Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all that have read this blog this year.

Posts have been somewhat light of late as the demands of work and a new baby son take their toll on "writing for pleasure" time.

Today was no exception as after being at work this morning I was in my local supermarket as it closed for Christmas. There is always a seige mentality around Christmas which is really strange as many of the shops will be open in less than 36 hours on Boxing Day morning with the remainder open a day later.

Nonetheless there is at least one day that remains free from commercial activity and I guess that has to be welcome. That day is tomorrow- Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas everyone......

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Go back to your zombies and prepare for management

This year, with the retirement of a long established colleague I have taken on new responsibilities and I now have a team of people who I manage.

With this in mind, my boss thought I would benefit from attending a two day management of course. I've been on similar before but I suppose it can never hurt to have some new ideas and reminders of how to deal with certain situations.

The course was taken by a charming lady from Fulham. At the risk of offending many people, my office has a lot of people from Essex and a lot of people from south London (myself included). In short I don't often hear the English language spoken as well as it is spoken by some residents of Fulham. But I guess accents is a very risky topic, especially in Britain, so I shall move swiftly on !

The course was not rocket science. In fact it was not any sort of science but a mixture of common sense on how to deal with difficult people in difficult situations as well as various management and psychological theories on what motivates people and how to get the best out of them etc etc.

One session that caught my imagination was a crude classification of all people according to their energy or action and their attitude or enthusiasm.

Those with high action and a good attitude were obviously the best from a management perspective and were called "stars". The high action but negative attitude were "cynics" albeit quite productive ones. Those of positive attitude but little action were either "passengers" or "tourists" while the worst were those of little action and a bad attitude. The last group were termed "zombies" or "the undead".

This was supposed to be a serious management course but predictably this bit wasn't taken too seriously. We were divided up into teams to talk about how we would deal with the different employee types.

I was put in a group that was charged with thinking about "zombies". We found this quite difficult as apart from sacking them which would probably happen in more hard hearted organisations, one would have to analysise their entire personality and try and appeal to something that made them tick to achieve any progress.

We then had to present our thoughts. Our zombie group started.

"Now do any you manage people who might be zombies ?" asked the charming lady from Fulham. I must admit that my hand wavered but I thought "No the worst I have must have are tourists, positive but of little output" (I should also note that I do have star (s)".

A colleague from IT had no such qualms. Up went his hand. "I've probably got two" he said. His total team is eight strong so that makes a 25% strong zombie contingent !

The course went on over 2 days with role plays, discussions and coffee breaks.

At the end we were all wished well. I guess in at least one case this really did amount to "Go back to your zombies and prepare for management"

I will be giving my team a bit more thought next week !!!

Still slightly Hongkers

After a couple of days back from Hong Kong, my wife told me something that needed saying. I was getting (just a little) boring the way I began each sentence "In Hong Kong they......".

I credit myself with at least a few sensitivities and I know there are few things more tedious than someone who returns from holiday (or other trip) only to bore everyone to tears with details of a place that the other party has not been to. Some of course have a great curiosity about all places and want to go there themselves. However for the majority of people a few photos and and a handful of summarised highlights are probably all they want to hear about a trip particularly if they themselves have been stuck at home working hard.

It is sign of how commonplace long haul travel has become that few want to hear in great detail another account of travels to X, wherever X may be. Another response to too many travel tales is "place bingo" or "snap" where people seem to work through lists of places, the object apparently being to work out who has been to most.

So I did sympathise with my wife, when I realised that I was talking perhaps a little too much about my business trip to Hong Kong. She had been at home looking after our 5 month old son.

However, on my second trip to Hong Kong, I was struck more than ever what a little paradise it can be for a small minority of English people.

Put simply it is a modern metropolis built on a tropical island. In December in comparison to London its climate is mild and pleasant.

People seem to behave in Hong Kong. There is little sign of graffiti, of litter and of people wanting to interfere with you as you go about your own business. You can ride the metro (MTR) late and night and you are more likely to see a young family returning home than the drunken businessmen you see on the London tube at a similar hour.

The people of Hong Kong are, in the main, extremely friendly. English is almost universally understood to some extent. For a foreigner doing a middle ranking kind of job, life is very comfortable. Technology is generally state of art and most things cheaper than home. Hong Kong is a city where the pick up fee for a taxi is under £1. For those wanting to exit the metropolis, the green Victoria Peak or nearby islands on a short ferry ride are obvious options.

Best still, for visiting Brits they drive on the left and use exactly the same electrical plugs as we do back home !

In short Hong Kong is a city that seems to work with a warm climate (although I am assured this is too warm in summer) and friendly hard working people. It compares very favourably to winter London with its delays, struggles to work and general hassle if you stay out late.

Of course, I do realise it is possible to take the rose tinted spectacles off in Hong Kong and see a few realities. The climate is so favourable in December but in summer the tropical heat combining with epic levels of pollution from China's Pearl Delta industrial area make the air extremely unhealthly. I was told that people with children even move them out of the City in the summer.

The cheap prices are nice but this is largely achieved through an army of low paid workers from the Philippines. Many middle class Hong Kong chinese have Philipino domestic helpers often paid around £250 a month to live in and cook, clean and iron or baby sit. It is better work than that available in the Philippines but I cannot see that happening in London.

People are well behaved but democracy is at best fragile in Hong Kong. It is an experiment tolerated by the Chinese Government but is obviously subject to certain limits.

That said, most people seem genuinely happy in Hong Kong. They work hard but enjoy life.

Maybe for that, the absence of the Dimbleby's on Question Time is a price worth paying ?!

Many expats who go to Hong Kong really love it and some never return home. One expat I spoke to on my visit summed it up like this "I like London and will always go back there to see my family and friends. But I really like the buzz, the food and the climate in this place. I'm not ready to trade in Hongkers just yet".

I've been back in London reality a week now but I think a part of me is still slightly Hongkers.....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Back from a rather English piece of China

Posts have been very light on here of late. This is at least in part due to the fact that I have been working in Hong Kong for a short while.

I want to write something on this shortly but for now here are a couple of mobile phone taken pictures that I hope say something about Hong Kong both at night and in the day time.

Hong Kong, despite being part of China albeit with "Special Administrative Region" status, still feels very homely to the English visitor.

I seem to have escaped the worst of any jet lag and in the wonder that is air travel I managed to sleep from above the Chinese-Mongolian border to just above Moscow on the way home.

Hope to be back with a longer post soon.

A fleet of Hong Kong's very economical red taxis approach the Wan Kwai Fong area in the evening.

View of "everyday" Hong Kong skycraper appartments in the "Mid Levels"