Lesson 7: That’s great! Now make it right!

•September 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I think that the title for this one is rather confusing. But I assure you that it will make perfect sense by the time you are finished reading.

I live in a country where the general idea of work is: If you work long hours in the office, it means that you are hard-working. The law allows up to 48 working hours per week. So that’s pretty much the standard in most working environments. Strange is the person who thinks that the law’s limit doesn’t have to be the established working schedule.
To me, personally, working long hours is just a sign of incompetence or disorganization. Companies specifically ask for people who can ‘work under pressure’. And this is a fact. They ask for this. This means ‘we are not into organizing stuff, and we need you to do the same‘. I think that, if you are organized, you will rarely need to rush to meet a deadline.
With this in mind, we had a work-week made up of six days. Monday through Friday was from 8am to 4pm and Saturday they claimed that it was a ‘half day’ of 5 hours, from 9am to 2pm. A regular shift is 8 hours long, so a half-shift should be 4 hours.
To this day I can’t seem to make them understand this: If they plan on keeping it a 5 hour shift, they should stop calling it a ‘half day’. Anyway, I must focus.

They claimed that working on Saturday was necessary to ‘correct mistakes’.
From Monday to Friday, you were supposed to design the lessons to be recorded. And then, on Saturday you would use the day to ‘improve’ or ‘correct’ the mistakes that you had had. I might read a little strange here, but, why would I need time to correct something that I have already finished? I mean, yes, nobody is perfect. Anyone can definitely improve their own work. But the idea was not to improve, it was to fix up stuff.
Larry stated that ‘during the week, you might not get time to do things right, so that is what Saturday is for’.

This never made any sense to me. And, frankly, almost everyone, I mean…well…9 out of 10 people didn’t actually DO any work on Saturday because they were too tired from the week. Or they simply didn’t want to be there. They felt it was a waste of time. They could easily do the work in a 5 day-period, with good quality.
On Saturdays we came in at 9 o’clock. Most people had breakfast delivered and took an hour to eat-including Larry. We could have easily left work at 1 pm if we avoided that eating-period or had breakfast at home. Or, we could have arrived at 8 o´clock and leave at 12 o’clock. THEN it would be a half-day.

But why do I concern myself with this? Because I feel that a company is a living, breathing organism. If people are happy and well rested, they produce more and tend to have a more positive attitude. And this was producing the exact opposite.
On Saturday, people married and with children (about half of the employees at the time) got home at around 3 o’clock, had lunch and it was already dark. The only day that we really had available to rest, do house-work, visit relatives and have some family time, was Sunday.
And by the time you were done with laundry or washing the car or whatever, and wanted a break, it was already Monday again. So a lot of teachers showed up on Monday exhausted. Might I add that some studies show that mental distress consumes your energy much more that physical stress. And it has always been about intelectual work here.

At one time I approached Mr.Gestures and told him flat-out, that Saturdays was a wasted day. Nobody did actual work that day or they simply weren’t fans of using up an extra day that was practically unnecessary. I even told him that he would save the electricity of 3 large offices (6 to 12 people) and their respective air-conditioners. For your information, we worked inside a remodeled large factory building made of block and steel, which got considerably hot during the summer months (40 to 48 degrees Celsius). So the electricity bill during the summer was quite high.
The extra day off would help employees to arrive well-rested on Monday and, in consequence, they would be more productive. Not to mention the reduction of the electricity bill.

He simply said that people were way too lazy and we shouldn’t give them extra time to slack-off. And that the difference in the electricity bill wasn’t something he was worried about. He claimed that he had worked his entire life, from dusk to dawn and it was how we should get used to work, so why should we do it differently?
As a result, Saturdays remained as part of the work schedule.

So, everyone kept taking their breakfast to work and they took their hour eating. Sometimes even more. Most of the time, they barely did any work and all of the employees just sat, surfed the internet and stared at the watch every couple of hours. There wasn’t much to do. Some people used Saturday to recuperate the time they slacked off during the week. It wasn’t indispensable, that was for sure.

evolution-3245

Evolution? Umm…..no, thanks.

In short, here is the lesson:
Put yourself in the shoes of your employees. If you have worked your entire life in a certain way and you enjoy it, don’t think that everyone else thinks the same or is willing to live life just as you have. Just because you like vanilla ice cream, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like it. And you shouldn’t try to force them to like it either.
Also, change is inevitable. Years ago we had telephones, then pagers, then cell phones, now it’s smart phones and tablets. Every moment that passes by technology is getting closer to those science-fiction realities that we once saw in the movies. And things that took us months or weeks, can now get done in days or hours.
If your employees are well rested, if they have time to spend with their families, if you let them have a personal life or a social life, they will show up on Mondays-and every day-with a better attitude, more tranquil, healthier, happier and more focused on their daily tasks. In return, you will get better production results and a better working environment.

Next:  Smooth flight-organization is key.

Lección 1- Despegue

•September 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you would like to read this in English, go to http://wp.me/p2fi9R-4E

10 de Febrero de 2014

Luego de considerarlo intermitentemente he decidido empezar a redactar sobre una experiencia o una serie de experiencias que me han enseñado bastante sobre cómo administrar un negocio. Más específicamente, un negocio nuevo enfocado al aprendizaje en línea y que busca establecer estándares en este rubro. Por lo menos en mi país.

Pensé hacerlo en Inglés, para tener mayor audiencia. En este momento no estoy seguro de cuántos capítulos-o lecciones- voy a escribir, pero eventualmente las traduciré al español para que aún más personas puedan conocer estas experiencias.
Voy a describir situaciones verídicas, que realmente ocurrieron. Después haré algunos comentarios al respecto. Probablemente estas experiencias le ayuden a evitar los mismos errores. Algunas de estas anécdotas podrían parecer difícil de creer, pero puedo asegurarle que todo lo que estoy por contarle, sin duda alguna, sucedió.

Desde luego, no diré los nombres verdaderos de las personas involucradas, pero le aseguro que existen. Y a al final de cada momento de frustración y decepción por el que pasamos los empleados, podía aprenderse una lección. O por lo menos, eso es lo que nos decíamos a nosotros mismos para sobrellevar la situación.

Muy bien, ¡empecemos!

Lección 1- Despegue

Esto ocurrió en el 2011. Parece que fue hace poco, pero se siente como si hubiera sido hace una vida.
Estaba trabajando en un colegio como maestro de Inglés e Informática. Tenía un compañero de trabajo-al cual llamaré Luciano. Él era uno de esos maestros que no hacían mucho, pero aparentemente siempre tenía algo en qué ocuparse. No lo conocía muy bien en aquel momento. Solo sabía que generalmente utilizaba la sala de cómputo antes de mi y estaba a cargo de mantener funcionando las computadoras.
Realmente no interactuaba mucho con él, pero de alguna manera sabía que tenía algo que no me terminaba de convencer. Parecía amable y siempre hacía bromas, pero la mayoría de los alumnos tenían un concepto muy distinto de él. Me habían hecho varios comentarios sobre su comportamiento. Muy específicos y bastante intrigantes.
Un día, él y yo recibimos un correo de un señor (un señor mayor) que estaba por iniciar su propia escuela en línea y en aquel momento estaba buscando a alguien para ayudarle. Necesitaba un maestro con algo de experiencia. Por lo tanto, consiguió nuestros correos con una alumna a quien los dos habíamos dado clases.
No le presté mucha atención al correo, pero me marcó por teléfono algunos días después. Cuando recibí su llamada, me dijo que necesitaba a alguien para trabajar tiempo completo y que estuviera disponible de inmediato. Le comenté que por el momento no estaba disponible porque estaba a punto de terminar el semestre y no podía solo dejar mi trabajo actual así nada más, pero que al terminar el año escolar, podría considerarlo. Simplemente me agradeció y eso fue todo.

Aparentemente también le llamó por teléfono a Luciano y llegaron a un acuerdo. Trabajaría  medio tiempo hasta que el semestre terminara. Para Luciano no importaba llegar a su casa a las 9 o 10 de la noche todos los días. Para mi sí era importante porque mi hijo acababa de nacer. Por lo tanto, no podía dejar a mi esposa (quien también trabaja) cuidar de él y atender las labores del hogar por sí sola. Disfruto mucho ser un padre de tiempo completo o, por lo menos lo más que puedo.

El punto es que Luciano obtuvo este trabajo de medio tiempo y eventualmente llegó al puesto de encargado general de esta escuela nueva. Por ‘eventualmente’ me refiero a uno o dos meses después.

Entonces, ¿qué es lo que podemos aprender de esto? ¿Cuál es el punto? En un minuto le diré.

El propietario e inversionista principal de esta escuela, lo eligió para dirigir este proyecto. Lo voy a llamar Sr. Gus. Es un hombre mayor, de unos sesenta años. Cabello y barbas blancas como la nieve y con una voz ronca y fuerte que puede escucharse desde lejos.
Esta persona eligió a alguien para dirigir este “novedoso” proyecto, el cual-en ese momento-a nadie más se le había ocurrido. Tuvieron una o dos reuniones, hablaron un poco y decidió darle el mando de su sueño a Luciano.

Ahora, para mi manera de ver las cosas, si vas a invertir miles (o millones) de pesos en un proyecto que es completamente nuevo, creo que buscarías tener lo mejor en tu equipo.

Super worker

Aquí no hay lugar para gente como tú, loco.

¿Qué hizo en lugar de esto? Otorgó poder a un hombre que tenía algunos años de experiencia docente, sí. Pero no contaba con experiencia alguna para un puesto directivo. Desde luego que yo, tampoco la tenía.

Desconozco cómo funciona la educación en otros países, pero en México tenemos seis años de primaria, tres años de secundaria, tres años de preparatoria y finalmente cuatro o cinco años de estudios universitarios. Algunos estudian maestrías o hasta doctorado, pero no la mayoría de las personas.
Hasta donde yo tengo conocimiento, Luciano había estudiado hasta la preparatoria y en ese tiempo se especializó en algo sobre turismo. Sabía bastante de computación y siempre ha tenido la habilidad de hablar y hablar y hablar hasta marear a la gente y hacer creer que realmente sabe de lo que habla. Pero realmente no sabe. Al menos, no del todo.
Y no digo que es indispensable tener educación universitaria para dirigir un negocio adecuadamente, pero hay que reconocer que ayuda bastante si se cuenta con ella.

En este país, alguien sin estudios universitarios tendrá una probabilidad muy reducida de llegar a un puesto directivo. A menos que sea su propia empresa. ¿Por qué? Porque determinar qué estudiaste y en dónde es algo muy importante que se considera para determinar si tienes o puedes desarrollar la capacidad de llevar a cabo ciertas tareas. Especialmente a un nivel de gerencia.

Cualquier persona que ha establecido o fundado un negocio sabe que TIENES que conocer a las personas con quienes vas a involucrarte en un negocio. Es como casarse. Debes conocer las fortalezas y debilidades de tus socios para determinar si existe una probabilidad de tener éxito.

Y algo más: la mayoría de las empresas importantes aplican exámenes psicológicos, para determinar si el candidato es una persona agresiva, una persona tranquila, alguien que trabaja en equipo, si prefieres trabajar solo, tus valores, creencias, etcétera. ¿Cómo trata a los demás esta persona? ¿Cuáles son sus metas personales?¿Habla más de un idioma?¿Sabe hablar frente a grupos de personas? La lista sigue y sigue. Debes meditar y tener la visión suficiente para determinar exactamente qué va a hacer el gerente de tu negocio.

Así es que, he aquí la primera lección:
Elige a la persona correcta para el trabajo. Podría ser difícil de encontrar, pero creo que si se le dedica el tiempo suficiente a buscar y entrevistar a varias personas, lo más probable es que encuentres a la persona indicada para dirigir tu empresa en el camino correcto. Redacte una lista, si es necesario, de las actividades que esta persona deberá hacer de forma rutinaria. Elabore otra lista para describir otras tareas menos importantes y menos frecuentes y quizás así pueda tener una mejor idea del tipo de persona que necesita para cubrir el puesto. Busque en línea los perfiles de las distintas profesiones. Ahí podría encontrar una descripción general de las capacidades que debe tener.

La escuela que estaba por fundar el Sr.Gus tenía a Luciano como el encargado general. Un proyecto para aprendizaje en línea, con personas que tenían poca experiencia y un montón de pesos listos para invertirse. Con esto se puede dar una idea de lo que viene. El punto inicial para lo que, posteriormente se convertiría en un vil circo…literalmente.

Siguiente lección: Lección 2- Matanga.

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.

 
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