(A preamble: Most people who have heard me describe ROHEI would think that I am exaggerating, that an organisation like this doesn’t exist in today’s world. I agree with them. Maybe I am exaggerating, maybe I am seeing ROHEI through rose-tinted glasses. But I suppose this has been my reality. So there...)
I was sitting there at the ROHEI lounge. They call the place the “Huddle”. Well, not much huddling that day. I was waiting for my interview with the bosses and it was already 30 minutes past the agreed time. I must admit, on any other ordinary day, this kind of delay would have made me disgruntled. (Yes, I feel safe enough to share this… Oh boy, what am I getting myself into.) However, something else was happening too in that space. Something unusual.
You see, in the whole time that I was seated there, alone, in that empty lounge, I had five different people walk past me. There were a couple of smart-looking young men dressed in black polo tees with jeans, and a few executives in their suits, looking mightily busy as they rushed from one venue to another. And yet, despite their purposeful strides, every single one of them would stop to greet me.
“Hi! Has someone already attended to you?”
“Hello! Welcome to ROHEI! Could I help you with something?”
“Hi! How are you? Are you here to meet with someone?”
So on and so forth.
And the most amusing thing was, ALL of them would end their questioning with a reference to their vending machine.
“Would you like a drink from our vending machine?”
“Please help yourself to a drink from our vending machine! We have a whole range of drinks!”
“Have you gotten yourself a drink from our vending machine?”
Wow, they sure do love their vending machine!
And such was the beginning of my journey with ROHEI, and what a journey it has been. If I could use a sentence to describe my experience thus far, it would be,
“ROHEI confounds me.”
I am writing this piece because I wanted to chronicle the various puzzling incidents I have encountered so far and perhaps, make sense of why this organisation is the way that it is. (But really, the Tease in me just wants to show ROHEI people how weird they are lah…)
So here goes the chronicling. (I hope I would still have my job after this article is published.)
The ROHEI vocabulary
The team has a few favourite go-to words and phrases that they like to use in everyday discussions. Nowhere else will you hear the words “journey” and “season” uttered in various permutations with such frequency.
“Our role as trainers and facilitators is to journey with our participants.”
(Uhm… Oh-kay…? How long is this trip? And where are we going?)
“We want to journey with our clients as they explore this season of their lives.”
(Wow, we are still talking about Digital Workplace training, right? Sounded as if we are going for a retreat in the wilderness.)
“What season of life are you in, Esther?”
(I miss Cambridge in the summer. That’s a nice season I would like to be in.)
For the record, the rest of the world usually use “journey” as a noun. But at ROHEI, it is a permanent verb. I mean, it would have made sense if any of them were fans of the band “Journey” but since the time I have joined them, I haven’t even heard that song played at any of our gatherings at all! Have we stopped believin’? (My humour just hit rock bottom here.)
Anyway, here is a list of the other words/phrases that the ROHEI team like to use:
Safe to be with
Opposite spirit (First time I heard this, I went, “Sorry, what?”)
SHUCA (See, Hear, Understand, Care, Appreciate. And guess what? You can use this as a verb too, for example, “Ann SHUCA-ed the participants so so well.” And this would usually be followed by a round of applause and encouragement, which leads me to my next point.)
The ROHEI love for cheering, applauding and affirming
I truly believe that one of the things that ROHEI specialises in is making people feel good about themselves. To the point that you start to wonder, “Are they for real?”
I mean, I am an Enneagram Type 2, and pointing out the good and beautiful in people is my area of expertise. But wait till you hang out with the team. I felt like a novice amongst the greats. These people could just find anything and everything to affirm people on, and with all sincerity too!
You did your first online training?
Wow, well done you, you truly embody (fill in with exemplary qualities. Might wanna put a SHUCA in here too).
You just let your two-year old daughter paint your toenails?
What a great father you are and (fill in with more encouragement).
You just organised an online ZOOM meeting for us to hang out over a virtual lunch?
So wonderful to see how you are such an intentional and relational person.
It took a while for me to get used to it too. For example, the first time I attended their staff meeting, the boss told everyone that they could open a modelling agency, now that another person with good looks (yes, yours truly) has joined their team. I mean, COME ON, seriously? I may be a 7 out of 10 (IMHO!) but who gives out compliments like that? And at our first encounter too! Of course, I was flattered, and of course I proceeded to check my hair and make-up after that, but we all know that it just isn’t the norm to praise someone’s looks like that in a professional setting! And this was from the boss herself!
That’s when I realised, Wow, I’ve got a funny AND affirming boss. What more could I ask for? (See, I told you I specialise in seeing the good and beautiful in people.)
Speaking of expected professional behaviour, ROHEI does not conform to the norm.
The ROHEI proper behaviour
The first thing I was told during my HR onboarding was professional mistakes would not get me fired, but moral failure would. Wow. Confounded once again. You know what this means? I could cost the company lots of money through my mistakes and still keep my job, but the moment I tell a lie, I could risk losing it.
“Yup!” said my HR colleague chirpily. She also quickly added, “Of course, we will first give you the chance to work on that moral challenge and even help you through it but if you refuse to change, then we will have to let you go.” I thought that that was a very holistic outlook on what professional development means. Beyond getting equipped with a skillset, it was comforting to know that the ROHEI culture focuses on personal growth too, because I sure have a lot of inner work to do still.
Another behaviour that stood out for me is the way resignations are managed and talked about in this organisation. In the above-mentioned staff meeting that I attended, I had the privilege of witnessing something that dumbfounded me.
The boss announced the resignation of a staff because she was moving on to another season… in her life. Usually, this kind of event would be met with sadness and dismay from the rest. And yes, these sentiments were present in that meeting. However, what was different from the norm was how they managed this. The boss proceeded to invite the rest of the staff to spontaneously share and honour that staff who was leaving. What ensued was a good half hour of different ones just sharing openly about the wonderful things that this member of staff had done in their lives. I had waves of goosebumps during that session; so much love and well-wishing all around. It felt like home.
I could go on and on about the strange and wonderful things that I have encountered at ROHEI. How the team intentionally tries to see “Feedback” as a “Gift”, when most of the world views it negatively. How part of what we do at ROHEI goes into supporting a dedicated Foundation that connects abandoned children with adoptive families. How people can disagree with each other and yet still manage their disagreements respectfully.
I recently had a conversation with a couple of my colleagues. I asked them whether people at ROHEI actually argue with each other. Or is everyone always this nice? Because it seemed quite surreal to me. To which my colleague replied, “Oh you should sit in my meetings with so-and-so! We argue loudly and disagree publicly. You should see the other team members’ faces.” She laughed. “But yes, disagreements at ROHEI are more subdued compared to other places.”
I wonder if it is because of the strong desire to honour and respect each other that undergirds all conversations.
In closing, half a year ago, when I told my friends that I managed to secure a job at ROHEI, they were happy for me. In fact, a couple of them had attended a ROHEI training before and they both told me the same thing, “You will like it there, Esther. Their culture is similar to your personality.” I beamed from ear to ear when I heard that. What a great compliment, what a great validation.
As odd and quirky as you are, ROHEI, I am thankful that I could journey with you in this season of my life. In fact, your deviation from the norm is what makes you so precious in today’s world, with or without Covid-19. (Maybe especially so with Covid-19.) May I continue to learn to SHUCA the best I can and grow in my relational and intentional skills, while practising the opposite spirit and having low self-interest. Look how well I have adopted your language! Here’s to encountering more oddities along the journey! (Finally, a noun!)