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January 30, 2014

HOW: Retaining Leadership

We talked about WHAT in earlier post Challenges in Retaining Leadership. Having discussed Why and What, logical next step is to talk about HOW?

Let’s take a moment and look at logic of focusing on “Bouquet of Values and skills”. Given our Big Y (goal), the Critical Xs (key drivers) naturally are behaviour and processes impacting values and skill. 

“Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure to meet customer expectations are related to efficiencies in systems and process… rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.” – W. Edwards Deming
Answer to How is HOW!! Humane approach to being Objectively Worldly-wise.

Humane Approach

Embracing your organization’s humanity will move your company from the mindless management of numbers to the creation of customer and employee value, which ultimately will make your shareholders — the real ones who care about long-term performance — happy, as well. Companies can achieve this by accomplishing three things: First, they should spend more time, energy, and resources to find out what their customers really want. Second, they need to do a better job of treating their employees as people who need to be nurtured, not costs that need to be kept in check. Third, they need a motivating purpose besides the achievement of financial goals. SOURCE: Resolve to Make Your Business Human Again by Scott Anthony

Critical component to Humane Approach is an organizational culture supportive of owning mistakes, not merely tolerant of mistakes. We consistently hear “To err is human and to forgive is divine”. We forget to share, let’s start by being human, own up mistake and earn forgiveness, before we expect others to be divine. Leaders own up mistakes, they say “buck stops here”. They neither believe in entitlement nor finding someone to blame.

Competition as Inspiration, once we start seeing competitors as inspiration instead of enemies. Our communication, expected behaviors, rewards and recognition strategy undergoes a complete change for positive. The rhetorical statements, over zealousness and unnecessary aggression give way to desire for continuous improvement, sense of fulfillment and enjoyment. We spend so much time and resources in improving processes to remove non value added activities but we spend so little on improving human processes and take out non value adding emotions from people’ life.

Bring simplicity back to business. Everyone talks about importance of values. We love to quote great leaders, saints and sports personalities. But if you turned the argument around, say take example of biggest don/gang leader, do they expect anything other than loyalty, honesty, smart work, delivering the task assigned etc? So, even if most crooked people expect these values, why do we want to hide behind street smart, practically honest, this is how system works, life isn’t fair etc.; to be less than honest with   colleagues and customers? Simply put - mean what you say, say what you mean and do what you say.

No Stubbornness, sabotage and politicking. Managements (leaders, HR etc) tend to encourage these highly dysfunctional behaviors in name of being in touch with employees. Leaders are liberators and facilitator. Once we have trusted someone with a responsibility to lead or deliver an assignment, we can’t promote a culture where people use their access with management to constantly question decisions & provide information informally to meet their own agenda. This is easy to fix, my simple solution has always been to ask how are you contributing to the Solution? Or bring all stakeholders face to face. Yes, it may lead to less people coming to you with information, but it significantly cuts the biggest non value adding activity of organizational, gossip and politicking.

Adult to Adult relationship “Be the change you want to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi. Treat people as adults. Business is serious affair. Business needs grown up and skilled people, to deliver value proposition to customers. Accepting people as adults means paying attention to their ideas, thoughts and inputs. It means trusting them to be able handle good with bad, success with failure and so on.


Focus on reason d’ĂȘtre for existence of the Business i.e., Customer - This is not optional. Everything else is. Providing Value for money is best social service any business enterprise can do. If we think at deeper level, this applies to all human endeavors. Similarly, if we start seeing management as service to people instead of power over people, we can bring same focus while leading them.

Differentiation is constant – Straight out of Jack Welch’s philosophy. It has become fashionable currently to denounce bell curve and forced ranking. So many qualified and experienced experts are spending enormous time and energy trying to prove that Bell curve/forced ranking is not the way forward. However, completely side stepping real point – differentiation. Differentiation is a key leadership skill and responsibility. Doesn’t matter what tool is used in carrying out this responsibility. So, be sure that as Leadership Team and HR, you don’t allow the debate over a tool to take away focus from real issue.

Problem Solving vs. Innovation – Leaders stay ahead of curve and are able to find innovative solutions. Sounds right? True, however it is important to understand that single minded focus on providing best in class product and services, provides natural environment to encourage innovation. Same can’t be said for reverse. Institutionalize value, practices and skills with laser sharp focus on problem solving.  This will help unleash innovation and creativity all around. To quote Indira Nooyi, Chairperson PEPSICO, We look for people who are able to understand and work around geo political environment quickly and surround themselves with great talent. Who are agile, can work with scarcity of commodities (read resources) and make something out of nothing.”

Worldly-WiseWisdom is nothing but learning while applying the Knowledge.

Adaptability & Flexibility – The famous words repeated over and over again, “It’s not survival of the fittest but most adaptable”. This phrase also happens to be most inappropriately used. Mostly people using these words, take submission for adaptability or flexibility. True adaptability and flexibility comes from position of strength, courage and conviction. It’s not absence of strong opinion and ideas. We are adaptable and flexible, when we chose to follow/accept someone else’s point of view/idea.  As Leaders, you are flexible when you support a solution or idea while convinced of you own solution not when you didn’t have any. Same time team members are flexible/ adaptable when they rally behind agreed solution, while having stronger ideas or solutions.

When in doubt check, There are no perfect employees, perfect employer, perfect career, perfect organization or perfect managers. It’s only what is perfect for you, what makes you click and what makes your customers successful. Simple check is to use your values and goals to validate, if what you are doing is what you should be doing. (Click slides)

Peanuts attract monkeys, if you are in business, appreciate people are joining you for commercial reasons. Class has its prize, if you want to attract and retain good talent you have to pay them well and provide them with better eco-system compared to others.

Recently, I saw an update on LinkedIn, saying “B2B, B2C is out, Human to Human is in”. Let’s bring humane back to business. The difference between Steve Jobs’ two stints at Apple was, first time he engineered exceptional products with high cost and asked why people will not buy? He failed. Second time, he engineered exceptional products which people will like and believed they will pay premium. He ended up creating most valuable company in the World.

Warm Regards,

January 21, 2014

Challenges in Retaining Leadership

Irrespective of economic conditions, focus to retain talent continues to be a Key challenge for any business. It's important to retain leadership, and not necessarily people in leadership roles.
Jeff Immelt (Chairman & CEO, General Electric) said -“Leaders Protect people from danger … but expose them to reality”.
Let’s follow Immelt’s lead and look at reality:
  • Leadership nowadays is more of title/stripe thing instead of bouquet of skills and behaviors. It is synonymous with earlier term of Management. Resulting in continuous reinforcement that unless one is at certain role, cadre or title, one isn’t a leader.
  • Management and support functions HR, finance etc continue to operate from Parent –Child position w.r.t. Employees.
  • Management talk (rhetoric) mostly reinforces behaviors contrary to stated values of Business. E.g., most businesses have Respect for Individual, Team Work, Integrity and so on as their values, whereas most common phrases used by management are Whatever it takes, go grab .., give more than 100% (??) etc.
  • We continue to teach, glorify and reinforce animal spirit and behaviors through so called motivational speeches, metaphors and well developed Leadership Training programs. Expecting people to be humane and develop people skills?
  • Headlines culture leads to increased importance of self projection, packaging and opportunism. We are all for concise and specific communication but all this 10/20 words tweet style communiquĂ© is good for tag line, smart people and ideas are grounded in information and facts, requiring people to interact with patience.
  • As society becomes more sensitive to needs of special groups (women, religious minorities, LGBT, veterans etc.), there is more pressure on businesses to be seen politically aligned. Leading to “politically correct” response from business leadership (including HR) instead of customer centric and business correct policies.(earlier blog Diversity: HR Focus and Trends 2014)
  • While enormous bytes are written and shared about Innovation, productivity, empowerment and creativity. At the same time Employee handbooks, policy manuals, SOPs continue to grow in size.
We all are clear on why retention is important. I have shared a perspective about WHAT to retain. Plato once said – “A life unexamined is not worth living”.
I sign off, having examined the WHAT part.
Watch this space for HOW!! A wise man said – “There is no try only do”. I shall be back with what to do soon. In the meantime please share your ideas, perspective and feedback.
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Warm Regards,

January 13, 2014

HR Focus and Trends - Technology & Analytics

We are living in digital age and technology keeps evolving at supersonic speed. Everyone is talking about Cloud computing, Big data, Analytics and so on. Convergence of PCs, laptops, phones and entertainment is reality. Social Media has developed tremendous influence and importance in how people interact, market and communicate.
In these tough economic times, organizations are facing huge challenges to cut costs and be more efficient. HR function and Leadership is under pressure to drive cost effective and efficient delivery processes. Growing number of HR Leaders are talking about cloud computing and Big data (Analytics) as there next big focus. There are dedicated Social Media Managers in Talent Management teams.
All this sounds reasonable and logical. Stop for a minute and THINK!!! Is focus on technology or going for the latest buzzword? Technology as means or end in itself? If technology is enabler, then do we need to focus on the end? Some examples to explain the point:
In 2002, As HR manager for Software Solutions Business in India with GE, for us a big pain in on-boarding process was 4-5 hours required to fill the joining docket (consisting of 70-80 pages of various forms). We were globally using Oracle HR ERP and in every meeting Leadership will push for solution using Oracle HR. We (me along with couple of summer interns) got chatting in break room and decided to create a solution using ASP /SQL. We found a sponsor from our unit leadership team and started working on the project. Whilst IT Department, Shared service and Corporate kept asking why were we not waiting for a solution in Oracle HR. We were able to come up with simple software which reduced data capturing time to on average 20 minute and entire process could be completed in less than 45 minutes by simply printing out the forms and signing them.  Finally, entire BPO/KPO business in India implemented same solution.
In 2006, as Lead HR for global mobility group and people on international assignments, we realized that reimbursements available for communication costs were big pain area for  employees. When we looked at the process we realized that process and entitlements were laid down few years back at the time when telecom costs were significantly higher. Process had hidden costs and lot of hand offs, resulting in delays and misses. We came up with a much simpler process doing away with pretty much all paperwork at 1/3rd cost resulting in minimum annual savings of $60K.
In general sense information is "Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance". Technology is an enabler. The Goal (Big Y in six sigma parlance) for HR Analytics has to be converting data into information, like any other application.Effectiveness of HR analytics and tools is dependent on how well Context, fact and circumstances are identified. As always true differentiator will remain quality of leadership (HR & business).
Why & How of -Technology as trend & focus:
  1. It’s not about latest gadget, big software or buzzword, it is about identifying right tool to deliver HR Business goal most effectively.
  2. Has anyone noticed that thanks to BBs, smartphones, tablets etc. people are preoccupied all the time, in hallways, walking through the corridors, in subways, tubes etc, having no time to acknowledge and interact with colleagues, people and surroundings. We are missing on face time, to quote Steve Jobs –“ here’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by e-mail and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” So HR needs to anticipating technology driven changes and facilitate interventions to minimize downside by these behavior changes .
  3. It is important not to try and boil the ocean. Incremental improvements using existing tools and solutions are as important. Once again to quote Steve Jobs - “But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”
  4. Focus on Rightsizing technology, tools and processes. Let's use our understanding of Rightsizing workforce and organisation. Avoid getting carried away with need to join the bandwagon and use buzz words/latest trends.
  5. Yes we are living in digital age but do we only have to keep track of technological advances in Digital space (IT). What about other areas, e.g., Solar energy, electric automobile, safety and security. Advancement in these areas provide for tremendous opportunities for innovative HR interventions. Say, using solar lanterns as gifts and rewards. This is great CSR initiative, both literally and figuratively lights up employee’s life. Are we paying enough attention to technology all around?
  6. We need to use tools to increase productivity and focus. Gentle reminder, an executive’s most precious resource is energy. Be more effective and use your energy effectively.

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Warm Regards,