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Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

A software engineer was visiting his grandparents in the village.

On the following day, he took a round of the village.

On the outskirts of the village he came upon a strange sight he had not seen before. It was a thatched shed open on the sides. He saw a bull slowly and steadily going around in a rutted circle. And a man who seemed to be the owner was sleeping peacefully on a bench.

He stopped a passer-by and asked him what was happening.

Amused, the man explained it was an oil mill to crush oil seeds to extract oil. Sometimes it was dried coconut kernels (copra). These were held in a large mortar like structure and ground by a big pestle driven by the bull in a harness, sometimes a pair. .

He found it very interesting to observe this traditional oil-expeller in action.

A question occurred to him. To the passer-by: ‘What happens if the bull stopped…here the man is blissfully asleep.’

‘He’ll know. You see the bell round the bull’s neck? It’ll stop ringing.’

He was impressed with this simple innovative solution.

Returning home, he had to share it with his grandparents.

Just then, a thought came to him. Exclaiming in self-reproach: ‘Stupid of me – I didn’t ask….’

‘Why, what happened?’ inquired his grandpa.

‘What would happen…how would the man know if his bull stood at one place and shook his neck, ringing the bell?’

His father sorted it out: ‘Son, these bulls around here are not the work-from-home types.’

End

Source: A Whatsapp forward and image from Quora

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There was a knock.

At this time on a Sunday?

He went up to the door. It was his manager.

Not unusual, though not in the last six months or so.

Summoning surprise and enthusiasm right for the occasion and gracefully dismissing the apologies for the unscheduled call, he invited him in, hurriedly closing the door on the draft and the chill out there.

Once the visitor was settled down in the living room as comfortably as the tired springs of the sofa would allow, he excused himself to the kitchenette on the far side to get some fresh tea and cookies.

In a short while he returned carrying the cups and plates and set them down on a centre-table.

The man was standing near the fireplace. Idly he picked up a piece of red-hot coal from the pile and set it aside.

He said he was on his way to meet a friend. Was early and hence…

Enjoying the hot tea and its flavour wafting up, they talked about this and that, mostly his. How did he get his food? What did he like most? How were the weekends? His parents back home…

In between, he did not miss noticing his manager eyes for a few moments distracted to the solitary piece of coal, now cold with the fire died out, covered with ash.

Some more on his friends, his hobbies…mercifully no shop talk.

The man looked at his watch, thanked him for the tea and stood up, ready to leave, once again apologizing for barging in thus. He picked up the piece of coal, dead, placed it carefully back in the pile, the coal catching it from the pile, going red hot and cackling almost immediately.

He turned around, winked at his host and found his way out.

**

Monday, team meeting: Presented, talked, suggested, agreed, nayed, shouted, pleaded…he was his old self. When they walked back, his manager smiled at him and…it was the same wink.

End

Source: A Whatsapp forward. Image: Pinterest

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An interesting article, fairly short, relevant for these times when we are told to do things we never did before for collective benefit, with wider implications and applicability. The original content is very lightly edited and recast here for easy reading and comprehension (highlighting is mine).

Here we go:

**

Problem:

For the past two months, we’ve been told to wash our hands, wear face masks, and social distance. We’ve come up creative ways to do them all—with viral handwashing dancespublic pledgesZoom parties with live DJs, referred to as emotion-triggering devices. Judging by the beautiful photos of eerily empty public spaces around the world, most of us have been willing to comply—for now. But when will the novelty wear off? And what will happen to our new habits, still necessary for the public health crisis we’re facing?

Some countries, like Denmark and Austria, and several U.S. states, have already started to relax the strict stay-home regulations and are counting on their citizens to make smart choices to protect themselves and others. But are we confident that we’ll keep up our good behavior when left to our own devices? 

Solution:

Emotions are, by definition, temporary. So is attention. Using activity-mobilizing emotions such as fun, hope, anger, or fear can work exceptionally well to kick-start a new habit, but we still have months or even years of behavior change ahead of us. Before long novelty may fizzle out, motivation worn away and compliance unexciting. In fact it could get downright annoying.

Example: In 2009, designers created “Piano Stairs” at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. Each step was a piano key that made a sound when it was stepped on. The idea was to make it fun and easy for commuters to pick the healthy option of going up the stairs instead of taking the escalator. And it worked—for a couple of days. The initial excitement quickly gave way to the reality of rush hour, as commuters trampled over keys going up and down the stairs. To no surprise, the piano disappeared. But the video of the stairs gathered 23 million views on YouTube and is often still found in presentations by behavioral consultants.

So when the novelty fizzles out, how can we harness our current motivation and channel it into long-term change? The evidence is still sparse, but we do have several examples of behavioral interventions that have a longer shelf life. These are referred to as Nudges.

Nudges are of two kinds: Pure and Moral.

Pure nudges are simple changes to a preexisting choice environment meant to counteract simple inattention or laziness. They seamlessly blend in with their environment. They are typically not consciously noticed by the decision maker. Grabbing a ceramic cup conveniently stacked next to the coffee machine instead of a paper one from the cupboard does not require you to think about saving the rainforest before your morning coffee. The less conscious the nudges are the less they are prone to wearing off or even backfiring, regardless of whether you agree with the goal of the nudge or not. 

Two other examples of pure nudges: a) Perhaps the most successful example is Defaults. Individuals defaulted into pension plans, insurance in air-travel, two-sided printing, or renewable energy for their home seem to stick with the option. People either don’t notice it or don’t take the effort to change it from default b) Salience has also proven to be effective in the long term. Placing vegetarian food on top of a menu makes it more likely that customers will select it, and real-time feedback while showering reduced energy consumption of hotel guests. 

In contrast moral nudges are those that are fun or trigger fear, shame, or pride, rewarding “doing the right thing” with psychological utility or disutility. The nudges are meant to be consciously noticed. The most prominent one being the use of Social Proof—“9 out of 10 people in your city pay their taxes on time—you are currently not one of them” or “Compared to your neighbors with similar sized houses, you consume far more energy” or “Will you vote on Sunday? We will call you again and ask about your experience.” 

Social proof is powerful, no question—the frantic toilet paper buying we have seen in the past weeks was an unintended testament to that. In the short run, moral nudges can generate significant effects, but long-term behavior change is seldom. Further, moral nudges run the risk of backfiring. Individuals asked to donate repeatedly decided to opt-out of communication altogether, and others who regularly came out badly in comparison to their neighbors’ energy consumption were willing to pay money not to be contacted anymoreDeliberate defiance of these appeals could also explain the groups of college kids who went on spring break despite the health warnings or the Danish teenagers who now drive over the bridge to Sweden to party “because lockdown is boring.” 

Nudges can make it easier to do the right thing. All that said, taking past research in account, nudging on its own, whether moral or pure, won’t be enough to stimulate the required behavior change. The gap between what we want now (our lives to return to normal) and what we need to do (diligent maintain hygiene and continuous social distancing) is just too large. But that doesn’t mean lasting behavior change isn’t possible. We need to combine nudges with traditional economic incentives and regulations. Just like the traffic rules. We have laws, fines, and nudges (speed bumps or beeping seat-belts) that keep us and others safe on the road without invoking anxiety, shame, or fear every time we get into a car.

And designing the choice environment promoting/instilling long term habits. Example: Copenhagen, author’s hometown, has four large lakes in the city center, which have a small footpath around them that is popular for runners and people going for a stroll. At the start of the lock-down, the trail was converted to a one-way street to reduce the amount of tight face-to-face encounters. Currently, park guards control compliance, but already most people are in the habit of walking clockwise around the lake. A habit that can most likely be sustained with a simple sign and social norms. 

Like fighting climate change or obesity, overcoming this health crisis will be a marathon, not a sprint.  Our collective health depends on how we use these available mechanisms keeping in mind their long term impact versus the need.

**

As it must have already occurred to you, interestingly these concepts are equally valid and useful to bring about changes in various aspects of organizational behavior!

The article by Christina Gravert may be perused here.

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Programmer to Team Leader:

“We can’t do this proposed project. **CAN NOT**. It will involve a major design change and no one in our team knows the design of this legacy system. And above that, nobody in our company knows the language in which this application has been written. So even if somebody wants to work on it, they can’t. If you ask my personal opinion, the company should never take these type of projects.”


Team Leader to Project Manager:

“This project will involve a design change. Currently, we don’t have any staff that has experience in this type of work. Also, the language is unfamiliar to us, so we will have to arrange for some training if we take this project. In my personal opinion, we are not ready to take on a project of this nature.”


Project Manager to 1st Level Manager:

“This project involves a design change in the system and we don’t have much experience in that area. Also, not many people in our company are
appropriately trained for it. In my personal opinion, we might be able to do the project but we would need more time than usual to complete it.”


1st Level Manager to Senior Level Manager:

“This project involves design re-engineering. We have some people who have worked in this area and others who know the implementation language. So they can train other people. In my personal opinion we should take this project, but with caution.”


Senior Level Manager to CEO:

“This project will demonstrate to the industry our capabilities in remodeling the design of a complete legacy system. We have all the necessary skills and people to execute this project successfully. Some people have already given in house training in this area to other staff members. In my personal opinion, we should not let this project slip by us under any circumstances.”


CEO to Client:

“This is the type of project in which our company specializes. We have executed many projects of the same nature for many large clients. Trust me
when I say that we are the most competent firm in the industry for doing this kind of work. It is my personal opinion that we can execute this project successfully and well within the given time frame.”

An year into the project…

End

Source: dailytenminutes.com

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” A government servant doing his official work as per prescribed rules!”

End

Source: Prakash Sankhala

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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.

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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:-(

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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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It’s not uncommon to find ‘experts’ go so wrong in their trend predictions, but to freely admit it in ‘print’ and re-calibrate oneself is not.

Ask any retailing expert, guru or know-it-all worth their weight in consulting fees and they will all tell you the same thing: the future of physical stores rests with “experiential” formats that present shoppers with an immersive atmosphere that can’t be replicated online. But what happens when they are wrong? Over the past year or so, two of the most high-profile new retail startups in the country – Pirch in the kitchen and bath business and TreeHouse which was billed as the green home improvement store — have either shut their doors completely or drastically scaled back their operations. Each was considered by all manner of retail observers (including yours truly) as the poster child for the future of retailing, yet each failed to achieve success. And somewhere in the telling of these two tales lie some lessons for other retailers trying to sort out how to keep all those physical doors open.

The retail guru Warren Shoulbergwho ‘loved Pirch and TreeHouse…and said so to anybody who asked‘ is reassessing the retail scene of the ‘experiential’ kind in his recent blog post. What is best about his blog: his posts are short, readable in minutes affording an easy peek into an expert’s mind. And, I thought, they have applicability far beyond retail.

Read his crisp insight here.

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