Reality Shock: A lesson in work-life balance with a grandson

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

HEADLINE news: “A CEO stepped down this week to spend more time with his children. Yes, that CEO is a man,” trumpets the Harvard Business Review in its August 9, 2014 edition. Now, I’m mulling the idea too. All my entire corporate life, I worked almost close to death for different bosses from major organizations. Well, OK, perhaps “close to death” is a strong phrase. A better statement would be: “I was enslaved to the max.”

But seriously, I’m thinking of stepping down from my corporate pedestal to be with Raphael Mateo, my 1.6 year-old first-ever grandchild. You know why? To find out how Teo and the new generation would create new forms of mischief. Well, it’s not exactly number one on my list. Except that I got the idea from a reincarnated business consultancy which invited me to a big event hosted by one Anton Soriano (not his real name), who is very famous in business circuits, although I don’t know why.

The email invite signed by Anton stated that the purpose of the said event was to celebrate the reincarnation of a struggling corporation. Of course, he didn’t admit that. His firm used to be an avant-garde, jet-setting, and heavy weight consulting firm in Makati every woman whose 5’7” average height can be mistaken for an FHM model. So I am thinking: is that part of many reasons why Makati is called the number one city in the 2014 ranking of the National Competitiveness Council?

I’m used to asking questions like that to satisfy critical thinking. As I walked from my car to the Makati Shangri-la where the “big event” was set to happen, striding briskly, I routinely encountered beautiful women, even old, raisin-skinned, fat ones who can make Amalia Fuentes a quarter linebacker.

The sightings indicated that I was in the right place.

A few months ago, I was approached by another consultancy that had been on a 20-year stunted growth. It wanted to set up a new approach to jumpstart its business. The effort involved forming teams to explore new markets (ala-Blue Ocean) and create new programs. To supervise the new approach, the company appointed a newly retired corporate HR manager to be its CEO, tasked to run a possible growth engine.

Each team received a modest budget of P10,000 to test each and every key business assumption. You may ask: what can you do with that little money? But the real point of the mission was that they were given real autonomy. They didn’t report to the office every day. They did everything inside the premises of their clients’ offices. Out of seven teams, only one (let’s call it the Avengers) demonstrated solid, long-term potential simply by subordinating its short-term monetary gains under a long-term professional relationship with clients.

Over a period of two months, the Avengers gave free separate half-day learning events to its more than 46 potential clients with the hope of testing several programs. Most of the time, the team spent actual community service in aid of their client’s CSR (corporate social responsibility).

The Avengers told the CEO and other teams that one lesson learned in the exercise was that money is not important. “The trick,” according to the team leader, “is not to make money but to keep it.” They did not spend a single centavo in marketing the company’s products, yet they were able to secure millions in contracts.

The CEO and other teams experienced reality shock.

You know what it means. Reality shock is the feeling you have when you enter a new work situation only to be confronted with a wide discrepancy between your expectations and what actually occurs – although it was a positive reality shock in this case. The CEO believed it was only tsamba (luck). The formula can’t be repeated elsewhere. But no, the Avengers believed that it can be done elsewhere.

After all, money can’t buy happiness, but it can make your life comfortable even if you appear miserable.

The CEO and the losing teams refused to believe the formula. Marketing a product without spending something is not exactly a winning idea. The other teams even called it a “big joke”, which was easy for the losing hecklers. They challenged the Avengers to apply the same idea with another set of clients.

Sooner or later, I can imagine my grandson Teo being one of my clients in good governance asking: “Grandpa, how do you like pizza?” Of course, I like pizza, especially the okonomiyaki variety with lots of cabbage, green pepper, bacon strips, all flavored with Worcestershire™ sauce, and laced with silky-soft mayonnaise, just like what they do in Osaka. Nothing in this planet gives more expectations than one good pizza at the beginning of a grandpa-grandson relationship within a well-balanced work-life.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random thoughts.


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