RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Organization

Effective Leaders & Their People Assets…

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Effective Leadership - RRGwrites

Written by RRGwrites

May 22, 2016 at 11:51 PM

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

A Leadership Crucible – Managing Below-Expectations Performance

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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

Capability and Career-Growth Go Hand-In-Hand

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RRGwritesSharing something that a young HR professional recently said. Thought-provoking words that have stayed with me…

This one’s a bright and promising junior of mine from college, with whom I was exchanging a few emails a while ago. He works for a large Indian IT multinational and had been associated with the company for over seven years now; he joined them right after MBA school. He performed well and consequently, has climbed up the ladder at a speedy and consistent pace.

During the conversation, I remarked on his consistent growth within the organization and as his proud senior, expressed my admiration. He responded in measured words. Words of wisdom, I would say; something that young managers don’t speak too often, at least whilst referring to the pivotal cross-linkage that depth of learning has with career-growth.

I am quoting him:

“…My career priority is to build depth. Growth has been incidental…”

Sharing this with all budding professionals; these are words their worth in gold.

As someone who interacts with young professionals and management students extensively, I often observe a disturbing mismatch between the aspirations of management professionals vis-a-vis their quest & hunger for knowledge – the real mastery… In fact, I wrote a blog on this a while ago – (MBA की ‘मास्टरी’)

Let me know what you think. If you are a young professional entering the corporate world or a management student; I would love to know your thoughts…

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Image-credit: venuscablejoints.com

Do You Work On Your Strengths?

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I have been a big proponent of following my strengths and bettering them year after year, than only focusing on what my weaknesses are. Not that I do not work on my development areas, it is just that I focus more on my strengths – and believe you me, it pays.

strengths-vs-weaknessesToday, I am writing this blog to share with you what Marcus Buckingham, a British-American bestselling author has been saying. A key promoter of ‘Strengths’, he has written extensively on this subject, basing his writing on far-reaching survey data from interviews with employees working all over the world. He has been stressing that people will get the best results by making the most of their strengths rather than by putting too much emphasis on weaknesses.

As an ardent student of leadership, I have been following his work for a while. And I must tell you; quite a lot of his writing has given me a lot of learning in the realm of people leadership. Some of his thoughts are quite simple, yet astonishingly effective.

Now, let me say, this one is a rather long blog… and in these twitter-happy times, it may appear even longer to some of you! However, in case you aspire to be a leader, do read on…

Here are the top 12 nuggets of his wisdom that I wish to share with you:

  1. Hand Off Praise. One key to success as a manager: when praise comes to your team, hand it off to your people; but when criticism comes, stand in front of them and be their shield. Deflect the praise and take the criticism, and they will do anything for you.
  2. Break the Golden Rule. The best managers break the Golden Rule. Do not treat each person on your team as you would like to be treated — this assumes that your team members each share the same strengths as you. And they don’t. Instead, treat each person as he or she would like to be treated. Treat each person as his or her strengths demand.
  3. The Two Things Your Team Members Need. Although your people want many things from you, their two most pressing needs are: 1) Does my team leader know me for what I do best? 2) Has my team leader set me up to do what I do best most of the time? Meet these two needs and your team will win. Miss on these two needs and everything else you try as a team leader will be less effective.
  4. Do You Make Your People Feel This Way? Think of the best team leader you’ve ever had. Get him or her clearly in mind. How did that team leader make you feel? Did he or she know you for what you do best? Did this team leader give you opportunities to show what you were capable of? Did he or she know how to focus, recognize and challenge you? Did you know this team leader would support you if you made a mistake? Do you make your people feel this way?
  5. Focus on Their Wins. You can’t be insecure and be a great team leader. Your insecurity will cause you to compete with your own people, which is the opposite of what a great team leader does. You are there to speed up their success, not compete with it.
  6. Experiment More. You value experimentation and hands-on experience. This drives your people. They know that it’s okay to make mistakes. They will soon appreciate that you expect them to articulate what they learned from those mistakes and thereby increase organizational wisdom. Make this an explicit part of your leadership.
  7. Strengths ROI. Great team leaders invest in each person’s strengths for these three reasons: a) Strengths are an accelerator: people will learn faster in an area of strength. b) Strengths are a multiplier: people are more creative in their areas of strength, more collaborative, and more insightful. c) Strengths are a reinforcer: people are more resilient in areas of strength — if they experience a setback or poor performance in an area of strength, they bounce back faster.
  8. The Real You. Show your people your personality. Sometimes they feel they don’t really know you. Take the time to tell personal stories and they will feel more connected. You don’t have to be the entertainer at the front of the room; just look for opportunities to make personal connections as you walk the office or share their successes.
  9. Practice Individualization. The most important skill you must develop, as a team leader, is individualization: namely, do you know how your people are different from one another, and have you figured out how to make the most of those differences? Perfect this skill and you will excel as team leader.
  10. Know Their Triggers. As a team leader, your job is to speed up the reaction between the strengths of each of your people and the goals of your team. You can do this job only if you know clearly how to trigger each person on your team in the right way. Remember, strengths are an accelerator, a multiplier and a reinforcer.
  11. The What, How and Why. Ensure that your people are prepared. Clearly articulate the what, how and why of “quality” and the steps needed to maximize it. Create opportunities to practice activities your people might be expected to perform. That way, when it comes time to measure the “quality” of their work, they won’t fear this; they will look forward to it.
  12. Get In Their Shoes. Support your people’s training and lead by example by keeping yourself up-to-date. Take over for someone on your team occasionally, to keep abreast of system changes and challenges. Keep in mind, if you’re able to use a system more efficiently than your people, that’s probably a good opportunity to give them additional support and training.

With these leadership nuggets from Marcus Buckingham, I am signing off for the year. Hope some of these learning will help you take on the leadership journey in 2014 with all your ‘strengths’.

All the best…

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Image-credit: thebloodsugarwhisperer.wordpress.com

How I Learnt to Conduct Positive Arguments…

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imagesAs an organization and human resources professional, my job involves conducting a lot of conversations, discussion & arguments and managing conflicts therein. As any other well-meaning professional, I have made my fair share of mistakes during such conversations; introspection told me that many such discussions could have been conducted in a more fruitful manner. Having said that, I would like to believe that I am better off today by making such mistakes and learning from them.

After all these years of being a true argumentative Indian, often straight-worded and carrying ‘When right, say it hot’ mindset, I wanted 2013 to be a better year. So, I took as one of my guiding principles/quotes of 2013 as – “I will not attend every argument I am invited to” (Author Unknown). I sat down in early Jan, dug deep into my experience and wrote down all the errors I tend to make during a discussion or an argument. And from that exercise, I learnt these two invaluable lessons, which now help me conduct a positive argument.

Now, during every discussion-turn-argument, I continually remind myself:

  • “I need to share my thoughts, without building a perception that the other person’s thoughts are incorrect. I may have my well-intentioned and valid reasons to state my views firmly, AND that does not make the views of the other person any inferior.” I keep telling myself that I am not trying to win over a personal victory here, I am just bringing my views and thoughts to the table.

  • “I must end the conversation purely on the merits of the two sides of arguments AND do not bring THE person in between the debate.” I keep reminding myself that if I state all my views with necessary facts, share my thought process clearly, I need not push or act aggressive. Not raising voice, and improving the argument is what I do – with a belief that the argument on its own merits will end up winning, if it is worth it, i.e..

How it helped? Well, I do not bring along my ego as an additional participant to a discussion any more. I listen with an intent to listen and not with an immediate urge to respond right back; to share with you, that was tough and I am indeed doing better by learning this art. I try not to allow my smile and/or my positive exterior to fade, even amidst the most trying arguments. And best of all, I do not end up making the other person feel being gunned down by the volley of arguments.

And I must tell you, I have started enjoying arguments even more now, they are a lot more harmonious and outcome-oriented! I still make some mistakes; few arguments still could have ended better… and that is the key, I now quickly scan my own self post every such conversation and reprimand self for any uncalled-for step. Next discussion turns out even better!

This was my experience. Now it is your turn. How do you conduct arguments? Do you follow any rules to conduct positive arguments? Do share…

A truly Great Team OR only a Great Company?

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Great Team OR Great CompanyThis is the season of several business magazines publishing lists, their own versions, of great companies to work with. And very soon, we will have surveys of employee engagement being administered across companies, gauging the engagement of the employees across verticals and teams in each company – the quintessential annual exercise.

And here I am, bemused all over once again at this very concept! All these years of being a part of the corporate world and some great companies, I could never understand the concept of a ‘great company’ or a ‘not-so-great company’. To my mind, there can be no such thing like a great or not-great company. In fact, there are ‘great teams’ and ‘not-great teams’ that are more of reality, as far as engagement of any employee is concerned. Think of it, if you were working in a ‘not-great team’ inside an otherwise ‘great company to work’, would you be really engaged and productive? No, right? On the other hand, if you work in a really great team, chances are that you’d be far more engaged and involved, even if your company is not really appearing amidst rankings of the great companies. If you agree, then I wonder why is there so much fuss around a ‘great company’ and so little or less meaningful concentration and effort around building & nurturing great teams, consisting of high-performing, well-intentioned and competent employees!

In my experience, organizations must focus on identifying and nurturing ‘great teams’; there is a dire need to learn from what those teams are doing right, what is the culture and ethos and though I really not like the term, what are the ‘best practices’ that can be imbibed and used to turn around the ‘not-so-great teams’. And one of the key things great teams focus upon is that whether each & every teammate is getting right opportunities to use their strengths every day; that they get chances, challenges and encouragement to demonstrate their best every day. That’s the bottom line of creating a successful organization and that’s really where companies should focus upon.

When I look back in my own career and reflect, I see some superb Indian and global organizations I worked with. And yet, what I more vividly remember are the teams I was part of. Some ‘great teams’ I worked in, and on a rare occasion, also found myself in a ‘not-so-great team’. While I fondly remember the great teams & great people I worked with, I also equally remember that when I was part of a ‘not-so-great team’, I wasn’t able to use my strengths, and give my best every day. The very fact that the company I worked with was really world class didn’t make any difference to my motivation and energy levels during that phase. And I am sure, many of you would have experienced the same predicament one or the other time in your career.

Best companies are not ‘great companies’ merely by some survey or rating or ranking. They are a unified whole, a superset of several ‘great teams’ replete with ‘great individuals’, who give their best every day. And that is what modern organizations must try to achieve. That will really make them a ‘great workplace’.

I would any day prefer working in a ‘great team’ vs. a ‘poor team in a great company’. Now it’s your turn. Which of these views speak most to you? I am sure you too worked in some great as well as not-so-great teams; what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments below – and here’s to all of us building great companies.

TATA Log

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TatalogI wish to share with you all a superb book that I just started reading – ‘Tatalog. Today, I completed the first two chapters and am impressed! Written by Harish Bhat, MD of Tata Global Beverages Ltd, and published by Penguin, this is a collection of “hitherto untold…eight modern stories from a timeless institution.”

For readers who don’t know ‘Hindi’ language, ‘log’ is a hindi word for ‘People’. I got drawn towards reading this book only because the foreword was penned by one of my all-time favourite authors, R Gopalakrishnan. You would recall Gopalakrishnan through his bestseller books – ‘The Case of The Bonsai Manager’ and ‘When The Penny Drops’. However, now that I have read the first 50 pages and learnt about the untold story of the ‘Tata Indica’, written so aptly by a Tata insider, I am so looking forward to reading further… about Tanishq, Tata Finance, Tetley, EKA, about ‘second careers of intelligent women’ and Tata Steel.

I will surely come back with a detailed book-review in few weeks’ time for you. Till then, I am leaving you with what Gurcharan Das opined about the book; do note the power of the last phrase:

“This is not a hagiography. In the tradition of the best business books, it teaches something about the way the world works. It explains why the Tatas have endured for 150 years: not because they did not make mistakes, but their errors were portals of discovery.”

 So apt, isn’t it?

I would recommend this to all who follow writings on organization & change and who wish to learn from the massive human effort called ‘TATA’.

What My Best Bosses Taught Me…

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Leader TeacherIn my eight years of working life, I worked with some superb leaders. However, my first Manager will always be very close to my heart; he was the one who picked me right after the MBA-school and taught me the grind of the corporate world. A really demanding guy he was; his toughness ensured I learn everything the right way. There were no short-cuts allowed. He motivated and pushed me hard. In short, he shaped my career and my thought-process for the formative years.

After four years, I met another superb leader, who hired me to be the part of his dream-team, and took me to an altogether next level of learning and performance. Unlike my first boss, he was far younger, albeit an equally strong leader. He taught me another set of valuable lessons, and refined me into a better professional and a leader.

From a young, raw, inexperienced management trainee to now a people-leader myself, these two bosses left an indelible impression on my professional and personal lives. Here, I am sharing some of the key things they taught me; some very simple things they said and did proved to be the most effective learning later.

As a young management trainee, here is what I learnt from my first boss…

  • Whatever is worth doing, it’s worth doing in a process-oriented manner – create processes for everything you do.
  • Be a subject matter expert – there is nothing better than knowing your job the best.
  • Be in office at least one hour before an important presentation. Visit the room where the meeting is scheduled; check the projector, see if it works fine with your laptop. That’s being ready and being on-time…
  • Either you work hard for the first 20 years of your life and enjoy the rest of it, or you enjoy the first 20 years and you would find yourself working very hard to live your rest of the life.
  • If you don’t really know the business by the back of your hand, you aren’t the HR guy business would want to have on their team.
  • Never accept mediocrity – it is infectious like a disease.
  • A good leader never worries about his goal-sheet; he just helps members of his team achieve their goals; his get automatically done!
  • Never mess with the happy situation, specially, while deciding compensation and benefits.
  • If you are signing a document, writing an email, making a ppt – anything that carries your name, watch out for all the silly mistakes – spellings, fonts, formatting, grammar – they all make a dent. Positive or negative – you need to decide.

And the next Boss taught me these…

  • We do strategy only two days every year – rest 363 days we need to ensure impeccable execution.
  • People don’t have any control over who would become their boss; they learn to put up with whomsoever the organization puts over them. But they surely will not accept all bosses as their ‘leader’. Being the boss is easy, be the leader…that’s really difficult. But then, why would you want to do an easy job anyway?
  • Age really doesn’t determine maturity and years of experience are no measure of talent and capability.
  • Never hire people in your team who are any lesser competent that you. Hire people better than you, and make it a habit.
  • When in retail, spend maximum time travelling to stores; talking to people, spending time working on the floor – that’s where real action is, that’s where real ideas and results will come from.
  • Don’t start any major activity or a plan if you do not envision it running for at least five years. Dream big, plan right, look ahead…
  • Guard your team’s reputation like your own. If your team is right, no one should be able to touch them. If they aren’t right, you should be the only one reprimanding them, not others…
  • A leader not only needs to be fair, he must also appear fair.
  • It’s OK to fail at times; just don’t miss capturing the learning.
  • If all the sub-teams are not connecting in a ‘boundary-less’ manner, they aren’t forming one team for sure. Invest time and energy in making all sub-teams work together cohesively, and you’d build the most competent team ever…

While both these men belonged to different age-groups, background and experiences, they had many things in common – they were both voracious readers, always willing to learn new things and better themselves. They were quite punctual and orderly, and valued others’ time like their own. They were big men with small egos, and carried no chip on their shoulder about the designations, cabins, et al. Both were true to their words, and always came back when they said they would. Both spent more time in building careers of their team-mates than their own. And above all, they both never shied away from accepting responsibility, living up to what Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says “I was beaten,” he does not say “My men were beaten.”

Many of these things I learnt by observing them. And when these two leaders spoke, I heard them loud and clear. Sometimes, it took me a while, even a long time in few cases, to realize the importance, for the impact of there words to sink in. It took me while to imbibe some of these learning and change my behaviour…but I now can see why some of these learning are real pearls of wisdom. I now enjoy practicing them, and reap the benefits.

I learnt several other things from my other managers too, and while I am still learning, something I’d never stop; I’ll be forever grateful to these two gentlemen, who taught me some really valuable work & life lessons.

Those are my learning from my best bosses. Now it’s your turn. Which of these learning speak most to you? I am sure you too worked with some great bosses; what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments below- and here’s to all of us becoming better leaders!

Are You A ‘Professional’?

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ProfessionalNearly everyday, I meet scores of gainfully employed people, not only those who work with my organization, but also from several other companies, self-employed ones, students, doctors, chartered accountants, et al (that is inevitable if you are based in the corporate district of Gurgaon!). And more often than not after such interactions, I am left gasping about the ever-increasing gap between just any working executive or entrepreneur and a real professional.

In the mad rush of the working lives we live in, I often find people mistaking every working person to be a professional. How incorrect now that would be?

theprofessionalFew years ago, Subroto Bagchi, or Gardener as he is titled and fondly known as, wrote a very compelling book redefining workplace excellence – ‘The Professional’. In many ways, it was a path-breaking work, and in this book, he gave all of us what I call the true meaning of the word ‘Professional’. (Subroto is Chairman and co-founder of Mindtree Ltd.).

Here is it: I am quoting from Chapter 2 of the book; pp 3-6.

 

“What are the chances that you work in an entry level position or even a middle level job in a hotel, a hospital, a software company, or a government organization? Or, for that matter, you could be a self-employed professional like a doctor, a lawyer, or a journalist. In all probability you are educated, know English, and are working with (or have interacted with) the corporate sector. Perhaps, an MBA, or a student at an engineering college? You probably consider yourself a professional, or on the road to becoming one. Definitely your station in life is well above someone whose job is to bury unclaimed corpses from city hospitals.

I want to introduce the idea of who a professional is through a man whose life is dealing with dead bodies. Unclaimed dead bodies. This is not someone who is conventionally associated with the term professional.

His name is Mahadeva. He came to Bangalore as a child when one day his mother simply walked out on her entire village and her own family in a huff. Mother and son lived on the streets; she worked to support him. Until the day she became very unwell. She brought herself and her son to the government-run Victoria Hospital. There she was admitted in a state of delirium and her little son, Mahadeva, made the street outside the hospital his home.

He found many playmates among the urchins there and soon that world engulfed him. It was the first time he had had anyone to play with. For little Mahadeva, it was his first experience of kinship and he lost himself completely in this new world. It was pure happenstance that one day someone told him that his mother had died. Where had he been when that happened?

Died? What was that?

The hospital had been unable to wait for him and has disposed of the body.

Now Mahadeva had nowhere to go. No family.

A few people in the hospital ward where his mother had been admitted raised some money to help him go back to his village. He refused. Instead, he grew up running errands in the hospital. The hanger-on, who had helped with his mother’s admission process and made a living by running errands for patients, asked him to move in with him. He was an old man who had no one either.

Mahadeva grew up under his tutelage; the hospital became his universe. And then, one day, the cops asked him to bury an unclaimed body and paid him Rs 200 for the job. This was when Mahadeva entered his profession and eventually became the go-to-guy for burying the city’s unclaimed corpses. Every time police picked up a dead body that had no claimants, Mahadeva was summoned. He had to do a turnkey job: Pull the stiff body in it and take it to a burial ground, dig the ground to bury the dead – all by himself, and for only Rs 200. After doing the job, he would hang around in the hospital to be summoned to dispose of the next unclaimed body.

Mahadeva did his work with such dedication, focus, care and concern that soon he was very much in demand. His work grew and he bought his own horse-drawn carriage, and between his horse and himself he was the undertaker to the abandoned.

One day, the horse died.

People who had watched Mahadeva all these years came together and bought him an auto-rickshaw. The white auto-rickshaw, his hearse, carries the picture of the horse in the memory of the animal who helped him take thousands of people to be laid to rest. It became the logo of his business and appears on his business card today.

Mahadeva has buried more than 42,000 corpses in his lifetime and his dedication has earned him phenomenal public recognition. Local petrol pumps do not charge him when his hearse is topped up and the chief minister of Karnataka felicitated him for his selfless service to the abandoned citizens of Bangalore. Mahadeva is proud of his work and his business, and today his son has joined him.

Mahadeva: the high performer, and a true professional.

What are the two qualities that Mahadeva has which differentiate a professional from someone who is simply professionally qualified?

One, is the ability to work unsupervised, and, two, the ability to certify the completion of one’s work.

Whenever Mahadeva got a call to reach the morgue, day or night, hail or high water, he arrived. Most of the time, it was a gruesome experience dealing with a dead body; there was no telling what had been the cause of death or state of decomposition.

In his business, Mahadeva does not choose his clients. He accepts them in whatever size, shape or state they come. He treats them with respect and care, with due dignity, covering them with a white sheet and placing a garland around their necks before burying them. The day he buried the man who had taken him home after his mother died, he had cried. He was special and Mahadeva had bought a garland as a mark of his respect. That day, it occurred to him that he should be garlanding all the bodies he buried, not just his benefactor’s. Everyone deserves respect and no one should feel ‘unwanted’ in death, even if life had treated them that way.

The cops do not supervise Mahadeva. He is not an employee of the hospital; he is the outsourcing agency the hospital has engaged for disposing of all unwanted cadavers. He does not have a boss who writes his appraisal, giving him constructive feedback for continuous improvement.

In most work environments, people who produce anything of economic value usually need supervision. A person who needs supervision is no professional. He is an amateur, maybe even an apprentice.

Whenever Mahadeva picks up a corpse, it goes straight to the burial ground – no place else. He completes the task with immediacy it demands. And he certifies his own completion of the task: between the dead and the living, there is no one to question him.”

 

Thought provoking, isn’t it? What do you think?

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