Archive for the ‘Leadership’ category

On Accountability and in being accountable

January 28, 2012

In my earlier article on the ‘blame game’, I suggested we never use the term blame, instead replace it with ‘accountable’; as it has an inherent sense of ownership and association with the task assigned such that if it fails, the one would own the accountability of its failure and not pass the buck.

The term ‘accountable’ and ‘accountability’ find different interpretations and applications; most commonly understood with a negative connotation – unfortunately.  Most of us if asked when these words would be used; quick would be our answer to point out situations where something failed or was under delivered and someone were held responsible for it.  Our perception of these terms always associates it with something negative.   What is interesting though is that the system we have implemented in our teams or organizations is largely designed to highlight negatives, failures.  This is because we always fear the worse, as a result we always device mechanisms and processes to prevent the negative.  We are so focused on this that we literally fail to realise that there exists a green zone of positives, of new ideas, innovations and doing something differently.  And it is because our innate desire is to prevent the negative, valuable terms like accountable and accountability bear a negative perception.  Let’s face it, we always use them when we have to find a head to load the failure on; don’t we?

But with the economic conditions and market dynamics changing so rapidly; it needs us as leaders and managers to really stop fearing the negative.  We have been trying to prevent the negative and what happened with the economic downturn worked as a forest fire just ended up demolishing some businesses completely.

What if we were focused on the positives and clearly establish the risks involved; and safe guarded ourselves against the risks but stayed focused on the positives?  May be we could have had very good market conditions.

In this tone, I would like to highlight that accountability and thus being accountable is an extremely powerful thing.  Accountability does not only equal being responsible for something, but instead it means we ‘own’ it and have thus the responsibility to see through its successful completion.  It’s like a father being accountable for taking care of his family; thus making sure there is regular income, proper facilitation of life essentials and security, quality education for children etc. become his responsibilities.  He needs to be ‘accountable’ first – own it first – and then will he become responsible.

Accountability is always towards the objectives and responsibility is towards various goals leading to successful completion of these objectives.  If increasing the volume share penetration within the existing clients is an objective; then ensuring proper delivery processes, maintaining quality standards, process review and audits, team development – training, etc. thus become the responsibilities of a manager.  The thing he would be accountable for is increasing the volume share penetration but everything that it takes to do so becomes his responsibility.

At the same time, when someone is made accountable for an objective, it also requires him to be provided with:

–         Sufficient knowledge, skill sets needed to meet the objective

–         Appropriate decision authority required for successful completion of the goals

–         Autonomy in choosing the approach he as a leader would deploy to accomplish the objective

–         Enough man power and resources needed to get the job done

–         Guidance and knowledge sharing from previous experiences which will come to aide or become a reference point

–         A proper review mechanism and validation framework – built along with the person made accountable

–         An objective assessment of progress and assistance in developing course correction methods

If the above are provided only then can you rightfully call someone accountable, otherwise you are merely finding a head to attribute the failure on to and setting it up for failure.  As a leader assigning accountability to someone in your team, you are responsible to provide him/her with the right framework to ensure success and move forward in the positive areas.

Accountability thus involves a lot of faith, trust and belief from the person above in the corporate pyramid who is assigning the objective and from the people below who would work with the person made accountable to accomplish the objective.

I strongly believe…

Accountability is actions toward or involving others that reflect the integrity of the person you are and what you want to be!

Thus being assigned the accountability and in being accountable for an objective is an extremely powerful thing; because you now ‘own’ something and have to make sure you lead it to success.

Stop the Blame Game, will you…

January 19, 2012

In the recent past I had to sit through a problem solving meeting.  To be honest, I was not keen on it as I could anticipate what would happen.  The meeting felt like a never ending saga without any resolution in sight.  No sooner the problem was put forth, one of the most common things [unfortunately] happened…everyone involved went on defensive and tried to justify that they did what they could do best but it was the other person who did not do the job as planned.  The other person, seeing that all eyes were on him, said the earlier group of people did not provide him enough information and time to finish his job.  This went on for over 2 hours, which was 1 hour over the scheduled time and the meeting had to be ended as there were other things demanding attention and presence.  The problem was not even discussed let alone arriving at the solution.

The meeting, according to me, was a sheer waste of time and energy.  What went wrong?  Well, no sooner the problem was put on the table, various stakeholders involved started to blame someone or the other for a failed job.  They were only focused on ensuring they are not blamed for the debacle.  No one was focused on even looking at the problem objectively and find ways to solve it.  The moderator of the meeting tried to add some focus but in the midst of so much of reactivity the whole purpose of the meeting was side stepped and it turned to a dirty blame game.

Now these were all qualified, experienced people who were sitting there.  But in the spirit of defending themselves, they blamed others for the problem or failure.  They clearly failed to understand and realise that blame game never works.  They ignored a basic element that those who indulge in blame game or those who blame someone else for a failure always fail to realize an opportunity to learn, improve and perform; but more importantly demonstrate principles, culture of accountability.

What is worse is that if one person starts to blame the other, the other will inadvertently blame the third….and the cycle continues.  Blaming is contagious, it is viral.

It wouldn’t be surprising that those teams or organizations where a culture of blaming prevails always fail to be creative, learn from the past and improve, are never innovative and productive risk takers.  In other words, they are the laggards in their stream of business.  By merely being exposed to someone attributing blame for a failure to someone is enough have people turn around and blame others for completely unrelated failures.  Blame game is parasitic in nature, it robs you of a great opportunity to learn from a failure and evolve.

I often asked myself, why someone would blame others for a failure; weren’t they all in it as a team.  But I feel that if the focus is to protect one’s self-image then it is easier for people to be on defensive and the moment they are on defensive, they start to find someone whom they can attribute the burden of failure to.

This can happen in a team or a department or at an organizational level; where the impact grows manifold in the respective order.

It is a lot to do with what culture you have established in your team or the organization.  A culture of psychological security is thus one of the most important things a leader or a manager needs to focus on, it prevents people from worrying about their self-image there by not being defensive and restricting the tendency to blame.

I personally would like to suggest we never use the term blame, instead replace it with ‘accountable’…it has an inherent sense of ownership and association with the task assigned that if it fails, the one would own the accountability of its failure and not pass the buck.

So how do we build this culture to stop blaming and create a sense of security and accountability amongst our people?

Here are a few thoughts I have:

[1]  Set clear expectations and accountability for tasks and define single owners for these tasks.

[2]  Put a blanket ban on fault finding or the blame game.

[3]  Call it a collective failure and DO NOT ALLOW anyone to blame others for a failure.

[4]  Encourage people to own up failures, make it clear and demonstrate that it not only gains them respect from their peers and seniors but also gives them loyalty of their team members.  This sets the tone for security amongst the team.

[5]  It is important to hold people accountable, but do so objectively and with an aim to help them evolve from the failure.  Make sure to emphasize that the goal is to learn from mistakes, not to humiliate those who make them.

[6]  Creating a culture where learning rather than avoiding mistakes is the top priority.  Call a mistake or failure an opportunity to learn and evolve, this will help to ensure that people feel free talk about and learn from their errors.

[7]  Set the right example, reward people those who have made mistakes and have evolved learning from it.

[8]  Share examples of how blame game ruined the opportunity to do well and how someone took the accountability of failure and led a turnaround… share success stories.

What do you think?  How do you propose to stop the blame game in your team or organization?

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Setting Right Expectations

January 8, 2012

The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine.  She appeared rather upset, so I enquired about it.  She was upset because she had a bad meeting with her boss; in simple words her boss was not pleased with the work she had done on a task that was assigned.  This is a normal scenario you’d expect in a day to day office life.  But was it really a normal scenario?  I asked myself.

I know of my friend to be a very efficient worker, a very good manager who knows her trade very well.  She is very diligent, focused and would her 100% to any task she undertakes or is assigned.  Her record by far as been exemplary with her organization and there has been hardly any instances of failure for her.  Then why did she have a bad meeting with her boss?  What had gone wrong?  I wondered.

When I probed her I realised very quickly that she was meant to fail on the task she had been assigned with.

Her boss was earlier questioned by his seniors for slow progress on a strategic internal project.  He had to react and find a quick solution to address his seniors’ concerns and discontent.  So, as is the normal tendency, he called a few of his team members and started to assign tasks to them…without really validating if his team members were the right ones to handle those tasks.  My friend handles the operations division and is very efficient with it.  She was assigned one of the tasks which a marketing team member needed to handle but because the marketing team did not do their job well on this project, he did not want to involve them or seek their support.  This was not something she had done before or invested any time in learning it – it was never a part of her role.  Her boss wanted quick results, in fact he wanted the tasks to be completed within a few days; which according to me was a tough ask.  In any case, my friend did take up the gauntlet and started to read up on articles and reference materials available to equip her with needed information and thus understand how she can accomplish the task assigned to her.  Obviously she was treading into a territory not of her own and thus would stumble.  And during the very first review discussion, her boss came down on her very hard.  He clearly expected her to be as good at that task as an expert in the marketing team would’ve been.

I am sure by now you would have figured what is wrong here.  An incorrect mapping of complexion of the task with competency of the individuals it was assigned to.  You cannot have a donkey run in a derby; it is meant for horses… just as foolish as having a fighter pilot fly a passenger aircraft; he is not trained and specialised for it.  Now it does not mean he cannot fly the plane or a donkey cannot run the race but more likely that they would do a shitty job at it.  This is a simple thing which we quite often tend to forget in our reactiveness.

But this is not the only lesson learnt.

I think the bigger and a more important lesson learnt here is about setting the right expectations.  I do not think her boss clearly understood what he was doing and in his reaction to the situation, ended up doing a very poor job at assigning the tasks and setting wrong expectations.  But at the same time, I feel, my friend also needed to make sure she understands the task assigned very clearly and help her boss set the right expectations; she should have explained her lack of experience and knowledge on the task assigned and thus established a need for support either from her boss or from the marketing team individual to successfully fulfil the responsibility.

Expectations, I believe, is a two way street.  It just does not have to come from the top to the level below it, but it needs to be other way round too to make sure both the parties involved appreciate what it takes to do the job well and do it right the very first time.  Expectations thus need to:

[1] Very clear, non-ambiguous

[2] Very well understood

[3] Aptly realistic

I believe managers and leaders must work hard to explain their initiatives and create conditions for their people to succeed when they implement them.  But equally so, followers need to work to fulfil their responsibilities and also ensure that they clearly explain areas where they will need assistance, support and direction.  The leaders need to exert their management skills to engage employees and set clear expectations and likewise the employees need to ensure that they confirm their understanding of the expectations and are upfront on seeking any support or training needed to help meet the expectations [at the least].

Here are three questions managers can ask to ensure that employees follow through on their responsibilities.

[1] Do your people [team members] know what is expected of them?  Too often we assume people know their jobs. People may know the specifics, but often lack knowledge about how what they do helps the entire organization.  People need to be told, and reminded, of the importance of their work.

[2] Do the employees know what they can expect from you?  It is important to let employees know that you as their manager are available to them.  The definition of ‘available’ may vary based on cases and from employee to employee.  Like; for new hires you might be more teacher than boss, for experienced team members you will play the coaching role while for the team, you will be the supplier of resources as well as their champion.

[3] Do employees know what is expected of each other? While managers need to make certain employees are doing what is asked of them, employees must also do their part to coordinate with each other.  Whether a self-managed team makes its own assignments or a manager makes the assignments, what matters most is that employees know who does what so work can be completed in a timely and responsible fashion.  This allows for a great opportunity for leveraging experience and skills in the team where every team members knows and understands how their skills can be utilized not only for their tasks but those for others too.

[4] Are there any potential causes for failures?  It is very important to ensure that a manager clearly assesses if the team members are capable enough to carry out the tasks assigned and at the same time carefully evaluate risks and potential causes for failure.  These could be cases like the one explained above where a team member has low or zero experience handling a task but has been assigned with it.  This helps the manager be prepared to provide necessary guidance / training, plan for corrective measures and be a coach available through the course of task execution.

[5] What is/are the support requirements, or is there any training needed to help proper task execution?  This question is more to the team members who need to be upfront and clear about what kind of support they will need from their peers or seniors to help execute the tasks or any training / guidance they would need.  The objective is to make sure the expectations are set clearly by the team members for the managers, who can then help them with proper support and guidance.  It will also enable the manager make sure he device proper checks and measures to help ensure tracking of the task and signal any concerns to aide triggering of backup plan or corrective measures.

If managers expect their employees to be accountable, then they must set the right example.  These leaders need to handle tough issues, volunteer for tough assignments, and go the extra mile to help the organization and more importantly their team members to succeed.  This will automatically set the tone for team members to put in their best efforts to fulfil, meet or exceed the expectations set for them.

‘D I P’ – An interesting phenomenon

January 3, 2012

I have always been intrigued by downturns, failures, slump, downslides; but more than this I am interested in how often we claim to have been caught by surprise when things take a turn for worse.  It’s always been interesting to me to see how some of us consciously try to defend by saying that we were caught unaware, or that everything was going good so far but this sudden slide…or we become creative to find some vague reason to justify that we were or are not at fault for this slide and the downturn.  Then there are some who just don’t understand what happened or why it happened and continue to keep wondering in vain.  And finally there are those little few, who actually tried what they could but still experience the downward spiral.  In reality, no one likes to fail or be a part of a failure.  But what [I think] we do not understand is that a failure is probably the most decisive and an extremely fertile phenomenon; only if we want to make a difference.  For those who don’t understand what happened or don’t care about it at all, they would never ever make any difference; so let us hop over them and move on to those who lose their sleep over this sudden downslide, those who want to make a difference – now these could be those who gave a reason or just accepted the state and want to start looking forward or rather upwards.

We always try to start our efforts in understanding what happened by critically analysing ‘what’ happened and try to establish ‘why’ it happened in a hope that we could uncover the errors, fixing which will help initiate the resurgence.  If so is the case, then why do we continue to see cases of repeated downslides, or why we are unable to successfully resurge.  But on the other hand we see some who have emerged completely rejuvenated, re-energized and firing on all cylinders.  Why do some teams or organizations go through a slow process of recovery while a few come out with a solid recovery and in fact lead a wave of improved services, offerings and performance – they lead the pack in their field of operations and often become the new paradigm thinkers of their space.

The ‘D I P’ thus is an interesting phenomenon.  To quench my curiosity and improve my understanding of this classic and; in some context; a desirable phenomenon, I studied quite a few teams [some of which I have worked with directly or indirectly], a few failed or semi-successful recoveries, a few out and out successes.

Here, I have tried to condense my understanding and present an illustrative schematic with various PHASES in DIP through TIME and have taken a shot at answering the How? Why? What? of this phenomenon.  I am continuing to improve my understanding of this phenomenon and would request you [the reader] to share your experiences and thoughts on this topic.

Stage 1: Ripples [Early Signs]

These are really the indicators any manager can clearly see and thus act.  But because of our method of functioning [in most cases], we generally are found fighting the fire and being reactive.  Fortunately, these ripples start slow and have spaces of time in between them.  But because we are mostly caught up in ‘urgent’ tasks [not necessarily ‘important’ ones] and are in reaction mode, we fail to utilize the period after a ripple to device and implement longer term corrective measures.  Our KPI’s may not always show us the right picture or the gravity of a potential situation or for that matter a pattern which is taking a shape.  With time, the spaces between ripples reduce and they become frequent; and this time they are spanned across different aspects or parameters of service.  It appears like rat holes.  And as always we are busy fighting the fire, one after the other… which exhausts and burns out teams’ and organization’s critical thinking abilities.

Stage 2: Slide … the ‘DIP’

Ripples are the causes and its effect generally is a pretty sudden disturbance.  This disturbance is a downward slide which takes place in a very short period of time, with hardly little time to think and course correct.  It generally results in poor client satisfaction, loss of client confidence and business, teams having very high stretch index with all their time invested in patch work resulting in eventual burnout.  Nothing seems to be going right.  The question thus is, why does this happen?

Dip generally is due to lack of timely course correction when the ripples have started to occur, wanting to address a problem from a longer term perspective instead of a mere short term patchwork.  In other cases, a dip occurs if the teams or organizations are not having enough foresight and agility to adapt to external environment and its conditions.  More often, it is observed that teams which slide into a downward spiral have silos of operations with very little interaction tending to lack of end to end knowledge which is needed to remain agile and in line with market conditions.  In some cases, lack of transparency in terms of organization’s vision, strategy, goals and / or there is no alignment of the systems-processes-people to these goals.  Overall, I feel this is largely to do with ‘culture’ in the teams or organizations.

3: Reconfigure – Restart

But thankfully, a dip always allows for a period of reconciliation, reconfiguration and re-initiation.  It always provides for just enough time and duration to correct the fatal issues, for implementing the right practices both at the team and organization level and set the tone for a desired culture.  If an organization can rightly utilize this patch of time and work hard, they can change the course of their performance from negative to positive; significantly increase client confidence resulting in higher client retention followed by improved client acquisition.  It allows for organizations and teams to reinvent their core and focus on what makes the biggest difference to their clients and more importantly to the individuals in the team, it helps them maximize the utilization of individual talents towards a common unified goal.

As for every situation, there could be one of the two outcomes – Positive Recovery or Negative Slump.

4: Outcome – Positive Recovery

Here are some observations I have made from my analysis of those who have used a dip to their advantage.

  • This is the time for the leaders and managers to show courage and lead by example.
  • Proactively analyse the causes, blanket rule to ban the blame-game.
  • Do not take on or focus on too many things.  Focus only on a few critical and high impact items.
  • Set a very clear direction for the short term and explain its impact on the medium and/or longer term objectives.
  • Be willing to take risks, being unconventional and thinking out of the box… participative management is best suited in such situations.
  • Set clear targets and place accountability, give autonomy and be prepared as leaders to back up the team for what they do.
  • Lay very high emphasis on the right culture and never compromise on it.
  • As a leader, always walk the talk.  Never doubt the potential of the team and their ability to accomplish targets.
  • Continue to instil vigour, motivation, and energy.

5: Outcome – Negative Slump

There are some unfortunate cases where some teams or organizations fail to utilize the most fertile phase of the dip and experience at times a fatal slump.  What I have observed is that these teams or organizations…

  • Have inward looking managers or leaders.
  • Resort to placing the blame instead of analysing what cause the failure and wanting to fix it.
  • Fail to instil right culture or correct the cultural issues.
  • Have a very low or unclear accountability structure.
  • Seldom or are mostly unwilling to take risks or be unconventional.
  • More often than not, lack a strong and proactive leadership.
  • Fail to make hard decisions, like for example weeding out those who do not align with the culture; not choosing the right focus points etc.

Overall, I feel that a dip is like a forest fire.  If it is handled well, it sets the tone for renewed progress and even better prosperity.  It pushes you to the wall, makes you think hard and question yourself – in other words, forces you to think out of the box.  It helps you be lean and agile.  Innovation and foresight thus becomes a part of your team / organization culture, constantly challenging the status quo, seeing through the numbers and understanding the patterns to act now rather than later… and continue to keep pushing yourself upwards.

I believe that the DIP is a very interesting phenomenon, it is inevitable.  Welcome it, be confident through it and make the fullest out of it, it has the potential to change your course forever.

What has been your experience being in a dip or seeing a dip?

I N E R T I A

April 2, 2011

The last post I published was almost 8 months ago. 

During this time, work kept me very very busy, frequent and long business trips, and I just could not dedicate time to something I started – the initiative called ‘L E G’. 

Did that mean I stopped thinking about it?  No, I didn’t. 

I continued to scribble my thoughts, observations and ideas on my note pad, started writing about some of them – 19 to be precise, and read a lot. 

But if this was the case and if I actually started writing these articles, why did I not post any one of them for so long? 

Well, that is the dilemma; it is called ‘inertia’. 

Most of the articles I started to write, they could either not reach to a conclusive end or did not make me feel comfortable about posting them and honestly, after a point I became stationary with those articles.  I got stuck to and with them without realising it and while I would read them, make an attempt to finish and publish them; I never got around to doing it.  

I was then in, what I’d like to call, state of ‘negative’ inertia – when things are immobile, they stagnate and really, it’s you who stopped progressing on or with it.  And soon comes a point when you start wondering…

Should I do it or do I have other things which demand my focus at the moment? 

Or…

Uh oh, it’s become so complex – ideas and thoughts are just not coming to me… why? 

Something which I think of so much and while I want to do it, why am I not able to focus on it and reach a conclusive state? 

Why are things stuck?

And out of all this, there is one resultant feeling; that of frustration and dejection [on one’s self]…and all of a sudden the very thing you started / initiated starts to appear difficult and overwhelming – and more often than not, you will start giving or finding yourself a reason on why you could not or didn’t do it.  It was never that you did not want to but because it’s the vicious cycle of negative inertia; you lose your drive, focus and sheer enthusiasm-joy of doing it.

How often has it happened to you?  Happens from time to time, right. 

Have we ever wondered why does it happen?

I was actually pondering upon it myself as I was stuck with it [and this was not the first time for sure] and I felt the following to be some symptoms of when it is about to creep in…

[1] Time lapsed:  Time that has passed by and there is no progress

[2] Loss of Interest and Drive:  You have actually lost interest or are convinced it is not good utilisation of your time at the moment…thus the drive which was present initially now seems to be missing

[3] Lack of recognition or following:  You’ve started something but there is no one or only a very few who seem to be interested in hearing your story

[4] You’ve had way too many expectations:  It can happen, you may overestimate the potential and expect too many things out of it, but when it doesn’t meet your expectations, it starts to drain your enthusiasm and drive

[5] A tough choice to make?:  You may have to make some tough choices, like between what you ‘wish’ to do [the initiative] against what you are ‘required’ to do [day to day tasks] – like your pet projects against your daily tasks list which just doesn’t get over…and you have a choice to make, which in most cases is obvious – forget the initiative and stick to the task list.

[6] Procrastination and deviation from the track you were on when you started with it

There could be many other reasons to it but the ones above, I feel, really brings out the essence of what indicates, as a pattern, that you are slipping into a state of negative inertia.

You would ask – Well, fair enough but if I am doing what I am ‘needed’ to and could not continue on the thing I started [which of course I always wanted to do but couldn’t] then how does it affect me?  Right question. 

Here is how it affects you and your professional life [and thus businesses]…

[1] All of a sudden you transform into a ‘task player’ from a person who used to ‘think’.

[2] It affects your overall confidence.  It’s simple, we all as humans like our plates clean and tasks accomplished; it’s in our nature.  But if you initiated something and it gets stalled, it will keep lingering in your mind – there by affecting it…it will keep coming back to you and you will, in a way, start to feel awkward [for the lack of a better word] about it – and that’s it, your confidence is starting to get affected by something which you yourself started.

[3] It will rob you of your creative thinking, at times, as you would not be sure if you can see / lead it through to the end – because if you couldn’t accomplish one then how sure you to accomplish another?…it’s all in the mind and it plays on you.

[4] You will become a meddler from a hero, become reactive from being proactive and start taking instructions rather than assessing the situations and taking a lead in putting measures in place.

[5] A resultant feeling of non-accomplishment and disappointment seeps in.

[6] You will do your job [day to day tasks] well no doubt, but you ‘may’ not enjoy it because you know something else needs to be done as well however you are not able to get to it or finish it.

And if the above affects your professional life…it affects your personal life too.  No matter how hard we try, our professional and personal lives are interestingly intertwined – because at the end of the day it is the same mind and heart that is working for you both at work and at home.  So if there is something that has ruffled your mind at work let’s say, it won’t let it be 100% at home too.

Let me give you a few examples…

Sit in on a project that has been going on for some time now.  You will see marked difference.  If the project is on track then you will see most of its action items, in work breakdown structure, will be marked with one of the two statuses; WIP [some portion] or Complete [most of them] and those which are WIP are on track to meet the timelines.  Against this, if a project is getting delayed or has lost the track, the action items will have a very high percentage in WIP or Not Started; and those in WIP would’ve had their timelines being missed or changed a few times.  And have you ever gotten a good, confident feeling coming out of review meetings of such projects?  Rarely.  This is a clear indication that the project is slipping into negative inertia.

The other example if when we have started an initiative for our teams or ourselves.  How often have we procrastinated, resulting in tasks being piled up?  How often have we promised ourselves to get on to it the next day as today was very busy…and that ‘next’ day has taken a very very long time to come?  In worst case, how many of our initiatives have seen a dead end, not because they were bad but because they just lost the traction?  We all would’ve experienced this either as those who were leading it or those who were a part of the steering/executing team.  I for one have experienced a few of them.

When I could not post my articles, it was because I was in the state of negative inertia.  Being in negative inertia does not mean everything you do will start slowing down or falling apart…as I said, you would do just a fine job at things which you ‘need’ to do but will struggle a bit for those which you ‘really want’ to do.  This state doesn’t hit everything, it just hits one or two of so many things you had/have to do and it is from these one or two things that it starts to slowly affect others…but thankfully most of us do a fine job of carrying out our daily routine tasks / task lists very well.

Likewise, so many of us would’ve had great ideas about how to improve our processes, our functions or businesses.  Let me ask you this…how many of these – really good ideas – have you been able to initiate and see then through till the end?  The answer would be, very few.  That is because all of us slip into negative inertia at some time or the other.

Does this mean there is nothing one can do about it?  No, that is not true. 

Negative inertia is just the state of things or really, the state of mind.  Like negative inertia, I believe; there is a state of motion – ‘flow’, state of progress [though slow but gradual] and this state is what I call the state of ‘Positive’ Inertia.

Map out the companies who have really done well, or your peers at work who have really progressed…and you will find one common string; they have always been in motion, they have always seen their initiatives until the finish line and thus are generally proactive, driven and upbeat about any new concept / idea / initiative – they clearly stand out, don’t they?  They knew some tricks which a lot of us didn’t or struggled to understand / follow. 

So I started to think what would they be…and I derived the following methods:

[1] Take your ideas / concepts / initiatives etc. and put them on the table; review – assess them until you clearly know [a] how long it will take, [b] how complex can they become, [c] what will you get in return out of it once it is complete, [d] how to stay on track – this is critical, [e] so what are the distractions you run into and need to avoid, and finally [f] should they thus take it up or park it – not kill it, but simply park it for being taken up later.

[2] Always know the value of being in motion – so you should always target the low hanging fruits, take up things you know you can accomplish faster…in the end you want to finish what you started, right.  You would feel good and confident if you finished the task you undertook and are waiting for the other to be undertaken…you have the motion at your side.

[3] Never or avoid getting stuck on one thing, or at one step or at one question; always remember the important lesson from our school / university examination days…that is, you have a finite time and you have to hit a target, so if you remain stuck at something which you can’t address or resolve then move on to the other which you can, and come back to the earlier one once you are done with those you can resolve / address.  You work actively to find ways and paths through the puzzle.  Use these skills you knew for so many years.

[4] Do not expect too much, be realistic.

[5] Estimate correct efforts and focus needed from your side.

[6] Of course, discipline and determination without saying.

[7] Avoid procrastination…if you planned to do something today then find time and do it today, because ‘tomorrow’ is hard to come.

[8] This one I guess is important…if you believe in what you are doing and the value it will deliver, no matter what following you have or what recognition it is bringing to you, just stick to the task and only think about the end state… ‘if you didn’t get it then, you will get your cake in the end

Again, there could be many more to add to the list, but I believe these are some of the key pointers/ways to stay in the ‘flow’ and in state of positive inertia.

Yes, the road would be tough, but persevere and you shall reach the destination…and really, the beauty is seldom in reaching the destination but it is in the journey to the destination – that is when you learn the most and experience the most.

So, always try to be in the state of Positive Inertia, because best results come out of you when you are in the ‘flow’ – or as it is said in the music world; being ‘in the zone’, and in the sports world; being ‘in the groove’.

If you read this post, do share with me your thoughts on this topic…I will be interested to know your perspective on it.

How to stop your employees from leaving you

July 15, 2010

This weekend I was reading an article on the reasons why employees leave.  The article was developed based on the responses of over 1000 employees which were surveyed on what influenced their decision to quit, switch or change companies.

How often, as managers and leaders, do we come across situations when our team members put in their papers?  It is a regular occurrence in the course of a year, right.

The article also very nicely brought out the seasonality of employee turnover…two phases in particular seemed interesting to me; [a] post annual reviews when it is at its peak and [b] sometime in the middle of Quarter 3 when there is a surge in hiring at lateral levels to bump up the capacity for Quarter 4.  I am sure most of you would agree with this.

Ever wondered what are those reasons why employees quit, switch or change companies? 

The article listed top 10 factors along with their impact on employee turnover in percentage values to overall [percentage values derived on the basis of responses provided by employees surveyed].

Well, I was not completely surprised with what was the biggest reason for employee turnover.  Any guesses?

The most obvious reason that comes to our mind in a flash is Compensation & Remuneration, right.  Interestingly it was 5th in this list of factors driving employee turnover.  Wow…and all along we were worrying about our team members leaving because he/she was offered a better pay package.  In terms of percentage value, it influenced only 9% of those who were surveyed to switch or change their companies.

The top 4 reasons cited by employees were the ones which we know, but are hard to register and measure the impact of as they are somewhat intangible.

Below is the table which shows the top 5 reasons along with their % impact.

 

As it is rightly said…

People don’t work for the company, they work for their leader

…likewise…

People don’t leave the company, they leave the leader

I always felt that pay package was used as a scapegoat to blame for an employee leaving the company but the real reason was mostly never captured and if captured, it was not investigated and analysed and if analysed, no proper corrective measures were put into place – which overall points to the failure of leadership in the company.  I am sure if we review the notes from exit interviews or candid one-on-ones with those who have left the company, what is mentioned in the article would be obvious.

So how do you stop your employees from leaving you? 

This is a vast topic in itself which spans across leadership, systems and processes, performance management, career path building etc. etc.  But if I were to mention one very important factor to curb employee attrition/turnover then it would be faith, trust and belief you share with your team members and employees.  I believe if the team members have faith in their leader’s ability to help them succeed, then I am sure they will remain loyal to their leader despite any odd failures of the leader.

In this article, I have tried to suggest a few very simple things which can help one build and retain the employee faith, trust and belief.  I have tried this and it has ensured one of the lowest attrition rates for my teams across 10 years of my career.  But before I do that I would like to talk about the types of leaders which I think is important.

In my view, there are two types of leaders; Traditional leaders and Transformational leaders.

Traditional leaders see the employee-boss relationship as a transaction, money in exchange for labour.  Whereas the Transformational leaders know and recognize that employees want much more than that.  In my view, it is the transformational leaders who see it as their responsibility to help their team members succeed and provide them with an environment to develop and grow as professionals.  These are the leaders who understand that key to organization’s success lies in providing an environment which ensures the success of his team members, if they succeed – the organization will succeed.

Below are a few things which would help your team members succeed and you in winning their faith, trust and belief as a leader.

Genuine Respect and Affection.  This may sound a little touchy-feely, but if you possess genuine respect and affection for your team members, then you are more likely to have a focused concern that is exclusively for that person’s good.  Your team members would automatically come to see and understand that you truly care about them, believe in their abilities and want to help in shaping their future in the right way.

Spend time understanding each of your team members and developing his/her Growth Path.  No one wants to be exactly where they are forever.  Create a culture that allows your people to grow and expand by giving them challenging assignments, training and developing their skills to maximise their potential to succeed and realise the growth they could have.

Give them a sense of Fulfillment and recognize their Contribution.  A feeling of fulfilment is by far the best feeling you could give your team member, he/she then becomes your believer in your vision and very willing partner in your efforts in building the team.  Also sharing with them what their contribution was and how it helped achieve a unified goal goes a long way in building the trust and faith in you as a leader.  Emphasize the ways that their work matters to the organization and how much you value their contribution.

Share a Vision and give their tasks a Meaning.  We are meaning-seeking creatures.  Share a vision that demonstrates that all of your team members are engaged in a larger purpose – a unified goal to achieve and demonstrate how the contribution of every single individual is equally vital and would help fulfil the purpose.  This will add sense and a meaning to their tasks and their contribution, and will make them feel valued.

Give them a responsibility for something you know they could do well, even when they are about 60-70% ready for it.  Mentor them and stand by their side to help them succeed with that task.  This way you not only boost their confidence but you also are building their skill sets which will help them in their growth.

Let me ask you a question at this point.  What do you expect from your senior?  What would make you decide to move on?  If your answers match the factors and pointers quoted above then these are the same factors and pointers which will apply to your team members too. 

So take a moment and make a decision…would you like to be a Traditional leader and continue losing your valued team members or would you rather be a Transformational leader and retain the talent?

Happy Employee Success and retention! [I assume you’ve chosen to be a Transformational leader]

Transforming CRITICS to ALLIES

July 5, 2010

Last week I was at an industry conference.  It was my first for the company I had joined a few months earlier.  I was relatively new to the company, so was not truly aware of a lot of things except for those which I was directly involved in.  We were exhibiting at the conference.  Like everybody else, I went to the conference with a belief and confidence of creating a good impression for my company and its services.

First half of Day 1, of the 2 days long conference, brought with it some hard lessons for me which in some ways rattled me and pushed me into a hole.  There were some folks who had very strong negative feedback and criticism…and I was at the receiving end.  I stood there; thinking to myself for a few seconds; why am I receiving it – why me – I wasn’t even there in the company when all this happened; but soon I learnt a very useful and a key lesson.    I had a choice to make…either go back to the hole or come out positive and face it – even though I may not know everything about what had happened or why they had the impression about the company which they had.  I chose to do the latter.  I now had a task on my hands to now convert these critics to possible believers in the company, that of converting their criticism to constructive feedback and showing those people a whole new way of seeing things with us as a partner helping them realise it.

In the second half of Day 1, I went out and met with all those who had strong things to share with me and I was listening very carefully, noting down every single point they made and shared with me, asked questions to understand them and their perspective better and sought their views on why they built the impression they had about us. 

The day ended well and I went back to the hotel feeling quite positive about how some of those critics were converted to possible believers in our company.  Today [around 6 days after the conference] I spoke to one of those ‘critics’ and if I were to draw from my 15 minute chat with him, he seemed to have changed his impression about us – I succeeded with the choice I had made and what I believed I could achieve at the conference.

I know all of us tend to face criticism for some or the other thing in our lives at or outside of work.  For me, personally, what I had faced at the conference was hard…but it taught me how to handle it well and build allies out of critics – how to face criticism and convert it into a positive discussion, focused on sharing constructive feedback aimed at improving something.

How to do it though?  Well, I am not an expert but below is what I did [and have done in the past] which has – in most cases – helped me convert the critics into allies.  I hope it helps you too…

[1] When you know you may face criticism or receive a strong feedback, do not ever back out…always show up and be present.  By doing this you demonstrate that you are not afraid and you let them see the leader you are by being accountable and thus turning up to receive the feedback.

[2] Always be open and transparent about the details, and also about the feedback or criticism you receive. 

[3] Always show your willingness to engage with those who disagree with you.

TIP: Try to videotape or record the feedback or criticism received.  I have not done this myself but every time I have seen this done it has made the critic be at their best behaviours since they are being taped.

[4] Always be cool, calm and composed…control your emotions , being calm-composed will make you appear stronger.

[5] Never raise your voice even when the person criticising has, it will make him/her lower their voice.

[6] Always receive and honestly acknowledge your shortcomings.  Express through right choice of words and with passion that you did what you could do best given the circumstances.  It will make them appreciate you and instead of criticising, it will make them explain their standpoint.

[7] Never be defensive and always accept your mistakes with sincerity and confidence.  No one respects a leader who doesn’t believe in his deeds – right or wrong.

[8] If you need to share a counter feedback then always do it gently – always remember that while the spotlight is on you, the heat is also on them…so you can always give as good as you get but with appropriate diplomacy.

[9] Smile frequently and show that you are not stressed and that you are in control but smile only when appropriate.  Never smirk.

[10] Always know when to close the discussion and to take things offlineAlways leave them wanting for more.

[11] Always remember that if nothing bad is ever said then nothing good will ever get done…so strong feedback and criticism is as important to you as is good positive feedback.

The above is what I have learned through my experience facing criticism or seeing someone else face and handle it.  I must admit I had failed many a times but when I have been confident, tried some of the above pointers; I have more often than not ended up making it a constructive discussion and transformed my critics into my allies.

Try it and share with us how it worked for you…let us all learn together.  If there is any other pointer you think can be added to the list above then please share with your comments.