Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the challenges that face Thirantha

This is a brief outline of a post hiring review I had with a 23yr boy, who we had just hired at Paradise Farm to train him into Ruwan’s position. Ruwan left on August 30th when I spoke to him about his handover notes, and today, Tuesday, 2nd September was Thirantha’s first day.

As I intend to post this into my kalpanakaranna blog, I would like to clarify for the reader some of the background. I am a director of Paradise Farm in Kitulgala, an organic estate of approximately 75 acres, which is primarily tea, but also includes a variety of crops but whose aim is to produce organic green tea of the utmost quality to sell in very limited quantities due to the capacity of the factory and the estate, at over Rs1,200 a kg to overseas markets. It is owned by Norwegians. I have known the chairman for over 40 years and that’s how I was appointed a director.

I have been asked and have agreed to oversee its management and accounting functions and have agreed to come to the farm twice a month to overlook the operations and report back on its numerous aspects.

Ruwan who has been trained whilst employed in accounting and computing in the farm left after about 4 years for a better paying job in Horana, where he has to be boarded and work as a scheduling clerk for a MDF board manufacturing BOI company, this being the first time away from home.

Like Ruwan, Thirantha also lives close to the farm and can walk from home. He has no training in Accounting, though he has a desktop at home and knows Microsoft Office, with Word and Excel being the functions we would need his skills as an accounts clerk, who we will have to pay to train in basic accounting skills so he can perform book-keeping tasks.

The additional attributes we found useful in hiring him was his experience working in Qatar for 2 years as a helper for a surveyor, who was building homes or hostels. The surveyor and the other people he was with were Sri Lankans and so his command of the English language is limited, but he appears to know and understand what is being said, and can also read and understand English. This being the background, I wanted to quite clearly on his first day at work, when fortuitously I happen to have also arrived, lay the expectations we have from him along with the benefits he will achieve by his services to the farm and how he can use it for personal gain in future.
I am recording this in this blog because the whole theme of my discussion, almost all of which was conducted in Sinhala, which went through lunch all the way to 5.30 was “kalpanakaranna”. I laid the emphasis of how important thinking was in the performance of his job along with illustrations of what I meant so that there was no element of doubt in his mind about a different interpretation.

I gave him a list of tasks we expect of him and why he needs to do those and what benefit would accrue to the organization from him carrying out those tasks diligently and according to a time-table. There is nothing worse for a person not to know why he is performing a task.

As if I had to state the obvious but it has to be stated because people in Sri Lanka cannot see what is so obvious because the education system has not taught them to think. So the mere fact of telling him to always look for areas where we can increase our revenue and look for areas where we can reduce our costs, does not seem to cross anyone’s mind as a basic requirement.

I was trying to get him to think of the lowest common denominator of the job, so that only tasks expected of him are done and ancillary and less important tasks when time permits. This being an agricultural organization, there is never a limit to the amount of work one can do. Accordingly, he needs to prioritize his work to do what is important before performing the lesser tasks, and be able to order the tasks in order of importance.

From what I gather no one really performs a detailed pep talk session on a one on one basis, so the recruit is quite clear as to the task at hand. We are great at exit interviews to know where we went wrong, but the first thing that really went wrong was there was no clear hiring interview to clarify the job description to explain all that is necessary in the performance of that particular function.

Due to some exposure to a foreign country he was better able to understand the idiosyncrasies of Sri Lanka and the way people behave. Scolding appears to garner respect, while politeness gives the impression of weak leadership. Performance of needed tasks in a job description is important and nothing riles the employer more than the non-performance of such tasks.

He left with the knowledge taht the 4 hours I spent with him was most important for the job and in the future to lay the foundation.

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