I N E R T I A

Posted April 2, 2011 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

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

Posted July 15, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Leadership, People Management, Team Building

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

Posted July 5, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

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.

There’s more to racing than winning

Posted May 29, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: People Management, Personal Effectiveness, Team Building

I picked this line from the very-famous animated movie ‘Cars’ [2006]. 

I find this movie to be technical masterpiece, a showcase of commitment, teamwork and a drive to excel.  To cite an example… the team at Pixar took almost 17 hours to create one frame of animation only to ensure the lustre and shine on the animated cars mirrors the real world cars, which it superbly does and those who have seen it would agree no less.  They wanted it to look real even though it was an animation – now how is that for commitment and drive to excel.  But there is one more thing which is so very important about this movie…the message around which it is centred, as seen in some of the dialogues in the movie.

‘There’s more to racing than winning’ and ‘…it’s only an empty cup’.

Now it is important to compete, so don’t get me wrong when I emphasize on the message above.  We need to read in between the letters here to understand the implied meaning.  While it is important to compete, work hard towards the goal, be aggressive and do whatever it takes to achieve it; but more importantly it’s about the ethics, the values we bear in ourselves and the very essence of our core – our guiding principles, either as individuals or as teams, which will set us different.  Yes, winning is important but what is more important is to win without compromising the ethics and principles, and put the values at the forefront.

I am sure those who saw this movie, never for once cheered for the winner of the final race.  Instead, they would’ve cheered for the act of the car, who was about to win the race hands down, pulling back inches close to the finish line, driving backwards to reach the car which met with the accident and pushing or rather nudging that car to the finish line. 

Wonder where this came from…well some part of it could be the scriptwriter’s imagination and the other inspired from this real life incident.

This happened during 1976 Special Olympics in Washington. 

Nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 yard dash.   At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race, to the finish, and win.  All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over, and began to cry.  The other eight heard the boy cry.  A couple of them slowed down and looked back.  Then they turned around and went back.  One of the contestants with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said “this will make it better.”

Then all of them linked arms, and walked together to the finish line.  Everyone in the stadium stood, and cheered; the cheering went on for several minutes. 

People who were there are still telling the story.  Why?  Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in life is more than just winning for ourselves.  What matters in life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down, and changing our course.  What matters in life is going by our heart, sticking to our values and do whatever we possibly can to help someone else do better [and succeed].  It gives a sense of fulfilment which goes a long way in our lives and makes us true team players and even better human beings.

Now for a moment, think of a situation where one of your team member, junior, peer, or senior is struggling with something.  He could definitely use some help which will make a world of a difference to his morale and confidence.  How often do we face this in our daily work lives [and also in our lives out of work too]?  Quite often isn’t it. 

How many of us have went ahead and extended a helping hand, helped that person accomplish the task and succeed [in whatever sense it may be]?  Those who have would surely agree with me about the sense of fulfilment and empowerment it gives you, which would definitely have made your day and would have gone down your memory lane forever.  But more importantly, it made you a better and a stronger person from within.

Just imagine, for a moment, how would it be like if anyone and everyone in the team at work is willing and ready to extend the helping hand, support each other what ever it takes and help each other with things to make each other succeed?  I bet workplace would then become a very good place to be and you would love coming to work every day.  And more than that, you would win and succeed more often that otherwise.  The synergy which would then exist would only help improve the morale, the strength and the performance of the team.

I know to achieve this is easier said than done but someone needs to start rolling it.  So why not you? 

Remember, ideal teams [which is always dream of to be a part of] are not available readymade…they are to be built, one step at a time…shaping one person at a time and building on one principle at a time.

If you see the value in it then why not take a step forward and help someone win/succeed.  And please be sure to share with us the experience you had.

Q -> A -> P

Posted May 27, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Leadership, People Management

Confused with the title of this article.  Reading it at first either created curiosity in you to figure out what ‘Q -> A -> P’ meant and thus you are reading this article or, worst, it might have confused you enough for you to choose to leap over this article and carry on with what you were doing on the internet.  This is exactly what happens with the kind of questions we ask; either to our team or peers or seniors, they would choose to leap over it and carry on or they will stand, think and wonder what it would take to find the right answer to it.  Well, in most cases you will find the earlier behaviour as the result.

This behaviour is not atypical.  Don’t agree?  Try this. 

Closely observe yourself when you are in a meeting or a discussion and there are questions being asked.  Register and note down how many questions which were asked actually made you want to find the right answer to it, or succeeded in getting the honest response out of you [or others] and resulted in an alignment with the conversation…the purpose with which the question was posed, and how many of them really increase your desire to collaborate with the person who asked those questions…to either learn more or improve upon something. 

From my experience, it is only around 10% of the questions asked in meetings actually have the potential to make you think, the rest are only meant to continue with the conversation but not add any real value, some of them are infact questions out of frustration which are only intended to tell you how upset that person is and that’s it.  But what is unfortunate is that even these 10% questions fail to inspire the right thought process and we end up with a defensive or an unclear response.  Which is why, most of the action points which emerge from the meetings either result in no substantial action-improvement or in most likely cases reach an impasse due to enormous to-fro…net-net; nothing productive is resulted

If you agree with my observations, are you already wondering ‘why’ does this happen? ‘what’ needs to be done to change this behaviour?  [or should I stop attending meetings or calling for one, as they yield no results until I have a reason strong enough to have a one or attend one?]

I have been thinking about this myself as I have attended or have had meetings which met the unfortunate end of ‘no action-improvement’.  I feel that to make the meetings and our discussions effective, as leaders, we need to learn to ask better and right questions; ones which inspire the audience to want to think of an answer, those which result in the team wanting to align better with the very purpose of we asking that question and I am sure if we are able to achieve this, we will be able to impact performance positively more often than not. 

Like the opening paragraph of this article, I feel the key lies in the questions – good ‘Q’uestions makes the audience relate to and want to find an answers for them, there by resulting in ‘A’lignment towards the cause of the questions, which in turn results in productive action and positive impact on the ‘P’erformance…thus, as the title suggests…

Question -> Alignment -> Performance

As leaders, we need to connect honestly with our team, peers and seniors.  As much as it is our need to connect with others, equally important it is to clearly know what to ask, how to ask and where to ask.  I feel that we, in most cases, can do a good job at finding the ‘what’ to ask but we generally tend to struggle or make mistakes in the ‘how’ part of asking questions.

Below I have suggested a few ways I feel we can address the ‘how’ part of asking questions.

As leaders we generally tend to collect or build a background around the point we need to ask our questions on.  However, in this process, we have thought over the questions so much – so often and mentally tried to answer them for ourselves [while preparing for the meeting or discussion] that we generally tend to be close-ended with the answers we expect to hear.  I feel that to encourage the audience [it could be the team, peers or seniors] for them to give right information, background and perspective to the questions; which will help us find the right answers eventually; it is critical that we remain open-endedWe need to ask questions not only to know what happened but more importantly what they were thinking at that time.  Asking open-ended questions prevents us from making any judgements based on our understanding or assumptions of the situation.  What happened, How it happened, Why it happened are the kind of questions which encourage a dialogue.

We need to be engaged during the conversation, act as we truly are there to listen to them, have affirmative and engaged body language which makes them feel our desire to truly be a part of the problem and help them find a solution to it.

We should always be curious to know more but the caveat is to make them speak more than us.  Those who tend to do all the talking are often deaf to other’s needs, avoid this trap as it will make you lose their confidence in you.  It is often observed that leaders feel that talking first and being the last person to voice an opinion on the topic is a sign of strength and authority, but this is not true.  Such an attitude often cuts off the information at its source.  Instead, being curious shows our interest in knowing more and willingness to go to the root of the problem and help find the right solution for it.  This will really encourage people to open up and share very important information and pointers which will truly help in finding the right solution.

Last but not the least, we should always probe to get the whole story and dig deeper to reach the roots. 

I have tried the above and have found them to be extremely useful in directing the course of the meeting or a discussion towards a productive end – almost all the action items from the meeting were executed and resulted in the output we desired.  It also helped me come up with some very productive initiatives for my teams [at my previous organization and current] which are already showing positive impact on the performance and more importantly the team. 

If you agree with the observations I have cited about and with the suggestions I have made then why not give it a shot yourself…go for it and let me know how it went.  Let us all learn from each other’s experiences.

Making of an Expert

Posted May 25, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

I recently read an article based on László and Klara Polgár, the two Hungarian educators who decided to challenge the popular belief that women can not succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, like chess.  They wanted to make a point about the power of education, training, practice and quality coaching.  The Polgárs homeschooled their three daughters and as a part of their education, the girls started playing chess with their parents from a very young age.  Their systematic training and coaching paid off; by 2000 all their daughters were ranked in top 10 female chess players in the world.  An early result was Susan [one of the three daughters] winning the Budapest Chess Championship for girls under 11 at the age of four.  The other daughter, Judit became a grand master at the age of 15, breaking previous record by a month.  Today, Judit is one of the world’s top chess players and has defeated almost all best male players.

The Polgárs believed that ‘geniuses are made, not born’ and they proved it.

There several studies and researches conducted which support this fact, that outstanding performance is a product of years and years of intense, focused, quality practice and coaching, not of any innate inborn ability or talent.

It is not only the assumption around gender differences in expertise which has started to crumble.  I read about a very interesting study conducted by Benjamin Bloom which was published in his book, Developing Talent in Young People in 1985.  He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s research found no early indicators that could have predicted the grand success these performers achieved.

So, what correlates with and leads to success?  What really goes into making of an expert?

From what I have read about success stories of sportsmen, business leaders, musicians, artists and what I have also observed from my work experience…some of the key themes which I could jot down are these:

[1] They had a very clear vision – an objective to satisfy and they felt very very strongly about it.  It can generally be seen in their tenacity, focus, concentration and aggression.

[2] Intensive Practice…learn – repeat – improve, learn – repeat – improve, learn – repeat – improve until you master it, sweat it out for the methods and techniques until they are mastered completely.

[3] They studied and trained with an equally devoted trainer or mentor, who was aligned to the vision and objective, who felt it equally strongly about it.

[4] Enthusiastic support in the developing phase from family, peers, seniors.

[5] Amount and Quality of practice.

[6] Honest and often painful assessment…and constantly working to perfect it.  I feel this is something that separates the best from the average.

There could be many more contributing factors but I feel these are those key things which go into the making of an expert.  One thing is for sure, there are no shortcuts in becoming or making an expert.  It takes time, focus, attention, dedication and unshakeable determination.

As leaders we need to become those devoted mentors, completely aligned to the goal of making experts.  We need to relook at and question ourselves on how much time we spend with our team members on developing them, giving them the support they require from us and the very important honest assessment of their capabilities-performance.  We need to relook at our people development plans, methods we use to identify those in our teams who can go that extra mile and endure it to emerge as experts, reassess our training modules and methodologies and make them synchronize with the objective of laying a solid foundation to build a team which will produce experts tomorrow.

We need to remember, that making experts requires a lot of practice and coaching methods…methods which can always be reproduced and are verifiable.  In other words, there exists a formula to make an expert which can be shared, learnt, and adopted.

So…let us be that devoted mentor and try making some experts from within our teams.

Why we don’t like to innovate?

Posted May 22, 2010 by Nimit Trivedi
Categories: Innovation, Leadership

This weekend I was pondering on one of my very ambitious projects, an application, which I had led the development for at my previous organization.  The organization is one of the largest providers of market research solutions in India.  This application was developed for the online survey scripting department [which I was a part of] of this organization with the primary aim of:

–  Improving productivity of resources

–  Improve across team resource utilization opportunities

–  Help standardize programming practices and make it easier to device-deploy programming best practices

Estimated productivity savings were to be in the range of 20-25%, it would enable us to achieve more from less and bottom line figures for the department would be looking good.

With several rounds of simulation exercises once the tool reached a logical stage, series of iterations to the business case – projections and estimations, I was convinced that the application will deliver the % saving what I promised it would.  I had no doubt in my mind about its capabilities…a simple reason was, if I could use application and achieve all of what it promised to deliver, then anybody could.

But did it happen as it was planned for?  Did it work the way I proposed in the business case?  Well, the fact that I am asking this question would’ve made you think ‘No’ and you would not be wrong.

I along with my team struggled in the first year of its development and deployment.  We tried various methods, several demos, numerous one-to-one buddy/shadow sessions but the user acceptance was not at the level expected.  More to add, the top folks in the team either did not or failed to see value in this application.  Really? I asked myself.  What we planned to achieve, in terms of penetration and user compliance in 3 months took us over 6 months to achieve – double the time.  Obviously something was not going right.  What was it?

Most chose the easier answer – ‘the application’.  I disagreed because I was more than convinced about the application and its potential to deliver.  It delivered for me so it should deliver for others too.  My objective reasoning for the time taken and others issues faced led me to conclude the following:

[1]  There was ‘no alignment’ – the users did not follow it because their leaders did not follow it and there was nothing that made them leave their conventional scripting method to adopt something new.  No one seemed to be aligned to the cause of productivity – something which was an undeniable requirement of the future to come.

[2]  An innate human nature – that of ‘resisting a change’.  We all like the change which ‘we want’ and not what is needed or what is right…well not always.

This point made me think deeper and ask myself why we resist change – even when it is for our benefit.

Why do we get an answer ‘…that’s how it was done and that’s how I was told to do things when I was new’ anytime we probe or ask questions about practices and processes?  Why don’t we question them and instead go by what was asked to be done? 

And more importantly, why don’t we innovate at work?   Why the ‘Herd’ behaviour?

I realized, purely from my experience, that a lot of people are resistant to create or do anything really different.  This is due to the fear of ‘other’s opinions’ about them.  We are more worried about what others will think about us if we do something, rather than worrying about if I am doing the right thing.

In other words, we relentlessly work to avoid ‘image risks’ or make unfavourable impressions on colleagues, peers, seniors or subordinates.  We prefer to be ‘liked and loved’ more than ‘respected’ – we look out for acceptance all the time.

I feel that it is this worry of image risk which drastically reduces and diminishes one’s ability to think different and questions things the way they are done…there by reduce opportunities to innovate.

More often than not, a subordinate may be scared of sharing his thoughts or ideas with his superiors or peers due to a fear that they might think he has ‘stepped out of the line’.

I have also experienced that it is those who do not like to change, those who do not innovate themselves are often the first ones to point fingers to those who do and add a negative peer-pressure.

But in this economic scenario, which is like a forest fire – those who can’t endure it will be weeded out, one needs to constantly question the current methods, challenge the status quo.  One needs to seek to find different, effective and efficient ways of doing things he currently does.  Innovation is no more a ‘nice’ to have thing – it is the ‘need’.

In my view, if we want our people to be open to change, constantly think of new ways to do things and innovate, then…

[i]  I think innovation is largely cultural and not process driven, it can not be imposed but encouraged and inspired

We need to create a culture where being innovative, asking questions and challenging current methods of doing things is desirable.

[ii]  Recreate the job descriptions to include a requirement that employees contribute new ideas, promise and provide enough support systems to take these ideas to next level upon validation, have them own the projects emanating out of their ideas, setup measures to quantify their contribution and reward those who have added value to overall business or performance either at team level or company level. 

This way it will become a part of the culture to find new ways to do things and no more will one feel their image to be at risk…instead it would be vice versa – those who would resist the change, not want to innovate would feel at an image risk.

Do you resist a change or encourage it?  Do you point fingers or raise your hand in support?  Which side of the line are you?