Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Are you listening with your Heart ?

Guess what is the first Rule of  Leading ? Authority ? Knowledge ? Sympathy ? Empathy ? Vision ?

 No. All these are incorrect.

The first rule of leading or managing is Listening.  

Not just hearing. Listening with a heart. Believe me , it is a really tough task !  The true leader is a listener. The Leader listens to the ideas, needs, aspirations and wishes of the followers and responds to them appropriately and adequately within the boundaries of her own beliefs.  

Leadership begins with listening. Usually we are so excited about speaking and expressing ourselves so explicitly that we do not even listen to the responses. When someone responds, our minds are so  busy and pre-occupied with our own thoughts that the inertia of motion of our thoughts overrides our listening capabilities. Inevitably, we miss out on vital clues inside the mind of our teams and this hampers the basic output or consequences.

 These tips will help us improve our power of listening :
  • Stop Talking : You cannot listen when you are talking. You will only be thinking about what you are going to say next ! Try to focus your attention to the speaker.
  • Put them at ease :  Specially when  you are in a position of authority, put the speaker at ease. Smile. Look at the speaker.  Lean towards him. Look interested. Remove distractions.
  • Listen with your eyes : Research says that  55% of the message is  nonverbal , 38% is conveyed by the tone of the voice and only 7% are conveyed by words.  So try to understand the true feelings behind the words. Listen for what is not being said. Usually people hesitate to speak the most crucial points !
  • Patience- Do not interrupt : Be polite and courteous and give ample time to the speaker to convey the full message. Interruption sometimes diverts the moot point.
  • Walk in their moccasins : Empathize. Sometimes just listening to the person helps him vent out his emotions. Remember , as a leader, you will not have ready-made solutions to all the problems.But just listening emphatically sometimes clears the clouds and the silver lining becomes visible !
  • Hold your own emotions at bay : When emotions are high, there is a tendency to become defensive or give unwarranted advice. So, hold your temper, do not argue. You will lose your credibility as a leader by doing so. Even if you win , you will lose ! 
I have been in many situations where just by virtue of listening, solutions to problems emerged, from the person himself who had come to speak to me. There have been  numerous instances when I could hold my emotion and kept quiet, but the other person cried and the tears made him lighter and he could face the situation in a better way. 

Your team or followers should believe that you really want to listen. And when they say something you will feel it with your heart and take it in the right spirit. They should feel that their point of view is important to you. 

It is in the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. 

Open your eyes and  heart  to listen. Ignite the leader in you !

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Can we avoid FOMO ?

Today , as I  waited in the Airport lounge , I looked around me.  Though the sight was very common , but for a few minutes, somehow I felt very strange.  Almost 90% of the people were using either their cell phone or ipad or laptop, looking at the screen - sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning, some were clicking photographs , some people were talking but about something on their smart screens !  The power of connectivity ! 

We are always "on".  Checking and replying to messages, emails, tweeting or posting on social networking sites.  We reply within seconds ! The first thing which I checked after landing is whether my cell phone network is working or not.  Technology has brought about a revolution in keeping us connected through multiple communication channels.  Facebook has made us virtually omnipresent.  These have changed our lives drastically.  So big is the impact that a fear has crept in our psyche.  FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out.  

We are so connected with one another through our Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, that we can’t just be alone anymore. The fear of missing out (FOMO) — on something more fun, on a social event that might just happen on the spur of the moment — is so intense, even when we decide to disconnect, we still connect just once more, just to make sure.

When we see something nice, we want to click a photograph instead of  seeping in the beauty. Rather than writing something creative, we want to remark on some one else's comment or picture. Because of the attention span deficit, we prefer to look at photographs or visuals than reading something thought provoking.  In her book "Alone Together", MIT professor  Sherry Turkle has explored this aspect beautifully.  As I write this piece, I have checked my facebook twice . Is someone doing something more interesting , something more exciting or something better ? 

It is definitely a heady feeling to be connected with my old school friends , knowing what my contacts are doing or feeling (Facebook now prompts "How are you feeling Ananya ?" in the status update box). But sometimes I miss the feeling when in my childhood , I waited with bated breath , running towards the door, to check whether my Uncle has reached with my birthday gift. The excitement of opening a letter written by my pen friend. The gossips during our lunch breaks where we discussed the whackiest thing a friend did last evening. 

I want to break free  in 2013. 

I want to be missed, but  I do not want to be drowned in the fear of missing out.  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Do you want a Pay Raise ? Tips ...

First of all a very Happy and prosperous New Year to all the readers ! 

As I talk about prosperity, usually the first thing which comes to our mortal minds is the annual increment . In most of the organizations, appraisal forms must have been completed, discussion appointments must have been set in the calenders and    every body must be waiting with bated breadth about the increment percentage ! At  this time of the year, the most common water  cooler discussions revolve around the percentage of  salary hike to be given to the employees.  

Is it possible to get a better raise ? Are you dreading the appraisal discussions and salary negotiations ? Some of you feel that it really does not matter. Even if you discussed and negotiated, will it really make a difference ?   

These are some tips which might help you in having a fruitful discussion and a better negotiations on the pay raise :

  • Research and prepare : Find out what the others make for similar role inside your organization and in other organizations. Your research should be well rounded and include everything - bonus, variable component, in hand salary, perks, incentives , working hours etc. Preparation is the key. You should have the data ready with you so that the discussion can be logical and factual. 

  • Think about your value to the organization : Sometimes people undervalue what they have to offer. Think objectively about your efficiency and indispensability to the organization. How do you compare to your colleagues ? Sometimes we have more "power" and "responsibility" than we think. But be careful not to become over-confident.   Just think in terms of the value which you bring to the organization and this will give you a better sense of pride and you will be able to discuss confidently  without being overtly aggressive. 

  • Advocate and Ask : In salary negotiation, the rule is "Don't ask, don't get".  I have experienced situations where people think "Why should I ask ? My work and performance should talk .. ". I think that is an utopia. We have to advocate ourselves , communicate our accomplishments , document them meticulously and precisely and then finally ask for our dues. The timing of your asking should be proper. Usually the appraiser/interviewer brings up the salary/hike discussion. 

  • Know your boundaries : You should be very clear about what you want and the best options for you. Prepare for the discussion and if possible try to do role plays with different scenarios.  While preparing , be clear what works for you and what is really acceptable to you. This will help you in managing the negotiations and the decision making will be easier. Know your limits - for example a range of the percentage hike ,  flexibility in timings , extra vacation time etc.. Salary might not only be cash in hand.  The negotiations can also revolve around things or opportunities which matter to you. Thinking creatively will also give the employer better flexibility and can result in a win-win situation for both. 

  • Put yourself in your boss's shoes : Test your requests from the employers' point of view. Think whether you are being reasonable. What is it in for them ? What is motivating them ? Have you overlooked any concern they might have ? How can you help them ? Ask how the boss will explain to the higher levels and your peers if they grant your request. Help them in explaining to others by documenting your achievements and accomplishments. Document if possible in monetary terms how you have contributed to the organization . Communicate how you have created value for the organization. Help your boss !

  • Don't overreact : It is very common to get shot down. Do not overreact or show too much disappointment. Take some time to think and maybe your boss also might want some more time to think about your request. Thank them for the discussion and end the discussion in a light note. This does not indicate that you have cowed down but it shows your etiquette and culture. You can always have the last say by smiling and saying that you would expect more. Remember that if you are really your worth, then the current organization is not the only one.  Be willing to search for and consider alternative job offers. Be professional and end the discussion on a civil note. 

All the best !

Thursday, 27 December 2012

4 Things Which the Employees want in 2013

A new year is knocking at the doors. There is something about January. We all feel fresh and rejuvenated. Our hearts are filled with a new hope, some new beginnings , a sense of freedom from the old ways and looking forward to newer things and meaningful changes. 

The following are my take on what changes the employees of any organization might be looking forward to :

  • Transparency and communication :  The new generation values transparency. They want more and more communication so that they can understand the actual status of the organization / project. They are adequately prepared to mould  themselves accordingly so that they remain in the thick of things and are a part of making things happen. Sugar-coating the situations and vagueness of the communication puts them off. 

  • Instant feedback : This is the age of  instant "everything".  The employees want instant feedback. Instead of waiting for the half-yearly or annual appraisal discussion, the Gen Y wants to get immediate feedback. And the managers should understand that their teams are capable of dealing with it.The   feedback will be appreciated more if they get time and chance to improve upon it rather that looking at it in retrospect. 

  • Empathetic bosses :  The stick should be replaced by a pat-on-the-back.  The employees expect their managers to be empathetic.  Technology has made things easy and the team expects their managers to be more supportive and friendly rather than being too technical.  Employees needs nurturing. They want their bosses to be more of mentors than supervisors. 

  • Flexi work hours :  I have seen many organizations trying to adopt flexi-timings . But sadly, they put in too many checks and balances which sometimes become quite cumbersome and not at all employee friendly. I think full ownership of the work should be given to the employees and after that total flexibility in timings. The employees do understand that there will be some project/organizational bindings - example, weekly team meetings , all-employee ,get togethers etc. The culture of the organization itself should make the employee "adapt" to these bindings.  Once the sense of ownership is developed in the team and when they get the adequate flexibility to balance the work and life, the employees will give their 100% to the organization !

I look forward to see these changes in 2013 ! 

A very happy and prosperous new year to all the readers . Welcome 2013 !

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Controversy of Job Satisfaction

Job Satisfaction is a very controversial topic. 

The bookish definition of Job Satisfaction is the degree to which individuals feel positively or negatively about their jobs. There is a complex relationship between the employee job satisfaction and the performance of the organization. So does the overall performance of the organization  lead to employee job satisfaction or if the employees are satisfied , the organization performs well ?  

One of the most important tasks of a Manager or a Leader is to make their team perform and  Job Satisfaction has a big role to play in the performance of her team. So what is the relationship between Job Satisfaction and performance ? There are several theories :

  •  Does Performance cause Job Satisfaction ? If  the manager finds that the performance of the people in his team is leading to Job Satisfaction, then she should focus on helping people achieve high performance. The goals for the team should be tangible and stretched to the maximum feasible limit. And once the goal is reached, commensurate rewards should follow. But again , if the employee feels that the he has been unfairly rewarded, then this theory will not hold good. 

  • Does Job Satisfaction cause performance ? If this is true them the managers should simply make their employees happy. Well,  in my own experience, I have realized that a person becomes either complacent or settles down so happily in the regular repetitive day job that his performance either decreases or remains static.  This theory might work with higher level employees , but job satisfaction is not a consistent factor of the employees work performance.

  • Does Reward cause Job satisfaction and performance ? This theory propagates that rewards can boost both performance as well as job satisfaction. Again , the reward should be regarded as commensurate.  Rewards might be of many forms. It can be monetary or some extra perks or something intangible , e.g. a member of the President's club.  Research has indicated that higher the reward, the better is the job satisfaction, but it has also been found out that lower rewards to low performers has led to dissatisfaction ! 

So , it is not so simple as it seems ! The manager or the leader should use all the facets of job satisfaction to boost the performance of her team. So, depending on the situation , the manager has to utilize the work itself or the promotion opportunities to increase the Job satisfaction and the performance of the team.  Another very important area for job satisfaction is the quality of supervision and the relationship of the team. And last but not at all the least, pay and rewards to the appropriate people leads to job satisfaction.

So go ahead and make your team perform by making them satisfied with their job ! All the best !

Friday, 14 December 2012

Self Worth

A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a Rs 1000  note.

In the room of 500, he asked, "Who would like to have this note ?" Hands went up.

He said, "I will give this to one of you but first, let me do this."

He proceeded to crumple up the note . He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air.

"Well", he continued, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and , put his shoe on the note and crushed it . He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty.

"Now, who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.

"My friends, we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth Rs 1000.

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.

We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value.

Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless. 

The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but by WHO WE ARE.

You are special- Don't EVER forget it.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Look again. Look Hard

What do you see ?  

At the first glance , you see something – correct?  

Look again. Look hard.  

Read between the images and think....  Do you see something else too ?  If  still you cannot see, try to rotate the image. Now, is that better? 

Well, first you must have seen a bespectacled person and then when you looked the second time or the third time, you saw “Liar” written. 

"Things are not always what they seem, the first appearance deceives many, the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden"

The point which I want to make is when you see something or hear something , do not form an opinion about it immediately. As in this illusion, most of the times, what meets our eyes at the first glance might construe a completely different meaning when we look at the situation the second time. 

This is true in most of the situations both at the workplace and in our personal lives. 

Sometimes we have a preconceived notion about a certain person or thing or most importantly about ourselves. Think about your last appraisal discussion when some scope of improvement about you was discussed. It is very hard for most of the people to take the feedback positively because we have an image of ourselves in our mind, and this obstructs us from improving ourselves. 

We see what we want to see , not what it actually is.

I have seen several managers write-off a team member merely because they could not meet their expectation the first time or the person acted or spoke in a particular way. I have also seen incidents of strife between people when they have assumed something just by a simple act or conversation. 

Look twice, think at least twice to check out the different angles and you will be amazed just like I was when I looked at this picture.

If we can do this, then we can ACT on and not REACT to a situation. 

So, open your eyes and look again and be ready for surprises !

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Only Quality …………………

 In all my quality induction sessions, I get almost the same answer to my question “ What is quality ? “ . So , the answers which the audience came up in the induction which I conducted recently were also more or less these :

  • Quality means documentation
  • Quality means less defects
  • Quality means giving more functionality to the customer
  • Quality means estimating and planning so that we give more time for reviews etc.
  • Quality is “Conformance to Requirements”

I cannot dispute the above statements since some of them are true if taken in isolation. But the above statements do not convey the full essence of quality nor do they give the big picture.  So apart from “Quality is conformance to requirements “ , the rest of the definitions are incomplete and some of them are incorrect if taken in isolation.

What really is Quality ? For many organizations or projects , software quality is viewed as a luxury or good to have”. And for such mindsets, software quality is often “sacrificed” for added functionality, faster development at lower costs. Most of the times , however, at a very late stage , do the managers realize that they end up spending more time in fixing defects in the completed software resulting in  a much higher cost.

Compared to other engineering disciplines, low quality is often tolerated in software development. Think of a situation where you just bought a refrigerator or a camera and when you start using it , it does not work in the way it is supposed to .  You would immediately lodge a complaint and return the appliance. Not only would you not recommend this product to any one, you would even discourage others from buying that brand. In the software domain, low or poor quality is common mainly because the users or the customers are limited and there is this mindset of better than previous version” or “something is better than nothing”.

Quality can be termed as the sum of reliability , performance, functionality, zero defects , usability, supportability, scalability and the most important , software should run the way it is supposed to. Many people believe that they will “do quality” only after they get time after they “do their project”. This may be due to the notion that quality is documentation and hence an overhead.  And quality and project work are two different entities.  The inference from this thought may be due to the way quality at work is perceived by an associate. However , what needs to be understood is that quality is a well defined process for creating a useful product that adds value for both consumer and manufacturer. An apt definition of quality as penned by James Juran is quality meansfitness for use”. In this age of competitiveness, quality is the differentiator. If we take the example of  the automotive domain , in 1970s , the Japanese automotive manufacturers  adopted Deming’s rigorous quality assurance program and became known for their highly efficient usable and reliable cars.  Thus quality became the differentiators and the Japanese cars were taken as the benchmark for  automotive quality.

Another import aspect is innovation. The concept of continuous process improvement leads to organizational innovations.  With sound processes in place , it is possible to react , adopt and deploy the innovations efficiently.

Last but not at all the least , according to Phil Crossby, Quality is free. The statement may not be literally true , but  if you compare the cost of quality with the price of non compliance , the ratio is zero. The concept is doing things right the first time.  My experience is that quality and process are often traded for speedy development,  but in the long run, we find that processes enable the team to deliver more on time and at a lower cost. There is less person dependency and more people maturity in the team.

For quality to percolate down in any organization,  an essential ingredient is the drive and focus of Senior management.  

And yes, everybody can and should contribute to the quality drive in an organization . An organization can move forward in the Quality space only with the participation and involvement of all the employees,

Cheers !

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

5 techniques to help YOU deal with “problem” Customers

No matter how hard you try,sometimes it is very difficult to please a particularly difficult client. 

The following are five simple, time-proven techniques to help YOU deal with your "problem" customers. For some it may be just a reminder. For others though, it may mean changing your thought process a bit for dealing with these types of customers.

  • Set up lines of communication with your client : Make sure they know exactly who to contact when a question or problem arises. It’s bad enough when a client experiences a problem. It is a disaster when the problem occurs and he or she has no one to talk to about it. Report frequently to the customer what you have done or are doing to help with the problem. They want to know how their money is being spent, and they want to assess the value you are providing. Frequent communication is equated with great service.

  • "Did I understand you correctly?" :  Ask them . This will prompt the customer to confirm what he or she just said. This will ensure that you understood the client’s wishes and make a later denial less likely. 

  • "What do you feel is the best solution?" :  You’ve already sold the product or provided the service and now the customer claims it is not what they thought it would be: Psychologically speaking, when we ask for customer’s ideas about the best course of action, we usually cause them to become more lenient and forgiving. We cause them to soften from the often firm positions they feel forced to defend. It makes it all right for them to compromise and they become more flexible and easy to work with.

  • Know your aim : Focusing on the finish line--- the work you wish to accomplish, the experience you want to acquire, etc.--- will help to decrease the extent to which your client’s behavior will aggravate you. Keep in mind that although being upset with other people’s behavior is understandable, every reaction you have is your choice.  Simple common courtesy usually works to smooth over turbulent times. The structure of well-mannered conversation will help keep both you and your customer from straying into unpleasant territory.

  • Finally, laugh when you can. Have a sense of humor about your work, and look for ways to share it with people who test your patience. We all take our business serious, as we should. However, if we can take a moment to look at the overall picture and observe that the battle between us and the dissatisfied client will not even matter in five years, and in some cases before the day is over, we can relax.

Have a cup of fresh Darjeeling  tea,  relax and  focus on your next big deal !

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dr. V and McSurgery

 Many of us in the northern part of the country may not have heard of  “Dr. V” or the eye hospital he has built. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy or Dr. V as he was affectionately called brought about a revolution in eye care in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India.

After his retirement as an eye surgeon in a government hospital, he started a small charitable  hospital called the Aravind Eye Hospital in 1976 for cataract patients in Madurai with just 10 beds. Although the charitable nature of the hospital has been retained, the venture has earned enough in two decades to have started facilities in three locations with a total of more than 3000 beds where over 200,000 cataract operations are conducted each year. Aravind also boasts of a world class manufacturing unit for intraocular lenses. His achievements are spectacular enough for Harvard University to have done a case study on him for its graduate students.

Process has a major role in this amazing story. Dr. V revolutionized the delivery model for cataract operations in third world countries. Some facts and figures:

 1. Aravind Eye Hospital has given sight back to more than 1.5 million people.
2.  On an average a Doctor performs _about 20 – 25 operations everyday
3.  The hospital has a gross margin (profit) of more than 40%.
4.  A cataract surgery in the U.S. costs $1650. In Aravind it costs just $10.

5.  Aravind treats more than 60% 0f its patients free of cost and it still manages to make profits.

Dr. V saw the golden arch of McDonalds and thought  “ If McDonalds can sell millions of burgers and cans of coke why can’t I sell millions of eye restoring operations?” He had the vision “to provide sight to as many people as possible and to mass market cataract surgery.”

Process and innovation:

According to the renowned management guru C.K. Prahlad, affordability is critical for both the business model and the underlying vision of service. The organization needs to be profitable for sustenance and growth. To keep the price low, Aravind resorted to innovation and processes. To lower cost, an organization has to play with volumes. Each doctor performs about 3600 surgeries in a year. Every step a patient takes is part of a very well researched and technology driven workflow. Each operation room contains 4 operation theatres manned by a two doctor team. The staff nurse takes over the pre-operation procedure and also prepares the patient for surgery. By the time the doctors are finished with the two patients in hand, on the adjacent beds lay two new patients ready with microscopes focused on their eyes. The first two patients are removed by a nurse to post-op care ward and the cycle moves on. The doctors are expected to work without a break and only concentrate on their core job! The waiting time between patients is ZERO!! Hence the eye operation cycle becomes a virtual assembly line where each member of the team knows exactly what they need to do. The operation room nurses, surgeons and anesthetists are constantly learning and using their reservoir of expertise to make appropriate adjustments to reflect the needs of the customers in a specific context. They improvise continuously like players in a jazz band.

Pricing and Training

Due to the mature and well running processes and innovations, effort and costs decrease. With innovations like use of bamboo sticks in stretchers instead of steel rods and alliances with financial institutions, Aravind subsidizes 70% of the patients and the remaining 30% pay market rates for its world class service quality and reputation. For the people who can not afford the cost the hospital provides free eye care and surgery. Aravind Eye Hospital markets itself by organizing free eye camps in rural areas to help treat people who are unable to afford a visit to the hospital. Training and skill building form an integral part of the model.  The combination of specialization and volume makes the doctors and nurses experts in a relatively short span of time. To keep the costs low, the nurses and doctors are continuously trained so that they can specialize in their own field and in turn train the juniors.

Organizational values:

For  running an organization as effectively as Aravind Eye Hospital, values and goals must be clear, motivating and easy to share. The overall culture is of service, humility, equality and kindness. All the doctors speak softly to patients. If a doctor behaves in an unacceptable manner, he is in for trouble. Mutual respect is a core value. All the employees at Aravind have the same purpose engrained in them - to provide for all people - rich and poor with world class quality and care.Due to the alignment in goals, teams of people organize themselves to work together without the need for expensive supervision.

Aravind Eye hospital is now more than a mere eye care centre. It also manufactures lenses, organizes medical training, runs an eye bank and a post graduate institute. Innovations have been put in place and the cost of a lens manufactured here is less than 1/8th of the international prices.

There is a lesson for all of us in the life and vision of Dr.V who invented “McSurgery”

Born to a rural family, he suffered from severe sporiatic arthritis which left his hand deformed and to think that this was the man responsible for saving 2.4 million eyes many of which were operated by Dr.V himself.  The world lost this great visionary on 7th July 2006. 

Hats off to this great leader ! 

If all of us can think even 1% like him, the world will be a much better place ….!