Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nurtring a candid culture

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 26, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Nurturing a candid culture

The song goes: How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you keep a wave upon the sand? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

You don’t and can’t because Maria is simply being outspoken and spontaneous and candid. You are blessed to have Marias in your organization.

The issue is how to leverage candor and create a candid culture where people with significant resources and bright ideas participate in strategic conversations. A culture of openness, respect and trust where diversity is encouraged and rewarded.

The January 30 issue of Fortune Magazine honors “The 100 Best Companies To Work For In America.” And here is how some of these companies nurture candor and innovation by Betsy Morris and Daniel Roth in separate articles:

Intel is known for its tough, confrontational culture in which employees are encouraged to speak up. CEO Paul Otellini has his own blog. “How cool is that?” says one employee.

At Ikea, 80 percent of employees agree that “people are given a lot of responsibility here.”

To encourage innovation at W.L. Gore & Associates, there are no bosses, job titles or organization charts, just sponsors, team members and leaders.

At Plante & Moran, bad bosses beware: The goal is a “jerk-free” workforce at the accounting firm, where the staff is encouraged to live by the Golden Rule and abide by the credo “Speak up. If it’s not right, we’ll change it.”

Open communication and discussion are vital at Alston & Bird. Everyone is kept in the loop via monthly firm meetings, fireside chats, “town hall” meetings and a daily online newsletter.

Cisco System CEO John Chambers holds monthly meetings with workers and encourages them to ask him tough questions.

American Express has an ombudsperson office to handle confidential complaints. If you have worked 12 to 24 months in one position, you can apply to rotate to a different job or to a different country.

At Hot Topic, workers express themselves, love wearing what they want (including tattoos and nose piercings) and saying what they want.

Feedback matters at Synovus. They solicit employee opinions via intranet that can now be accessed from home and workers are also surveyed online every month.

First Horizontal National has its “Fishpower” culture that puts bank employees ahead of customers and shareholders.

For all of FedEx clock-watching and efficiency, the company is remarkably hands-off. Its delivery workers set their own route. Once they leave the station, they are their own boss. They are expected to decide what’s right for the day. Nicky Cava swears that “the only way you lose your job at FedEx is if you make yourself lose your job.”

Christopher Hunsberger, general manager of Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C., says, “We want individuals to think and be natural rather than just robotically doing things.” Endale Tessema has been working the door for 23 years and does things pretty much as he pleases—no canned speeches, no formal way of opening the door or lugging the luggage. He just makes it up as he goes, and he says people in charge learn from him. “The managers, instead of coming in and imposing things on me, they come in and learn how things work. If they want to change it, they’ll change it later. They have to learn first.”

That policy, those in management say, helps ensure that ideas from the bottom bubble up—and that the hotel’s personality flourishes. “Some employees have been at this since I was in grade school,” says director of revenue management Noel Merainer. “They are the experts on a lot of things that were new to us as managers.”

Get a copy of Fortune and learn from these 100 great companies.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. Email her at

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Candor and courage

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 19, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Candor and courage

RICK HAWTHORNE of Roadrunner Networks Inc. wrote, “I like the article on candor and frankness, I just wish more people would put it into practice.”

Indeed, all reactions to last week’s column on candor lament the lack of candor in the workplace and express the need for straightforward, say-what-you-mean conversations. GE’s former CEO Jack Welch writes, “Lack of candor blocks smart ideas, fast action and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”

Welch continues, “Imagine yourself for a second at a meeting where the subject is growth and how to get it at an old-line division. Everyone is sitting around the table, talking about how hard it is to win in this particular market or industry. They discuss the tough competition. They surface the same old reasons why they can’t grow and why they are actually doing well in this environment. In fact, by the time the meeting ends, they’ve managed to pat themselves on the back for the ‘success’ they’ve enjoyed ‘under the circumstances.’

“In your head, you’re about ready to burst, as you tell yourself, ‘Here we go again. I know Bob and Mary across the room feel the same way I do—the complacency around here is killing us.’ Outside, all three of you are playing the game. You’re nodding.

“Another situation that happens all the time is a high-growth business with a self-satisfied crowd managing it. You know the scene at the long-range planning meeting. The managers show up with double-digit growth—say 15 percent—and pound out slide after slide showing how well they are doing. Top management nods their approval, but you’re sitting there knowing there’s lot more juice in the business. To compound matters, the people presenting the slides are peers of yours, and there’s that age-old code hanging in the air: if you don’t challenge mine, I won’t challenge yours.”

These situations are acted out in real business life every day.

What might be going on inside the minds of these seemingly smart people quietly, politely saying nothing and enduring the phoniness of the situation?

The boss will never buy it.
It can’t be done anyway.
I have to call my dentist.
It’s too visionary.
We don’t have the time.
I have a golf game in two hours.
We’re doing all right now.
It’s beyond my responsibility.
I am hungry.
I don’t like it.
We’ve been doing things this way for the past 20 years.
It won’t work in a small company.
What will I do this weekend?

Rienzi Ramirez, GlobalStride, “Just dropping a line telling you that I came across your article on Candor and it was very true to life. It will be interesting additionally to write about how candor is misunderstood or corrupted. Nice to come across articles like these which hit a note.”

Candor is simply saying what we mean and meaning what we say, to speak out openly, argue, debate, question, clarify, drill down, explore possibilities, suggest options, challenge ideas, disagree in a straightforward, no-b.s. manner. The one guideline I have is: You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Welch says, “Now, imagine an environment where you take responsibility for candor. You, Bob or Mary would ask questions like: Isn’t there a new product or service idea in this business somewhere that we just haven’t thought of? Can we jump-start this business with an acquisition? This business is taking so many resources. Why don’t we get the hell out of it?

“It is true that candid comments definitely freak out people at first. In fact, the more polite or bureaucratic or formal your organization, the more candor will scare and upset people, and, yes, it could kill you. That’s a risk, and only you can decide if you are willing to take it.”

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. React to this article at

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Innovation and candor

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 12, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and candor

ONE reason we dread meetings is that they are usually exercises in futi­lity. You sit down around a table or theater-style facing a screen. The boss says something, everybody nods in agreement. Somebody makes a report, everybody is quiet. Every now and then somebody asks a clarificatory question. Everybody is polite (read bored) and, eventually, meeting is adjourned and everybody heaves a sigh of relief.

Back in their respective cubicles, nobody remembers what was talked about and every one goes about business as usual and on to another meeting. Ho-hum.

No wonder, the Philippines is 77th out of 117 in overall competitiveness, 104th in public institutions and 71st in macroeconomic environment. No new ideas. Things are running at a very low pace. Low productivity. Most organizations are not receptive to having candid people in their midst, all because they want to preserve harmony, politeness and loyalty. People don’t want to exercise candor for fear of being branded brazen, abrasive, individualist and maverick, not a team player. Pakikisama and hiya kill candor. The easiest way out is to keep quiet.

Jack Welch said it was his candor that made things work for him. In his book, Winning, he wrote about how candor leads to winning at GE:

“First and foremost, candor gets more people in the conversation, and when you get more people in the conversation, to state the obvious, you get idea rich. By that, I mean many more ideas get surfaced, discussed, pulled apart and improved. Instead of everyone shutting down, everyone opens up and learns. Any organization—unit or team—that brings more people and their minds into the conversation has an immediate advantage.

“Second, candor generates speed. When ideas are in everyone’s face, they can be debated rapidly, expanded and enhanced, and acted upon. That approach—surface, debate, improve, decide—isn’t just an advantage, it’s a necessity in a global marketplace. You can be sure that any upstart five-person enterprise down the street or in Shanghai or in Bangalore can move faster than you to begin with. Candor is one way to keep up.

“Third, candor cuts costs—lots—although you’ll never be able to put a precise number on it. Just think of how it eliminates meaningless meetings and b.s. reports that confirm what everyone already knows. Think of how candor replaces fancy PowerPoint slides and mind-numbing presentations and boring off-site conclaves with real conversations, whether they’re about company strategy, a new product introduction, or someone’s performance.”

It is now performance-appraisal time and bosses are wont to give their subordinates “outstanding” and “very satisfactory” ratings to avoid any confrontation and further discussions. With humor, they will throw in a suggestion or two for improvement. Lack of candor and courage to lead. Jack Welch says, “Candor just unnerves people.”

Welch traces this lack of candor from when we were young: “We are socialized from childhood to soften bad news, or to make nice about awkward subjects. That is true in every culture and in every country and in very social class. You don’t insult your mother’s cooking, or call your bestfriend fat, or tell an elderly aunt that you hated her wedding gift. You just don’t.”

Somebody looking over my shoulder while I type this just nudged me and asked what is candor. (The word is not even in our day-to-day vocabulary.) From the Internet, candor means: 1. honest: honest or direct in a way that people find either refreshing or distasteful, a surprisingly candid admission and 2. photographed informally: photographed or filmed without the subject knowing or having the opportunity to prepare or pose a candid documentary. It also means frankness, fair-mindedness, forthrightness, openness and more.

More next column.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. Send feedback to

Thursday, January 5, 2006

1001 things to be thankful for

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 5, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
1001 things to be thankful for

EVERY now and then, it is good to look back and give thanks to those that warmed our hearts and kept us going.

• The Manila Times, Klink Ang, Peping Galang, Leah del Castillo, Arnold Tenorio, Danny Estopace, Ayn Veronica de Jesus, Chit Lichauco and Fred de la Rosa
• This column and the many entrepreneurs out there who are our target readers
• All accommodating entrepreneurs (and their business) whose examples of best practices we featured in this column—Urban Spa (Shangri-La Mall), Chocolate Kiss (UP), MaC’s Deli (Tiendesitas), RapSaKalye (Market! Market!) and many others. We will continue to support you.
• First Philippine Holdings Corp., Ben Liboro, Art de Guia, Rey Sarmenta, Amy Agaton and others
• Booksale, for those eclectic collection of books at very low price
• Saint Paul’s, for those uplifting books
• Bookmark, for those wonderful books about the Philippines
• Cheese counter in the supermarket
• Crayons, pentel pens and colored pens
• Internet and e-mail
• Digital—camera, cell phone, X-ray, others
• Laptop and LCD projector
• Business books and authors
• Overseas Filipino workers who are making our economy and the real-estate business, in particular, jump up
• 12 Angry Men, a movie that teaches values, negotiation and leadership
• MRT, LRT, Megatren
• Computers and their functional accessories
• Flashdisk
• The Living Company, a book by Arie the Geus
• Microsoft Office
• 168, Divisoria Mall, Tutuban and other malls in Divisoria, the best source of goods for budding traders
• UP Shopping Center for quick, cheap photocopying and binding services
• LandBank, Maxima Santos, Voltaire Pablo, Bless Cruz, Tanya Peralta, Rita, Ruth and Jojo Agullo, Edna, Jess Garcia
• Society of Fellows in Personnel Management
• Personnel Management Association of the Philippines and its professional staff
• PMAP Newsletter and my column, Favorite Books
• Seeds of Innovation, workshop and book by Elaine Dundon
• Books on balanced scorecard
• Mobile and cordless telephone
• Manila paper, easel paper and whiteboard

• Overhead projector and acetates
• Hayakawa Electronics, Mario Ponce de Leon and Grace
• Devco (Philippines) Inc. and Rhoda David
• Golf
• Philippine Society for Training and Development
• Planner, calendar, alarm clock
• Vision, mission, core values
• The verdant countryside
• Jumping into bed with a good book
• Someone who makes you happy by loving you, being alive with you, filling up your life.
• Belly dancing
• A friend with a seaside house
• Sunrise and sunset
• Democracy
• Nancy Uy for inviting us to concerts at the Philamlife Auditorium
• Our family doctor, Josie Isidro of PGH
• My mom’s EENT doctor, Joey LapeƱa, PGH & Eye Referral Center
• The Nanny, a hilarious sitcom on Hallmark Channel
• Discovery and National Geographics Channels
• My surgeon/oncologist, Michael “Dr. Pogi” Carandang, Lourdes Hospital
• My doctor-friend, Merriam Quirante, Saint Martin de Porres Charity Hospital, San Juan
• My eye doctors, Bobby Ang and Harvey Uy, Asian Eye Institute
• Dr. Fe A. Hidalgo, DepEd
• Rene Mayol, Shirley Hombrebueno, Robin Rubina, Nikko Bantayan, Mau, Mar Cuevas, Rio Ordillano, Egay Franco, Jenny Javier, Butch Nayona and Tina Maramba, for joining, gratis et amore, the trainors’ pool of the Accelerated Learning Workshop for teachers
• “How-to” books
• The Passion of the Christ, the movie by Mel Gibson
• Soap, body lotion, whitening cream, lipbalm and sunblock
• Rotary International
• Adobo, pasta, pan de sal, Hainanese chicken, dark chocolate, tea, red wine, salad, veggies, fruits, fish, shellfish
• Chessa, fruit that comes out only around Christmas Day
• Falling asleep on the sofa
• Gaining energy by exerting energy
• Nanay Ning
• Emma and Carmen who keep my house clean and cheerful
• Roxanne, my hair cutter and colorist of 15 years
• Imodium and Alka-Seltzer
• Family and friends
• The Almighty for everything

Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. Send her feedback at