Thursday, September 30, 2010

Getting out of the "Great Wall"

After 1 month of no Facebook, Blogspot, etc I finally got myself out of the great firewall of the Chinese online world. My apologies for not being able to update this blog during my China trip. Having said that, I have been writing diary entries throughout September documenting pretty much everything and anything - I'll upload them with the proper photos into this blog shortly. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exploring East Asia: my itenerary

Having the opportunity to travel to China as a part of the CSC, I decided to also visit a number if places before and after the assignment.

My trip will begin from a Sydney-Sngapore-Beijing Singapore Airlines flight on 27 Aug. Expecting to spend 2 nights in Beijing, I will be meeting my team mates for the first time in this capital city. Together as a team, we will fly together from Beijing to Ji'nan on 29 Aug where we will spend 1 month during September to deliver the CSC assignment. When the assignment is completed on 25 Sept, I intend to seize the opportunity to travel to Shanghai to meet a number of IBM colleagues and to visit the Shanghai World Expo. On 29 Sept, I will then fly to Hongkong to spend a couple of days catching up with friends. My trip will end on 3 Oct when flying out from Hongkong and making my way back to beautiful Sydney - home sweet home!

There will be heaps of activities going on in different cities and I will do my best to share them with you through this blog. So stay tuned :)

The 7P's: Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

A military friend of mine once said that the key to successful missions are the 7Ps: prior preparation and planning prevents piss-poor performance. CSC "missions" are no exception.

For every CSC assignment, teams are formed 3 months in advance prior to the deployment date to undergo rigorous and comprehensive training program. This training is designed to equip CSC leaders with a range of skills, including cultural awareness, international development in developing countries, high performance teaming, corporate social responsibility, capacity & capability building, issue-based consulting, media & communication and other logistical preparations. These skills are intended to enable CSC leaders to make a lasting impact to their client organisations -- not only to solve their problems but also help them to develop the foundations to solve future problems as well. With the global nature of the team composition and the exposure to unfamiliar culture and norms in the destination country, CSC leaders are expected to adapt well culturally and quickly learn to handle uncertainties.

As a part of the preparatory work, the team has been working together in virtual setting. Collaborative technologies have enabled us to share documents, talk to each other (through messaging system and teleconference facilities) and contribute to team discussions seamlessly. We formed, stormed and - to some extent - normed without even meeting each other in person throughout this period. Having done this, hopefully, by the time we meet for the first time in Beijing on 28 Aug, we could start moving into the performing stage quite rapidly. It was interesting to observe the cultural diversity that every single one of us brought to the teleconferences and we definitely had lots of fun so far.

One month is an extremely short time to make a real and lasting difference. This is why we have been contacting every one of our clients well in advance to properly introduce ourselves and obtain some background information about the organisations, local communities, markets, regulatory structure and the economic landscape in China. Through this process, not only that we get to target our preparatory efforts, we also got to build rapport and relationships with the clients - absolutely critical in any consulting engagements. Having completed these activities, we hope to be able to hit the ground running quickly when we meet the clients next week.

With 3 more days to go, we have completed the training program and the majority of the preparatory works. I am confident to say that we are all set to kick-start our CSC journey in China!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Becoming trusted advisors for businesses and communities in Ji'nan

In this opportunity, I'd like to give you some details about the fantastic team mates I have been interacting with in the past 3 months and the nature of the work we will be delivering in Ji'nan. Thanks to Lynn for raising this request!

Approximately 3 months ago, my Corporate Service Corps assignment was confirmed and I was quickly assigned to what we call CSC "China Team 9". The team originally consisted of 11 volunteers from 9 countries - unfortunately, one of us, Fernanda from Brazil, will not be able to make it. The size was then reduced to 10 volunteers from 8 countries:

  • Georgiana (Gem) Mitchell, a program director & executive consultant from IBM U.S. CIO office
  • Antje Mueller, a microprocessor array & circuit design engineer from IBM Germany
  • Pawan Shrivastava, a general manager & senior project executive from IBM India
  • Christopher Repass, a web production lead for from IBM U.S.
  • Lalitha Ramesh, a telecom industry leader for Global Business Solutions Center from IBM India
  • Andrei Atapin, a finance team leader from IBM Canada
  • Ariel Ringler, a bid operations management leader from IBM Argentina
  • Gery Schneider, a senior project manager from IBM France
  • Laszlo Haraszti, a hardware manager from IBM Hungary; and
  • myself, a strategy & innovation consultant from IBM Australia

Looking at the diversity of experience, IBM tenure and expertises, I feel so lucky to be assigned to this team. In the past 3 months, we have worked together over teleconferences trying to properly prepare for the assignment (more details). I very much look forward to meeting every one of my team mates in person in Beijing on Sat, 28 Aug!

As a part of this assignment, we will be working with 5 clients.
The current Statement of Work says that Gem, Gery, Laszlo and Chris will be working with 2 Universities to design curriculum and develop courses, as well as deliver training in specialised areas. The rest of us, Antja, Pawan, Lalitha, Andrei, Ariel and myself are paired to work with 3 high technology mid-sized companies on consulting engagements, ranging from developing growth strategy, building project management competency, performing organisational reviews, improving processes & operational models to developing marketing strategy. As with any consulting engagement, the scope of work may change as soon as we get a chance to meet the client and validate their strategic & operational priorities. It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds.

Whilst we will be working as a team for all 5 clients, I have been fortunate to be assigned with Ariel from IBM Argentina to specifically "own" the consulting engagement with one of the clients - a young and innovative software & application provider operating within the electric utility sector. As it happens, Ariel will be spending a couple of days in Sydney this week in transit before joining me to take the flight together to China. I have been having late night calls with Ariel in the past a couple of months and it is very exciting to finally get to see him in person very very soon!

Next, I will be writing about the preparatory work that we have undertaken so far in the past 3 months to make sure that all of us are fully equipped with all the capabilities we need to make a lasting difference in China. More to come~

Friday, August 13, 2010

Going back to my roots through a road less travelled

A century ago, two families embarked upon a voyage to Indonesia in search for a better life. Setting sail from Southern China, my grandparents - in their early years - were among them. Having established themselves in the new land of opportunities, my parents and I were subsequently raised in the tropical archipelago down south. After a century and two generations, at the dawn of the new millennium, I set foot for the first time in Australia in pursuit of higher quality education. A decade later, in 2010, I am about to embrace the greatest opportunity of my life so far by making my way back to my roots, exploring the rich heritage of those who came before me and creating positive and lasting impact in China - the golden land of our time.

This is how my Corporate Service Corps story began...

Before getting into much details about my experience in China, I thought it would be useful to elaborate a little about the IBM's Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program.

According to IBM's website, "the CSC exposes high performance IBM employees to the 21st century context for doing business --- emerging markets, global teaming, diverse cultures, working outside the traditional office, and increased societal expectations for more responsible and sustainable business practices. CSC participants perform community-driven economic development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, working at the intersection of business, technology and society." It is IBM's answer to the question: "How does a company develop leaders who have the skills needed for a globally integrated, smarter planet?" Some people call it the corporate version of the Peace Corps.

Harvard Business School (HBS) has been engaged by IBM to evaluate the impact of the program since its inception. Prof. Chris Marquis from HBS summarised these impacts in three broad categories:
  1. impact on individualsglobal leadership skill development, fostering cultural intelligence & global awareness and facilitating intrapersonal growth
  2. impact on local partner organisations and their communities: improvement in business processes & models, capacity & capability development of local organisation staff and establishment of internal & external network relationships
  3. impact on IBM: increased employee retention & commitment to IBM, new knowledge & skill contribution to IBM and enhanced perception of IBM
The CSC is also a very selective program - it truly is an honour and privilege for me to be invited. Back in 2008, as many as 5,500 top performing IBMers from more than 50 countries applied for the program - only 200 of them were selected. Kevin Thompson, Senior Program Manager of the CSC described the selection process: "We realised we had to set initial qualification criteria if we were trying to get the best of the best. To apply, an employee had to have at least two years of IBM tenure and performance rating in the top 15-20% over a three-year period, so 80% of the company didn't even qualify. Being part of IBM talent development program qualified for points. Having a history of being a volunteer counted as points. We wanted to make sure people already had some experience in volunteerism or giving back to guard against this as a sort of vacation junket. The essay was the primary mechanism for distinguishing the really, really exceptional applicants from the otherwise very good."

Being a part of CSC will surely be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only that I have been lucky enough to be selected as a part of this amazing program, I have been luckier to be assigned to a team with China as deployment destination. Along with 9 colleagues from 8 countries: India, United States, Canada, Hungary, Germany, Argentina, France and Australia (me); we will be delivering consulting engagements for 5 local clients located in Ji'nan, Shandong province, 400 kms south of Beijing during September 2010. China, as you know is the emerging world's super power. The staggering economic growth in the country will surely be an eye-opener and the cross-cultural exposures from interacting with clients, colleagues and local communities will be exciting to learn from. I look forward to developing my leadership skills, making a difference and getting the most out of this experience, while at the same time exploring the traditions of my origin.

Although the whole blogging thing is quite new for me, I have pledged myself to document this experience as best as I can and share this with all of you - my friends. In the next two weeks, I hope to give you a bit of insights & thoughts about the scope of work & the clients, China in general, the CSC team composition, preparatory efforts undertaken so far, trip plan, Ji'nan - the destination city and Shanghai World Expo. There will be so many things going on and it will be a challenge for me to be able to clearly and accurately articulate this complex undertaking. However, I will do my best to peel this "onion" layer by layer for you. If you have any suggestions, feedback, comments and questions, please post them in the comment section!~ :)

For more info about CSC program, click here: