Friday, 31 January 2014

Yes, You can !

Once upon a time, there was a huge tree, below which lived a group of chickens.

On that tree ,in a nice little nest, lived an Eagle , protecting her four eggs

One day, there was a storm and one egg fell from the nest on the hay kept near the chickens. 

The chickens hatched the egg and when a baby eagle came out , they looked at it in wonder.  They loved the baby eagle and wanted to protect it

Days passed and very lovingly and with lots of care, the eagle was raised like a chicken. The eagle loved his home and family and believed that it was a chicken. While playing he sometimes looked at the sky and saw the birds soaring high. He pined to be as mighty and strong like the eagles and wanted to zoom and soar high in the blue firmament. 

"I wish I could fly as high as them ... !" he sighed

The chickens laughed at him

"You cannot fly. You are a chicken and chickens can neither fly nor soar ". 

The little eagle stared at the sky and looked at the Eagle's nest on the tree, dreaming that he could fly like them . But every time he talked about his dream, he was told it cannot be done. It is impossible. 

As he grew older, he stopped dreaming. He believed firmly that he could never fly.  He lived his life like a chicken and one fine day, died , with his dead dream. 

Dream and dream BIG 

Believe yourself and not what others tell you.  You never know how close your are towards your goal.  

Believe that you are the Eagle and not what other Chickens tell you. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Secret of Success

Yesterday I attended a function which was arranged to felicitate a renowned Bengali Actor - Soumitra Chatterjee (wikipedia, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.  As the veteran actor walked into the stage, I was amazed.  Standing tall and erect, he was looking so very handsome.  His face was glowing.  He looked so full of life ! 

And then when he started speaking, I was completely mesmerized. He recited a couple of poems.  His diction, oration and pronunciation was spellbinding. In fact, I think he had improved upon all these aspects !It made me wonder. What was his secret ?  His lust for life ? 

As I listened to him talking about his childhood, how he grew up , his passion for theatre and acting,  

I noticed that he talked about his failures and how he overcame them. He talked about how much more he wanted to do. He talked about the areas he wanted to learn and improve upon ! 

  • Make your shortcomings your happiness :  All of us have weaknesses.  Being aware of them can be the seeds of happiness.  I had come to a strange conclusion sometime back after I attended the the alumni meet of my school. I noticed that my classmates who were plump in school were thinner than the ones who were slender in school. The plump ones knew their shortcoming and took care of themselves. They had turned their shortcoming to their advantage !

  • Compete with Yourself : Be your own opponent. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we should battle with ourselves. Setting personal growth goals, tracking and measuring them and finally coming out victorious gives a greater pleasure than forever musing over and getting pessimistic about what we have not achieved compared to others. 

  • Develop your Intrinsic Self :  The strength to overcome all difficulties , possessing a strong will which is unyielding makes you self confident and calm. This is your greatest strength. Once we sharpen this ability, no difficulty will be able to sway us.  Criticism will not be able to touch us.

  • Be a Snowball : Every moment, each experience has some lesson hidden it it.  If we can see the hidden lessons in both good experiences and the painful ones, we will grow just like a rolling snowball.  We have to keep the snowball rolling even if there are pebbles and dirt on the way. Every situation that we encounter and every person whom we meet in life is a teacher. We have to learn to recognize the pebbles and gather the snow of the lessons learnt and keep on rolling to grow mentally as well as  spiritually. 
As I write this post, I say a silent prayer.

God, help me to be positive till the last moment of my life.  Let me never tire of learning. Let me yearn to strive towards excellence. Give me the zeal for life , love and learning  like Soumitra Chatterjee.  

Let my mind be filled with peace and love and help me to shun jealousy and  hatred .

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

How to get the pay Hike that you want

A brand new year has started.  

There is something about January. Somehow I always feel optimistic, hopeful and unabashedly make new year resolutions. Some of the resolutions happen and some don't, nevertheless that does not deter me from making resolutions the next year.  For me, the new year has a special fragrance .. just like the fragrance of a newly bought book when you open it and put your face inside the book and take a deep breath. It fills me with joyful feelings.  I wish all my readers a very joyful, fruitful and constructive new 2014 !

As the new year sets in , the hope of getting a good Pay hike is there in  everybody's heart.  People who see the glass as half full think that the hike will be good and the folks for who the glass is always half empty pout their lips and think "Hah ! The manager is God !  All my good work will be overlooked and small gaps in my performance will be highlighted ... ". 

But are all of us really prepared for the appraisal discussion and the salary negotiations ? Every year, after the discussion, don't we wish that we had asked for a wee bit more ? The following are 6 tips about how to negotiate pay raises.

Negotiation is all about making a joint decision when the parties involved have different preferences.

  • Prepare, Prepare, Prepare :  Do you have enough data and information about how much people at a similar role make, both inside and outside your organization ? Do you know the perks, incentives, bonus ? Get real information and data to substantiate your arguments.

  • Communicate your worth :  Most of the organizations have forms where the goals are listed and periodically the accomplishments by the employee is documented there. First identify and then communicate your value to the organization. Give concrete proof of how you have saved or made money for the organization or created value in terms of quality, branding etc. Foe this, you have to be very clear about your own strengths and value addition to your employer.

  • Advocate and Ask : In salary negotiations , the golden rule is "Don't Ask, Don't Get" .  many people, including me, make the mistake of thinking that "My work will talk ... why should I ?". But this is a great folly.  We are our best advocates.  But remember,  do not hurry and bring up the topic of salary hike. Let your supervisor bring it up. 

  • Stay focused on the Goal : It is very important to understand what your goal is.  Are you looking at immediate satisfaction or are you positioning yourself for future satisfaction ? Be clear in your mind while you negotiate.

  • Get into your employers shoes : Ask yourself .. Are you being reasonable and fair ? Do you think your boss will be able to explain your hike to his boss ? 

  • Brace yourself for bad news :  Do not over react. In case you do not get what you want, be willing to consider a change of job . Do not create a scene and "quit on the spot". 

Remember, that effective negotiation occurs when issues of substance are resolved and human relationships are maintained, if not improved ,  in the process.   

And yes, managers must be aware of ethical conduct during negotiations. 

So, all the best and go ahead and get the raise that you want !

Again, a  Very Happy New 2014 !

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Sonya ,George and Alligators

This is a famous story named Alligator River Story, which I use in my classes on perception , attribution and learning.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Sonya who was in love with a man named George. George lived on the shore of a river. Sonya lived on the opposite shore of the river. The river that separated the two lovers was teeming with man-eating alligators.  Sonya wanted to cross the river to be with George. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed away by a heavy storm the previous evening

So she went to ask Sindbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to go to bed with him before he takes her across. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivanhoe to explain her plight. Ivanhoe did not want to be involved at all in the situation. 

Sonya felt her only alternative was to accept Sindbad's terms. Sindbad fulfilled his promise to Sonya and delivered her into the arms of George. When she told George  about her amorous escapade in order to cross the river, George cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and dejected, Sonya turned to Slug with her tale of woe. Slug, feeling compassion for Sonya, sought out George and beat him brutally. Sonya l was happy to see George  getting his due. As the sun sets on the horizon, we still hear Sonya  laughing at George. 

Rank the characters (  1 is the best and 5 is the worst) - Sonya, George, Sindbad, Ivanhoe and Slug in terms of their behavior and level of responsibility and their values and beliefs.  

Thursday, 19 December 2013

My “Gandhi-giri” experiment at Workplace

Gandhi-giri or Gandhi-ismdoes it really work in our day to day work in office ? What do you think ? 

Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violence, integrity, truthfulness, honesty etc – does it sound too bookish and idealistic to be followed in practical scenarios where politics and rivalry are rampant ? Though I am a great fan of Gandhi, these questions plagued me too.  

So , I decided to do an experiment and in this blog post , I will describe my experiment with Gandhi-ism at my workplace.

As in any organization, there are managers who are effective and liked by his/her team and there are managers who are not so effective and usually not liked by his/her team but in general have good rapport with the senior management.

There was one such manager of the latter kind who invariably tried to put me down in some way or the other. My team loved and respected me and were really peeved whenever they heard or saw something which went against me.  

One day , in my weekly team meeting, I saw people looking at each other as if they wanted to say something. My team meetings were open and everybody had the right to speak and say “No” or be the devil’s advocate. I sensed something and smiled and nodded – triggering them to open up.

Ma’m” they said, “In the management review meeting yesterday, you were on vacation and XYZ said our team could not  complete the assignment on time... quality was poor ..... “ and they went on and on. 

Ma’m, this is always the case, whenever you are not around, all these things are being told ... We said something on your behalf, but since so many senior people were around , it would have sounded inappropriate if we said anything more ..... 

They were really hurt.

I was silent for a few seconds and then smiled.

Well ... Is it the truth ? “
 “Do we have the data to prove our statements ?"
“Do you think XYZ did the right thing?”

I smiled again – trying to keep my stance by remembering Gandhi.

Ma’m,  XYZ’s team has asked us to help them for the next 2 weeks for completion of their tasks ... but we will not do that...we will mess up their work and it will serve them right ....

You will do no such thing” I said. “We will help them fully and after completion of the task, we will send XYZ a thank you note saying you liked helping his team and in future, if the need arises, you will help them again ...

The team was stunned and nobody spoke for a few minutes.

I said  “If we also act in a retributive way, then what is the difference with us and them? Let us follow the path of truth and peace and non-violence ...”

Though grudgingly, my team did exactly what was told to them.

After a few weeks , again we had to help XYZ’s team and we did the same , with a smile on our face.

After two months, we had the Management Review again.

XYZ praised my team profusely. After the meeting, he personally came to me and again thanked me for the co-operation for which he could meet the deadline which was so important for his promotion. 

In his eyes , I could see the guilt and repentance for his earlier behaviour ... words were not needed.

I looked up at the sky and thanked Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his leadership principles.  

My experiment with Gandhi-giri was successful.

Do you have any such experience to share ? Do write about them in the comments.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Teacher Who had a Gun

The little boy clutched his father's fingers and hid behind him.  

He was afraid and ashamed. He had almost failed  in Maths and his father , after looking at the report card, was really worried  about the future of his son. 

"You have to help my son improve in his maths "

"But ... I have never taught maths to a 11 year old kid ....  and I really do not have time as I have to prepare my own Semester end reports ... " the young man with curly hair, earnest eyes and honest smile lamented

"I understand. I just want you to help him with the maths for these two months of his  summer vacation... "

"But ... "

"I know you will be able to make a difference ... I have heard you ask intelligent questions and go to the very depth of any issue. That is exactly what I want my son to imbibe from you ... I want you to invoke interest in Maths in my son... marks really do not matter so much .. and I know that you will be able to ignite the interest in him ... "  The wise father persisted. 

So , from the next day, the lessons started . 

The LCMs,  HCFs, Mensuration, brackets, simple equations. Questions were invited and encouraged. Stories about Pythagoras, Archimedes, Einstein were discussed.  Tips and tricks were talked about . The boy looked forward to the lesson.  After a month, a mock test was conducted by the teacher.  The boy got about 70%.  

The teacher laughed and told him " You know, I have a gun.  If you make silly careless mistakes, I might use that "  . The teacher told that  in good humour. but it was etched deeply in the mind of the little boy. 

For the annual exams, the boy worked very hard and during the exams , he was pleasantly surprised when he was able to answer all the questions. 

When he got the report card and saw that he had secured 98% in maths, the boy was overjoyed.  He took his report card and ran to show it to his teacher.  He panted excitedly as he held out his report card . With flushed face and bated breath he waited.

The teacher looked at the report card .  He looked up, smiled  and said  " You know, I have a gun.  And I might use that. What did you do with those two marks?"

And the boy remembered this forever and became one of the most renowned mathematician of his times.

The quest for perfection. A leader imbibes this in his followers. And help them attain the peak of excellence !

Do you know of any such leader who inspires you to reach that level ? Do share your experience. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

6 Ways to Communicate Effectively

Communication is a marvelous thing. 

It is the glue that holds relationships , organization and in fact the whole world together.We share ideas, directions, goals, expectations, emotions, feelings through communication. But sadly, very few of us communicate effectively.  "Noise" interferes with the effectiveness of communication and acts as big bad barriers to communication. 

These are six ways how we can deal with the "noise" or "barriers" to keep the free flow of communication flowing effectively. 

  • Keep the physical distractions away :  How many of you have experienced this ? Your subordinate has fixed up a meeting with you. He comes in and starts talking ... the phone rings ... you answer "Yes, I have received your message.. will reply in a jiffy .." . The team member starts  again " Actually I am facing a problem ... " You say " Hmm.". and look at the email and start typing the reply .. He stops .. You do not take your eyes away from the monitor but say " Go  on .." . He says something and someone from the accounts department enters the room and puts forth some documents to be signed.... After this interruption, the subordinate again starts... You look at your watch , get up hurriedly and say... "Uh ... I am late for a meeting ... Why don't you do this ... take a jab at the problem yourself and let me know ... I am anyways there for you ... " . Next time this starts happening,  drop everything else, close the door, lean forward and pay attention to what he is saying and reciprocate.  Both of you feel good and satisfied about the effectiveness of your communication

  • KISS : Keep It Short and Simple.  Semantics play a huge role in effective communication. Suppose your are issuing a memo or  writing emails, pay close attention to your choice of words. It is much more effective to say "Send me your recommendations for consideration " rather than "I solicit your wished recommendations for the necessity of the action and after due applicability of the policy structure it will be deemed for consideration "

  • Do not let mixed messages confuse you : Sometimes during communication, the verbal words spoken and the body language contradict each other. For example, a person might say " I agree with you " but his tight fists, strained forehead and tense demeanor conveys that he does not agree with you. The body does not lie.  So look at the body language and understand his message during the communication and act accordingly.

  • Keep the Feedback flowing :  This is very important for effectiveness of  the communication.  It is the tendency of the speaker to only "tell" rather that "tell AND listen". If you are not listening, then the communication is only one way and incomplete. One best practice which I have personally followed is to summarize the main points of the conversation and repeat before ending. Similarly,  if you are the speaker, encourage questions and feedback. 

  • Avoid the "Mum Effect " : If you are at the upper end of the hierarchy in an organization,  be careful of the "mum" effect.  Usually for fear of retribution for bringing bad news, unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes, or just to please you, there is always a tendency to keep "mum" and filter vital information. This usually leads to poor decision making at the organization level due to improper communication .  It is best to work on building relationship and trust so that communication is effective and strong between the floor and the senior management.   In my previous post  hyperlink -> (30 minutes of walking around), I have elaborated on MBWA (management by walking around)

  • Choose the proper medium of communication :  Last but definitely not the least is the proper choice of medium.  Sometimes only face to face communication works, in some cases emails are more effective and in some communication town hall meetings work better. Nowadays we have so many means and mode of communication - phone, bbm, sms/text, video conferencing, email, letters ... that sometimes we are drowned in information. So, select the medium with care so that the communication is effective. 
 Do you have any more suggestions ? Do write in the comments below.

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  ...