Revenue Assurance – Sufi Style

datePosted on 07:59, December 24th, 2009 by Rob Mattison

One of the rewards of traveling is seeing the different ways people around the world live, work and play. During our recent  Dubai GRAPA training event, Brigitte and I took an evening off to go on a Dune Bashing – Desert Retreat. Brigitte, Friday our good friend from Nigeria, and me along with three Japanese tourists were whisked across the dunes of the Sahara dessert in SUV’s and Humvee’s at incredibly high speeds. After a 45-minute drive to the middle of the dessert, the adventure began. At the end of the ride, we were to be left at a dessert “oasis” and offered local cuisine, camel rides, and the opportunity to bargain for stuffed camel dolls and watch local entertainment.

I was very worried about Brigitte on this outing. Brigitte gets sea and airsick all the time, and the people at the tourist board warned us not to eat lunch, since there was a good chance that we would “lose it” after the wild ride through the dessert. But, off we tore through the dessert, up one dune, down the other, swerving, falling, twisting and turning. At first, it was exciting. Then after about 15 minutes, my stomach started to get funny and my skin turned an odd shade of green. Yes, I got motion sickness.

Brigitte had a great time, screaming and enjoying herself, but by the time we got to our destination, I could barely stand I was so nauseous. We were dropped off and I fell to the desert floor, staring at the sky, hoping the world would stop spinning. After I recovered, they took us to our oasis. The food, socializing, music and dancing were quite interesting.

For those of you not familiar with Middle Eastern cultures, there is a group in the Middle East known as the Sufis who are famous for, among other things, their style of dancing. For the Sufi, dancing is a form of prayer. This is accomplished by spinning around and around and around to the music, faster and faster for minutes and minutes.

It is amazing to watch, and I cannot imagine how the dancers do it. The Sufi dancer we watched just kept spinning around to the music. After some time, his assistant started throwing things to him. The most amazing thing was his incredible sense of balance. Of course, after I had just had trouble standing up after a few lousy minutes in a jeep, here is this person spinning around faster than a top maintaining perfect poise and balance.

The feeling of being turned in a million different directions, and being “dizzy” and suffering from vertigo is no new experience for the revenue assurance professional. We are constantly tugged and pulled in different directions, and many revenue assurance professionals complain about being unable to “get their bearings” when it comes to exactly what they should be doing and where they should be focusing. The image of the Sufi dancer, spinning and spinning with perfect balance and harmony is a fitting image for what the truly talented revenue assurance professional should be.

I recently read an interesting article about the challenging “balancing act” that all professionals need to deal with, and I thought it would be good to share some of it with you. As professionals, especially as revenue assurance professionals in telecoms, there are several contradictory things we have to keep in mind as we do our jobs. Several things require us to continually balance our approach to problems, including:

Taking the Initiative vs. Following the Rules

One thing that managers complain about more than anything else is employees who do not take initiative to identify problems. Clearly, for the revenue assurance professional, waiting until someone tells you to check into things can mean the difference between preventing a crisis and dealing with a major revenue loss disaster. Initiative, the willingness to be proactive and to anticipate problems is a highly valued trait.

On the other hand, being proactive is not license to behave in an unrestrained manner.  Good professional behavior is guided by the social and business-related expectations of coworkers and managers across the organization. The balancing act is this:  To show initiative and independence on the one hand; while observing the prevailing social norms and the expectations of business associates on the other.

For example, managers often expect their direct reports will get things done more or less independently, without constant direction from above.  Employees who are “initiative-takers” and “self-starters” are valued…up to a point.  The balancing act for employees is to take initiative that is bound and guided by the strategies of their supervisors and the overall mission of their firm.

Acting professionally means demonstrating individualism in ways that are subtle, observe locally prevailing norms of behavior, and do not annoy or unduly distract the others with whom one is interacting.  It means not demonstrating one’s individualism in ways that strongly call attention to oneself.  Second, acting professionally means taking initiative on behalf of the firm in ways that support the strategies of one’s superiors.  Initiative is properly directed in support of the employer’s objectives, not one’s own unique ideas.

Pushing for Solutions without Offending People and Seeming Rude

The telecom industry, more than any other, admires self-reliance.  Individuals are able to be self-reliant, in part, by obtaining what they want through acting assertively towards others.  Personal assertiveness, or “directness,” is often expected, but too much of it can be interpreted as being aggressive.  The difference
tween enough and too much is determined by the employee’s sensitivity to others.

Similarly, self-assurance is good…to a point.  When it shades over into arrogance – a demonstration of one’s certainty that their own view is infallible – others quickly react negatively.  It is never complimentary when someone is viewed by others as opinionated, dogmatic, or arrogant. One of the biggest problems that we face as revenue assurance professionals is the tendency to translate our opinions, no matter how well researched or justified, into dogmatic declarations of this is how it works.

In our GRAPA training events, one of the first social challenges we face when we get revenue assurance professionals from different carriers together, is to teach members to communicate in ways that are not so dogmatic and absolute. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to caution people who make statements like; “This is how it is done,” “Everyone does it this way,” or “You have to do this.”

Being bold and definitive is a natural reaction to situations where we are unsure of ourselves, or surrounded by people who know less than we do. However, there is a difference between respectful confidence and aggressive bluster. Acting professionally means being flexible in the practice of our assertiveness and self-assurance. It means making sure we vary our assertiveness based upon times, situations, and people.  This ability to adapt our level of assertiveness must be managed by our awareness of the likely effect it will have on others.  The professional constantly tries to be sensitive to others, thereby learning how to modulate his or her behavior.

Respecting Deadlines but Being Flexible and Patient with Problems that Arise

In the hectic world of telecoms, executives and coworkers are highly conscious of time. Activities are scheduled in advance, and people follow these schedules as much as humanly possible.  Activities are expected to begin
and end on time. Being punctual is about being sensitive to the needs of others, who are also following preplanned schedules.

People also have many responsibilities and tasks to attend to daily.  Sometimes a particular responsibility or task, may take more time to accomplish than might seem reasonable.  So, along with punctuality, one needs patience.  Being patient is about being sensitive to others’ workloads and priorities.

Two related points need to be made.  First, managers take deadlines seriously.  When a task is clearly high-priority and/or its completion is critical to the work of others, the deadline should be met.  It is not good to miss a deadline.  However, one should agree in advance only to a “realistic” deadline. Second, for many, family responsibilities take precedence over business responsibilities.  In many business settings, a person’s explanation for lateness or a missed deadline will be more readily accepted if a family emergency is the reason.  Note, however, that this is not uniformly true!

Acting professionally means being conscious of other people’s constraints with respect to time and timings.  One respects other people’s schedules by arriving on time and meeting deadlines that are viewed as critical.  But one also respects coworker’s and manager’s huge load of responsibilities by not constantly prodding them about the completion of tasks. . . other than the most critical tasks.

As we can see, the job of the revenue assurance professional, like the balancing act of the Sufi, can only be accomplished with a great degree of care and practice. Our Sufi dancer didn’t learn how to be well balanced in one day. He practiced for years to accomplish the level of skill he exhibits.

In the same way, we revenue assurance professionals must constantly stay aware of, and focus on our need to find the right balance in our professional practice. It is a full time job for anyone to:

  • Be sensitive to the individual egos, and the needs and constraints that our coworkers face, while being patient as they figure out how best to do a job in a productive way (the consensus principle).
  • Be assertive, and promote what is right for the good of the company, (the integrity principle).
  • Do this in a way that focuses on maximizing revenues to the firm (the rationalization principle).

I hope that you find, as I did, that this way of looking at our jobs offers some interesting insights into some of the ways we can improve ourselves in our professional practice.

Well, I think that is enough for this time so, until next week, this is Rob Mattison saying… BE SAFE.

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