Thursday, January 8, 2015

Management lessons from a simple man and his team

My recent road trip down south was full of interesting observations, unique experiences and humbling moments. One of the places we visited was Wayanad, in north Kerala where we had an amazing stay for three days, every bit of which resulted in cherishing memories. Apart from the prime location and serenity of the place, I attribute most of it to the management principles of the owner of the property. Just to observe the way he has created, nurtured and grown his team and the way his team serves the customers was a lesson in management which can be applied in the corporate world as well.

Let me share three of the basic team management principles that no corporate training will likely talk about, but were on display day in day out during our stay there and seemingly had a strong positive influence on our amazing experience during our stay.

Love your people, you are because they are - If you are in a role which demands working with and for the people, you got to love them as your most valued assets. You got to love the fact that you are privileged to work for them. You got to love the fact that you are endowed with the responsibility to work for their professional betterment and personal development. You got to love the fact that you have them for a reason. On 31st December the resort had arranged a celebration party for the resident guests. Unbelievably, as we were expecting a rock-n-roll stuff, the get together begins with a surprise felicitation of each of the resort staff at all levels alike without any ordering or sequencing per their hierarchy. This was done none other than the owner himself and the emotional bonhomie was a sight to behold. I mean, you have guests who have paid premium amount to be there in your resort on the 31st gala event, some of them are foreigners as well, and yet, on such commercially important occasion, to witness this beginning was a humbling experience. Throughout our stay, one more time we encountered a cake cutting program for a junior staff member, again done by the owner and his family all by themselves.

Wear your emotions on your sleeve - No matter how higher you reach, if you want someone to trust you, to follow or be with you, to bet his or her life on you or your actions, be authentic. You are sad, reveal it. You're happy, share it. You're frustrated, crib about it. You want to make fun of yourself, do it and do it right. You want to crack a joke, crack it. You want to be a punching bag for your people to hit you, admit your mistakes and be it. You want to cry, cry out loud. Your people follow you if they can see what you are, and not when they can only see who you are. Once they get that, the culture trickles down seamlessly. During our entire time spent there, we never ever came across plastic smiles (which are so blatantly displayed in almost all premium hospitality sector properties), or fake emotions of any sort. Whenever there was a face to face encounter with any of the staff member, right from the managers at the desk or operations to the security personnel outside, genuine and warm smile greeted us. Whenever there was even the slightest lapse (which we too didn't even notice to mind) in the customer service as per their standards, genuine admission of guilt apologized to us.

Task isn't small or big, will and intent is - Every staff was empowered to take a decision as long as it served the purpose, and no one was bothered about the triviality or the significance of the job each was performing irrespective of their position in the hierarchy. For e.g., the chef was attending the customer's request for information if the front desk was busy, the right hand of the owner was acting as a gatekeeper to open the gates for a car to exit, when the watchman was engaged in other stuff equally important (so as the customer shouldn't have to wait), the owner himself was serving the dinner to the guests along with his kitchen staff, and likewise. No matter who was performing the job, the goal was still the same, pursuit of customer service excellence and everybody had imbibed this in their DNA.

Ultimately it all boils down to the very basic fact that the resources can be acquired, capabilities can be built, skills can be grown, infrastructures can be developed, behaviors can be mended, but will and intent has to come from within,

And last but not the least, in Hindi there is a saying 'Yatha Raja Tatha Praja' which translates as 'Subjects in a kingdom will be like the king'. The great Alexander was spot on when he emphasized on the significance of the leader acting as a role model in his famous quote which says 'I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion'.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Phillip Hughes and the mystery called destiny

'It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves' - William Shakespeare. I disagree, for there have been hundreds of thousands of those bouncers bowled in the centuries old history of the game of cricket, innocuous and vicious, faced by openers and tails alike, expertly hit or naively ducked under, with or without protective hundreds of batsmen around the world. Why the poor kid Phil Hughes then, and even poorer young lad Sean Abbott met their destinies as these?  

The unfortunate and tragic demise of this promising young international cricketer, an expert opener on the field, with all precautions in place, caused by what the doctors called 'one in a billion' type of injury has once again made us reflect on the mystery called destiny. Just few days back I was having a conversation with my partner on the probability of a human body accidentally getting hurt in the most sophisticated and delicate places which can be catastrophic. For e.g., a wrist cut is fatal, how many occurrences we have known where it got accidentally snapped for someone? Similar for the exterior delicate portion of our throat. Every individual throughout his lifespan falls, during sports or outdoor activities, during accidents on the road, during street fights and what not, but how many times we have encountered a case where that portion got accidentally hurt? Same for the reproductive organs, same for the lower abdomen, same for the temple, same for the spine. And we did talk about the lower back side of the skull.

I read somewhere that our destinies are sealed even before we come on earth to learn, experiment, mature (in soul) and depart for the new beginning, only to come back for further betterment of the soul depending on its learning needs, as applicable. We decide our own destinies based on our learning needs and/or contribute to others needs on this planet, but we do it much before we 'physically' come into existence. Well, we don't know what we don't know but then this philosophy somewhat explains the mystery of chance happenings, the mystery of the so-called accidents, coincidences, or even incidences.

Think about it, there's this guy of the 'friends of snakes' community who survived 49 snake bites, and died due to Malaria (mosquito bite). There's this guy who conquered so many races in perhaps the most dangerous of all sports, the motor-sport, only to get severely hurt during a routine skiing adventure. There's this four year old girl who was the only survivor, of all the 156 passengers in the horrific plane crash (flight 255, 1987). There are people who suffered fatal injuries falling in the bathroom and then there is this British skydiver Michael Holmes whose parachute got entangled, leading to his free fall from 15000 feet but miraculously survived. In fact, it was all being shot in the sky, and he waved good bye to all saying 'I am dead, bye!'....landing from 15000 feet on top of a blackberry bush and survived to live healthy thereafter. Then there are instances where people survived train or plain crashes due to inexplicably missing the boarding, or replacing seats with someone else, or postponing trips. Were they controlling their destiny?

Talking about destiny, destinies are never individualistic. They are intertwined. If anything positive or negative (although these are very relative terms which humans have created) has to happen to someone or something, the entire system has to be in a perfect equilibrium. As for this sad event to unfold, everything had to be in place. The time had to be 2.23 pm on that fateful day in 2014, the score had to be 63, the bowler had to be the poor Sean Abbott, the shot making decision had to be a mistimed hook, the helmet had to be a 2013 made missouri brand and not the latest one which had better protection chances, the batsman's mother and sister had to be among the spectators and so on.

It may sound philosophical, and it is, but the most plausible belief remains the same. We do not control our destiny. We live it, day in day out, every moment. In the overall scheme of things, then, we are the variables who undergo change, destinies are sealed.

Rest in peace Phillip Hughes. You died doing what you loved the most, in the company of people who loved you the most. 63 not out forever. Sean, not your fault...not at all..stay strong.....


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My struggle with the Statement of Purpose !

"At 31, here's a man who was brought up in eight different regions across central India, ranging from the places enduring no electricity to the places exuding vibrant metropolitan lights of development, represented his educational institutions in five different types of sports, and went on to become probably one of the youngest managers in Microsoft, though not before carefully crafting a career exploring, learning and delivering software in several amazingly disconnected domains using highly varied forms of technologies in a span of just over a decade after graduating in the computer engineering."

'What a piece of crap this is?' my mentor screamed at me. 'Do you yourself understand what you have written over here? What 31, and what all this s*** about enduring electricity and vibrant metropolitan lights and crafting careers and amazingly disconnected domains and highly varied technologies? Where have you begun your statement and where it is ending? I have never read any statement so big and crappy that I forgot at the end what this was all about.'

'Well I read in the samples that the beginning of your statement of purpose should be catchy and punchy.' with a numbed mind, lame defense from my side.

'Punchy and Catchy'? Any reader of this will most definitely dream of catching your neck and punching you in the face for what you have just done to him.' he just ripped me apart and my guns fell silent even before getting a chance to re-load.

That's how my first ever tryst with writing a statement of purpose (some call it personal statement) began. Now, when the beginning was of this caliber, you can imagine what all would have found its place in my statement of purpose. At the end of the day, after several iterations of not just the write up but also the thought process itself, I must admit this has been one of the most difficult and energy sapping effort I have taken up in a long time. I am not sure about what exactly it means when writers say they have been suffering from the infamous 'writer's block' but writing about oneself proved to be a mountain to climb, even for someone like me who is comfortable writing about almost anything at lengths.

Let me get it straight, I got it all wrong. I totally messed up creating my SoP initially. I underestimated the fact that writing about one's upbringing, achievements, strengths, learning, aspirations and goals etc. in limited words without sounding flashy or boastful and without being overtly self-critical as well as sympathy-seeker, is in itself a challenging proposition. In the corporate world, it becomes more so. For e.g., they say your statement of purpose should reflect who you are, what defines you in a way that whatever you write is the voice of your heart. Now, for someone who has made a career or a living out of some social work, writing something like 'In past 5 years, I worked with 20 different NGOs ranging from child education to eliminating poverty to girl empowerment to road safety, that positively impacted around 20000 people', it sounds more a voice of your heart than this 'With just 3 years of industry experience at the helm, I positively influenced the ‘build versus buy’ decision making process of my organization through detailed research on the data analytics tool.' which sounds more 'corporatish' and thus fake. Also, in the corporate world, it's not the one or two things that you did which shaped your career or growth but the combination of several hundred things you did year over year that fetched you recognition, successes, glory or even failures. That makes it much more difficult to talk about couple of isolated things that you have been 'proud' of, and can boast of as accomplishments in your professional career.

Nevertheless, irrespective of the purpose of the statement of purpose, or where it leads me to, I must say this has been a humbling experience and really an eye opener. I suggest everyone must try this out because without that it is hard to realize how hard it is to realize that creating a personal statement is probably one of the toughest thing one will have to go through in his or her professional career at some stage. What say !

P.S. - my post above only talks about just one of the learning elements I took back from the experience. Rest of them are beyond the scope of this post!

Monday, September 29, 2014

My impressions from the Madison Square Garden event

I was glued to the television set for complete six hours yesterday, keenly following up and keeping myself up to date on the proceedings at and outside of the MSG as well as the times square New York, that was being telecast on every small or big banner news channel and the websites. Here are some of the key impressions from the overall MSG event, Hon. PM's speech, and events that acted as a build up to the main event, plus the news coverage in all media houses, including the foreign media.

And while I would have liked to maintain the order of the events in my impressions list, I can't but help listing down starting with the biggest of all, our hon. PM Mr. Modi's speech.

* First, as I was writing it down, my hands never even once quivered to prefix 'hon.' before our PM's mention in this post and elsewhere. You bet, this wasn't the case even once in the past decade. Last night at the Madison Square Gardens, he came, he saw and he conquered.

* On the speech itself, well..what can I say. Forget about jet lag, forget about super-hectic and pressure-bound schedule, 96 hours without any kind of meal and 90 minutes of thoughtful speech full of passion and energy, blended with humor, vision, simplicity, confidence, and firmness, majorly an extempore, in front of 18000 plus audience, that too as a head of one of the largest democracies in the world is by no means a small feat. That, after captivating the supposedly intellectual minds at the UN for 32 minutes just a day before on an entirely different global theme. At 64, it definitely takes a 56 inch chest and a substance to do so. Stupendous. True I have just burnt and thrown into trash, the recent management book that I read which emphasized on the fact that you cannot engage your audience at a stretch for more than 6 minutes. Hell, for the entire 90 minutes I didn't bat an eyelid and that the speech was for 90 minutes I realized only via the news channels later on.

* On the content of the speech, most of the things resonated very well with me personally, except for, maybe, to some extent, the Ganga cleanup. I think if our hon. PM has a similar vision for all the major rivers in India, I am sold on to it. Just the Ganga cleanup initiative, I believe may not resonate with the entire 1.2 billion population. On the goodies for the NRIs, I have no sufficient information to comment, I don't know whether it is good or bad, and if good, how. Rest of the speech, just the goosebumps. His clever mentioning of the 'Visa' problem was like using a third degree therapy on a hardened criminal ! His intelligent dig at the previous government was a huge hit as well. And I am sure a certain ex-petroleum minister must be strictly on the petrol diet after having made that 'tea-seller' comment during election campaigning! Needless to say I am totally sold on to the various initiatives he mentioned and dreams he portrayed during his speech. Make in India, Clean India, Obsolete laws and regulations, Home for all, Sanitation and Skills. There is at least a renewed hope. Only time will tell how much of that will be materialized, but no doubt this man has all the intent and willpower in the world to grow us.

* On the event organization, a well organized event at this scale, in almost all aspects except for the fact that I personally didn't like the building up events and shows. Audience came there to listen to the hon. PM and that's the only thing they were interested in. With due respect to the artists, who did a fantastic job, I think except the painting stuff, rest of the events were a drag in the given context and could have been avoided altogether. Big screens all over the places at the times square was an arrangement thoughtfully done.

* On the foreign media coverage, browsed through at least 15 leading international newspapers and their online editions and was truly amused and entertained to read mentions as 'Hindu politician', 'Member of extremists party', 'affiliated with the militant group (specific mention of RSS ah !! militant group ROFL)', 'Controversial past', and what not. What was more amusing was that half of these articles were written by Indian journalists working for these media houses. Amazing :-) ! And a lot of emphasis was given on how the court has summoned him, and how there are protests etc. all over. Well, to these human rights associations, how about getting in place the gun control laws first that kill more people every year in that part of the world than the specific incident you guys are protesting about rather than engaging yourselves in cheap antics to seek attention? As far as the incident goes, India's supreme judicial authority has taken care of the justice already, and if there's anything, will take care in future as well.

* On the media coverage, times now was good, without advertisement breaks, and to the point. In fact, it was surprising to see the amazing self-restraint shown by Mr. Goswami ! He was really good and dignified, for a change, yesterday. More or less all other channels were bent on sensationalizing things with catchy phrases such as 'insulted', 'revenge', 'vindication' etc. with respect to the visit, and then frequent breaks as well didn't help much.

* On a minor note, I didn't have any of the past reference or context about a 'certain' journalist who got slapped yesterday and only once I read somewhere on twitter, decided to switch channel. The moment I watched 2.5 minutes of 'his' live coverage from the times square, I got to understand the exact reason behind the incident! There was no need for me to do any research on 'his' past adventures and trysts with the hon. PM. Honestly, without any past baggage, I couldn't withstand 'his' couple of minutes of live coverage of the event at all.

Today morning while I was coming to office, found a couple of used tissue papers on the cubby holes in my car. Just as I was about to disdainfully throw them out in the parking lot, knowing that it will be cleaned up eventually by the cleaning staff, something stopped me. I simply came to office, parked my car with the trash in hand, went straight to the dust bin and dropped the tissues in it. Acche din aate nahi hai.. laane padte hai...koi aur laaye na laye..khud ko to laane hi padte hai... :-) !!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Oath of an IT interviewer!

I am a information technology interviewer, in my role I take deep pride. To it I owe solemn obligations. As an Interviewer, I pledge to practice integrity and fair dealing, tolerance and respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and the dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve the IT industry by making the best use of an interviewee's precious time. In that order, I promise...

a) I will not bother reading your career objective in the resume because most likely I would have read that exact text hundreds of thousands of times by now and can even recollect the source of the text on the internet because there is a likelihood I too would have copied the similar ones from there. And yes, please please do not write this one as your objective. 'To succeed in an environment of growth and excellence and earn a job which provides me job satisfaction and self development and help me achieve personal as well as organizational goals.' Simply because the count has gone to 134 so far.

b) I will not ask you 'tell me about yourself' because I know 9 out of 10 times you will only talk about the things that are already present in your resume which I would have already gone through two times, one during shortlisting and secondly, at the very moment.

c) I will not ask your signature below the last para of your resume which talks about how innocent you're to say 'the above information is to the best of my knowledge' which leaves a gap for some small tweaks of data presented.

d) I will not bother asking about references even though you have mentioned 'references will be provided on demand' because I know they're going to convince me about how you're the best person suited for the role of the principle secretary of India at least, if not an Indian diplomat for China.

e) I will not make false promises of sending you onsite getting intimidated by the fact that you have mentioned your passport number on your resume (which I still haven't been able to figure out why would you do so)

f) I will not ask you 'what are your strengths' because in your strengths I can clearly visualize you doing a pearl harbor on me with words like 'go-getter', 'quick learner', 'team player', 'passionate about new technologies', 'strong leader' etc. (I will also not ask you about your weaknesses as I know you will tell me how being a 'workaholic' or being 'sensitive to other's needs' is actually your weakness.

g) I will not ask you about where do you see yourself in the next 10 years because I know you have well-prepared responses at your disposal for the next 2,4,5,10,15,20 and 30 years question. Just tell me how many of these responses were suggested by your room-mates while you were rehearsing in front of the mirror!

h) I will not ask you why should we hire you because I know this is your dream company, something for which you want to devote your entire life.

h) And finally, I will not ask you hypothetical questions on the lines of, if-my-aunt-had-a-mustache-she-would-be-called-my-uncle'. I do remember once an interviewer in the merchant navy asked the candidate 'What would you do if you are sailing in the middle of the ocean and a thunderstorm strikes', to which he replied 'I will put the anchor down'. The interviewer further probed 'What if there's another thunderstorm that strikes 5 minutes later?' to which he replied 'I will put down second anchor'. Annoyed, the interviewer again asked 'What if there are two more thunderstorms strike 10 minutes later?' to which he again replied 'I will put down 2 more anchors'. Seething with anger, the interviewer screamed 'From where on earth are you going to get 4 anchors in 15 minutes on the ship?'. The interviewee calmly replied 'Exactly from where you got 4 thunderstorms striking the ship in the middle of the ocean in 15 minutes.'

In the performance of duty and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.

Disclaimer - Above is a completely fictional work with the sole intent of rolling out plain harmless humor. (Some literary oath text is taken from 'oath of an engineer' to give it an authentic feel!)

I was just reflecting on how do I as an interviewer categorize factors that determine a hire or a no hire as significant or trivial ones. Now, before I go any further, let me be very clear that each and every individual has a unique thought process that largely influences his or her decision making for the potential candidature and that's primarily the reason almost all major companies and institutions in the world have their own set of interview guidelines and hiring principles which are uniformly followed across the entity and people donning the hat of an interviewer are highly trained in accordance to these. All organizations take a lot of care to ensure at no point the individual thought processes, influences and biases override the organization level hiring principles and my own company isn't any different. In this post, specifically, I have taken liberty into dwelling deep into my own individual fundamental thinking on certain elements of a standard hiring process in the light of humor, by completely detaching myself from that of my employer. You can very well assume this as my upfront disclaimer!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Who moved my Pizza?

No, neither am I changing anything in my personal or professional life nor this post by any means talks about how to deal with the change despite the categorical title of the post! Recently there were a couple of instances in my apartment where the Pizza from the Pizza delivery vehicle's backside was stolen (our apartment township is one hell of a madhouse, anything can happen there, like you suddenly encounter a snake eating a frog merrily on the sidelines while you are walking on the jogging track, or a shower of dumbbells on your head from the 10th floor, I am not kidding, or butts of cigarettes, bush of human hair in your gallery, again showered from the top, amazingly with a mopper accompanying that in couple of days in the same gallery, but more on that later!), and as soon as the news was published over the residents email group, people started pouncing on the thread with their deductions and conclusions. E.g., the watchmen could be the culprits, or the outsiders with unauthorized entry would have stolen unnoticed, and even to the extent that this is the conspiracy initiated on behalf of the Pizza delivery boy. Wow I thought, and I instantly recalled one of the quotes made by General Eisenhower that said 'The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions'. How true, and in the end it was found that this act was 'performed' by the boys with parents either owners or tenants! Couple of weeks back there was an incident of all the trash bins being dangerously lit on fire, in some of the adjacent blocks and many had concluded it is the act of some of the 'notorious' cleaning staff, only to be found that those were the resident kids who did that, apparently for some destructive fun. These and there are just too many occurrences we come across in our day to day lives where we always try to find instant scapegoats based on social stereotypes and our own prejudices, beliefs, mostly unfound.

Worse though is, we always try to find the scapegoats based on a certain prejudices or beliefs against a specific set of individuals or groups, mostly the ones who are 'considered' inferior to us in some way or the other. I remember in one of the multinationals (wouldn't be appropriate to name) that I have worked in, there were incidents of laptops, wallets, purses and even money stealing which continued for quite some time. On the internal forums, all over, the poor office boys, cleaning personnel, supplier bodies and even the contingent staff were being seen as the possible culprits but nobody, not even a single mail or thread tossed a possibility of an engineer actually behind this, which eventually was the reality. During my discussions on matters of national importance with other folks, I have heard comments like 'these illiterate people, that backward class' etc. when I just began to mention about some incident of a honor killing or a domestic violence somewhere whereas the real story in most cases was with a well to do highly qualified family living in a metro. In the lift, the other day I got to read a scratched text on the wall and was just about to begin the foulmouthing on the carpenters and other construction workers that come there, when suddenly realized that the scratched text was a pure American slang, used only in Hollywood movies and English C rated fiction novels.

Human psychology is to be blamed for this. I see a red patch as an outcome of someone's spitting, on a newly constructed building, I blame it on the laborers. Do I even think that this can be an act of the owner or builder coming out of his Mercedes? No. Something goes missing in the house, before thinking about the possibility of me misplacing it somewhere, I look skeptically at the maid working in the house. If my expensive eye-gear goes missing from the car, I straight away blame it on the wallet parking guy, only to realize later that I had left it in the office before leaving. Would I do that had my office colleague or relative parked my vehicle instead of the hotel staff? No. I see a scratch on the door of my parked car in the mall, I spit out venom for the entire cab driver community simply assuming it can't be anybody else more rogue than these.

That's just how we are, but as someone said, a good scapegoat is just as welcome as a solution to the problem, so we never mind. Do we? !