As Heny Ford once said “Coming together is the beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.”
Had you not been thrilled when someone a few inches away from you sent you a message through espace while it was easier to utter a word directly on to you? About three years ago, soon after I joined Huawei, I was so frustrated and I just believed that it would be hardly easy to close the cultural differences between us. Sooner than I expected, though, it started vanishing to the surprise of my own eyes.
Highligting the callenges of project handover
At Huawei I have been involved in many tasks but my significant contribution goes to OPGW (National Grid Infrastructure Development) project of EEPC (Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation), our customer. Thanks to the openness and wisdom of the project director, we worked as a team and I was privileged to be involved in pretty much of the project activities, supporting and managing the subcontractors, monitoring the construction progress, controlling the quality and EHS regulations, ensuring on time acceptance… I believe that was a significant contribution to the success of all involved; myself, the project team members, the subcontractors, Huawei and the end customer.
OPGW project meant that the cable is a composite of optical fiber and ground wire, applicable to electrical transmission and communication purposes. Although OPGW cable can be strung together with construction of the power transmission lines, older ground wires in the transmission lines of EEPC must be retrofitted with the composite (OPGW) cable. Unfortunately the grids of EEPC are not ringed yet to allow upgrading of ground wire under dead line condition. That means the retrofitting process must be conducted under live line condition, on top of lines that carry 132/230/400 Kilo Volt current.
The project entailed significant risk to Huawei and EEPC, not just because the old ground wires and the transmission towers were in a deteriorating condition, but also were located in a new geographic area. EEPC did not have prior experience of OPGW work under live line condition and was extremely cautious at the beginning. Huawei local office and Ethiopia Enterprise Business Department in particular were also new to this type of project. The project was a breakthrough for the local office by the time and due to the business implication and the risk it entailed, there was a tremendous pressure on the project team from Huawei management at all levels and the end customer and so was the need to work together and the hardest.
A project contractor is at a significant risk until a handover is done. An acceptance criterion is still vague until the first handover is effective. EEPC used to have a normative procedure for project commissioning or handover that is discovered only through experience. All the project management team members of Huawei and our subcontractors except me were expatriates who did not have prior project experience in Ethiopia and underestimated my constant feedbacks for action in the beginning. Understanding the consequences, I personally pushed for the handover of the first link/site as it was completed even if it was not a requirement in the contract and everyone involved realized what I was talking about at the earliest stage. We, then, together refined the customer’s needs that met their expectations and felt comfortable in our work ahead to the handover of the last link/site. I constantly moved back and forth between sites and office to maintain smooth relationship among the customer, customer’s consultant, Huawei and subcontractors and in the mean time helping my team address customer’s concerns and frustrations.
“Customer First” will meaningfully and contextually meet its good intentions if and only if we work as a team. Do you know how hyenas and lions fight when they scramble for territory or common pray? The latter being hypocrite with his natural power, fights alone and in many instances lose control and the former trusting in their total strength, act together and win battles fought with the mighty one. We, the OPGW Project management team, were hyenas in delivering our project to our customer to the best of their satisfaction.
Our customers were happy not just with the final deliverables but also with the whole process of how we handle project issues and our positive team spirit. In one instant, Huawei was not convinced with the safety procedure of one of the subcontractors and stopped the installation until they verified the EHS procedure sacrificing the project timeline. It sent a strong message to the customer that we were up to our words when it came to maintaining the quality of the deliverables and enforcing the environmental, health and safety procedures into action, relieving them from routine supervision. In many occasions, they openly sought our advice for the portion of the work held by our competitors signifying their level of satisfaction with our approach.
Saying thank you to one another for our contribution at the project completion party.
It would be naive to say we as a team were a complete success given the fact that we were just beginning our journey together with Huawei. I, however, am a live witness of the potential of team work in the run up to meeting set objectives. I myself alone traveled more than 130 thousand kilometers over the past two and half years in a car and I have never felt discouraged even in the challenging circumstances just because I don't want us fall short of our commitments as a team. The same was true with the other team members.
At best we avoided fault lines, the dividing line that separates teams into distinct subgroups, including subcontractors’ and customers’ teams, created energy and excitement around the task where we were all entrusted.
Generally, the company’s incentives are tied to the performance of the whole organization and our contributions as teams. I personally believe the company’s profit or loss is the sum total of the gains and/or the losses of all the projects, sections, departments or groups. In these projects, sections, departments and groups existed teams whose performance determines the overall outcome both to the company and the employees alike. In that spirit we acted together and benefited together.
In 2015, the company recognized our contributions and I was awarded excellent individual of service and delivery, and future star. Our company is also currently negotiating for a second phase of the project which is the biggest award as a team.
When we act together, we share responsibilities including in less demanding circumstances. It is not fortunate to watch one extremely busy and the other too relaxed. When we work together every one can equally share the burden of responsibility and the rewards of success. We will discover the how and benefit of delegation; have the room of self-development, to think outside of the box, to align our actions to our own career development and Huawei’s corporate strategies.
I also see some pressure of cultural misunderstanding hindering common success, here is my humble advice.
Huawei was born in China and grow in China before it spread crossing borders. It is like a Chinese born in a country, grew in the country and opening businesses in many other countries while still based in his own home country. Chinese people working in Huawei are better informed about the culture and speak the language of Huawei; if an outsider approaches them the right way, they will guide you to better understand them and the company easily and faster. Meanwhile the Chinese is expected to be more willing and open in telling their own cultural interpretations and expectations of the company to local colleagues. Trust me, local colleagues know the local norms better, involve them more and you will benefit.
I think there is no good or bad culture. What matters is the context where, how and by whom it is exercised. If I borrow suggestions from Mr. Ren and Mr. Eric Xu, for example, “The Chinese are good at short term views and execution. If someone with a culture of long term foresight complements that effort, it would be an excellent opportunity to drive growth both in the short and long term scenarios”. Face it. That is how it works. That is how it worked for me and I believe for my project team members.
How many times our locals go to a customer with your Chinese supervisor less informed and confused not knowing what you are looking for? It did happen with me in the beginning and it tried to come back now and then as I joined new teams but I did my best not to succumb anymore. If you are a supervisor in particular, trust the logic that if you teach someone in your team how to do the work you are familiar with, he will do the work for you and you will get the space to learn new skills and contribute more to benefit Huawei and yourself at the same time.
It is managers’ responsibilities to help close the cultural gap between the staff of different origins. It is obvious and understandable that you are too focused on numbers that meet the growth targets. However, if you get lost perplexed with the numbers without thinking how and with whom you achieve your mission it is an unfortunate waste. My supervisor used to involve me in all the circumstances that concern the project even if he knew I was not contributing. He wanted me to be informed what was going on and I did.
We as a team shared and rose up on the project challenges irrespective of the extent and complexity of issues occurred throughout the implementation period. We merited cooperation, collaboration, strong and open team work to stereotyping and creating fault lines and it worth the effor.