Thursday, 5 December 2019

My New Book "corporate Poems- Straight and Simple" Published on Kindle

I am very happy to inform all my readers that my  book “: Corporate Poems- Straight and Simple" has been published on kindle and is now available on Kindle store/Amazon. It covers a wide spectrum of corporate work life / work in any organization..

The foreword for the book has been written by distinguished poet, writer, and reviewer and Hon Literary advisor to the Cultural Center of Vijayawada and Amaravatti (CCVA), Ms Padmaja Iyengar - Paddy and recommendations by sensitive. Insightful and accomplished poet Ms Saranya Francis and former Military officer, writer &  passionate blogger,  Mr Durga Prasad Dash.

The book has been divided into five sections that are important in any organization namely

 1) Organizational Direction
2) Leadership
3) Employee Relations
4) Training and Development and
5) In the course of Day to Day work.

In the Foreword Ms Padmaja Iyengar writes " Rajeev’s long innings in managerial positions across hierarchy and organizations as also his inimitable lucid style is evident in all the poems."
 She adds "Every poem in the collection ‘Corporate Poems – Straight and Simple’ provides a management lesson to be learnt, imbibed and practised by managers in day to day work. The author, Rajeev Moothedath demystifies complicated management thoughts and deconstructs management philosophies into straight and simple poetry!"  

In her recommendation poet Saranya Francis says " Rajeev's corporate poems are a telling commentary of the corporate world's upheavals, idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. As an astute HR professional, he is uniquely placed to share observations on the personal side of the professional world. The poems in the collection are crisp, straightforward, deliberately worded and sometimes even tongue in cheek. Rajeev in his unique style has spoken to his readers through these poems"

Writer & Blogger Mr Durga Prasad Dash writes "Rajeev Moothedath’s ability to churn out poems out of dry subjects such as “HR analytics and the four abilities” is definitely commendable." 

Looking forward to the feedback from dear readers.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Breaking the Mold- A Paradigm in Industrial Relations

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The November month meeting of NHRD Hosur Chapter discussed a topic that has always been important for those working in HR, particularly for practitioners in the manufacturing sector.  From the time HR was known as 'Personnel Management', industrial relations (IR ) was held the key focus area of the function. Over the years, the focus on IR reduced on account of changes in the economic, social and political environment in the country. In HR conferences the focus and discussion  shifted to matters such as 'Talent Management', 'Leadership Development', 'Strategic HR management' and ' HR as a business partner'.

I drove down from Bangalore to Hosur to listen to the speaker of the day Mr Pramod Mahatme, Vice president Employee relations, Wipro Consumer Care and Lighting. Pramod accepts invitations to speak only on the core area of Industrial relations. He said that of late, the invitations to speak have increased.Thus,while on the one hand some would believe that the focus and interest in IR has declined, on the other hand, it appears that sooner than later the IR focus will come back in a big way. Often times, it is seen that those working in IR tend to frequently change jobs. This could be because of things becoming too ‘hot’ and difficult to handle after a few years in the same company. The speaker, however has worked in only three companies since he passed out of Symbiosis Pune which includes long stints of 14-16 years in two companies viz Hindustan Lever and Wipro where he is presently working.  

IR practitioners have been generally reluctant to share their insights and the “How’ of handling tough labour situations. Therefore, it was a pleasure listening to the speaker whose thoughts were a shift from the traditional paradigm that has guided the theory and practice of IR. As for example, he says that employees form unions not because they have gained the courage to revolt but because they see and feel themselves as ‘weak’. The paradigm we hold is significant as it shapes the way we act and respond to situations. “Breaking the mold” in IR is the need of the hour.
There has been a gradual up-gradation over the years from labour relations to talent management. It is all to do with the demand and supply which also determines whether the management would resort to individual bargaining or collective bargaining. When the demand for people is more than the supply, they are held as 'talent'  and individual bargaining is done with them wherein the aim is to attract and retain talent at the most competitive price with a willingness to offer benefits of highest common factor. On the other hand if the supply is more than the demand for a particular skill, the people are deemed 'labour' and the organization engages in collective bargaining with their union. The aim is to achieve productivity, quality, reliability and flexibility at the best possible bargain. Lowest common denominator is attempted in collective bargaining.

Employees are attracted to unions when job security is threatened and when individual bargaining strength is reduced. It is weakness that drives unity. When the employee has a high salary and a lower market value, he tends to gravitate towards the union to offset his weakness. When a corporation has a number of units and less dependent on an individual factory, it results in weak local unions and they tend to strengthen themselves through a central federation. In the new economic scenario where organizations resort to global sourcing, the federation at national level becomes weak leading to emergence of international federation. 

Managements become strong when they are engaged in the manufacture of multiple products with multiple  factories for each product. While the strength of the management lies in its ability to sustain disruptions, for the union, the strength comes from its ability to inflict pressure through coercion. In an ideal IR scenario there would be a strong management and a strong union. This climate is possible when the management is able to say "No" to the union to unjustified demands and not succumb . In this connection, the strength of the union can be determined by its ability to say "Yes" when an offer is reasonable and acceptable. It is only a strong union  that can say "Yes" and convince its cadre. The weak  ones would be unsure and would want to frequently consult the rank and file meaning they are unable to take decisions as leaders. I have seen this happen in the first company I worked for; after  the death of a charismatic leader, the successors were weak and were scared and unable to take decisions
A strong union alone can agree to implement reforms in terms of improving standards, cost reduction, flexibility and stability. Whether a union leader makes an impact or not would depend on charisma, the trust that he enjoys, muscle power and ability to say "Yes". When we have weak unions on a strong wicket the result would be 'Ad-hoc decisions'. Strong union on a strong wicket results in ' 'Tough settlements'. Strong union on a weak wicket leads to 'Settlement with reforms' and weak union on a weak wicket leads to dependency on 'Court awards'. It is not the chemistry that the leaders of the management and union share that determines IR but the relative forces of interdependence that drive the relationship.   

Strike is a genuine tool in the collective bargaining process and should not be viewed as a 'misconduct'. At the same time, collective indiscipline should be dealt with firmly and not diluted as 'individual indiscipline'. Collective behaviour is not just the summation of individual behaviour. The rigid provisions in Industrial Disputes Act have come in the way of effective working of the industry. These include not being able to make changes in conditions of service/ work content without notice/consent under S9a (speaker related an instance in Hindustan Lever when changing the bottle of shampoo met with resistance), separation of employees permitted only on the grounds of misconduct, lay off/retrenchment/closure only with permission of appropriate Government and right to strike being available without notice (Non public utility services).  Although everyone agrees in principle that these are a deterrent to industrial effectiveness, no Government has been able to change these provisions due to the electoral politics. 

The speaker then went on to discuss the subject of dealing with militancy of trade unions. He said that the trade unions can be broadly divided into the following based on the nature and expertise of its leaders 

1) The trade union generalist : whose expertise is on negotiation skills
2) Labour lawyer: who starts out guiding unions but ends up taking over the leadership
3) Extortionists :  who use muscle power and militancy to get their way  

The best is the generalist; the worst the lawyers and the easiest to handle are the militant 'gundas'. To the question as to why he holds the militants as the easiest to handle, Pramod clarified that the 'Gunda' type leaders do not know the law most of the time and they are also reluctant to go to the court. He shared his own experience of how he refused discussions with a union whose member had resorted to violent methods . Later, the onus was literally on the union to get the management to resume talks with them. Militancy for whatever reasons that was seen in the 70s and 80s is not pardonable. It is liberalization that paved the way for reversing such trends. The speaker then made an interesting and provocative comment "It is the management which is the cause of militancy when it uses undue influence and coercion for collective settlements. This takes the form of misusing the standing orders and suspending workmen pending inquiry. In turn, unions resort to violence. 

The traditional aversion and antipathy to the union has to change. We have seen instances of strikes happening particularly in the auto sector on account of managements resisting the formation of union. There is even a willingness to accept all demands of employees in order to avoid union formation. An attitude of sympathy and acceptance will go a long way in having good industrial relations. After all, as discussed earlier employees look to unionize when they feel inadequate to engage in individual bargaining. With changes in the demand-supply ratio, it may not be long before the job security of IT employees comes under focus and more people in services opting for collective bargaining. 

It is to be noted that although we have many labour laws, they are not 'labour friendly' and  can at best be described as 'union friendly'. The restrictions on the separation of employees discussed earlier in this post, inhibits the employment of more people. Unions are happy that with restrictions on closure etc they continue to have people on their member list even if the industry itself has become sick and inefficient. The speaker reiterated in the end that IR would be magnanimous and operating from a position of strength when unions are accepted and encouraged as a natural phenomenon of the  IR process. He signed off by remarking "Fear of attrition will bring more attrition. Fear of strike will bring more strike." 

The biggest take away from the session, to my mind was that it underscores the importance of operating from a position of strength rather than fear - The strength of the management is in the ability to  say 'No' and that of the union is the ability to say 'Yes'. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Shaping Innovation Culture with Design Thinking

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The speaker for the October month meet of  NHRD Bangalore was Dr Pavan Soni, innovation evangelist and a passionate teacher. His company Inflexion point offers  programs on design thinking, strategic acumen, and consulting skills. The organization has a clientele that includes Reliance, Tatas, ITC, Flipkart, and Novartis, among others. With a distinguished academic & professional background and a doctorate in the domain of innovation management from IIM Bangalore, we had for the evening, one best suited to speak on the topic.

Pavan started out by stating that innovation is the life blood and need of the hour.Mr Jack Welch was  held the CEO of the century and yet the obituary of GE the company he headed , is now being talked about (presently the company has a total debt of around $115 billion). Any company can go bankrupt without innovation. Hence, the significance and importance of innovation. In fact Toyota  starts the day contemplating  the obituary of the company and discussing how death can be effectively postponed. Such exercises have become necessary in view of hard realities such as recalling 20 million cars by the company. Similarly, it should be a concern for Apple that significant new innovations have not happened since the death of its Chairman Steve Jobs in 2011. 

The speaker said that the HR fraternity needs to ask the question "How innovative are we now ?". The intention of the talk, he said was to nudge the audience to embrace an innovation culture with design thinking and imbibe a culture of learning, unlearning and relearning. Design thinking is not about design. It is about thinking- Can you think clearly? Pavan shared his experience of giving a talk at ISRO Bangalore as a part of their Distinguished Lecture Series. He initially thought  "what could I be telling people who were already engaging with rocket science?". However, he found that all senior executives including the Director were present and stayed till the end of the two hour session. It was not so much about learning from the talk but the signal that was being given to everyone in the organization that innovation is paramount. 

The speaker, on learning that  Scientists in ISRO remain at work for over 18 hours, asked the HR executive with whom he was interacting as to how this was possible/ happening?. After all, ISRO was a Government organization like DRDO and many others. What sets it apart? He received the reply that at ISRO, science means "No hierarchy."  One cannot afford to have hierarchy in  such an organization. An error pointed out or suggestion given by anyone at any level in the organization is required to be seriously taken note of, given the precision and nature of the organization's activities.

Design thinking is all the more relevant in the evolving human- machine equation. The machine is taking over more and more the activities that were earlier performed by human beings. So much so, even beautiful pictures are being created/drawn by machines. Therefore, in order to not be redundant,  human beings have to draw on their unique qualities that cannot be replicated by machines.  Creativity is your ability to create novelty and utility (usefulness) and innovation is commercializing an idea (Getting money out of it). The focus needs to be on the subject rather than the object.

As for example if you are looking at a product 'pen', you ask the question "Why do you need this pen? Is it for writing or as as adornment worn to enhance prestige? The answer would decide how you would create and market it. It is more about solving the problem with the customer rather than for the customer. Innovation starts with the customer's problem and having empathy with it. It is about the time spend on artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence. In design thinking AI and EI coexist. ( Readers may like to check out another blog that I had posted in 2017 on Design thinking- . Science when perfected becomes art. Art when perfected becomes magic.

The following seven steps would be useful for applying design thinking to develop an innovation culture.

1) Establish clearly the 'Why' and 'What' of innovating- What is the purpose of the innovation? In the VUCA (Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, there is a need to learn to think slowly and not succumb to knee jerk reactions. Counter intuitive (something that goes against what you believe would be logical, or something that goes against common sense) people practices may have to be developed for promoting an innovation culture. 

2) Hone Variation: Encouraging your people to think differently and being comfortable with people who are not similar to you. Packing your life with multiple affiliations enriches your life and ensures that you are less like a machine. 

3) Offer Broad Guidelines:  Have a few broad, yet clear guidelines, recruit good people and then leave them alone so that they can contribute effectively without interference.

4) Provide liberal resources to experiment. 

5) Tolerate and celebrate failed attempts 

6) Offer asymmetric incentives: An asymmetric incentive (strong rewards for success with weak penalties for failure) structure encourages employees to take on risky projects which is a prerequisite for innovation. 

7) Provide an air cover: This pertains to extending psychological safety to the employees in your zone of influence, to be themselves.  

Empathy is critical in all roles for shaping an innovation culture. In this connection (1) Be a good listener engaged in speaking and listening at a ratio of 1:5 - This also helps to build trust. (2) Park your judgement and postpone it in order to avoid self fulfilling prophecy.(3) Be thick skinned so as to be not discouraged easily by setbacks or negativity.  

The discussion on 31st October at the Chancery Pavilion Hotel Bangalore was an informative, lively and rewarding experience. I conveyed as much to the speaker when I met and shook hands with him after the session. 

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Beyond Bias- Bringing Inclusion in Diversity

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The September Month meeting of NHRD on the subject "Beyond Bias" had two speakers/experts  interacting with the audience viz. Ms Nirmala Menon, Founder CEO Interweave consulting and Ms Anuranjita Kumar MD (HR) RBS. Nirmala has been providing Diversity & Inclusion solutions to corporates through her company for over 12 years. Anuranjita has been in the banking industry in CHRO/MD roles and has been with her present organization for a little over two years. Her recent book "Colour Matters?: The Truth That No One Wants to See" discusses this very subject of bias.

Both speakers have rich experience in devising and  implementing  policies in D & I. I have listened to Nimala at a professional meeting  some time back and had written about it in my blog. (Interested readers can find it here: )  However, I did not find the proceedings of the evening repetitive. On the contrary, it was very insightful and interesting as both the  speakers were kind enough to share their own personal experiences with 'bias' right from childhood through adult life.

Today inclusion and diversity is a buzz word. Employers would like to be seen as progressive and taking initiative in this regard. However, the fact remains that while we preach inclusion, "people are hardwired for exclusion". Albert Einstein had famously remarked that "It is easier to break an atom than a prejudice." Thus it is seen that many companies hire for diversity but manage for similarity! As far as gender diversity is concerned, the hiring of women has gone up to around 35% because targets have now been set up.Yet these are not necessarily in live roles as there are a lot of leakage from staff roles. Today, there are quite a few women CEOs in Indian banks but there is no pipeline. There is a need for more diversity at the top.

Although targets setting and tracking may give the impression of increasing numbers in terms of  diversity, this can also prove to be a problem as we tend to lose sight of the key aspect of creating a good environment for diversity. As for example having an inclusive environment for LGBT community is a challenge. Anuranjitha shared her experience of how a proposal for hiring people from this community met with resistance right from the board level. It was feared that the company would get into trouble with political parties. Even when this was pushed through nevertheless, it was found that the environment  was not conducive, with employees  not yet ready for the changes in the policy.

It is therefore necessary to prepare and create a suitable culture- Find out the pulse of the people; as to whether they are comfortable and address them. Nirmala stated that she is not a fan of best practices being blindly replicated. As each organization has its own culture, it is necessary to tweak the practices to the specific needs and situation in the organization. Thus, a lot needs to be done before inclusion happens in real terms. Here, leading by example by the senior management matters a lot. A story was shared of an officer who was invited to a  senior level meeting for the first time, He went with apprehensions in his mind as he would be the junior most in terms of rank of those attending. However, while he was walking to a seat in the outer circle, he was called by a business unit head to come and sit beside him at the table. This enhanced the officer's confidence and he was able to participate freely and contribute meaningfully to the discussion. 

We got insights into how bias can take the form of exclusion and how it  adversely affects the  confidence levels of people, from the personal experiences shared by the speakers. Nirmala said  that right from childhood she felt left out, being the only child in the family and extended family who had a darker tan of skin. When she wanted to participate in a dance recital at school, the teacher rejected her saying that she was dark and not suitable. The speaker said that when colleagues feel that they are being excluded on account of any reason be it colour, sex, caste or region, it is important to acknowledge their experience instead of dismissing it as a non issue- " I treat everyone the same irrespective of their sex. It is just your imagination."

Anuranjita related an incident that happened when she was working in England. One of her colleagues a white woman in another team, annoyed with some matter concerning her team member came to her office and started abusing her. When she objected, the women raised her voice even more which could be heard by everyone on the floor. The speaker felt violated and felt that this treatment was being meted out because she is of Asian descent. She immediately spoke to their common boss and asked what would the white woman had done if the same thing happened to her? The boss said that she would have gone to court. Anuranjita told him to take appropriate action in the matter failing which she would have to act.

One of the questions asked during the discussion was "How do you measure good employee experience in terms of inclusion. Nirmala said that 'inclusion' is always difficult to measure. Yet being accepted & valued, leads to better production and innovation as is borne out by studies. Anuranjita also agreed that this factor is not easy to measure. However, she suggested that NPS (Net promoter score) could give a cue as to the satisfaction levels. She felt that getting a score of 1 to 2 points on NPS would be very nice. ( NPS stands for Net Promoter Score which is a metric used in customer experience programs. NPS above 0 is considered “good”, +50 is “Excellent,” and above 70 is considered “world class.” Based on global NPS standards, any score above 0 would be considered “good"). 

Nirmala suggested that a lot of the bias could boil down to the economics. A rich woman or a person of colour/ race/caste/differently abled from an affluent background is likely to be treated well. Anuranjita said she could not agree fully with the statement, given her own experience. She was travelling business class on official tour. she asked the white flight attendants for a glass of hot water  but was not attended to for more than half an hour. However, when a white passenger, asked for a blanket, it was given to her in minutes. 

I would like to end this post with a question I asked and the interesting/ insightful answer I got."You had mentioned at the outset that "people are hardwired for exclusion", so what do we do to get out of this trap which is a natural instinct? Nirmala  replied "Engage more with people you wouldn't engage with." What she was saying in a way, was that it is easy to dislike or hate someone you hardly know. Once you engage more and more with people of other sex, nationalities, regions, races or economic backgrounds you would begin to notice not just the minuses but their pluses as well and would also develop an empathy for living life in their shoes.The bias would then slowly and surely fade away. This insight was for me, the icing on the cake of a wonderful evening of engaging conversation!   

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Applying Vedic Wisdom to Drive Corporate Success

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Prof P.R.Mukund, professor of electrical engineering at Rochester institute of technology, Newyork, CEO of a successful startup company and founder president of the Foundation for the preservation of knowledge was the speaker during the monthly meeting (May month) of NHRD Bangalore chapter. He is a keen student and teacher of the vedic way of life and therefore the ideal person to talk to us about the manner in which  the wisdom from the vedas can be applied in the corporates. Prof Mukund said that the vedas (Indian scriptures) have a collection of truths from a period of over 6000 years. They touched upon various subjects like mathematics, science, astronomy, medicine etc. The essence of the vedic thought is balance and equal prioritization for all areas of life with the aim to benefit maximum number of people. Thus,  there should be a balance between Dharma (Right behaviour & social order) and Artha (Resources which includes money, time and energy)- As a human being,"I should be forwarding energy to others, not sucking up energy from all quarters."

Prof Mukund said that based on the vedic thought, he has developed a ten pronged approach for success called "The DecaTrait approach to success". After discussing the same during the evening he gave away few copies of his booklet on 'DecaTrait' to the audience on "first come first served" basis and I was fortunate to get a copy. The ten traits are (1) Knowledge (2) Passion (3) Attachment and detachment (4) Awareness of the self (5) Absorbtion (6) Confidence (7) Conviction (8) Balance (9) Vitality and (10) Strength.

1) Knowledge:-  The speaker said that knowledge can be classified into three-  (a) resourceful knowledge (b) incorrect knowledge and  (c) antiknowledge. Resourceful knowledge takes us upwards towards our goals. Incorrect knowledge takes us around horizontally in circles. But antiknowledge takes us downwards and away from our goal. As all knowledge stems from information, it has to be distilled through questioning/ logic so that all irrelevant and incorrect information is eliminated and only useful information remains. The best approach is to verify and confirm that the conclusions are in synchronization with the spoken or written words of those with vast experience.

In this connection Prof Mukund shared his own experience in the initial days as a young reasearcher - " I collected a lot of information, confused this for knowledge and started writing proposals. My proposals were based on what I was told by research office staff on how to write "Winning proposals". This was incorrect knowledge as funding agencies did not have the time to read all the proposals they got and their knowing  the candidate was an important factor.

Further, the discussion with the research office staff was not very useful as they were reapeating what was available in the public domain and were not experienced researchers themselves. The speaker said that he found out that his discussions with reasearchers at other institutions were actually harming him . One  person with whom he had shared his idea, poked holes in it but later used the same idea himself to get  funded for a three year project. After that incident, Prof Mukund started keeping his ideas to himself.

In later years, this learniing of relying only on  resourcceful knowledge was effectively used  when Prof Mukund started a company to market a new technology developed by his team. Although information was collected from academics, entrepreneurship 'experts', accountants. lawyers, potential customers and successful entrepreneurs, it was examined carefully including for motives if any of those giving information and unwanted information was removed.This enabled the company to survive through a difficult economic scenario and succeed in winning business.

2) Passion: A strong passion for a desired goal is a very powerful driving force for success. The common thread of passion is love; reverence for the objective is an essential ingriedient. The voluntary feeling  of passion in us is recognized by others and it attracts very useful partnerships.Turn your goal into something special which will provide great motivation and immense pleasure. Prof Mukund said that he has known many capable  people give up easily and accept defeat on encountering obstacles. In his own case, although he received reject letters to his research proposals, the passion never went away. It was kept alive by the mere belief that the chance of success no matter how small, when it came would not be just personal achievement but bring opportunities to  the larger community especially young students. Similarly, while floating the startup company, the passion was for creating jobs, more than anything else.

3) Attachment and Detachment: It is all about the attachment to the effort and detachment from the outcome. One cannot hold the successful outcome a prerequisite for the effort to be put in for accomplishing a goal. Once the fear of the outcome is detached from the effort, we can be attached to the effort with passion. The journey itself becomes enjoyable. Most startup companies fail because they plan at the very beginning to only create something that looks attractive to others, encash this and exit as a strategy ( sell to a bigger company or go public).

 On the other hand , if the goal is to constantly strive for growth, any company can succeed. If the aim is to build the company,create products & services and create opportunities for others, why exit? similarly if companies follow this maxim of 'detached attachment',  they  would  allow employees  to work with freedom without being tied down by hierarchical relationships. This creates  ownership in innovation and creativity. The productivity is also far greater when everything is not controled by one manager.

4) Awareness of the self:  It is important to be aware of our true self. Often we have a distorted picture of ourselves that is based on past conditioning or opinions of those around us. We then try to change others' opinion about us to feel good and reassured.It is always better to know the reality as it is. In case there are shortcomings, we can work towards compensating for them . This saves time and energy trying to influence other's opinion and also reduces stress levels. To know your true self it is necessary to introspect and engage in deep thinking shutting down external senses,the mind, intelect and look wihin.

Prof Mukund shared his own story as a youngster when he was a kind of a rebel unwilling to blindly take down notes, memorize facts and engage in late night study, all of which he found boring. His teachers were not impressed with this attitude and told him frequently that he was stupid.and he had begun to believe them. It was only when he realized that he had been relying too much on others' opinion and figured out who he really was that he began to taste success in another country(US).

The 'stupid' boy of yesterday has today become a professor , reasearcher and an entreprenuer. The speaker said that he faced a similar challenge when he decided to enter the business scene venturing to start a company. Many were patronizing in their interaction wondering what a professor is doing in business? But this time he was not willing to buy into other people;s opinion and was confident that he could analyze actions and consequences, avoid pitfalls and be successful. It was not blind arrogance but self awareness based on reality. However, genuine feedback and well meaning criticisms should be carefully examined and calibrated for self improvement when it makes sense.

5) Absorbtion: In order to be successful. one needs to complement  one's own experiences with observance of others' experiences. Pay attention to not only the words of others but also their body language and gain insight into their real experiences. Focus and concentration is vital. Often, we hear but do not listen, see but do not observe and touch but do not feel. Spend more time on observation and less on real time analysis. Important data can be lost while the mind is distracted by the analysis. Digesting the data from either direct experience or by keen observation of someone else,happens over time. We need to delve into it when there is ample time and separate it into three parts: useful matter,useful energy and unwanted part.

The speaker shared an instance from his research experience.He noticed that many researchers looked to others for inspiration and did more reasearch on problems already identified and worked on by them. They tried to come up with better solutions to these problems. They lagged behind successful reasearchers in understanding the current problems and this inability to visualize potential problems became an obstacle to their progress. On the other hand Prof Mukund found that whenever he visualized potential problems and articulated them in his proposals, people started coming to him for solutions.

The speaker gave another example of absorbtion from his experience as an entreprenuer. He had a good product which was reasonably priced but people were not buying resulting in disappointment and stress. He then observed  a successful business person in a sales booth at a conference. He noticed that this gentleman seldom talked about his products but on topics such as the weather, sports etc and the potential customers would walk away carrying his brochure. Prof Mukund said that after this happened several times, he realized that what the business person  was doing was building relationships which is what brings real business, when one has a good product in the first place. This learning was absorbed and used successfully by the speaker. 

6) Confidence: It is not uncommon for people to invest a lot of emotion, energy, time and money in an enterprise but back out at the last minute due to lack of confidence. This could be due to lack of self confidence or a lack of confidence in the world around around them. We need confidence not only in our own capabilities but confidence and trust in the Universal Inteliligence that maintains balance in the universe. It is said that it takes three forms of energy for anything to happen. The first is a strong desire and will power. The second  is knowledge. The last is creative energy provided only by the Universal Intelligence. If we are humble and accept our dependence,   we get connected to the Universal Intelligence that has no bounds. If one can have the self confidence to be most optimistic when things are really in bad shape and most pessimistic when things are really great, one can see the outside world reacting to it, and the cycle continues.

7) Conviction: Conviction is the ability to stay on track without doubt, distraction or fear. It becomes possible when there is  a firm and strong belief in your goal. Doubt and uncertainity has no place once a path has been carefully chosen.Having faith in the path chosen, you can seek guidance from one who has already trodden that path after satisfying yourself of the guide's credentials. Another aspect to be vigilant of are of the distractions from the many wonderful sights and sounds on the way  that can make one forget one's goals. Here, it is necessary to remind oneself that our lives have only so many years and every year passing by is an year less for pursuing our goal,

Conviction is about the retaining of the same level and intensity of belief till the goal is reached. Prof Mukund related of instances when people came up and flattered him in international conferences. This made him feel good but also had the effect of making him feel that he was better than others. He found himself chatting up with these people in the hallway and skipping presentations. It was later that the speaker realized that such activities were detrimental to his basic goal. Some reasearchers, after they taste success spend little or no time with students. They tend to travel to exotic locations all over the world , basking in their glory. All these distractions will have to be kept in check for achieving long term success.

8) Balance: In yoga a balance is sought to be attained in the body by physical stretching exercises and in the mind through meditation. Similar balance is necessary to handle opposing circumstances or events such as success and failure, profit and loss. Multiple interests can expand the horizon of the mind and make it stronger. Yet, they have to be balanced as in a wheel for the the centre of gravity to remain at the centre even as the mind is pulled in many directions such as family,work or finance. This balance enables you to effectively deal with setbacks and sudden wins/success.

Prof Mukund said that the very nature of research is the exploration of unchartered waters. However, a balance in all activities associated with it contributes to success -  (a) acknowledging when a particular solution is not the right one (b) funding,lab equipment,good students, (c) good ideas,  good proposal writing abilities and (d) good contacts. A good balance in respect of all these activities is the key. Similarly, success in running a company or small business requires a balance in leadership, management, financial acumen, ability to negotiate, networking, dedicated employees etc. In his own experience the speaker found initially too much focus was given to bringing in the revenue and not enough on the other aspects. This was corrected subsequently with appropriate time management.

9) Vitality: Everything has a life- ideas, events and actions all have a life of their own. At the beginning, the idea needs to be protected and nurtured so that others do not kill it in its infancy. Like human beings, ideas also need a pollution free environment to survive and grow. Constant questioning and discussions on the idea could lead to pollution in the form of unwanted or incorrect responses to it by others. Therefore keep the idea to yourself  and breathe life into it by clear thinking

Finally, accept that even the best ideas have a life. When the idea has served its purpose, let it end in peace. It may reappear in a new form later and the cycle repeats itself. Feeding money and people to an organization that has passed its prime is as futile as looking for the fountain of youth, which is a myth.

10) Strength: In an ideal situation, we would be seeking to be strong in all three domains viz the body, the mind and the spirit. Strong body can be assured by good nutrition, proper rest and an active lifestyle.  Tending to the mind and the spirit is the bigger challenge and it may seem daunting with feelings of confusion, weakness, frustration and depression at different points of time. However, proper understanding and application of the nine traits discussed earlier would give strength to the mind. The attaining of a strong mind can be experienced in the form of a general sense of peace, ability to focus, a determination to succeed and optimism about the future.

A strong mind resides in a strong spirit.When the spirit is strong , the storms tend to subside and there is tranquility inside. The strong spirit is free, unbound and for ever expanding its horizons. It is an incubator of flashes of brilliance .It brings instant good feelings to all who come into contact with it. It has the will to succed and cannot but succed. " Success feeds success" concluded Prof Mukund bringing down the curtain on a very interesting, enlightening and engaging evening! What stood out in this talk were the number of personal experiences that he shared from the research and business scenario. 

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Organization Culture and its Importance

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The July monthly meeting of NHRD Bangalore chapter discussed the subject of 'Organization culture and its importance'.Mr Saurav Mukherji, Professor of Organization behaviour, IIM Bangalore was the speaker of the day. He started of by stating that there has been a lot of discussion on 'Strategy' and "Culture' and as to what should take precedence. It is not a question of 'either, 'or' but both are equally important and essential for success. "I have this culture in this organization because I want to achieve this outcome." Culture is to be seen in conjunction with the strategy of the organization. Culture is difficult to define; it is beyond rules, processes and structure that an organization may have.

Prof Mukherji said that organizations have principal- agent problems at all levels. This is to be accepted as natural and it doesn't matter whether or not  there is a hundred percent convergence between their objectives. A partial convergence between the goals of the principal and agent is good enough so long as the objective of the organization is served. The lack of convergence  can be responded to in ways such as (1) Live with it (2) Give incentives and punishment  /  Carrot and stick.  The speaker said  that the organization culture is meant to control people's behaviour towards achieving organizational goals; It is not like a social club.

An increase in the goal congruence in an organization becomes possible with teamwork and collaboration. An organization is likely to have multiple cultures considering the fact that large number of people with various cultural backgrounds and motivations work in it. However, every organization has a dominant culture. We can say that we have the 'Right' culture if it is helping to achieve our goals. The culture has to be consistent with what you are seeking to do. The three big questions to be asked pertaining to culture are: 

(1) What culture does the organization have?
(2) Is it suitable for the organization's strategic objectives?
(3) If "Yes" how to nurture and sustain it? 
If "No' there is a need to deliberate on what changes are required and how they are to be made.

The speaker said that a lot more study and documentation needs to be done on the subject of 'Culture' in Indian organizations. However,in the west also,the focus and attention on 'culture' has reduced with accent now being more on organizational 'identity' (a set of statements that organization members perceive to be central, distinctive, and enduring to their organization(Albert & Whetten,1985. It is influential to behaviors of both leaders and members in many aspects within an organization).

Talking of the dimensions of organization culture, the speaker discussed the Competing Values Framework (CVF)  of Quinn, Rohrbaugh  developed initially from research conducted on the major indicators of effective organizations. The premise of the CVF is that there are four basic competing values within every enterprise: Collaborate, Create, Compete and Control. These values compete in a very real sense for a corporation's limited resources (funding, time, and people).

Thus companies now have to decide on the appropriate focus and culture for their organization- Flexibility and adaptability Vs stability/control/ continuity; internal focus and consistency Vs external focus. Another combination (followed by GE) could be external focus & stability with accent on the customer and competition. Here business is what matters and there is no attachment to products, customers or employees. The speaker reiterated that none of the cultural types are superior and that "What works for you is what matters." Prof Mukherji concluded by stating that creating and sustaining culture involves making difficult trade offs ( a  compromise - achieving a balance  between two desirable but incompatible features). 

The evening talk was for me a revelation; hitting at the very core of my own understanding of organization culture, formed over an entire work life spanning over three decades. I became aware that it is not  necessary for  culture to  be uniform, valid, true and dear across the board, to everyone  in the organization. The speaker had made it clear that the organization culture is merely a tool "meant to control people's behaviour towards achieving organizational goals"

 I guess this position is in tune with the times we are presently living in where winning is the 'be all and end all' of all activities and everything else are merely instruments to be used and dispensed with, when no longer useful to the strategic objectives of the organization. After all, today the entire world follows the western approach to life, the western business model, and western form of education in all  business schools including the IIMs, premier institutes of management education in India.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Looking Back: Life and Times of a Woman of Essence (Her Professional and personal Journey)

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I first came to know about Dr Usha Sridhar in her avatar/ role as a poet when she joined the India poetry circle, a whats App group of poets writing in English in India, of which I am also a member.  However as I got to meet and interact with her, I realized that poetry was just one of her interests and that Usha is a multifaceted personality, a successful career woman with varied interests and a beater of the dreaded disease of cancer. It was a pleasure to do an interview and delve into the life and times of an achiever in every sense of the term. 

Rajeev Moothedath (RM):  Warm greetings to you Usha! It is my pleasure and privilege to do an interview with you. 

Usha Sridhar (US): Thank you. I am very happy to share my life journey with you, Rajeev.

RM:  Could you tell us something about your early life as a child? 

US: Well, my early childhood was about moving to different locations/ schools such as Chennai (where I was born), Vizag and Ernakulum as my dad worked in a transferrable job with Hindustan Petroleum (then called ESSO). I only have vague recollection of that period.

 It was only when we finally moved to Hyderabad on a permanent basis and I was admitted to the reputed private school, St Ann’s, that I began to come into my own. The school had the right ambience with supportive teachers and classmates. Apart from academics, I got exposure to sports, English classics, drama and music. 

RM: So the school played a big role in moulding your personality. 

US: Yes, you could say that a foundation for my thinking and behavior got shaped there. I developed a scientific temper and a strong secular attitude that has made me what I am today.   We were taught to be fearless, independent, humane and proud to be women.

RM: Which course did you take up after schooling? 

US: Those days under the ISC syllabus, after the 11th class,we could directly join a graduation course. I was planning to do graduation in science. Then an unexpected incident changed the course of my life.  I was visiting a friend’s house where I met a guest and friend of her father, who was an economist. He casually struck up conversation with me and asked me what I would like to pursue further.

As we talked, I was mesmerized by the world of economics. For the first time in my life, I was listening to terms like: economy, inflation, money market, economic growth etc.Later, to the surprise of my parents. I opted for Economics for my graduation. I have not regretted that decision.  Subsequently I got a scholarship to pursue M.A. in Economics and Econometrics at Osmania University.

RM:  Around that time, you also got seriously interested in sports? 

US: That was soon after my school. I became interested in sports and dreamt of becoming a sports woman. I used to play lawn tennis, baseball and cricket. 

 I took the initiative to start a women’s cricket team in Hyderabad. Our coach was impressed with my batting and fielding skills. He would take us to the Lalbahadur Sastri stadium to practice cricket and to watch the professional cricketers play; they would give us tips to better our game. 

RM: Then what happened? Why did you not pursue cricket? 

US:  All of a sudden, I developed pain in my leg. I was admitted to a hospital, I had a lumbar puncture. I was bedridden for weeks and was advised against playing. Looking back, this was a blessing in disguise as it enabled me to pursue scholastic achievements.

RM: Tell us about your journey after the post-graduation in Economics and Econometrics :-

US: Equipped with skills in economics and a strong desire to put it to use, after I graduated, I did a couple of projects to gain some experience, for a short period – like a year or so. Subsequently I joined the prestigious IISc Bangalore. Initially I joined the electrical engineering department to work with a multi-disciplinary group on a renewable energy project. 

  I got exposed to the various energy sources like mini hydel, solar energy, biogas, wind energy- that were good alternatives to the traditional way of power generation.  We did practical studies by actually going to villages to do the techno- economic feasibility studies. I got a chance to rub shoulders with scientists from the engineering field, during the duration of the project. 

RM: Having branched away from the study of science after school to pursue economics, why did you once again go back to studying electrical engineering and doing science projects? 

US: I did not pursue a course but was part of a research team in the Electrical Engineering department. They wanted an economist to assist in the economic studies of the various energy sources. 

RM: Your life has seen some interesting twists and turns. I understand that before completing the energy project, you moved on once again to do PhD in the Management studies department of IISc. 

US: This happened at the fag end of the project. Doing a PhD in an interesting field was too good an opportunity to miss. I enjoyed the process of deciding on a research topic, developing theories, mathematical models and software. I presented papers in conferences / journals, in India and abroad.It was an exhilarating experience. I got the gold medal for the best thesis (using Economics and Operations Research), at IISc.

RM: Where did your journey take you after your PhD? 

US: For the next two decades I worked in research labs in academia and industry including C-DAC (Pune and Bangalore), Institute of Systems Science – Singapore, and IBM-USA. I was exposed to new and different work cultures (in US / Singapore) and got an opportunity to do research in artificial intelligence and data mining. I focused on applying various types of quantitative methods to solve problems in the areas of financial engineering, marketing and production planning.

RM:  Yet, you decided to return to India? 

US: Suddenly an entrepreneurial bug bit me when I was in USA.  I wanted to try out what I had learnt till then, in India. My husband Sridhar and I returned to India and setup a small startup, which we named as Analytix Systems. We provided consulting and did projects in: a) mathematical modeling, analytics and b) software; with support from a bunch of talented persons who had joined the company. After running it for close to 9 years, we sold our company and Intellectual Property (IP) to another IT company.  Sridhar and I joined that company as Executive Vice Presidents (EVP).

RM: When and how did you know of your illness?   

US: Around the time we sold the company, my health had started deteriorating. After a checkup up, it was diagnosed that I had cancer.  It was the year 2008 and I was 50 years old.I was asked to undergo surgery immediately. I didn’t have any time to think or act. I quit my job and prepared myself for the worst. I decided to be positive, no matter what! I had a surgery to remove the malignant tumor and underwent a long spell of radiation.

RM: After the treatment, what did you to do to return to a normal life?

US:  It was my approach to the dreaded illness that saved me from falling apart. I was able to resume my life seamlessly, after my encounter with the ailment. I brought about changes in my life style to help cope better. I thought it was my ‘holy’ duty to sensitize people on the need for constant health checkups so that preventive measures could be taken, if essential. I read and wrote extensively, after my recovery. I found time to pursue my hobbies too.

.With respect to work, since I had resigned from the company prior to hospitalization, I went back to my first love of doing theoretical research in Economics. Presently I work in the area of Network Science, with the primary focus of applying economics and graph theory to analyzing group behavior when individuals cooperate or compete amongst themselves. Sridhar and I have published over 20 papers in international conferences and journals in this area in the past 10 years. 

RM: How did you get interested in literary activities? 

US: Oh, that happened purely by chance.  One day, not being able to solve a technical problem I was working on, out of sheer frustration,   I wrote a short story and uploaded it online. To my surprise, I got a warm response to it from the readers. Encouraged, I wrote a few more and was thrilled to find they were well received too.
Subsequently, I responded to a poetry festival notification inviting poems from aspiring poets and my poem was accepted.  I started reading out my poems in my friends’ circle meets whenever I jotted down a few lines. Later, I joined a WhatsApp group of Indian poets writing in English (IPC) where I met many talented poets who supported each other in honing one’s poetry writing skills. 

RM: I understand that today you are a published author and poet.

US: Yes, I have published three books of poetry titled: "Life Matters"; "Drenched in Reverie" & "Heightened Senses" and two collections of short stories titled "Women’s Corner", and "Shades in Shadows" in a short span since I started literary writing. I continue to take part in poetry festivals. Today, I pursue my professional and literary interests with vigor and passion. For me, they are two sides of the same coin.

RM: Your exposure and interests we have discussed so far, is amazing Usha, Are there any other interests you have? 

US: Well, I am very passionate about bird watching and photography. So much so, I bought a telephoto lens so that I could capture birds from a distance without disturbing them.  It gives me immense satisfaction when I go on bird watching trips and come back with a rich haul of photos. 

Travelling is an integral part of me. I love to travel around the world to learn how people in the other parts of the globe live.  I am very interested in understanding the culture, thinking, socio-economic and political milieu of various countries. When we lived in Singapore and USA, in between hectic schedules, we travelled extensively. Whether it was the snow capped mountains in Switzerland, the rich artistic culture of Italy or Greece, the jungles of Sri Lanka for birding; I liked them all.  What is a camera for- if not to capture the sights and smells of the wonderful lands? 

RM: Finally, tell us about your life partner Sridhar. It is clear from the interview that he has been shoulder to shoulder with you in this journey.

US: Yes, Sridhar has been my soulmate. We met at IISc in the early eighties when I joined the institute for higher studies. We subsequently married and have experienced life together with its many highs and lows, with a smile. He has been a strong support to me in all my major decisions after marriage.

RM: It is indeed wonderful interviewing a person who has left a mark in so many diverse areas and have also overcome adversity with grit and determination. Thank you so much Usha for talking to me. I am sure many women would be inspired to follow your example! 

US: Thank you Rajeev, I enjoyed this conversation with you.