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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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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“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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In my long career in hi-tech, there were two HR chief’s I was fortunate to observe from close quarters though their tenures were short. Both ladies, early in their career, graduates from TISS. In the years that followed we went different ways. But I continued to measure the HR chiefs I encountered subsequently and they all fell short by lengths in comparison.

This post is about one of them, U.

Passing out from TISS, she joined the org as an Executive Assistant (EA) to the Big Boss – not sure if this was her first job in the industry. Several months later she was sent to the Division dealing in hi-tech and also the most profitable of the many in the brick-and-mortar company as the HR chief, essentially a one-woman team.

A hurricane on the move, only benign.  Some saw her as a very useful ally and others, an overbearing youngster, often going beyond her brief running smack into know-all senior line-managers.

Was she ‘successful’ in the traditional sense? I don’t know, for, can’t recall her being feted in public as such in her short stay. During which time, all the same, some magic she had wrought, I thought. 

What did she do?

  • In all her thought and action, org’s interest was the first and foremost, possibly the only preoccupation, I suspected. Yet, not wearing it on her sleeve.
  • Abs fearless, she thought nothing of taking up issues with and questioning pet theories of the senior executives until satisfactory closure. Of course this was possible because she sought and got the crucial support of the Big Boss, all credit to him. In this regard, perhaps her earlier stint as his EA helped.
  • Though young, she had the maturity to go for the doors that were open to her rather than bang her head against walls that wouldn’t budge (some seniors). She could live well with both kinds.
  • Most part of her time she was out sitting one-on-one with employees. Like with the bosses, she would mix her praises with provocations to get them spill out their guts, all work-related of course. She would herself address many of those problems by offering solutions, work-around’s or through counselling with, yes, subsequent follow-up’s. And the more complex issues would be taken to their bosses. If you’re not happy, why are you working here still…? OrWhy are you still doing the same work you did over the last two years? Aren’t you good for anything else? Or Why are you not getting promoted? Not doing good, eh? are not unusual in the provoking sessions which, to be sure, did not end in destructive fire-works. Her disarming and bonafide ways let her get away. These sessions revealed the swirling under-currents and provided useful inputs to the manager, otherwise impossible to get. And she would take points-of-view from the boss back to the employee. Yes, playing politics it was, but constructively. Issues often got fixed before too late.  Of course the bosses too had their sessions with her.
  • She would play it likewise with peers running their feuds to the detriment of the org.
  • She was no cat’s paw nor did she play favorites. Nor cowed by heavy-weights.
  • A high-energy person with an infectious enthusiasm in a team, also good to talk to when chips were down.
  • In her own role she was constantly wanting to do more. I remember going with her for campus recruitment of trainee-engineers. After watching me a few times from the side-lines, things came to a point when she carried on with the technical interviews all by herself rendering me superfluous!

That’s what a capable and empowered HR can deliver. Want to settle for less?

Neither the land nor the heavens would ever be the same after her premature and unfortunate transition a few days ago – she was one to stir up the stew wherever she went for the larger good.

RIP, U.

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and you fear irrelevance, this may be for you. Take heart, you’re not alone – this is one heavily over-booked boat!

“…In sum, if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is inevitable and probably going to set in earlier than you imagine

Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to becoming successful. The shelves are packed with titles like The Science of Getting Rich and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There is no section marked “Managing Your Professional Decline

But some people have managed their declines well.

Well, what Bach did right while Darwin failed?

The answer perhaps lies in understanding what ‘fluid intelligence’ and ‘crystal intelligence’ are and when do they kick in.

 Many people of achievement suffer as they age, because they lose their abilities, gained over many years of hard work. Is this suffering inescapable, like a cosmic joke on the proud? Or is there a loophole somewhere—a way around the suffering?

The Eastern philosophy in its concept of ashrama’s seems to have structured a neat solution to address this suffering,

Wow! Is that so? Like how?

Read Arthur C. Brooks (president of the American Enterprise Institute, an American Think-Tank and a best-selling author) here for more on the affliction and how to…

For regularly receiving leads to articles like this, you may want to subscribe to Wally Bock’s blog here.

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“…that pernicious nonsense about being a leader and not a manager. Your challenge is to help the team and team members succeed. The only way to succeed at that is to do all three kinds of work. Lead. Manage. Supervise. Do them all well. “

Read this short post from Wally Bock to know what each entails.

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There was a story posted here sometime ago how one man successfully turned around a murky vitiated ambiance in an org with some ordinary common-sense ideas.

Here comes another story how a dark horse turned around a loser into a shining paragon of performance! Of course his ways were different and very interesting with applicability far beyond in org dynamics, public institutions, government of the land…A war of a different kind.

Read on:

<<an extract>>

On a blustery October day in 1987, a herd of prominent Wall Street investors and stock analysts gathered in the ballroom of a posh Manhattan hotel. They were there to meet the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America—or Alcoa, as it was known—a corporation that, for nearly a century, had manufactured everything from the foil that wraps Hershey’s Kisses and the metal in Coca-Cola cans to the bolts that hold satellites together.

Alcoa’s founder had invented the process for smelting aluminum a century earlier, and since then the company had become one of the largest on earth. Many of the people in the audience had invested millions of dollars in Alcoa stock and had enjoyed a steady return. In the past year, however, investor grumblings started. Alcoa’s management had made misstep after misstep, unwisely trying to expand into new product lines while competitors stole customers and profits away. So there had been a palpable sense of relief when Alcoa’s board announced it was time for new leadership. That relief, though, turned to unease when the choice was announced: the new CEO would be a former government bureaucrat named Paul

O’Neill. Many on Wall Street had never heard of him. When Alcoa scheduled this meet and greet at the Manhattan ballroom, every major investor asked for an invitation.

A few minutes before noon, O’Neill took the stage. He was fifty-one years old, trim, and dressed in gray pinstripes and a red power tie. His hair was white and his posture military straight. He bounced up the steps and smiled warmly. He looked dignified, solid, confident. Like a chief executive.

Then he opened his mouth.

“I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said. “Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. Our safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

The audience was confused. These meetings usually followed a predictable script: A new CEO would start with an introduction, make a faux self-deprecating joke—something about how he slept his way through Harvard Business School—then promise to boost profits and lower costs. Next would come an excoriation of taxes, business regulations, and sometimes, with a fervor that suggested firsthand experience in divorce court, lawyers. Finally, the speech would end with a blizzard of buzzwords—“synergy,” “rightsizing,” and “co-opetition”—at which point everyone could return to their offices, reassured that capitalism was safe for another day.

O’Neill hadn’t said anything about profits. He didn’t mention taxes. There was no talk of “using alignment to achieve a win-win synergistic market advantage.” For all anyone in the audience knew, given his talk of worker safety, O’Neill might be pro-regulation. Or, worse, a Democrat. It was a terrifying prospect.

“Now, before I go any further,” O’Neill said, “I want to point out the safety exits in this room.” He gestured to the rear of the ballroom. “There’s a couple of doors in the back, and in the unlikely event of a fire or other emergency, you should calmly walk out, go down the stairs to the lobby, and leave the building.”

Silence. The only noise was the hum of traffic through the windows. Safety? Fire exits? Was this a joke? One investor in the audience knew that O’Neill had been in Washington, D.C., during the sixties. Guy must have done a lot of drugs, he thought.

Eventually, someone raised a hand and asked about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asked about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” O’Neill said. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

The investors in the room almost stampeded out the doors when the presentation ended.

One jogged to the lobby, found a pay phone, and called his twenty largest clients. “I said, ‘The board put a crazy hippie in charge and he’s going to kill the company,’ ” that investor told me. “I ordered them to sell their stock immediately, before everyone else in the room started calling their clients and telling them the same thing.“It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career.”

Within a year of O’Neill’s speech, Alcoa’s profits would hit a record high. By the time O’Neill retired in 2000, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left.

<Impressed?>

So how did O’Neill make one of the largest, stodgiest, and most potentially dangerous companies into a profit machine and a bastion of safety?

By attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through the organization.

“I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill told me. “But you can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

<end of extract>

Grab the book ‘The Power Of Habit” (2012) by Charles Duhigg and go to pages 97-109 to find out more on how the miracle was wrought. Of course there are many other interesting anecdotes too and theories in the book also worth perusing.

A copy of this book was available here for reading (copyright implications not known). The link does not work now. May be it is moved to a new site.

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Source: pdfbooksinfo.blogspot.com and image from Amazon

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