Friday, 29 December 2017

Organizational culture as a Competitive Advantage

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Discussing about culture and its impact in the organization is always an exciting proposition. Therefore I looked forward to the evening meeting of NIPM on the subject that happened on 22nd November 2017. The speaker was Mr Harish. H.V; partner, India Leadership team, Grant Thornton India. He started his talk by drawing attention to the famous quote of Peter Drucker- " Organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In simple terms,"Culture is how things happen in an organization." Looking at the way things happen, people form an opinion or come to a  judgement about the culture of the organization. All activities and areas  of your company right from reception to batrooms to employee behaviour, staff retention efforts etc, reflect the company culture.

Culture is not what top management or senior executives declare as the culture of the organization but what people believe as true in the organization and they respond through their behaviour accordingly. In this connection,the speaker gave a very interesting insight on the recent fiasco involving Indigo Airlines, when a customer was manhandled by the staff.

Mr Harish pointed out that for the company, punctuality has always been top priority. Gradually a culture had developed of achieving and maintaining this goal of punctuality 'at all costs' including at the cost of customer needs. Thus, even if the company screams from the roof tops that "Customer is our king and his/her needs come first", the employees can pick up the nonverbal signals  that highlight the fact that punctuality is  the most  important. Therefore things happen based on what people perceive as important and on  those things that are rewarded in real terms in the organization.
The worst possible culture is when people have received the message "Just do what you are told" and they tend to act accordingly. Mr Harish cited the famous ' social experiment' involving five monkeys and a ladder. A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle was placed a ladder with bananas on top.

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up. After a time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation. 
 In this connection, I am  reminded of the quote of Grace Hopper, American computer scientist who said "The most damaging phrase in the language is: "It’s always been done that way."

When you are looking to change strategy, it is necessary that culture also changes to imbibe the new approach. Here training has got a very imporatant role to play for preparing the employees. The reward and recognition policies need to be aligned to the culture. Story telling is a powerful tool for aligning culture. Readers may be interested in my earlier posts on story telling, the links to which are given below:

  The speaker discussed the case of DRL (Dr. Reddy's Laboratories)  a multinational company employing over 20,000 employees. .As the company grew, over the years, the bureaucratic procedures had slowed down the day to day working. There was a desire to be nimble footed and innovative. In this connection the slogan " Good health can't wait" was highlighted and all stake holders were requested to give their suggestions. Projects were selected to highlight agility, innovation, customer centricity and more user friendly packaging. Employees were encouraged to contemplate on " What I am I going to do for this?" As a result a young scientist broke the rules and got a project done in 15 days.

The learning from the above case study is that we need to (1) Frame the issue (2) Align everyone to the common goal (3) Demonstrate quick results (4) Create a safe environment (5) Embrace symbols like catchy slogans, logos etc to keep the goal always in the minds of the people.

Another case discussed,was that of online shoe and clothing shop based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The founder,Nick Swinmurn had the idea of online shopping for shoes when he could not find the shoes he wanted at his local store. The on line selling offers customers more variety to choose from, facilitates home delivery and gives them the option to return product if not satisfied. Zappos has strived to be the best customer based company focusing on customer satisfaction. It has the company's phone number on top of every webpage and encourages customers to call and give feedback.

Zappos has designed and implemented what they call "Zappos culture book." The Zappos culture book is a collage of unedited submissions from employees within the Zappos Family of companies sharing what the Zappos culture means to them.  A new version is created each year and it reflects the true feelings, thoughts and opinions of the employees. Whether one is the CEO, or just started yesterday, everyone has a place in the Culture Book.Employees are encouraged to write whatever comes to them, without revisiting what they submitted in years past. Like a yearbook, the Zappos Culture Book is a snapshot of the past year through everyone's eyes. According to one employee Liz.G "The Zappos Culture is more than what goes on in the office. It is the relationships we form and the friendships we make. You can’t find that anywhere else. I never have."

The focus on  cuture is maintained in the company, through a three months training wherein the core values are reinforced. The hiring and firing is done based on the values.The speaker also spoke about delivering "now" through service; enforcing and driving change. Another point that was underscored by the speaker was "Never outsource your key competency."

To my mind, the proceedings of the evening provide a lot of food for thought and introspection. As the impact of culture is being increasingly acknowledged and appreciated, corporates would do well to focus on it for best results. After all the father of modern management had pointed out its relevance long ago and in his characteristic style, indicated that culture eats strategy- for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Learning in a Nutshell

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Learning points/take aways from the book Soul inc by Moid Siddiqui, Management Guru and author 
  • In order to create your destiny you need to develop a business character
  • Every living organization, unlike a dead organization, will witness the daybreak, sooner or later
  • All that we are is the result of all that we have thought.Pure thoughts lead to pure life- the ultimate source of happiness
  • As a corporate, look within-Internal clarity provides the external solution
  • You can't fake a corporate soul;either you have it or you better create one.
  • Corporates need to change its priorities and reward different strengths
  • Business has become the most powerful institution on the planet. The dominant institution in any society needs to take responsibility for the whole
  • Flesh trading and body shopping (done by corporates) are both equally sinful
  • There is a need to shift from individual perspective to universal perspective - Serve a purpose and work long for it, as against quick results and quick gains
A shift is necessary
  • What can I get Vs How can I give
  • Success and money Vs people are significant
  • Pleasing bosses Vs working to soothe the soul 
  • Fear in managing business Vs Managing business with love
  • Leader is being first Vs Leader is being last
  • Surrender means deafeat Vs Victory is letting go/ surrender
  • Short term gains Vs Long term legacy 
  • Managing by joining body and mind Vs Managing by joining mind, heart and soul
  • Managing externally hardware Vs Managing internally heartware . 
It is necessary to develop our emotional and spiritual sides for pursit of physical performance, to be meaningful. 

Practice authentic living: Identify your personal core values and beliefs and commit to working and living according to them. Let your personal goals and career goals allign to the values and belief. 

Identify the gap between who you are now and the person you know you could be.Write a list of words that describe the qualities of the person you know you can be. Now spend time reflecting on the extent to which your present self is close to the desired person.

Then choose one word from the list that you want to begin working on.( Eg. You want to become more open). Use personal goal setting techniques and resolve to work on this everyday. Set small goals and work on one trait at a time. Gradually this change and growth will become second nature.  

"If I hold a possibility or a future of the way I want the world to be; then I bring that into the room with me, everytime I show up. I don't have to work on it. It works on me..."

Monday, 27 November 2017

Conversations CEOs Should have with HRs

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At the NHRD monthly meeting in September 2017, discussing the 'interesting' or if you prefer 'important' subject of conversations between CEOs and HR , was a distinguished panel consisting of Mr J.Suresh MD & CEO at Aravind lifestyle brands, Ms Lalitha Indrakanti,MD and center leader Cargill business srvices and Mr K.Srinivas, CEO, BTI payments. At the outset, the panelists gave a brief picture about the nature of their business and its challenges.

Mr Suresh said that his company Aravind lifestyle brands, offers 25 plus fashion brands through 1500 retail stores. Around 10,000 are employed in the stores and 800 in the offices. Indirectly 15,000 workmen are employed in the factories of third parties, from whom the company sources the material. He said his company is following the ABCD strategy wherein A stands for analytics being used effectively to scan the data  of 1 million customers every month, B for buy now with a target of under 40 days cycle time, C for compliance and D for digital optimisation. The HR challenge is the recruitment, retention, training and performance management of the large workforce.

Ms Lalitha said her focus was on creating a culture for the 153 year old company (Cargill business srvices), and in this connection HR has to play a strategic and very important role of a partner and enabler.The other challenges include developing multiple skill sets as against specific skill sets as skills these days, tend to get obselete in a short time. HR has a key role here in giving a different connotation to performance management. " How do you predict business outcomes? and how do you enable employees to  meet these outcomes? are the answers expected from HR.

Mr Srinivas introduced his company BTI payments, as a start up which has made available white labelled ATMs to the interior rural areas of the country. The objective of starting the company was to make ATMs accessable to the rural population and also encourage them to use technology for their monetary transactions. He said that they were clear right from the beginning, that the company would operate as one in a  service industry and not as another bank. The basic business that of "Buying cash and selling cash" was badly hit by the demonetisation. It resulted in money, the very life blood of the business becoming in short supply.With so many Indian citizens standing in queue, making available cash to an ATM transaction company,was the least priority for the banks.Therefore the company which before demonetisation was hovering around the break even stage  slipped back considerably.

Being a young company and a start up, the challenges faced by BTI payments include attracting the right kind of people with relevant competencies and defining a vision for the company. Presently, a two member HR team handles the matters pertaining to the 200 odd employees working for the company. Mr Srinivas informed that "as a part of handling the crisis caused by demonetisation, we went around and transparently shared with employees the current reality." The leadership team took salary break for two months while the other employees took a one month break." Every single person came forward to take the cut." Today, after six months the company is limping back to the break even stage.

The panelists then shared their present priorities.Suresh said that reskilling of people to meet the fast happening changes is his priority.For Lalitha,setting up the new department for developing organizational culture was the priority.In this connection, it was important to learn how to educate the people before implementing. Srinivas said that his priority of recruiting the right people was being adddressed by a strategy of recruiting people already known to the top executives during their tenure in previous organizations when the candidates demonstarated qualities of competence and personal loyalty to the organization.

Taking a question from the audience as to how does one manage disruptions, Suresh said that "Today disruption is the norm",with competition coming from 'anywhere', not necessarily from one's own industry.In these circumstances HR needs to be proactive and business savvy. The focus should be on developing an eco system ( complex network or interconnected system) for the company and not engage merely on  job description based recruitments.It would mean getting the talent to work and also pondering on the question "How to get other people in the eco system also to deliver effectively". Lalitha said that a focus area was to get people working in multiple functions and different maturity/ experience levels "to think as one."

Another question posed was " What are the top 3 things HR should stop doing?

1 Stop owning Everything:  As for example attrition is seen as an HR issue, while many other factors contribute to it.What HR should instead do is to be an enabler and show the mirror as to what is happening with the support of matrix.
2  Stop just taking orders: HR should instead give its own insights and understanding of the business situation and scenario to the management
3 Stop doing performance management in its current form- The current methodology has become old fashioned with the system not serving its objectives. It needs to be replaced with a more relevant and dynamic way of motivating employees.

What advice would the panelists like to give the youngsters or students of HR?
  • Acquire diveristy in whatever you do.Experience multiple dimensions whether in terms of geographies, functions, area of work. This will stand you in good stead in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Adaptability teaches a lot more than sameness and being in the same area.It makes you a better professional and a better human being.   
The discussions for the evening came to a close with the panelists underscoring the fact that boundaries are going to blur. People of all functions would be required to have an HR perspective and the HR professional would also need to become a business person.The ideal situation would be when an HR perspective and approach is automatic in the organization. "Think of a day" said one of the panelists "when HR as a separare function, would be felt irrelevant by organizations."

Although the above proposition may sound scary to an HR professional, in the long run with so many changes happening, he /she could be working freelance.,The real test of the HR professional's  success would be in equipping an organization to be self reliant. Having accomplished the mission, they could be moving to the next organization and to the next challenge.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Global Trend in Workforce Planning

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In this post I am sharing the gist of the discussions that transpired during the professional evening meeting organized by NIPM, Karnataka Chapter. The speaker was Ms Debolina Dutta, Director (HR), VF corporation, Bangalore. VF Corporation is an American worldwide apparel and footwear company founded in 1899 and headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina.

At the outset the speaker underscored the fact that quite a few leading companies worldwide, are acknowledging the changes in the expectations of the work force.They are accordingly making changes in their approach to recruitment and engaging of people. Research suggests that a poor recruitment experience could turn candidates away from that brand, for life.According to the report of an employer branding agency ph.Attraction, one in four British jobseekers have either entirely stopped purchasing (12%) or purchased less (11.5%) from a brand because of a negative candidate experience.

 The speaker cited  instances of  individual companies which learnt the hard way that future employees need to be handled with a lot of sensitivity. Let us take the case of  Virgin media. More than 1,30,000 candidates applied to work at Virgin Media in 2014, 18% of whom were existing customers of the company.  However, as a direct result of poor candidate experience more than 7,500 candidates cancelled their subscriptions and switched to a competitor, resulting in millions of pounds (£4.4m ) in lost revenueThe brand has since brought its recruitment function in-house, which allows it to take a lot more control and engage with individuals on a one-to-one level. The company has also invested in technology with a candidate portal that maps the recruitment experience; the focus being on what candidates want rather than Virgin media leading the experience. The process also features inspirational voice messages from brand ambassador Usain Bolt.

Ms Debolina said that IBM responded to the attrition nightmare by developing a predictive analytics model which helps in identifying those likely to leave and this helped to reduce attrition by addressing issues. Further, the Bell curve model of performance assessment has become outdated and is being given up by many organizations. GE has now come up with a regular updates model (feedback to employees on how they are doing) resulting in a five times increase in productivity. Similarly Adobe introduced instantaneous feedback system that contributed to a 2% reduction in attrition. Cisco has moved away from ratings and annual reviews and are looking at team oriented incentives.

It is clear from the above that employers are no longer perceiving employees as mere numbers but are looking to provide a humane experience to candidates right from the stage of interview and during their tenure in the organization.The speaker said that in the IT industry, as HR is not sure of how many will join, there is a tendency to issue offer letters to more than the required number of employees. But then what if all the 5 Java programmars who were issued offer letters ( as against the 4 required) join?

Companies are looking to engage them through gamification portals etc even before they even join the organization so as to ensure better predictability of the candidates joining. Readers may like to see an earlier blog of mine covering the L&D Leadership League organized by People Matters, wherein the VP (HR) of TCS explained how gamification is used to engage young engineers.

In accordance with the latest trends ( the millennials presence is very high in social media), HR would do well to utilize the services edge networks which scan the net for inputs from the social media, Linked in find out the best fit employees and recommend those deemed 100% fit for a position. Edge networks  are focused on the development of workforce planning solutions with the use of artificial intelligence and data science technology solutions. The speaker said that in her company this tool  was used for internal bench management.

Another trend is to get career counselling done for employees by a doggie/bot on their desk tops so that they would be able to open up freely without being intimidated by human seniors, some of whom may also be reluctant to give undiluted honest feedback. Websites like Wade & Wendy help in this connection, providing instructive conversation with a chat bot.

Further, technology today has made available the tool of machine learning. Machine learning explores the study and construction of algorithms, which can make data driven predictions or decisions by building a model from sample inputs.This enables companies to zero in on the optimum workforce.In future, there could be a situation of 73% of the workforce being flexible, part time freelancers. Dell, which presently has a 25% flexible workforce is planning to increase it to 50%.

The global trends indicate that talent will be procured by companies from anywhere in the world.The focus would increase on engaging and mentoring the employees after they have joined. Johnson & Johnson has a web enabled mentoring platform.There is bound to be increased collaboration between man and machine. Amazon has started using around 30000 robots at their distribution centres. The good news is that understanding the trends in advance can enable organizations to be prepared. It is for each company to look at its own unique context and become ready to face what the future may throw up. The bad news is that the trends predicted are not going to affect the IT industry alone but all organizations, across the board....  

Monday, 11 September 2017

Global HR practices and Future Trends

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In this post I am sharing the gist of the talk given by Mr Selwyn Thomas, Head -Corporate HR Crowe Horwath,  Melbourne, Victoria, Australia  during the evening meeting organized by NHRD Hosur chapter on 13th June 2017.. The speaker's wide exposure to strategic HR in India and subsequent stints abroad  marks him out as the ideal person to speak on the subject.After serving in India and rising to senior levels of counry head/Head HR of large multinationals, he  moved to Australia and has worked extensively over the past 17 years in the  Asia-Pacific region based out of Melbourne and Auckland. He also has project working experience in the UK and France.

  • We live in an era of economic paradox. On the one hand there are more products / increase in productivity and creation of more jobs while on the other hand the job market has become riskier and the job environment more demanding or if you prefer dangerous in terms of expectations,targets and pressure.
  • The employee bonding with the company has reduced considerably
  • In Australia, a third of the work force consist of contingent workmen( employed through contractors). As in the case of raw materials you are now looking at " Just in time employees".
  • 60% of the people in Australia work part time and 40% are in permanent employment. While the younger people tend to work full time, the older people across the board( at all levels in the organization) work less.
  • As people come and go often, the organization structure tends to be flexible and job security has become less important and also not much gains in compensation is observed.
  • In short, "the labour market is confusing" with more mobility and job changing as against earlier periods when jobs were changed less frequently.
  • These trends would mean, everyone including HR needs to constantly update and be able to meet changing requirements.
  • There has been a shift in the balance of power in favour of employers since 1980s. The Government presently are reluctant to intervene and are not engaging in policing as in earlier times. 
  • The time has come for change; technology enabled change. Therefore the future of HR as in the case of other disciplines lies  in embracing technology. 
  • HR needs to use infographics and landscape mode to reach out to large number of employees. (Infographics simplify information in a visually engaging and attractive manner. Here, basic principles of design is used to support the information presented, making it more easily accessible to a larger or target audience) 
  • Technology can be profitably utilized by HR for work force management, training and building strategy. HR analytics could play an important role in this regard. ( Readers may like to read my post on HR analytics and its possibilities for HR- )
  • While technology has its advantages, it could mean, the death of transactional HR ie  the repititive, predictive activities, that HRDians have been engaged since a long time.
  • Traditional roles such as wage negotiation  are getting reduced with Government releasing industrywise payment guidelines.
  • With the systems having become smarter, companies expect line managers to do this part of traditional HR role, devoting atleast 10% of their time for HR work. 
  • The strategic HR, however will continue to have relevance. To use the words of the speaker " Only the corporate HR guys will survive". HRDians need to use the opportunity to make vital contributions,  strategically and earn respect for the function. 
  • It appears that it is "Rest in peace" for the performance appraisal systems. In view of organizations having become very dynamic, it has become difficult to set 'fixed period' objectives for teams. Dynamic performance management is expected to replace performance appraisal. You are bound to be assessed on the go; assessed from the moment you join without a honeymoon period.
  • Assessments would be more matter of fact with only 'yes' or ' No' answers: Why has the team failed? Do they have some other issues not addressed?- yes/No
  • The social media enabled recruitment is expected to grow.In a study it was revealed that 80% of those surveyed used Linked in, followed by facebook and twitter.
  • We are likely to see Cafe offices wherein employees will operate from a neighbourhood cafe using tools such as video conferencing. Speaker gave the instance of employee dialing and connecting with colleagues from a mobile van in Singapore.
  • Flexible working hours would be more the norm than exception and laws would permit multiple employment.
  • The speaker predicted that 33% employers would permit their employees to work from home and 52% of the employers are likely to lose talent for not allowing such flexibility.
  • E learning which is gaining currency could become even more popular in view of its convenience to learn at your own pace at the time convenient to you. certificates can be acquired on completion of the course.
  • As against the traditional induction and orientation of employees, the 'onboarding' (like the highly structured and ritualized process of boarding an airplane) exercise in future would start even before the employee has joined the company with the Emails seeking details of the employee including his preferences etc, This continues after his joining giving the employee a personalized experience.
  • Similarly the salary packaging would also be personalized to specific individual needs of employees, permitting him/her to create the basket within the broad structure.
  • There could be a rethink on ways of employee communication given the fact that most employees, particularly the young are very active on social media.
  • The futuristic offices are expected to be very different from how we have known it - No telephones or desks,only pods to sit on.With no dedicated chairs or place for individuals, the office would have open spaces to interact- " Focus zone. Collaboration Zone, creative zone, technology Zone" and so on. The speaker said that the KPMG Melbourne office has been created on these lines.

After the presentation, we got the opportunity to interact with Mr Selwyn and seek clarification and elaboration on the matters discussed. It was indeed a very engaging and rewarding evening for the audience who not only got information on what is happening in other countries but also insights on future trends from an expert who has had exposure to varied working environments.

Monday, 21 August 2017

'One of a Kind' training Program

Any activity tends be done well when it is appreciated; valued both by the person doing it and the one who is a recipient of the benefit from the activity. In the absence of the feeling of being valued, it would merely be about going through the motions. When we look at corporate training, although these days behavioural and soft skill training is done a lot more than in the earlier periods, it is often organized to declare to the world “that we are a progressive organization. We can proudly claim to have done’ x’ man-days of training during the year” Homework as to the real needs for the training and addressing them through the training exercise is not given the adequate attention it deserves.

While reporting on the best practices of 3M, which were discussed in a professional evening program, I had shared in my blog about the experience of the company with respect to a coaching and mentoring initiative. The following feedback that 3 M received from the coaches associated with the exercise is very interesting and revealing:    

(i)  Most organizations are not proactive; in fact, they come to us at the last minute
(ii) The participants are simply referred to us. We do not get the opportunity to interact with the HR Head and senior management team before the program, as was done in the 3M program
(iii) Usually, the participants come in to the program with a negative mindset since they feel they have been sent to the program, in view of their being 'not good enough'.
(iv) The fact that 3M had already identified the areas of improvement helped the process of coaching and enhanced its effectiveness.

As the challenges for a trainer is similar, it becomes a matter of great delight when the client is a responsible participant in the entire process  identifying the areas of improvement, extending full support during the program and facilitating the implementation of the learning from the program, post training. I had the good fortune to experience such delight recently.

When I was working in Hyundai Motor India in Chennai as HOD of Learning and Development, we did a program for our future leaders through the Great Lakes Institute. Professor V. Ramachandran, Executive coach and business consultant was associated by the institute for providing coaching support to our participants.I got the opportunity to interact frequently with him during his visits to our factory as part of the assignment. Subsequently I retired from Hyundai, settled down in Bangalore, and focused on offering training programs on soft skills through my organization “Niche Learning Services Ltd”. In July 2017, it was a pleasant surprise to receive a  telephone call from professor informing me that there was an opportunity to do a program for Ms. MTS Foods who were looking for specific inputs and would like the trainer to be multilingual ( speak in English and Kannada) as they intended to do the program for participants across the board. He advised me to contact the CEO Mr. Krishna Kumar Menon, or KK, as he is popularly known.

I visited KK in his office at first cross JC road and we discussed in detail the operational activities of the organization and the purpose of the program. MTS Foods are agents for supplying excellent food processing machines manufactured in countries like Germany and Belgium. .The tagline of the company reads” Cost effective technological solution for the Indian food processing industry,” They supply and maintain these machines for sorting, cutting and peeling raw materials. The employees therefore work in both the areas of sales and maintenance.

The focus desired was on enhancing communication skills while communicating internally between employees as also while interacting with the clients. Improving the report writing skills was another focus area. It was decided to do a pilot one-day program and then consider further programs as per requirement. I explained to KK my pet concepts of the “Law of attraction” and “Mind Programming”. It was agreed to elicit from the participants the important aspects learnt in the training; the ones they would like to implement at work and use these for a mind programming exercise at the end of the program. (You may like to read my blog  to know more about mind programming).

When I asked KK about the participant profile, he drew for me an organization chart explaining job description of each position, the age and experience of the participant and other details of their job requirements and reporting relationships. It was very clear from the interaction that KK valued the role and significance of training. The reason for the same could be attributed  to the fact that he himself had worked in senior positions in professionally managed companies in the Gulf and in India before deciding to start his own venture. KK wanted the program to be a memorable experience for the participants so that the training day ended with dinner with all the participants. Accordingly, we tweaked the program starting a little late and ending late in the evening.    

KK was present to inaugurate the program, explain its significance and the expectations from the program and from the participants. He stayed for a while and left (because he wanted the participants to be free and express themselves without inhibition) promising to return towards the end. I am happy to report that I had a group of very active participants who comprised of the entire company. This was indeed a unique experience! The company had made sure that this was possible. The learning from the program and the priorities of implementation was presented to the CEO after a group discussion amongst participants. This was followed by the mind programming exercise.  

I describe this training program as “one of its kind” because of the consistent involvement and support of the client throughout the program. It is a rare occasion that the entire company attends a training program.The discussions about future focus areas, long after the program in a relaxed atmosphere over dinner was a unique feature.Incidentally, it was the only program wherein payment was credited into my bank even before I commenced the program. 

To conclude, it is to be reiterated that training programs can be a lot more effective if the corporates are responsible participants in the training process.An actor who comes to a movie set having little knowledge of the story, the plot or his own role is likely to perform differently from the one who has been given a bound script months in advance detailing the entire script of the movie.The same is true of the training initiative. Signals given as to the importance an organization attaches to its training initiatives will go a long way, in reaping the best results by everyone-the company, the participants and the trainer...  

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Decoding Talent acquisition - Attracting and Retaining the Millennials

Attracting and retaining the millennials ( also known as Generation Y) was the focus of the Shine HR conclave held in Bangalore at Hotel LeMeredian on June 23rd 2017 . This generation of employees born between 1982 and 2004, are expected to be 52% of the work force in India by 2019. It is therefore no surprise that employers are increasingly paying attention to aspects such as " what motivates the Gen Y employees?"  and "what are the ways in which  they can be better engaged". Earlier also, there have been occasions when this subject was included as a session in HR summits of one or two days duration. However, at that point of time the information shared by speakers were mostly speculative, or if you prefer predictive. The real time experience of handling issues related to Gen Y was limited and speakers largely depended on the internet for content support.

Today, in the year 2017 however, there are quite a few multinational companies operating in India who have faced issues dealing with Gen Y employees in many countries and have evolved global strategy or guidelines  for effectively attracting and retaining this generation of employees. In fact the tagline of the Shine HR summit read "From the Best in HR on the Next in HR" to call attention  to  the experise and competence of the discussion Panel for giving inputs on the subject.The distinguished panel included Ms Sanjuktha Sarkar, VP & Head HR Aditya Birla Fashion and retail Ltd, Mr Nagarajan.V, Sr VP, AXA Ltd, Mr R. RajNarayan, VP(HR), Titan, and Mr.K Raghavendra VP(HR) Infosys,BPO. The session was moderated by Dr M.S. Balaji a reputed executive coach with rich industrial experience.

At the outset, the moderator shared some interesting findings from a study made on the expectations of  the millennials from work. 90.33% of  this generation of employees were found to have  motivatiors different from that of other generations  for contributing effectively at work .64% of them indicated that they would leave their jobs after short stints; 28% felt that the real situation at work was worse than what they had expected. 75% of the millennials who participated in the study expected to advance in their career within a period of 18 months of joining.60% of the respondents said that they did not have a formal mentoring program in their company. In the discussions that followed, the panelists answered questions put to them by the moderator and the audience. The following are the important points that came out in the discussion.
  • Talent Acquisition- Branding important for millennials 
The visual brand/ No1 employer tag makes a big impression on young minds. Therefore it is important to ask the question " Are we doing different things and also doing enough to build the brand?" In order to reach  millennials, it would be necessary to utilize the media they are comfortable with such as Naukri,You tube,Twitter,Face book, Glassdoor (a website where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management) etc.

From merely sharing information about the organization in preplacement talks, companies are looking at giving projects to students providing them an opportunity to experience and get a sense of the environment. In one company 90% of the new recruits had done their projects with the organization.Some companies also declare contests for projects for engaging the students with business issues. ( you can read the practice in 3M in my blog ). These initiatives are not only essential part of branding but also contribute to better retention.

Apart from branding, another important factor that motivates youngsters to join is the interaction with the existing employees.Your existing employee is an important ambassador in this regard. His excitement or otherwise could make a deep impression on the mind of the prospective employee. The other factors include growth opportunities, work environment and sense of purpose in the organization. Availability of platforms for expressing oneself beyond immediate work aspect is important, all the more if the organization is not one of the best pay masters. The reputation of the company amongst one's peer group is also an important factor.  
  • High Attrition amongst millennials- Proactive efforts to retain them
Although we tend to club all millennials together, their background could be different and consequently the needs to be addessed could also be different.In this connection, they can be classified as follows:-
1) Those who have lived a major part of their lives in villages or small towns and have subsequently moved to cities (Conventional job security could be important to them atleast in the initial period)
2) Second generation city bred individuals (Their expectations could be a lot higher than conventional expectations of earlier generation of employees)
3) Those educated in technical and B schools abroad ( This group could see themselves as deserving no less than what their counterparts get anywhere in the world)

Based on an understanding of the above classification, companies could address particular needs of specific groups.However, when you look at the  millennials as a generation, it is seen that they are looking for more challenges than the earlier rgeneration of employees.They want a pleasant working environment and eco system.They are seeking experiences to enhance employability and not just promotions. Many large organizations today, are catering to this need of the GenY employees. However, a lot more can be done in the area of providing recognition, providing cluster of experiences and values matching in line with their natural style.
  • Career Progression and Development expectations of the millennials
The millennials have high achievement orientation.They have low tolerance level of hierarchy and are more self centered than the earlier generation of employees. To them progression is learning more and enhancing their employability; looking out for opportunities rather than linear progression. They would prefer 6-9 months of stints across various disciplines before deciding on what they would like to focus on long term.

In view of the above, it would be a good idea to move people seamlessly across marketing, production, warehousing and logistics. As the millennials have a low tolerance level of hierarchy, it is important to choose wisely the managers who would be guiding them. Competency and soft skills of the manager should be the criteria rather than total years of experience.In GE, they have experimented with ' Reverse Mentoring' wherein technologically challenged seniors of an older generation are taken under their wings and mentored by the youngsters.(you can read the best practices in GE in my blog )

It is essential for companies to study the possible career progression of the millennials in the next 2 to 4 years and examine the gaps that need to be filled through learning interventions. This neeed not essentially be classroom inputs but bite size learning, at their pace. A bouquet of learning experiences can be planned that may include webinars, shadowing the CEO etc.
  • Flexibility and Work life Balance
The millennials attach a lot of importance to flexibility and work life balance. This does ot mean that they wish to work less.In fact they would like to work more and engage in more challenging assignments. What it means however, is that apart from work, the Gen Y would like to pursue other interests of their own such as hiking, bird watching, social service, sports etc and also spend time with friends and family. Some wish to make a difference in society and engage in CSR activities. In this connection they expect support from the organization. It is like they prefer work life fusion when work and life collide. Fixing of core hours when everyone need to be in the office but flexibility most of the time could address this need.Technology can be leveraged effectively to provide this flexibility so that work also gets done as per schedule.
  • Significance of Trust and Values
There was a question from the audience drawing attention to the volatile work situation these days with managers changing frequently and increasing number of lay offs and pink slips.The question was as to how a trusting culture would be possible in such a scenario? The panelists acknowledged the need to be transparent and fair when lay offs become necessary. The seperation conversation on such occasions should be fair, humane and with lot of empathy. The exercise should be acceptable not only to the person seperating but also to those who are continuing in the organization.

Another matter that came up during the discussion was the using of technology effectively in managing the millennials.It was opined that analytics need to be leveraged better and HR needs to enhance it's competence in analytics analysis. The millennials tend to seek instant gratification but this is not with reference to money alone. They expect real time feedback on how they are doing and not once in a year during annual appraisal.

The Shine HR conclave was truly a rewarding experience with 360 degree perspectives on the subject justifying the tag line "From the Best in HR on the Next in HR".There was one question from the audience though that was perhaps misunderstood by the panelist. He had asked "Have we been unable to communicate our expectations and culture of the organization to the millennials ?"

Going by the general mood of the evening the panelist answered " You don't communicate culture; you experience it." Although this is a remarkable statement, I think what the questioner had in mind was, to put it in different words- "we are speaking and discussing so much about the necessity to adapt and adjust to the needs of a group who would be 52% of the work force in 2019. But should not the millennials also be taught to work in harmony with the remaining 48% of the work force?"

 Should they also not understand the reasons for the conventional thinking of the earlier generations, what values are important to them and what their expectations are as well? After all, in order for a house to be a home, not one but both the husband and wife/ father and son/ mother and daughter need to appreciate the perspectives and adapt to the needs of each other so that a transition to a better life happens in a  smooth and effortless manner ....

Thursday, 6 July 2017

From the Notes of Yesteryears-(4)- Leader in Deed is Leader Indeed

In this post I am sharing from my notes, some sound and sensible advice to freshers joining the industry. It is given by none other than the veteran corporate leader Mr  R.C. Bhargava, former CEO and current chairman of  Maruti Suzuki. Many students tend to believe that once they have acquired a degree in engineering or management, they automatically gain respect and success. The wisdom shared by Mr Bhargava challenges such notions. According to him leaders need to earn the respect of their subordinates.

In most companies, subordinates, particularly workmen are convinced that the management's aim is to extract the maximum work and pay as little as possible. They believe that the management thrives and prospers on the efforts of  their workmen. Management itself contributes very little and  since managers are highly paid and enjoy lot of perks, profits would increase if the number of managers are reduced.If managers are to become leaders and motivate all employees to give their best, they should be able to dispel this image

One of the ways for earning respect and demonstrating real contribution is by being highly proficient and knowledgable in your work.Degrees will not suffice. If a worker makes a mistake or encounters a problem in his work and the supervisr is not able to guide him or provide a solution, he is unlikely to respect him as an engineer or manager. It is therefore necessary to combine academic knowledge and intelectual brillance with practical experience. This would enable one to gain the skills for doing the work that he is responsible for supervising and guiding.

You would be able to supervise and control only if you are totally familiar with the rules and procedure applicable. One should also know the company policy and objectives. The leader must be able to show total command over the work in his charge, to get noticed and identified as one with the potential to rise.The more aware you are of the overall functioning of the company, beside your own area of work,the more are the chances of your being able to make value adding suggestions. What is required is hard work and an intention to learn all the time. You cannot expect to succeed with the attitude- " Work only the prescribed 8 hours and do only what you are asked to do."  

Focus during Training Period

The training system should be designed for providing opportunity to the trainee to practically do the tasks that he would be supervising later. This would mean providing hands on  training to the engineer on the production lines and on various machines.The training should include knowledge about various aspects of the company's policies and regulations.This first hand knowledge of the working conditions and systems on the shop floor will stand the trainees in good stead in future, for making changes that will improve productivity and work environment.In the Japanese training system a great deal of importance is attached to 'doing the job yourself '. There was an instance of a senior manager who was on his way to a hotel as a guest.On learning about a breakdown problem, he  was not afraid or reluctant to get himself dirty repairing the car before proceeding to the venue.

In conclusion, the youngsters starting out on their career should understand that the importance of practical, hands on experience cannot be overemphasised. Degrees are only passports to enter the work place. There is no substitute for hard work, continuous learning and willingness to do work with your own hands.It is these attributes that will ensure future growth and success.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Unbox: Theater based learning experience on Bias/ Prejudice

NHRD Bangalore Chapter organized a theater-based discussion on the above subject on 30/3/2017. In view of the novelty of using theater to convey ideas, the attendance was very good with the conference hall being jam-packed. The speakers/performers for the day were Ms Aruna GaneshRam of Visual Respiration, a performance company committed to designing unique audience experiences and Ms Nirmala Menon, Founder CEO of Interweave, a company focusing on organizational diversity and inclusion solutions. The objective of the evening program was to create heightened awareness and inspire better inclusion for all.

In our society, we tend to look at a person not as an individual but through the lens of gender. What people are capable of doing or whether an action is right or wrong is perceived from the gender of the person, whether male or female. The program started with a theatrical presentation by Aruna who drew attention to the plight of women in society, whether at work (interviewed for a job, being considered for an assignment or promotion) or in personal life. She adopted the style of a  Sutradhara, a story teller or narrator In Indian Theatre of yore in a singsong exaggerated voice. I am sharing below a sample of what Aruna related in her performance:-
“Boxes boxes everywhere
Men and women in clear separate boxes
Categorizing people one way or the other”
“A woman’s chores include
apart from attending official work.
Attending PTA meetings, bank work and others.”
“she is to be commented upon
no matter what clothes she wears
be it Biz suit, hot pants or salwar
if nothing else, you can’t help asking
“What’s with the new look?”  “
 “At work it’s always doubt
Can you arrange, manage, co ordinate
They say, “I’m not tough enough
Fast enough, not networking
Not capable enough, not worthy enough”
For promotion Nikhil is chosen over me
Take a break they say- adding insult to injury
“In a way it’s an opportunity to chill out
Look after the kids, take up
Your hobby of gardening”
“Boxes, boxes everywhere!
What’s in your box?
How did it get in there?
What do you want to keep?
What do you want to throw out?”
“Boxes, boxes in the air
Boxes, boxes everywhere
It starts from the time of childhood
Boys get blue
Girls get pink
Boys are brave, girls do cry
Barbie dolls are girly
Video games are nerdy
Girls to the left, boys to the right”
“Boys are good at maths
Girls good at crafts
Boys have to be bread winner
Girls need to worry about being thin”

After the theatrical performance by Aruna, the baton was passed on to Nirmala Menon who brought in the necessary professionalism and focus to the exercise. What does the insights from the performance mean to the HRDians assembled for the evening? Whether an appreciation by HR leaders, of the negative aspects of boxing employees based on their genders could lead to policies that are progressive, more egalitarian and inclusive? As a person engaged in sensitizing corporates for some time now as a diversity professional, Nirmala admitted that all problems would not disappear instantly as if  by waving a magic wand. Yet, baby steps taken in this direction in more and more companies would yield results in the long run.

Nirmala underscored the fact that it is not women alone but both genders, who are victims of the practice of boxing people. As for example in our country, society would not view kindly or appreciate a male’s wish to be a ‘home maker’ based on his natural traits and inclination for that role. In the work situation, if the capabilities of women are constantly judged unfavourably due to biased prejudices, it would amount to ignoring 50% of your talent pool. Why would any organization want to do that? The success of diversity management at the organizational level would be possible only if concerted efforts are made by managers and the spirit is reflected in the culture of the organization.

Nirmala concluded by stating that notwithstanding the efforts of organizations, the challenges to the problem included comfort and psychological safety felt by women, societal influences and the psyche of the women themselves. There has been change in   women over the years and they are demanding more of their rights. However, more change or corresponding change is necessary in the mindsets of men. It is in the interests of the organization to have a balance of the masculine and feminine energy. In this connection, a few courageous souls need to break the status quo and the others would follow. 

The evening provided all of us present a lot of food for thought.By recreating the evening for you here readers, I am passing them on to you also to mull over- How much longer are we going to continue  at the work places and in all spheres of life with a limiting perception of seeing people in boxes?How long will it to take to break boundaries, realize full potential of indivduals and claim the palaces of possibilities?     

Edit: I found this on the net and it is very relevant. After all, it is the story of a middle class man like any one of us and how he treated his daughters...Hope you like it.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Nursery for Leadership- Asian Paints

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NHRD Bangalore organized a very interesting evening discussion on 23rd February 2017 in which the former and current senior executives of Asian Paints participated. The discussion sought to unravel the secrets of success of the 75-year-old, home grown Indian Multinational having 25 manufacturing units and operating out of 19 countries.  The initiative for the same was taken by the President of the Chapter Mr. Bala Balachandar who is himself a former executive of the company.

In his brief introduction, Bala said that he got spontaneous response from his former colleagues when the idea was mooted for sharing their experiences and insights gained from working for Asian Paints. He acknowledged the presence of veterans as well as younger employees in the audience who had come in large numbers to participate in the discussion. The baton was then passed on to Mr Sudesh Shetty who has earlier served as president of the chapter, to initiate and conduct the proceedings of the evening.

Sudesh described Asian paints as  a nursery for leadership, recruiting talent from the campuses and then nurturing and developing them at each stage. He also referred to it as a company with innovative marketing practices. Sudesh invited to the dais the members of the discussion panel namely Mr Amitabh Sinha, Mr Jalaj, Mr Ashish and Mr Sundareshan.

Some information gathered from the opening remarks of the panelists are the following. The company has encouraged executives to make cross functional moves and gain experience in diverse areas. As for example, sudesh moved from a sales to HR role while sundareshan moved from the plant in India to a foreign assignment in Egypt as the unit in charge. When the panelists moved to other companies, whether it is in a very different industry of Fashion retail with Aditya Birla or to the JSW group, their experience with Asian paints stood them in good stead, in dealing with the challenges of the new assignments.

 Asian Paints is a company that has not made a loss even for one year in its 75-year history. Described as the Don Bradman of Indian industries by a panelist, It is the top Ranked Indian company in the “Forbes Most Innovative company List” in 2016(Ranked 18th in the world). The company has been able to groom many leaders from within the organization. The CEOS of many companies have come from the stables of Asian Paints.

The questions put by the moderator Sudesh and their replies are given below:

Question to Jalaj: What is the secret of success of the company, which has celebrated 75 years on 1 February? What are the respective roles that people play to achieve this?

Answer: The story of Asian Paints have been that of a story of people. Having smart people has always been a priority. Focusing on all aspects of the company while empowering people and excelling in certain business strategies has been the key.

Started in 1942, in a small garage in Mumbai by four friends, Asian Paints came a long way and became a market leader by 1967-68. The company was however open to learning from others. The founding fathers recognized the importance of getting the best talent and looked towards IIMs and other institutions to meet this need. Every idea that comes from the employees for improvement or development is consistently looked into. Asian Paints had a flat organization structure even in the sixties and seventies with employees having easy access to senior management. They have a lot of freedom to try out ideas in the best interests of the organization. Later, these practices evolved as principles over a period of time.

Question to Amitabh:  What does Asian Paints do to develop leaders?

Answer: The Company has always given priority to the leaders being operationally fit managers, meaning they should have their basics right and be aligned well to be able to work harmoniously with other departments rather than be in a conflict mode all the time. Sound managers with a long-term perspective and being able to stand the test of time has been the focus of the organization.

Question to Ashish: You had moved to Aditya Birla from Asian Paints and have been credited with organizational transformation initiatives there. Could you compare and contrast your experiences and learning in the two companies?

Answer: I worked for only six years in Asian Paints followed by twenty years in Aditya Birla. Therefore, a direct comparison may not be appropriate. However, one can say that the core of both companies, in terms of values are similar.

My initial stint in Asian paints at Guwahati was during the insurgency days. The tough situations that I encountered at that time dealing with contract labour and other issues steeled me for future challenges. I believe that all this helped me in becoming president at a young age of 39.
Both the companies valued and developed grounded leaders giving importance to the nitty gritty and shaping the character of managers. Contributing quietly and practical decision making was important in both companies.

Question to Sundar: You have come to be known in the company circles as ‘remarkable Sundar’. From an assignment at the plant, level in India, the company sent you to Egypt on an international posting instead of looking for local talent. How did you cope, considering it was your first posting abroad?

Answer: Asian paints had always had a reputation of exposing and preparing its managers for various roles. It was a strategic decision of the management to go for an acquisition in Egypt instead of a green field project. I had experience in the company although not all of it relevant to the new assignment. Yet the company reposed trust and confidence in me. Asian paints is known to provide challenges and let the employees figure out what needs to be done. Everyone is given this space; four of us had gone to Egypt. It was clear that it was my territory and there would be no interference. Resources were provided but decisions were my responsibility. 
Question to Amitabh: Tell us about the recruitment process in Asian Paints and what has changed over the years?

Answer: Asian paints, traditionally have been going to the college campuses of premier educational institutions for recruitment. The objective was to select those who have done well academically, are hardworking and have a need for achievement. Typically, the candidates preferred were meritorious, middle class, not too flashy or abrasive. We looked for those with a point of view and would defend it.
Here Jalaj added: The candidates preferred were those exhibiting humility, empathy, with listening and connecting skills. We looked for the same basic qualities in those selected to work on the shop floor as well. Other abilities sought were process orientation with willingness to execute in any area.
Today the company is in need of out of the box technology; having diversified from manufacturing to services, technology space, and decoration bathroom business. Now, we will also need people who will go and set up business and have better soft skills. They would need to take risks and be able to push the manager (Middle managers could become complacent and prefer the status quo).

Question to Ashish: What did Asian paints not teach you?

Answer: As mentioned earlier, I had a comparatively short stint of six years in AP. The supply chain distribution was very good in the company. Later I applied these principles in the fashion business as well However, I found the new business was very complex, changing every moment. There were more than 10000 products with shelf life of 3 months and consumer’s life of 10 seconds. While analytical thinking worked for me in previous assignments and helped me become general Manager, President, CEO I found that in the new industry of fashion more of right brain thinking was essential and that you are as good as your last product.

Question to Sundar: You moved to a seemingly very different field of private equity and was quite successful. What is that you picked up at Asian paints that you were able to profitably use there?

Answer: The risk taking exposure that I got in Asian paints handling domestic and international business came in handy in private equity for value creation and long-term perspective. In the private equity role, it enabled me to look at different business sectors be it restaurant, pharma or other sectors.

Question to Jalaj: Companies like GE and Unilever have made a mark internationally by their contribution to best practices in HR. When will we see the practices of Asian paints included in HR text books?

Answer: Generally, at Asian paints we have been reluctant and uncomfortable speaking about or projecting ourselves. In respect of HR, our focus has always been on hiring good people with a long-term perspective and giving them diversity of experience. Our challenge and focus as we become more and more global would be to see how we harness further this diversity of experience.

The floor was then thrown open to the audience to shoot questions. One particular question that I found very relevant and interesting was on the company culture in respect of which the following matters were discussed.

Ownership: One of the panelists gave insights into this aspect of the work culture in the company by sharing an anecdote. Once a visitor to the shop floor stated “I want to meet the company.” A person in the level of a supervisor had no hesitation in declaring, “I am the company. What can I do for you?” This kind of a response is possible only when the management empowers employees and they in turn exhibit the ability and willingness to accept the responsibility.

­­­­­­­­­­Integrity: In this connection a story was shared of the time, company had announced the launch of a new product of automotive paint- APCA which required separate go downs for storing and obtaining license from explosives department of the Government. Although the date of the launch was notified, the company decided to postpone the launch rather than pay money to the ­­­­department to obtain license, which was being delayed by the department.

Emotional bond with company: A panelist revealed that the employees of Asian paints had a high level of emotional bond (95%) with the company. This is borne out by the fact that a large number of former and present employees turned up to attend the evening program in which the company was being discussed. As many as 250 former employees of the company registered with the What’s app group in two days on learning about the program.

Engagement with employees: The persons in leadership roles in Asian paints gives attention to coaching, mentoring and imitating conversations with their people. He or she is accountable for the team, appraising their performance, engaging with them, standing up for them and adding value in all conversations.

Delegation of authority at various levels in the organization: On this subject, Sundar already shared about how he received full freedom during his assignment and posting to Egypt.

A former employee who was present among the audience related another relevant story. He was responsible for a role that included taking decisions on paint replacement given to contractors. On one occasion, the contractor demanded 6 litres of paint while he felt that 3 litres were sufficient to carry out the specific work. Although the contractor took up the matter with higher levels, the company stood by his considered decision. It is instances such as these that boosts the morale of employees. It enhances their willingness to stick their necks out and take risks for the benefit of the organization.  

As a blogger, it gives me a lot of happiness to report on best practices of good companies. However, this time my cup of joy was full and overflowing as I was reporting on the success factors of an Indian multinational, which has made a mark for a sustained period of 75 years. It is wonderful to know that the company has its heart in the right place and cherishes important values; values that distinguish the good from the great….  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Gate Keepers to the Bosses

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This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Deccan Herald, a leading newspaper from Bangalore. Please give allowance for the time gap in case readers experience flavour and relevance of an earlier period...

The article has another history in the sense it ruffled the feathers of powerful persons who had moved up to occupy senior positions in the PSU, I was then working. Director (HR) called me and cross  examined me as to how and why I wrote it.When he could not find anything wrong with it technically, he directed that in future all my articles would be seen and cleared by him before publication. I politely refused citing writer's freedom but assured him that I would not write anything for some time.

It was after over a decade that I started writing again when I started my blog...

"We in the 21st century live in an age of information explosion. Today there is total transparency in the corporate world.With the internet and Email facilities, anyone can access information and communicate their views to any level of organizational hierarchy without the fear of disapproval."

The above statement is similar to saying that "India is now a developed country. The status of her being a nuclear power, the wide choice option of automobiles, electronics and other goods enjoyed by its citizens are all proof of its developed state."

We all know that reality is far removed in both the statements.In respect of corporates, the statement is true of very few companies having a genuine computerized environment.In most brick and mortar   companies nothing much has changed with respect to channels of communication.The feudal mindset continues to thrive and prevail. Various gates check and inhibit free flow of information, ideas or opinions. The gatekeeper is ever vigilant protecting his boss from inconveniences.

The personal secretaries and personal staff of senior executives described as 'gatekeepers' often bask in the privilege of free access to the boss. They often tend to get carried away, even risking the very effectiveness of the bosses whose roles they are expected to enhance. Of course there are exceptions to the general tendency and not all of the personal staff exhibit such behaviour .  The employees who are exceptions in this connection, are a pleasure to deal with. They not only contribute to effective working but also enhance the image of their bosses.

Although at a first glance the subject under discussion may appear to be unimportant,obnoxious behaviour of gatekeepers cause grave damage to the communication function which is acknowledged by academicians and practitioners as key to effective working.The problems arise due to a lack of clarity of the secretary/personal staff as to their actual role in the office.The secretary does not see himself as an aid enabling the boss to carry out his duties effectively.On the contrary, he sees himself as a 'door keeper'who has to keep people away from the 'busy'boss. In the process he himself begins to gain a lot of importance. He can enjoy the vicarious pleasure of curtly telling a manager to wait or listening to an employee pleading for an audience with the boss. It is a fact that it is difficult to detect arrogant persons since such persons are seldom unpleasant to those who have the power to make decisions affecting their career.

A retired director sadly remarked "We have ourselves contributed in some way to these people behaving the way they do."Yet the fact remains that if by a magic wand we could take the clock back to his pre-retirement period, the executive would deal with his staff in exactly the same way permitting them undue liberties. One of the main reasons for the behaviour of personal staff being what they are, is the total and helpless dependence of the boss on the personal staff like that of a newborn on his mother for all his personal work, be it booking cooking gas for the residence, drawing money from the bank, even investment in stock markets. To the net savvy, it may appear that these are no longer relevant or major issues which can be attended to by the 'busy'executive himself with the click of a button. Yet, the fact remains that the dependence is still a reality. The compulsive dependence works very well to the advantage of the staff but it almost invariably lowers the image of the boss who is perceived as weak and ineffective if he allows the staff to overstep their authority/ brief.

While a gatekeeper's role may appear vital and relevant as he seemingly saves precious senior executive time from being wasted, in reality it proves counter productive when officers reporting to the boss are prevented from meeting him by the 'gate keeper'who is more concerned with the inflation of his own ego to either see or understand the urgency of the matter brought for decision/discussion.
There is a saying in Kannada language which when translated reads "Even if the Lord is prepared to give a boon (vara) the pujari is unwilling to do so." We have also heard of a folk tale of a poet who wanted to meet the king but was prevented by the gate keeper.He was finally allowed inside on the condition that he give 50% of the presents he gets from the king to the gate keeper.The poet asked the king for a hundred lashes.We need to check with the boss whether in reality some of the instructions attributed to him are in fact given by him. We need to keep the boss informed of occasions when our functioning has been adversely affected by the behaviour of an overzealous gate keeper.

Persons who are in the role of the boss need to educate their personal staff as to the correct expectations from them. The right signals will go a long way in ensuring appropriate behaviour from the staff.An important requirement in this regard is to provide continuous training to the personal staff clarifying their roles and expectations as also appropriate behaviour in  different situations.

Free access to information and communication still appears a mirage.It may still be quite a while before the mirage becomes a reality in corporates of all hues.Access to information and transparency will not only ensure smooth communication and harmony in working but also help the personal staff to retain their relevance in the future as well, even in a paperless environment.   

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Design Thinking

NIPM Karnataka chapter organized a talk on the interesting topic of Design Thinking on 22nd February 2017. The speaker Mr Raghavendra.K. Senior vice president, Infosys BPO, gave an overall picture about the concept and shared his experiences of implementing it in his company. The sponsors of the evening program was Simpliance, a compliance solution company. As their work is relevant to HR, I would like to share what Mr Madhu Damodaran, Head- Legal operations of the organization  explained about their activities in a brief presentation. At a time when compliance of various industrial legislation has become even more focused and important, Simpliance helps companies to keep track of compliance through a solution that schedules recurring compliances in a single unified cloud platform and keeps the compliances updated without any manual effort when laws are amended. A live dashboard gives CEO/ other senior stakeholders the status of the compliances in the company including those related to contractors, client sites and provides the risk scores. Readers may obtain more information from their website  .

Coming back to our topic of discussion, design thinking (DT),the speaker underscored right at the beginning of his talk,  that design thinking has a lot to do with a different approach to issues or problems. What this means is a departure from linear thinking and looking at things creatively; beyond the obvious. The notion of design as a "way of thinking" in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book "The Sciences of the Artificial". Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by David M. Kelley, who founded the design consultancy IDEO in 1991. DT is a human centered design that looks at aspects such as 1) what do people desire? 2) What is technically and organizationally feasible? 3) What is financially viable? Of the three, desirability is required to be given its due place (the traditional thinking tends to be tilted in favour of  feasibility and viability). There is no point in pursuing anything if it does not meet the first test of desirability.

The process steps of design thinking are the following:-

Empathize: Find out more about the people for whom you are designing a solution. Answers to questions such as "Who is my user? What matters to this person?" can be obtained by observation and interviews.
Define: What are their needs? - create a point of view that is based on user needs and insights.
Ideate : Brainstorm and come up with as many creative solutions as possible including "wild ideas".
Prototype: A prototype is like a rough draft.How can I show my idea to others- build a representation of one or more of your ideas.
Test : Share your proto type idea with your original user and obtain feedback- what worked? what didn't?  

Mr Raghavendra gave an example of applying the design thinking model for "hosting a dinner party". All the steps discussed above need to be applied to ensure an effective and successful event. It starts with 'empathizing' by going into details such as who are the attendees? What kind of food would they like? What games would be suitable for that particular group of invitees to be relaxed and feel at home? Often times, instead of empathizing and finding out the real needs, we tend to make arrangements or take action based on assumptions or on our beliefs.

The speaker, who is a vegetarian found to his dismay that in the west, it is assumed that vegetarians only eat lettuce and other such leaves or grass! He had to go hungry many times as a result. Mr Raghavendra related an incident while on a visit abroad. The host had organized 'tasty’ mushroom dishes especially for him. As the speaker hated mushrooms, he had to make excuses that he had had a heavy 'high tea' to wriggle out of the situation, meaning that he had to go hungry that night. We should always keep in mind that "what the end user is looking for is the ultimate objective."

At the 'defining' stage, all aspects of the dinner party such as budget, parking, security, advice to the invitees on clothes (formal/informal) needs to be considered and defined. The next stage of 'ideation' will throw up different ideas in respect of the menu, details of arrangements and the various alternatives. Prototyping and testing ensures that hiccups are avoided. Design thinking addresses larger aspects other than the basic problem noticed. It focuses on not only resolving a problem but also looks at how recurrence of the same can be avoided. It is about upgrading within constraints.
The speaker then asked the audience- “What is the biggest HR problem that you are facing in your company today?” A person in the audience responded: “It is the problem of the candidates recruited and issued appointment letters, not showing up.”Mr Raghavendra encouraged the audience to seek a solution to the problem applying the DT principles of desirability, viability & feasibility and the DT process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test).

 He shared an instance of how design thinking was used in his company, Infosys BPO when plans were being made to celebrate a major event of the company in a grand manner. It appeared as if cold water was thrown on the grand plans when finance refused to sanction the huge budget requested. On applying the DT process, a wonderful solution emerged namely to invite Ms Sudha Murthy as the chief guest which addressed many needs at the same time. She provided an emotional connect of employees with the chief guest. She was a respected and distinguished personality in her own right. As the visit was by the chairperson’s wife, all infrastructural support from the general service department was assured.  

Addressing the Problem of Attrition through Design thinking

Mr Raghavendra then shared his experiences of using DT to address the problem of attrition, which is very high in the BPO sector. Instead of unilaterally coming to a conclusion as to the reasons, applying the DT process encourages one to ask questions to the employees   that are not open ended so as to elicit a more detailed answer (not ‘yes’ or ‘No ‘answers ). Empathy interviews were conducted at the 1200-acre campus of Infosys engaging them in conversations that reveal “What is going on? What is the problem?“ Various aspects were discussed such as what do employees think about the manner interviews are organized, about the shifts, about how they are talked to. One overwhelming feedback was “My manager does not talk to me about my career, training etc. He is only interested in whether I have met my targets.” It was clear from the exercise that money far from being the only issue for attrition; it is only one of the many reasons that influence employees to leave.

Applying the design thinking process, employees were asked as to “what do we need to do differently?” They were encouraged to visualize “what they would like to see happening” and then articulate the changes desired in the form of charts, crafts, models etc. The company studied and responded to the prototypes developed by the employees. They were happy that along with market correction in respect of salaries, the other aspects brought out by them were addressed. As a fitting finale to the exercise, their managers took out the employees as a team for lunch. Some of them commented, “For the first time, we felt valued.”  

HMW (How Might We)

One thing to be always kept in mind in the DT process is not to force your own ideas on the target employees. It is and should be a process of co-creation.In an era of complexities, co-creation by taking that leap of faith and taking the risk of asking people their real feeling is a necessity. It resets the expectations of employees which when addressed creates a bond between the employees and the company.

Mr Raghavendra stated that DT could be used in any situation or environment. It can be used to address the issues of employees, suppliers and customers. It can even be profitably used in personal domestic matters like say organizing a wedding.

Some Success Stories

The speaker shared some instances when DT was effectively utilized by various companies.Bank of America evolved the “Keep the change”program involving customers, front end employees and clerks to make their services robust. The introduction of emoticons by Facebook for conveying “Likes “was the result of such an engagement with their users. GE involved kids to address the problem of the little ones refusing to go under the MRE scanning machines, as they were scared. After engaging with the kids, the company introduced pictures of cartoon characters like Mickey mouse and Donald duck in the inside view of the machines so that the children were no longer scared. The concept of ‘Pepsi’s Pyre’ introduced by PepsiCo makes available 500 different flavours to choose from came about as a result of engaging and involving the customers.

Mr Raghavendra wound up his very interesting and enlightening talk, sharng information on the use of design thinking for revamping the performance appraisal system in his organization. The design of the new system was based on the inputs given by the employees as to what they want. Their requirements of flexibility, relevance, peer-to-peer feedback were important inputs. It was comprehensive in the sense, the employees contributed to all aspects right from goal setting,24x7 working, appraisal cycle, the nuances and challenges faced in terms of milestones etc. The new appraisal system is set to roll from April of this year.The speaker expressed confidence that it would be effective, given the involvement of employees.

“Follow all the steps of DT meticulously,” advised the speaker as a parting shot. Indeed, it was a very rewarding evening for me and I am sure for many others in the audience. We were exposed to the new concept of " Design thinking" that promises exciting new possibilities much beyond what the traditional linear thinking can offer…