Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stories from the salt mines - 1

We've been living in Abu Dhabi now for just over two years. In some ways it seems like we arrived yesterday, but then when I start to realize what I've learned and come to understand about Emirati culture, I feel like I have been here a while. Of course, there is still a lot to learn as I am reminded almost daily.

My day job is developing young Emirati talent. In fact, my current job title is Manager - UAE Talent Development. I have 150 Emiratis between the ages of about 21-28 reporting in to me. They are all part of a development program designed to build their leadership skills and provide them with some experience in the company. They are a continuous source of frustration, cultural understanding, opportunities to learn about myself, and absolute joy. In the span of 8 hours, I can literally go from wanting to strangle one of them (culturally inappropriate) to wanting to hug one of them (also culturally inappropriate). It's a wild ride!

Here are a few fun stories and I promise to tell them truthfully. Yes, I'll add a little flavor to provide some entertainment, but I promise these are all true.

First, you need to understand that 21-28 years of age here is about the equivalent of maybe 17-22 back home. Most of these young adults still live with their parents and take a lot of direction from them (this is cultural). Their schools (even most universities) are segregated by gender so for many of them, the job interview is the first time they've interacted with a mixed gender group. While they watch lots of American TV, they are fairly protected from violence and crime since UAE is so safe, which makes them quite idealistic and sometimes a bit naive. Finally, many of them are the first generation to go out and work outside the family business and in an international business environment. Okay, that should be enough background to help you understand a few of my stories.

Coming on time ... no coming to work at all is my biggest headache by far. There is a HUGE cultural difference between me (American) and them (Arab).  A few weeks ago I was talking with a young lady who didn't report to work the previous Thursday. When I asked why she said something like, "I took my son to register for kindergarten and when it finished I just didn't feel like coming back to work. I'm not going to lie to you, I think the work is boring so I was going to come back, but just didn't." Well, ya gotta love the girl's honesty.

Some of my other favorite "why weren't you at work excuses" include:
  • "I thought it was a holiday" - no lie, someone tried to convince me that the messages about which days were paid holiday and which weren't were unclear. Now yes, there is that whole holidays based on the moon sighting thing over here, but trust me, we're VERY clear about which days are the paid holidays.
  • "My mother needed me to help her" - because family is so core to the culture and society, if mom tells you you have to stay home and help your little brothers do this or that, you have to stay home. While this excuse bugs the xxxx out of me, I also try to imagine how difficult it must be for some of these kids who are the first in their families to venture out on their own to get a job. The conflict between work and home commitments has got to be stressful.
  • "I had to appear at traffic court" - okay yes, probably a very legitimate excuse given how some drive here, but really? you had no advance notice of traffic court? you couldn't tell us about this in advance?
  • "My car was broken" - first off, most of them drive brand new cars of some luxury make, so the chances of car trouble are already slim. Second, THERE ARE TAXIS EVERYWHERE and they are cheap, so the excuse that my car was broken isn't very convincing.
When the light bulb goes on
Working with young people new to the business world is a hoot, especially when you can almost literally see the light bulbs go on. Recently, I was working with one of the guys and helping him with his final program project, which they eventually present to the CEO. He had a good idea for his project, but just wasn't getting the financial impact of his ideas. We sat together for an hour or so over the course of a few days and I coached him, suggested ideas, asked questions and finally, slowly, he started to understand what I was getting at. I think sometimes if they come from a fairly wealthy family, they just don't understand why you can't just buy what you want and not worry about whether there is any return on the investment. One Thursday, I had left him with some questions and thoughts and asked him to re-work his financials slide for the following week. He came back with a much better approach and seemed to finally understand the idea of cost vs. benefit. But my proudest moment was when he thanked me for being patient with him and said that no one had ever taken the time to really explain the idea before and more importantly, he liked that I made him do it, rather than do it for him. The experience reminded me why I do what I do.

So that's it for now, but don't worry, I've got lots of stories - just tell me when you get bored and we'll take another vacation so I can break things up a bit! :)

1 comment:

  1. Too funny, sounds like a challenge but fun. Great experience.