Month: January 2013

Energy vs Maturity

A few years back when I was on threshold of turning 30, a friend and I were talking about age and how it changes us. He and I are the kind of friends who talk about changing the world. And this was another one of those conversations. I am representing his thought and reflecting on how it fits to organizations.
We grow from being energetic and enthusiastic about everything in life and work to a place where we are mature, have better understanding of systems. Energy drives action and maturity brings more thought out strong decisions, wider perspective and better cognizance of context. Everyone shifts from energy to maturity and there is a period in life where these coincide. That is the period of growth to maximize on.
We start work and are very enthusiastic at any opportunity that comes our way. We grow into a mature person more aware of the world, systems and ways of the world. This maturity brings in a more refined thought process resulting from experience and exposure. And we sort of take more calculated risks at work and otherwise. There is also the pressure of responsibility and how a single mistake can have huge impacts.
There is an overlap stage where the shift from more energy to maturity happens. This is the potential to tab on. At workplace we need to lengthen this overlap stage. Enable our people to stay energized as they mature.
These are preliminary thoughts and I still need to build up on this theory that was shared with me.

Out of sight out of mind

A common workplace challenge is when most leaders are based out of one location – corporate or head office. This is further complicated when there is a global corporate office and then there is a country head-office. Teams located elsewhere often feel left out of action and decision making. Many times they even suffer delayed promotions, less exciting work and in extreme cases they end up being executioners even when at senior and supposedly strategic levels. There are things organizations are already doing to manage this challenge and there is a lot that can be done.
The organizations need to restructure to capitalize effectively on all the capabilities and not ignore teams they don’t see on daily basis.

Some of the things organizations are doing to overcome this challenge.  

1.      Leaders travel often – This has lots of benefits. Collect air-miles, have lavish dinners and on more serious note, spend time with team and network with clients or potential clients. Also keeps leaders updated on local market and trends. The biggest drawback is they get a skewed view of the team because they have to depend on what people say and can’t observe things themselves.


2.      Regular team calls – This is such a eyewash in most cases, it is disappointing. There are effective team calls but they are rare. The challenge is when most of the team is co-located and others are away. Everyone is in a room and a few people on phone are completely left out. In one of my research, a leader pointed out that leaders need to create common platform. For example, get everyone on conference from their desk and not have some people in a room and others on call.


3.      Distributed responsibility and empowerment – This is what makes distances work. The challenge here is incorrect understanding of empowerment. Distributing responsibility should include encouraging distant teams to take lead on some projects/ activities and not just tell them what to do from a distance.


What more can be done  

The short answer is to have strong leaders. There is a lot that organizations and leaders can do to create a truly inclusive culture.

1.      Decentralize and distribute leaders: This is around restructuring organization and I strongly feel is the way to go ahead. Get rid of the concept of corporate office or head office. This also means evenly distribute leaders across locations. The challenge then will be that teams in business units with their leader co-located might get benefited. This can be countered through effective communication leaders can establish with their teams, by efficient performance evaluation system and by ensuring strong advocates at local level within the team or with the talent/HR team. This will at the least get rid of a particular office feeling silo-d. It is normal to have a mix of happy and unhappy teams. In distanced office, people influence each other fairly easily into being unhappy with lack of leader availability.


2.      Revert to old structure of co-located teams: Many organizations I have seen (including the large supposed to be awesome places to work) have great policies and practices on paper but are not able to implement them. They may have regular team meetings but what happens in the meeting may be a disaster. If you can’t deal with it, it is better to stick to old structures of maintaining a single office and small sales offices to manage clients. It is worse to have internal conflicts and an office full of dissatisfied teams or worse still high attrition rates.


3.      Distributed decision making: The concept of distributed responsibility needs to go a step ahead to distributed decision making. Distributed decision making requires empowerment and trust. I will define empowerment in my next post because it is another misinterpreted concept requiring dedicated post. Distributed decision making can be achieved by providing a framework and allowing teams to use their discretion for decision making and execution. This should be enhanced by providing a forum to share success stories.


4.      Optimal utilization of performance management systems: There is a reason many people do not have faith in performance management systems. The system is manipulated by leaders so often that teams don’t know what to trust. Performance systems need to be strongly supported by talent/HR teams for them to be truly effective and fairly unbiased.


5.      Knowledge sharing: This is required even when the teams are co-located. Knowledge sharing opportunities enable learning from others and showcase what people are doing. This should be taken seriously. When leaders involve themselves in these activities, they bring in seriousness to it. They also need to be an observer and allow teams to interact with each other. This provides them with a good understanding of strengths of their team members and keeps them updated on how the team members are evolving their capabilities.




Pet Peeves

I begin this blog with writing about my pet peeves about HR/ Talent whatever you want to call it.

1.       Anyone can do HR: I was once told by a Vice President HR that “HR is intuitive and its common sense”. He implied that HR does not require specialized skills. To set the context of the above statement. This young HR VP I mention had moved from VP of business excellence team to VP HR for India. It was a huge move from managing a team of randomly collected orphan teams( not putting this phrase into context) to managing end to end HR for the region. I asked him why he moved and to that he answered because he was asked if he was interested in the role and because HR is about common sense, he thought he could do it without previous experience or qualification and with knowledge that everyone else has of HR (=outside perspective). He could’ve simply said that he got a new role and it was opportunity to explore a new area. And to give him some credit he mentioned he had managed some HR business partners in the past. What disappointed me was that as someone who heads HR function, he did not respect it. He did not think it was necessary to be qualified HR professional.

2.       It’s “Talent Management” and not “Human Resources”: Time and again I come across these HR folks, especially the young ones, who lay emphasis on terminology. I was one of them too. It is more than terminology. While I do feel terminology matters in creating perception, it is useless unless we change our view. And this view hasn’t changed much, at least not in India. Only marginaly better in other geographies I have worked with.

3.       False modesty: I don’t get the concept of false modesty. Trying to underplay yourself to fish for compliments or for others to hail you is as bad as boasting and talking about yourself. Just don’t talk! A friend told me this conversation with her and her husband. They went traveling and she related an architectural feature with Spanish architecture, where she had been before. Her hubby cut her saying it sounds like she’s showing off that she has been to Spain.  Well, that happens sometimes and her husband said that if she observed doesn’t mean she always has to share her observation, especially in a situation where her intent is likely to be misinterpreted. The point is to represent yourself appropriately, don’t overdo your importance and don’t underplay yourself either.  It is simple to be secure, know yourself and represent yourself as you are and not another image of you. Be authentic!

4.       Demeaning work: This follows from the above point. HR does a specialized work, at least some of us do. HR is NOT limited to administrative work. Don’t make it such and don’t talk about it such. HR professionals themselves demean their profession, constantly undermine it or misrepresent it. Also, when you have a policy like mandatory training, believe in it and know its value. Don’t go about saying, “life is never always easy, you just have to do things”. There is  a reason behind defining mandatory training hours and many other such things. If you don’t what this reason is, ask!

5.       We are empowering you: Empowerment is one of the most casually used terms in corporates these days. It is in many cases synonymous to “I’m washing my hands off you”, “You deal with this shit”, “If you goof up, it’s your a** on line”. In short it has lost its meaning. Empowerment is NOT the opposite of micro management. It is about trust and support.