RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Leading Talent

What I Learnt From My ‘Not-So-Great’ Bosses…

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Lessons Learned RRGwrites

We all love to talk about our Bosses, don’t we? And Lord knows, a minority of of us would regard our bosses as good leaders. When I wrote my earlier blog – ‘What My Great Bosses Taught Me’ – many of the readers asked me, “Hey, what about the bad bosses?”

So here it is…

The matter of fact is, I never had a really bad boss. Truly! That said, I have had my fair share of bad apples – a very insecure boss, another one who was ill-mannered and one who was simply incompetent for his job. However, none of them were awful enough for me to either loather or run away from them. In fact, I performed better under a couple of them, and was more successful under one of the tougher nuts.

There are many things I learnt from my great managers. The earlier blog enlists those. However, I learnt lot many more things from my, should I say, not-so-great bosses. A learning that proved invaluable in my later years; both, as a professional and as a people leader. Some of them were very simple, practical things and few were too profound a learning…

They are:

  1. Don’t reply to an unfavourable email in a hurry; wait till evening at least. That helps my hyper-reaction settle down and choice of words become calmer!
  2. You may be really intelligent and smart and all that, no point over-fighting your peers – functional or cross-functional. Even though they may not be able to score a point over you, they will end up despising you – something that won’t do good to the professional image in later years. From this boss, I learnt the value of building a truly well-knit peer-group, which may not be my besties, but wouldn’t despise me either.
  3. No one comes to work to do a bad job. No one joins office thinking they will give their worst that day. Keeping this in mind made me practice empathy and statesmanship, even when I was right and others were grossly wrong.
  4. Harsh language never helped the cause. If you are younger and more successful than your peers, you need to not oversell it. Success is a lousy teacher and it encourages arrogant behaviour and as rash tongue. Worse, even if you are right in what you say, how you say that will be picked, and surely used against you. Here, I learnt to be firm, yet stay polite. A learning that has held me in good stead since then.
  5. I learnt the craft of managing very senior management employees from one of my most difficult bosses. He was really good at this. I learnt the art of polite persistence, presentation skills to a senior audience group as well as how to handle tough questions from them, specifically those whose answer I didn’t know!
  6. Never work for a powerless boss. This is a great life/career-saving tip I received from one such a boss. I have written in detail about this learning here
  7. One must not feel insecure when your subordinate’s stars are shining brighter than yours. I once had a very insecure manager, who, despite being extremely competent functionally, was extremely inhibited in front of smarter juniors. He would simply feel threatened! My learning was a life-long one; that the key to success for any deputy is to do such good work that his boss gets promoted and recommends him for taking his spot! I have written in detail about this learning here…

Four Thoughts On Leadership…

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Effective Leaders & Their People Assets…

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Effective Leadership - RRGwrites

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May 22, 2016 at 11:51 PM

How I Learnt A Crucial Leadership Lesson From My Garden

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Leadership Lessons RRGwrites.jpg

While interacting with my gardener today, I realized an invaluable lesson in people leadership and employee engagement. A lesson, that originates from a mistake I made early this summer…

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am gardener at heart.

Having spent my childhood in the lush and greener surroundings of a cantonment, I developed a green thumb from very early on. Baba, my late father, was the one who taught me the nuances of nurturing a sapling. He and I would spend hours every Sunday, attending to our plants. Lot of heart and effort went into what I know now of gardening.

In the concrete world of the Millennium City – Gurgaon, I am one of the lucky ones to have a sizable garden space in my home. I built this green space from the scratch; every day, I feel a sense a fulfillment when I stand there. On weekends, you’d mostly find me working there in a corner, personally managing the growth and upkeep of each of the plants. Each blooming flower and reaping fruit is a resultant of my love and labour for my garden.

Looks like I am losing track. What was my mistake and what is the leadership lesson learnt?

Let me introduce you to CB, my ex-gardener. He was my key aide in building and nurturing this garden. CB was a trusted, old hand for over 7 years. He was extremely dedicated, hard-working and polite. Though I was aware that he didn’t possess the deeper skills of gardening, his efforts and willingness to work with the family ensured better growing plants, blooming flowers and a neat-&-clean garden area. He was also loyal and smart enough to save me money – he’d bring smaller saplings from the greener sidelines of the colony, painstakingly make cuttings of otherwise expensive plants and make my garden look nicer, without burning a whole in my pocket. He would also sit and listen to my rantings of how knowledgeable I was about gardening and amuse me. High on personal integrity – he was a trusted family aide and we would not think twice before leaving him in charge of the home. In that role, he was also helpful as a Man-Friday in all family events; often running small errands, without much ado.

One fateful day, something happened that made me lose my cool, and how!

Around the onset of last summer, I bought hundreds of periwinkle flower saplings. Baba used to love this flower; every year, I would grow them in large parts of the garden. Continuing the tradition, I decided to cultivate them this summer too, expecting the entire garden to bloom within a month. Just a day after we planted these saplings, the entire family traveled out of station. As always the responsibility of tending to the garden was with CB.

I came back after a week, and to my utter dismay, found most of the saplings dried out – dead… Of course, they weren’t watered for days…

CB was summoned. I gave him a verbal lashing; no holds barred. He, and another maid, who shared this responsibility – both had erroneously assumed that the other would have watered the plants. Result: no one did either water or check. Delhi’s on-setting scorching summer heat dried out nearly all the saplings.

Seeing this damage, my emotions took better of me. As I continued to lose my cool, he stood folded his hands in front of me. CB did try to explain. I didn’t pay any heed; I was furious. And as they say, in such temper, you only say words that you regret later.

As a result, CB, my loyal aide for years, was heart-broken to hear my overtly tough words. He was visibly upset being scolded in front of the entire household. And despite the fact that realized my overstepping on the heat and calming down soon after, CB decided to move on. He moved back to his hometown and didn’t come back. Even if he did return to Gurgaon, I didn’t see him… For many days, I rued this loss. All others were upset too at home. My mother didn’t say much, though I know she wasn’t too happy either with my outburst. My ‘better-half’ didn’t opine much either, but I knew that she wasn’t too happy knowing this incident… Other servants too didn’t like it, I know… I too was feeling apologetic…

I waited for a few months and tried to trace him down; no avail. I engaged another gardener…

Working for last 8 months, my new gardener too is a good man. He knows the craft and has gardening skills that CB didn’t. He too works fine

And only just fine… my new gardener works by the clock. He cribs more often. He demanded and got a higher salary. He expects me not to correct him at all, should I see things not going right. I am still not sure of his personal integrity, albeit I haven’t experienced otherwise as yet. He hasn’t yet become a trusted family man-Friday, let alone my mother and wife entrusting him with the home errands or the family events. Does he think and act in my best interest each time, I am not sure. He works hard and yet, takes a clinical approach – not with interest and passion to make the garden look its best. He doesn’t save me money. He knows a lot, much more than CB, but doesn’t bring the passion and politeness…

I miss CB every time when I interact with my new gardener. The garden still looks nice and clean, but not spotless. Flowers still bloom, but they aren’t planted with the heart… No wonder I don’t see the same view, despite all my own individual efforts…

This morning, when we were planting the winter saplings, I found my new gardener again cribbing about the amount of work it entailed… I didn’t stop myself from giving him a sermon on work-ethics. He didn’t seem impressed; I could see it… And I surely didn’t want him feeling disengaged. Hence, to bring him around, I handed him a 100 rupee note as an added incentive… Then only I found him smiling. Something, that CB never expected…

Leadership lesson learnt for life.

Think of my garden as an organization, myself as a leader or the promoter and CB as a trusted & engaged employee. Most often then not, organizations lose good talent because of bad managers or even when good managers lose it on small mistakes. CB did make a mistake and that did cost me money and agony. It also led to a lost opportunity and a poorly bloomed garden the whole summer. That said, he still was a trusted, long-standing employee, with only good for the organization and the leader in his heart. His record of seven years was much meaningful when compared to the loss of one summer… Losing him due to a heart-burn, purely due to a leader mismanaging a crucial conversation, was a big loss. It could have been completely avoided.

Many times, such employees will go join competition – their organizations will bloom better than yours. How often we see this in organizations? Quite often…

We can always hire a more efficient replacement. But the cost of replacement of a trusted employee & team-mate is way high; much higher than only the monetary cost. It costs the company, the leader, the team many bigger things – passion, dedication, trustworthiness, and above all, it dents the organizational culture for all other employees, new and old.

Well, I made a mistake. I dropped my pennies that day. And I realize it thrice a week now. I am sharing this life and leadership experience, which I learnt the hard way, with you all, so that you can learn from my mistake – in your gardens, and in your organisations…

If you are lucky to have a CB in your home, company and team – value him. Allow him a mistake or two. Even big ones at times. When he does make such a mistake, watch out for how you reprimand; handle the crucial conversation that may go awry and don’t lose it then. Trust me, losing CBs in today world of talent crunch can cost way too much…

Now, its your turn. What do you think? Do share your thoughts…

Do You See Strengths In Your Team-mates?

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I am a big believer in the concepts of working and building upon strengths; instead of only working upon my weaknesses. It works for me each time, and helps me become stronger and better. In one of my earlier blogs, ‘Do You Work on Your Strengths?’, I have written on this piece and many of my readers agreed with me.

As a leader of a team, I have always tried building and nurturing a heterogeneous team – no two people are alike! I keep a close eye on their strengths; what they are good at. It helps me more than merely focusing on each individual’s weak areas. It also helps me channelize capabilities where they fit and deliver best. It also enables me improve the teamwork and it’s productivity every day. It is one of the building blocks that, according to me, makes a team ‘work’.

Let me explain it a different way. I meet a lot of people manager, leaders and leadership-aspirants, who keep talking about being inspirational to their teams. They try achieving this by putting forth the length & breadth of their own experience & domain-expertise. They also try resorting to the ubiquitously available, off-the-shelf, motivational tools; sometimes provided by the human resources function. As a talent management person, I find this quite interesting. Inspirational leadership, which has been a talk of the town for some good time now, denotes something else to me. Accordingly to me, a truly motivating leader is one who has an eye and willingness to observe the best in each individual and recognize & work on their strengths.

In her recent blog on LinkedIn, The Secret to Becoming An Inspirational Leader, Jen Roberts, an executive coach, wrote a brilliant and befitting piece: “A truly inspirational leader sees the best in each individual and the gifts they possess. Inspiring, in this sense, is a way of stimulating and lifting people to a new level of creativity and energy. It’s about seeing the greatness and value in someone and going the extra step of sharing this with them.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

Recently, I wrote few sentences on each of my directs. Qualities that I find inspirational and admirable in each individual…

I penned them down and shared with the team. Here it is:

myTeam - Strengths As I See It - RRGWrites

I didn’t enumerate these qualities and strengths in a jiffy; these are drawn upon from my detailed diary notes, which were based upon my interactions, experiences and above all, my observations of each one of my teammates in last 12 months.

I admire these and find them inspirational… And it was important for me to share what I think with the team – not only to recognize the good, but also to make each individual appreciate the strengths of each other and leverage them.

Do you too work on your team’s strengths?

How To Lose Your Recently Hired Top Talent?

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Losing You Top Talent

You have hired top talent? Want to build a star team?

But, what if you lose them soon?

One of the toughest challenges organizations face in today’s time is that of losing key talent; it comes at a premium and it hurts even more when your recently hired or promoted top talent leaves you. However, if you are not watchful of certain sure-shot holes in their engagement at work from early days on, you may end up losing them sooner than you could think, that too without even realizing it sometimes. And that may happen irrespective of the career-levels they belong to. Here is how:

  1. You and/or the Company do not treat them with respect. By respect, I don’t mean you are supposed to bow down to them everyday! But surely, if you do not value their talent, capabilities and experience, they will get disoriented after a point in time and become disengaged. Not giving autonomy as desired or assured, quagmiring them in bureaucratic hurdles, not involving them in key decisions or simply not keeping them duly informed about the crucial events, activities and/or plans –  it will send a signal that you or your organization do not know how to utilize such talent. Well, that’s the start, of losing them!
  2. You ask them to prove themselves, without creating necessary support for them. Well, most often than not, we all know that management jobs are all about managing increasing degrees of ambiguity. However, that certainly won’t cover up for the need of support even the top performers would need, whether hired from outside or promoted to higher or moved to newer roles from within. How often you’d hear stories about disengagement with work due to lack of support – whether resources like team or infrastructure or the lack of willingness from those around to get such talent to seamlessly settle down. It builds the frustrations over a period of time. Loss of talent, thereafter, is only a matter of time…
  3. You put them under a weak boss. Now, that’s surely a killer. A weak boss is one who is definite recipe for a sooner-than-later-disengaged and fast-disappearing top talent. No one wants to work with a manager who wants to please everyone, doesn’t take a call, appears either lost or struggling, and doesn’t stand up for his people. Plus, hiring top talent is easy, keeping such a bunch of individuals engaged as a team is a far bigger task. A leader has to work double shift in ensuring he is on top of people dynamics, manage conflicting views and yet, do not allow negativity to seep in. Wherever these things don’t exist – top talent too doesn’t exit for long!
  4. Too much uncertainty around the goals. If you hear – “Let’s do this as a top priority”, and then find definition of priority changing every month – this talent is surely not going to bear it for long. Top talent, as desired, is often referred to as result-oriented and process driven individuals, who bring a lot of method to the madness – to quote the proverbial management sutra. Yet, shifting goals and priorities aren’t a best way of engaging with them. Moreover, it alienates the teams below too, who find themselves working on difference tasks every other day, without the earlier ideas taking any concrete shape.
  5. You and your Company does not listen to them. Another definitive recipe of losing star performers. You hired them for their skills, talent and experience. And yet, you either do not listen to their views, or ignore their ideas. And I am not referring to simply hearing them out. We all would agree that not recognizing the performance and/or efforts is a big derailer for engagement for any employee. However, in my experience, not listening to your top talent is a bigger trouble-maker. When such talent sees little patience in the organization to listen to an outsider’s view or an expert’s opinion or worse, even ridicule their thoughts… be prepared for a replacement hiring soon!

As an HR professional, I meet a lot of people on a daily basis; I listen to them, understand their challenges, and sometimes, I just meet them to give them an opportunity to talk freely. I meet people who have recently joined, people who have spent six months or less and people who have spent decades. I meet them all! Yet, my most important leanings have come from my interactions with employees who leave within 6-12 months of joining the company. A great boss I worked with taught me a wonderful lesson – “an employee’s emotions are purest on two occasions – firstly, when he joins the company and then again, when he is about to leave it.” Such employees teach me a lot, really! Above 5 pointers rank amongst the top reasons when I see star performers, who have recently joined, become disengaged and leave the organization. Same can be said of the top talent that was moved to new or higher roles and do not find it engaging.

That is my experience and I have found it helpful to manage the newly inducted top talent; I just watch out for the above five gaps. Do share yours. Is there something you would want to add to the list?

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Image-credit: onthe-wayout.com

5 Questions You Need to Answer If You’re Being Promoted

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The Leader In Me

Were you promoted recently or are you being promoted? And will you now be a manager to those who were your peers till yesterday?

What are your feelings? Happy? Apprehensive? Both…?

I recently got a chance to interact with a bunch of such promoted senior managers; people who grew from within ranks, sales folks with tons of experience and hard-earned credibility. Upon hearing the news of their elevation, they were initially ecstatic! Then, as the conversation proceeded, I observed myriad emotions emerge – happiness, apprehension, thoughtfulness, even over-conficence – ‘I will deliver to all expectations types’… some also asked about improvement areas…

Having worked with leadership talent all across the spectrum, I wanted them to succeed in their new roles and not fall prey to a leadership nemesis several go down to – THE I know it all!

I asked them these five questions… it left them thinking!

  1. Why are you being promoted? Because of the old good phrase – ‘I am THE best performer’ OR, there is more to it that your boss and company saw in you and which you need to be more self-aware of?

  2. What are the top five expectations your boss and company have from you in your new, enlarged role?

  3. What are the top three or five things that you will start doing from tomorrow; things you weren’t either aware of or focussing upon till now?

  4. More importantly, can you list down top three or five things you will stop doing, as you take charge of your new role?

  5. Why should till-yesterday-your-peers agree to be led by you? What is your leadership quotient with such people? Remember, these are as bright, as seasoned, as performing as you were! Even bigger question… why should anyone be led by you?

A found the group staring at me… some mustered answers to few of these questions; other few went into a deep thought. A couple of rather over-confident ones also put up a brave exterior – that of ‘I have figured it out all!’ Incidentally, almost everyone had said in earlier conversations that they will deliver upon all expectations and yet, when they drew up the list to answer the second question, as mentioned above, I could observe a lot of mismatches!

And the boss of these recent promoted ones? He too went thinking!

Your thoughts? Do you think I asked right questions? Do you want to add any questions?

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Image-credit: sheroes.in

A Leadership Crucible – Managing Below-Expectations Performance

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image

Almost everyday, we hear the phrase – ‘performance-improvement plan’ or PIP, as it is famously, or rather infamously, known as. This is a scary word, most of the times, for the employee in question. And if we are talking about an employee who is either new to the company or role, and is not found doing as well as it was envisaged, the phrase becomes all the more grave – again for the employee, i.e..

But what about the role that the supervisor need to play in making this employee successful? Aren’t her stakes as high as the employee himself? And more importantly, what is the role the senior leader(s) play in this entire episode? Because for them, the task is two-pronged – one, to ensure fair chance be given to the employee in question, and two, to make the supervisor and other seniors in the hierarchy learn to deal with this crucial leadership challenge, thereby in the process making them better leaders… and the team-leader has to tread this double-edged sword without losing the sight of organisational goals of result-orientation and productivity. Some challenge, this is!

I have faced this challenge many times in my career as a HR leader. And experience has taught me one thing – there is no shirking of responsibility that can happen, if the leader really wants to make his team successful, in all aspects.

Few years ago, one of my lieutenants came to see me with his subordinate, who was herself a young, promising people-manager. They were perplexed with a similar challenge, as I discussed above. Her predicament was – a newly inducted subordinate of hers, who showed a lot of promise at the outset, was struggling within 6 months of joining. Despite a lot of coaching and guidance by herself and even her own supervisor, this new team-mate’s performance wasn’t up to mark. And worse, the business had started to feel the heat…

A long discussion ensued in my office. For my readers, I am sharing a note that I wrote to this manager, outlining my thoughts and an action plan.

Let me share upfront; this is a rather long note, which I felt was required to cover my thoughts on managing performance and developing a high-performance team. To assist in your reading, I have made necessary modifications. Other than me, the other three characters in the case are:

  1. Ms.ABC – the young people manager;
  2. Mr.JKL – her manager, also my deputy;
  3. Mr.RST – the employee whose performance is being discussed.

Here goes the advise that I gave her:

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Dear ABC

Yesterday, we discussed at length the performance & aptitude challenge that we are currently managing with RST. I heard both you and JKL, and shared my thoughts too. I am writing my notes, as under, to encapsulate my thoughts on this critical leadership challenge that we have on hand.

I have always firmly believed in the gospel of ‘making everyone successful.’ Having said that, to do so is indeed a daunting task for a leader; for multifaceted as the team is, no one ever seems to behave & perform like the other! Out of the lot, the toughest ones to manage are those, who showed a lot of promise & capability while being inducted into the job, but have slipped off the performance charts somewhere.

Now, it requires meticulous thought and concerted action, to bring such team-mate back to where he belongs – road to success for self and team.

Firstly, let me thank both you and JKL for showing commitment towards your team-mate’s development. This is by no means a small act – requires a lot of honesty and courage to stand up and say, “Hey! My team needs to do better, and I am game to make them better, whatever it takes.” Thank you, for recognizing the need for improvement and showing the promise to do better.

Our first step with such a below-expectation performer is to figure out what went wrong. Something did go wrong. Nearly all employees start their new job with positivity, enthusiasm and are raring to go – we all know RST did start like that. Maybe, something along the way diminished his enthusiasm. Or, he killed his own enthusiasm; both are possible in the workplace. Ascertaining the primal cause of this poor performance is the key if you are committed to help teammates like him become, not a poor performer, but a contributing member of our team. No employee decides to have a miserable day at work and feel failure as he leaves the workplace daily. Even an otherwise incompetent or misfit employee wants to do well for himself!

Very importantly, you need to ascertain if RST has his intentions right; for, if he is really a work-shirker, there is little hope for improvement. However, you have all hope if he really wants to succeed. That said, whatever conclusion you arrive at about why he is a below-expectation performer, you must try your level best to turn him around. Start by assuring him that you have faith in his ability to succeed. Inspire through showing the big picture – help him see the what fruits his efforts shall bear – why should he strive to succeed and improve. Guide him and make him set several short-term, achievable goals; which should be time-bound, with clear outcomes about which you agree. Once the goals are set, track execution and progress. And don’t forget the power of daily engagement – make sure he gets an opportunity to record small daily wins; that should take care of the morale front.

We also discussed yesterday the need of a written performance monitoring document. For those who feel that the team-mate who needs a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) will never succeed, I have many success stories to offer – we have seen so many of them succeed. In fact, I have used this to my benefit many a times, in making my team successful. So, I am a believer in the power of a well-planned, measurable PIP that is reinforced by well-intentioned and demonstrated support and encouragement provided by the manager.

We discussed at length yesterday the key ingredients of such a PIP. Some points that I wish to reiterate:

  • Clearly outline parameters of expected improved performance. Please be objective in setting these parameters and explain clearly, leaving no room for ambiguity.
  • State the minimum expectation level of performance. Ensure there is an appreciation of consistency of this improved performance. This is crucial as sporadic spurts of improvement aren’t really sustainable.
  • Discuss and agree the upon feedback mechanism. Specify the time and periodicity of performance reviews. Set the documentation mechanism of each review stage.
  • Ensure he understands measurements of improvement evaluation.
  • Specify what role you shall play in order to make him successful.
  • Explain upfront if he needs to make any changes in behaviour or attitude towards work. Share examples.
  • Focus on ‘what if’ – clearly outline what is the road ahead if expected performance levels aren’t achieved on every parameter, at various review-stages.

With above seven parameters considered, you’d have a robust PIP document ready. With this, ensure you provide any other support, resource, training, et al, which will help him expedite his improvement.

Let me say, I’ve always regarded problems as opportunities to do better, gain experience, and learn more, just to be a little bit smarter and perhaps wiser on how to handle life issues and situations. After all, as they say, we learn best, not by being taught and not by studying or reading, but by experiencing and then reflecting on what we did and what happened and then drawing conclusions and experimenting.

As a coach, I’ve practiced this method with considerable success; it helped me build and develop stronger teams. I am quite inspired by this leadership nugget that I read long ago – ‘the tactics espoused by great managers of people are very simple, they select people based on talent; when setting expectations for the team, they establish the right outcomes; when motivating an individual, they focus on strengths; and, to develop an individual, find the right job fit for the person.’ As we speak, you are currently managing the second and the third aspect, and what will make you successful is the willingness to make your team successful. I am sure; you have it in you do so.

Please do reach out, should you need any support from me.

Happy leading!

RRG

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A rather long note, wasn’t it? However, it helped me manage the challenge at hand. Let me tell you, this worked for all the characters in the story above, it helped each one of us become better. This helped the struggling employee receive a fair chance to demonstrate improved performance, guided and backed by her supervisor’s encouragement and intention to make her team successful. It helped her supervisor learn the leadership lesson in managing poor performance; and helped my lieutenant resolve a crucial team-managing issue and not miss out on either productivity or morale of his team. Given the fact that both these managers were young professionals, they learnt the invaluable lesson on people leadership and taking responsibility for their teammates in an utmost well-intentioned manner, unlike a lot of managers who consider PIP only as route for creating documentation and exiting the employee. What did I get? Well, I got three super-engaged team-mates in return! What more should have I asked for 🙂

Do you agree with my approach? Have you too experienced or observed a similar approach to managing below-expectation performance? Or have you witnessed poor leadership doing the irreparable damage? Do share your thoughts…

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Image-credit: whatisonthetable.wordpress.com

Talent…

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TalentAs a Talent Strategy professional, I have a keen interest in identifying, managing and developing talent, and I always thought it is more of a responsibility bestowed upon leaders and not merely a job that they have to perform. Similarly, talented people have a responsibility to put their talent to work and deliver. Else, what a waste, it can be…

While there isn’t any dearth of literature on this subject, very little of it really makes us think about making best use of talent. Recently, while following the events at the World Economic Forum held at Lima, Peru, I heard a profound statement on this subject, which I wish to share with all of you who follow my blog:

“The largest fortune in the world is Talent. It is a question of how you put talent to work. When you have a talent, you have an obligation to deliver.”

– Carlos Garcia Moreno Elizondo, CFO, America Movil, Mexico

What an intense and meaningful statement, this is. Does it make you think? Do share your thoughts.

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Photo-credit: gowitflow.tumblr.com

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