Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Recipe for successful leaders - 30 min of walking around

A couple of years back ,  when I had joined a great organization ,  I observed that there was one leader who was unanimously counted as the best by almost the full organization.  After one week of rigorous induction,  we had a small ceremony where the new joinees were welcomed by the organization.  I saw the great person talking to someone and I meekly went towards him and waited for him to finish the conversation. 

He looked at me and I blurted out nervously .. "I have heard a lot about you. I also want to be a successful leader. Tell me your secret. What do you do ? How do you lead such a large team ? And by God ! Everybody just swoons over your leadership style !! "

He looked at me and gave me a big and warm smile. 

"Hey ! You want me to tell you my secret ?  Well ... here it is ... I walk around .... " He laughed a full throated laughter, winked at me and walked away ... "

I thought he was joking. But he was not. 

I did see him walking about - a minimum of 30-60 min everyday. Despite his busy schedule, lots of meetings, engagements, deliveries, responsibilities, he walked around , met people, even sat and shared his thoughts with a few members of his team,,,, everyday... 

And then I understood what he had meant when he said " I walk around...."

A boss who is always sitting on his desk can be very intimidating and unapproachable. But to know what is happening "at the trenches" , he has to walk around.  To be connected and stay connected, a leader has to  walk around, talking to the team, help and support them , ask questions which will make them think and take the right decision.  Better connection will help the leader to understand and motivate the team. They will feel that the leader is always around and is genuinely interested in them. 

Leading by walking around helps in these :

  • Builds trust : When the leader talks , it breaks the barriers and builds trust. The more you communicate , the better it is .
  •  Makes the leader approachable :  When the leader walks around,  he is perceived as a supported rather than a boss . The issues become clearer and they can be resolved before they become a problem
  • Morale booster : When people are heard,  they feel better about their jobs. They feel that there is an opportunity for them to talk to the leader about their problems or achievement.
  • Productivity : While talking, many creative ideas are generated.  When the leader is walking around, people feel free to come up with their ideas.
But beware ! This is not like walking about in a mall.  The leader has to be genuinely interested in the team and after conversations , he has to follow up and take necessary actions whenever needed.  Listening and observing has to be more than talking. Walking and talking should be utilized for recognition and appreciation.  Chatting about something other than work is also important. And then , this time should not be used to criticize or chide.

And finally remember, do not overdo things. The team should not feel that you are constantly around just to check status and then your presence becomes a hindrance. 

I have tried this and has worked wildly with me.  It has build relationships which my team and I cherish. It is easy , economical and fun !

Try it.  I am sure you will love it . And so will your team !

If you have any experience on leading by walking around , do share in the comments .

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Five Situations where Emails Fail

We just cannot imagine our life without emails, can we ?  Even when I am on vacation or during relaxed weekends, at the end of the day,  I somehow crave to check my emails. Not a very good habit, but whether we like it or not, emails are an integral part of our lives.  

And of course emails are important and useful. Specially for work.  It can reach many people at the same time, very effective for onsite - offshore global communication, it is fast, it creates a record of the communication. Email etiquette is a fast growing subject and I will talk about this in a later blog post.

But sometimes, emails just don't work.  We have to work around emails  to deal with these situations .

  • When you are delivering very delicate news then the best way is face-to face.  The facial expression, a light touch, a gentle smile or an encouraging look can convey the most difficult message without any words.  Emails will never be able to substitute for these.

  • When the situation becomes very heated , the possibility of misunderstanding the email increases. Emails just don't work here. It is better to talk and put the situation in the right perspective.

  • When immediate response is needed , please pick up the phone and talk. Or better still have an impromptu meeting or walk up to the other person's cubicle and talk.

  •  When the email strand becomes very long, assess the status of the communication and determine when to intervene with a phone call or a meeting or initiate a new consolidated email. Recommended guideline is a maximum of four to five notes on an email chain before intervention.

  •  Privacy - there isn't any. When you have to deliver a confidential or sensitive information, emails is the worst medium. Remember, an email can be forwarded without your knowledge or consent to anyone. So beware !

Can you think of any other situation when emails do not work ?  Have you experienced any situation when emails failed ? 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Worried CEO

The CEO of the organization was sitting with his hands on his head, eyes closed, terribly upset.  As I entered his office,  he looked up with worried eyes. 

"Hey ! What is wrong ?" I was concerned. 

"I  am really worried ! And puzzled.. ! I don't know what is wrong . I have done everything possible , but still there is no improvement in the productivity of the employees ! My job is under fire ... bosses from the Head office in Chicago have asked for an explanation ... !"

I offered him a glass of water . I waited till he gulped it down. " Well, can you summarize what steps you have taken to improve productivity ?"

"I have hired managers from the best technical institutes. I have personally reviewed the project plans, estimates and conducted periodic reviews. I have introduced piped music and office parties to motivate the staff, I have even increased the salary of the facility by using whatever little discretion I had .... but still there is just NO improvement in the productivity ! In some of the projects , the productivity has decreased ... !"  He panted . 

"Hmm... " I said . "What about the softer aspects ? "
"What ..? "
"The softer human aspects , which have  hard effects on the organization ..."
"Please elaborate
"Ok. Let me take you back to the basics.  

Recall the famous experiment which changed the concept of Leadership - The Hawthorne Studies. These experiments were conducted for an organization named Western Electric, in Chicago. the experiments were done by the great thinker Elton Mayo in conjunction with Harvard and MIT. It was a period when the Scientific management theory (Taylor) was in vogue which elucidated the use of time and motion and shop-floor methods of management.

First experiment : The Great Illumination  

This experiment wanted to conclude the relationship of physical working conditions with the productivity of the workers.

Two teams of 6 people each were created.  Initially both teams were allowed to work under the same level of lighting so that they could acclimatize to that level. After a period of time, the illumination of one of the group was varied. First , the illumination was increased. And the productivity increased. After some time , the lighting was decreased. But still the productivity increased !  The productivity kept on increasing till the team could not see at all. Strangely, the productivity of the second group , where the illumination was unchanged, also increased !!

So, the relationship with the physical condition and the productivity remained inconclusive. 

2nd Experiment :  Relay team experiment 

6 females were chosen to be a part of the experiment.  There job was to assemble telephone relays .  They were provided with snack breaks and reduced work time and their productivity soared !  After some time, their breaks were discontinued and then their original work timings were again restored. Their productivity remained constant. Then they were given autonomy to create their own processes and again their productivity increased.  But , here too,  strangely when everything was back to the original settings, their productivity , still continued to increase !

So, it was concluded that incentives did not make much of a difference to the productivity, though autonomy  did make some difference. 

But then ... what was the missing link ? 

3rd Experiment :  Interview experiment 

About 21000 employees were interviewed by a large number of interviewers.  In the interviews the feedback and the ideas of the staff were meticulously noted.  The workers talked about varied aspects - not only related to work but their family problems and how it affected their work , they talked about their supervisors etc.  And all through the experiment, the productivity soared and soared  !!   This experiment gave a "ventilating effect" and the workers could speak out their hearts . They felt that their problems are reaching the management and they are being heard. 

What made the difference ? 
Softer and social/human aspects led to the improvement in the productivity . 

In all the three experiments , the groups were aware that they are being observed. They got a feeling of  participation in the decision making of the organization.  The feeling that they are also important to the organization , their cooperation is being sought by the management in solving  crucial problem, boosted their productivity. A feeling of self respect, dignity made them feel integrated with the organization which in turn had an effect on their productivity. 

The "I" feeling got replaced with "We" feeling. Suddenly, the problem of the organization became their own problem. 

"So you see, the Softer and the human aspects made all the difference ! " 

"Hmm" he said , deep in his thoughts "Yeah ... , I am getting your idea ... I think I know what I should do ... "

I smiled. 
"Thanks a lot !
"You are welcome ! It is my job as a coach to make you see !" 
As I stood up to take my leave , I grinned my mischievous smile. 
"What ?" He said 
"Well ! All the three groups knew that they are being observed. So a fourth experiment was done - the wire cabling,  where they were unaware that they are being observed,  and again , some startling things were noticed ... "

"Tell me ..."

"Some other time .... now you might get even more confused"  I winked and went out of his office into the glorious sunny morning  ...