Carmen CUCUL – the business professional whose corporate social responsibility actions impressed me the most

This message focuses on corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions done by Carmen CUCUL and their impact into my life. See details below.

Note: Due to very large tables in this message, I strongly suggest you an alternative web page to read this blog post. Much easier to read this way!

This blog post has the following structure:
1. How to read this blog post?
2. Why am I biased in this evaluation?
3. Parallel reading: Facts versus Impression of facts on me
4. How can you contact Carmen CUCUL?

1. How to read this blog post?

Note: As the length of the scroll bars of the browser you use might also indicate you, this is yet another of my long blog posts.

I think it would be nice first of all to explain what corporate social responsibility is. I needed the explanation for myself too.

According to Wikipedia,

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) [...] is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. Ideally, CSR policy would function as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby business would monitor and ensure their adherence to law, ethical standards, and international norms. Business would embrace responsibility for the impact of their activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere. Furthermore, business would proactively promote the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality. Essentially, CSR is the deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making, and the honoring of a triple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit.

The practice of CSR is subject to much debate and criticism. Proponents argue that there is a strong business case for CSR, in that corporations benefit in multiple ways by operating with a perspective broader and longer than their own immediate, short-term profits. Critics argue that CSR distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses; others argue that it is nothing more than superficial window-dressing; others argue that it is an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful multinational corporations.

If you look carefully at this self-regulation of companies, you may notice the insert of some peculiar things into a business model – ethical standards (care for people and planet, not only for profit) and responsibility for the impact of their activities (we don’t look only at us, we also look at the environment). Ok, the ethical standards are there, the responsibility is there. The real question might be – why? Why would a business need such things?

If you look in the second paragraph, you notice that the very first criticism Wikipedia quotes is the distraction from the fundamental economic role of businesses. In other words, “Help us, don’t help others. Focus, people!”. It also says that by doing CSR, one might affect the role of governments (who needs CSR, when you have governments to care about?).

My blog post doesn’t answer the “Why?” question from a business perspective. I can’t say if CSR is a good thing (And for whom? For the person coordinating the CSR? For the company that person represents? For the customers? For the stakeholders? For the business partners? For the future generations? For the planet? For ethical standards?). CSR is a hard thing for me to understand. The “Why do CSR?” is a tricky question, and my blog post should be read with this in mind – I start with the assumption that CSR is neither worse nor better than other business model. If you like it, you decide if CSR is good or not.

Sure, I will have a very biased opinion on CSR on the “Impression of facts on me” section. But that’s a different thing. What this blog post is about is actually how well does Carmen CUCUL follow what I think are CSR best practices. You will see this in the section about facts. Interpret this blog post the way you like, the facts on the left column remain.

So, why the Interpretation thing? More than the facts, I’ll also have a parallel presentation with the “Impression of facts on me”. The reason I do this is because CSR actually cares about this – how would the actions of an organization member affect the lives of others. You’ll see how Carmen CUCUL’s actions made an impact on me. So, the logic is simple: Carmen CUCUL does CSR via HR Club, I’m affected, what do I think and feel about the CSR measures? This is on a separate column. Oh, and HR comes from “Human Resources”.

Please note that to me ethics and God are separated by a very thin line, and I’ll have a tendency to mix these, in my very own Impressions section, of course. Leaving facts aside.

The blog post is made such you can read only the facts, this is fine by me. The impression of the facts on me presents my opinion on how things developed on the facts side.

2. Why am I biased in this evaluation?
a. I’ve known Carmen CUCUL for a long time. I’ve been in Bucharest since 2001. In 2002, when I first entered into LEADERS Romania, an NGO dedicated to promoting leadership in Romania, Carmen CUCUL was just being interviewed. From 2002 until (about) 2005/2006, I’ve been a volunteer in that organization with Carmen CUCUL. After the NGO time ended, I took part in HR Club’s projects (Carmen CUCUL is Executive Director of HR Club since January 2006);
b. I’ve worked on projects lead by Carmen CUCUL more than once. In LEADERS Romania I worked under Carmen CUCUL’s supervision on Global Youth Service Days repeatedly. Afterward, I was hired by HR Club (see below);
c. I’ve been paid by an organization lead by Carmen CUCUL more than once. I did two research projects for HR Club – one in the summer of 2007, gathering materials for a CD for a conference, and another one in this very summer (the project ended on 31st of August 2009. I looked for documents for the new HR portal);
d. In the summer of 2007 I took part, for free, to a summer school organized by HR Club. I found out about the summers school via an internal email sent to LEADERS Romania members. But this was only the start. After this, …
e. … I took part to quite a few conferences, seminars, workshops and presentations organized by HR Club, most of the times in exchange for giving a helping hand of some sort;
f. My hope is that I continue with points from a. to e. This should not be the end of it;

3. Parallel reading: Facts versus Impression of facts on me

Timeframe Facts Impression of facts on me
2002-2005 I enter LEADERS Romania, at the same time with Carmen CUCUL. We’re colleagues until 2005/2006 (it was not a specific day in which my work ended). We’re also colleagues at school. We were in the same school year, but different series and groups. Coming to Bucharest, after doing all schooling in Navodari, was a bit of a shock (if you can imagine a do-it-yourself error when suddenly living on your own, I did that error). But soon after I made some friends in the hostel, you can imagine this timeframe (2002-2005) as a very amusing time. School put some pressure on me (I remember an exam that I was trying to pass and Carmen CUCUL to get an equivalent of A+). LEADERS Romania was great time (as in “no stress”).
What happened in this time frame? First year in LEADERS Romania. I had a briefcase for carrying my courses. I carried it everywhere (later to be replaced by an always-on-me backpack). I forget it in a bus. Long-story-made short: a person calls my friend (and LEADERS Romania colleague)’s phone (I didn’t have a mobile phone until 2005). I meet with him, he gives me my briefcase. I tell Carmen CUCUL the story and mention that the person told me comes from the same locality as she does. Regarding the story, Carmen CUCUL’s reply is similar to this: “It’s a natural thing for the people where I come from to do this”. I can see the “People from my city are good” as just a general affirmation. Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration – a social thing. You can say it just like that. Maybe, I don’t know, this is not the main purpose I present this fact. Instead, I want you to pay attention to the adverb “naturally”. It comes “naturally” to do this, Carmen CUCUL says.
Now if you think that it’s by no means typical to offer to help someone, when you could be safe and happy just by ignoring the problem that someone has, I think you’re right. Natural is not to care, not to fight for other’s persons well being. Ok, you can put this into ethics, and then it’s normal to care. Put this into CSR, and it’s normal. Put this into real life and that person who helped me did a very rare (and good to me) thing. Please remember this assertion when looking at the other facts – Carmen CUCUL thinks it’s natural that good things are done.
Now I’ll make a digression: put a let’s-be-kind-to-our-environment business decision into a CSR perspective, and it becomes normal. Put a nice gesture like the one done by that person to me into a field of ethics, and it becomes natural.
Where the unnatural feeling (at least to me) does come from? Why does it seem so out of place? Well, it seems I’m not that ethical. I may not have CSR thinking built-in.
For the whole time of 2002-2005, please have this in mind: never in that time have I considered that the actions done by Carmen CUCUL are right. I had a thinking system, obviously with different ethics than Carmen CUCUL’s, in which what she did did’t fit. For all those years, I’ve never stopped to meditate on this – could it be true that she thinks right in another ethical system than mine? Could it be something different than doing a specific action? A systems thing?All I thought was this – I wouldn’t do what Carmen CUCUL does, my ethics are just fine (can’t touch me!), therefore her actions must be wrong. All I needed was a simple perception – her ethical system and mine are not the same, she could do so much better within her system. There are just two different systems. Oh, if I could then say “Hmmm, her system is actually better”, this would have been out of this world for that time frame.To defend myself, I never thought that Carmen CUCUL was doing anything wrong, on the contrary, this was a good thing to do. It felt like a good thing, God must have felt good about this. A good deed. But it was just not right. Why? I wouldn’t have done it. Since my ethical system was nothing like hers, I had to pick – mine system or hers? To make a parallel, I couldn’t conceive that one business can live without CSR actions, and another business can do CSR. “If I don’t do CSR, no one else should. It’s illogical.” And others actually could have done it. I evaluated CSR actions through the eyes of a non-CSR person.

There – I defended myself. Now, to un-defend myself, I was a Christian who couldn’t see good things in others.

It was sometime in the winter of 2002 or 2003 that this event happens: LEADERS Romania gives a small Christmas party. I think we were supposed to bring gifts, there were some cookies and drinks. Something like that. I see at the window some arrangements. Almost all red, with some glittering decorations, they looked nice. Ok, I could understand gifts, cookies, drinks. But where did these came from? After asking around, Carmen CUCUL tells me she brought them. Ok, now we’re getting to the good part.
The way in which Carmen CUCUL said she brought the decorations was something like “Oh, anyone could have done this, it’s natural, we should all feel fine at the party”. Along the years, I’ve switched some NGOs (as will later do with jobs). I’ve seen a lot of persons bringing their time and efforts to help others by working in NGOs (and they might also help their careers). I’ve also seen people putting material efforts into NGOs (If that specific object helps with my work as a volunteer, why not bring it in here? If I lead an NGO, why not finance some things, the success of the NGO following my action will look great on my CV). But in all the NGOs I’ve seen, I’ve never seen this mix:
a. Brining an item from home;
b. Bringing that item not for personal use, not for the success of the NGO (which will later look good on the CV), but for the happiness that object brings in others, due to its beauty; A let’s-do-something-good-through-beauty thinking;
c. (and above all) Acting as if this were the natural thing to do.
I told you before that my ethics (in practice) were very judgmental to anything different than mines. But I did know the theory which I’ll present bellow. I just couldn’t understand it well at that time.First concept I’ll introduce is the boyar. This article partially explains it:

H.C. Wells in The Research Magnificent: two big forces: fear and aristocracy. Now I understand him. Fear must be defeated. In this world there is one thing, only one: courage. And the secret is to behave aristocratically. Only gentleness and kindness have grace.

(from “The Happiness Diary”, by Nicolae STEINHARDT, fragment translated by Gabriela Ailenei)
Regarding Nicolae STEINHARDT, I’ve written about him on my blog, when I’ll reread for the third/fourth time his books I’ll post a message on them on this blog, you can also read about him in this page. I try my best to see a lot of the Orthodoxy through his eyes.

So, returning, what does the boyar do? He’s brave, he has his own world (yes, the CSR thing), he fights for it. But how does he do it? With aristocracy. He’s gentle. Remember these two things on the boyar and to apply them to the facts on the left column:
a. Courage to have your own ethical system;
b. Only kindly impose your ethical system. With grace and dignity;

Regarding the ethical system of the boyar, in other passages of “The Happiness Diary”, Nicolae STEINHARDT presents it with a new attribute:
c. Generosity. The peasant goes to the boyar and receives good things. He’s well treated. The boyar is a rich nobleman and shares things. He’s actually the opposite of being sly.

The second concept I introduce is the concept of Don Quixote. You can understand how well Nicolae STEINHARDT thinks of Don Quixote by reading two fragments of “Giving you shall receive” essay (excerpt from the book “Words of faith”, taken from here):

It was needed that I stumbled upon reading, a while ago, a text of the French poet Henri MICHAUX (1899 – 1988) to understand, trembling, shuddering, that Christ asks something entirely different: to give what we do not have.
[...]
I think that nowhere, except for the Gospels, have more clear and more Christian words been spoken than in Michaux’s little poem, which stupefied and enthused me. Maybe in some fragments of The Brothers Karamazov and The Demons, maybe Cervantes creating El nuestro Senor Don Quijote, El Christo espanol, maybe Albert Camus in the text about Oscar Wilde (titled The Artist in Prison) and about the way to Christ not through suffering and pain (a good way, though an inferior one) but by an excess of happiness and moments of euphoria (a superior way). I think nowhere a poet or writer has spoken more closely of the unapproachable One.

So, what’s the story with Don Quixote? In a few words, he imagines things which are not there and fights for them. The reality is totally different than his imagination. Is Don Quixote wrong? In his own system, no. To Nicolae STEINHARDT the book depicts what should the condition of a Christian be: pick your system, fight for it. You could easily fight with the existence of Quixote’s world. But once we establish this is not the main point, analyzing his actions within that very system brings some nice surprises – He’s really that good.

Now, for the first time in this blog post, let’s see how the CSR system could be defended (in my own world, that is, based on a Christian model). Come back to the critics in Wikipedia if you like.

So, I’ll make a digression (you should be surprised by now of this): The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The story basically tells that a landowner hires people for a job that ended in the evening. Some were hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some later in the evening. At the end of the day each one got the same payment, no matter for how long they have been working. Some complained. This is the landowner’s answer and a defense for CSR in a Christian world: “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Of course, for this argument to be valid, you have to accept the system in which being generous is fine. For CSR, ethics, religion, choose whichever you like, generous is good. Get outside the system and one can easily ask the landowner “Why should you be generous? How do you benefit from that?” The first critic in the Wikipedia quote does just that.

So, to wrap up this section, Carmen CUCUL’s action to bring decoration for Christmas can easily be put into these systems:
a. Acting like a boyar, with generosity, courage and kindness;
b. Acting like Don Quixote, fighting with courage within its own system (Carmen CUCUL appreciated beauty and found it natural to walk the talk).

Please remember the boyar and Don Quixote systems for the next passages.

I think it was after the winter thing (although I might be wrong about the order of things) that Carmen CUCUL gets to lead a project in which I’m involved. There’s one specific session which was in an evening. I remember a few of the participants, all nice, Carmen CUCUL was leading the meeting. I interrupt from time to time to make some jokes. (Almost) everybody was laughing. The session ends. One of the older guys in LEADERS Romania tells me in private that Carmen CUCUL was obviously affected by the fact that I interrupted the meeting. Remember the laughing spirit in the hostels? It was a way of living. Now let’s introduce a new thing: my ability to spot people’s emotions was (and to a large degree still is) close to this – Steven SEAGAL emotion chart. What you should retain from this episode is this: Carmen CUCUL is the project manager, I disturb the meeting, she is very upset, and the meeting ends with me not even noticing anything, while, according to that other person, she was very affected by my behavior. There are multiple explanations to this behavior, but you could consider that she didn’t tell me anything due to politeness. She could have been very upset with me, and still not tell me that.
I’m pretty sure it was in a morning of April 2003 that I had to go to a supermarket near an airport outside Bucharest (Otopeni). I had to buy some minor things, and also a flipchart and get to a location in the center of Bucharest. That specific supermarket didn’t have a flipchart and I was a few hours late. Carmen CUCUL is very angry and tells me “I will not talk to you anymore”. You know what’s a killer? I can’t remember what I did wrong. I could find a few reasons:
a. Being hours late;
b. Not going to another store to look for a flipchart;
c. Not giving a call to announce about this;
d. Just not completing an important task;
e. Not actually caring about what whatever happened (Remember the life in hostels? That’s a hint of my attitude when someone talked with me in an angry voice. For an extra help, here’s an article – sorry, it’s in Romanian – with a story in college only a few months after this). Now you could understand from above that I didn’t really care too much about this at the moment.
I may wrong on this, but at the end of the day having a flipchart proved not to be that important, the conferences in those days went fine without it (there were presentations, not seminars or workshops).
I think it was the spring of 2005, or perhaps 2004, when I had to go with Carmen CUCUL and do something (from what I remember, it was a presentation of LEADERS Romania to another company). I can’t remember why, but I wasn’t there. Carmen CUCUL comes to LEADERS Romania later, and tells me “I will not talk to you anymore”. So, what could have I done wrong this time (again, I have no clue)?
a. Just not being there might do;
b. Not announcing or announcing too late or announcing via bad means (email instead of phone, which at that time in 2005 I still didn’t have);
c. Placing something else as higher important than this meeting;
d. Yeah, I still had the hostel-attitude versus angry-voices.
Now two things:
a. I told you before that I didn’t quite understand some things Carmen CUCUL did. This punishment looked particularly funny to me – “You threaten that you’ll never speak with me again, and you are saying this using an aggressive tone? Uuu. Now that’s a problem – not hearing you again being aggressive!”;
b. The second time she told me she will not talk to me was even funnier to me at that time – “You won’t talk to me again? Uuu. Oh, wait, you already told me this two years ago”.We’ll get back to these two stories later on and see if anything changed.Now, you can imagine that between 2002 and 2005 there were more than five stories to be told. But:
a. I can’t remember things that well. Even these above are vague. For this blog post I’ve reread emails I’ve sent in the summer of 2008 to Carmen CUCUL and thought “Huh? I wrote that one year ago?” Ask me what I did in 2003 in LEADERS Romania and not too many things come up. There are some memories, but pretty vague;
b. You can think that if from five stories I remember, three are episodes in which I did poorly, I only did poorly in LEADERS Romania, only arguing all day. Leaving aside the fact that even if it were true, I wouldn’t really remember it, I think I wasn’t arguing all day, these were a bit extreme cases. I can’t really help it if my memory brings these up.
2006-spring of 2009 Carmen CUCUL joins HR Club as Executive Director until present day. I switch internships, jobs, freelancing activities. Oh yes, and besides switching employers, I go to all the imaginable conferences and mostly have fun. I got this habit from college years, I’ve lived two years right near a large exposition centre in Bucharest – RomExpo.
At one time in this timeframe I had to pick between:
a. Continuing a job;
b. Preparing my Masters’ Degree thesis;
c. Going to HR Club’s Summer School in a field I had no interest whatsoever.
What did I pick? Let’s say I had a lot of fun.
What happened in this time frame? In January 2006, Carmen CUCUL makes a 1,400+ words guide on Fundraising in LEADERS Romania. She posts it on an Internal, all-members, forum. No one else replies. I looked now at the guide and to me the intention was obvious – “I work for the good of others”. What struck me was that no one said anything. No “Good job”, no “thank you”. Not in public at least.
Ok, ok, most of the other messages on the forum got no reply either, but most of them were copy & pasted from elsewhere (I should know). There were not hundreds of guides being posted in there.I’m quite sure that back then I couldn’t even read the guide (Passive tense? Incomprehensible words? I also have low attention, not only low memory). But still, it was pretty amazing work.
In 2006 I have problems on a few projects with Carmen CUCUL due to:
a. Forgetting things (I forgot about the project);
b. Saying I will do something and then taking things back;
I can’t remember any of the projects in there. If I wouldn’t re-read the emails now, I would say – “Who? Me? Never happened!” Do keep in mind the time problem. If you’ve seen “Memento” movie, I have a similar problem: each day I wake up, remember few things from my past, and have to create complicate procedures to be able to live fine. I know where to look for something, because it’s logical I’ll put it there. Of course, my procedures change with time. When looking years ago, I can’t really tell what I would have done back then (I can’t remember very well what I did back then and how would I typically react to a certain situation).You should also note that I had almost no NGO projects to do back then. What I did have was a job and a Masters’ Degree, and a poor evaluation of time. I might also have done some theater acting back then.
In June 2007, Carmen CUCUL announces via an internal email in LEADERS Romania about a summer school organized by HR Club.
The criteria for the summer school were close to: college or Master Degree students, a previous one year of professional experience of some sort, and as personality traits: creativity, openness, strong interest in personal and professional development. I apply and I am accepted. There were 20 participants.
As you see, the announcement said nothing at all on the Human Resources (HR) thing, so I basically only had to be a bit creative to get in.
I’ve been to quite a few events and conferences prior to this, and I can say that this one was very well organized. Great speakers, very good location, they even gave prizes to best teams. HR Club gave the most valuable prize, one invitation to the Strategy conference to each of the winning team’s members.If I got something from being active in NGOs, that was a feeling of gratitude. I got the ability to see better how other people works affect mine.This being said, after the Summer school ended I left with a very good impression on HR Club in general.

The estimated cost of tuition for one student at the summer school was 300 Euros. The financial investment of each student for the event was zero. I’m sure they could have asked for 50, 100, 200 Euros, but zero? ASEBUSS provided a lot of help to this.
At this point I wanted to do something for HR Club. By the time I started this blog, in February 2008, this initial enthusiasm faded and I didn’t wrote a message on HR Club’s CSR actions. I simply forgot about things.

In September 2007 I do a paid research for HR Club. I had two problems:
a. I was late;
b. I estimated my time poorly (I said I’d work 4 days, the task only took me 2.5 days. This was solved by working extra hours on a different task).
In the end it wasn’t all that bad – I actually finished my job faster, I haven’t claimed to have worked for 4 days instead of 2.5, and I did a compensatory work.
In October 2007 HR Club organizes a conference on Strategy. I took part and made a review of the conference and web site. I’ve met Nigel RISNER in there. I did a 6,000+ words review of the conference and an 800 words review of HR Club’s web site. Re-reading those reviews, I couldn’t believe how much I’ve changed the way in which I do reviews in two years. For example, I used “boring” as an adjective. Repeatedly. That’s a no-no.
After this I took part to 4+ events organized by HR Club. I really can’t remember each event I took part to, can’t really place them in order in my mind. The Strategy Conference in Human Resources, organized on 12th March, 2009, at J.W. Marriott, Bucharest had the best conference organization I’ve ever seen.There’s a dedicated part to CSR on that blog post which only says this:

HR Club allowed five members of two HR Summer School to come at the conference. I couldn’t have done it any better.

At that conference I’ve seen, again, Eric KISH holding a public speech and made a blog post on him.

If I were to sum up the participation at these events, I only say this: I was there. I wasn’t paying (most of the time doing something in return), but I was there. Directly affected (in a good way) by HR Club’s CSR.

May-September 2009 In this time I got to full-time job to freelancer. From 1st of June to 31st of August I worked on a project for HR Club (research of materials for a future HR portal). One problem I’ve had with the project was usually being late at the weekly meetings. If you think that I got just an inch smarter from 2006-2008 period, at one time I had to pick:
a. Continuing an year-plus long full-time job;
b. Working part-time, both for the old and a new job, for HR Club;
c. Working part-time (oh, and for three months only) just for HR Club and quitting the old job.
And I had a big dilemma – “Hmmm, what should I do?”
What happened in this time frame? Long story made short: in the autumn of 2008, after a back-and-forth exchange of emails on the subject, Carmen CUCUL tells me I might work on a project to research materials for a portal that will launch in January 2009 with an estimated work load. In May 2009 I receive a real offer for the project, with a different work load, and, as you might expect, in a context totally different for me than would have been the winter of 2008. Carmen CUCUL tells me I’m the only real option for the project. I evaluate with Carmen CUCUL some options (leaving my job included). Carmen CUCUL tells me I shouldn’t leave my job, there would be too many employers on a CV. There are a lot of things that didn’t quite fit the picture. I could say “Why am I the only option for a research job?”, I could say that the May 2009 conditions are totally different to me than the expected winter 2008 were.
But you can’t help but wonder why would she care if I leave my job? She has a European Union-funded project, lots of bureaucracy, deadlines, forms to fill, interviews for a research position would take forever. And in the summer of 2008 I said I’d help, made her an offer, said “Fine”. Despite all that, she stills worries about my job conditions, even this might imply I won’t apply for the job.Oh, there’s one more thing. In the summer of 2008 I set a price. Of course, in May 2009 I had no idea what my price was one year before. I did some math. Funny thing – the same price per hour as one year ago. Hmmm, I’d better develop my freelancing activities better.
In July 2009 HR Club organizes HR Club Summer school. The 2007 edition had 20 participants, the 2008 edition had 18, while the 2009 had 30 participants. Every opinion I’ve heard from past participants (2007 and 2008) about the 2009 edition was a thing similar to “This event is better”. The Summer School was purely CSR. 2009 was a year of international crisis, companies usually reduced budgets and project sizes, specifically CSR. HR Club increased the amplitude of the event.
Now, let’s get at the event. The opening event ends, members of 2007, 2008 and current edition of the Summer school are on the hallway. Small groups form, mostly with past colleagues. A person from the 2007 edition asks a HR Club organizer a thing similar to this – “Would it be Ok to come on some of the seminars?”. “Sure, it’s Ok”. Another HR Club organizer makes it clear that it’s fine. Carmen CUCUL also approves the situation.
As said, I like to participate to a lot of public events, I’ve been to six summer, autumn, winter and spring schools, to a lot of fairs, expositions, etc. You get the picture. Let me think of one specific time in which, two years after an event, the organizers contact the members to invite them to the launch of a new edition of a specific event. For free. Hmmm, that’s simple – none.
Sure, there are paid events where you’re always reminded of present and future events. But to come just for the sake of it, just to meet old members of the school, now that’s something. Why would I be invited at such an event by the organizers? Although I can’t think of a good reason of why shouldn’t I, this “invite past participants” rarely ever happens.So this is how I went to the Summer school’s opening at the College of Psychology and Educational Sciences. I made some pictures with the speakers.From time to time I get a bit of a shock. Three organizers from HR Club, including Carmen CUCUL, considered it perfectly normal that past students, of 2007 and 2008, to participate from time to time at the workshops and seminars of the 2009 Summer School. “Natural” was the word in the air. “It’s perfectly fine”.

I won’t get into many details now, but I’ve done trainings on NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) Start and NLP Intensive with Catalin ZAHARIA. Let’s say it wasn’t really free. Yet I went at a seminar with Catalin ZAHARIA at the HR Club Summer School of 2009, although I’ve been a graduate of 2007. For free. Another student of the 2008 class came with me at that same seminar. I wrote a message on this blog about the event.
I can’t really say that other summer schools I took part to didn’t have special treatment for past students. They had. “You are more likely not to be allowed to participate at a future summer school with us, even if you are otherwise perfectly qualified. We prefer to have new students, rather than the same old persons.” So, as you took part to one summer school, the chances of being accepted to another one by the same organization diminished.

Now let’s take HR Club philosophy: “If we once accepted you as a student, you benefited from our educational system, why not come again?”

Now at this point I was decided to write a message on my blog about the CSR done by HR Club. It was amazing. I decided not to write anything until I would end the part-time project with them. Being paid by the organization you praise is a conflict of interest.

Regarding time, we’re somewhere after third part of the project. My task was hourly-based, not target-based. Referring to that specific weeks’ work, Carmen CUCUL asks me a question similar to “Have you worked more hours than you declared to finish this task?”. I reply something like “I worked the exact number of hours declared”. She insists “If you’ll need to work more than declared, let us know”. Carmen CUCUL puts this question: “Have you worked more hours than you declared to finish this task?”. Let’s analyze the possible scenarios:
a. I could have worked less than declared;
b. I could have worked exactly as declared;
c. I could have worked more than declared;
I repeat, the question was not “How much did you work, compared to what you declared?” No, the question was plain and simple – “By any case are we paying you too less for your work?” Look at my past (it’s all here, written black on white) and see if you deduce anything that might show I work more than I declare. As in ever. When does this ever happen?Now, let’s take this hypothesis – let’s say, for the sake of an argument, I really worked more than declared. What would that imply? It’s either:
a. I evaluated correct my time, so HR Club pays me poorly;
b. I’m bad at evaluating my own time’s work (I can only assume that this leads only into “Well, it’s your problem, deal with it”; We’re into deep CSR waters in here, so it could, theoretically, although I don’t analyze this situation, also lead into “Ok, you’re not smart enough to evaluate your own time. It’s our problem too, now”. We’ll keep the situation to safe ground, so I cancel this option).Look again at my past and tell me if you think that you have to choose between the two, which would it be – HR Club pays me poorly or I’m not that good at evaluating my time?Now supposing I lied. My answer was different than that, but what could keep me (leaving aside ethics, God, morality and, yes, CSR) from saying I actually worked more? How much trust can a simple question show? This question presents very clearly a huge amount of trust – “I trust you won’t try to lie with this answer”.Another assumption Carmen CUCUL makes is that I won’t speak. The question implies that I would ever work more than requested, and say nothing about. And her intent is to help me bring out my unseen volunteering work.

Let’s summarize what we’ve found so far. This question: “Have you worked more hours than you declared to finish this task?” was chosen out of three possible pathways (more work, same work, less work for the money). An assumption of the question is that I am good at evaluating my own time. The question also starts with the assumption that I, the responder, am perfectly honest and somehow won’t speak by myself about some extra work done on the project.
It was at a conference organized by LEADERS Romania that Jim BAGNOLA asked the audience about the things they’ve learned at his conference. A Romanian student learning in the US talked quite a lot about the things she learned, in perfect in English, with great attention to details. At this point Jim BAGNOLA looks at the audience, puts up a puzzled face and asks with an emphasis on each word “Where is she from?” Yes, Carmen CUCUL is from the place where such things come naturally.

But in what context does this question arrive? Besides telling truth, what else did I do so that such a question is justified? Look as long as you like in the past, see this and that, and understand why to me this question came as a lightning out of a clear sky.
If there’s one thing I can say about my work in the past years, is that I’ve had a lot of employers (quite a lot on the freelancing part). I fail to remember a time when I’ve been asked “Do you want to be paid more for your work?” or “Haven’t you worked too much for us?”. And that “Oh, sure, you’ll tell the truth, we totally trust you on that” is out-of-this-world.

My life is simple: I like two books – “The Happiness Diary“, by Nicolae STEINHARDT and “Essentials of Understanding Psychology” by Robert FELDMAN. I like one movie only – “Le Notti di Cabiria“. Then there are business professionals which impressed me. Some of them are on this blog. Others are not. Then are people which mean a lot to me on a personal level, which do not belong on a blog, I can’t transmit any of their qualities via a blog (humans with great qualities as humans, persons who influenced my life for the better, relatives, a few friends).

But there’s also a category of people who do just one action, that’s it. They do one thing. An extraordinary thing.

All the time, that thing is something that shouldn’t be there. All the persons who did something which is extraordinary to me shouldn’t have acted that way. You could see it from their reaction.

In chronological order, the other three cases in which I saw an extraordinary reaction, are like this: it’s a laugh hiding sadness, a polite anger hiding a big anger, a small cry hiding a bigger one. The reactions are so powerful that even I can spot them.

Oh, and I’m a spectator in all of the situations, it’s never about me. (not the case with the current situation)

I said I don’t usually talk about persons or events that are not at least remotely business-related (writers sell books, too). You’re lucky. This is one example when speaking about a personal event makes things clearer in the business world. Oh, not all of it, of course. Just the CSR part.

You know why I like “Le Notti di Cabiria”? The whole movie is just about that: Federico FELLINI builds an impossibly hard situation and at the end the main character has a reaction a few seconds long which shouldn’t be there. But it’s just a movie, fiction. Still, that’s my favorite movie.

More than this, the people I admire for their actions actually did something which I consider to be good. In the current situation, trying to help me.

Now let’s get back to Carmen CUCUL’s question. I’ll present what it is to me an extraordinary act because it helps reinforce the CSR (yeah, all business) actions on me.

So, did I say I like to see something that shouldn’t be there? In this case it’s brought to another level. It’s not a smile in an angered face, it’s not anger in a polite face, no, no, no. It’s a natural atmosphere. It’s a natural question with a natural reinforcement. Carmen CUCUL didn’t ask “Have you worked more hours than you declared to finish this task?”, I didn’t reply “I worked the exact number of hours declared”, and she didn’t say “If you’ll need to work more than declared, let us know”. No. It seems from another world. The dialogues, according to the emotions in the air, were “It’s raining outside”, “No, I think it’s sunny”, “It might rain later”. Imagine watching “Le Notti di Cabiria” and in the final scenes Cabiria should have fun, salute everybody and plan what to eat for the next day. Nothing big really happened.

So, to conclude, the gesture Carmen CUCUL did with the two questions are:
a. Ultimate boyar. I remind you I defined boyar with three things (Courage to have your own ethical system. Only kindly impose your ethical system, with grace and dignity. And Generosity);
b. Acting like a total Don Quixote, fighting with courage within its own system;
c. (boy-oh-boy) All in a natural atmosphere. Nothing forced, nothing imposed. “Howdy”, “Howdy”.

Ok, for one second let’s go back to me. I’m meeting Don Quixote-like behavior. What to react to it? First of all, please note that when asked this question, my mind went into a process similar to this: “Oh, so you imply I don’t do my work within the standards? Is this some sort of trick question?” Before giving the answer, I got what she meant with the question, but I was even more puzzled – what could I possibly say to such a question?

My solution was simple. Saying “I worked the exact number of hours declared” was similar to telling Don Quixote about the real world, about his imagination problem. “Hey, get back to earth, there are no dreams. This is Romania of 2009. I would never work more.” Was mine reaction right? Sure, if you can define what “right” is. It was true. In that particular case I had no other option – I didn’t actually work more, what could I answer? What should have happened for me to have another option to answer was to actually work more for HR Club prior to the question.

Strangely, but to answer a Don Quixote-like question “Did you work more?” with a Don Quixote-answer “Yes, of course I did”, without actually living it, just saying it, makes the situation dramatic. So, I did good, right? I told the truth. I haven’t worked more, I gave a true answer, I didn’t pretend working more. These are all true sentences, but how come my answer seems so silly and out of place? Why can’t I really be, in reality, the hard work-so-much person that the question claimed me to be? What makes me hold on to just one assumption of the question – “I will tell the truth”?
The question returns – “What do you do when you meet Don Quixote”? Below, there are two situations which show you I have no answer to that. You’ll see I always apply a rock-steady logic. This works fine, but it’s like permanently telling Quixote he’s wrong. So, in such conditions, I’ll change the question.

What can I become after seeing an extraordinary act?
1. I remind you I’ve seen (and recognized) an act like this four times. After each of them I got a sensation you see in the cartoons. The character sees something great (and unusual). He pulls out a pistol, says “Now I’ve seen everything” and commits suicide (Yep, these are cartoons for children). In the Bible, old Simeon says:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Yes, he had seen the Son of God, he can die in peace. He knows now there will never be anything better to see. He’s waited long enough;
2. The future becomes dull. All things become boring. I’ve told you there were four events which I define as “extraordinary”. What will life show me that’s more beautiful than that?
3. The future becomes extraordinary. Ok, first time was an accident – You happened to see one extraordinary thing. The second one – could happen. Third – hmm. Fourth? Now that’s a pattern. You can live life with the hope of re-seeing things like this;
4. I actually want to live up to the assumptions that Carmen CUCUL has been showering in the short interview. I want to self improve (think about it broadly, not reading self-improvement books);
5. I wrote this blog post. You come, read it. Would you trust me more of the things I write in here if I were known in some field for something? So, it could be a reason to try (and better make it) to succeed.

What does HR Club transforms into? I told you at a previous post that I intended to write a blog post on HR Club’s CSR actions. I actually see no reason for such a blog post.

Have it like this:
a. HR Club headquarters is the place where it all happened. Wow! Great NGO! Amazing things in there!
b. There are people in HR Club which share the same goal and values. Wow! Great people!
c. My mind right now can’t imagine a better CSR action than this analyzed right here;
d. Give me a list of 3,000 organizations in the world, put HR Club among them, and make me pick the one organization that does the best CSR. I wouldn’t hesitate in picking HR Club from the list. “How come?”, one may ask, “Other organizations may do also great CSR”. Sure, that’s fine. I can even dare saying that among those 3,000 there might be a few that would do such a great thing as the one described here. But the thing is, it can’t be any better. It can equal it, but it technically can’t be any better. There’s no better scenario, at most equal to this. So, at best, out of the 3,000 organizations, a handful, among which HR Club, would share 1st spot. Therefore, if I pick out of those HR Club to be 1st, I do nothing wrong. They really are on the 1st spot, perhaps equal to others. The order between them is like the Stadium records – the first CSR thing I’ve seen that impressed me to the maximum takes 1st place forever if you can’t ever present me with a better CSR action. You can only set a new record if you manage to beat the first one who set it;
e. Show me a list of things HR Club needs as volunteer work and I might do some things in that list.

Now, going back to the Wikipedia part at the beginning, would you say HR Club made an impact on me due to CSR actions? Are those actions “good”? (via a certain standard, whichever that may be)

How do you work for a person who does an extraordinary act?
Now that’s a dilemma. Putting it simply, I give 100% (and nothing more) of what I have to do. And offer to do more. Ask, not force things. What are we, Quixotes?

What does it all mean to me? The thing I’m most proud in this world is being witness to such things. I bear witness within me that this happened. Putting it on an International-language blog is also fine.

Let’s go back 4+ years ago, as promised, to the upsetting episodes:
a. Would you think of a more out of place thing to do while in LEADERS Romania than upset Carmen CUCUL three times?
b. Can you see in this affirmation – “I will not talk to you anymore”, that the focus on the punishment seems to go not on the one getting the punishment but on the speaker itself? So, it’s not “I force you”, it’s “I force myself”. That’s a bit hard to understand. Say it repeatedly to me and I might finally get it;
c. While in College, this threat – “I will not talk to you anymore” -, seemed more of a joke. Who cared, back then, if Carmen CUCUL won’t talk to me anymore? 4+ years after, could you imagine a harsher punishment than not be able to see the extraordinary act?

Ok, we got into a “serious” mode. On a more happy side. But still serious. Recently, my best friend came from Paris. “Oh, you gotta see it. Versailles, the people, even the subway is cool”. Now compare this projected image with what I’ve shown you. You have two options:
a. Go to Paris and see the wonder for yourself;
b. Rethink on the amazing process just in your mind.

Present these two options to my best friend and ask him what I’d choose. With a complicit laughter (yep, we’re friends since hostel years), he’d probably say “Ahhh, there’s no philosophy to it, he’s just so cheap, he’ll never pick Paris”.

You may wonder how things continued after this episode happened.

HR Club’s future portal had a template design. In it, there was this text: “Welcome to HR Club Portal”. I said that “Welcome” is a distracting and unnecessary word, we should get to the point. I actually said it twice. The next day, when the text was removed, I expressed my satisfaction. By the time this event happened (4+ weeks from the previous episode, the very wonderful one), most of the main ideas presented above were clear to me. The lightning couldn’t strike in the same place twice. You’d think I know what to say, right? I learned my lesson, I know how to answer a Quixote question.
Now regarding my actions, this is a clear case of doing things right. I’m hired by HR Club for my professional opinion, not for the things I appreciate in life. Sure, in my mind I look at the “Welcome to” starting phrase as a clear mark of HR Club’s CSR perspective – “Let’s be kind to people”. But that’s not what they pay me for.From what I know now, the “right” solution presented here is libertarian, a concept which I adhere. And it is also obvious the power of the contract: “They pay me to do that, we have a contract, I must adhere to the signed words”.I hope I presented my case well enough until now for you to understand that there’s a bit of a problem with the “right” thing. It’s just a system. Sure, libertarian system may be a great solution. But it’s only a system. Other solutions may be fine also.
On the ending part of the project, I had to come up with feed-back for ideas of HR Club’s portal. Carmen CUCUL once exclaimed a thing similar to this – “What? Olivian to have a positive general opinion on something?” Ok, she said this in a bit joking way, but I think the idea is valid.
Remember that in the autumn of 2007 I did a review for HR Club’s presentation? Since then and until the summer of 2009 I’ve done other reviews. There are actually 40+ reviews for web sites done on my on another blog of mine(in Romanian). Ok, so my job in HR Club was to start from the assumption that they’re doing something wrong and basically tell them what are the things they do wrong at.They wanted nothing like “Oh, you’re extraordinary! All you do is so nice”. And I was there to follow orders. To do the “right” thing yet again.

4. How can you contact Carmen CUCUL?
On HR Club web site there’s a contact page (in English) with all the contact data. If you can’t get to the English version, and then to the Contact page, you can blame my poor review of the website.

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