Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Exploring the world of academia

I have been told by various academics including my supervisors about the importance of attending scholarly conferences ever since I  enrolled in my PhD programme. Finally, I made a decision in June this year to attend Pacific Employee Relations Association (PERA) annual conference. I wrote a research paper on one of the theories I applied in my PhD research and analyzing some of the data I have collected for my PhD project. I was fortunate to receive one of the '2011 Elizabeth Whiting PERA Conference Scholarships for Postgraduate Research and Honours Students' for my paper. It covered my registration fee and accommodation (up to AU$1000). The conference was held from 14th-17th November 2011 at Hotel Grand Chancellor Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast. I made my presentation on 15th November under the stream of 'industry studies'.

During the four days I spent in Gold Coast, I learned a lot about academia and academics. First, academics love and enjoy what they do, researching, teaching, presenting  and debating over the issues relevant to their fields. In PERA conference, I noticed a couple of academics who attended all the sessions and in all four days regardless of the stream, topic and presenter. They made genuine contributions and set future directions and research agenda for areas such as enterprise bargaining, union leadership etc. I was amazed to see the level of debating among the academics, the openness and recognition for divergent thinking. They pursued their arguments giving due credits to the top academics in their field and respecting individuals who proposed counter arguments. The level of tolerance and respect was second to none. They listened carefully to students and early researchers and made suggestions for improvements.

Second, besides enriching their area of research, academics use conferences for networking. PERA conference provides various opportunities for networking. Morning tea, lunch, evening tea, conference BBQ and conference dinner were all opportunities for networking. They also organized an informal session for early researchers for networking purposes. I met a few top professors in the field of employment relations and workforce development who were found to be very humble, approachable and willing to help new researchers.

Third, academics enjoy chatting and sharing. I observed that during the conference dinner and BBQ nights, they kept on having conversations with each other over a glass of wine or beer. It lasted for hours. For me it was like being in a prison. I tried to escape several times. I got bored within the first hour each night. But as they kept on talking to me, I did not get a chance to get out of the restaurant.

Fourth, besides the academic part, academics use conferences as an opportunity to travel and enjoy. After having a hectic academic year, they want to relax and enjoy on the sideline of the conference. That's the reason why organizers are careful to host conferences in popular tourist destinations such as Gold Coast.

Fifth, I observed a few things which might be specific to PERA and Australian academics. I was amazed to see the bond between the group of academics leading PERA. They are like a family. They do everything in an informal and friendly manner. As all participants automatically receive membership of PERA for the upcoming year, I was given the opportunity to attend the AGM of PERA. The way they conducted the AGM was unique. I observed the casual, easy going and cool Australian way of life throughout the conference. Who would think that participants attending an academic conference like this will wear shorts and T-shirts. For the opening ceremony, I went with my suit, but I found that the key note speaker and I were the only people with suits. I ran to my room and changed my clothes before going inside the conference hall.

PERA conference was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore academia and learn about the lives of academics.I tried to make the best out of it. I made some friends, established networks with academics and professionals. I made a presentation and I was offered to submit my paper to a journal affiliated with the conference rather than publishing on the conference proceedings. I was also elected as one of the postgraduate representatives to the PERA committee. I agree with academics who recommend these conferences to early researchers. But my advise is not to leave your research paper to be published in the conference proceedings. Instead improve the paper based on the feedback received from the conference and submit it to a scholarly journal. I wish to attend the second conference during 2012, only if I get the funds.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A quintessential symbol of love - what a marketing campaign!!

We always talk about how society and the environment  in which we live influence individuals and organizations . We all agree that norms, beliefs and values prevalent in our societies guide us. They draw boundaries within which we act or behave. We often underestimate the power and influence of individuals and corporates. Who would think that a profit making organization can shape the global society. Well, multinational corporations are increasingly seen as careers of globalization. 

Recently, I read about the marketing strategies of a company called De Beers. I am sure undergraduate and Masters' level marketing students have come across this case. But this is the first time I have read about this company. De Beers is renowned for its jewellery business, particularly for its diamond product line. How they have developed and executed their marketing strategies are not only fascinating but also inspiring. How they have ingrained their marketing 'tag line' in Western societies is phenomenal.

Initially, the company thought that consumers use diamonds as a fashion. But, a market research by an advertising company changed this perception. It found that fashion was not the key reason why consumers bought diamonds but but rather it was because they were a symbol of love. So they decided to market diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment. They came up with the tag line, 'A Diamond Is Forever' in 1947, which is arguably the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century. 

For me, more intriguing than the tag line is the marketing strategies used by De Beers to promote this tag line.They used the following marketing strategies:
  • writing (or re-writing) scenes for Hollywood movies that injected diamonds into romantic relationships between men and women
  • giving diamonds to movie stars to use as symbols of indestructible love 
  •  placing celebrity stories and photographs in magazines and newspapers to reinforce the link between diamonds and romance
  • using fashion designers to talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds commissioning artists like Picasso, Dali, and Dufy to paint pictures for advertisements, conveying the idea that diamonds were unique works of art 
These strategies have made diamonds a symbol of love as a strong belief of the Western societies. Today, hardly any marriage in Western societies take place without an engagement, and few engagements take place without a diamond engagement ring, regardless of the economic status or the social position of the bride and groom. The size of the diamond in the engagement ring may reflect the affluence of the couple.

For me, this case has significant importance for individuals, organizations and society. First, research and development is a pre-requisite for any marketing effort. Second, an eye-catching 'tag line' is no use without sound marketing strategies. The success depends on how the marketing strategies are executed and implemented. Third, corporates and individuals are capable of shaping the environment and society in which they are embedded.

Note: This is part 1 of the reflection of a reading on De Beers marketing strategies. Over the last 70 years, they have been refining and redeveloping their market campaigns. They have never been complacent in terms of marketing. I will be reflecting on them in the future. Please note that my reflection is focused only on the company's marketing strategies.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Where are we heading?

Today marks the International Day to End Violence against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. United Nations encourages us to see what actions we can take to end violence against women and girls. I believe this is a noble cause that we all should pursue. It appears that some NGOs in the Maldives are organising rallies and other activities to create awareness about the violence against women. However, it seems that some of us (Maldivians) have already started making a mockery of these activities in the social media. Some have already labelled these activities as a disturbance. Others have been questioning about the need to have such a gathering at a prayer time. Yet others have condemned the organisers and police blocking the roads and preventing people going to Asru prayers. I don't know what's wrong with our fellow citizens. We keep on using religion as a political tool to pursue political agenda. We condemn anything we don't like in the name of religion.

It is a fact that the Maldives is far behind in protecting and advancing women rights despite protection and rights of women being guaranteed by our religion. I am at the moment living abroad (in a 'civilised' western society) where women stand equally as men. The value of equality is well embedded in this culture. I can share with you one recent incident which reflects this. Recently, a popular radio breakfast host made an unreasonable comment against a woman journalist who has written an article criticising the radio host. The public reaction to the comment was disproportionately strong and swift, condemning the comment. Even the sponsors, most of them are corporate heavy weights have started withdrawing their sponsorship from the show. This reflects how much women rights are valued in this society.

As a person who is passionately observing and following social issues, I wonder where we are heading. We are becoming more intolerant and extremist in all aspects. Only time will tell where we are heading. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Resistance to change!!!!

We have been experiencing  waves of change since 2003. We have changed our political system, and  we are now trying to change our economic system. We know a lot of Maldivians do not like 'change'. It's not only limited to Maldivians. It's human nature. That's the reason why change is often associated with resistance. We prefer stability and continuity over change. Recently,  the university, where I am studying, has centralized its IT administration which was previously operated through faculty-based  IT units. Since then, both students and academics have been complaining about the difficulties associated with this change. But one thing I am sure of is however much we complain, the university is not going to revert back its plans. Because, they know that there will be resistance to any change. 

Last week, one of the hottest headlines in our media was about the new logo introduced by the government to promote Maldives as a country of destination. The new logo was welcomed by the Maldivians with a lot of criticism. Ordinary people and politicians across the political spectrum have leveled criticism against the new logo, ranging from aesthetic and technical aspects to the marketing aspects to the way the whole project was handled. Even some people in the inner circle of the government have criticized the logo and the way the project was carried out. I am totally in agreement with some of these criticisms. The government should have carried out the project in a more open and transparent manner. It should have opened it for Maldivians and used it as a platform to test our local artists' creativity. It should also have made short-listed logos public and provided opportunities for them to express their views on the logos before the official endorsement of a particular logo. 

However, I feel that even if the government had done all this, the outcome would have still been the same. Because, first, there are people who have made a habit of going against whatever the government does; second, there will always be resistance to any change; third, there is no one single tagline or a logo that can represent the features of our unique tourism industry. I feel that the mayhem that has been created by the controversial logo has given credibility to itself and it has received a reasonable level of publicity in this critical launching phase, which wouldn't have been possible without this controversy.

As with any other change, the resistance to the introduction of the new tourism logo will subside and it will be accepted by the public over time. It is very unlikely that the government will back down, but over time we will change our perception about the new logo.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

ޑިމޮކްރަސީތަ؟ ނުވަތަ ދިމާކުރާތީތަ؟

އިއްޔެއަކީ ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ސިޔާސީ ޙަޔާތުގައި އަނެއްކާވެސް އައު ޞަފުޙާއެއް ހުޅުވިގެންދިޔަ ދުވަހެއްގެ ގޮތުގައި ވަރަށް ގިނަ ދިވެހިން ދެކޭކަން ނޫސްތަކުގައިވާ ލިޔުންތަކުންނާއި އެލިޔުންތަކަށް ކިޔުންތެރިން ފޮނުވާފައިވާ ޚިޔާލުތަކުން އެނގެއެވެ. އެއީ އެހާ ތާރީޚީ ދުވަހަކަށްވީ ކުރީގެ ރައީސް އައު ޕާޓީއެއް އުފައްދާ ސިޔާސީ ޙަޔާތެއް އަލުން ފެއްޓެވުމުންކަމަށް ގިނަ ބަޔަކު ދެކެއެވެ. ދެބަސްވެވެން ނެތް ޙަޤީޤަތަކީ ކުރީގެ ރައީސަކީ އަދިވެސް ވަރަށް ގިނަ ދިވެހިން  އެބޭފުޅެއްގެ ވަށައިގެން މުގޯލި އަޅާ ބޭފުޅޭއްކަމެވެ. އަޅުގަނޑު ހަމަ އެކަމާ އެއްބަހެވެ. ނަމަވެސް އަޅުގަނޑަށް އެއްބަސްވާން އުނދަގޫވެގެން މިއުޅެނީ މުޅިން އެހެންކަމަކާއެވެ. އެއީ ކުރީގެ ރައީސް ކުރައްވާ ކަންތައްތަކުގައި ޑިމޮކްރަސީގެ ރޫޙު ހުންނަ މިންވަރާ މެދުގައެވެ. މިފަހަރުގެ ޕާޓީ ހައްދަވަން ޚިޔާލުފުޅުކުރެއްވި ހިސާބުން ފެށިގެން އެމަނިކުފާނު ވިދާޅުވަމުން ގެންދެވީ އެއީ ޑިމޮކްރަޓިކް ޕާޓީއެއް ކަމަށާއި، އެއީ ވަކި މީހެއްގެ ޕާޓީއެއް ނޫންކަމަށާއި، އެއީ އެންމެންގެ ޕާޓީއެއްކަމަށާއި، ޢާއިލީ ޕާޓީއެއްނޫންކަމަށެވެ 
ނަމަވެސް، ޕާޓީގެ ފުރަތަމަ ޖަލްސާ ހިނގާ ދިޔަގޮތުން މިކަންތައްތަކާ މެދު ސުވާލު އުފެދެއެވެ. ފުރަތަމަ ކަމަކީ ޕާޓީގެ ރައީސަކަށް ކުރީގެ ރައީސް ހޮވިވަޑައިގަތީ އިއްތިފާޤުންނެވެ. އެހެން އެއްވެސް މީހަކު އެމަނިކުފާނާ ވާދައެއްނުކުރެއެވެ. ދެވަނަކަމަކީ، ޕާޓީގެ އިސް މަޤާމުތަކަށް އެމަނިކުފާނުގެ ޢާއިލާގެ ސިޔާސީ މައިދާނުގައި ޙަރަކާތްތެރިވާ ހުރިހާ ބޭފުޅުން ކަހަލަ ގޮތަކަށް ހޮވިވަޑައިގަތުމެވެ. އަދި މިކަންތައްތަކަށްވުރެވެސް ބޮޑަށް ފާހަގަވެގެންދިޔައީ ޕާޓީގެ އަސާސީ ޤަވާޢިދުން ވަގުތީ ރައީސަށް ވަގުތީ ކައުންސިލަށް 3 މެންބަރުން ޢައްޔަނުކުރަން ދީފައިވާ ބާރެވެ. އަޅުގަނޑު ދެކޭ ގޮތުގައި އިސްވެ ލިޔެވިދިޔަ ހުރިހާ ކަންކަމަކީވެސް ޑިމޮކްރަސީގެ ރޫޙާ ޚިލާފް ކަންތައްތަކެވެ. އަޅުގަނޑުގެ ހިތަށް އަންނަނީ  މީގެ ދުވަސްކޮޅެއްކުރިން އަޅުގަނޑުގެ ރައްޓެއްސެއް އަޅުގަނޑުގެ ކައިރީގައި ބުނި ވާހަކައެކެވެ. އޭނާ ބުންޏެވެ. "ކުރީގެ ރައީސަކަށް ޑިމޮކްރަސީ ކިޔާކަށްވެސް ނޭނގޭނެއެވެ. އެހެންވެ އޭނާ ކިޔަނީ ދިމާކުރާތީއެވެ. އަޅުގަނޑު ހަމަ މުޅިން އެއްބަހެވެ. "ކުރީގެ ރައީސްގެ ވާހަކަޔާ ޑިމޮކްރސީއާ އެއް ޖުމުލައެއްގައެއް ނުލިޔެވޭނެއެވެ". 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Our dilemma!!!

Companies are striving to become different. Why??? Because they believe that by becoming different, they can achieve the "so called" competitive advantage. They are  coming to terms with the fact that the way they manage people contributes to make them different. This poses a huge challenge to the HR. In the effort to become different, HR faces the dilemma: who do we represent, the employees or the management?

The answer is simple and straightforward. HR represents both. But representing this duality is challenging. The two groups often have contradictory goals. So how does the HR become effective? The answer could be by employing the strategy of "satisficing". However, in order to pursue this strategy, HR departments need to have people with HR qualifications and expertise. HR professionals need to understand and cater for employee needs and at the same time pursue HR policies which contribute to the organisation's bottom line.

Do we have such HR departments? Do we have such HR professionals? Or having qualified HR professionals is enough to pursue both management and employee interests?

We have been hearing employees talking about how difficult and bad their bosses are. They are rude and nasty. They bully or verbally  abuse their employees. The sad thing is that employees do not know where to report such cases within organisations or/and beyond. Bosses are not always the HR managers. They could be senior managers and line managers who have no people skills. When such things happen in organisations, often the HR is not in a position to protect employees. In our companies, HR managers give priority to hold on to their jobs rather than protecting their employees or they collude with the managers who abuse their employees. When such concerns are taken to senior managers, they do not want even to acknowledge the existence of such problems. These issues are insignificant for them and often are totally ignored.

So how do we protect our employees while pursuing organisational goals?
First, HR managers need to perfectly wear the two hats. They need to research HR matters and give ethical and professional advice to senior managers on HR matters. Second, the denial syndrome has to stop. Third, organisations need to equip all their managers with people skills in order to protect their employees and pursue employee-centric policies. Finally, employees should be given clear instructions on how they should go about reporting their grievances and concerns. If organisations are not able to take these simple steps, they are not matured enough to talk about 'becoming different' or 'achieving competitive advantage'.

Zero customer service!!!!!!

Some of our large companies are notorious for poor customer services. I have had a very bad experience with our national bank in the Maldives. It seems that the departments in the bank operate in individual silos with no collaboration and cooperation among them. When you write a mail to the bank regarding an issue which might require joint efforts by various departments to resolve it, a department might respond to you stating that the matter has to be referred to another department. The bank expects customers to understand the complexity involved in its structure and management. The bank is complacent in responding to customer requests, and customers may have to write to them several times regarding the same issue.

I know the majority of us do not trust our national bank. If we, the ordinary people, do not trust it, how can the bank expects business owners and investors to trust it? Customers living abroad find it more difficult to deal with the bank, particularly, issues regarding credit card frauds etc. In a competitive banking industry, I wonder how long a bank with such attitudes could survive?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

You are always wrong!!!!

Over the last few years, we have developed a mind set of challenging whatever the people in power do. We believe that the government will do nothing good for us. I can accept this from ordinary people. But its hard to accept this attitude of  politicians and MPs. Its a norm for our opposition to blindly reject whatever the government proposes, be it a policy or a piece of legislation, regardless of the rationale, content and quality. I agree that the government has been making a lot of mistakes, they are doing a lot of things for their own advantage. But it does not mean that they do nothing good for the country. It also does not justify the opposition's action - viewing every policy/legislation through the same lens.

Recently, the government has submitted a bill to the parliament about the establishment of a mercantile court. One of the very controversial provisions in the bill is about the composition of the panel of judges to be appointed to the court. According to the Bill, two foreign judges can be appointed to the court. I see this provision as very practical and beneficial. The hard truth is our judiciary lacks qualified and competent judges. Judges to be appointed to the mercantile court require to have specific qualifications and expertise - specialised in this area. We have only a handful of people with such qualifications and expertise. They would rather prefer to remain as corporate lawyers rather than to become judges as they earn more being lawyers.

It is not a rare practice in other countries to appoint foreign judges to the courts. Small countries such as Fiji appoint foreign judges from various countries (e.g. from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka etc). The advantage of appointing foreign judges are manifold. Surely, it would  facilitate knowledge transfer and build the capacity of our local judges.

We need to see pros and cons of policies/legislations before rejecting them. I wonder when would we see this attitude from our opposition.

Marketing - the key to business success

I have been continuously hearing this statement ever since my days in secondary school. I have seen "it" written on books, websites etc. I have heard consultants and trainers talking about it. I know a lot of organisations believe in this statement and make this a part of their way of life. But I am not sure how well our local organisations do marketing.

We always see marketing in a very big way, but it can be as simple as keeping in touch with a potential customer. I have had a wealth of experience of this nature. Sending gentle reminders to customers about  relevant products and services, wishing them on their birthdays, approaching them and giving them messages about  products and services in a subtle way are simple tactics. These are very common strategies used by organisations. But very few local organisations do this.