Saturday, 27 April 2013

Who is Greater ?

Long time ago,  in the faraway  land of  the Golden Silicon Valley,  there were two large Kingdoms ruled by two mighty kings named Vikram and Amartya.  Both of them ruled with righteousness and equity.  They  gave judgments without partiality, hatred, ignorance, or fear. The people of both the kingdoms led a happy, safe and content life. 

One day King Vikram went to the big jungle to hunt tigers. Coincidentally, King Amartya also asked his charioteer to take him to the same forest to look for a particular kind of flower which his queen wanted for decorating her hair. Suddenly, the two kings came face to face in a low cart-track with precipitous sides where there as no space for a chariot to get out of the way ! 

The charioteer of Vikram ,the king said to the charioteer of  King Amartya  

 "Take thy chariot out of the way!"

But he said, "Take thy chariot out of the way, O charioteer! In this chariot sitteth  the great king Amartya " !

Both the charioteers were in a fix. Then they decided to check who was greater of the two in terms of age, wealth, creed, kingdom etc. 

It was found that  both were lords of a kingdom three hundred leagues in extent; and that in respect of army and wealth and the countries in which they lived,  their caste and their tribe and their family, they were absolutely equal and at par !

Then the charioteer thought, "I will make way for the most righteous".  And he asked, "Tell me about your King's virtues "

Then the charioteer of the King Vikram,said :

"The strong he overthrows by strength,
The mild by mildness, does Vikram;
The good he conquers by goodness,
And the wicked by wickedness too.
Such is the nature of this king!
Move out of the way, O charioteer

Then the charioteer of the King Vikram said :“Now tell me , what are the virtues your king has?"

The charioteer of the King Amartya said

"Anger he conquers by calmness,
And by goodness the wicked;
The stingy he conquers by gifts,
And by truth the speaker of lies.
Such is the nature of this king!
'Move out of the way, O charioteer!"

And when he had thus spoken, both Vikram the king and his charioteer alighted from their chariot. And they took out the horses, and removed their chariot, and made way for the King Amartya.

Managers, How do you conquer your team ? Like Vikram or like Amartya ?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Is Distraction robbing you of your very own 86400 ?

I have a target of writing one blog post every Wednesday. But for the last two weeks I am lagging behind. Too many tasks, too many different activities and too many distractions ..... 

Consider this - I have to work on my consultancy work, my coaching assignments,  there are some social welfare activities that I am involved  in , which needs attention and on top of this certain household chores and usual problems.  I try to fit in everything in my own 86400 seconds of my day. How do I fit in the things which rejuvenate me  - like reading, music, blogging and writing ? Sometimes I get the feeling that I am being robbed of my 86400!

As I had written in one of my previous posts on PRODUCTIVITY , I am a great believer in To-do lists and Time management. And one of the the main deterrent to time management is distraction or interruption

How to tackle distractions ? I have thought about it and would like to share my tips : 

  • One of the biggest distraction is email and social networking. We always want to be available (Read the post FOMO). From today I will set aside about 30-45 min per day  for emails and networking. I will try to spread it across my day during the most unproductive periods of day.

  • Phone calls  - If I am in between some important task, and my phone rings, I will ignore it or cut it short by saying I will call back .

  • Time thieves : Some people are time thieves who have nothing to do except distract you from your work. Try to recognize them and tackle with them appropriately. They come in various avatars -Negative people, gloomy people, adoring people and lost people.  Cut them short , be selfish about spending your time on them - save your precious 86400 !

  • Me !!! - I have seen that sometimes when I am working , my thoughts get carried away towards some news ideas or projects rather than which is on my desk right now ! I will keep a notebook handy and jot down the ideas and get back on track on my current task .

  • Learning to say "NO" - Sounds easy, but it is very difficult. When people request you or demand that you do a certain task, they think that you am catering to only their job. But that is not the case.  You have to put yourself first. We can say say no politely and give a reason. People do understand. It is we who need to practice saying "No" . 

We have to keep our goals in mind and if possible in front of our eyes. Stick the Weekly to-do list on your work table. And relentlessly strive to protect the gift of 86400 seconds you get every day from God. 

Hope to get back on track on my weekly blogging . 

So if you see another post from me after a week, be sure that the above tips are working !

Saturday, 6 April 2013

How well are you managing your 80 ?

This  week was really bad for me.  

There were lots of meetings  -  most of them urgent  ,  adhoc tasks ,  too many transactions to be completed both at work and at home and so on and so forth. I usually plan and make goals for the week.  So , on Friday evening when  I sat down to check how much I had achieved of these goals,  I was really dismayed !   I was reminded of the 80-20 rule and I would like to elaborate on this.

This may come as a surprise, but despite all the talk about life balance, we  can benefit  by introducing a little imbalance into our day. I'm referring to the 80/20 rule, which is rooted in what is known as the Pareto Principle.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian scientist.  In 1906, Pareto observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. Pareto's theory of predictable imbalance has since been applied to almost every aspect of modern life.

When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of the results. Learning to recognize them and then focus on that 20 percent is the key to making the most effective use of our time and effort.

Finding the 80/20 ratio is crucial for maximizing performance in any business. We have to identify the products or services that generate the most income (the 20 percent) and drop the rest (the 80 percent) that only provide marginal benefits. Spend the time working on the parts of the business that we can improve significantly with our core skills and leave the tasks that are outside our best 20 percent to other people. Work hardest on elements that work hardest for us. Reward the best employees well, cull the worst. Drop the bad clients and focus on upselling and improving service to the best clients.  

Sounds easy? But in reality, the identification of the 80 and the 20 is the most difficult.

Sample situations :

·  80% of process defects arise from 20% of the process issues.
·  20% of  sales force produces 80% of  the  company revenues.
·  80% of delays in schedule arise from 20% of the possible causes of the delays

There is also a management theory floating around at the moment – which may be a bit controversial , that proposes to interpret Pareto's Principle in such a way as to produce what is called Superstar Management. The theory's supporters claim that since 20 percent of your people produce 80 percent of your results, you should focus your limited time on managing only that 20 percent, the “superstars”.

The  80 - 20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of  our time and energy on the 20 percent of  our  work that is really important. We should not just  "work smart",  we should work smart on the right things.  

Another term for this rule is "The Vital Few and Trivial Many."  As a side-note , another of Pareto's controversial theory  is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment – but this is another topic altogether and I will talk about this some other time !

Apply the 20 to work for your Vital 80 and enjoy your  weekend !

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Magic of Positive Visualization.

Have you ever tried Positive Visualization ? Have you experienced the magic ? 

In my positive thinking workshops I usually recount my own experiment with Positive Visualization.

About 12 years back, I had joined a US based Software MNC and I was located in the Delhi, India office.  The organization had a very well defined induction process. The group of new joiners went through a week long induction session and apart from learning about the organization, its vision, mission, policies etc., they were supposed to pick up a problem which they saw in the  organization and present the solution on Friday, the last day of their induction week, to the top leaders of the organization.

I had joined as a Project Manager and was the senior-most in the group. I had never worked in an MNC and somehow I was tongue tied and at awe. Because of this , I hardly communicated and contributed. A few people in the team noticed this and I knew that they were sneering at my back. So, on Thursday evening, when we had to decide as a team , who would deliver the final presentation, these people said “Well, Ananya is the project manager. Who else , but she should present !

I was very very nervous. I knew that if I failed to speak or make an impression, my job was at stake. And more importantly, my self respect in my own eyes was at stake !

I returned home at 8 pm. After dinner,  I sat with my notepad and started writing. I wrote each and every thing which I would say in the presentation the next morning.  I wrote details of when I would pick up the marker and go to the white board, when I would move my hands, when I will pause and of course I wrote each and point of the content. After I wrote it, I closed my eyes and visualized myself... talking... smiling... presenting confidently.  I visualized myself several times. I also visualized how the audience will applaud when I finish my presentation. It was in the wee hours of the morning that I caught up on 2-3 hours of sleep.

The next morning, I went to  the conference room about 30 min prior to the presentation and practiced. You bet , I was still so nervous.  But magic, when the presentation started, and I picked up the marker and went to the white board and then started my presentation , it happened exactly like I had visualized. The presentation ended with a big round of applause!

I relished the look of the people who thought I would fail. I was amused to see their jaws drop in surprise.  And the most important part .... I regained my self confidence. I could respect myself again !

That is the magic of Positive Visualization.

Try it. 

You will be amazed . 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Amazing Story of the Mumbai Dabbawallahs

This must be the nth time when someone is writing about the Dabbawallahs (It is a Hindi word which means packed lunch delivery boys). But the story is so amazing that I still cannot cease to wonder about it !

Four thousand five hundred semi-literate dabbawallahs in Mumbai (Bombay, in Western India) collect and deliver 175,000 packages within hours.

 Who are the dabbawallahs ? How do they do it ?  What is the driver for their success ?

Descendants of soldiers of the legendary Maharashtrian warrior-king Shivaji, dabbawalas belong to the Malva caste, and arrive in Mumbai from places like Rajgurunagar, Akola, Ambegaon, Junnar and Maashi. Mumbai's 5,000 dabbawallahs - ferry nearly 200,000 home-cooked meals from the outer suburbs into the city each day.

Forbes magazine  awarded the dabbawallahs  a six-sigma performance rating, which ranks them alongside the likes of GE and Motorola in terms of efficiency and quality of service.

Some numbers…. :
  • 175000 boxes are transported every day, it has to go to the right person, it has to start from a point of origination, go through transshipment in the infrastructure which is the public infrastructure in the trains of Mumbai in all seasons including the monsoon and it has to arrive on time in the right place in the right box."
  • 4,500 semi-literate members providing a quality door-to-door service to a large and loyal customer base.
  • Tiffins are collected from homes between 7.00 am and 9.00 am
  • After Lunch hour  the whole process moves into reverse and the tiffins return to suburban homes by 6.00 pm.
  • The railway provides sorting areas on platforms as well as special compartments on trains traveling south between 10.00 am and 11.30 am
  • If 150 tiffins are to be delivered in the Grant Road Station area, then four people are assigned to that station, keeping in mind one person can carry no more than 35-40 tiffins.
  • It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to search, assemble and arrange 40 tiffins onto a crate, and by 12.30 pm they are delivered to offices.
  • The dabbawallah have to make a minimum investment of two bicycles (approximately Rs 4,000), a wooden crate for the tiffins (Rs 500), at least one white cotton kurta-pyjama (Rs 600), and Rs 20 for the trademark Gandhi topi.
  • Service charges vary from Rs 150 to Rs 300 per tiffin per month, depending on location and collection time. Money is collected in the first week of every month.
  • Typically, a twenty member group has 675 customers and earns Rs 100,000 per month which is divided equally even if one dabbawala has 40 customers while another has 30. Groups compete with each other, but members within a group do not.
  • Meetings are held in the office on the 15th of every month at the Dadar

After the customer leaves for work, her lunch is packed into a tiffin provided by the dabbawala. A color-coded notation on the handle identifies its owner and destination. Once the dabbawala has picked up the tiffin, he moves fast using a combination of bicycles, trains and his two feet.

A BBC crew filming dabbawalas in action was amazed at their speed. "Following our dabbawala wasn't easy, our film crew quickly lost him in the congestion of the train station. At Victoria Terminus we found other fast moving dabbawalas, but not our subject... and at Mr Bhapat's ayurvedic pharmacy, the lunch had arrived long before the film crew," the documentary noted wryly.

The key ingredient to this smooth, effective and efficient system is teamwork and process. Logistics is the  mantra for building competitive advantage, the world over. Mumbai's dabbawalas developed their home-grown version long before the term was coined.

Their attitude of competitive collaboration is equally unusual, particularly in India. The operation process is competitive at the customers' end but united at the delivery end, ensuring their survival since a century and more.

This amazing system has been made the case study of top management institutes like Harvard and Stanford universities. The dabbawallah  representative were  invited to the Royal wedding of the Prince Charles !

Their motto seems to be "As long as people need tiffins we will be there to supply them."

Kudos to the  dabbawallahs and long live teamwork and  processes !

Friday, 8 March 2013

Who is fit for the role of the CEO ?

There is a very popular story in Indian Mythology called  Vikram aur Vetaal. Vikramaditya was a very powerful , popular and just King.  The legend says that the King,  in order to fulfil  a vow, had to carry a corpse (betaal) on his shoulder to another plac -  in absolute silence. Enroute, the Betaal would narrate a story and pose a question to the King . If the king knew the answer , he had to reply. Else ,his head would  be split into a thousand pieces.

I present this series of episodes based on real life scenarios. At the end of the incident, there will be a question which you will have to answer.  This is the second in the series . The first one is : The Curious Case of the Unwilling Emailer.

The Dilemma : Final Decision 

In  the wonderful land of Boogle,  there was a wise and just king named Barry Sage.  He had a few reliable and efficient managers who helped him in the day-to-day running of the empire.  Boogle prospered under the patronage of Barry and  his team of managers. The people of  Boogle were happy and satisfied with their work  and the amount of money which they earned.  The citizens were constantly innovating and improving their work  as well as their life and the King gave huge rewards for the innovations which were implemented and added value to Boogle. 

One day, Barry, the King was not feeling well. He consulted the royal physician and after examining Barry, the doctor was grave. He said " O King ! I have given you medicines, but it is my duty to inform you that your days are numbered. You will live not more than 4 weeks". 

The king was very brave and did not worry much about his impending death. Being a wise king, he was more worried about his kingdom Boogle. He wanted a good successor, who could look after his  dear land.  He thought deeply.  He had five managers but he had two stars amongst them.  John and Eric.  Both of them were equally efficient and capable.  He was in a dilemma. Who should get the throne after him ? He thought day and night but could not come to a conclusion.  At last he called  Steve, his 70 year old mentor. Steve was loved and respected by all the people of Boogle for his wisdom and loving demeanor.

"Steve, please guide me . Who is the right person to sit on the throne ? John or Eric ?"

Steve smiled and looked at the King. "O King ! Give me some details about them".

"Both of them are  intelligent, tough, determined and have vision. John is technically very sound , Eric is a very good negotiator . Both of them have good listening and decision making abilities. They are very trustworthy and can deal very well with ambiguity. Both of them have a strong drive to achieve.  They go along well with the people and can get things done on time. I am really very confused"

Steve said "Ok. I will ask you a couple of questions. This will help me in making the decision"

"Who can assess himself realistically and can laugh at themselves?"
"Who is optimistic , even at the face of failure ?"
"Both of them are optimistic but Eric sometimes loses heart when he fails. But  he collects himself up very soon and tries harder to succeed which he normally does"

"Have you ever seen them cry or get emotional ? "

Barry was silent for a while.

"I have never seen Eric crying. I have seen him go through very tough situation, but he had never cried. He has very steely nerves, I have never seen Eric get emotional. On the other hand, I have seen John cry twice. Once when his subordinate lost his arm while fighting in a battle and another instance was when a lady  working in his team  implemented a innovative idea which saved the kingdom from environmental damage. He cried because he was able to motivate her to succeed - she had thought she was not capable of anything, but John had confidence in her. I think John is a bit soft  ............. So, is the decision made ?" Barry asked. 

Steve smiled 

"Yes, the decision is made. John is the correct choice !"

Dear readers, can you tell me why Steve chose John for the role of the King , aka CEO ?

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Are blue Jackals recognized in organizations ?

Once upon a time , there was a jackal in a forest by the name of  Chandaraka. One day, Chandaraka went to a nearby village in search of food. Unfortunately, a group of dogs  started chasing him. He was frightened and fled in panic. He entered a washer man’s house and  trying to hide himself, the jackal slipped and fell into a tub full of indigo. Later,  when Chandraraka reached the forest, the  animals failed to recognize him and were frightened to see the strange blue creature.

Taking advantage of the situation, the cunning  jackal schemed quickly.  He asked, “Why are you running like this? There is no need to panic. I am a unique creation of God. He told me that the animals in this jungle had no ruler and he had nominated me as your king. God has asked  me to rule this forest. Therefore, all of you can live safely under the cover of my protection.” 

The innocent animals believed the shrewd jackal and accepted him as the king. The jackal appointed the lion as his minister, the tiger as his assistant and the wolf as the gatekeeper. After allotting positions to the animals, the blue jackal banished all the jackals in the forest for the fear of being recognized. He was the  self-proclaimed king and led a luxurious life.

One day when the blue jackal was holding his court, a herd of jackals were passing by , howling to their glory. Suddenly blue jackal forgot that he was a king and not an ordinary jackal anymore. Unable to control his natural instinct, he howled at the top of his voice

Soon, the animals realized that they had been fooled by a jackal. In a fit of anger, all the animals, at once pounced on the blue jackal and killed him.


In the corporate world too , there have been numerous instances where the people at the top of the hierarchy try to con their subordinates by not being transparent and use politics and shrewdness to stay at the top.  

But , like the story, does justice always happen ?  

What do you think ? Do write your comments !

Note : This is a popular story from Panchatantra -  Indian collection of short stories with a moral 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Should Leaders Laugh often and much ?

I laugh quite loudly and people say that I smile a lot.

A few years back, a smart lady joined as a Project Manager,  reporting to me.  After a few weeks,  after we had our weekly meeting, she muttered, as if to herself, " I guess, I too can smile more, I thought leaders should not  smile.... " . 

This is a common misconception amongst many of us.  It is a universally accepted fact that smiling and laughing shows that a person is happy. Smiling also signifies submission and shows "Hey ! I am not a threat!". All organizations have some hierarchy and when a person who has a higher designation smiles, s/he appears more accessible and humble and vice-versa !  The team / followers open up to the smiling  leader and this makes the leader's tasks easier to get done.  

It is interesting that just like yawning, smiling too is contagious. It causes people to reciprocate by returning the smile, albeit even when both are faking it too ! Just like  The Echo Effect !  Professor Dimberg of Uppsala University, Sweden conducted an experiment. 120 volunteers were exposed to happy, scowling and frowning faces and were told to make expressionless or opposit faces. The experiment showed that the volunteers did not have a total control over their facial muscles. Though the volunteers tried hard, but the twitching of their facial muscles told a different story - they were mirroring the expressions which they saw . So it proves that the more you smile, the more positive reactions people will give you. 

Another amazing story worth telling is that of the Norman Cousins, who are famous for their book "Anatomy of an Illness", later made into a film. After being diagnosed with a collagen as well as heart disease, his doctors told them that their days are numbered and they will live in excruciating pain till they finally die.  The cousins watched and re-watched every funny movie which they could find and after 6 months, the doctors were incredulously surprised to find that their disease was completely  cured !

Smiles and laughter are the best way to bond. Remember how we giggled and laughed when were were in school ?  And if you think hard, the bonding of that period are the strongest compared to the acquaintances we make later. As an adult we laugh about 15 times a day compared to a pre-schooler who laughs 400 times !  As a ritual, in one of my project teams, whenever a new person joined the team, we played a game called "Hot Seat". Once he sat on the seat, he was supposed to answer just any question which was put across to him. It used to be a hilarious session and the team bonding was just superb !

Smile constantly. It will make people wonder what you have been upto and whether you know something which they don't !

I feel that a leader should smile and laugh often and much . Then team feels at ease with her and the working environment becomes conducive and healthy. But beware,  it is easy to catch a false smile - which does not reach the eyes. A false smile usually has an exactly opposite  effect and the team will feel that you are a liar ! 

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you,
Weep, and you weep alone ....

Rejoice, and men will seek you ,
Grieve, and they turn and go "  - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Want to improve your productivity ? The simplest way ...

It is not easy.  Not easy at all !  

Six months back when I quit my 9 to 9 job and started working independently, I had a vision of my day. I would start my day with an hour long walk, then browse the newspapers, do some miscellaneous work and then from 10 am to 6 pm , I would have the whole day to myself !  I will have a 15 min power nap in the afternoon and then about 20 minute of  breathing exercises after 6 and then one hour of reading before going to sleep, I had thought.   Ah ! Finally I am the owner of  all my time ,  what a wonderful feeling it was !

But it did not happen that way !  I soon realized that time just passed by and all the things that I had thought that I would accomplish just did not seem to happen. I felt that I was more productive when I worked in the office . It took me about a month to figure out what was wrong. 

 I had stopped making my To-Do list.  

If there is one thing which I have to swear upon for time management, it is the quintessential To-Do list.  Here are some tips :

  • From daily to weekly : If you are a first time in creating to-do lists, start with a daily list , but eventually  broaden it till it covers the full week. This gives a better span for your activities and you will have a good sense of accomplishment when the week is over.

  • Write them: Write everything - make sections for official and then personal , sundry etc.  Once you get the hang of it, you will see how useful it is for planning and organizing your day

  • Prioritize  :  Once the tasks are written, you should prioritize. First tackle the most difficult one or the one which falls in the second quadrant of time management - important and urgent.

  • Cross the completed tasks : Once you have completed a task, cross them on the list or put a big tick mark on it. You will feel really good . Trust me !

  • Carry them over : There will always be tasks which will not be done on a particular day.  Carry them over to the next day's to do list

I have practiced creating and following a to-do list and I can guarantee you that once you start , you will be able to gauge the improvement in your productivity. 

Give it a shot and see your tasks get done like magic !

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

How to get Power

A leader should have the power to motivate people and get things done

Most of us think that power comes only with authority and designation.  

Legitimate or positional power comes from designation and job title.  

Reward  power comes if you have the ability to give bonus or punishment . 

Expert power comes from knowledge , if you are the subject matter expert on a particular field, but the power which I am going to talk about is called Referent PowerThis power usually comes from the personality and character of the leader.

I am sure you must have come across an individual in your organization who draws people towards him or her. He or she is so respected , loved and trusted that people come to him/her for decision making, guidance and mentoring. The person may not have any link with the project of the follower, but she has the power on the people. And according to me, this is the best form of power which a leader can have. 

  • These leaders get more power by giving it away. Real power is not about what you do, but what you teach others to do.   
  • When a leader enables others, s/he extends the power. If your follower can succeed  and achieve, you get more power . Your power gets established .
  • People with real power are not push-overs. Those who are afraid of losing power, cling to it and are afraid of sharing power. A real leader empowers others and aligns them with his values

Real power comes with passion, integrity , empathy, empowerment and when you treat them with respect and  help them shine !