On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Performance

A Leadership Crucible – Managing Below-Expectations Performance

with 5 comments


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:


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!



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…

Image-credit: whatisonthetable.wordpress.com

The Dilemma of Focus Vs. Multitasking

with 7 comments

multitasking-vs-focus-mediumA young management professional reached out to me today with an oft-repeated dilemma – what to chose between Focusing on one thing and Multitask. A year out of the college now, she was taught at her management school that it is good to have the skill of ‘multitasking’. And now, the same is expected at her workplace too. Armed with this learning, she till now firmly believed in the concept of multitasking to excel at work and life alike. However, working for sometime now in the corporate world, she often finds herself caught in the predicament of focusing on one thing at a time vis-à-vis multitasking – that how working on many things simultaneously may also lead to distraction in focus from the most important thing at that time!

“Won’t it impact the quality of work, leave a piled-up list of unfinished tasks and finally diminish my productivity, which could have rather been augmented by focusing on doing one thing at a time?” she asked.

I am sure many of you would have faced the same dilemma, especially during starting years of your working life. And the question is quite valid too – this dilemma does exist. It would appear that in some cases, multitasking is undeniably an efficient way to utilize time, while on other occasions, the quality of the work may suffer as a result of split attention.

Few years ago, a teammate shared with me his success secret, with quite an apt description of FOCUS

Follow One Challenge Until Success is achieved

I could not agree more!

And yet, on the other hand, multitasking is a really crucial & necessary skill demanded out of the working professionals in the chaos of today’s fast-paced scenario.

Here is what I learnt in all these years – these two are the two wheels of a bike. Both are quintessential and one cannot ride a bike on only one wheel. Given the situation, there is a reasonable dependency on both approaches and a balance needs to be achieved by ‘prioritizing’ the work.

I would like to share an invaluable lesson I learnt from an old supervisor – multitasking becomes difficult as we also confuse, a lot, between Urgent and Important – we often assume both to be same. Don’t you receive a lot of emails, with subject as Urgent and/or Important? However, in reality, not all work that is important will be urgent. Similarly, all urgent work may not be necessarily important; sometimes otherwise non-important work too requires urgent attention and action.

If we do not prioritize carefully, we can fall into this trap of

multitasking = distraction in our focus.

Then, there is more to it. Quite often, I have observed that we tend to take too much work on our plate – blame the old-fashioned fear of not being able to say ‘No’. That also leads to poor quality in the outcome, delay in timeslines and increased performance-related anxiety and/or stress. In this case, eventually, both work and the worker suffer. Hence, I would say that when you do decide to multitask, make sure to check your work carefully so as to ensure that it is of high quality, and consider abandoning multitasking for certain tasks if you notice a decline in quality. Saying a timely ‘no’ to a task you cannot do justice to is also a right start.

Again, there is an element of one’s engagement at work. As I keep saying, the real mantra behind a successful professional delivering quality output consistently is the quantum of her engagement at work. If she is working on the things that make her feeling productive and successful at the end of the day, she will be positively driven and encouraged to give her best in the same time duration and hence, this dilemma of focus vs. multitask will really not bother her way too much.

A successful professional will have a strong sense of planning her time and energy; she will focus on the high priority things at the time, while not losing sight of other simultaneous deliverables.

This is what I think and that’s how I manage the balance between focusing on priority and multitasking. Now, it is your turn. Let me know what you think. Do you too get embroiled in this dilemma? Do share your experiences.


Photo-credit: rodneygoldston.com

Learn, Execute, Replicate…

with 2 comments

Working in Indian retail industry for the last 6 years, I have hired and managed talent at all levels. However, it is the employees working at stores who constitute the largest and rather challenging group, when it comes to managing career/promotion/growth expectations. I won’t say they are to be blamed entirely for believing & expecting to get promoted almost every year; the nascent Indian retail industry itself created this myth of more-than-regular promotions. Added to this, the lack of talent in retail trade led to prevalent poaching and headhunting, even at store-levels, by new entrant-organizations who offered higher roles (often, in form of disguised, fancy designations!), without bothering about the candidate’s tenure in the earlier organizations. Thus, everyone continues to believe in the myths of self-perceived ‘high-performance’ and ‘time-period’ merited to be considered for a promotion, making life difficult for organizations all across.

While there isn’t any dearth of literature and models available on performance and potential elements while considering anyone for promotion, it is the expectations of an employee that needs to be addressed, breaking the falsehood about one’s imminent readiness to grow into a higher role. Talent & People managers need to simplify the process, without stressing on complicated talent-grids and performance-models, thereby setting the anticipations of every new employee joining the organization.

As far as performance factor is concerned, in my view, there are 3 distinctive stages for any store level employee in retail trade that measure performance & success, before trending on the path of a role-elevation:

Learn The Job: This period starts from the date of joining (DOJ), and can last up to 3 to 6 months. This is where an employee learns the basics tenets and fundamental practices of her job, gains the know-how imperative to perform the role and settles oneself strongly onto the path of delivering desired results.

Ironically, this is where many retail organizations fail in establishing the outlook of an incoming employee about the unlearning, learning and building the basics in a timed and organized manner. The store associates gets trained in a jiffy, moved to store-roles with half-baked processes’ knowledge and are made to believe that the jobs in retail are ‘very simple’ and they will learn everything ‘on-the-job’. While I appreciate this is a trade that shows daily results and pressure on performance is way too high from the day one, running a store successfully is a matter of disciplined and structured approach towards one’s role. Learning the job impeccably is the bedrock principle of doing a flawless job in execution. Thus, once trained and hand-held properly, an employee with moderate to high learning agility would need to spend at least 6 months learning the intricacies of such jobs in the retail sector.

Execute The Job: This period starts after the learning phase, and can last up to 15 to 24 months at the first location/store/role assigned. This is the period where an employee starts implementing the learning and executing the job. An important factor here would be to keep her role/store unchanged for 15-24 months, to ensure consistency of execution. For a star performer, this period could be 15-18 month and 24 months for an average performer, before she is considered for a role-change or a change of store in same/other role, at the same work-level. This safeguards that she learns hands-on, makes mistakes & improves and at the same time, also reaps benefits of sustained & deeper understanding of the nuances of the job.

Ironically, here too, the retail companies in India struggle; I regularly meet and interview store-employees who have worked at 3-6 different stores within a span of an year and start looking at another job, considering themselves to be a pro! Well, while industry’s high attrition may be a reason behind companies deciding to move ‘old’ and ‘trained’ (read: 3-9 months vintage) employees to open positions at other roles/stores, they fail to put much thought to the abilities of execution such employees possess and whether such faculties have stood the test of time in the current role. In my view, a well-meaning Talent & People manager would surely warrant every employee spends 15-24 months in a role/store, before considering any transfers or role-changes.

Replicate Own Performance: This period starts after the phase of successful execution in first role/store, and can last up to 12 to 24 months at the subsequent store/role assigned; with every subsequent role/store being held for a period not less than 12 months. This is the period that would test the potency of capabilities, skills and maturity, which an employee is expected to have attained in earlier two phases.

A very crucial phase this is; every moderate to high performer has to demonstrate she can successfully replicate earlier performance in a sustained manner afresh on a clean slate, where everything could be different and thus, would pose challenging demands upon application of the acquired learning and experience. It would assess an employee in new culture, new geography, new customers, amidst new colleagues, et al. Performing a new role and delivering to expectations it demands with same or even higher level of performance would be indeed a true appraisal.

Out of the comfort-zone, this period would also check whether the employee cracks down amidst new challenges and pressures, or withstands the test of performing on a rather unfamiliar terrain. Here, the real trial of one’s learning and experience would take place; which would boost the confidence and maturity, if handled well. If one lives up to the expectations of the performance in their own and organization’s eyes, it would enhance the readiness-quotient for a higher role. Simultaneously, this period would also throw ample light on potential one possess, thereby removing the danger of the application of the ‘Peter’s Principle’, should one gets promoted.

Above three phases, when completed successfully, spell into ‘good performance’ for any store-level employee. While I am sure these phases can be easily applicable to any professional in any trade, they are highly relevant in this dynamic, people-driven industry. In my experience in the retail trade, many store-level employees who have done better than others, have demonstrated sustained performance levels and grown to higher roles, were the ones who went through the similar regime. While I am not saying that all 3 phases are cast in stone and organizations need to be rigid about them before considering elevations for one and all, till there is a mad rush of everyone assuming to get promoted every other year if not every year, I would strongly recommend all supervisors, Talent & HR managers to create and foster career-frameworks and communicate the same to every newly hired as well as existing talent, leading them towards a sustained and rewarding career, mutually benefitting every organization and the trade as a whole.

Indian retail sector is in its infancy – yet to witness the real boom. Thus, organizations have a responsibility of creating retail leaders in a structured and sustainable manner, thereby building the talent pipeline of professionals who, in next 5-15 years, would shape the future of this new, promising industry.


Photo-credit 1: southlakepres.org

Photo-credit 2: Infed.com

Photo-credit 3: wakeupkitd.blogspot.in

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization he is associated with.

What Makes A Team ‘Work’?

with 9 comments

All through our lives, right from the formative education years to the working years, nearly all of us get to become part of several teams – local cricket or football team, school choir, family events, Lion’s Club, societies at college, functional and cross-functional teams at work, et al.

I too have been a part of many such teams all my life, sometimes as a team-member and sometimes as the leader. However, over a period of last decade or so, I have followed the dynamics of teamwork very closely and with an albeit higher curiosity. I tried to follow patterns in behavior, codify the dynamism of team-skills and attempted to make sense of the conflicting views & outcomes thereafter. Time spent while at management and law school and several years of working thereafter helped me gain some very interesting insights and perspectives on what makes a team ‘work’ together.

While there is no dearth of literature available on this subject, one would agree that achieving near-perfect teamwork is a far cry from reality, especially in the corporate arena. The jury is still out on what actually makes a team click together, work together and subsequently achieve a common goal, each and every time. Interestingly, I also noted that many times, even great results or goal-achievement cannot conclusively state that the team did ‘work’ together as a cohesive unit or as a whole!

In my view, under-mentioned are some very crucial elements that make a team ‘work’:

Making of a Team – Willingness and Passion:

  • Clarity of purpose of the team – what is the goal and what is it worth; why and how do I fit in; what’s there for me in it…all of the three questions should be answered in order to get individuals together as a team.
  • An individual’s own willingness to be part of a particular team – you don’t need ones who don’t want to be there.
  • Passion quotient of individuals – lack of it in even one of the teammates could be a real killer. If only a few deliver upon the team’s need of passion, the team may deliver results, but will surely not hold for long as a unit.


  • Only Competent Individuals On Board. It is quintessential for the team’s leader to define the necessary skills needed and ensure only the competent individuals are hired/selected. Compromising here will have a simmering, yet long-term ill affect, not only on the results and performance, but also on the team’s bonding. Good talent always wants to work with only other good talent.
  • No room for displaying poor ownership or lack of competencies – slackness, poor learning agility, lack of participation, are big NO. They not only adversely impact results, but also lower the overall team-engagement and pull it down. Conceding here would only invite discontent from other members.
  • Existence of complementary competencies amongst the teammates. A heterogeneous team is better than a homogeneous one; once each team-member knows and believes in the reasons of their own as well as others’ roles, responsibilities and strengths.

Culture, Respect and Connect:

  • Culture – that ‘conflict is not equal to negative behavior’. Often, we mistake genuine conflict as unwarranted and discard it. However, in my view, healthy conflict is the root of all progress. Having said that, due caution should be exercised against turning the conflicting views into negative display of emotions.
  • Culture – that it is good to disagree with each other, as far as you do not disregard. Debate and fight the idea, not the person.
  • Culture – willingness to praise good work and thank for contributions. “We are all great pals, where’s the need to thank each other?” – this is one big piece that most teams miss.  Teams that learn to praise commendable work and thank each other connect far better than a team of ‘otherwise great friends’.
  • Respect – towards every individual. Each one has a role to play and despite the professional differences that may occur, respect for each other’s personal self mustn’t go down.
  • Respect – for each other’s talent and contribution. ‘Know it all’ attitudes won’t make a team ‘work’ together.
  • Absence of personal insecurities – this one is a true make or break element. It is very hard for a team to ‘work’ together in presence of insecure behavior, demonstrated or otherwise. Insecurity amongst the teammates inspires spite and poor connect, and while the team may still achieve short-term results, the team won’t ‘work’ together for long.
  • Having fun together. How boring and disconnected a team would be, if there were no fun? Remember ‘Fun’? From amongst the pursuit of goals, seriousness of efforts, data, analytics, homework, et al, fun often takes a beating. Ensure the element of fun stays in all you do, the team would ‘work’ together. Celebrate birthdays, achievements, outings, even farewells; create avenues of having fun together.
  • Connect holistically. This works very well, especially in the context of Indian culture. We love to connect on the personal note, share personal challenges and happiness alike. I am of the view that while the team-leader has a larger role to play here, every team member can chip in with genuine interest in each other’s lives. Think of it, how strong the bond would be when each member of the team knows in his or her hearts that everyone is standing by, in the hour of need.


  • Leader’s absolute interest and willingness to lead the bunch is crucial. Who wants to be led by someone who isn’t willing to lead? Leader of the team must be strong enough to see the bigger picture and wise enough to identify with his or her teammates, play the role of a coach & guide and build a culture for all to succeed.
  • Team’s unflinching trust in the leader’s authenticity, abilities and competencies – brilliant individuals won’t agree to be led by a poor or incompetent leader for long.
  • Team trust on leader’s fairness towards all – a real test of character for any leader. The leader has to ensure establishing a fair and impartial performance yard-stick for each individual member, and doubly ensure that it is visible too to all team-mates.
  • Be there when needed! Leader is required to demonstrate courage by standing up for the mistakes of his/her team. Once established, this works brilliantly in keeping the faith of a team on their leader and goes a long distance in building a well-knit team.
  • Talk, Communicate, Share – surely a leader’s most crucial job in making a team ‘work’. Seamless communication, of information, praise, feedback, ideas, goals, even failures, builds a strong internal network within the team. And mind you, by communication I don’t mean one-way sermons from the leader – I am referring to open connect and communication across levels. Failure to achieve this leads to conjectures, surmises, doubts, et al, leading to poor performance and lower team engagement.

Courage and Managing Failure:                           

  • Belief – that it is OK to fail at times. Every team that concertedly documents their ‘best-failed’ ideas quickly and builds a method around each failed attempt stands the test of time longer.
  • Absence of blame-game: “We know why we failed and we will work around it next time” instead of “I did it right, only if you had not failed…”
  • Demonstrating Courage – in taking feedback without being defensive.  Well, it is easier said than done. However, when a well-meant feedback is taken in right spirit and worked upon, it not only boosts up the capabilities of the recipient of the feedback, it also does wonders to the overall capability of a team to continuously improve as a unit.
  • Displaying Courage – in giving feedback, in an unbiased, timely and constructive manner. No point in trying to beat around the bush or appease each other when the contribution and/or level of performance is lower that expected. Individual who are courageous enough to speak up their mind, without intending any personal assault, build foundation of a sustainable team effort.

Over a period of last few years of my working in teams, I believe above are the key determinants of what makes a team ‘work’.  When well-meaning and competent individuals get together as a unit, have & display faith in each other’s abilities, learn to praise and motivate each other; when the team stands by the leader and vice-versa and don’t waste time in blame-game and/or only thinking about credit, the team ‘works’ wonderfully together. As a team-member and a leader both, I understand teamwork is a journey and not an end. Thus, I have trained myself to carefully watch for all of above factors and keep implementing them as a ‘work-in-progress’; leading to continuous improvement in ensuring better individual & team effort, connect, bond and attainment of results. I would say, ‘it works!’


Photo-credit: xtremeleaguetrivia.com

Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

with 9 comments

I have often been amused by the fact that everyone calls himself or herself a leader these days. Fancy designations and titles have crowned nearly all middle and above management roles as that of a ‘leader’. Everyone is being projected a leader, without knowing what is leadership all about in the first place!

Does the fact one has become a senior manager and manages a team make him or her a leader? Does one become a leader just like that? Or there is more to it…?

To my mind, leadership is more about knowing and managing self and not only managing others. It starts with asking some hard-hitting questions to self, before embarking on the journey of leading women and men…

Twelve such questions all leaders and leadership aspirants must ask themselves and find answers for, are:

  1. Why do I want to be a leader?
  2. Am I an authentic person and appear one too?
  3. Do I prefer hiring people stronger than myself under me?
  4. Am I a teacher, a coach; genuinely like working towards making everyone successful?
  5. Do I possess and demonstrate strong learning agility or do I behave as if a ‘know-it-all’? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  6. Do I genuinely take and manage well-meaning criticism without my ego overtaking? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  7. Do I allow myself to fail at times, and document each failure, thereby creating a method around it for others to learn?
  8. Do I allow my team their fair share of mistakes?
  9. Do I like being popular, and thus avoid giving feedback?
  10. Do I genuinely give credit to my team for all good they do? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  11. Does my team know that even if all goes wrong, I will stand ahead of them in facing the music?
  12. Have I ever told my people, “As your leader, I am with you and not above you”?

If you do not have clear answers to each one of these yet, just ask another question to yourself…

Why should anyone be led by me…?


Photo-Credit: photographyblogger.net

Making Everyone Successful…

with 4 comments

Retail has been growing as the fastest sector in India. In last ten years or so, this industry has grown manifolds, both in size of business and employment opportunities. Largely this sector hires people at the workmen level – those who operate as customer-service/front-end employees managing the sales floor. Since value-retail is the largest sub-sector in the industry, maximum number of people are employed herein. The sector looks for only two abilities in its front-end employees – basic education level and willingness & aptitude to serve customers. This stratum of employees is generally the minimum-wage earner and is either graduate/undergraduate or lesser educated. They span across ages, from 18 years to 40 years of age, even higher in some companies. Men and women alike are employed in this sector, and they are all from diverse work-backgrounds. In a nutshell, we are talking of a Mini-India on the sales floor!

The Human Resource managers in this industry have a crucial role to play in managing this talent pool. Making these employees successful is a challenging task, given the quantum of diversity of this workforce.

Now, what does it mean when I say ‘making everyone successful’?

To my mind, being a successful retail front-end/customer-service employee denotes very simple things. They are:

  1. Earning one’s livelihood by working with the organization: We are referring to the set of people who run their households earning the minimum wages – ranging between Rs.4000 pm to Rs.8000 pm. The livelihood of the wage-earners’ family depends upon this salary. The added sales-incentives, often a part of the remuneration, are also a substantial amount for these employees. Hence, by employing them and remunerating fairly without any bias towards education, experience, age and gender, HR Managers enable them to successfully earn their livelihood.
  2. Having sufficient role-clarity about one’s job: Howsoever simple this job appears prima facie; it is replete with processes and procedures across roles. Ignorance of the realities and expectations of this role can lead to dismal performance later. Thus, clarity about the job-description and demands thereof is a key determinant of success for any employee.
  3. Learning one’s job: No one can be successful without mastering one’s work-area. Inducting and training the employees in their job-domain, processes and bringing about the customer service orientation is a key imperative. Sourcing and hiring this workforce is easy – they are available all over. However, training them successfully & enabling them learn their job is the role of the L&D Managers and the supervisors. Lack of knowledge of one’s job can easily demotivate an associate and lead to her failure.
  4. Performing one’s job with commitment and as per expectations of the organization: This is a key determinant of success at work. Success is outcome of the ownership displayed at work and adherence to the processes and policies. Moreover, working on the retail sales-floor requires tremendous patience and perseverance. HR Managers have a significant role of building a culture of opportunity, fairness and recognition for all employees, wherein they feel belonged to the organization and its vision.
  5. Striving to be continuously better at one’s work and be a team player: Retail is a team game and success of an individual and that of the whole team is mutually interdependent. HR Managers not only need to promote teamwork, they also need to identify and build leadership talent, which acts as mentor and coach for an individual and the teams. A team where each individual has a clearly outlined role to perform and is recognized & rewarded for the same is the key for creating zealous employees. Moreover, coaching for improvement is a quintessential factor in making employees successful in their role. It is important for HR managers to build a culture of risk-taking and allowing mistakes & failures, which in turn enables an employee to strive towards betterment and not fear the penal action when she fails while attempting to do so. 
  6. Improving one’s skills, knowledge and competencies, so as to become eligible to grow further: While the above-mentioned five factors relate to one’s success in the current role, one need to keep improving upon the skills and competencies, which will help her become better at her work and add value to her job and organization. HR Managers and supervisors monitor performance and potential of an employee and look for areas of improvement and skill-development. Once the developmental areas are identified, Training team has an important role to offer in building the competencies of an individual – both functional and soft skills. Simple skills I can refer to here is learning English – verbal and spoken, and the computer-skills.
  7. Enhance one’s potential by learning newer skills: Learning newer skills help one grow further. To be able to grow further, one needs to learn skills pertaining to the next/higher work level. This would also mean learning cross-functional skills and managerial capabilities. HR Managers, in their avatar of Talent and L&D managers have a very important role to play in identifying and realizing the potential of the employees and grooming them for higher roles. This is specially a key factor for retail front-end employees, where individual contributors need to be trained upon cross-functional skills and people-management capabilities, in order to build upon their potential for a people-manager/leader’s role.
  8. Grow further: This is a most distinguishable determinant of one’s success. When an employee grows further up and does not succumb to the famous Peter’s Principle, she is surely being successful. HR Managers need to very granularly observe & assess managerial talent and potential and promote ONLY those who are ready to grow. Poor assessment of the readiness-quotient of an employee may lead to subsequent failure – not only of the employee in question, but also of the team and organization she is part of. Creating well-defined career frameworks, assessment tools and communicating the same to the employees help establish a culture of performance and merit and provides opportunities of growth and success.

Each of the above eight factors is mutually inclusive determinant of success and all of them together when achieved as a whole, make an employee successful. HR partners have a pivotal role to perform in each of these domains. However, that is not an easy task, as given the workforce diversity, no one employee would ever behave & perform as the other! Out of the lot, the toughest ones to manage would be those, who at the start show a lot of promise & capability while being inducted into the job, but if not managed well, they may run the risk of skidding off the route somewhere, leading to poor performance and results.

Making everyone successful…are you ready for this challenge?


Photo-credit: Coachville.com

Written by RRGwrites

November 12, 2011 at 1:27 AM

Coaching: the real meaning

leave a comment »

As an HR leader, I have always been intrigued by the concept of Coaching, as it is practiced in the corporate world. All through my work-life, I have been advising the business partners as to how they can be a better leader and coach. To my mind, skill of coaching is an integral skill for any business leader and it is an imperative for leaders at all work-levels.  However, I have often observed that it is in this very skill leaders do not do as well as they ought to.

While there is no dearth of literature on this subject, I observe there exists a huge disconnect when it comes to actual practice. Coaching means two different things altogether to the supervisor/person coaching and to the person being coached. To the supervisor – it often means giving feedback & correcting. On the other hand, to the recipient, it largely means criticism. This issue of inadequate or poor understanding of the real meaning, purpose and necessity of coaching and our own perceptions of the same cause all the chaos in organizations and leads to a baffled, ineffective coach-supervisor and a disgruntled subordinate.

In this blog, I shall be touching upon the subject of coaching and my experiences with front-end managers and young and aspiring leaders, and their understanding of meaning of the word ‘Coaching.’

In a retail organization, where we try to build leadership talent at all levels, roles of front-end managers like Store Managers and Team Leaders are very crucial. These are the key leadership roles; represent the first line of leadership of the company. They are responsible for managing more than twenty employees, who are extremely diverse – demographically, culturally, educationally and intellectually and largely belong to lower-income/education strata of the society, thereby requiring all the more support and guidance from their leaders. Thus, the store managers and team leaders need to train, guide and coach their subordinates towards running a highly process-oriented business unit. Keeping in view the low learning agility of this sect of employees, coaching & mentoring is one of the key skills a frontline manager must develop. Thus, company’s investment in their learning and building their leadership skills is an imperative.

Over a period of several years, I have been involved in imparting the skill of coaching to the newly inducted as well as to the experienced front-end managers, who join us in batches of 25 trainees or so. These are young women and men, with an average age of 27 years, an average work-experience of 5 years and less – largely as individual contributor, and are just starting to learn the leadership skills. Since their role is highly dependent on people management skills, it becomes very critical for them to appreciate the basics and fundamentals of coaching. I have spoken with close to a thousand such managers and team-leaders on this subject.

Easier said than done…

When I was confronted with this challenge years ago, I thought of making them revisit the very core of the word ‘coaching.’ To do so, I have been using an extremely basic example. However, it has proven highly effective, as far as my purpose of making them appreciate the real intent and purpose of coaching and their role of a coach.

To every set of trainees, I ask two simple questions:

  1. During your school education, did you attend any coaching classes or tuitions?
  2. If yes, please share what is your perception of the word ‘Coaching’, as you experienced during your school years.

Batch after batch, (I must have spoken with more than 50 such batches by now), more than 75% of the trainees share that they attended coaching classes or tuitions during their school education years. They go on to share ‘their own perceptions & thoughts’ of the word ‘Coaching’. All this while, I have come across several words & phrases, which trainees shared as answer to the Question 2 above. To these managers, coaching meant:

  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Improving skill(s)
  • Learning new skill(s)
  • Learning to pass, at least!
  • Learning to top the charts
  • Improving upon the weaker subject
  • Getting additional help
  • Learning tips and tricks
  • Getting feedback

During this part of the discussion, I purposely avoid adding my thoughts and encourage each trainee to share their own individual experiences and perceptions. However, batch after batch, I observed that these young leaders echoed very similar words to describe coaching, as mentioned above.

We also discuss the need for coaching classes during school years – the need of every student appeared different from the other. Those who scored marks less than 50 attended coaching/tuitions to at least keep passing! Those scoring 50 plus aspired to secure a first division – 60%. The one’s who scored above 60 aspired to obtain a distinction – 75 and above. Those securing 80 plus, aimed to top the charts. All desired coaching, albeit for different reasons!

All of a sudden, better appreciation of the word gets build…

Then comes my third question: “During your school years, in coaching classes or tuitions, how many of your were subjected to corporal punishments, taunts and even derogatory remarks about your abilities as a learner?” Please raise your hands, those who did.

Initially, no one responds. Slowly and gradually, some trainees start raising hands. Some were beaten up by their coaches/teachers, some were subjected to taunts and unflattering remarks and some were even abused with derogatory language. Batches after batches, I have observed that more than 70% of trainees share these sentiments.

However, when I ask as to why they didn’t share above views while they were describing their experiences with the word ‘Coaching’, there falls a dead silence. Largely, I could see trainees amused. Their reasons come out gradually – they shared only positive things, they shared what they thought was right; they shared what they felt good about.

They say, “We didn’t like what happened and hence, we stayed away from sharing the same. While we did experience negative behaviors, we only shared what we believe is real meaning of coaching for us.”

Meaning of the word couldn’t have been clearer!

You may think – what’s the big deal in me doing this whole exercise? What am I trying to say through such a simple example? Well, there IS a big deal. My purpose as an HR leader is to create leaders at every level; to establish connect between the coach and the subordinate, a skill that may not be well-ingrained by preaching via a power-point presentation on coaching and mentoring. By making these young leaders re-live their own experiences, I only make them reflect upon their own coaching styles. They get to respect the whole purpose of coaching for success, in a real and humane way.

Over a period of all these years with all these batches, I have started to see a pattern of thought-process and introspection. These managers look back and review their thoughts about their role of a coach. Subsequently, when they reach their stores, they remember most of this exercise and the learning. Often, I’ve noticed that the well-intentioned managers become better aligned to the key principles of coaching. They relate to the relevance and purpose of coaching, in the similar simple manner as it was in school days. They learn to exercise caution in words and tone, while coaching. They respect their subordinates’ feelings and expectations during the whole process of coaching. They learn to view each individual’s need for coaching differently and guide accordingly. They turn into more empathetic mentors; and coach just the way they themselves like to be mentored.

Above all, I observe they start becoming kind, gentle and generous to faults…this has helped me create first generation retail leaders at this pivotal work-level of frontline managers.

How do you prepare young leaders to be a successful coach? Do share your views.


Photo-credit 1: CNN.com

Photo-credit 2: how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

Written by RRGwrites

October 22, 2011 at 11:07 PM

%d bloggers like this: