Friday, June 24, 2011

“Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes”

 “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Replace the word “nice” with happy and you’ll understand why I’ve been avoiding my blog in the last couple weeks.  Coming back to my so-called “normal” life has been a much bigger challenge than I could have ever imagined.  I’ve been so afraid that I would fall back into my old ways of thinking and behaving that I’ve been unintentionally making this process much harder on myself.  But I need to have faith that this experience has been transformative enough for me that I can’t fall back into my old patterns.

Part of the mental fog has been related to shifts in my work environment.  I’m not going to discuss organizational charts or other internal work matters on this public blog, but what I will say is that upon my return, I came back to a new manager, new department head—and new job role.  While I still have some job responsibilities from my previous role, our new group now covers an earlier part of the pharmaceutical product development process, entailing project work that is quite different from what I’ve done and experienced over the last four years. 

Given all the major changes I went through in PULSE, one might expect that it would be easy for me to adjust to the new job responsibilities.  But it hasn’t been, primarily due to the fear I expressed at the start of this post.  Additionally, I’ve been frustrated by feeling that my past five years of work have been wasted since my new role—one I was assigned without my input—means that I will spend the next few months feeling like a new hire.  The lack of control over the decision must be what is bothering me most since the new work I’m doing is pretty interesting.

Independent of this job role shift, there’s also the major challenge resulting from the significant loss of autonomy and control that comes from leaving an organization with small numbers of permanent staff (my PULSE NGO partner) back to a major corporation.  On any given day in Kumasi, I knew immediately whether I was having an impact by the feedback given to me by the teachers I trained.  That same sense of accomplishment can sometimes be lacking when working on projects where success is measured on the time scales of years or even decades.  Independent of our long project timescales, anyone working for a large organization—corporation, government or otherwise—probably ofent has similar doubts about whether a day’s work really has an impact. 

Coming back from PULSE, we have to write a case study that includes learnings that we bring back to GSK.  (The connection between this paragraph and the previous one will become clear.)  By nature of the assignments, some volunteers come back with exciting new ideas for products that can be developed or new business methods that can be implemented.  My assignment was a bit too far removed from our core strengths for me to feel like I have anything to contribute on those sorts of topics.  My lessons are of the “what I needed to know I learned in kindergarten” variety.  I’m certain I’m not giving up any corporate secrets by saying that one of those key lessons is about the power of appreciation.  I recently saw an employment survey that ranked appreciation as the number one thing that employees want from their jobs, ranking above bonuses or promotions.  Even if I can’t always see how my work directly results in a product that helps patients, a simple “thank you”—even for work that constitutes my “normal” job—can leave me feeling like I’ve made a difference.

Speaking of making a difference, Liz (MCI project manager) is over in Ghana at the moment for continued work on the S2S project.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that they kept calling her Michelle—we look a bit alike, especially in a country with few white people—but I was not expecting to hear that, if they didn’t confuse us, the first thing they asked Liz was how I was doing.  Many of them have also told her how much they appreciate what I taught them.  That’s not a bad way to end the workweek.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Immersion therapy

A couple weeks ago, I gave my first formal presentation on the PULSE program at work.  I went all out for this first presentation—I laid out two tables’ worth of Ghana souvenirs to show and changed into the special Kente cloth outfit I got as a going-away present (see my post on 03 April 2011).  My former manager gave me a really nice introduction and took the opportunity to share my 5-year anniversary award with the attendees.  (Hard to believe that I’ve been here at GSK for that long.  Seems like only yesterday that I was moving back to NC from Boulder.)  He also gave out an award to a co-worker who took on one of my bigger project support roles while I was gone.  Then he handed the floor over to me. 

I was a bit nervous going into the talk, as I always am for presentations, but it was a good kind of excitement and nervousness.  Given that one of the key learnings I was planning to share was on appreciation, I made sure that I started off by thanking my colleagues, especially the “group formerly known as ----”, a (hopefully) humorous reference to the changes that happened to my group while I was gone.  I also spoke about how much the teachers valued my contributions by telling everyone that the beautiful outfit I was wearing was a gift from the Kumasi schools. 

The talk flowed really well over the course of the forty-five minutes that we allotted for it.  I had some really great questions from the attendees—I almost wrote “audience” but I intentionally avoided that word because I wanted this to be a conversation, not a presentation.  The only question that stumped me was on how I managed to keep from getting too emotionally involved in my work and my project.   I struggled with how to answer that question, since I’m not sure that I did keep myself from getting too involved.  My answer rambled on a bit, but I tried to point out that I knew I was there for only a short time to get the teachers started and that they would need to be able to complete the work on their own. 

Giving this talk helped flip a mental switch for me.  Before the talk, I had been very reluctant to talk in too much detail about my PULSE assignment, mainly because I didn’t want to have the same conversation a hundred times, especially given that I had blogged prolifically about it while having the assignment.  But now that I gave that formal talk, the floodgates have opened and I’m really enjoying sharing more of my experiences with anyone who will listen.  Since my talk, I’ve had many more people coming up and commenting on what they learned from it.  At least a couple attendees seemed to pick on my key messages since they thanked me for sharing my experiences with them.  A number of people have said that they wanted to attend my talk but couldn’t so I might see if their teams would be interested in having me talk at their group meetings.  I am very excited about what GSK has done with this program and would love to have more opportunities to share that excitement.


That same week, there was a meet-n-greet with some PULSE alumni and a group of this year’s PULSE Volunteers attending the pre-assignment training.  The huge turn-out made for a lively, entertaining evening of catching up with my PULSE class and meeting the new volunteers.  The PULSE alumni self-sorted based on their PULSE year, probably because those are the people with whom we attended the two-day intensive training prior to our assignments.  I know I was excited to see my fellow 2010 volunteers and hear how their assignments went.  I was humbled and honored to find out that quite a few of the other volunteers were reading my blog as often as I read theirs. 

After the event, I had my one-on-one re-entry conversation with my PULSE contact.  With all the changes that occurred in my part of the organization—and in me—during my assignment, I’ve been a little overwhelmed at figuring out how I fit into GSK.  The long conversation we had was another critical component of helping me make this transition.  I really appreciated knowing that my re-entry struggles seem to be a common situation for other PULSE volunteers.  Knowing that I’m not alone makes me much more committed to figuring out how to embrace this discomfort and accept it as just another piece of the development process that is PULSE.