Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Mind the Rumour !

One day, I was busy working at my desk , when Rahul and Priya ,  two of my brightest team leads came and stood hesitatingly near my desk.  I looked up to smile at them but one look at their faces and I put my laptop away and asked them to sit. 

"Hey ! What is the matter ? What happened ? Why are you looking as if someone has died ?

I tried to lighten the atmosphere. 

"Er ... "  Rahul faltered. 

Priya was the outspoken one . 

"We have been hearing certain things and we are worried ... " she blurted out. 

"Well ... Tell me ... what is eating you up .. " I sensed things were a bit serious .

"We heard that our organization is planning to wind up this India facility from next month . Is that true  ?  " Priya was anxious.

I was flabbergasted.

"Who said that ? I have not heard of  any such thing. .... !"

After a lot of probing, I realized that a big rumour has infected our office ... just like a virus.

It had stemmed from the fact that as an expansion plan,  we were opening another centre and it was nearing completion.  Some of the departments were planned to shift there and arrangements were being made .

After understanding, I laughed and took them out for a cup of coffee. Over the cuppa, I told them the following folklore from Bengal , a place in the eastern regions of India.

Here it goes ....

A person crossing a field felt that there was something in his mouth and spat it out. It turned out to be a heron's feather. He could not understand how it had got into his mouth and it perplexed him a great deal. When he reached home he told his wife about it but asked her not to tell anyone lest somebody put a bad interpretation on it.

His wife was even more intrigued by the strange occurrence and felt the need to confide in someone. So she swore her neighbour to secrecy and told her what had happened.

Perhaps it was the way she told it, but her neighbour got the impression that several feathers had come out of the person's mouth. She was shocked. However, she assured the woman that such things could happen and advised her not to worry about it.

"Please don't tell anyone," said the wife.

"My lips are sealed," said the woman. But she was longing to tell someone and when she saw the washerman's wife going past, called her in and told her the whole story. Only, she made it sound as if a whole heron had come out of the person's mouth.

"Never have I heard of such a thing," said the washerwoman's  wife, her eyes popping with excitement, "and he being a vegetarian and all that, but one can never tell..."

She went away promising not to tell anyone but on the way she met her friend and the whole story sort of tumbled out of her mouth. Perhaps in her excitement she said 'herons' instead of 'heron' or perhaps her friend just imagined she had said herons but when she told her husband the story sometime later, she was emphatic that a whole flock of herons had come out of the person's mouth.

And as the story spread "herons" became "herons and other birds" and then "hundreds of birds of all shapes and sizes". 

By evening the whole village and several other neighbouring villages had heard the story and people began to arrive in droves at the person's house to witness the miraculous happenings there.

The poor fellow steadfastly denied that any bird had come out of his mouth but nobody would believe him and everybody begged him to demonstrate his wonderful power of producing birds from his mouth.

Finally in exasperation, he asked them all to sit in front of his house and when they had done so ran out of the back and hid in the jungle where he remained several days till the excitement had died down and the people had realised that the news was false.."

"So , you see Priya and Rahul ... it is the same situation here... But you did the right thing that you came and clarified this ... " I smiled. 

They were happy again ! 

"You know what rumors are like--like a jar full of moths. Once they escape, they're all over the place."  RHYS BOWEN

Sunday, 19 July 2015

It is my Son's Birthday !

We are living in a Global Village.

Distance is not a barrier any more. Telephone, VOIP, Video Conferencing, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Viber  have shrunk the world.  We are able to do business in any part of the world from anywhere.  Think of Uber and Ola Cabs and the brisk business that these aggregators are doing . 


We have advanced leaps and bounds in  terms of technology but have we been able to keep pace with adapting with the cross cultural nuances as well as  cross cultural communication ? 

I doubt it. 

Cross cultural communication is a complex subject and  can sometimes put you in very awkward situations.  I will narrate an interesting anecdote which will elucidate this. 

A typical situation in a Software MNC. 

A project is in progress . The customer is a big US Financial firm. The software is being developed in India , in Bangalore.  It is a Friday evening. As usual,  the schedule is tight and the project team is chasing the deadline of delivering it on Monday

Everything is almost ready , but a last minute change needs the testing team to test and verify things before the final delivery. 

"Abhishek, please get two people from your team to work tomorrow - Saturday  on this and then we will be good to go on Monday " , the Project Manager tells the test lead before leaving office. 

"Ok Sir !"

Abhishek,  the test lead, plans for  Neha and Srini, the two most competent testers for working on Saturday. He asks Neha to call up Srini and convey to him the plan for the next day.

Both of them work the full day on Saturday on the software build but still there are are few test cases which are pending.  The customer wants a conference call with Neha and Srini 

"Hello Srini ... !"  Anne , the customer representative greets the team.

"Hello Anne !"
"What is the Status ?"

"Well, my part is over , but Srini still has a few pending test cases which needs execution "  Neha quips.

"Srini ... will you be able to complete them today ? "

"Anne... the execution of these test cases takes about 6 hours time and it is already very late ..."  Srini tells in an apologetic voice.

"Hmmm... are you coming tomorrow for this ? "

A  long pause at the other end.

"Srini ....

"Yes.... Anne ..... "

"Yeah ...

"It is my son's birthday tomorrow ... we have to go to the temple in the morning and in the evening Payasam will be cooked .... "

"Ok ! Thats Great ! A very happy birthday to your son ! "

That was the end of the conversation

What do you think happened next ?  

The project was NOT delivered on Monday. 

Srini, when he said that it was his son's birthday and payasam etc, he thought that Anne would understand that he could not come for work on Sunday.  In India, going to the temple on birthdays and spending time for worship is sanctimonious. 

Anne , on the other hand, did not understand this cultural aspect . She politely wished "Happy Birthday " for his son , but assumed that Srini would be executing the test cases on Sunday so that the deadline can be met !  

Indeed , a classic case of  cultural differences a well as communication !

Every country has its way of saying things. The importance is that which lies behind people’s words.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Offence and Punishment

A few days back , I got a frantic call from one of my Managers.  He had served a "Disciplinary Note" to one of his subordinates . After receiving the note, the employee was very upset.  Through his tears , he had called up his manager and apologized and wanted the note to be reverted.

"What should I do ? Should I request the HR for the reversal ? He is so upset and demotivated ".  The manager sounded despondent.

It was a firm "No" from my end and I substantiated with the following reasons. 

First of all , any disciplinary action is always a well thought out and progressive process.  Second, as a leader and manager, though we should be empathetic towards the team, we should be able to clearly separate the heart from the head. I know, I know .... it is easier said than done, however that is how it is.
Third and very important, it would set a bad precedent in the organization and denigrate its culture.

There is a thin "line" between Discipline and  Learning.  

Literally . 

If you remove "line"  from the word and suffix it with an "e" , it becomes   "Disciple" !  From our childhood, we have linked discipline mainly with school  where we gather knowledge as well as learn discipline.  And it is so very important to allow for discipline at Work

At work, we deal with people and not androids. And people will always falter, some more , some less .  We will be sometimes late for office, violate company rules etc.  And this is where discipline come in. 

In most of the organizations, the disciplinary action progression goes like this :
  1. Informal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Suspension
  4. Termination
Suspension and termination are very formal but for the warnings , the following are the guidelines :

  • The verbal , informal warnings should be done as soon as the indiscipline is noticed. The timing is important, since the reprimand loses its sheen with time.
  • Hold on to your words if you are angry. You should be in control of the yourself as well as the situation.  Sarcasm is also a strict "No-no".
  • Talk about the "What" and not the "Who"
  • Open your ears. Listen attentively with an open mind and heart. 
  • State the problem clearly and let him know the expectation. Provide constructive criticism.
  • Ask the employee what he thinks about the problem and how it can be solved. In most of the cases, the solution comes from him and he then takes complete responsibility and ownership of the same.
  • At the end, use positivity.  If needed , comment on a few accomplishments achieved by him and how you are sure that he would improve
Last , but not at all the least, if at the end of the interview you think the employee is remorseful and realizes his mistake, the manager can go all out and give him assurance and gain his trust.  

But ... again ... be careful .. you have to be a good judge to do so.  

Personally, I think that the best situation in an organization is to have highly motivated teams who can self monitor. 

This is the ideal scenario where whenever any infraction occurs, the team member is warned verbally by the leader. In the second instance,  the employee is asked to affirm that the offence will not recur.  The person is asked to take a day off and decide whether he will be able to keep his word or not and decide whether he wants to continue in the organization.

In this Utopian situation, the reprimand process becomes redundant since everyone in the team have their own goals and become self controllers. 

Discipline begins when we take action to correct the situation. And while doing so, we learn and grow. 

Cheers !

Monday, 29 June 2015

Teeny Weeny : Rain ....

Rain on my heart,
Drench it with your silvery , sparkling drops ....

Calm my soul with your  incessant pitter-patter,
Wash away my agony,
Guise the tears streaking down my face.

Help me pause .....
Let me soak in the moments ...
Swamp me with love ....
Immerse me in the soft luminescence of life ....

The paper boat is washed away,
The earthy aroma of the soil has faded...

Torrential rain ,
Deluge me ....
Enfold me in your showers ...
Rejuvenate my leaves....
Make me green again  ....

Come to me ,
Once More ....


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
Looking forward to your comments.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Customer's Pencil

This is a true life incident and I often talk about this during my sessions on Quality. 

The age of "Customer Satisfaction" is passe ... now is the age of "Customer Delight" . 

All the organizations talk about their own methods of nurturing their customers . Vishal Sikka, the CEO of  Infosys is personally monitoring the top 100 customers of the company - taking care of their stated as well as unstated needs. The senior management of the companies address their teams about how innovation should be deployed so that the customers are not only delighted but they become ecstatic !

But we have to be careful.  

First we have to understand what our clients need. The cut and dry requirements which we document , do they meet the business purpose ?  What we think as "innovation" and "value addition", do the customers really think so ? It might be the other way round ! 

This anecdote will elucidate the point. 

A very large MNC had ordered the manufacture of fancy pencils with the name of the company embossed on it , for business promotion and gifts.  Accurate specifications , design , colour etc was provided . It was a huge order for the pencil manufacturing vendor and they were all geared up to do their best . 

After lots of thought the Vendor put a colourful, scented eraser  that the top of the pencils as "value addition". This was supposed to be the surprise element ... promotion of customer delight and ecstasy. 

When the consignment was delivered, the customer was furious !  He did not want the pencils ! 

"Why did you put these erasers ? Now you will have to pay for the losses which we have incurred  ... and it runs into millions !"

What do you think went wrong ??? 

It so happened that the client had engaged another vendor for the manufacture of the pencil boxes.  

And with the eraser fitted on the top, the pencil did not fit in the box ! 

So.... whenever you think of Customer Delight or Customer Ecstasy or Value addition, first think of "Conformance to Requirements" .... and this anecdote !!

Cheers and have a nice weekend !

Monday, 22 June 2015

14 Traits of a Bad Boss

We all love Bad Bosses in Reel life. 

The stylish Miranda Priestley in The Devil wears Prada , Bill Lumbergh in Office Space and Bhavani Shanker in Golmaal .

But in real life, Bad Bosses have the most harmful effect in your job, heart, mind and soul.  

It is said that 90% of the people quit their jobs due to their immediate supervisors.  

Sometime or the other, all of us have experienced bad bosses . But I have also seen that when people like us become bosses, we too tend to become nasty. We forget our own experiences.  

And trust me, it is really easy to become a bad boss ! 

Test Yourself as a Boss

Check these and answer in Yes or No

  • You do not forget the mistake or failure of  your subordinate and cite those as examples whenever there is an opportunity
  • You hardly have an appreciative word for the good work done but do not take even a minute to point out the faults
  • You take the credit for the good work done, but for failures, your fingers point to your subordinates
  • Whenever any suggestion is given to you by your subordinates, you smirk and make him feel like a fool
  • Constructive feedback angers you
  • You are a control freak and micromanage your team
  • You  are actually spineless and do not have courage to tackle a difficult situation though you know that it is the right thing to do
  • You do not keep your word and  back out by saying "I never said this"
  • You do not trust your team and lack integrity
  • You admonish your subordinate in front of  this juniors 
  • You fail to motivate your team . You think that "fear" is the only way to make the employees work.
  • Use disciplinary measures inappropriately when simple, positive communication would correct the problem
  • You generally speak offensively and your team is not comfortable with you. They never come to you for guidance
  • You think that you have the answer to everything
Your score :  1 point for each "No" and 0 for each "Yes"

14-12 points : Excellent Boss - people bloom under you
11 - 8 points : You are a Good boss , try to improve though
7 - 4   points : Hmmm.... beware ... you are fast turning into a Devilish Boss
3 - 0   points : You are the worst Boss ever !

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Prisoner's Dilemma

On 23rd May, 2015, one of the greatest minds of the current times succumbed to death in a car accident.  John Forbes Nash Jr . - the great mathematician.  

 His theories in Game Theory, Partial Differential Equations, real algebraic eqautions and differential Equations have revolutionalized the world of Mathematics, Economics , Accounting, Computer Science and yes - Philosophy ! 

he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi. In 2015, he was awarded the Abel Prize for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.
In 1959, Nash began showing clear signs of mental illness, and spent several years at psychiatric hospitals being treated for paranoid schizophrenia. After 1970, his condition slowly improved, allowing him to return to academic work by the mid-1980s.[4] His struggles with his illness and his recovery became the basis for Sylvia Nasar's biography, A Beautiful Mind, as well as a film of the same name starring Russell Crowe
I find his concept of Nash Equilibrium and the application of Game Theory in Prisoner's Dilemma very fascinating and in this post, I will elaborate on these. 

Nash Equilibrium, stated simply goes like this. 
Anita and Sunita are in Nash equilibrium if Anita is making the best decision she can, taking into account Sunita's decision while Sunita's decision remains unchanged, and Sunita is making the best decision he can, taking into account Anita's decision while Anita's decision remains unchanged.  
tated like this, this theory of Strategic decision making , made me feel that isn't this how we all come to decisions ? We do it instinctively , with our years of wisdom and experience.  But think about the situation, where we do NOT have enough experience and hence no instinct at all ... in that case, this mathematical approach helps us strategise and formulate the best decision to be taken.   There lies the greatness.
Prisoner's Dilemma is another very interesting concept of Competitive Decision making derived from the Game Theory. I will explain with the following example :
Tanu and Manu have been arrested for robbing the Namo Savings Bank and placed in separate isolation cells. Both care much more about their personal freedom than about the welfare of their accomplice. 

A clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each.  
He said : You may choose to confess or remain silent. 
  • If you confess and your accomplice remains silent I will drop all charges against you and use your testimony to ensure that your accomplice gets 20 years in jail
  • Likewise, if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, they will go free while you will be locked in the prison for 20 years.
  • If you both confess I get two convictions, but I'll see to it that you both get early parole and get discharged within 8 
  • If you both remain silent, I'll have to settle for token sentences on firearms possession charges and you will be released in 6 months.
If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer before my return tomorrow morning.”
Here we see that the outcome of  an individual is dependent on the decision taken by the other person ! 

The prisoners’ dilemma has applications to economics and business. 

Consider two firms, say Coca-Cola and Pepsi, selling similar products. Each must decide on a pricing strategy. They best exploit their joint market power when both charge a high price; each makes a profit of ten million dollars per month. If one sets a competitive low price, it wins a lot of customers away from the rival. Suppose its profit rises to twelve million dollars, and that of the rival falls to seven million. If both set low prices, the profit of each is nine million dollars.

 Here, the low-price strategy is akin to the prisoner’s confession, and the high-price akin to keeping silent. Call the former cheating, and the latter cooperation. Then cheating is each firm’s dominant strategy, but the result when both  to “cheat” is worse for each than that of both cooperating.

In our day to day working too we have take decisions . 

And maybe, instinctively, we follow the Game Theory.  As explained in the above examples, we see that when both "Cheat" or both are "against" each other, the result of the decision is worse that if we considered the welfare of the others.
Cheers !

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Miser and his Gold

One of my favourite Aesop's tales goes like this .... 

Once upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and gloat over his gains. A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up the gold and decamped with it. 

When the Miser next came to gloat over his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair, and raised such an outcry that all the neighbours came around him, and he told them how he used to come and visit his gold. 

"Did you ever take any of it out?" asked one of them.

"Nay," said he, "I only came to look at it."

"Then come again and look at the hole," said a neighbour; "it will do you just as much good".  

The moral of the story is : "Unused wealth is a waste". 

In organizations, the leaders and managers are often very stingy with their appreciation.  They fear that a good word might give a swollen head to the team member . Also, the managers might be branded as lenient. 

This is one of the greatest folly which managers make. 

A nice word of appreciation, a smile of encouragement and a line of  gratitude to the deserving people make them shine and work even better. Motivation increases. Teaming , trust and ownership increases. 

So Leaders do not be miserly with your Gold - your appreciation. 

Else, one day you will see that all your good team member have left you and you are looking at a hole !

Spread Joy !

Monday, 27 April 2015

Teeny Weeny : Unshed Tears

Unshed tears linger on my lashes,
My heart bleeds,
You can see my smile,
But cannot understand my eyes.

I seem to have everything,
But for these I do not crave,
I need just a little bit understanding
a little bit of  thought and care.

I know you care for me,
but  it is not reaching me  anymore
Maybe we are so close
That we have grown apart and more ....


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
Looking forward to your comments.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Message from a Leader about Vision

My dear Team,

The new financial year has set in.   

There are a lot of things to do and several thresholds to be surpassed.

If I look a year back,  I can see that the IT team has come a long way.  We have set up the R&D Team. We have implemented complex modules like Autojob Allocation,  Recruitment , Domain  etc.  We have initiated the Helpdesk team and the application.  We have set up the testing team. Recently we have started performance testing of applications .  We have achieved ISO 27001. Our process are better  that what it used to be.  We have initiated the Manesar revamp.  We have started using tools like Mantis and SVN. We have implemented the Timesheet system.  Tracking of  IT helpdesk tickets of the Circles ,  training  and the new appraisal system have started working.

Yes, we have done a lot. 

But we have a LONG way to go

I am writing this email to all of you to make you understand what plans I have for this year and what I want to achieve - with the co-operation and hard work of ALL of you.  The following are there in my wish list :

  •  Do It Right the first time :  Before we start any task , think, analyse, ask questions, clarify and then do your job.  Proper analysis, unit testing ,  performance testing will help us achieve Zero Defect Delivery.

  • Measure , measure, measure :   If we cannot measure anything, we cannot improve. I want the team to be managed using data, objectively.  You will count the number of defects found in your code, no of outages , no. of times the application goes down, the number of bugs found in the production.  These data should be on your fingertips.  These numbers will be written in your appraisal form.

  • Ownership :  I want all  of us to take complete ownership of our work.  We have to take charge, initiative to figure out if things go wrong in those items.

  • Analysis and Preventive action :  We are generating a lot of data . Example defect data, performance data, helpdesk ticket data. These do not have any  meaning if do not analyse them and come up with areas of improvements.  We have to improve continuously. Taking small steps.  And you are empowered to make these improvements.  Only you can do it – since you are the ones who have to go thru the pains of waking up all night to rectify things,  get rebuked for closing tickets and repairing networks, hardware etc. Small suggestions, ideas, trainings will go a long way in improvement in our quality as well as timeliness of our work.

  • Faster & better : The times have changed. Everybody wants things to be done instantly. While we should take care that we do not deliver buggy code or fixes,  we have to be sensitive to the fact that we have to turn around much faster than what we are currently doing.  We might have to change some approach for this. Better collaboration, communication and good relationship between our team as well as other functions are crucial too.

We have to scale new heights. There are a lot of expectations of the Senior Management from all of you.  We have to become bigger and global in our outlook. We need fresh, innovative ideas, initiative , hardwork and sincerity and proactiveness from all of you.

And believe me ,  I am there to help you achieve these goals.  Never hesitate to reach out to me if you think the above vision is being sabotaged or you need support or have some innovative ideas . 

Looking forward to a fruitful , successful, fulfilling and enjoyable year ahead.

Cheers !