DYNA-FORMTIME & BUSINESS MANAGEMENT
Pictures from Mongolia can be seen from this link. Pictures updated Oct. 24, 2003. Many more to come as time permits.
The following article was written by Fred Pentney and published January 6, 1999 in the Mongol Messenger - a Mongolian newspaper written for the English-speaking residents.
Fred is a time management consultant, who spent nearly four months in Mongolia in 1998. While there he interviewed Mongolians and expatriates to gain their perspectives on general business management practices in Mongolia, and particularly time management. Mongolia is a former communist country, and a leader in the effort to champion the cause of democracy and create free market economy. A country in transition for the past 13 years. This blend of old and new ways provided a fascinating backdrop to examine business cultures and practices, looking as it were, from both sides of the fence, east and west. One observation made by the author, with regard to time or business management, is that the state of the nation is not the only critical factor in how people manage their time. Their western counterparts also experience many of the productivity problems encountered on a personal level by Mongolians. Fred also presented time management seminars while staying in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. During breaks he and his companion, Kate Johnson, traveled for ten days on horseback in the northern regions, north of Moron near Russian border. They also spent four days in the Gobi desert visiting nomadic herders and dinosaur sites. Kate revisited Mongolia in 2002 to conduct research for her Ph.D. studies on information seeking habits of Mongolians. Her thesis was published in fall of 2003.
Time management - perspective from Mongolia.
"Does Mongolia have time for Time Management?"
When I asked a foreign businessman, who we will call Graham, this question in Ulaanbaatar, he answered, "There are two kinds of time in Mongolia. First, there is international time and then there is Mongolian time." I asked what he meant? His reply was that Mongolian time meant that a planned event would happen at sometime in the future but not at a specific time. I said, "What happens when you make an appointment for a business meeting?" "Well," came the reply, "That is when Mongolian time comes into play. There will be a meeting but not at the time originally discussed. It doesn’t take much to throw off the schedule." "What sort of things?” I asked. "Cousins” was the answer. "All Mongolians have lots of cousins, and they seem to be very prone to sudden illness or being victims of a catastrophe."
"Do they tell you that the meeting is going to be canceled ahead of time?" I asked. "No, said the businessman, you learn this usually a few hours after the scheduled time or even the next day, when you are trying to find out why your meeting was postponed." The reason usually begins with, "My cousin...” I would have found it hard to believe, that in a country that is valiantly trying to establish itself as a viable commercial partner in world economics, that it is business players were not attuned to the finer art of planning, scheduling, and following through - three essential ingredient of time management and business management. However, this writer' s own similar experiences had confirmed the truth in Graham’s response. It was due time to ask Mongolian's the question that would provoke some attention to this important topic, "Does Mongolia have time for time management?"
Before I tell you about some of the answers that I received, both from Mongolians and foreigners living in Mongolia, it would be useful to examine what time management means, first in general terms, and then to the western world. I am a Canadian resident who spent three months in Mongolia this summer, traveling and also teaching time management, in Ulaanbaatar. The phrase 'time management' has many aspects that invite both minimal and broad interpretation. To some it is using a system designed to assist in reaching goals by using a book (day planner) in which to plan actions and record results. To others it means developing an awareness of how time is spent, and then changing personal behaviours that detract from reaching objectives. Desired results may include life balance, higher productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, or projecting a businesslike persona.
To the philosophers time is a tool to search for the meaning of life. To give meaning to existence and reaching self-fulfillment or actualization slowing down time and focusing on 'now' is more important planning for the future. Time has existential meaning and is not clock driven. Philosophers seek rationality in an irrational world. Taoists and Buddhists and other ‘spiritual’ followers encourage such a search.
To the farmer it is the regulation of life by nature's schedules. The milking of the cows and the goats in the early morning. Bringing the herds in when twilight comes. The bodies waking and sleeping coordinated with the rising and setting of the sun. Responding to the internal body (circadian) rhythms, that tell us when to eat or rest or work. Staying in harmony with nature. Sleep when tired, eat when hungry, work as necessary for survival, and take some 'time out’ for fun and to stay balanced.
If a city dweller, the body’s functions can be regulated by more than natural rhythms. An early morning trip to the bathroom might first be a first prompt by nature, but not the final arbitrator. Going back to bed might be an option until an alarm clock sets the point at which life really begins each day. It is an irony that the alarm was probably made in China, and the centuries old struggle for dominance over the Mongolian's life has been partially won by this surreptitious intruder. And, for the remainder of the day the urban dweller is prompted by a series of time driven schedules ranging from a bus company, a time clock in the workplace and one’s family or friends social needs. With what degree of enthusiasm or diligence the urbanite responds is another matter. In fairness we might add that universally, it is a matter of character rather than culture whether one responds promptly to the various dictates. The issue of personal accountability for conduct can be a new concept to be embraced based on maturation or circumstance in all societies.
Academically there is the recognition that time management encompasses every aspect of human existence. It means life management, self-management and is also a fundamental part of business management. Frederick Taylor, credited with initiating some of the first industrial time and motion studies in the late 1800ís, would certainly find today’s Mongolian work practices a worthy challenge. Ongoing time out for Airaig (Mongolian drink made from fermented mare's milk. About 2% alcohol content) might be difficult to classify as a coffee or tea break.
What does time management means to persons in a position of responsibility such as government leaders and corporate leaders. How do they educate and alert the population or the work force that sometimes there is only a limited time to seize opportunity. E.g. proposals have time limits, agencies can only get or provide support as determined by contracts; agreements must be ratified promptly, and a business climate based on reliability and trust must be quickly and firmly established. Business dealings are always time stamped and players require an attitude that includes a sense of immediacy and urgency. Newcomers to this arena must understand that even though they may not feel this pressure, their partners, clients and adversaries most certainly will. The player with 'the edge' (read that as, operating with precision) wins.
Therefore, time management means many different things to different people. It also encompasses various stages that situations are at, and the state or condition that persons are in at a particular stage. In this article I will focus on the subject from a business perspective. How does one assess the time responsiveness of a nation of people who spiritually, culturally, and economically have not had a need for the inclusion of the clock, schedules, computers, and other productivity devices in their personal and business dealings?
Does this generation of herdsman now have to get the milk ready for shipment on time in an expanding and competitive marketplace? Does the wool have to be cut, bundled and ready for shipment precisely at the right time for the joint venture companies that have garment manufacturing plants waiting in Asia and Europe for raw product? Does the herdsman need a computer to learn the commodity prices of wool, camel hair and cashmere in order to bargain effectively? A wind up alarm clock he can buy. But what does he plug his computer into?
To the business person time management means setting some tangible measurable goals in order to give meaning to activities, and then measuring the level of attainment (success) by profits and other recognizable assets or values. Business people are driven by scheduling and goals attainment, which are established by contracts, clients, and business criteria.
How many people in the countryside and city are going to be affected by time based and economically driven schedules? How much education and training is available through the schools, universities and business associations to make efficiency part a new psyche and commitment a new resolve for competing in the international marketplace?
Can we gauge what effect, if any, this rapidly advancing blend of philosophical and practical disciplines (time management) is having on the people of Mongolia. Are people aware of the personal and business value of this field of study and application, at a time when people are already trying to with cope with rapid change in an emerging market economy? Who cares what time it is, or how many hours or minutes there are in a day when there are no jobs? Perhaps less hours would be better. Or, when gas prices are getting higher with every hour, it would be better to stop the clock than watch it. When wages barely provide enough for the necessities of life, not to mention a special indulgence now and then, does one really want to burden an already weary body and tired mind in the name of productivity?
Over emphasis on personal efficiency and attainment of company quotas, can manifest themselves in burnout and techno... stress. These words are no longer just jargon, but common symptoms of illness in western countries, and are included in medical benefit plans in some large corporations. Are Mongolians prepared for the consequences of higher stress in the pursuit of productivity? Perhaps? Fortunately, persons struggling for meaning or a better life, now have many tools at their disposal to make the quest more effective, but not without some consequence.
Various resources are available to promote or complement self-discipline. They include the mandatory paper based diary planners, or the more sophisticated electronic organizers with their P.I.M.'s (personal information managers), handheld personal digital assistants (P.D.A.’s), and computer contact management software that will store your personal or company data base and schedule your appointments and to do lists. Templates for every function and form exist, ready to be dated and personalized to new situations or clients. When a company has invested money into hardware, software, it expects returns of efficiency and profits. The stresses of keeping up with the machine as software and the boss’s demands, place extra burdens on secretaries managers and workers.
Is there a need in a Mongolian’s life for any of these devices or indeed even the motivational stimulus that accompanies the promotion of continuing self improvement? Speaking to Mongolian people with different perspectives provided some insights. Many of the Mongolians I spoke to found the concept of time management interesting, even intriguing, but not necessarily their issue. However, there were some exceptions.
I spoke to B. Enkhbold, the Head of Promotions for the Government of Mongolia, Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, to ask how he felt Mongolian business people responded to the western need for timeliness. Did they recognize that promptness, punctuality, and preciseness, were important business building ingredients. The Minister’s response indicated some degree of concern that Mongolian’s needed to adjust their thinking and behaviours. His professional training as an engineer and work experience as a Director of a joint venture, have taught him that the foreign approach to business is much more demanding than keeping a Mongolian store open from AM and 9m.
He cited the 'traditional habits' of the Mongolians in earning their living did not necessitate attention to time in the manner of the west. These habits, which would be considered priorities by the farmers or herdsmen would include spending time socializing, hosting visitors, sharing family time, and caring for the well being of livestock. City dwellers would certainly also rank the first three as a priority.
The raising of sheep, I thought, and slaughtering an occasional animal does not require a stopwatch or a need to be in a big hurry. The fact that the sheep are relatively self-perpetuating may promote a relaxed attitude in the pasture. No assembly line, no hourly quotas. Just give the male sheep a nudge in the direction of the female sheep now and again, and your production process will be running at full capacity. No quality control. Just a qualified knowledge of how to keep the wool out of the male sheep’s eyes.
I asked whether the Government took any responsibility for creating a sense of urgency and commitment in ensuring that companies and businessmen that did business with foreigners met international standards of delivering the goods and services after the deal is struck. A cautious reply indicated to me that Mongolian businesspersons were confident in saying, "Yes they can deliver," but very often not having the resources to do so or perhaps even the will or integrity. This might be a leftover from the communist era where no single person was responsible for end results. "Not my problem," might have been a popular phrase ten years ago, but now was an untimely response for any business situation. The previous lack of final accountability promoted a more relaxed, unmotivated population, which relied heavily on the collective benefit rather stimulating individual accountability. B. Enkhbold suggested that the new economic system imposed on a 'nation in transition,' would require some mental calisthenics on the part of the populace.
What type of incentives did the Government now provide to move the people from pastoral peacefulness to the land of productivity and plenty?
The Head of Promotion was very blunt. "You will be poor now if you don’t work.” That might be quite a revolutionary concept for a country
that had already revolted 50 years ago to establish some new methods to ensure its people got a fair share of the communal pie.
Our conversation shifted to the hope for the future, which he indicated lay in the large youth population who are under 25 years of age. Young people have not been conditioned by the previous regime, but do have great pride in being Mongolian, and this could be a strong force to tap into to support a self-reliant future.
Regrettably, B. Enkhbold said the young people’s optimism is not matched by the Government funding necessary for their education. The
sheer number of young people and their eagerness to learn requires larger scholarship availability and private funding to produce the quantity of professionals that will meet the immediate and future needs. Realistically, foreign investment companies don’t always have idealistic notions in mind when they get they create a prospectus for their clients. They understandably want tangible, foreseeable financial returns within a reasonable time. Providing higher education at home is a critical factor for capitalizing on the potential of the younger people. Their optimism will be dependent on the bureaucracies using the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting formula, (simple, manageable, attainable, realistic, and timely.) Is the Government using deadlines, milestones and benchmarks, as they are called in time management, as part of their language and project execution? These terms d are an important stimulus in the process of attainment.
What about business associations I asked? What role do they play in promoting high standards of business conduct among their membership to attract foreign investment? The reply that the Ministry of Justice is responsible for policing the conduct of organizations, did not leave me with the impression that they would be very influential in promoting the finer points of business development and etiquette especially in an area as sensitive as time management. Fines for not delivering goods and services on time might be applicable in contract law but not be included in the statutes of belonging to an industry association-so who becomes the policeman? Inevitably it is the customer. Perhaps, the concept of a full time, paid employee running an association to maximize a particular industries effectiveness and public relations programmes, might be a timely idea.
One industry that seems to be very productive is construction. Everywhere in the city people worked hard to renovate old buildings, converting apartments into store fronts, filling the gaping holes in streets and erect the new style mini stores. These workers can be seen well into the night, the flash from their arc welders attesting to their understanding that productivity can be improved simply by staying on the job longer. No sophisticated time management tools just good old fashioned hard work, a surefire productivity booster, which they demonstrate well, and bodes well for those willing to invest and get results.
In contrast were the retail stores that jeopardized the fundamental goal of maximizing sales. Many store fronts fail to post hours or days of operation. Others close at times to convenience the staff and not the customer. One busy store north of the State Department store provides a lunch break to its staff between 2 and 3PM. This is apparently to enable this lunchtime crowd to shop during their break. However, what this store gains in sales from one group they lose from the angry crowd outside their store wondering what their hours are and why the staff don’t come back from whatever their lunch is. 12 minutes past three is a peculiar time to reopen the store. This procedure may have been suitable when it was only locals who shopped at these venues, but now with the high influx of tourists, and some residents having more spending money, a good business practice would be to periodically review business procedure. Responding to peoples needs is good business sense whether they are staff or customers. I must add though, that the staff who served me in that store were attentive and efficient. Perhaps this demonstrates the importance of taking a break during the work day to rejuvenate - a practice that has been getting more attention in the western business world as burnout and skipped meals becomes more prevalent.
Mongolian Time Management:
What do some of the experts in time management say about the need to relate well to other people? Time management theory has moved well beyond just keeping records and to-do lists. Stephen Covey, who is a leading North American management consultant, writes that 'synergy' is an important element of maximizing the return on our time. This word suggests capitalizing on the strengths of two separate people or groups and combining their forces to achieve mutual benefits. Can this be applied in Mongolia?
For example, how do well do joint venture operations work in bringing together the strengths of the host country and the expertise of the business partner? Time plays a role in these relationships. Everyone wants to get the quick return on their investments and the long-term mutual benefits are overshadowed by the need for profit. And, as pointed out by B. Enkhbold of the Government’s F.I.F.T.A, each partner seeks the bigger slice of the pie, both for their immediate needs, and a on the assumption they provided the most valuable and necessary part of the venture. Long-term plans become tenuous in the climate of unresolved or perceived unshared division of profits. Time management includes learning to deal with other persons in an expeditious manner. Negotiation is an important and sophisticated people skill. Time out for more training in business schools?
Is the Mongolian businessperson prepared to learn to negotiate rather than barter? My sheep for your rice is not as viable as it was a twenty or a hundred years ago. As Bob Dylan points out in his immortal ode, "The times, they are a changing." Providing a good nourishing meal to your guests for the next leg of their journey is no longer the only mark of a good host. Today, you want good business guests to stay for a long time and not find greener pastures other than your own. However, there is another aspect of hosting that needs to be seriously considered. Mongolians have become aware that, "Your guest today may be your competitor tomorrow." These words were expressed by Arinbat, a Mongolian businessman who operates a tourist company and other ventures in U/B. Treating your guests with old-fashioned hospitality must be approached with the sensitivity that Genghis Khan would have encouraged. Show the guests your sheep but don’t let them stay long enough to count them, Or, there’s money in them thar hills' is not something that you want to tell to every visitor, as mining companies have learned. Mongolia has tremendous potential wealth in every one of its business sectors. The guest who stays too long might find it attractive to open upon shop based on insights gained while being shown around the farm. So creating the right balance between being hospitable but not giving away the family secrets is another new set of skills that need to be learned by Mongolians. So on one hand Mongolian businessmen need to create good working partnerships and at the same time be cautious as to who ís asking them the questions, and more importantly, why?
During my three month stay in Mongolia I realized that I had only explored a small portion of the influences on the Mongolian way of life and its people in their transition to a market economy. Time management was only one of the many concepts and practices that were being introduced to assist Mongolians. I had conducted a few seminars on time management during my summer in Ulaanbaatar and the information I delivered was eagerly embraced by the Mongolian businesspersons attending. This assured me that the time was right to share my knowledge and show the benefits of this specialized area of knowledge.
However, I also realized that it would not ease the complications associated with the roller coaster ride of their politics, or protect against the brutality of the winters or compensate for the lack of resources and the delicate nature of the infrastructure. But by offering encouragement to take charge of their lives. demonstrating methods of balancing their business and personal agendas, and teaching more effective ways of achieving goals, provided a refreshing change to an ideologically saturated population, according to one of my seminar participants.
How did Mongolians see themselves in the context of new opportunities but limited resources? The B. Enkhbold spoke with great optimism when referring to the youth of the country. Their innate ability to grasp foreign languages with relative ease, was also being applied to learning computer skills and business practices. Their enthusiasm to adopt western culture as demonstrated by the clothes they wore, the music they listened to, and their hunger for training of any type, were positive indicators of adaptability to the ways of the west but more importantly the ways of a rapidly changing and competitive world. Young people were hungry fore training of any type but especially in the computer field and high technology areas. This did not mean a divorce from the traditional ways but recognition that it was time to blend the new with the old. The pride that has been characteristic of the Mongolians, based on their historic successes, could now be transferred to achievements on new battlefields.
Some other Mongolians I spoke to projected a positive vision of the future but with the caveat that some adjustments in thinking would be required. Sundjidmaa, a media specialist, said that Mongolians needed to learn to be more precise in their language and habits. She said they often spoke at an unnecessary length and in generalities which weren’t necessarily conducive to good business dealings or effective communication, even at a personal level. She saw the need for continuing her own education, which already included a university degree. She is currently developing specialist skills, and acknowledges that time management skills will be essential for her business and personal success.
My own observations included many examples of training being needed especially in the area of the numerous retail businesses that were sprouting up on every apartment block in the city. Store owners were oblivious to the casual attitude of their staff in taking a pro-active approach to sales. Letting the customer walk in the store wander around for a few minutes and then leave without even getting off their chair to ask if they could help the customer, doesn’t support a good return on the investment. Six different shops in a space of 30 feet by 20 feet all selling almost identical office supplies might provide a good living for the landlord but didn’t show much initiative or understanding on the part of the individual proprietors. And, the store clerk who repeatedly samples the ice cream she sells, with a spoon goes from her mouth to the ice cream bin, wasn’t showing much knowledge of hygiene or customer relations. These incidents reflect on business management practices and reinforce the need for training.
So, what tools are currently available for Mongolians interested in improving their personal efficiency? and perhaps contributing more to their company or organizations productivity and effectiveness? Or what programs are available for preparing to deal with the lifestyle changes and stresses that have already are encroaching on a society that has cared for by a hand holding system for the past 40 years. Signs of rapid change are already evident. Traffic has increased ten fold in the past year according to Peter, a resident consultant who has lived in U/B for the past two years. It ís going to take longer to get to work, and employers are going to require more work to get a return on their investment. Pressure goes up, time available for personal life goes down. A guaranteed formula for stress and frustration and also counterproductive.
A useful tool to improve time management skills is a diary planner. This is a binder with daily, weekly, monthly and annual calendars and an address book. The layouts encourage the user to keep information in specific places, and to plan ahead. The system also minimizes the possibility of forgetting appointments. Current systems include planning tools that encompass all aspects of one’s life to ensure balance is maintained in all areas of life including fitness, family and some time for fun.
As I searched the stores in Ulaanbaatar, for a diary planner, I found only small purse sized binders with undated inserts. These very rudimentary planners seldom have enough pages to use for a complete year.
They also invite errors in posting the dates onto the pages. Perhaps some of the blame we have been laying on sick cousins, for missed appointments, might be due to calendar reading and posting errors. These planners are barely adequate for students even if they have time to date the pages. The planners are certainly not suitable for a busy professional, and neither do they have the appearance of a professional business tool. Based on my observations Mongolia needs this type of tangible time management tool time, which supports developing new skills.
One of the emerging tools in the city is the computer. Despite the recent proliferation of computers in the stores and in businesses, nobody I spoke to used contact management software. This software, which has been available in hundreds of different formats for over ten years and can now be downloaded on a trial basis from the web. Common names include ACT, and Goldmine, Lotus Organizer, Microsoft Outlook and more recently Janus. The contact manager combines an address book and other important personal data, with schedule sheets and automated tasks lists. These programs are an integral part of most business environments and are used by professional sales people and other busy persons who need to make quick contact with their associates and clients. An additional feature is that they record the details of the contacts on a variety of reporting forms built into the system. The software is also available in the new handheld P.D.A.'s (personal digital assistants - a type of computer) such as Newton, and Pilot and Sharp.
Training in all management skills is being developed through the Mongolian Universities, but I wonder how many of the entrepreneurs - of which there appears to be no shortage based on all the new businesses springing up all over the city will ever have opportunity to receive more than training by trial and error, or what we would call the 'sink or swim' method. In fairness, from my experiences with audiences participating in time management training, leading the horse to water doesn’t mean that it will drink. Even when people are supplied with the tools and the training there is still the matter of self-discipline and breaking old habits - this is called behavior modification. Persons who are very familiar with time management tools confess to not using them as often or to the instruments full potential. Would Mongolians be any different than their western counterparts who are also trying to be more productive? Or will Mongolians sense the that ‘now’ is the time seize opportunity with all their strengths and quickly prove to the world that they are worthy business partners who can deliver the goods and services, at home, and abroad, and on time.
Given that scenario, we return to our original question, Do Mongolians have time for time management? Only time will tell.
Written by Fred Pentney, a time management specialist, who recently spent almost four months in Mongolia, traveling and presenting time management seminars in Ulaanbaatar. He can be reached from his web page at: www. timemanage.com or by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on this article are welcomed