Friday, 20 July 2012

Understanding and managing Gen Y, relatively speaking that is

In many years, I haven’t been as taken in by a book, as I have been by Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It is an amazingly honest account, unedited by Steve Jobs or any other affected or interested party. Its content is immensely educating, with the story of the man and the story of the computer industry woven together. Predictably, even before I had finished reading the book, I had decided to read Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein. At the moment I’m halfway through it. Again, it’s the story of the man woven with the story of the Physics of the times.
There are several common threads in the lives of these two men. Both had biological origins in communities that were not mainstream. Both had fathers with technician-craftsmen abilities. Both had their first un-fleeting alliances with women who were intellectual-spiritual, and later married other pragmatic women. Both were callous with people closest to them. Both were comfortable appearing shabby. Both had disregard for authority and were ironically propelled into becoming authorities themselves. Both got immensely successful by their thirties. Both were agnostics not atheists. Both lived more austere lives than they need have. Etc.
If we set aside these trivia, there were other common threads. Einstein wasn’t convinced that fundamental scientific truths emerged from experimental data; Jobs wasn’t convinced that ideas for truly great products emerged from customer and market research data. Einstein was influenced by the intersection of science and philosophy; Jobs was, by that between science and humanities. Einstein believed that nature loves simplicity, balance and unity; Jobs did the same.  
What I also gather, is that both Einstein and Jobs, and Einstein more than Jobs, imagined of a fundamental immutable law, or laws, which govern all that goes on in the physical and in the not-physical universe. Many other people, in different eras, have imagined of the same or similar stuff. That’s how there’s a line of thinking that links the body with the soul, there’s another line of thinking that uses biological evolution to explain social evolution, etc.
Alternating between reading Einstein’s biography and educating myself with material pertaining to Gen Y, as I have been doing over the past few weeks, I have felt that some references or idioms from the theory of the expansion of the physical universe could be used to talk about the progression of our social world and its generations of people. A bit about the theory first.
The physical universe is increasingly expanding. Each of its dots is increasingly moving away from every other. This expansion happens, in order to, and only in so far as, to counter the pulls that the dots naturally exert on one another. The further they get from one another, the stronger they pull at each other, and the even further apart they move. And so on. To prevent the dots from collapsing into one another till one last dot remains which keeps collapsing into itself.
Increasingly, space expands, and simultaneously, for balance and unity, so does time. If one expands, and simultaneously so does the other, then it must follow that if one contracts, simultaneously so would the other.
Perhaps that’s what happens in the social world. That it contracts, as the physical universe expands. The increasing mobility, the increasing access to information, and the increasing avenues of communication (one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many), serve to increasingly contract the space and time that is experienced. The dots across space and across time come closer. So, Gen Y, and the people of other generations, like Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, who share the world with them, can see and hear more of what is seen, heard, said, thought and done anywhere around. They can also see and hear more of what has been seen, heard, said, thought and done anywhere around in the past. Since they see and hear more, all of them can say, think and do more today than anyone could have in the past.
So Gen Y can today see, hear, say, think and do as much as Gen X and the Baby Boomers can today. And all of them can today see, hear, say, think and do more than Gen X and the Baby Boomers could in the past.
With whatever they choose to.
This view is consistent with our picture of the contracting world and also avoids driving a wedge between generations. With this view we can avoid feeling half convinced and half unconvinced when people say things like, ‘Gen Y is smarter than Gen X’, ‘Gen Y is more distracted and superficial than Gen X’, etc. Rather, Gen Y is as smart, distracted, or superficial as Gen X is today. And both are more of them today than Gen X was back in time.

This view also embraces several things, even contradictory ones, that Gen Y, or any other generation, is described to be. And explains similarities and differences between individuals and between groups within and across generations. People see and hear what they see and hear; by similarities and differences in choice, chance, influence, capacity, and focus. Hence, I'm aware that we could typify Gen Y or Gen X or Baby Boomers. But I want to go one level down and dwell on the underlying continuum in the progression of the social world. To better understand and manage Gen Y, among other things.
That resolved, let’s examine what the dots moving closer do. Closer dots mean more information, experience and learning. More choices of what to see, hear, say, think and do. More security. More chances of finding and connecting with your tribe. More support and confidence. More tolerance and diversity. More adaptability and flexibility.
Closer dots also mean more distractions, more lack of conviction in beliefs and paths, and more inconsistencies in actions. More insecurity of having made the wrong choice or missed the best opportunity. More conflict between different tribes. More lack of moorings and anchors because of living different ideologies and identities. More and more, things that seem right also seem wrong. More and more the supremacy of one right is challenged by the supremacy of another right.

Moving on. A large part of the current world comprises of Gen Y. So this is all true for them. When we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers try, for example, to figure out how to manage the Gen Y workforce or to attract the Gen Y customers, we have the same advantages and handicaps that we seek to address. First, we must accept that, if we are to make an honest effort. Second, we must be happy, that if we do a better job of how to manage and attract today’s Gen X and Baby Boomer employee and customer, we would, in effect, have done a better job of it for Gen Y.
And third, the dots will keep moving closer; so we can’t just wish away the intensifying threats. Maybe, an age old suggestion might help. Capitalise on the opportunities and blunt the threats.

To say, think and do things that capitalise on the opportunities is good. Like doing away with policies that prevent multiple employment. To say, think and do things that blunt the threats is also good. Like establishing processes that encourage work-life integration around a few chosen or focussed areas of endeavour. But to say, think and do things that simultaneously do both is better. Suggestions, anyone ?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Foot fist aasana for work life remedies

When I think of the extraordinarily perceptive people, I think of one person before I think of others. On separate occasions, he has told me stuff about me. Things, which were completely unfamiliar till they were said, but felt intensely familiar once they were. Things, which my family and close friends wouldn’t have been able to identify or articulate as quickly and as clearly. Needless to say, I have always been all ears to whatever he’s had to say. Even if those things seemed counter-intuitive at first.
Here’s one such. Some years ago, when I was confused and agitated about some personal matters, he told me, “focus on your work and your personal life will begin to look up”. I remained quiet, but knew that he could sense my discomfort with his advice. He added, “sometimes, our problems, whether in life or at work, don’t go away even if we continuously dwell on them and persistently go after them”. He prepared some tea, handed me a cup, took a few sips from his own, and continued, “your personal life and your work life are wired together since they are both yours, yes ?”. Not waiting for my answer he pressed further, “if you agree that things going wrong in one of them adversely impact the other, then you should also agree that improving one will positively affect the other”. He concluded, “it works both ways ... doing well at home lifts the scene at work too”.
When I look around, I find instances of people focussing on work when they have personal issues. But I rarely find examples of people focussing on their personal lives when faced with troubles at work. Even though it seems a reasonable thing to do.
Try this simple activity I got to know of from a friend. It’s very easy and will take you only a few seconds. I promise.
Step 1 : Rotate your right foot in the clockwise direction.
Step 2 : While continuing to do so, begin rotating your right fist in the anti-clockwise direction. What happens to the rotation of the foot as a result ?
Step 3 : Now, rotate your right fist in the clockwise direction.
Step 4 : While continuing to do so, begin rotating your right foot in the anti-clockwise direction. What happens to the rotation of the fist as a result ?
Step 5 : Finally, while rotating both in any direction, change the speed of rotation of one and see what happens to the speed of rotation of the other.
J Neat, isn’t it ?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Selling organic food for thought

A new store that sold organic farm produce opened up in our neighbourhood. I just had to visit the place, a sucker that I am for organic stuff. And I did. While there, I picked up asparagus, pok-choi, drum-sticks and two unfamiliar types of lettuce. A sincere salesman urged me to consider more stuff from the other shelves. Like grains, lentils, jaggery, potatoes, onions, etc. “Poor guy, if only he knew”, I thought. It would be so good for him, had he known that I buy stuff that is not routinely sent in by the local grocery store nor ordinarily bought for us by our household help. Like the asparagus and lettuce. It would’ve been even better for him, had he known that I am a big fan of the ‘food as medicine’ subject, and hence easily buy items that score high on medicinal value. Like drum-sticks. It would’ve been just fantastic for him to know that I like cooking stuff that my kids enjoy, and hence have an open mind about buying related items. Like when I bought pok-choi and asparagus, I could easily have bought zucchini and mushrooms if they were available. But how could he know all that?
Why would this new store not meet the same fate, that many other stores in our locality have ? Gasping for breath for want of revenues and profits, why would it not recalibrate, and turn into a dime-a-dozen store selling dime-a-dozen products and services, before eventually dying ? Organic farm produce is closer to my heart than some of these other failed products and services have been, and I sincerely hope for a better future for its owner and its employees.
To buck the powerful trend, the owner of the store would have to first realise that we consumers with disposable incomes are a funny lot. Probably he already does. We wear synthetic stretch shirts, but buy cotton socks. Even if we know all about the benefits of organic food, and instil responsible ideologies in our children, it’s perhaps not yet the time to assume that we would normally make the switch away from conveniently available and lower priced food items grown using deadly pesticides and fertilizers.
However, something different could be done to identify and satisfy the logical clusters of needs and wants that we have. In my example, one cluster was ‘not usually found in my house’, the second cluster was ‘medicinal value’, and the third cluster was ‘items that go into a type of dish that my kids like’. If you notice, it’s not just health consciousness and green philosophy I am guided by. Those just took me to the store. Beyond that, my purchases were guided by my clusters of needs and wants. Notice also that another cluster automatically emerges from the original three, that I could be guided by. It could be for items that are ‘not usually found in my house + are of medicinal value + can go into a type of dish that my kids like’. To find and buy those would be heavenly, and I wouldn’t mind an inconvenient location or the higher price, to satisfy my craving for these.
I think I am on to something here. The owner of the store could stock and display items according to the high-likelihood need-clusters of his current and potential customers. Individual needs are difficult to pin point, and difficult to satisfy, since they vary by individual. On the other hand, catering to very broad trends may leave many customers dissatisfied for being treated as part of a herd. However, need-clusters have the required generality for easier identification and the required specificity for higher satisfaction.

That brings me to another point that is an extension of the previous one. We often buy more than we need. On a particular day, while I’m at that store, and am being primarily guided by the afore mentioned need-clusters, there are other auxillary need-clusters at the back of my mind. That connect with my primary need-clusters or extend from them, and are just waiting to be tapped. One such, could be of items that ‘may not be great for health, but in limited quantities, and along with organic produce, could go into dishes that my children like’. Like egg noodles or oyster sauce. When I look within, there are scores of such auxillary need-clusters I can think of. That would make me gravitate towards food and non-food consumables that I could just as easily purchase, while out buying organic farm produce and being in that particular mind-set. Like ‘minimalist’, ‘unadulterated’, ‘green and energy efficient’, etc, etc, etc.
There’s a neat looking torchlight which we recently got as a gift. Some turns of an attached handle, power a dynamo that converts mechanical energy into the electrical energy required for the bulb to glow. We love it and the kids love it. Imagine if the store that sold organic farm produce also sold such torchlights. Far-fetched ? Ok, then imagine if the store selling the torchlights was next to the one that sold the organic farm produce. And another that stocked goat milk cheese or cleansers with natural ingredients. Wouldn’t each such store increase the footfalls for the others ?
Why not introduce innovative services around need-clusters which open more possibilities for selling the intended products ? We like being novel and hip. What if the owner of the store also offered the additional service of providing gift boxes, with each containing the measured quantities of organically produced ingredients, as well as the recipe of an interesting, easy to make and healthy dish ? What if the box also contained leaflets about the benefits of organic food in general and the medicinal values of each ingredient in particular ? I know I would certainly pick these up as return gifts for the families attending my child’s birthday. Or even to give to folks that invite us over for dinner. Or to give to my team at work.

Why not use responsible education and advertising that is directed towards the need-clusters of the buyers ? Like advising them to go organic with at least fruits and vegetables that won't be peeled before consumption, if affordability prevents them from buying everything organic. Like warning them about non-organic stuff that is researched to be highest on the no-no list. Like engaging them with simple, accurate and easy to remember anecdotes, success stories, innovations, useful information and answers to questions.
I ask you this. Would the owner of the store benefit more by serving specific need-clusters, and by being in the vicinity of those serving auxillary need-clusters, or benefit more by only riding the general wave of health awareness ?
If it's the former you point your finger towards, then maybe all those engaged in selling ‘the-in-things’ (i.e., lifestyle products, outsourcing, management of gen-y employees, online retailing, fight against corruption, right to education) might also benefit from doing that. The fight for transparency and efficiency in governance, for example, is in the same need-cluster as the fight against corruption is. So Team Anna could either stock this (and probably more) as well in their store, or stay in the vicinity of other stores that do. Similarly, the right to food, water, health and security, is in the same need-cluster as the right to education is. So the Government could either stock these (and probably more) as well in their store, or stay in the vicinity of other stores that do.

Want to add your voice to mine ?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The fair play in fair pay

I wish the media pushed half as hard to get people to donate eyes for the visually impaired, as they do to get eyeballs for the sake of circulation and viewership.

A television channel claimed to have lured viewers to their election coverage of ‘real stories of political intrigue’ and away from the ‘boring numbers, graphs, trends and analyses’ presented by rival channels. In a bid to boost sales, an advertisement for the channel boasted, "why go to sleep when you’ve just woken up ?", in a clear dig at other channels that were less sensationalist and more educating. There seems to be a free-for-all to ‘dumb-down’ the consumer. Consumers have a free choice and can choose what they want, you might say. I agree. But I think that since consumers have a free choice they should also consider choosing what they need. Appropriate communication and true information would certainly help.

Consider this. A few days back, a headline in several publications screamed that Cognizant had paid its employees a whopping 200% as annual bonus. In many instances, the related articles did not adequately clarify that it was upto 200% of the target bonus paid to the best performers at some or more career levels. That, if an employee was to receive, say, 25% of fixed pay as bonus, the actual payout to that employee was doubled. You might think that common sense would lead the readers to the right picture anyway. I thought so too. Till I read numerous reader comments posted on social media sites like, “awesome man, my company sucks since it has given me only 15%”, and, “it’s a lie, no one can give 200% bonus”. Huh ? Were these people seriously mistaking that Cognizant had paid its employees 200% of fixed pay as bonus ? If this is how many people, who belong to the elite 7% of our population employed in the organised sector, received this news report, what about the scores of others outside of this group ?

It’s not that I don’t respect what Cognizant did. They’ve a history of doing good with employee compensation and promotions, and I’ve always respected that. What I have respected even more is what lies behind that act. That’s what, I feel, the people at Cognizant as well as the people elsewhere need to know. The company’s SG&A (sales, general and administrative) expenses as a percentage of their revenues, has consistently declined over the last five years. And that their revenue per employee has consistently increased over the same period. Which means, that the company’s employees and leaders have been consistently doing many things right. Which also means that the company has consistently had the capacity to pay.

It would be in their interest, for the employees of Cognizant to know, that their future compensation and benefits are dependent on a maintenance or increase of that capacity. And that, they would have to play their part in it. Or else the sweet run might soon end. There's another thing. Companies that have phenomenal growth have to recruit in very large numbers. Which means that they are at risk of their own employees grieving about ‘lots of people from outside’ coming in with better pays and bigger jobs. That’s also probably why high-growth companies stretch a bit more and show willingness to provide higher than the required raises and higher than the necessary promotions. It might be worth considering that faster than optimal progress might also take at least some employees to their stagnation points faster.

For the employees of other companies it is necessary to admit, that to get the kind of rewards that Cognizant provides, their own companies must also have comparable or better capacities. And comparable or better growth. That only employee desires can’t be benchmarked. So should the organisations’ capacities and willingness to pay.

Which brings me to make a suggestion.

Why not include these factors (of capacity and willingness) to adjust the results of compensation benchmarking exercises and make them more real ? Let’s say, that the usual study throws up that company A has an average salary of Rs. 80, your company has Rs. 100, and company B has Rs. 120. If company B has better capacity (revenue per employee, overheads as % of revenue, or any other relevant metric) and better willingness (growth, or any other relevant metric), than your company does, then the relative advantages of company B need to be adjusted downward to allow for real comparison. Similarly, if company A is worse off than your own in capacity and willingness, then your relative advantages need downward adjustment.

In the above example, what that means is that the salary gap between company A and your company needs to be reduced. And so does the salary gap between your company and company B. The adjusted scenario could, say, look like this - company A at Rs. 95 (in place of 80), your company at Rs. 100, and company B at Rs. 110 (in place of 120). Or whatever else, it does not matter, so long as the basis of adjustments are logical and reasonable. Since it would be realistic and fair. To employers and employees. After all, if company B, with higher average salary than your company, had worse than your capacity and willingness, then its relative disadvantage would need adjustment and its adjusted average salary could be Rs. 140 instead of Rs. 120 for a real comparison with your Rs. 100.
Surprisingly, I am getting a better feeling about this than I earlier thought I would. Perhaps, such an adjustment might just reduce the gap between what the employees want as pay versus what they need. Perhaps, such an adjustment might just reduce the gap between what companies want to give as pay versus what they need to.

Perhaps then, our work-lives wouldn't be as headlines driven.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hate to lose more than you love to win ?

A few days ago, I watched ‘Moneyball’, starring Brad Pitt, acting as a forty-something failed baseball player turned team manager, and Jonah Hill, playing his twenty-something nerdish assistant. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, it’s about an interesting concept. That a high performing team is not necessarily the one with star players. That a team constituted with the appropriate basic skills required for scoring many runs, has more than a fighting chance to win as well. And further, that if star players can’t be bought or retained, then it’s logical to opt for players with the right basic skills that together make a magic formula. Since, as Jonah Hill argues, the latter are “ignored by the richer teams, can be bought cheaper, and are probably easier to manage”.

A remarkable true story, the movie could be an inspiration for all those organisations, groups and teams which find themselves, at one time or another, to be, like Brad Pitt describes, “organ donors for the rich”. Who lose their best people to more moneys and bigger names. The romantic appeal of the triumph of the underdog notwithstanding, it’s the slogan of ‘when in Rome, if you can’t beat the Romans at their game, then do what the Romans don’t’, that captivates the rebel in me. So does the outlandish claim by Hill that, "the best people leaving is the best thing that could happen to the team since it opens up new possibilities".

Many service organisations, in a bid to proactively check the rising employee costs and minimise the possibility of future lay-offs, routinely execute on the principles of ‘push the job down’, ‘backfill with cheaper’, and 'do more with less'. Basically, they keep redrawing their lines of labour division and their lines of skill grouping. Then define and staff roles accordingly. To do that, they keep their processes of hiring, promoting, career moves and succession in step with the new lines. So long as the ‘pyramid and skills refresh’ exercises are done well, the organisations continue to maintain, and sometimes even to enhance their performance levels. Just like Pitt’s and Hill’s team did. Manufacturing and other organisations should certainly take more than a leaf out of this book.
To me, the movie was also about one more thing. During a particular scene, Brad Pitt shouts, “I hate losing more than I love winning”.
That’s probably why he didn’t cut his losses and abandon a sinking ship. That’s probably why he risked his entire future on a whacky new idea from a whacky young kid. That’s probably why he persisted with his direction despite initial failures. That’s probably why the owner of the team supported him when nobody else did. That’s probably why, after the eventual triumph of his lack-lustre team, he didn’t take up the unbelievably lucrative offer from a very rich rival team.
That’s probably also why his daughter proudly and happily sang, “you’re a loser, dad; such a loser dad”.
Pitt’s and his daughter’s words resonate with me. I fancy myself as one, and am drawn to such people, rather than to those who love winning more than they hate losing. For much the same probable reasons. That’s what put the movie right up there for me.
“I’m a loser, guys; such a loser, guys”.
Are you one too ? No problem if you aren’t. After all, it takes all kinds of trees to make a forest.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Of liberty and fraternity, in coaching

Think sports and academic institutes if you want to make coaching in the workplace more effective. Remember we’re talking about adults here. It’s different and easier with children, since someone else makes the decisions and choices for them, and they are good learners. Not so, for adults.
The whole business begins with a person’s choice to opt for coaching or not. Someone could either be opposed to ‘extra’ coaching, confident of imbibing the required learning from the existing system. Or believe that true learning happens via numerous interactions and experiences with several people in uncontrolled settings. Or even that he or she is ‘good enough’ and is not in need of any more coaching. I mean, parents, relatives and friends could impress upon this person the need for and the benefits of coaching. Finally, the choice has to be of the person concerned.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have opted for coaching in their lives, as those who have not. For coaching in the workplace to have a good start, it is fundamental to provide employees in the target group with this choice. As much as it is, to allow them to change their mind.
The second consideration is this. Someone who desires coaching also makes a choice of where or who to go to for getting coached. That someone has chosen to join a particular sporting or education academy for the purpose of getting ahead in life riding piggy-back on its influential patrons or famous teachers, or out of peer pressure, or because of its convenient location, should be for no one to judge. That someone has chosen to join an academy for the love of learning, or because of a genuinely great coach, or even because of the likelihood of a relationship of mutual trust and preference with the coach there, should not be anyone’s bother either.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices they have made, as those who haven’t. For coaching at the workplace to head in the right direction, it is necessary to allow the employees who have opted for coaching to consider their own motivations privately and then make known their list of preferred coaches. Whether from their organisation or without, from their business group or without.
Coaches also need to make similar choices. Of opting to coach or not. And, if they do make their services available, of deciding who to coach. Again, based on a private consideration of their motivations and preferences. If the choices of the coachees shouldn’t be judged, neither should those of the coaches. That’s only fair.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices and motivations of their coaches, as those who haven’t. For coaching in the workplace to proceed further in the good direction previously determined, the coaches must choose from among all those employees who have chosen them. The idea is to arrive at a coach-coachee matching just like sports and education academies arrive at their admissions lists. The coach is as high on the coachee’s preference list, and the coachee is as high on the coach’s preference list, as the matching process allows for. Too bad, if, as an outcome of a fair process, the employee had to settle for an undesirable or less than desirable coach.
If potential coaches and coachees need more familiarity with one another, the organisation must provide information and opportunities of interaction to them before they prepare their respective lists of preference. There could be application forms, credentials and statements of purpose submitted by the coaches and the coachees. Sounds foolish ? Trust me, it's no more foolish than wasting time in trying to coach people to be better coaches, monitoring if people have had the mandated number of coaching interactions, or pushing the coach-coachee pairs to draft and submit their coaching contracts. Wonderful things, these. Bring back painful memories.
The matching process would most likely throw up a situation where each coach has more than a few people to coach. In sports and in education, coaches handle their coachees in a group, and while doing so, they address the individual needs of each coachee too. It’s efficient use of the coach’s time and effort. The coachees get wider learning from watching others being taught. The coach’s as well as the coachees’ performance and behaviour are out in the open, and public encouragement and shame work wonders for both parties. Besides it’s more secure and fun to have co-travellers.
Given time and support, the coach-coachee group work their own rules of engagement, their own understanding of what’s working and what’s not, their own dynamic teaching-learning methods, and their own standards of progress. Broadly, if things are ok, coachees accept the realities of life that some among them progress better than the others, that some among them have louder voices than the others, that the ways of teaching-learning work better with some than with others, and so on.
There remains the matter of one more choice before we close the deal on making coaching in the workplace more effective. Both the coach and the coachee can choose to disengage with one another at any time. Amicably. As self-respecting adults would.
Didn’t I already say something like ….
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have opted for coaching in their lives, as those who have not;
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices they have made, as those who have not;
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices and motivations of their coaches, as those who have not.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Vote and vote well

A few days ago, during the city’s municipal corporation elections, I cast my first ever vote.

During the run-up to the day of the elections, I was very excited to discover my voter registration details on the election commission’s website. After all, two of my previous attempts at registration had failed, and I had no reason to believe that I would succeed with my latest attempt of a few months ago. I felt a sense of victory against all the dark forces that conspire against the registration of urban middle class voters like me. Politicos of all hues find us unpredictable and unreliable, since we don’t swing to their tunes of region, community and caste, and hence focus their efforts on expanding their base elsewhere. Bureaucracy ‘stiffs’ see us as politically apathetic and individually powerless, and hence direct their energies to other registration applications brought in by eager politicos.
But this time, I was going to cast my vote. Na-na-n-na-na.
On the day of the elections I searched the website again. Half-suspecting that my details would’ve mysteriously disappeared by then. But there I found them once more, beaming at me in all their glory. I fired a colour print of my voter details on high quality executive paper. And proudly carried it to the polling station. “Internet printout, eh?”, asked the polling agent stationed outside my designated polling station. “Let me check if your details appear in the copy of the electoral rolls for this station”, he continued. The more pages he turned over without finding my name and photograph, the more his self-importance increased. And the more mine decreased. I interrupted him, “but my details are from the election commission’s website”. As though my timely interruption would make the record appear in the pages he hadn’t yet flipped through. “I know sir, but ours is the latest and most valid copy”, he declared, as he continued flipping through his papers to locate my name or photograph. Then he delivered his verdict, “your record isn’t at this polling station; maybe it’s at some other”. “Some other ?”, I gasped. “It happens”, he sighed. This was fantastic. I had about four hours before the close of polling time to visit about a half a dozen polling stations in my area and locate my record. But I was determined. Had nothing particularly better to do that day. So I rushed from one polling station to another, only to hear one polling agent after another deliver the same verdict.
As I was about to concede defeat to the dark forces and slip back again into the set that is accused of not exercising their right and duty to vote, I saw some activity at a street corner. Some respectable looking people were speaking in English and a couple of youngsters were working a laptop. I’m respectable, can speak in English, and own two laptops. So I went there too. Representatives of a newish party that hoped to attract young, educated and affluent voters were helping people locate their records and their designated polling stations. I may not be young or affluent, but I am educated, and hence promptly commissioned their services. Lo and behold ! My name appeared, albeit with a different set of voter registration details. I thanked the volunteers.
And, armed with fresh ammunition and a renewed zeal to wipe out the enemy, I jumped into my car. Told the driver about the new coordinates to take me to.
I confidently walked into the polling station, showed the security personnel my identification, and queued up outside the polling booth. My mind was so clouded with the desire and anticipation of the precious moments that were to follow, that it didn’t occur to me that I had missed the most critical part of my war strategy for the day. To ask my driver who I should vote for ! Don’t be surprised. My driver lives in a neighbourhood that knows lots about the local politicos and about their deeds and misdeeds. He used to be a dance instructor, is now married to a school teacher, nurses upward mobility aspirations, and shares my view that people should vote for candidates with great performance and behaviour. Quite qualified to be my advisor.
When it was my turn to, I submitted my credentials before the electoral officer. He said my name aloud. When none of the representatives of the various political parties objected that I was a bogus voter, he directed me to the polling enclosure. Here I was, all to myself, and salivating at the electronic voting machine. When it struck me that I didn’t know who to vote for. That none of the names of the candidates was even vaguely familiar. So I did what I had gone there for. To exercise my right and duty to vote. Beep.
Even if it was for god-knows-who from god-knows-which-party.
I don’t like politics and politicians. I know that our city is going from bad to worse despite electing different representatives and parties to power. I know that manifestos and promises are forgotten by many of the elected. Etc, etc. So I shouldn’t have felt guilty at how I’d eventually cast my vote. But I did.
In the last few years, I have never read the questions in an employee engagement survey. But have always assigned a score of 5/5 to each. I have behaved similarly while responding to leadership surveys about my peers and bosses. I admit that I didn’t feel guilty while doing so. But I should’ve.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hire, as the wise people do

I’m just back from attending a wedding in my ancestral village. While there, I thought many times about some wise people who were no more. And about what they’d said to me, off and on, over the years. Naturally, I also thought about their views on marriage. A rule, which they had said was time-tested, came to mind.
‘If you want progress for your son and for your family, marry him to a woman who hails from a better family. If you want a secure and dignified future for your daughter, marry her to a man who is a rising star in his family’.
As profound and simple rules do, this one too leaves unsaid the routine but not unimportant stuff that people anyway pay attention to while match-making. It doesn’t say that if the man or woman or their families fail obvious standards, then a mere application of the rule would make for a good marriage. As enduring rules do, this one too allows for a dynamic definition of ‘progress’, ‘better’, ‘secure’, ‘dignified’, and ‘rising star’. So it lets people decide for themselves, and in keeping with their times, whether these terms are to be interpreted on the basis of anthropological, social, political or economic value.

All it says, is that one could use the rule as a supplement to one’s own good sense and judgement. Even if it were the man and the woman deciding by themselves about a life together.
Ok. So a man should marry a woman from a better family. Because she would have higher standards, expectations and aspirations. Because she would want an even better life for their kids. If the man could understand and appreciate that, then he would be propelled forward. And if the man’s family could understand and appreciate that, then they would be propelled forward too. By virtue of a unit in the family getting propelled forward and raising the bar for other units. Needless to say, that an insecure man and his ungrateful family would waste time and effort in trying to make the better woman conform to their lower standards. Also, that a woman with a chip on her shoulder about being from a better family, could never be a propelling force with her condescending ways.
But why would a woman marry beneath herself ? Well, she could, if the family were only a little beneath hers. And she found a man who was a rising star in that family and looked all set to exceed her standards and expectations in the near future. She would be the appreciated additional propelling factor in the early days of marriage and a respected participant in the later days. Besides, the woman marrying a little beneath herself would also satisfy the condition that is good for her man. That he should marry above himself. It’s a win-win match.
A woman marrying above her would need to have high personal qualities to avoid the possibility of being ignored or made subservient.
Sure, there are many exceptions that defy the rule, for reasons I can understand, and for reasons I can’t. But when I look around, and look within, it appears to me that the underlying spirit of the rule applies more often than it does not.
Forget marriage. Forget man and woman. Forget old times and new. Examine for yourself how we hire people into our organisations.
Do we have any theory at all to guide our hiring decisions after we have assessed the education, experience, skills and behaviour of the candidates ? Do we frequently manage to get in people better than ourselves ? Can we prove to them that we are rising stars worth joining with even if it’s a little beneath them to do so ? Often times, not.
It’s very common to want to go into a better family. Therfore it’s very easy to bring in someone like that from a lesser family. It's yet another kind of a match. You decide if it's a win-win. You decide if you want to continue to hire like that.
Or hire, as the wise people do.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The best massage for me is the one which I only half experience

I understand that the word ‘parlour’ is derived from a French word which means ‘to speak’. But I do not visit a massage parlour to speak. I go there to sleep. And a massage which can’t lull me to sleep, or get me very nearly there, does not do it for me. Everybody has their quirks, and this is mine.

It is a basic requirement to have a place, even at first look and feel, that meets with my standards and sensibility. “How would the guys running the place know about that ?”, you might ask. “By thinking about what they would expect for themselves, and then setting the bar higher than those standards to be safe”, would be my reply. I love it when I am taken for a brief inspection tour of the facility even before I sign up for the massage. That’s because the folks there appear confident that they have been thoughtful and have set the bar well. I also love it when I see the masseur genuinely involved in getting the place ship-shape before my massage. That’s because he seems connected to my overall experience, and cares enough about his performance to know that he must.

It’s great to see the therapist and the masseur going over the form in which I declared the details about my medical history. Discussing and agreeing about what needs to be done and what doesn’t. I can sense when they are merely doing this to mitigate their own risk and when they are doing it for my sake as well.

It’s a relief to be handed the key to a locker to keep my clothes and other stuff in. Then I don't have to worry about my cash or cards. Anything, that keeps out the thoughts and feelings that potentially or actually distract me from my cherished sleep, is preferable.

Within the first few minutes alone with the masseur - in the way he introduces himself, mumbles instructions, and hands out the robe, towel and disposable briefs - I can figure out if he knows what it is to be non-intrusive in an intimate situation. I am pleased as punch to know that he is aware of the subtleties of behaviour that are central to his profession. And happily answer his questions about my preferred music, oil, temperature, and so on.

I thank my stars for being at the right place, when I am requested to take a warm shower before the massage. To be clean for handling by the masseur, sure; but to also unclog the pores of the skin to best allow for the oil to soak in. Then I know also, that I am very probably going to witness something that has an approach, a method, a technique, in the following minutes. I know I am going to submit myself to a fine student of his art when he provides me with a few pieces of evidence. Like doing justice to the soles of the feet, the palms, the small of the neck and the small of the back. Like using fuller strokes that are directed outside-in, from the head and the limbs towards the heart. Like the clockwise movements over the stomach and abdomen.

They say the soul of a good driver flows into and makes him one with his machine. So it is with a good masseur. He knows when, where and how much to knead, press, stroke, pinch, caress, roll and curl. He is attentive to the most fleeting of my body’s reactions and works to undo the knots. Unless he has good reason to do otherwise, he exhibits symmetry in his movements. And simplicity, unity, and balance. It’s usually around this time, about halfway into the massage, that I fall asleep. And experience the remaining massage in my dreams.

I love massages. Hence I have been less or more happy on several occassions when I've had them. But sleep during one ? And be completely thrilled ? Less than ten times out of a few hundred.

Why is it that the best massage for me is the one which I only half experience ? Because, true performance is about the journey. That guarantees the destination much before it is reached. Even you know that. When you’re getting the massage done.

How about when you’re the masseur ? Or the masseuse ?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Can we have some more of that sauce please ?

A few days ago, an article in a newspaper article read something like this - “... we need business leaders to mature faster ... since we have a growing economy”. To me, it seemed like the article was sponsored by the distributors of fruit ripening chemicals. :-)

A lot has been said and done about leadership development. Much more will be said and done. What’s the harm if I add my two bits as well ?

Here goes. Every individual has some secret sauce within. Circumstances draw this out for others to taste. When people really like the taste, and wish they had that secret sauce too, they become followers. Come followers, the individual becomes a leader. Required to satisfy every expectation and pass each scrutiny. Every day.

Secret sauce doesn’t need analysis or explanation. People can taste it right away ... when it is served to them. Like they can feel beauty and love ... when these are before them. Therefore, when they look to fill leadership positions at the time of need, organisations easily know whether they have the right candidates or not. They know it when they have made the less than happy choice of a deficient candidate from within or of an unfamiliar candidate from without. Yet they are not fully convinced about leadership development.

Just look at the defence establishment. Presumably, even they do not believe that everyone can be a leader or be made into one. But just look at their record. Not one leader ever recruited from outside. Not one leader who didn’t at least reasonably fit the bill.

They do great service to the cause of leadership development by hiring the way they do. Looking for signs of a secret sauce in the candidate’s past. Examining events and circumstances in the candidate’s past to ascertain if some secret sauce was drawn out and whether there were signs of followership. Generating fresh circumstances during the hiring process to test the candidate against the burden of expectations and the requirements of scrutiny.

Leadership identification and development for them is a never-ending process. The careers of defence personnel are about doing diverse roles in varied circumstances. In a continued manner, the probability of finding the individual’s secret sauce is increased. There are continued chances to obtain and maintain followership, to fulfil expanding expectations and to pass intensifying scrutiny. Not a chance in hell for aspirants to only do jobs they are good at, or find convenient to do. Never a possibility of only flying safely over or under the radar, as they say.

There’s another magic that they know about. That followers get the leaders they deserve. Future leaders have to get followership from a pool that is good to begin with and is constantly developing to get better. They’re not going to like the taste of just any sauce. They’re going to expect and scrutinise like crazy. They’re going to demand more and better tomorrow than they did yesterday. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that leadership development is as much about followership development ?

Secret sauce, followership, capability of fulfilling expectations and passing scrutiny are all quite evident by the time an individual reaches a career level called the ‘selection grade’. Only the best of the best make it to that step. Selection panels do not get swayed much by the possible consequences of rejecting and demotivating others. After the first such selection grade, there are many more selection grades to earn before one can become a leader. Defence establishments are as fussy about promotions as they are about hiring. That’s another big service they do to themselves.

Of course, there are also state-of-the-art defence academies. War games and simulations. Joint exercises with other countries. Reward and recognition for the exemplary. Legends about the special. And so on. That complement.

As much as there are politics, prejudices, exigencies and errors. And so on. That detract.

But again, just look at their record. Not one leader ever recruited from outside. Not one leader who didn’t at least reasonably fit the bill.

And then doubt leadership development. If you must.