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Sanmargam

I was waiting in line for a ride at the airport in Dubai. When a cab pulled up, the first thing I noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for me.

He handed me a laminated card
and said: ‘I’m Abdul, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk I’d
like you to read my mission statement.’

Taken aback, I read the card.
It said: Abdul’s Mission Statement: “To get my customers to their destination
in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.”

This blew me away. Especially
when I noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly
clean!

As he slid behind the wheel,
Abdul said, ‘Would…

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Today I came across a reaffirmation of something I had heard even earlier. It’s all about what is valued most in aspiring/practicing engineering-leads/managers by (product) companies in US.

A is a smart young man who has made rapid strides in his professional career in the few years he is employed in a very well-known product company in the west coast. He was recently promoted as the champion of a futuristic platform slated to serve as the bedrock for the company’s flagship products in the pipeline (or maybe it’s already deployed).  

Not surprisingly laudatory messages flowed in on his promotion, coming from his team, peers and others mostly congratulating him for his achievement. The manager’s message was a little different and more insightful. I understood in gist it went something like: ‘Besides being a genuine person, compassionate in his approach and frank without being brutal in his feedback, he was recognized for being a great help to his team and its success…’

My eyes lit up. Interesting, how did/does it happen? May be there was something in here waiting to be dug up and aired for broader good.  Or, like at other times, it might throw up some ‘Drinking milk is good for health’ kind of statements. Try I did and this is what I came up with.

At this point I must point out my digging – a short exercise – was not with A directly, but with a very articulate professional close to him and in the know. In a way it was a blessing because I was being served with sum-up’s without the obfuscating details (always available if needed).

A had in his team a good number of youngsters faced with and fazed by humungous amount of code thrown at them. Much as he might have wished, there was simply no way he could sit with them one-on-one and help them in their work.

Ye huyi na baath, ab batao, batao, kya kiya A? Tell us, tell us what did A do! 

No magic, here. He would give them pointers to what, where and how, induct them into a few structured processes (and possibly tools and techniques), and leave them alone to work on the details. It made them happy they did the work on their own, boosting their self-confidence. Soon they learnt to do some part of the analysis too all by themselves. Result: faster learning, quicker ramp-up, better productivity and a happier team.

While this may work with the younger lot, how did he handle the seniors in the team?

Firstly, he quickly appraised himself of their background, their skills and strengths. He would then place before them a few questions that needed to be resolved for the job at hand and challenged their mettle. They were free to research, analyse and figure out the answers for a discussion. It included bringing their prior experience and knowledge, wherever relevant, to bear up on the problem. It was thus an interesting, useful and tedium-breaking problem-solving cum learning exercise for them and for A too. Once again, the result of having tail-up seniors on one’s side: enhanced quality of the solution, better productivity and a happier and motivated team.

While the above may not be an entirely new read to many, it’s nevertheless an interesting insight into a) how a young successful engineering-lead on the rise in a product company made it work for him and b) what product companies value and recognize in their engineering-leads/managers.    

It’s clear while individual excellence may well be a prerequisite for other pieces to fall in place, it’s not an end in itself. Enabling and empowering others in the team to perform gets far better results for the organization and for oneself in terms of recognition and reward.

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Source: Image from here.

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A recent article in Inc dramatically reports:

‘In 1 Powerful Sentence, Mark Cuban Just Gave Every Company in America a Harsh Wake-up Call’

It’s a simple statement, with profound implications.

Mark Cuban – GETTY IMAGES

Goes on with:

Mark Cuban, Shark Tank investor and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, recently took to his personal blog to comment on a major issue facing the NBA — and every employer in America.

There’s been a lot of talk regarding how NBA players have really taken control of their league, with the most talented players teaming up behind the scenes to play together or asking to be traded to a different team if they’re not happy with their situation.

Quotes Cuban saying:

Some feel that the player movement we have seen … is a problem, I don’t. I think it is exactly what we should expect, and it reflects what is happening in the job market across industries in our country.

“This reality has changed what it is like to be an employer. In the past, the default was that the best employees would want a long career with their employers, because that is what you did. You kept your job as long as you could. No longer.”

And then, the 1 Powerful Sentence:

“Now the onus is on employers to keep their best employees happy.”

Don’t we guys in software industry of 1980-2010 vintage know? Talk to us and we’ll tell you horror stories to fill many tomes. With attrition soaring amok, further aggravated by shortage of talent pool, it wasn’t about keeping ‘best employees’ happy. One had to amuse whoever walked by within six feet of the front gates to lure 

Welcome to the Party, America – you’re a few decades late though. Invite us to talks – we can tell a thing or two – on how we coped up, kept the show going, our customers served without disruption!

To be fair, it’s not new to them either – I recall from many years ago a senior executive from HP,  wise to our predicament, mentioning it was no different in those early years in California. May be long forgotten with its learnings.

The article goes on to talk about the How’s of the sentence, covering all bases: coaching, empowerment, inclusivity, communication, career development…besides remuneration.

Coming back to the real subject of this post, ‘1 Powerful Sentence’:

“Now the onus is on employers to keep their best employees happy.”

You thought happiness is more for pets given to by their masters?  

Sorry, am being irreverent and flippant.

Years of working with colleagues at all levels and of all hues in good and bad times has taught us one thing that I share with you here – a perspective adding to (and not in any way invalidating) the professed sentence and its How’s:

Make it a journey with them – feasible, authentic, involved, worthwhile, interesting and enjoyable for them, for you and the organization. Happiness ensues and a lot more…

To cite a parallel, of relevance – Just as caring for community’s safety and earning their respect and the adrenal rush of running towards (and not away from) danger to save life and property are identified as the two pure and strong turn-on’s in the lives of fire-fighters who in many surveys end up high to very high in job satisfaction.

Each of those words feasible…is purposeful, non-overlapping and worthy of deliberation.

Well, I can tell you – and my colleagues out there would also vouch – it has been shown to work for its practitioners.

End

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Weeks ago, my daughter visiting from US brought a small device.

It was a night lamp. With a motion sensor!

Peel off the cover on its back and stick it to the wall and you’re on. As simple as that.

So when it finds someone walking, it lights up the way.

And thoughtfully it comes in pairs.

Useful to help the old, for example, when they get up in the night sleepy-eyed to go to toilet. One device for the way up and another for return, especially when there is a bend.

Costs some $25 to $30.

Here’s a simple device that makes tending a wee bit easier and life safer for the old. Am sure there must be other uses too.

But it’ll be years before it’s made in this country, if at all.

It’s nothing new – the concept and the opportunity of putting electronics and miniaturization to help in daily life for some strange reason never captured the fancy of young engineers and entrepreneurs in this country. And with it a huge potential for employment for self and others.

What happened years ago comes to mind. I had a long daily commute from Chembur to workplace in Seepz. At one point in Ghatkopar, our vehicle would tee off into the road through Asalpha. After plodding through heavy traffic for a few kilometers unsuspectingly, we would find the road blocked – merrily dug up by the authorities or some utility company.  What else but to trace back to the point and take a long detour losing precious time in the busy morning hours. Why couldn’t they tell us about it in time? A communication problem amenable to some simple solution with electronics. Of course, in absence of anything else, a placard with an announcement would have served the purpose.

The arrival of and the revolution brought in by pagers and later mobile devices elsewhere in the world failed miserably to ignite any kind of similar innovation in this land.

This is not limited only to the field of communication. Consider this simple but dire need: Until recently we did not have a reliable and inexpensive way of timely switching on and off of pumps drawing water from the municipal mains to storage tanks atop apartments. The guy on duty would turn on the pump, go goofing about and return ‘aaraamse’ from his chai and gossip and switch it off but not before the floors and adjacent parts of the road had been washed clean by the overflowing water. Even today in times when water is scarce, installing these devices are not mandated by corporations to plug wastage!! A small opportunity to create a market place for electronics and its supply chain missed 😦

Areas like entertainment electronics, avionics, computers…are ‘to dhoor ki bhat’.

With a huge population, increased urbanization, improved standard of living and the burgeoning need for a range of services, possibilities of tapping into electronics are mind-boggling.

But we won’t – it’ll all come from China or Taiwan while our youth bitch and moan, blame the government for the ills or in some parts of the country turn into professional protesters available to politicians for hire! Or, turn into programmers!

To heck with sensors, devices, prime-movers, iot…as long as we have those dumb guys in China churning them out…

Is it because tinkering with things is essentially not part of our dna? We make poor engineers with hardware? Of course we always made pots and beads, as archaeological digs reveal. No questions.

So much for leadership in education, enterprise and nation building:-(

End

PS: Have no idea how ISRO and a few organizations in defense and private sectors pull along amidst such a dismal ecosystem. Just as it’s a wonder how those magnificent temple edifices in the south and elsewhere were constructed – did China supply them too? Kidding 🙂

This time I’m not kidding. At the risk of appearing quixotic, may I suggest for every software professional of ours US employs directly or indirectly, we employ/import a technician, engineer or an entrepreneur from that country to the extent BOP allows. This will give us a kick-start in real engineering capabilities with hardware and establishing a nourishing ecosystem we are unable to set up on our own.

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“Customer experiences are being harmed because business efforts to improve employee engagement are fundamentally flawed” – Neil Davey (Managing editor, MyCustomer.com)

As a result, there has been increasing attention paid to the employee experience in recent years, with growing focus on areas such as wellness, diversity, inclusion, mental health, capability development and training.

Yet despite the proliferation of these projects, estimates by Temkin Group suggest that the number of engaged employees still remains disturbingly low – with its research indicating that only 33% of staff are highly engaged, and that number dropping to as low as 26% for those aged 18-24. This last statistic is of particular concern because this demographic is amongst the most likely to be serving customers, whether in contact centers or in other customer-facing roles.

He identifies a few reasons why engagement continue to be so low despite the surge in employee experience effortsincluding the mistake of treating money as an overriding motivator.

Among them are two crucial areas, I thought, that go a long way in strengthening employee engagement and in turn CX:

“Failing: Not engaging staff with the company’s wider purpose.

If understanding employee motivations is crucial, there is also the other side of the coin to consider: do employees understand the organisation’s motivations? Do staff know what the company’s purpose is, and do they buy into it…

Whatever the purpose is, it has to have meaning and connect with the employees in the organization…whether it’s a customer-centric purpose, or a profitability purpose, it has to be something that employees want to rally behind to achieve…

And then the leaders need to translate that purpose to every part of the business in a meaningful way.

Reminds me of an inspiring anecdote SU (a Division head) shared with us years ago:

In his days as a salesman, on one occasion, he moved heaven and earth to fix a problem on a IBM 1403 (a legendary line printer) he had sold to a customer – the awry drum and fan-fold paper movement was ultimately traced to dampness in the paper, fixed by heating up the stock with an electric bulb before usage! For him, a mere salesman, and his organization, the sale did not end with invoicing and collecting.   

Needless to emphasize the purpose needs to be authentically reflected in both thought and action at all times. Any incongruence at any time in this regard on part of the leadership, careless or otherwise, seriously undermines the cause.

This leads us to the second significant failing which is a little more of a challenge.

“Failure: Not connecting day-to-day tasks to the bigger purpose.

…As well as understanding and being engaged with the organization’s wider purpose, the employees also need to understand how their basic, daily activities contribute to that purpose.

The most famous and possibly apocryphal story that best demonstrates this, concerns President John F. Kennedy’s first visit to NASA headquarters in 1961. During his tour of the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. “I’m helping put a man on the moon,” came the reply.

The janitor understood his employer’s wider purpose, and also understood his daily task’s contribution to it – by ensuring everything was spotless, all of the sensitive equipment could function without fault. The cleaner did not view himself as simply a janitor, but a member of the NASA space team with an important role.

Without this important connect, the purpose remains as a lofty statement enshrined on some plaque. The tail does not go with the head!

For instance, it’s necessary and important to ask and answer How does having a customer-centric purpose translate to a call center agent? At the meaningful level, how does that tell you to behave and operate in a certain way? Does that tell you to smile more often, or to say please, or thank you, or does it help you answer the telephone in a slightly different way?

Of course it is not always so simple when it comes to those daily tasks that often appear dull and of non-strategic value. At this point it is important to realize even these tasks are connected; else they would not be performed in the first place. The trick is to uncover and present the connection that exists in right context.

Guarding against these two failures significantly enhances employee engagement.

And, how does an engaged employee perform?

Here’s a short and timely anecdote from Seth Godin:

“The $50,000 an hour gate agent:

Conventional CEO wisdom is that top management is worth a fortune because of the high-leverage decisions they make.

But consider the work of Wade, an unheralded Air Canada gate agent. Yesterday, I watched him earn his employer at least $50,000 while getting paid perhaps .1% of that.

The microphone was out of order, but instead of screaming at the passengers, he walked over and spoke directly to the people who needed to hear him.

On his own, he started inquiring about the connection status of a family of four. He could have cleared the standby list, closed the flight and told the four that they’d have to find another way home. Or, he could have saved them their four seats, which would have flown empty if they hadn’t been filled. Instead of either path, he picked up the phone, organized other staff to find and expedite the family and get them on board.

And then, in an unrelated bit of valor, he tracked down a lost wallet and sent his #2 to fetch it from where it had been left–getting it to the plane before it left.

Most of all, in an era when loyalty is scarce, he probably increased the lifetime value of a dozen wavering customers by at least a few thousand dollars each.

Krulak’s Law states that the future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.

In conclusion, when Godin asks, “Where is your Wade? What are you doing to make it more likely that he or she will bring magic to work tomorrow?” you know where and how!

Davey may be read here and Godin here.

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Source: Pinterest, Wikimedia.org and huffpost.com.

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… Your Kids Need To Learn For The Future

If the best you produce in your written communication are (annoying) one-liners, this is for you too.

Here’s what far-looking prolific Greg Satell has to say, something one will do well to sit up and take note, something I subscribe to whole heartedly.

<<extract from his article dated 29/05/19 appearing here>>

Let the ink flow, keys be struck…

Many say that coding is the new literacy

Kids are encouraged to learn programming in school and take coding courses online. In that famous scene in The Graduate Dustin Hoffman’s character was encouraged by a family friend to go into plastics. If it were shot today, it would have probably been computer code.

This isn’t actually that new. I remember first being taught how to code in middle school in the early 80s in BASIC (a mostly defunct language now). Yet even today, coding is far from an essential skill. In fact, with the rise of no-code platforms, there is a strong argument to be made that code is becoming less important.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of coding to be done on the back end and programming is certainly a perfectly reasonable thing to learn. However, there’s no reason people need to learn it to have a successful, productive career. On the other hand writing, as well as other communication skills, will only become more important in the decades to come.

Collaboration Is The New Competitive Advantage

When my generation was in school, we were preparing for a future that seemed pretty clear cut. We assumed we would become doctors, lawyers, executives and engineers and spend our entire lives working in our chosen fields. It didn’t turn out that way. These days a business model is unlikely to last a decade, much less a lifetime.

Kids today need to prepare to become lifelong learners because the pace of change will not slow down. In fact, it is likely to accelerate beyond anything we can imagine today. The one thing we can predict about the future is that collaboration will be critical for success. People like geneticists and quantum scientists will need to work closely with chemists, designers sociologists and specialists in fields that haven’t even been invented yet.

These are, in fact, longstanding trends. The journal Nature recently noted that the average scientific paper today has four times as many authors as one did in 1950 and the work they are doing is far more interdisciplinary and done at greater distances than in the past. We can only expect these trends to become more prominent in the future.

In order to collaborate effectively, you need to communicate effectively and that’s where writing comes in. Being able to express thoughts and ideas clearly and cogently is absolutely essential to collaboration and innovation.

Writing Well Is Thinking Well

Probably the most overlooked aspect of writing is that it does more than communicate thoughts, but helps form them. As Fareed Zakaria has put it, “Thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my ‘thoughts’ are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them.”

“Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian,” he continues, “writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas.” Zakaria also points to Jeff Bezos’ emphasis on memo writing as an example of how clarity of expression leads to innovation.

In fact, Amazon considers writing so essential to its ability to innovate that it has become a key part of its culture. It’s hard to make much of a career at Amazon if you cannot write well, because to create products and services that are technically sound, easy to use and efficiently executed, a diverse group of highly skilled people need to tightly coordinate their efforts.

Today, as the digital revolution comes to an end and we enter a new era of innovation. it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rapid advancement of breakthrough technologies. However, the key to success in our uncertain future will be humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines. That starts with writing effectively.
 
<<end extract>>

I can hear some of you saying in technical communication, one uses formal models using standard icons and labels. So where’s the need to write effectively?

Well, get an application architecture diagram to explain itself!

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Image: Pixabay

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Even If It’s Hard Work And An Unvarying Routine?

Check this out:

vide Rubi Navaratnam and Gopalakrishna Sunderrajan 

Go here if the clip doesn’t show.

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