptionists-who answered calls asking for information, and two or three guys that came up with the ideas to promote this new on-line school. None of them(again) had a trained background in marketing or anything close to that. This next paragraph will show you proof of it.

At that moment, when all the lessons were recorded, they decided to begin their ‘master plan’ for promoting the school. They bought these portable and foldable stands-pretty clever, actually- where one could sit with a laptop and a sign above that said ‘High school on-line, when you want, where you want it’ and the name of the school, obviously.

Promo-Table

Yeah, pretty much like this one.

They handed these to us-the teachers, designers and animators- and sent us out to specific points in the city. Maybe I forgot to mention that the school had graphic designers-for obvious reasons-and animators that helped us explain certain topics using images, shapes and characters.

Anyway, I got one of the most remote areas: a small store that sells groceries to the people who live close by. This was in a neighborhood that was near a large, 8 block-market where trailers and trucks go to load up on merchandise and then re-sell to the inner-city supermarkets.

I was there for three days I think. From about 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Might I add that the city where this took place is one of the hottest in our country. We get temperatures of about 45 degrees on average, while in the shade (yes, Celsius) and with a lot of humidity. So I was pretty much sweatin’ to the oldies the whole time.

That’s why I called this lesson ‘staring at the sun’. It was September, which is one of the hottest months of the year in this place. The other one is August. So, yes, it was hot. Really hot.

theactualplace

This is the actual place where they sent me. Look at those potential clients go!

And maybe it was the heat, but sitting there, waiting for people interested in studying, doing nothing really, an idea came to my mind.
I had the panflet right there, so I looked at it and started to think.

The monthly cost for this virtual school was about $1,200.00 mexican pesos. Now, here is the thing: in Mexico, at the time, the salaries for someone who has a degree, vary from 6 to 10 thousand pesos per month. And this is a person who went through primary school, junior high, high school and at least, 4 years of college.

The product we were offering was aimed at people who had finished junior high, which is the second level of education in my country. The people who have finished this level, usually get jobs that pay lower salaries. I’m talking at about 3 to 4 thousand a month. Maybe less.
So, imagine selling a product that costs about 30% of your target market’s monthly paycheck. It was not cheap.
AND, this was the first on-line school of its kind. People are usually skeptic about new things.
How is a person expected to invest 30% of his paycheck on a new company, that promotes a new product, which has never been sold before? It was not an easy task.

And I’m no expert, but I can be sure that a marketing specialist could have come up with a more efficient plan. The result was that nobody was interested. Not even one person. Oh, wait, yes there was. But they asked if we had any college training available.
They had an entire army of people giving out flyers out on the street, too, but nothing happened.
In short, they spent 3 days worth of salary of ALL their employees (about 80 at the time) to do something that had very little or no chance of working out.
And everyone single one of us knew that. After the first day of doing this, everyone had the same perception ‘this is not going to work, not like this’.

After this period and a tan line on our necks, animators, teachers and designers all learned a valuable lesson. One that, unfortunately didn’t extend to the people who were leading the team. And here it is:

plan_optional

Plan ahead. Think ahead. Not just for the day or the week. It’s difficult to see what the future holds or have the ability to foresee what will happen, but we can always manage probabilities. Anything is possible, nothing is impossible, only improbable.
In this case, the marketing department had no idea of their target client. They specifically told us ‘this is for everyone and anyone’.
But any marketing specialist can tell you that you should always have a target market. If you say ‘anyone who can afford to pay for this service is our client’, you are already filtering your market.
And that’s what they failed to do. They didn’t have a specific user in mind, they didn’t know how much they could pay and they didn’t know where to find these potential clients.
You have to KNOW who your clients are, who can purchase your product, what their needs are, how much they can pay for your product or service. And, if your budget allows it, get a trained person to research and acquire this information. A marketing specialist if possible.
Again, it looks like we repeated the same lesson that we talked about in the first topic: get the right person for the job.

Next: Reported speech.

Lesson 4: Make me

•August 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

February 17, 2014

Obligation is something that I have never liked. I despise having to do something just because I ‘have to’ or for no apparent reason.

And being obliged to do something as a result of someone else’s lack of organization or negligence is something that bothers me even more. Let me tell you about this with further detail.
One way or another, we managed to get all the needed teachers to complete the high-school level lessons. The moment to record ALL of the lessons had arrived. And I am about to tell you how it happened.

I was told to get my lessons ready and start recording a certain day. I don’t remember exactly when, but they gave me a day’s notice, which was fine. Now, I was still working there as freelance, so they assigned me an afternoon recording schedule.
The first day I arrived at about 4 o’clock. They had 6 sets. But only 5 working (to this day, 3 years later, only 5 of them work).
All of the sets had one of those circular windows, like in the kitchen doors that restaurants have. Nobody knew where I would record my lessons.
This is what Larry did:
When I arrived and went to his office, he said something like ‘hey, you came’-which was strange because HE was the one who told me to record that specific day and at that specific time.
Anyway, we went to the sets and he stood outside of set number 1. He looked inside and said ‘somebody is in here’, so we moved to the next set. He looked at the window and, again, said ‘someone is in here, too’. We finally found a set that was available and told me ‘here, use this one’.
So, I went in. Alone. Again. I started to record, had some problems with the software and at about 7 pm I finished the recording session. I needed more days, so I went back the next day at about the same time. Larry said that it was OK and I could go back the next day to continue recording. He told me at what time and everything.
So I did. But when I arrived, there was no set available. Apparently, someone else arrived first and now all the sets were occupied.
I went back home.
This went on for about three weeks. I didn’t go everyday, just the days that they told me there would be a set available. But there were some days when I got there and someone beat me to it. Other days, they would take me out of the set to record a demo or to let someone else record.

During that period of time, when I was almost done recording-I think I had like three lessons left to record- I got a call on Saturday night, at about 8 pm.
Guess who it was?
It was Larry. For your information, I had specifically told Larry that I could move my schedule around what the school needed, except for Sunday. That is my sacred day. I never work on Sundays. It’s the only day that I have to rest, so I made it clear for him that I wouldn’t be available on Sundays.
Well, he called me that night asking if I could go record the next day. At about 8 pm. I told him ‘look, I can’t tomorrow. Besides, I have been there several days and I just waste my time, because you guys have no control over who records what or where.’
He just insisted that I go, but I said no. I told him I would record the remaining lessons on Monday and that it would be finished.

ron-burgundy-phone

Please, please, please pay for my incompetence

If I had gone there on Sunday, I would have probably wasted my time, because there were A LOT of teachers recording. And this guy had no order whatsoever about the recording sessions.
Believe me that, it was much, much worse than what I am describing here. I just don’t want to steer off from the main topic.

So, lesson 4 is this:
Order and organization are indispensable in any project and in any task.

With something as simple as a recording schedule, they could have known who records in which set and at what time. They had 5 sets working from 8 am to 8pm. That was A LOT of time available for recording. But they simply didn’t want to do it that way.
From the beginning of this project, Mr. Gestures gave complete control over how things were done to this guy. So he could have easily done this schedule and saved a lot of time and a lot of extra work. Some poor teachers were here recording until 12 midnight.  AND they had to come back on Monday morning to finish. There was a lot of stress to finish, a lot of people that had problems with the software. Some were cursing and hitting the walls while others even cried due to the frustration of not being able to record due to technical difficulties.

All because organization did not come in through the door. The process could have been much simpler and much more calm. You can imagine the quality of the recorded lesson and the physical appearance of a teacher that had been recording at 11 pm. I think it was not the best.
That is why I refused to record that day. I had to go and record at night, because they couldn’t organize a schedule. I had to pay for his lack of order. I was not OK with this, therefore I didn’t go.
Anyway, Monday arrived and I finished recording the lessons. Nothing bad happened because I didn’t go the previous day.

Others did record at night, on Saturdays, Sundays- you name it, because they were told that they wold receive a bonus if they finished on a specific date. They are still waiting to receive that bonus. Some of those teachers already quit and have other jobs. And they never got to see that bonus.
In short, don’t lie, don’t deceive and work in order and organized.

Next: Lesson 5-Staring at the sun.

Lesson 3: No man’s land.

•August 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Feb 13-2014

There is a perfectly good explanation for the title of this lesson. And I will attempt to write it now.

When the project of this new on-line school was starting out, they were working in an old building that was adapted with stationary desks and other equipment that you can find in any office. One space that was not common in a conventional school was a recording set. They were these small rooms (about 2 meters wide by 3 meters deep) equipped with a computer, a camera and three monitors.

This is where we would record the virtual lessons. They had even designed a software that linked the slide show to the camera and to another slideshow that displayed the text that the teacher would read during the recording. All of the lessons were designed by a teacher, and every teacher was responsible for writing their own ‘script’. So we would just read this script while recording, but everything we said came from our own minds, not from a trained writer.

Anyway, this software was complicated and it took a lot of practice to learn. And every candidate that wanted to work in this new school, had to record a demo lesson, so that they could be evaluated. The evaluation consisted in checking the content, the visual aid that the teacher had used, the class objective and the overall performance in front of the camera. Pronunciation and body posture was also checked. In short, there was a lot of pressure when recording the demo lesson because it was something completely new. And any evaluation -on its own-always brings a certain amount of stress.

Oh, and, you also had to record it by yourself. You, alone, inside the set. Nobody else, just you.

rock_in_the_desert-wallpaper-800x600

Don’t know where to go? Here is some water and a map. Bye!

So you go to this interview, you are expected to do something that no one else has done and you are expected to do it alone. Does this make sense? Of course not.
Larry and Matthew both knew how to do it. Kind of. And there were two other teachers that were leading the project: Sam and Frank.
Sam was much older, around 40 something years old. And Frank was about 28, which was a few years younger than me. Sam had studied philosophy and Frank was a computer whiz that studied computer science in college.
The four of them knew how to record a demo lesson (or so we believed at the time). And they sort of explained the process to candidates, but not enough to let them record by themselves. To this day I still don’t understand why they didn’t just assit while recording this demo class. It was just about a 5 minute recording. And they didn’t have THAT many candidates.
But anyway.

Every person that recorded that demo lesson, went through the same frustration with the new software. And everybody recorded it the best way that they could and to their best understanding.

So here is the lesson to be learned: When looking for people to help you out on a project or in a business, don’t leave them to their own faith. Even if they are close to you, like friends or acquaintances. You need to assist them, make sure they know what they have to do. Explain what is expected of them and be available for any questions that they might (and probably will) have.

Something important that I always try to practice in interviews is kindness. Be nice and be helpful. Make them feel comfortable. Take the stress out of the table, tell a joke. How would you like your interviewer to behave with you if you were looking for a job? Keep that in mind while searching for people to work with you.
Not having a job is stressful enough, so try to relieve some of that while you talk to candidates.
Also, give them feedback in case they don’t get the job. Send an e-mail or call them to give thanks for their time and let them know that you can’t hire them right now, but there may be a position available in the future. Or, simply tell them that their abilities are very impressive, but sadly they are not the person that you need at that time.
I can tell you that the gesture will be well appreciated.

And besides, this world has its ups and downs, so you can’t be sure if, in the future, YOU might be the one looking for a job and THEY might be the ones looking for employees.

Next: Lesson 4- Make me

Lesson 2: Stealing

•August 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So now we know that Larry, -this guy who had no specialized training- was leading this new project.

What happened next?
When he started working over there, he made sure that everyone at school KNEW that he was working for a big-shot investor and that the project was big and would eventually, thrive. Remember he was still teaching, but working with Mr.Gestures in the afternoons. He has always been cocky and somewhat arrogant, and he doesn’t even try to hide it.
But he needed something else to make the project work: teachers.
Math teachers, history teachers, science teachers, english teachers and so on.

So, this guy started talking to some of us who were currently teaching. I was one of them. But the idea didn’t really convince me at that time. I was focused on my current job and on my newborn son. And besides, I didn’t really know him that well, so I couldn’t just quit my job without knowing what I was getting into.
There was another teacher, who I will call Matthew. He taught chemistry and math at school and he was a good friend of Larry. To me, he had a lot more common sense than Larry, was more focused and I believed he was a more honest person. Not to say that Larry wasn’t, but Matthew just seemed like a nicer guy. I also knew him a bit better than I knew Larry.

So, they started talking about the new project and, eventually Matthew quit the job at school and started working with Larry and Mr. Gestures.
Some days went by and I got a call from Larry, asking me to try out this new project. I declined, again.
A few weeks went by and I got another call. This time from Matthew. He told me they needed a math teacher. It wasn’t my specialty but I had taught the subject a couple of times and believed I could design the lessons. I would have to design and record the lessons since it was an on-line school.
Matthew said that I didn’t have to quit my current job. I could do it on my own time, as freelance work.
So, I accepted and eventually I started working with them on the new project. How did they convince me? Well, I figured it was an interesting idea, it was new, I believed that it was the future of teaching and I thought to myself ‘well, if Matthew is there and he is close to Larry, maybe he can knock some sense into him’. Therefore, I went for it.
The school year had also ended and I wasn’t getting paid a steady salary. I had to wait for two months until the new school year would begin. My child needed his formula and diapers, so I thought ‘what the heck’.

Now here is where the stealing part comes in.
Larry started calling ALL of the teachers at the school and offering them high salaries, great benefits, a cool working environment, constant raises and a load of other things so that they would go work for him. And he succeeded with a lot of teachers.
He got about 8 of us. We all believed in what he said. And we were in for the ride.
Many thought that it wasn’t right for him to bring teachers that he knew from the previous job and let the school have a hard time replacing us.

That, of course, was not something that Larry should have worried about, but the principle is the same. He took people that were already tested and trained, and brought them for his advantage. You could even say that this was clever. But, in time, he would pay for this feat in a similar way.
So, the lesson to be learned here is to be honest. In a way, he lied to us to get us where he wanted. He took advantage of the trust that most of us had for Matthew to convince us. Of course he didn’t put a gun to our heads to do as he pleased, but it’s always better to be honest, not lie and cheat to get what you want.
As a consequence, the owners of the other school, who are-to this day-some of the most influential people in the city-can’t even look at Larry. He sacrified an important contact for a project with someone who he barely knew and who didn’t have the same reputation as the other people.
So, always be honest. At your job, at home, wherever. Honesty truly is the best policy.

Next: Lesson 3- No man’s land.

Lesson 1- Lift off

•July 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

February 10, 2014

After careful consideration I have decided to start writing about an experience, or series of experiences that have taught me quite a bit about running a company. More specifically a new company looking to set standards in e-learning. At least in my country.

I figured I would do it in english so that I may be able to reach more people. Right now, I am not sure of how many chapters-or lessons- there will be, but I think I could translate them to spanish in the future, so that more people can benefit from this experience.
I will tell you about real situations that actually happened, and then comment about them. Hopefully, they will help you avoid the same mistakes. Some of these might seem too hard to believe, but you can be sure that all of them are based on real facts.

I will not, of course, mention the real names of the people involved, but I assure you that these people DO exist. And through each moment of frustration and disappointment that the employees experienced, a lesson would be learned. Or so we said to ourselves to make each situation more bearable.

Ok, let’s get right to it!

Lesson 1-Lift off

This happened back in 2011. It seems like a short time ago, but it feels like an lifetime away.
I was working in a high school teaching english and computer class. I had a fellow co-worker who I shall name Larry. He was one of those teachers that didn’t really do much, but apparently had loads of work to do. I didn’t know him very well at the time. I just knew that he usually had the computer room before I had class and was in charge of keeping the PCs working.
I really didn’t talk to him much, but somehow I knew that there was something in him that didn’t quite click with me. He seemed nice and was always joking, but most of the students had a different concept of him. They told me several comments about his behavior. Very specific and quite intriguing.

One day, he and I received an e-mail from a guy(an older man, actually) that was starting his own school on line and was looking for someone to help him. He needed a teacher with some experience, so he got our e-mails from a student that both of us had had in our classes months before.
I didn’t pay much attention to the e-mail, but he called me a few days later. When I got his call, he told me that he needed someone to work full-time and who was available to work immediately. I told him that I couldn’t do that because we were at about a month from finishing the semester, and I couldn’t just ditch my current job, but that I could be available after that. He simply said thanks and that was it.
Apparently, he also called Larry, and they came to some sort of agreement. He said that he could work half-time until the semester was over. To Larry, it didn’t matter if he got home at 9 or 10 o’clock at night everyday. But that DID matter to me because my son had just been born. So I couldn’t just let my wife (who also works) handle our newborn by herself. I enjoy being a full-time dad-or at least, as much as I can.
Anyway, Larry got this half-time job and, eventually, got the CEO position of this new school. By eventually I mean three months later.

So what is there to learn from this? What’s the point?  I’ll get to that in a moment…

The owner and investor of this school, picked him to lead his project. I am going to call him Mr.Gestures. He is an older man, about sixty-something years old. White hair, white beard and has a rough voice that could be heard from the parking lot where he would usually leave his clever automobile.
This guy, randomly picked someone to lead this top-of-the-line project, which, at the time, had never been done before. He had a simple meeting with him at a restaurant, talked to him for a while, and decided to give him the steering wheel of his dream.

Now, to me,  if you are going to spend thousands of dollars in a project (it was actually pesos, but the quantities could easily be translated to thousands of dollars) that is completely new, you want the best on your team.

Super worker

No place here for someone like you, buddy.

What did he do instead? He gave power to a man who had 5 or 6 years of teaching experience, yes, but no actual training for the position.

I’m not sure about other countries, but in Mexico, we have six years of primary school, then three years of junior high school, then three more of high school and finally, four to five years of college. Some study a master’s degree and even a doctorate, but not the majority of the population.
To the best of my knowledge, Larry had reached all the way to high school and during that period, specialized in something about tourism. He knew a lot about computers and he has always had an ability to talk and talk and talk and make you feel dizzy and believe that he actually knows what he is talking about. But he really doesn’t. At least, not completely.

In this country, anyone who doesn’t go through college will have practically no chance of landing a position as a manager or executive officer. Why? Because where and what you studied is something that is very important to figure out if you are capable of doing certain tasks. Specially in the  CEO position.

Any entrepreneur knows that you really HAVE to know the people with whom you will be doing business with. It’s kind of like getting married. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of your partner to know if you will have a chance to make it or not.
And something else: most companies make you take a psychologic exam, so that they can tell if you are an aggressive person, a calm person, someone who likes to work in a team, or likes to work alone, evaluate your beliefs and values and so on. How does this person treat others? What are his life’s goals? How many languages does he speak? Does he know how to talk to groups of people? The list goes on and on. You have to think ahead to figure out WHAT you will need this person to DO. Specially for an important position like a director or manager.

So, lesson number 1: get the right person for the job. It might not be easy to find, but I believe that if you put the extra effort and extra time searching and interviewing several people, you may just find the one that will help your business grow and go in the direction that you want to.
Make a list, if you have to, of the activities that this person will have to do on a daily basis. Make another list to show other, less common and maybe less urgent activities that might be needed and analyze what kind of person could do the job. Search online for profiles of each career. There you might find descriptions of abilities that every graduated student should have.

The company that Mr. Gestures was dreaming about, had Larry as the general manager. A new project that was for on-line learning, with people with little experience and with thousands of pesos ready to be spent. With this, you can get an idea about what comes next. The starting point to what, later, would become a living circus…literally.

Next: Lesson 2- Stealing

¿Se siente negativo? ¿Cómo puede superarlo?

•November 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

¿Se siente negativo? ¿Cómo puede superarlo?.

 
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