Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Research Gets Underway

At Last -- Data Coming In!

Yesterday, graduate assistant Martyna Dziubek, Dr. Jacek Trębecki and I traveled to our first partner company in Poland to begin gathering data for our research project on employee communication.  Two focus groups (one in Polish, one in English) moderated by Martyna and monitored by Dr. Trębecki, plus the administration of a pre-test of the survey instrument, marked the beginning of an ambitious schedule of data collection in the next 3-4 weeks.  We will return to this first company on Friday and again on Tuesday for one more focus group and to conduct a survey of the nearly 300 employees (must cover all three shifts). 

We maintain as confidential the identity of our partner companies, but I can say this first partner is an industrial manufacturer about 1 1/2-hour's drive from Poznań.  It's representative of the Polish economic profile.  At its core, it's a factory, but the tour we took of the plant revealed it to be a high-tech operation.  Raw materials are turned into finished product with incredible efficiency by highly complex, automated machines.  Operating and monitoring those machines is a technically skilled workforce using touch-screen computers to control the intricate processes.  With just under 300 employees now, the manager expects to grow to 350 by the end of the year.  Within two years, he predicts the plant will quadruple its current output.  The challenge, he says, is recruiting and retaining qualified employees.  He already operates an ambitous training program because workers with the exact skills he needs are very difficult to find; he says the general approach is to hire workers with related skills, then re-equip them through comprehensive training to fill the positions he needs. 

Also reflective of Poland's economic health was the trip to the partner company: First, there was the struggle through traffic to get out of the city, then a swift journey on a new and well-designed expressway.  Finally, a 20-minute ride on a pleasant country highway, past family-owned farms with workers busy seeing to spring duties.  These aspects represent several components of Poland's approach.  The highways demonstrate the commitment to the development of infrastructure.  The traffic in the city represents the challenges of a growing economy within the constrictions of established patterns.  The family farms represent a retention of individual enterprise and quality food products.  The company itself, set in a planned industrial park in a picturesque small town on a lovely river, typifies modest but muscular industrial growth.  It's a very encouraging tableau. 

Even with the preliminary data we acquired yesterday, we're beginning to see patterns that suggest a profile of communication issues that will require exploring.  For example, this is a foreign-owned company, so some management team members are from the headquarters country.  As a result, there are obvious cultural differences to deal with such as language and customs, but there are important, more subtle cultural differences emerging such as perceptions of the decision-making process.  I think the research approach we've taken -- surveys for generalizable quantitative data and focus groups for context and narrative -- will serve us well.  I'm confident we're going to provide useful advice and counsel to our partner companies, and we'll add to our understanding of employee communication dynamics in Central and Eastern Europe.

Holiday Week

Last week included two national holidays, so many Poles turned it into an entire week.  The weather cooperated magnificently, so I took a bit of time as well to visit a couple nearby parks.  This is one of the best aspects of our time here -- we don't have a car, but a few minutes' walk to a tram line can quickly lead to some of the most beautiful city parks I've seen anywhere.  One is Malta Lake, just a 10-minute tram ride away.  Robin and I rented bicycles from a lakeside vendor and circumnavigated the lake -- about 5 km.  We also followed paths that lead into adjacent woods and more park amenities.  Here are some photos:

A bit hard to see, but there are two "skullers" rowing on the lake.
Malta Lake is the scene for many international rowing

In the foreground, a dog enjoys a dip on a warm day.

Visible in the background is a nearby amusement park.
There are also a number of restaurants, snack vendors,
paddleboat rental shops, rides and more.

A water park offers indoor and outdoor pools, saunas,
slides and other features.  On this beautiful day, the
outdoor pool was popular.

Skullers get ready to put into the lake.

Yes, the old man can still ride.  And yes, I know it's
a girl's bike. 
 A 15-minute tram ride in the opposite direction, to the west side of the city, takes us to a long, meandering park with abundant hiking trails, pleasant benches for reading or gazing, ponds, a stream, a large lake, and a few cafes.  This is a great spot for an evening stroll.

A popular area for cyclists.

Could it be any more perfect?

A popular pastime about anywhere.

A sight I must share is this now rare automobile I spotted recently.  It's a Trabant, or "Trabi" for short.  Before the end of the Cold War, this East German-built car was common in this part of Europe.  Read all about them here:  I was with NATO in Belgium during the first years after the Wall came down (1990-'93), and I recall the highways in western Germany being flooded with Trabis after re-unification on October 1, 1990.  Trabis were not the most mechanically reliable vehicle, to put it delicately, and they rapidly faded from the scene.  So this rare sighting is worth reporting.  It was parked just a few streets from our apartment.

The Trabi, icon of the former times.
Finally, I left readers with this puzzler last time: What are those green spheres visible in the winter trees in the photo below?

What are the mysterious spheres that remain green through
the winter?  That's mistletoe.

Mistletoe, you may be surprised to know, is not a plastic Christmas decoration, but rather a parasitic plant that attaches itself to host trees, sinking its roots into the bark.  It doesn't kill the tree, but does contribute to its poor health. 

That's it for today.  Dziękuję for reading the blog, i do widzenia!

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