On “Assuming Ownership” and Basic Cultural Assumptions

Business Unit Manager Paul Thibadeau has just come out of a meeting during which CEO Stan let off some steam. “There have been far too many examples of not assuming ownership of customer problems, and as a result, all the turds get piled up on my desk. People take problems that comes their way, and by default, transfer the issue to someone else. Get this ownership issue straightened out. I am not your fucking babysitter!”

Clearly, Paul felt a certain degree of urgency after Stan has expressed his concerns in such a cogent form.

Paul’s business unit sells “value adding extra services” to the company’s major products, medical devices. Paul ‘s unit sells to 1200 clients in all continents.

Paul knows all too well that ownership is being shirked even in his business unit. However, his staff does not have a clue that anything is amiss. Here is what Paul’s direct reports think-

Baharat in Mumbai believes that Paul, being business unit manager, must clarify who owns what, and then his own job will be to carry out Paul’s directives loyally.

Sivan in Tel Aviv believes that she herself owns all problems that come her way, but also expects her own team members to own all issues, even if it means confronting someone in another department who is not doing their job correctly.

Aimi in Japan believes that doing what the customer wants is synonymous with ownership of problems.

Som from Thailand believes that the lack of ownership belongs to HQ for releasing immature products, and she will never express this opinion.

Stephanie from Taipei thinks that Paul Thibadeau should protect her from such pressure and deal with corporate politics on his own, without dragging her into the fray.

Marvin in Australia believes that anyone who assumes ownership gets shafted, and until the company changes its culture things are not going to change.

And US based Nick thinks that planning is chaotic and if “we planned better we would have less ownership issues”.

Paul set up a 20 minute call to “get the ownership issue nailed down”. During the call, Paul repeated Stan’s message. Everyone on the call expressed their willingness to improve, except Marvin and Aimi who fell asleep since it was the middle of the night local time. And true, Sivan did argue with Paul all through the call, but assumed that she would be the first to comply, albeit in a sloppy fashion.

Remember Aesop’s Fables? There is always a moral to the story. In this case, the moral of the story is that “assuming ownership” means different things in different cultures. It may mean obedience, assuming the position of an advocate, following the rules, or doing whatever the customer wants. Thus, the assumption of ownership is so vague and means so many different things, that it is useless to talk about it unless operationalizing “ownership” behaviourally,  factoring in and adapting the relevant cultural assumptions.

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Savouring the memories of my sweet Sadie

“For Pete’s sake” was one of her favourite expressions. And occasionally, “for the love of Mike”. Not exactly the everyday expressions of a Jewish grandmother in 1950’s Montreal, where many of the grandmothers, if they existed at all, spoke Yiddish.

Sadie did not speak anything but English. And I called her Nana Sadie, because she said that it was not appropriate to use the Yiddish word for grandmother, “because we are Canadians”.

Sadie was born in Montreal; apparently her parents did not practice contraception all that often. Her sisters and brother who I remember included Edith and Ruthie who had married two brothers; Old Auntie Annie;  single Auntie Laurie, Uncle Henry from Toronto-and apparently several who had passed away before I knew of them. If I remember properly, there were 9 Weiners.

My father never ever had to remind me to call Sadie. I called her every single day, often several times a day. Regent 33304 was her phone number, which eventually became 733-3304.

Growing up, I loved to “spend the day” with my grandmother. I would take 3 buses (116, 17 and 65), arrive at her home at about 9.00 and stay till about 5 PM when Dad picked me up. We would have lunch at Miss Snowden where I would always order grilled liver and mashed potatoes-followed by vanilla ice cream. After lunch, my grandmother would buy “the American newspaper” (The Mirror), after which we would take the one hour Observation Tram, which started and ended at Queen Mary Road and Decarie. It did not matter how cold it was, or how she felt, if I wanted to take the observation tram, so we did.

Returning to her home, Nana would read the Mirror and have tea. Nana Sadie would watch her 2 favourite series, As the World Turns and At the Edge of Night. I would build towers from two decks of cards. At about 4 PM, we would play a game where she “shoots me” with a play gun and I fall dead within “less than 5 seconds” . We would play this game tens of times, until she asked me “aren’t you tired of dying?”

Sometimes, when I was lucky, Nana would do an imitation of Ethel Merman singing “Dearie”. And if I was extra lucky, she would sing an Al Jolson song, imitating him almost perfectly.

On Friday nights, we always ate at my grandmothers. My grandmother and grandfather were (very) poor, but food was never lacking-including many bottles of Coca Cola, several of which my Auntie Laurie used to “down”  during the meal. (My Dad used to called my Auntie Laurie “Mima”, and I never knew why. It turns out that Mima is Yiddish for Aunt. That was probably the only Yiddish word my Dad knew).

Sadie, having given birth to my Dad, could not give birth again. Sadie had plenty of health issue-horrible arthritis in her hands, poor kidneys, and high blood pressure. Her “medicine chest” looked like a fully stacked pharmacy. I used to ask her if she “remembered to take her pills” and she reminded me that she was “old enough to remember, but thanks for worrying about me”.

Sadie suffered quietly, a trait I did not inherit from her. All during World War Two, she worried about her son, who was a pilot in the RCAF. She suffered her own ill health, as well as the long prolonged cancer of her husband.  And she certainly saw that her only son had a very, very poor marriage. She never complained. She was always warm, and positive, and loving and kind, with a heart  bigger than her minute 5 foot stature.

As my Bar Mitzvah approached, she was very ill, in and out of the Royal Vic, under the supervision of the late Dr Alan Kendall. I wanted to dance with her at my Bar Mitzvah, but those were sad years for me, and I do not remember if I did. I do remember however, that I got a Tape Recorder from Nana Sadie as a gift- a state of the art Phillips. It was the best gift I have ever received, until this day. How egoistic of me that I remember the gift and not whether of not I danced with her.

After I turned 13, the end was close.

Month after month Nana Sadie  lay in Royal Vic, one dialysis after another. One visit she would be fine, the next visit quiet, the next visit  swollen and asleep. Then another dialysis, again and again and again. It was a nightmare, an emotional roller coaster.

One day Dr Kendall said, “this is is the last time”. Yet Sadie held onto life for the longest time, no one really understanding how she was “holding on”. I was not allowed to visit her during the three weeks after her last dialysis. Or was it four?

Pat came into my room and announced curtly that “your grandmother died”. Then she walked out.

The day Sadie was buried, it was very very cold. The burial was delayed for two hours because of the snow and ice. As we all stood by the grave, a viscous  Montreal wind whipped into us. The storm was so strong  that we could hardly see.

My late wife Hadassa  had a personality very much like my grandmother, kind, warm and loving. My daughter Sarai is named after her.

The picture which I am sharing with my readers sits above my desk.

I have never loved anyone more than Nana Sadie; and no one ever loved me as much as she did. Rest in peace Nana Sadie. I am an old man now, but not a day has passed without me thinking of you.








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