Developing People

This week, by popular request, our office did a training on how to write a professional email. The training was voluntary, but every Khmer staff member and intern came. We focused on communicating with clients or potential clients in particular and discussed everything from subject lines, structure, greetings, content and anything else they could think to ask. I was thankful our HR manager (who is Khmer) comfortably stepped in to explain the differences between emailing a Westerner vs. a Cambodian national (example: extra greetings needed).

At the end of the training, we did a contest! Everyone had the same prompt and submitted an email using what they had learned. I was really impressed with how seriously everyone took it and very good emails were sent! In the end, one of our interns won! He was very creative, asked a lot of good questions and used his resources to put together a solid email. I learned a lot observing how each person approached the competition.

This weekend our office has the opportunity to attend a Christian leadership summit and are going together as a group. I love that this office places such a heavy emphasis on developing people!


Workplace Culture

What cultural norms are the most challenging to adjust to professionally? What are their work ethic and standards for performance like? – AK

It has been very interesting to hear from our new teammates this week.

(Oh, right, we have new teammates! We’ll introduce them soon).

Something that came up several times as they were introducing themselves and telling their testimonies was the importance they put on working for a Christian company.

Which raises the question — how does a “Christian company” (or at least ours) differ from the cultural norms in Cambodia?

Growth — Many of our staff (expat and Khmer both) are young believers, who specifically want to mature spiritually during their time with us. When we explained that we have daily devotions, weekly discipleship meetings, plus time set aside for mentoring — I think they were in shock!

On top of that, our focus on professional growth is uncommon. Many Khmer take classes in the evenings and weekends to boost their professional skills. We incorporate those into our normal calendar as well. Early on, one of the metrics for success we set was not how many long-term employees we had, but how many companies and leaders had grown from former Petram staff. As sad as we’ll be to see them go, we feel that multiplication is the best way we can make an impact in Cambodia’s future.

Rest — As a culture, Khmer people are incredibly hard working. Most work 6 days a week, and many work 7 days, except holidays.

We keep to a 5 day work week, and prioritize time with family over time at your desk. While there are still clients to serve and deadlines to meet, our people come first.

Grace — We work hard to have a “grace-filled environment”. We want to encourage questions, not just about how to get the work right, but to understand what is behind that decision in the first place. We want to celebrate each other’s victories, no matter how big or small. And we want to support each other in challenges, whether professional or personal.


Intern Orientation

Last week and half of this week was intern orientation! We have one returning Khmer intern, one new Khmer intern and two US interns. It’s been a busy time around here! Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 2 weeks of survival Khmer classes
  • Field trips to Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. The interns had a lot to wrestle with emotionally after visiting each location.
  • Ian taught two CAD (computer aided design) classes
  • Going for a health checkup for work permits
  • Culture and working with westerners classes
  • Learning how Buddhism effects the culture in Cambodia, including a field trip to a pagoda.
  • Game of Amazing Race around Phnom Penh on Saturday, ending with the losing team dancing to K-pop. (Photo from after the race)
  • Dinner at various staff members’ houses. Last night they came to our house for Mexican food and homemade cookies. There was a LOT of singing and playing games.

The best part though? It doesn’t matter what country the interns are from, they are already getting along great and hanging out with each other even when not at work. I think this will be a great group of interns and I hope they make the most of the four months with our office.



Intern orientation begins next week and since I have officially started at the office (yay!) I get to be involved. One of my focuses in our office will be professional development and orientation seemed a great opportunity to start. Nearly everyone has some small part to plan in the orientation, making it the perfect opportunity to work on communication, especially cross culturally. With that in mind, Neth and I headed to a wat (or pagoda) for a scouting trip. We are taking the interns there to have a discussion on the role of Buddhism in Cambodian design. While no one at the office is Buddhist, it has had a great deal of influence in Khmer culture and it is important to be respectful without participating. I am hoping our field trip will spark some good discussions.

On another note, what else is needed to prepare for interns arriving? Oh, just little things that Ian and I somehow managed to forget – like a house key and hangers for our intern’s wardrobe! She will be here before we know it!


Design vs. Construction

Sometimes we get asked how much we are doing design vs. construction management with our engineering. The answer is, we are doing both! Ian is primarily working on design (still his favorite) but is involved weekly with a couple of our construction projects. I am primarily working on construction (still my favorite) but have been involved on design projects as well. While folks in our office frequently lean one way or another for their focus, we are more than happy to help each other out when needed. The answer is BOTH! We find there is a great need for both in this region. Some ministries come to us just starting the fundraising process but not yet sure exactly what kind of facilities they need. Some are ready to put their plans and needs on paper. And some ministries have the plans and the contractor and they just need someone they trust to manage construction itself. All of these are important, and all of them are ways we can enable ministries to spend more of their time, energy and money on what’s important. So just like Paul, we become all things to all people — so that we can serve some and glorify One.