Thursday, 23 May 2013

"I don't agree " !

Three words . 

But very very powerful ... "I don't agree" !

How you react to the above sentence tells a lot about your leadership style

Let me give you an example.  In one of my teams, whenever I was about to sign off on a meeting after making some decision, this person in my team raised his hand and said "I don't agree with you ... have you thought about this aspect ? " , and then he usually went on to give a very different perspective.  Let me confess, sometimes it was really very frustrating.  At the face of it,  it seemed that he was forever contradicting me , but when I got used to his style, I realized how valuable this person was , and how lucky I was to have him in my team.  

When you are in a position of authority, it is very easy for people in your team to agree with whatever you decide. There are very few people who think without any bias and speak out fearlessly. As leaders, we should cultivate this atmosphere of openness where everybody thinks independently and creatively. In my own experience, I have found that these contradictory thoughts have made my mind and thoughts proliferate and my perspective became broader.  Not only in technical decisions but this helps in any decision making. 

But sadly,  I have seen many situations where the dissenting voice gets stifled when it is not well received.  It is sad since many good ideas or mediocre decisions cannot really reach the level of excellence because of lack of open discussions and contradictory opinions. 

It really depends upon the leadership style how we can utilize a person saying "I don't  agree "  by listening to him.  And if his point of view  is valid, give a real and honest thought to it and if it makes sense, amend your decision without letting your ego coming in between !  Again , if  after giving him your ears, you think that his opinion is not valid for the situation,  thank him for voicing his thoughts but go ahead what your original decision was.

This shows the leader's humility and integrity . And it earns respect !

So , the next time when you hear "I don't agree", welcome the three words and thank your lucky stars that you have a voice in your team who will help you grow even further !

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Dilemma of the Skip Level Meeting

This is the third one of the Dilemma Series. To read the previous two click on the links : ( Unwilling Emailer ,  Who is fit to be a CEO)

Andy was the CEO of  a multinational company named Brag-on Solutions which made software products for the Hospitality Domain.  Brag-on made an entry into the Indian market in 2007 and opened their first Software Development Centre in Calcutta.  In 2008, Anita was hired as the Director of the Indian operations and they grew in numbers from 20 to 250 people in the last four years.  Anita reported to Andy who was overall in-charge of the Calcutta facility.

Anita was a very efficient, goal oriented and focused Manager who had single handedly  developed and nurtured the India facility. Due the India office, Brag-on was able to sustain its profitability and keeping the overall operating expense down even in the period of economic slowdown. The US office was very pleased with the performance of its Indian arm and while they had restricted any new hiring in the other facilities in the rest of the offices around the world, Anita was given complete freedom in increasing the headcount. 

Everything was fine, but Andy was worried over the turnover rate of the employees  in  India. The attrition rate had increased from 18% to 29% the last one year. In his last visit, Andy has sensed some sort of restlessness in the employees and the employee survey indicated that the people were not happy with the leadership style of the management - aka - Anita. 

So, this year, Andy had asked the HR manager to fix up a skip level meeting with the senior employees of  the Calcutta office. he had asked Siddhu, the HR Manager   to put together a diverse group of people some senior , a few new entrants, employees who have been with the organization for 5+ years and some new joiners , people from different functions.  But , Andy knew that people in India just did not open up.  It was difficult to get feedback from them.....

The skip level meeting started . 

Andy : Folks , it is good to see all of you. I want to assure you that whatever feedback or comments you give will be confidential. And as you know that we promote an open culture. Any feedback you give will help the company improve. So , please go ahead. 

Silence ... 

Shammi ( a junior developer ) : We are happy with our work. We are getting enough opportunities to grow. I love this place. There is a bit of stretch, but it is OK.

Silence again ....

Andy : Guys , I need more conversation...

Lavanya : ( a senior person who has been with the organization from the last 5 years ) : Andy,  We are happy with the work, I agree  we get enough opportunities. We are learning and growing , but... 

Andy  : Go on ... 

Lavanya : Well , I think there is a problem of empowerment. All the decisions are finally taken by Anita.  Also , I feel that she is too technical and instead of leaving the tactical and operational decisions with the managers, she is involved in everything - which makes us feel puny. Another problem that we face is that we do not feel appreciated. Whenever there is a small lapse , it is written in the appraisal form but the good work we do is not mentioned...

Andy : Go on please...

Lavanya : And you talked about open culture. I don't know how true is that here... I am sure I will be punished for speaking out here ... but I feel it is my duty here. 

Andy had given feedback to Anita about her style and had asked her to "nurture" her employees. 

As suspected by Lavanya, the feedback from the skip level leaked and she was given a low rating in the appraisal and did not get any increment. 

Lavanya knew this was coming, so she had started looking out for a job and resigned. But she wrote an email to Andy after she put in her papers telling him "See... this is what I had known would happen". 

Andy knew that  Anita was good at her job and was getting the results... the only drawback was the attrition and the employee morale.

What should Andy do to improve the situation in the India office ?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Little Girl in the Mall

About a month back,  I visited the nearby mall and wandered into a big retail chain named Pantaloons. 

After the usual browsing , I bought a simple top and stood in the queue for making the payment.  Just in front of me in the queue stood a lady with her daughter. The little girl was about 12 years old , had nicely trimmed hair ,wore a simple pink dress , and was very cute.  But what happened subsequently took me beyond her looks and I was simply at awe of her .....

She stood there with her mother, observing the people, tapping her foot impatiently. Suddenly she asked   
"Ma, I saw a poster displayed near the entrance about saving trees and asking people not to use plastic,  but I see that everybody is carrying their articles in big green plastic bags !

"Well, you see, to discourage people using plastic, the shop is charging Rs 7 for each plastic bag" Her mother explained. 

I saw a look of puzzlement in the little girl's eyes .

"But Ma, charging money is not fair.... people do not come to malls with bags to carry their things   ! And again,  if they are charging money, they should give Paper Bags ...

Her mother did not have an answer. I was curious to know what the girl will ask next ...

Well, she did not answer. As her mother went ahead in the queue, the little girl asked for a paper and a pen from her mother and started writing an application. She wrote that she did not approve of the plastic bags being given as this raises environmental pollution and that Pantaloons should stop this immediately and replace them with paper bags. Then she went around the shop with her application and talked to several people and got their signatures in the application. I too signed on it.  Both her mother and I  made our payments and I saw the mother sitting on a chair patiently as she saw her daughter mobilize the crowd.It seemed that  her  mother must have been used to these incidents ! 

Out of curiosity , I too joined the little girl in her small little campaign. After getting quite a lot of signatures , she looked at me and said, "Will you come with me to the manager's cabin ?"  I nodded my head, full of admiration for the little girl. Once we went inside the manager's cabin, she waited patiently till she got is attention after he finished chatting with  someone on his cell. 

"Yes ! Tell me" He said disinterestedly. The little girl gave the application to him and explained ! I listened. 

"Is this a joke ? " He said looking at me. " Don't you know all the shops are doing the same thing !"

It was my turn now. I told him pointing at the little girl

" If a small girl can understand this , you know that this is not a joke ! We do not care who is doing what ! We feel that you are increasing environmental pollution by encouraging plastic and at the same time making  money at the cost of  the environment and govt. policies.  Please take care of this and accept this application.  I have friends in the press and I will write an open letter to Biyani - the owner of the Pantaloons chain - about this.  It is our duty as a citizen to protest if we see something is wrong and we have every right to protest. "

The manager looked at me and the little girl.  He accepted the letter . 

We came out of his room triumphantly. The little girl ran to her mother and excitedly relayed the happening inside the manager's room.  I smiled and walked towards them and congratulated the mother about having such a daughter. She was a proud mom. 

The little girl was a leader ! She will be an asset wherever she goes... 

Today, I went to Pantaloons again.

 I saw paper bags being given instead of plastic ones !

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Kick the Clock and adopt Flexi-timing !

This one is really close to my heart. Several discussions , debates in forums, organizational groups spend hours on this topic , but there are very few organizations where the Leadership actually follows it in its spirit.  The paradox of Flexi-timing. 

Most of the organizations have a set number of hours which the employees have to clock. For example, 45 hours in a week or 170 hours in a month and so on.  To explain it further, suppose I come to office at 9 am in the morning and leave at 5 pm from Monday to Thursday, I will have to stay for 12 hours on Friday, even if I do not have any work  !  According to me it is most counterproductive. Why should we tie the goals of an employee within a set time ? If we think deeply, organizations lose out with this.  But the argument is that, your employees might cheat you and take advantage .These are my rebuttal points  : 

  • Set Goals : The employees should be given goals which are achievable but stretches them. Leave it to them whether they finish it in 40 hours or 50 hours or 60 hours. Give them the end date when they should deliver. In my experience, I have seen them work harder and longer that the regular hours which they have to clock .

  • Ownership, ownership, ownership : Once you give a task to your team member, give him complete ownership. Do not try to micro-manage. Make it seem that the project depends upon the work she is doing. You will be surprised how she works to make the project successful.

  • Motivation works :  Sometimes when I see a team member slogging away till wee hours for several days, I usually sit with him to understand his problem. It might happen that he is stuck and needs help. Sometimes, the deadline might be killing. In these circumstances, a pat on the back or a kind word of appreciation during team meetings boosts his morale. There have been lots of instances when I have asked the person to take a day off to relax, but s/he will give me numerous reasons to continue working ... !

  • Kick the Clock : Once the organization shows flexibility , the culture of the organization becomes open and trustworthy. Counting hours make people waste time more and productivity decreases.  To have proper checks and balances, the middle tier  - the project managers and leads should be empowered to take informed decision and they should be trained in empathy and goal setting to see that the teams are working cohesively. Kick the clock and reap the benefits . 

Are you flexible and brave enough to implement flexi-timing in your organization ? 

Believe me , it works !