Monday, 21 June 2021

What these HR Professionals said - After Recovering from an attack of Covid 19

NHRD, under their mind matters initiative organized a webinar in which HR professionals who were inflicted by  the Corona virus and recovered from it, shared their experiences and insights. The participants of the conversation were Ms Shraddanjali Rao, VP and Head (HR) SAP India, Ms Rashmi Nagori, CHRO Edelweiss Wealth Management and Mr Darpan Singh,HR Evangelist,NHRD. It was moderated by Dr Geeta Kumar, OD consultant. Of the three, it was Rashmi who faced the biggest challenge being hospitalized for many days, followed by Darpan and Shraddanjali whose experience was largely asymptomatic. 

I am giving below some of the insights gained from the experience and methods adopted to come out of a difficult situation.  

  • It was quite a realization that this pandemic was a leveler- It could strike anyone, anytime irrespective of their age, economic or social backgrounds
  •  Rashmi said that during the hospitalization, trusting and fully cooperating with the medical team helped (Helping them to help you instead of adding to their woes by becoming a difficult/demanding patient . As it is, the team is over stressed and overworked).  
  • Frequent Zoom calls from family helped to be cheerful and motivated to overcome the illness 
  • Not knowing 'How bad the situation was'  in a way a blessing in disguise as it kept at bay worrying too much and dipping of the spirits .
  • For Darpan it was spirituality and 'positive mental engineering' that helped to overcome fear and maintain equilibrium. 
  • Shraddanjali felt that HR people tend to feel guilty about taking care of themselves, particularly when their role is crucial in a pandemic situation. However, consciously you have to give due attention to your needs also as advised in case of emergency in a flight- First wear the oxygen mask yourself before attempting to help others. 
  • When confronted by a deadly pandemic like Covid 19, one tends to over imagine things and react to situations rather than respond.
  • For not going overboard or being overwhelmed, it helps to appreciate the small things and being grateful for the many things God has already given us thus far.   
  • Good Samaritans from unexpected places tend to turn up to help in crisis situations. It is okay to reach out for help to neighbours  for support in terms of meals etc, when you are physically helpless and completely drained. 
  • On the path of recovery, it helps to have a structured routine for getting back to regular activities.
  • It is important to keep in mind that Post Covid, your body is not the same. Your energy levels are still low to the extent that it takes effort to even answer a question.
  • It is a challenge to get body back to what it was prior to the attack . Here, one has to conserve energy, use it sparingly to limp back to normalcy.
  • Although recovery is faster in teenagers, don't be in a hurry to get back to your old exercise routine. Do not stress yourself as different people are affected differently. 
  • Do lot of breathing exercises- Lie flat on your stomach for a couple of hours.
  • when coming back to work, take breaks when you feel the need.
  • Practice flexibility based on whether you are a "Morning", "Afternoon"  or "Evening" person.  
  • Avoid news feeds that can get your spirits down.
  • As a parting shot the advice given by participants in the conversation were " Focus on what you can fix, instead of trying to do too much", "Have faith in yourself and those around" and "keep the smile going!" 
I am very happy to share the insights gained in this webinar from those who have been there, faced things and are working in a responsible role of HR. My purpose would be served even if a few readers are able to face in an effective manner, the tough situations thrown by the pandemic without panicking or being overwhelmed.  

Friday, 11 June 2021

Follow up : The Why, When and How much of it

In this blog I would like to share the gist of an interesting webinar on "Follow up" organized by  Bija Training under their Mask Leadership series. The speaker was Mr Sahil Nayar Sr Associate Director (HR), KPMG, India. There is a feeling in the corporate scenario, that nothing will get done in the absence of follow up. On the one hand, we give speeches from public platforms that we trust our employees completely and are confident that they will do their best each time. Yet, ironically we also have this thought about follow up being  inevitable for success. Therefore, it was with a lot of interest that I looked forward to this webinar held on 3rd May 2021. I was  curious to know what the speaker who is heading HR in a consultancy company had to say on the subject.   

At the outset, the speaker pointed out that although the words 'Follow up' was initially associated with sales, today it is integral to all disciplines. However, it is not as if follow up has to be done all the time. Sometimes, it can irritate and upset an employee. Just imagine your spouse asking you every other day "Do you love me ?". This kind of a validation is not necessary when the couple is in sync, in harmony. Similarly, follow up is necessary in the work place when a validation has become necessary or when you feel the person is exhibiting bad vibes in respect of his/her job.  

It is all about understanding 'How much', 'With whom' and 'When' follow up is necessary. In a restaurant, towards the end of the meal if the waiter or manager comes up and asks "How was the food sir ? or Did you like the food?", it would be fine. But what if he asked you a number of times even as you are engaged in a private or intimate conversation?  While 'No follow up' can be equated to food without salt, too much of it as we discussed earlier, can be a cause for heart burns. If your team knows clearly the good intention behind your action they would respond positively.  

Follow up serves the  role and purpose of chasing which is necessary and good if properly done. The sincerity of your intention as a leader would be reflected in the manner of follow up- whether done to help the person achieve targets or show him/her in poor light (humiliate before others). It is all about character!  It is advisable for the leader to fine tune the process of follow up depending on the nature of his junior and what works best with that person- Whether a one to one follow up will work better or an Email with copies marked to 15 other people. Appropriate method of follow up  can be planned such as choosing between a telephone call, what's app message, Email or one to one personal meeting. 

Follow up happens not only with subordinates but with your colleagues in other departments or functions. Here, good interpersonal skills would stand you in good stead. The job you want done could be number 1 on your list but number 15 in his list. By effective communication and interaction, you may be able to achieve a shifting of priorities from 15 in his list to number 5 in the list. 

Follow up and its importance in an organization would also depend on the organizational culture. While in one organization, follow up may be  the driving force, in another organization, the very first Email may be  sufficient to get action from people. When you assign work the aim should be to get it done effectively and not just dump the work on someone. Therefore, it is necessary to empathize and find out if there are problems if any that they face and give support. Is there a lack of resources or a skill issue that needs attention? Sometimes people do not attend to a work because they want guidance from the boss. By the time the busy boss is able to find the time, he would have received the second reminder. 

Often times, there is no need to send number of Emails . A call over telephone could solve an issue. Documentation is required only on the rare occasion when the person on the other side is tricky and capable of denying an interaction ever happened. Ultimately it boils down to trust when it comes to interpersonal  communication. Beyond a point, follow up can hurt emotions and people may get into the 'Justification mode' defeating the very basic purpose of getting things done. Leaders  would do well to practice 'Servant leadership' while organizing and monitoring work. It will help if you are able separate the individual from a problem or shortfall when monitoring the work of  your team members.

Following up with people who are senior in rank in the organization is an art. The higher a person goes, higher his /her ego tends to be. Therefore, it is important to do the follow up without ruffling feathers; it helps to find out when they are in a good mood or in a receptive mode.  Understanding biological clocks of people like whether they are "a morning or evening' person could be useful to push your proposals. If you attempt finding fault with the boss for the things not happening, the conversation could go somewhat like this:  

"Sir, I have sent four Emails to which you have not responded" 

" You mean to say you are the only one I have to attend to? I get 100 Emails everyday. If it was so urgent, you should have come down personally or taken a decision yourself." 

Here, ownership and sense of responsibility of the junior colleague is very important. He could take the initiative and say " Please let me know if this is not a priority as of today." The answer would enable him  to come to a common ground as to the level of priority. Consequently, he is  able to stop focusing on something that he thought was very urgent as he now knows that it is sufficient to attend to it in a week's time. If you are liaisoning with Government officials, it is important to give frequent status updates to the boss and close the communication loop. Proactive behaviour in this regard is most essential to ensure that "there are no surprises." and the boss is not put in an embarrassing position. 

My own understanding and the big take away for me from this webinar was " keep empowering your people to the extent that they work happily and responsibly on their own without the need for follow up. However, when follow up is necessary, do it with a positive intention as unobtrusively as possible. If you have to err, err on the side of not following up." 

In the words of the speaker " Every human being has a need to be understood; make your person feel special and let them be ( Don't make them be who you want them to be)". To a question from the audience as to what distinguishes a leader from a manager with reference to this topic he said, a leader will prefer to nudge rather than follow up, the tool utilized by a manager. Follow up makes a person feel "I am not good enough". 

Monday, 7 June 2021

Self Sustaining Strategies for Personal Well Being

In this blog I would like to share the gist of the conversation between Ms Rupande Padaki, Trustee India Cares Foundation & Director P&P Group and Ms Pratima Murthy, Professor of Psychiatry & HOD NIMHANS on 27th May 2021. The online session was organized by NHRD Bangalore under its thought Leadership Meet.  

  • Well being includes physical, psychological, social, spiritual and societal aspects of the individual. It can also be seen as  a state when you have the ability to adapt to whatever situation life throws up. The ability to have a balance is the key. 
  • Money is an  important  aspect of well being but this is only up to a point till you are able to access minimum comforts in life. Beyond that , money alone will not provide well being.
  •  "It affects me if people around me are not feeling well."- We are all connected. 
  • Wellness or otherwise is contagious. What happens around us affects us and gets spread to others as well.
  • Pace of life has increased tremendously but our  ability and self control has not been good enough to keep up with that pace. 
  • Many challenges such as adapting to adaptive technology are required to be met these days. 
  • When changes occur, it affects life of people. What may appear as 'minor' to some may affect others in a big way. We are all set to a 'personalized thermostat' beyond which we find difficult it to cope. It takes time to readjust to the external challenges. 
  • 7-8 years ago a 'well being' study was conducted in Bangalore. It was noticed that there was reasonable wellness among the respondents. It appeared to increase with age meaning older people scored higher in happiness and well being. A certain amount of acceptance of situations happen as one grows older. 
  • It was found from the study that minority communities encounter a lot more stress in day to day life. 
  • The temperament of the person also impacted well being. Those who were less hedonistic (pursuing pleasure and self gratification) had a higher level of well being. 
  • Ability to cope with stress and difficult situations is a part of well being.    

Strategies used by People   

  • Sleep out a problem and then look at it afresh.
  • Paying adequate attention to sleep and physical health in adverse times.
  • Some of the ways of relieving tension are ventilating (expressing one's opinion/emotion), talking to people. 
  • Just as catharsis is important, humour is another way to cope with stress. Being able to laugh at ourselves/situation is a big relief. spirituality is another way.
  •  Then they are the cognitive strategies - Learn to identify the problems before you, prioritize and put aside those which you cannot deal with immediately. Example: You have identified the problems as worried about retaining job, whether my son's college education will be adversely affected and the need for bringing home required provisions during the pandemic. Achieving  this clarity, will help you decide on which to be attended to first.
  • It is most essential to put off important decisions such as quitting a job when you are psychologically and emotionally under pressure.  
  • when you think with a calm mind you will realize that not all windows and doors are closed. Step outside of the problem and see what can be done. Chunking the problem into manageable portions helps. This is the principle followed by the Alcoholic Anonymous group. 
  • A sense of helplessness can be very distressing. Do not get in to that mindset- Pessimism stretched to a point of feeling that "there are no answers to my problem" can be catastrophic. 
  • When people are not able to verbalize their emotional state, the problem gets converted to physical symptoms. Therefore, look at and listen to your body for signs. 
  • If anxiety persists over a period of time it needs to be addressed. 
Problems of mental health associated with Covid situation     

  • You can see a similarity in the situation faced by both a doctor and a HR person in that they have to meet the expectation and ensure well being of their patients/ employees on the one hand while on the other hand, they have to take care of their own health as well. They also have to handle the associated stress.  
  •  The honey moon period of working from home is over, not many are enjoying it anymore. The office working atmosphere of interaction and communication is being missed. Further, with the lines having blurred, work-life balance has gone for a toss.
  • The amount of anxiety and fear faced on a day to day basis has gone up considerably, particularly during the second wave. Covid is no longer something happening somewhere far away to someone. It has come too close for comfort.
  • As most families are affected in one way or the other, lot of grief and bereavement has to be encountered as also financial burden for treatment.
  • Nurses working in hospitals worry about their young children left alone at home to fend for themselves. They are also concerned about passing on the virus as and when they visit home. Similar is the situation of other professionals working in the medical and  health domain.
  •  In an activity organized for children, they were asked to do painting of what they thought about the Covid 19 situation. It was interesting to find that younger children painted positive pictures as well. 
  • Children miss the opportunity to play outdoor with their friends and the class room atmosphere at school. 
  • There is a need for a lot more supervision by adults when it comes to the online classes.
  • Verbalizing one's emotions is even more difficult for children. They need to be reassured and their anxieties/fears allayed.
  • More programs need to be developed to support children to navigate through the pandemic period. 
  • There is additional pressures on families who have senior citizens at home. Senior citizens experience a lot more loneliness as they are not able to meet their friends for a chat at the park. Further, losing some of their friends to Covid is adding to the tension, worry and depression. 
  • This is a time when a lot of priority is to be given to self care. Effective coping and having a set routine for each day is very important. One should also not listen to or watch too much of fake or depressing news. 
  • One should be prepared in advance as to what needs to be done in case a hospital visit becomes necessary to avert a panic response.
  • Shower a lot of kindness on yourself and recognize when you need to seek help.
  • At the work place, reach out to whatever services are made available by the employer such as counselling services to keep yourself strong. 
  • Just as you take help for physical requirements, make it a point to seek help for mental health issues. We have to remove the stigma so that people come out and speak about their mental health problems.
  • While too much stress is detrimental, some amount of stress (Eustress) is good  to ensure that you take the pandemic seriously and observe protocol to beat it. You will then have control over what you are doing and manage the pace of response effectively.
  • There are apps available to monitor your sleep, stress levels/depression etc which can be used if you feel it helps you. 
  • In the realm of spirituality, reading  the Bhagavat Gita and other such books can be of great help. Buddhist meditation and practices also can be beneficial. 
  • Employers while drafting wellness policies should keep in mind the fact that it is the fear of their confidentiality being compromised and fear of the consequences of admitting you have a mental issue, that prevents many employees  to come forward to seek help. The reassurance factor should be built in to the company policies.
  • In the  risk assessment of mental health  (where a traffic light colour system has been  introduced) the focus and priority  should be to ensure that  those in the green zones continue to remain green, provide help to those in amber zone ( midway between yellow and orange) to enable them to  recognize their problem and  address the problems aggressively in respect of of those in the red zone. 
To my mind this conversation between two experts in the field was a very rewarding and enlightening exercise. There is a lot we can take and implement from the discussion to enhance our self sustaining and coping strategies for ensuring personal well being. 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Resilience in the Workplace

National Human Resources Development Network (NHRDN)  organized a series of online webinars from 5th to 10th October 2020  under their Mind Matters Program in connection with the World mental health day. I had attended the session on the 8th and the valedictory session on 10th October. I shared the gist of the proceedings on the 8th in my blog post featuring the experience sharing by Ms Mellener Anne Coelho, VP and India Head for Diversity, equity and inclusion North Trust India. (

In the last post we discussed as to why it is all the more important to  give focus and thrust to mental health issues in India - Our awareness levels about mental health is low and there is a stigma attached to matters related to mental health. In this blog, we will discuss the gist of a panel discussion organized on 10th October 2020. Prof Sujata Sriram of Tata Institute of Social Sciences  was the moderator  and panel members  were  Dr Soumya Krishna, Consultant psychiatrist, Green oak initiative, Dr Chetana Duggal Asst Prof TISS and Ms Hvovi Bhagwagar, Psychologist & psychotherapist.

The following matters were discussed during the interaction by the panel members. 

What constitutes resilience?   

 Resilience is the ability to spring back from an adversity. Nobody is born with it; it is developed over a period of time.

*  Resilience is not an absolute ability. One can be resilient in one situation but not in another. Sometimes, the same situation occuring on a later date may not be met by a person with resilience. 

* Reframing can help to handle an adverse situation. It involves reprocessing but does not necessarily mean a person has forgotten the adverse experience. It is about looking at it differently so that it does not impact you negatively. 

* Resilience involves the requirement to be adaptive and varies from person to person. When natural disasters like an earth quake happens, the ability of the people to spring back to normalcy is not the same. While  most people come back to their old selves and also learn, grow from that experience, there are some who have difficulty in coping with life in the future and need help. 

Role of culture in resilience     

* Some cultures teach you to be resilient by giving the message very early in life that "You have to be strong" 

* This strength also comes from the support and access to resources, sense of identity etc. As for example a supportive comment "What happened at school today?" will give the signal  to a child that he matters and helps him to feel strong and protected. 

* Issues such as gender can impact the resilient process negatively if it is felt that the resources are not fairly distributed. 

* India, basically as nation has enjoyed community support which has helped her to be a resilient nation. However, there has been some erosion in this regard particularly in urban areas. This needs to be revived from the level of the roots for building workplace resilience. Steps are to be taken to build community support.  

Way Forward     

* Mental issues of our team members which are below the surface may come out during the times of stress or adverse conditions like the Corona crisis. Here, what is important is the way we react. We should be supportive and encourage people to speak up whether at  work or at home. A negative reaction can add to the problem.

* It is important to listen with an open mind.The mental health champions should not behave as if they know everything and have all the answers. The mere act of listening helps.

* If people are upset, give them the opportunity to vent, let their steam out for some time. 

* The necessary environment has to be created for people to feel safe. It is only when they feel safe that they will open up and reach out to you. This has to be done by all concerned namely the parents, spouses. manager and organization  working as a team to co regulate and soothe the problem encountered by the employee.

What can Managers Do?   

Organizations have begun to understand the importance of taking care of the mental well being of their employees. This itself is a step in the right direction

* Managers can be trained with definite and clear inputs on how to talk to a person having a mental issue.

* Certification programs of a mandatory 1 or 2 days can be implemented.

* Accessibility to mental health care within the organization- A mental health department can be started headed by a psychologist. 

* Every person in the organization needs to be sensitized. People should be trained and prepared to use less threatening language in conversations. Have refresher courses for managers once in a year and make it mandatory by integrating it to the performance appraisals. 

* The details of the organization's mental health policy should be available in its website spelling out the various facilities / steps available for sustaining mental health. 

* A thorough system be developed for the company that encompasses the policy & its relevance to the outcomes of the organization, day to day practices, response machinery in the form of wellness conversations, platform for dialoguing and the specialized services provided ( mental health department).

* The language that is used in respect of a person in distress is very important, all the more the language of  leaders.  

* The way you look at and approach an employee would be different if you believed in the statement    "A difficult employee is one with distress."  The focus would then be "how can I get you back? You have been a good performer before". 

* Be patient. People may take time to trust you. As it is they may be in a mental state where things appear dark and negative.

* Be as inclusive as possible. Do not exclude them from departmental or other social meetings connected with the department. 

*Do not penalize an employee who has revealed his/her mental issue.Their appraisals or promotion should not be adversely affected because of it. Do not look at them as "People who cannot handle things." Organizations have to take responsibility for safeguarding their rights on par with other employees. 

* It is on account of stigma attached to mental illness that some employees do not accept or utilize assistance or benefit extended to them. As for example, a psychologist was arranged by a company to talk with employees with suicidal tendencies on a one on one basis. However, none of the employees availed of that service.   Employee assistance programs (EAP) should examine ways to energize the programs. (EAP is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental, and emotional well being). 

* Encourage and let the subject of mental health come into routine conversation in a natural and matter of fact manner. 

Developing resilience in children post Covid 

  * Children are confused with the nature of life post Covid with each child having to figure out for himself/herself as to how to handle the changes. Open up conversations with them and provide them supportive space and motivation.

* When they go back to work after being on lock down, employees are not expected to be supermen. They are given the time and space to pick up and show graded improvement. The same goes for children. Don't put undue pressure on them simply because they are now operating from home. 

* Physical distancing etc is difficult to implement among children. Therefore, the resumption of schools should start initially only for students of higher classes. It is another matter that in terms of restlessness, the adolescents are the most difficult to handle at this time 

* Finally, the panel advised to be kind to everyone including yourself in these pandemic times which can be very challenging.  

This discussion was a fitting finale to the week long webinar focusing on mental health  as a part of  observing the World Mental Health day. The moderator and the panel of experts gave some very insightful tips that can be implemented profitably by employers for ensuring the mental health and well being of their employees.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Indian Political Economy in the 21st Century- Book Review

The book "Indian Political Economy in the 21st Century'- Facets and Challenges written by Dr G.R. Krishnamurthy (GR Krishna Cogineni) is predominantly an assemblage of the talks given by the professor over the years in national and international conferences. It traces the economic development in the country starting from the first five year plan made after independence (which focused on agriculture)  to the present economic scenario. The book has been divided into four parts :  Part I discusses the core sector challenges, Part II Economy and society in transition , Part III India's foreign trade and relations and part IV Professional and ethical management & Governance strategy. 

When I studied B.A. Economics for my graduation in the late seventies, our discussions centered around aspects such as Indian agriculture being "a gamble of the rains" and the problems of  fragmentation of agricultural land  resulting from division of land  among heirs on the death of a patriarch. Heavy dependence on the rain God has continued to be a problem in spite of  a few early dam projects like Bhakra  Nangal in the state of Punjab/ Himachal  Pradesh.  The  noted economist V.K.R.V. Rao had suggested the linking and channelizing of rivers in the country appropriately to avoid flooding in the eastern part  and making it available to the rain deficit states. His proposal was not immediately accepted by politicians who were concerned more about which state would get more from the project. Finally it had to be abandoned since the original cost estimates had gone up by many times as we dilly dallied on the decision making.

Dr Krishna gives us  a ring side view of the problems faced in the villages, particularly by  women who are the backbone of society. Women's economic empowerment through  micro finance is a positive development that has opened up  the possibilities of women's entrepreneurship and development. It not only provides her with access to incomes and assets but also decision making power at home and community activities. It was a model successfully adopted in Bangladesh by Prof  Muhammad Yunus, banker and social entrepreneur through his Grameen banks  that won him a Nobel Peace prize in 2006. I am sharing here a video of an address given by Prof Yunus at the Ashoka University at Sonipat Haryana, about the practical problems at the village level and how he went about solving them. It is very relevant to part I of our book under review. 

In India, the micro finance model is sought to be implemented with the help of Self Help Groups(SHGs) consisting of 15 to 20 poor rural women . The book discusses the extent of success of the schemes and the problems and criticisms that need to be addressed. Adequate support network is most essential  for its success. The dynamics of caste in the village has been explained  with a case study of an Andhra village panchayat .It  gives readers an authentic feel of the reality of life in the villages and the challenges involved. 

The economic liberalization and the socio- cultural transformation in India is another important subject that is discussed in the book. According to the author, after the launch of the economic liberalization program in 1991, India showed an impressive growth rate of 6 to 7% per annum for 25 years till 2016. For 45 years prior, it only had a growth rate of 3% per annum. The information technology boom contributed to 50% of GDP of the whole country. He says "The middle class and the rich are the largest beneficiaries of the fruits of economic growth". some of the impact of this development include increase in the registered motor vehicles from around 2 crores to 16 crores during the initial two decades of liberalization (1991-2011), India became a prominent player in the global IT scenario. Every third Indian began to be seen in someway as coming under the bracket "Middle class" kindling the interest of the world for India as a destination for foreign direct investment(FDI). 

Dr Krishna says that economic prosperity has brought with it some changes in social and cultural aspects in the country - with materialistic consumerism becoming  a way of life,  there is "no personal relationships and no family bonds and many Indians including teenagers, children, senior citizens began to feel loneliness and alienation in their lives"  leading to psychological frustration and psychiatric problems. The divorce and crime rate also rose. On the one side, there was economic upward  mobility while on the other, there has been an increase in unemployment due to our education system failing to produce people who are employable  as they lack the required skills. A sense of 'aimlessness' has gripped the youth.  In the author's words "India a land of Buddha, Ambedkar and Mahatma needs a different kind of social transformation than an American or European  model. Our economic growth has not resulted in a type of social transformation which is India soul centered". 

The book also discusses at length the challenges of  human resource development in Indian organizations underscoring the need for imparting better skills, competencies and attitudes with a  focus on improving the very 'quality of life' of human resources.  The managerial focus and strategies are discussed in the chapter titled " Productivity in Indian Public sector undertakings (PSUs). Human resources need to seen as "creators of development" rather than as one of its residuals and a deliberate process should be in place for their empowerment. Curriculum restructuring has been suggested as a must  for excellence in management education. Other economic subjects deliberated on, in the book include the trends in FDI investment in India and China, ASEAN and India and  the significance of the BRIC countries in the global economy.

The book  highlights the role and importance of small industries which are an important source of employment.  Dr Krishna notes that "Roughly 90 small scale units fall sick everyday in India". some of the solutions suggested to meet the challenges faced by small units are a comprehensive package for revival, withdrawal of all arbitrary recover proceedings, creation of a separate bank to cater to the working capital needs of SSIs (Small scale industries), exemption of taxes in rural and backward areas. Purchases on preferential basis, all Government requirements from SSIs, creation of separate marketing yards for selling the products of SSIs and small producers, Free legal aid to small entrepreneurs etc.   

In the last chapter, a third approach to development attributed to Ganhiji has been discussed as the need of the times. Gandhiji had advocated industrialization and adoption of technology "commensurate with the needs, ethos and tradition of the Indian population, economy and society, particularly the peasantry." The efficacy of  latest developments in the economic front brought in by the NDA 2.0 Government on its assumption of power in 2014, has not been analysed in detail in the book since it is only  after some time has lapsed that the real impact of a policy or action will be known and can be measured. The author has therefore discussed  it in the beginning of the book under " Prologue". 

The NDA 2.0 Government has   announced an ambitious goal of making India a $5 trillion economy.According to the author "PM Modi has taken some drastic but highly controversial measures like demonetization, introduction of GST etc. Though taken with  noble objectives, did these measures achieve the goals?" is a question that needs to be answered. He has cited some parameters to show a decline in many areas with a slide "in overall GDP growth from 8% a year ago to 5 % in 2019. Covid 19 has now added to our woes and things are bound to get more difficult in the near future before we are able to bounce back.

" Indian Political Economy in the 21st Century" is a very comprehensive book touching  upon various aspects that has  impacted the Indian economy over the years with some prescriptions on the way forward. At many points while reading the book I found myself thinking "If only I had such an exhaustive book thoroughly covering so many aspects, when we were  students!". I am sure that the libraries of management schools and colleges offering B.A./ courses would find this book a valuable addition to their bookshelves. It is laced with case studies and plenty of statistics on the subjects discussed. If there is anything I would have liked more, it is an elaboration of the "Third path approach" of Gandhiji with  inputs from present day economists on how useful and feasible it would be for India to implement today and the extent of its acceptability given the present mood of the nation.

 Personally, I am inclined to agree with the author that a balanced approach is the need of the hour, particularly now that  we have seen how greed has done great harm to the economy of capitalist countries like USA. Many of our citizens in rural areas would not leave their homes to come to urban areas if they had good opportunities for a decent living in terms of economic and other facilities in their native place. To that extent the pressure on the resources in the towns and cities would have been less. In this context we would do well to keep in mind the dream of the  people's president APJ Abdul Kalam for  PURA ( Provision of Urban amenities in Rural areas) so that all Indians will enjoy a high quality of life. This would also be in line with the aspirations of more and more young Indians who are articulating a desire to be and have the best they can! 

NB: The highly informative and insightful book " Indian Political Economy in the 21st Century" can be bought through this link. 

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Curiosity creates Creativity

In this blog I am sharing the gist of the webinar organized by Mr Prakash Sharma of Bija Training under the Mask leadership series on 6th January 2021. The speaker was Mr sanjay Chandel, SrVP(HR), Sterling

Curiosity and creativity are mutually reinforcing qualities.  Being curious is the foundation stone of creativity. The creativity process is initiated from a place of being curious. When you give an idea a shape it becomes innovation. You take inputs from various sources and create something new and original. As for example, you could brainstorm and come out with fifty ideas. Innovating is all about translating into action the workable ideas generated. Tesla came out with a car with basically battery and software and very few mechanical parts.  Presently, with many employees working from home innovative ways of working are being explored and encouraged.  

To a question as to how creativity can be kindled, the speaker said that while humans are at their creative peek up to the ages of  5- 6 years, by age 40  creativity tends to decline to only around 2%. Getting into a routine or predetermined ways, stifle creativity. Organizations are generally designed to administer and work in a regimented manner. Today, there is a sea change in the way people work for a company.  They don’t work for the same company for 35 years. The shelf life of skills also is now only 5 to 6 years. Many organizations become redundant as the changes happening  within the organization is less than the changes happening outside.   

Creativity today is not a choice but a necessity. It is no longer about competition coming from within the industry. It can come from totally unexpected places surprising you  with new business models such as  Uber/ Ola in the  taxi  and  Airbnb/ Oyo in hospitality industries.  One has to have an ear to the ground and be humble to be able to learn. There is a need for creativity to be intentional with a framework. One should be willing and able to use tools like design thinking and Gemba walk  (walk around the place where value is being created meaning see actual process, understand work, ask questions and learn).

There is the need for businesses to be tuned to reality. We have seen a well established brand like Nokia disappear for want of agility within a span of two years of products like I phone appearing. Similarly Tesla gave a run for its money to cars like BMW in the luxury car segmentCreativity  and agility go hand in hand . One cannot be complacent in the dynamic times that we live in. In the US, the established car companies  manufacturing huge cars did not take seriously the entry of smaller sized cars in the belief that Americans (to whom  cheap gas was available) would always prefer large cars.  

 In fact the plea by an employee of Chevrolet company for manufacturing small cars was dismissed by the company. He was however, proved right when Hyundai and Japanese companies made a dent in the market offering smaller cars. The best of organizations are always open to listening to their employees. When an employee had suggested introduction of cappuccino coffee, Starbucks initially discouraged him. Later, when it was introduced as a trial, it turned out to be its highest selling product.

 To another question as to whether having a deadline would be a deterrent to creativity, the speaker said  his answer would be ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and that it would depend on circumstances. Although deadlines can sometimes be stifling, it may be necessary when quick solutions are demanded. As for example some companies brainstormed and came up with quick responses when they were given only a week’s time to switch over to "work from home" on the Covid 19 pandemic striking the world.  Similarly vaccines normally take 5 to 10 years to be developed. In view of the present emergency the period had to be crunched and the scientists rose to the occasion. Thus it all depends on the context. The speaker signed off with the remark “ This is the best time to try out ideas.” The discussion of the evening was very insightful and enlightening. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Personal story of Resilience and accomplishment

Mind matters is a movement initiated by the National Human Resources Development Network (NHRDN) to spread awareness of mental well being  at a time of increasing concern over mental health.  The  complexity of our working lives over the years has contributed to the problem. It is particularly important to  give focus and thrust in India as our awareness levels on are low and there is a stigma attached to matters related to mental health . In the year 2020,  NHRD organized a series of online webinars from 5th to 10th October (World mental health day). I was able to attend only one session on 8th October and the valediction on the 10th. I am sharing here the gist of the discussions on the 8th featuring  Ms Mellener Anne Coelho, VP and India Head for Diversity, equity and inclusion North Trust India.   

Ms Mellener shared her own battle with mental health issues and how she had come out successful in managing the same. She first consulted a neurologist when she experienced feelings of anxiety  particularly while making presentations at work. She had  also felt occasional heart palpitations. The doctor said it was on account of stress and referred her to a clinical psychologist and psychiatrist.  She was prescribed anti depressants to increase serotonin levels. The drug produced side effects such as chest pain and  nausea. The speaker said that as a remedy she looked at methods such as breathing techniques. She also cut down on the average of seven cups of coffee she was consuming everyday. The breathing exercises helped in getting rid of the chest pain. She then looked at cognitive behavioural  therapy.   

When stress accumulates, it manifests as  anxiety characterized by  intense worry and fear. It necessitates the use of beta blockers and benzos as medicine. The  speaker read up as much as possible on anxiety. She decided to say "No, No"  in respect of  going back to  psychiatrist but went for therapy once a week. She then did a course on mindfulness and learnt meditation. Positive changes from taking  these steps began to show in a period of six months. Ms Mellener  said that journaling and having an attitude of gratitude and kindness is also very helpful. It opens neuro pathways in one's brain. She now frequently  tells  "Thank you" to the universe.  

The above  initiatives led to the good place of  Ms Mellener  no longer requiring medication. However, she is aware that she needs to be vigilant  to be able to  manage anxiety effectively so that it does not slip into  fear. At times grief associated with the loss of her aunt eight years ago tend to come up. Ms Mellener said that she used positive affirmations effectively to manage her condition of "Generalized anxiety disorder". The lock down period was also a challenge as she lived alone and it can get lonely. You can end up imagining the worst case scenario. Panic attacks happened in the form of sweating, shortness of breath and heart pain. The speaker said that mental health is like a continuum. You could be on one, in between or the other side. After exercising her coping skills effectively, the speaker was able to move to the positive side. 

Ms Mellener said that 'Stigma' was a big factor in Asian countries. As a result people are reluctant to speak about mental health issues. They are also not willing to seek help. Awareness and education is the way to ensure that people do not make insensitive remarks such as " He/ She is a crack/psycho". People do not have the right knowledge of how to  interact with a person with mental health issues. For example, they tend to believe that effort is not made by the person affected to change mood/ emotional state. Therefore they end up making statements such as "Pull yourself together. Why are you not smiling?" Would you say such things to someone  who is physically injured? The first thought when dealing with a physically injured person  would be to take the patient to a hospital to alleviate pain.      

Ms Mellener is truly a role model,  one who has achieved a lot in spite of having to manage the challenges associated with her disorder. She has won many awards including the "herRising" award that recognizes women who are returning to the work place and women who are rising in  their organizations as a result of their commitment and drive. Ms Mellener  has plenty of speaking opportunities and is a member of the Global advisory board on diversity & inclusion of  the Future Talent Council headquartered at Stockholm. She is passionate about her role of developing and sustaining a culture of  diversity, equity and inclusion  that encompasses all forms of diversity including  normalization of conversations around mental health.

The speaker said that in matters of mental health management,  there are clear cut roles as to what one can or cannot do. A counselor cannot diagnose the illness. It can be done only by a clinical psychologist while it is only a  psychiatrist who can prescribe medicines. While concluding, Ms Mellener reiterated her advice to  practice mindfulness and start the day with a feeling of gratitude . There are apps to support you in the journey. You could also watch the "Honest Guys" (Guided meditation)  videos which are beneficial. Multitasking is bad for your brain. Do one thing at a time. It is okay to ask for help and to say "No" sometimes.  As she signed off, the speaker advised to be "Mindful of your language" of what you are telling yourself and others. "In the days to come  empathy, gratitude and resilience are going to be core leadership skills".  

It is heartening to note that focus and attention is slowly and steadily coming the way of mental well being. It is necessary that we treat physical discomfort and mental discomfort in the same manner and address it promptly. When celebrities like Deepika Padukone speak about how they managed and successfully overcame the challenges, it motivates  more and more people to acknowledge mental health issues and seek help. In this connection it is kind and brave of Ms Mellener to share her story of resilience and accomplishment. I am sure like me, readers would be inspired by her story.  Let us hope that employers also would come forward to  offer encouragement and  support to their employees  which is most essential in the times that we live in.