Friday, 26 June 2015

Coaching for Symbiotic Success in Organizations

The Madras management association, of late has been very active under the dynamic leadership of Capt. Vijayakumar. Evening programs are organized by the association almost every other day of the week, on varied topics of interest to members. However, I have not been able to attend most of these programs in view of the geographical distance of our Hyundai plant (Sriperumbudur) from the city.
 All the same, when I saw the topic slated for the 22nd of June 2015 I was excited; all the more when I observed that one of the facilitators would be Ms. Shyleshwari Rao, a competent facilitator who has done quite a few programs for us as external faculty. My mind was made up and I decided to attend this program. Mr. Kumar Sachidanandam of Cognizant technology solutions was the other facilitator. The former is a   professional certified coach of ICF (International coach federation) and the latter an associate certificate coach. They are directors and board members of the Chennai chapter of ICF. The session was chaired by Mr. Suresh Bethavandu, Head, corporate HR, solutions.
 At the outset the facilitator, Kumar sought to make a distinction between teaching, training, instructing, mentoring and coaching which is often used interchangeably. This was done in an interactive manner taking the inputs of the participants. Teaching is theory oriented while in training the focus is on doing. All other methods, according to the facilitator falls short in today's volatile economic scenario that involves overnight change of business models, undercutting by competitors or abrupt closing down of business due to unexpected reasons like it happened in the case of Nokia in Chennai.
 Coaching is a partnering process. It inspires the coachee to be futuristic, goal oriented and accountable. It clearly sets out an action plan for moving from position A to position B .Coaching is an individualized process. Each person has different needs. Hence the need for the coachee himself to identify the issue and also the solution. The coach probes in such a way that the coachee himself finds the solution from within. The process is time bound and is arrived at mutually. Other needs such as whether 'any other support' is required or whether he desires monitoring of his progress are all discussed and finalized.
 Next, the various elements of coaching were discussed. The process involves the following:
  • A coach and a coachee.
  • Confidentiality
  • One to one communication
  • Mutual trust
  • Timeliness- to be completed within an agreed period
  • Client's decision to go with the particular coach and his ownership of the process
  • Ethics statement – coach not to divulge information to any third person whether it is the boss or wife
 Tips on choosing a Coach
 1) Ensure the coach is ICF affiliated- Though this is not a must, such affiliation ensures desired competence. Certification by alternate competent coaching bodies is also acceptable.
2) Candidate has undergone specific training hours as a coach say minimum of 750 hours
3) Verify credentials and testimonials
4) Ensure that he has the right area of expertise that you are seeking- For a need in enhancing communication skills, coach with financial expertise won't do and vice versa!
The facilitators then gave the participants an exercise to do called "Wheel of Life" to get them to have a perception of how they are doing in various areas of life namely career, personal growth and learning, money, health, fun/leisure/recreation, significant other/Romance, physical environment(e.g. home) and friends and family.
 The ‘Wheel of Life’ model gives you a ‘bird’s eye view’ of your life and a snapshot of your level of satisfaction with areas like career, money, relationships, and health. Based on the reflection and insights you will now want to make a plan of action. Coach can help you identify as to what you need to be doing for a more wholesome life. Other models like 'Agile Coaching model' may also be used for this purpose.
 Ms Shyleshwari then invited a volunteer and did a practical demonstration of coaching. The process was to ask the coachee questions to probe into the real issue of the coachee in order to come out with an action plan as a solution. In the instant case the volunteer is working in IT industry. He expressed a feeling of being "drained and exhausted" and of "going nowhere"
Probing or clarifying questions to this were "What do you mean by drained and exhausted?"
“I am worried by the uncertainties..."
“What type of uncertainties?"
"The situation of losing your job."
"What could be the reason for losing the job?"
“Problem of being outdated. I need to have additional certifications."
Further conversation helped the coachee to come to the conclusion on his own that in a demanding environment, he needs to update himself and for that he came out with a time bound plan as to how he would go about it. He was asked whether he wanted any monitoring or support. He replied that he wanted the coach's help in monitoring his progress.
As the last lap of the program, we had a lively discussion wherein among other things the need and the advisability of going to an external coach was discussed. It was suggested by some in the audience that such help may not be necessary as the solution is actually elicited from the client himself. Others felt that close relatives or friends could play this role and thus save a lot of money paid to professional coaches. However, at the end it was clear that many of the qualities that is assured from a professional, as for example ‘confidentiality ‘cannot be expected from informal relationships. Further, it was pointed out by the facilitator that even reputed surgeons refrain from conducting surgery on their own close relatives. The reason is that emotion and subjectivity may come in the way of doing what needs to be done.  
Coaching is an area that is slowly gaining in importance. In the west, Marshall Goldsmith ( work detailed in the book” what got you here, won’t get you there”) and others have proved the efficacy of coaching. It may not be too long before it becomes a highly sought after skill in our country. Against this background, it was a treat and rewarding experience to understand the basics of coaching from the professionals.


Friday, 19 June 2015

L&D Leadership League 2015, Chennai

When I received the invitation from Pranav Gupta of  'People matters' to attend the 2015 L&D Leadership league  on 16th June 2015 at ITC Grand Chola Chennai , I was delighted for more than one reason. I had attended the Leadership league in 2014 and had found it an innovative, fun filled experience with a lot of learning. I had also participated in webinars organized by People Matters and found them  worthwhile exercises.The proceedings of the impressive 2014 league was chronicled  for the benefit of readers in this very forum, in the blog dated 7th December 2014.( I had posted  another blog  " Webinar on corporate story telling"on 16th October 2014 discussing the contents of the webinar organized by People 
Matters (

This year, for me there was an added incentive, an icing on the cake. The event  was happening on my birthday! To be on your birthday amongst people, you are most comfortable with,in the wonderful ambience of Grand Chola, discussing matters that you are most passionate about!What more could one ask for? The hospitality carpet was rolled out  right from the beginning when at the entrance of the conference hall , we were greeted by the young and dynamic team of People matters, Savitha, Pranav and Shashi.

The first session was on " Nurturing the league of extraordinary learners" by Mr  Jacob Jacob, Chief people officer,Appolo hospitals. The speaker drew attention to two important aspects of learning in the current scenario. The participants or learners, today are vastly different from traditional learners meaning class room learning alone cannot keep them engaged or ensure that learning happens. Merely promising training abroad or with top business schools  will not do. The participant is keen to know what's in it for him or her after the learning, whether it is faster growth up the ladder, horizontal movement to  areas of his choice or other concrete benefits. 

The other aspect is that basically there is a divide between Learning culture and Operational culture. The goals of the two may be perceived as opposed to each other.The onus is on us, the L&D professionals to take the initiative and make efforts  to get the buy in from the operation or line managers.Success can be assured only if the line believes in it; otherwise the learning initiatve is doomed to fail!

Jacob Jacob briefly touched upon the Kolb's Learning cycle to underscore the fact that adults learn differently from children, who are like empty vessels and will accept anything that is imparted, The adults, on the other hand, have an experiential learning cycle that involves four phases namely (1) concrete experience (feeling), (2) reflective observation (reflection), (3) abstract conceptualization(thinking) and (4) active experimentation (doing). Hence the training program needs to cater to all these aspects.It is in this context that a lot is being talked, about 'blended learning'. It  seeks to provide a mix of various learning experiences that may include apart from face to face learning, E learning, tests, quizes, role plays, learning as you work in  live situations, using the mobile and social media as tools of learning etc. It may mean just   short bursts of learning in a  two hour session instead of a whole day program and the program itself happening not in the L&D center but on the shopfloor.Learning also needs to be measured and rewarded if it is to be taken seriously.

The speaker gave instances of how measurement of the training is done in his organization, Appolo Hospitals. After training is imparted to the nurses, the medication errors before and after the training is measured. Similarly the "The voice of patient", the feedback mechanism is analysed to ascertain whether patients feel more positively about the services rendered by the nurses after the program.

The first session also focused on the importance of building a learning culture, integrated with the business model of the company.This would involve building a knowledge sharing culture, studying the linkage of learning to performance, looking  at ways the knowledge is captured and shared across the organization, encouraging  a culture of exchanging ideas and learning from each other, reverse mentoring through which seniors learn the latest trends from juniors, encouraging calculated risks and  expansive learning that assimilates cross functional competencies. 

The presentation was followed by a  lively discussion during which it was reiterated that innovation and flexibility would be the hallmark of new age training and that selling the concept of ' blended training' to other stakeholders is a challenge.

The second session " L&D 2020: Defining the modes of delivery" was facilitated by Ms Sabita. J, Associate Vice President, HR, Steria India. She split the entire population of the participants into five groups.The groups were given a hypothetical situation of a 100 employee strong company which has been alloted a  budget of 15 lacs for the year. The groups were required to discuss among themselves about innovative ideas already practised in their individual companies and then come out with a training plan for the fictitious company.

The training plan of each group was to be written on chart paper and presented before the the whole group.what followed was group dynamics that included discussions, arguements and consensus. There was some element of nonclarity among team members as to how to go about it, whether to focus more on the budgetting or on the content.Time alloted for discussion, assimilation and preparing the chart was also  very less.
Some of the focus areas that came out in the presentations were

I  Developing  a holistic picture and  view of the training  needs of the year

(a) Looking out for the critical customer outcomes for the year
(b) the financial goals for the year
(c) Systems and processes required for the above
(d)What skills will contribute to this  and how L&D can  provide this

II  More than the content of learning programs, the context is important and these need to be addressed such as 

(a)  the learning environment- If program is held inside the factory and participants are frequently disturbed over telephone,  a more secluded place could be the solution

(b) The participant's interest- If participant is not responding to the traditional tools of training, flexible methods may have to be resorted to including learning through podcasts, what's up, Elearning

(c) Support of Line managers-  If this is lacking, lot of time is to be devoted to obtain this before embarking on a major initiative.

III  Almost all the presentations  included a 'Future Leaders' Program to equip people with the required competencies for leadership roles.Similarly programs for fresh GETs to acclimatize them from campus to the corporate was recommended in the presentations.

IV  Strech  assigments involving cross functional roles

V  Human Lab for senior executives( 7 days ) with external experts' support- To understand   their leadership style visavis the organizational goals.Later they can  serve as mentors and coaches in the organization.

Although groups were formed in an ad hoc manner with instructions to select a leader who would  make the  presentation of the group view  before the full house , it was found that one team which had also received the same instructions had better focus and  excelled in team working. They had given themselves the name of 'Glow' ( no other group gave itself a name) and the presentation was made by all the members which included all age groups, each complimenting what the other had said.They had a clear structure for the whole presentation- the level of employee in the organization, type of training intervention, mode of delivery and the impact in terms of output, quality, cost and delivery. It was a treat to witness  excellence at such short notice!

The third session was  "Technology blended learning solution" and the speaker Mr Mohan Srinivasan, Head, Centre for behavioural excellence,Wipro Technologies.    In this interesting session the speaker took us through the  practical application of technology for L&D initiatives. At the outset, he outlined the changing challenges of recruitment for the IT sector. Initially software companies were recruiting employees only from the metros and A class cities. However, the high demand vis a vis the supply of manpower prompted them to recruit software engineers from smaller towns and cities. Although competent technically, these candidates have a problem of communicating in English confidently and without grammatical errors. On account of communication issues, only 25% of the 50 lac students who have  passed out are employable.

In order to address this problem, Wipro has included in its induction program for fresh engineers, a ‘Fluency Program’ for a period of 8 days devoted exclusively to improving the language fluency of young recruits from the smaller towns. What is special  about this initiative is that technology is used effectively to help the participants get feedback at every stage on how they are doing, correcting them on the pronunciation and enhancing their confidence levels.

Mohan revealed that for this initiative Wipro tied up with a Canadian partner who customized the tool for imparting a neutral accent that can be understood by anyone, anywhere in the world. The tool gives inputs on the place where stress needs to be given while pronouncing a word as also inputs on grammar, listening and retention.( Alerts are given in the form of colours Green if 43% or more of what the candidate spoke is comprehendible, Yellow if it is between 33% and 42%, Red if the comprehendible level is 22% or less).

There is  a faculty admin zone which facilitates interaction with faculty and for providing  reports on the progress of  the participants  over a period of time  and how they fare in comparison to the other participants.    Measurement is a very important component of the program and the  CEFR (Common European frame of reference) is used as the tool to assess the effectiveness of the program At the end, the speaker showed videos of the participants who underwent the program speaking before and after the program. The improvement in fluency and confidence levels were clearly visible in the videos.This session was indeed very informative and it throws up exciting possibilities of how we can use technology in the coming years for L&D initiatives.

The last session of the conclave was on “ Redefining the Learning Metrics” which was facilitated by Mr Anupam Sirbhaiya, country manager, Center for creative leadership.The speaker gave the participants a brief account of the history and the activities of his organization, Center for creative Leadership.CCL was  founded in the year 1970 when Leadership development was a novel  concept..  Today CCL has served the cause of leadership development for over 40 years with focus on solid research foundation and practical business application.

 Anupam underscored the point that today learning needs to be approached proactively and it is not " I am responsible for learning transfer”, versus  “ I am  evaluating a training program “ statements. Both are important. He said that the linkage between the preparation, engagement and application of learning should firmly be in place. The inputs of the participant and his supervisors in the department should be taken at the  preparation stage before rolling out the program. During the program various means are  to be looked at for guided practice and skill development. After the program, at work, opportunities to use and continue new learning is to be ensured.

The speaker then discussed the measurement model of Kirkpatrik for  measuring the impact of training at levels of (1) Reaction, (2) Learning(3) Behaviour and (4) Results. As done in the second session, the participants were divided into groups. They were required to  write the manner they would assess programs at the three levels (excluding the reaction level)  on three charts. Later the charts were shared in the big group. For the learning level most of the suggestions were about conducting test before a program and comparing score on the same test after the program.

During the discussions, it was pointed out that the appropriate metrics to be used would depend on the intent of the measurement ( All programs may not be measured at the results level. Major programs involving huge expenditure alone could be measured at this level).Another suggestion that came up from a group was that line managers can be kept in the loop in advance of what would be covered in the program and also take their inputs for finalizing the contents.Similarly after the program the participant's boss  is informed about the inputs given and the areas that he may observe and support for implementation of the learning.

The impact of the program could be measured against productivity & revenue generation. In fact during the course of the conclave one participant Mr Bhat of Sundaram Finance shared instances of measuring the impact of sales training by imparting the training to only one unit and comparing its performance with other units, not extended the training. The unit that was given training showed substantial increase in sales. 

Another way of measuring impact is to assess the monetary impact of action learning projects (ALP) taken up as part of the training. Anupam indicated that monetising as many aspects as possible is the key to effective  learning metrics.How many more people have you made ready for succession management?  What is the monetary impact of this vis a vis costs of external recruitment annd acclimatization of the new people?

As we thanked the organisers and left the venue  after a sumptuous lunch, there was this feeling inside of having had a worthwhile experience, a half day well spent! 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Trust begets Trust

All of us talk about 'trust'and acknowledge that it is important, whether at work or at home.Yet merely making verbal statements such as "I trust you.I believe you." may not win the confidence of the listener that he or she is being trusted.Action speaks louder than words.If you say you trust somebody but send spies to keep an eye on that person, it affects not only the individual but serves as a signal to employees in general as to the management's approach to its employees in matters of trust.

In this connection, I would like to share my own experience with'trust' in the early years of my career.When we joined  Visvesvaraya Iron & steel Ltd (VISL)  as management trainees, the officers'mess patronised mainly by young bachelors was being run on a dividing system.Since a large number of us newly joined the mess, the earlier team wanted four of our representatives to take over its running.There was an experienced s mess supervisor by name Ramesh ( not his real name)  who had been running it for around seven years.The new team was only required to coordinate with him

However, as soon as the new team took over, they started out on a note of  suspicion about Ramesh, whom they thought was cheating on the provisions. They wanted to control the activities completely  and  show a reduction in the mess bill under the dividing system.As Ramesh was aware of their feelings towards him , he took a back seat and sought instructions on everything.When the team accompanied him for buying the monthly provisions, they wanted to buy a particular grade of rice which was cheaper, Ramesh indicated to them that normally 'older' rice is purchased but did not insist when they were keen to purchase the cheaper & 'newer' rice.

The result was that the entire population eating in  the mess turned  against the new team when they found that for the whole month they were stuck with eating 'sticky' kind of rice that was almost unpalatable.Ramesh cooly informed that he had advised for the 'older' rice but his advice was not heeded.At the end of the month the team resigned. They said that they did not intend to take the burden and criticism all by themselves and that all members should share the responsibility.Accordingly, it was suggested that  a new team take over every month and be responsible for the activities during the period..

Thus finally my turn also came to fulfill the responsibility. In my team while taking over, we discussed that it was futile to go in for a confrontation with Ramesh.Many activities had to happen when we were away at work. The best thing to do was to trust him and acknowledge his experience.So we told him"Ramesh Bhai, you know what our aim is - to give sumptuous food to the members while keeping the rates as low as possible.This is possible only by a very experienced person like you. We will be with you but give you a free hand to achieve our objectives and we completely trust you."

Our contribution was mainly on making some changes in the menu for injecting some novelty and accompanying Ramesh whenever required,We often reminded him thet we completely relied on his expertise to complete our term on a successful note with no complaints.At the end of the month, it so happened that not only did we get appreciation for innovative changes in the menu but the mess bill came down consideraly compared to the last  three months!

On the topic of trust another incident comes to my mind which is related in one of his  books by the celebrated Management author Moid siddiqui.He says that while working as GM (Personnel) in HMT Ltd at Bangalore, he once went on a bench mark visit to a small company.While visiting their canteen, he found a big box placed in a corner on which was written "Trust box," Mr siddiqui was surprised to see this and asked with curiosity as to "what is this?"

He was told that that in their canteen , although food items were priced, there was no coupon or other mechanism for collecting the money from the employees.The price list was displayed on a board. Each employee was expected to put the money towards price of the food stuff in to the box. Mr siddiqui says that a smile escaped his lips on hearing this.The officer accompanying him said "I know why you are smiling. You may be thinking that we would not be getting even half of the actual value. But the fact is we are getting more than the amount due. The reason for this is that most employees know that a few black sheep would be dropping less than the correct price in to the box and therefore to compensate for this they drop more than their due in to the box. It is a matter of living up to the trust that the management has reposed in them" Mr Siddiqui was very impressed with this experience.

Another experience of mine also bears out the fact that if we trust people and put them in a high pedestal, they tend to rise up to that expectations. Within a couple of years of my joining VISL, I was posted as the welfare officer in its Bhadigund Limestone Mines. Although junior in designation, the welfare officer is an important position in a mine and is for all practical purposes  the admin head. For young officers , a posting to this role is a good experience and trial by fire as they have to supervise people much older in age and be responsible for the smooth administration of the mine which employs large number of contract employees.

A few months into my role as a welfare officer, I received complaints that the head cook was  unauthorisedly issuing coffee & other snacks  at the mines canteen in exchange for money instead of coupons which is the administrative requirement, The allegation was that if the coupom value is fifty paise, he would accept twenty paise and issue the coffee which would go into his pocket.I, a 24 year old  was supposed to deal with the situation of disciplining a 57 year old employee, who was due to retire in a year. I felt it was not fair for me to speak harshly to a senior person.

One day , when no one was around I walked in to the kitchen and engaged him in casual small talk.I then mentioned about the complaint. I told him that I was too young in age to advice him on a matter which he knew better as to what is right or wrong. Further, since he had only an year to go, I wanted to see him retire with his head held high. I told him that I would not discuss this matter with him again and that I was confident that  he would overcome the matter. Later on I received feedback on how the head cook had changed his behaviour. Once during another casual conversation, he himself told me that he had pondered over what I had told him and that at this stage in his life and career, he did not want to get embroiled in 'petty' issues..

They say money begets money. My experiences tell me that trust begets trust! Treat our employees with trust and they will rise to level of our trust....The opposite could be more of a self fulfilling prophesy!