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.
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