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Bidding for the business

WHAT BANKS, management consultants, financial advisers, digital platforms, or ad agencies bidding for an account call a “pitch,” their prospective clients privately refer to internally as a “beauty contest.”

Is there a need for Plan B?

CONTRARY TO the mantra of motivational speakers that you can always be what you want to be... if you wish it, and work for it hard enough, life usually hands out rejection slips. Plan B is the back-up strategy to provide an alternative route to a goal or to modify ambitions towards something completely different, and more attainable. Often, the “best case” scenario miscarries. Plan B is supposed to get you somewhere else, without changing your wardrobe.

Covering tycoons in media

TV interviews of businessmen used to be drab. The set was dull, a gray background with the program title: None of your Business. Only the red necktie of the interviewee splashed color to the scene. The two talking heads cover such topics as GDP, fire insurance options, talent retention programs, and the cost of lost productivity from traffic, given various assumptions -- Are you riding in an ambulance?

What is really being said

COMMUNICATION CAN be indirect. Words uttered especially by leaders need not be taken literally. They may be coded with body language emphasizing (pounding on the table) or contradicting (wink of an eye) what is being ordered with a loud voice for eavesdroppers to hear.

The madness of crowds

IF YOU have no idea what the phrase “Season 82” stands for, you can skip this piece and move to another page for more salubrious topics like the gender wars, the senator’s next boxing match, and the recounting of votes for an election held 42 months ago. It’s the final four of college men’s basketball. No additional details are needed.

In sickness and in health

THESE are the words fervently and publicly proclaimed in marriage vows. They promise steadfastness in times of tribulations brought on by failing health (you forgot your walking stick, Hon).

Mobile connections

THE PENETRATION rate (a marketing term, Sir) of the mobile phone is almost 100% of the population and that includes infants and nonagenarians. It’s the double-SIM card phones (counted as two) and the multi-gadget culture that have made this jarring statistic possible.

Can there be too much of a good thing?

THE CHARTING of pleasure and boredom is covered by an economic principle that says that the enjoyment of even the most wonderful experience is bound to fade, as is our initially hearty appetite for certain subjects in the news like released prisoners, pyramid schemes, and love triangles.

Have a nice day!

It can be startling at first to be greeted by strangers with a hearty, “Have a nice day.” The appropriate riposte is, “You too” (and not, “too late”). So routine is this exchange while visiting North America that we even initiate the salutation ourselves just to try it out, and expectedly get from the natives the expected “you too” reply.

Owners and managers

THERE IS some truth in the statement that the difference between an owner and a manager of a business, including a conglomerate, is that the former manages his own money and the latter, other people’s. This then presumes that between the two types, the one less likely to be prudent to the point of being reckless in spending, including in the pricing of acquisitions of assets or other companies, is the one who is managing other people’s money.

What instrument do you play?

THE ORCHESTRA has been employed often as paradigm for the effectiveness of organizations, including of course a performing group of musicians.

Does name-dropping still work?

IN OUR status culture that reflect wealth, power, and celebrityhood (entertainers and sports figures), claimed associations with icons is an indirect way to achieve instant status. So, knowing somebody, even tangentially, is a bid for reflected glory, a sort of “gilt by association.”

Doing a good job?

PERIODICALLY, the media report the latest survey on the approval rating of the leader and other public servants on prime time and on the front pages. The quarterly exercise by two survey companies is intended to rate government’s performance, as perceived by the governed. A high approval rating is presumed to indicate wide popular support for the accomplishments and programs of the ratee.

You haven’t changed

IT is customary to compliment someone not seen for many years and almost forgotten (don’t tell me you don’t know who I am) with the ready greeting: “Hey, you haven’t changed.” Is this a flattering remark? Maybe the greeter has used the aging app to approximate how a former classmate is supposed to look now? The present apparition is not at all gaunt and withered, with caved-in cheeks -- yes, a bit plumper.

The countries they call home

THE BREADTH of the Filipino diaspora hits us whenever we travel abroad. Isn’t there now a Filipino in every country in the world? We bump into these expats in unexpected places. She may be a receptionist in a Bratislava hotel or a chef in a restaurant in Athens.

Gone malling

THE REPLY, “malling,” to the question on what one is planning to do on a weekend needs no elaboration. There is no follow-up question, “what will you do there?” The mall has become a destination as a leisure activity. Maybe the only obligatory part which can serve as a purpose for going to that air-conditioned symbol of consumerism (buying things you don’t really need) is dining. Here the choices need to be discussed as if embarking on a trip -- do you feel like sushi? It is after this lunch that malling really starts.

Are you comfortable?

ONLY in our country do we refer to toilets as “comfort rooms.” I can only surmise how that came about. Was it the relief expected from a visit there? Ask for directions where the comfort room is in North America and you get a quizzical look, unless the party being queried happens to be a compatriot.

Before you leave

MANAGEMENT wants to understand why employees leave, especially when the resignation is voluntary and not forced. (Did you not like the cafeteria food?) The exit interview is designed to draw out the motives behind a departure not reflected in a dry, maybe angry, resignation letter, sometimes just one sentence long. It is supposed to guide management on gaps in its retention policy.

No need to avoid stress

HAS THERE ever been a doctor who informed you that stress is good for you? Not too many. Still, a little stress can be beneficial.

Staying in your lane

CHIEFS are averse to getting advice too willingly proffered by subordinates or peers, especially when these are neither solicited nor welcome. Routine pronouncements that the chief is always open to suggestions from the ranks, and that his door is always open for peasants to walk in unannounced are mere lip service to participative management. (Are you here to water the plants?)

Checking lifestyle for unexplained wealth

IN ECONOMICS, one can look at any issue from either the demand or supply side. In case of unexplained wealth, for example, one way to check its existence is to see how it is spent. Lifestyle checks are premised on a simple assumption. A person, especially in public service, is expected to live within his known legitimate income which includes his monthly salary, net of taxes and the practice of some other profession, like boxing, property development, and TV hosting.

Lowering the bar

BEING UNDERESTIMATED, even to the point of being dismissed with contempt, can be an advantage. The key to being rated well does not entail working longer hours, but just exceeding expectations. This can entail pushing the starting line forward, or moving the finish line back, or both. The race belongs to the one with a shorter track to run.

What initials are for

CEOS AND THEIR direct reports deal daily with proposals, studies, and evaluations requiring decisions, often urgent. The approving authority relies on subordinates to study proposals in detail. Staff assistants, technical consultants, compliance officers, and lawyers indicate their recommended course of action with an initial.

Pulling strings to get ahead

LET’S NOT call it influence peddling. The practice of using connections, or “pulling strings” to get ahead is a cultural thing. Of course, know-who cannot replace know-how, but what if they come together in a package? Or if only one of them is available, which one is more important?

Good intentions and unexpected results

GOOD intentions, especially when backed up by political will, can have unexpected results, not all of them beneficial to those they intend to benefit. The “Law of Unintended Consequences” in economics states that a policy intended to promote the common good can have the opposite effect when implemented.

Does cheering improve performance?

Big crowds filling up the stadium, the din of rhythmic chanting, and the sheer enthusiasm of urging a team to victory make up the cheering factor in an event, be it a competition or a rock concert. Can companies use cheering to help the team achieve targets like claiming back market share, raising customer care indices, and bringing up the bottom line numbers?

It’s not always black or white

IT MUST be our digital culture that compels us to think of life as binary. Most things, including organizational charts, relationships, diplomatic courtesies, invasions, fishing accidents, and working arrangements in families cannot be neatly categorized as either on or off, zero or one, win or lose, black or white. There are many shades of gray, and not just 50.

The way you were

THE PAST is a country we may have lived in and sometimes too hard to resist revisiting especially when we used to be at the top of it. Is it the default mode of old people, no longer in their prime not just in age but in status, to keep going back to the past?

Just a little accident

PARKING LOTS, especially in building basements of condos, have their share of little accidents. Because of the tight slots allocated even for small cars, as well as the constricted turns allowed for backing into or out of parking, mishaps are bound to happen. Entries and exits may cause dings and whacks on side mirrors and such. It’s a maneuvering challenge, especially for inexperienced drivers. Maybe some financial settlements for repairs and detail-work are quietly negotiated, if these incursions are admitted in the first place. And the matter is quickly forgotten.

Out of the loop

THE system that allows for working outside the office is able to keep everyone in the loop, even when they’re out of town. The chat groups are not turned off for vacations. They continue in their different clusters and work groups, which sometimes include clients.

Lessening choices by default

GADGETS, with their “planned obsolescence,” promote the impulse to have the latest model with ever more features, including features for clearer selfies. This promotes an almost Freudian “phone envy,” arising from a feeling of missing out on the latest phone. (How big is yours?) Gadget series numbers become status symbols. However, declining sales of new versions coming less than a year apart show a waning appetite for upgrades, or a longer embrace of the status quo.

Numbers and words

CHIEF Financial Officers (CFO) are not hired for their communications skills or verbosity. Their task is to submit the data on time, and translate corporate operations into numbers. They thus tend to just let the numbers do the talking when explaining corporate performance. The new function of investor relations, which listed companies now give importance to, requires the ability to also highlight numbers with the right words.

A culture of blending in

FOR HOST COUNTRIES, one desirable trait of Filipino expats working there is their ability to adapt to the local culture, with its unwritten rules and taboos. This integration involves the right accent and peculiar turns of phrase. (How you doing? I’m good.) Beyond this verbal skill lies the adoption of the local work ethic (Filipino time is thrown out the window), attire, and observing special holidays like Thanksgiving and getting excited over the Super Bowl.

Who gets the credit?

AFTER the Bay of Pigs fiasco, John Kennedy famously noted: “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” It seems this quote was originally from Tacitus which in Latin has a slightly different tone: “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”

Leaks don’t always come from faucets

IN A NON-PLUMBING CONTEXT, a leak refers to information secretly divulged to the public (just between the two of us) even when intended to be kept private. Embargoed news items are the stuff of headlines, even when the source is not identified. A question mark will suffice.

Starting on time

IT’S THE DIFFERENT interpretations of time and the meaning of punctuality and tardiness, along with the social stigma, if any, attached to either one, that account for asymmetrical expectations with different cultures. While time for developed economies is numerical and inflexible, Filipino time is determined by ritual, and thus ruled by an accepted ambiguity. Time is not considered a precious resource that needs to be conserved and wisely managed, since there’s too much of it available to most.

It’s not always about you

IN SURFING THE NEWS, we often skip items that do not affect us directly or pique our personal interest. So, a winter vortex in Northeast America is merely noted in passing, unless relatives are caught up in it in their travels there. When reporting international crises, the local news slants the coverage in terms of compatriots that were injured.

Can we have your opinion?

A REGULAR SEGMENT in the news involves an interview of the “man (or woman) on the street”. This everyman opinion is supposed to reflect the common sentiment of the populace on the news of the day, like the integrity of the election process, the impact of a water shortage, or the safety of public transport.

Can I talk to reporters?

WHEN JOINING a new organization, be it a company, a board, or a legislative body of twenty-four nationally elected bigshots, there is the awkwardness of trying to fit in without looking like an eager beaver. For the lower levels of new hires, mostly straight from school or with just a few years of work, companies have an orientation program that covers work hours, proper office attire, and health coverage (you need to get your own insurance for personal trips).

Minimalist travel

IN TERMS of packing efficiency for travel, no category of tourists beats the backpackers. These travelers seem to hew to the doctrine of minimalism, that less is more. They are able to pack clothes and essential needs in luggage strapped on their backs. Thus are they considered the quintessence of economy and efficiency. Suitcase on wheels? How do you drag this through potholed streets in search of cheap rooms or perch it on a park bench?

The etiquette for losing

THOSE who enter contests are usually confident of winning, even if only by a stroke of luck. Getting ready with a victory speech (let’s take it one game at a time) may be considered bad luck. But do candidates even mull over the possibility (sometimes a big one) of losing and what to say in a concession speech?

Choices have a cost

PAUL SAMUELSON, Nobel laureate in Economics, and the author of the basic textbook, Economics (first published in 1948 with at least 19 editions since then) which we used when I was taking up the course in college, explained economics simply as the allocation of scarce resources, using the famous two choices of guns and butter and the trade-off this process implies.

Comments on the side

INATTENTIVE participants at meetings ignore the speaker and quietly amuse themselves by offering running commentaries to seatmates and asking questions on the side. (Does he know what he’s talking about?) Side conversations between participants in a meeting or conference are distracting to those trying to listen to the speaker. Loudly whispered comments are not meant to be overheard by the one presenting: “note how he says “actually” before every phrase. I’ve counted 23 already.”

Ending the discussion

DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES in traditionally autocratic hierarchies like corporations are always a challenge to implement. A participative management style requires a lot of meetings. Decisions are arrived at by getting all or a majority to discuss an issue and buy into the agreed course of action. The approach involves consultations with all those affected, which in big decisions like parking assignments, reporting relationships, acquisitions, and inclusion in foreign trips involve emotions and lots of raised voices.

The lowest level of pain

AN ITCH is medically considered the lowest level of pain. Even as it sits at the low end of the agony ladder, the itch cannot be ignored. It can be annoying when lodged at a hard-to-reach part of the body when in the company of others. All the same this pain is easily relieved with a simple scratch.