On The Road With The 5 Chairs – A Postcard from Ethiopia

On The Road With The 5 Chairs – A Postcard from Ethiopia

One of the most exhilarating things for me about The 5 Chairs is bringing the teachings about the human side of business to places where the people are excited to open up to new ideas and experiences. The journey is as beautiful for me as it is for my new trainees. My most recent training tour had me back on the road and this time to Ethiopia where I was hosted by Gabriella, the local HR manager for Ontex in Hawassa. How is it that everywhere I work with Ontex I receive exceptional hospitality? I feel truly blessed. Thank you so much!

Ethiopia was another first for me….like Pakistan where I had been a few weeks earlier. There are so many unique features to this country. It has its own alphabet and language, Amharic, which sets it apart from all the other African countries. It lives by the Julian Calendar with 13 months – 12 of which have 30 days and the 13th has 5 or 6 depending on the leap year. September 11 is the Ethiopian new year and Christmas is on January 7. Local time is 6 hours ahead and the calendar year is 8 years behind. It’s 2010 here!! I’m definitely feeling younger….if a little confused!! Feeding the hyenas is also a tourist attraction here!

Look at The 5 Chairs written in Amharic: 5 ወንበሮች How special is that!

Having taken The 5 Chairs to a Muslim culture in Pakistan, now it was time to test it out in an Orthodox Christian culture. We did one edition in English and two editions in the national language. This was also the first time taking the program right down through the levels of hierarchy onto the factory floor and down to the warehouse workers and packaging teams. Together with Yohannes, our local 5 Chairs coach and Gabriella, we discussed what ‘tweaks’ would be appropriate to adapt it to the different needs of the workers before delivering it in Amharic. In Pakistan we had to change the Nietzche quote ‘You have your way, I have my way. For the right way, the correct way, the only way, it does not exist’. This also applied to Ethiopia being Christian Orthodox. Also, the quote related to the ‘Detect’ chair ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ was inappropriate. The Bible states ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’ Another interesting fact is the translation. There isn’t a single word for ‘empathy’ in Amharic. It’s translated with a phrase: ‘putting yourself in the position of someone else’.

This time we took The 5 Chairs into the factory. It worked extremely well and we found that the factory engineers, technicians, and operators were impressively vocal and engaged. The packers and warehouse workers needed a little time to warm up in the morning because they’d never had a training of that sort, but were also soon fully involved. We were amazed at their honesty when they had to choose the Chair they spend the most time in. Many of them chose the Jackal and the Hedgehog chair without even thinking about any possible judgment from their colleagues and they all moved to the Giraffe chair when asked where they’d spend more time in the future!! It was very moving to watch the process of self-realization happening before our very eyes and hear them express how they really wanted to transform. Even when faced with more difficult behavioral traits, the intent and willingness to collaborate shone through during the ‘Building bridges’ activity where they discussed solutions to reduce the tensions between Production and Quality.

Their immediate feedback at the end of the program was moving with comments such as: ‘This program will change me, my team, the company and the country!’ ‘From tomorrow I will be a different person’, ‘I used to think that chairs were only for sitting in. Now they have a completely different meaning for me’. ‘This training was like getting a box of chocolates with all my favorite flavors in it.’

The factory workers, in particular, showed a great deal of gratitude to Ontex for offering them The 5 Chairs. They were very happy with the whole experience. Gabriella shared with me that the immediate impact of the training was a change in energy. She said that everyone was eating and talking together in the canteen which had never happened before. Her parting declaration was ‘The 5 Chairs are making a difference’. I feel so very grateful and humble.

On to the next destination: the Czech Republic!

XOXO Louise

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