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Posts Tagged ‘Management’

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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“…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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The article ‘Wisdom at Work: Why the Modern Elder Is Relevant’ appeared in Wharton’s Knowledge publication (Jan 24, 2019) here. It’s a transcript of an interview wherein Airbnb executive Chip Conley discusses the benefits of having an inter-generational workforce (He argues his case in detail in his eponymous where everyone brings something to the table).

This post is almost entirely extracted from the interview transcript, lightly edited and heavily re-sequenced for clarity and easy reading.

Here we go:

**

A new challenge for the org:

The fact that almost 40% of workers have a boss younger than them — that number is going to be the majority by 2025.  In fact, some studies show that power is 10 years younger today than it was 20 years ago. But we’re all living 10 years older. So, if power is moving 10 years younger and we’re living 10 years older, society has created a new 20-year irrelevancy gap for people in mid-life and beyond.

It means that we need to start asking ourselves, how do we create an ‘intergenerational potluck’ so that people bring what they know best? And what do they now best?

A challenge for the elders:

The three-stage life of the past — you learn until you’re 25, you earn until you’re 65, and then you retire until you die — that model is evaporating. Also, as the pace of technology innovation increases, companies promote more tech-savvy younger workers into supervisory jobs. Meanwhile, older workers are staying employed longer due to such things as the disappearance of early retirement schemes, recession, etc.

With the power shifting to the young and the irrelevancy gap threatening to widen, there is this period of life, bewildering and anxiety-producing, unless people constantly remake, reinvent and repurpose themselves in ways to make themselves relevant for the second half of their life. It’s not easy because it requires you to shift out of some of your habits and mindsets that you’ve held onto for a long time.

Conley’s proof of his own continued employment and what he brought to the table:

“For 24 years, I was the founder and CEO of a company called Joie de Vivre based in San Francisco that created 52 boutique hotels. We were the second-largest boutique hotelier. In the Great Recession, I decided to sell the company. I had been doing it for a long time. I was ready to move on. Then I spent a couple years thinking about what was next [for me].

There is a great Robert De Niro quote from the movie The Intern [about a senior citizen who became an intern at a shopping startup], which is, “Musicians don’t retire; they quit when there’s no more music left inside of them.” I knew I had music inside of me; I just wasn’t sure whom to share it with. I was lucky enough that Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, asked me to be his in-house mentor and then come in as the head of global hospitality and strategy, which was supposed to be a part-time job but quickly became full time.”

“Younger people who are digital natives have a digital fluency that may be greater than someone 25 or 30 years older than them — that is true. But to think that someone’s acuity and fluency in one particular scope of work means that they can apply that to anything else is forgetting about all of the human element of business, which requires a certain amount of collaboration and emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Brian Chesky is an amazing CEO. But when I joined, he was 31 and I was 52, and I was his mentor and he was my boss. That was a fascinating relationship — to be mentoring my boss. But five and a half years later, I’m still here.”

“When I joined Airbnb, I think I had been brought in because I was a seasoned expert in my field, which was boutique hotels, hospitality and the travel industry. When I joined five and a half years ago, Airbnb was a very small company, and there was not one person in the company who had a travel or hospitality industry background. I was brought in initially because of that knowledge. That was helpful, and a lot of my networking of people I knew helped. But ultimately, what I think I was able to offer them was this sense of emotional intelligence…”

On Wisdom:

“There have been a number of studies on this, and they’ve shown very little correlation between age and wisdom. As a guy who’s 58, it’s hard to hear that, but there is some evidence that shows that it is not necessarily a correlation. What is correlated is that people actually make sense of their life and their mistakes and their experiences along the way. If you have a process for doing that, then age is correlated with wisdom because you create a pattern recognition.

Wisdom is about being able to see the patterns in things faster than when you’re younger because you’ve seen a lot of patterns and you’ve seen the implications or results of certain things. I think wisdom can be correlated [with age], but it isn’t necessarily correlated. So, just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re an elder.”

“I think knowledge worker is a term to retire now because knowledge is in the computer, it’s in the cloud. You can get out there and find knowledge. In fact, we’re sort of awash in knowledge. But what we could use a little more of is wisdom.

Wisdom is not a plus, plus, plus equation like knowledge is. Wisdom is more of a division equation. You distill the essence of something into what’s important, and that’s what is valuable. I really think that we should change the term knowledge worker and replace it with wisdom worker, because wisdom includes a certain amount of intuitive and human quality that you don’t necessarily get from AI or from your computer. The idea of wisdom making a comeback at a time when we’re so technologically advanced is not that surprising.”

On cognitive diversity:

“And there’s no doubt that cognitive diversity is hugely valuable on teams. If you just have a bunch of 25-year-old guys on a team together, they’re going to compete with each other and try to one-up each other to see who’s the smartest. Put a couple of women in that group, people of color or some older people [and the dynamic changes]. When we think of diversity, we often think almost exclusively of gender, race, and maybe sexual orientation. We don’t think about age very often, even though age is one of the most obvious demographic changes we see.”

On collaboration:

“People go, “Oh, it’s a tech company. It’s just all engineers and individual people in their cubicles doing their work.” No, actually it’s full of teams. And to operate well, teams need to collaborate. Google did a famous study two or three years ago called Project Aristotle and found that the No. 1 common factor among successful and effective teams was psychological safety — people feeling like they could collaborate well without any kind of retribution.

So those collaborative skills are a really important thing that someone in midlife or later can bring to the table – because we have more emotional intelligence is pretty well empirically proven and emotional intelligence is something that can grow with time.”

His message:

* To his generation: “Listen, you can mine your mastery. And while you may not be running the company, you certainly can be an ally to a younger person, as long as we figure out how to create a fluency where we can learn from each other.”

“The hierarchy of the past that says the physics of wisdom only flows from old to young doesn’t make sense anymore. The physics of wisdom moves in both directions; it just depends on the subject matter.”

“The modern elder is appreciated for their relevance, not their reverence, because they’re as much of an intern as they are a mentor.”

* And to the organization: “I started to realize that there are some things they could teach me, like digital intelligence, and there are things that I could teach them, which is emotional intelligence, leadership skills, strategic thinking, etc…”

I recall a story narrated to me some time ago by a young man working in SF based software company offering sales-force automation solution.  It was review time with his boss. He expressed he wasn’t too happy in his current position, role…desired a change to more interesting positions he saw opening up in other parts of the operation. Discussion ensued, the boss tried his best to retain the talented young man. When he (the boss) saw latter standing firm on his move, he ended the discussion and gave a good letter of reference helping him find quickly a new position of his liking in the organization. Which he did before long. As he was settling down in his new role, he got his review results – a promotion, coming from a boss to a youngster who no longer worked with him! And quite predictably the young man till date is doing very well working for the same organization.

The boss had the emotional intelligence to ensure the man got his just due and the organization did not lose the talent.

On Tesla founder Elon Musk:

“He’s 47 years old, if I’m not mistaken. Could he use someone like that? Sure. But he’s relatively far along in terms of his career. He’s a bit of a genius. The thing we have to put to rest is the idea that singular geniuses do this alone. There’s always more than one person involved. The question is, who are you surrounding yourself with? To me, the answer is that you should be surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people, including some people who have some seasoned wisdom at the table.”

**

In conclusion: All is far from lost for the modern elder as long as he brings his strengths to bear on what he is doing at the workplace.

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This happened in the seventies-eighties and has relevance and great learnings even today in business, politics, military, religion….Read on.

It was/is a brick-and-mortar organization with over 3000 employees, listed public, engaged in light engineering and large projects in addition to distribution of imported hitech instruments and products of well-known brands. Managed by the founder family, more humane than most others in its class with reasonably clean and professional work environment. It had multiple offices pan-India and even with in cities like Mumbai, Channai, etc.

The one cloud in the sky was the employee union – each office had a local union and banding them together was an umbrella federation – with a hyper-active federal leadership, their heads filled with outdated unhelpful misconceived ideas. Quite unfortunately it saw the enterprise more as a theatre playing out the class-struggle between the capitalist owners and the exploited working class- concepts hardly understood by the members, nevertheless herded together. Even if there was some merit to their case, it was bent on blowing up situations, small and big, into disruptive breakdown of normal operation. A key contributor, it has to be said, was the inept local administration, staffed with loyal’s with no professional competencies, handling matters anachronistically with a heavy hand, untainted by objectivity and finesse.

On the whole there was no sane dialogue or even a desire to have between the parties at any level with perfectly trivial incidents fire-balling into ‘wars’. More harmfully it bred a toxic culture of indiscipline in the offices, factory and service centres, all over, severely undermining the authority of the management. There was even occasional violence.

After a while, the management perceived this weakness.  And took a decision that all such incidents should no longer be handled locally and be referred to an Industrial Relations cell at the HQ. This small team would take it up with the Federation to put out the fire – a task neither easy nor quick before doing the damage locally.  

An intractable situation, it seemed. For want of a better solution the practice with its drawbacks was continued for some time until…

One day, a man walked in as the new head of HR appearing most ill-suited for the role, until one dealt with him! A sardar, resembling Buddha more than any other sardar, who would readily agree with you on your issue until you realize he hasn’t yielded an inch.

After an initial period of getting into the groove, he came to life: one day he called a meeting of executives in one of the key offices. And, said from then on it’s for the local executives/managers to handle the local issues. The IR cell would no longer be available for passing the buck.

There was pin-drop silence. What was he talking about? They were nowhere equipped to handle the militancy. This sardar with his new-fangled ideas was making their job more difficult…sure to fall on his face flat.

He proceeded to explain:  In the daily operation the executives had no problem of routinely tasking these employees – secretaries, stenographers, peons, workmen, etc. Things turned ugly only when there was some incident which then spread like forest-fire. Even here, their disaffection seemed to be targeted against the big bosses, not their direct manager for whom they worked every day. As a first immediate step, he asked the executives to consciously strengthen the relationship and the prevailing cordiality with their reportee’s by being more sensitive and solicitous and extending small favours, some even personal – like letting them leave early occasionally to attend to personal chores. .

And when one of those incidents happened, they were to respond immediately and collectively to defuse the situation through a mix of patient listening, explaining the rationale behind certain decisions and if needed even call in those favours shown.

When he was done and out, the executives were left wondering: Was that all? Too simple – would it work? Was he serious? It was nothing at all like they had feared. It was like going to a doc with a serious ailment and he recommending a walk in the park.

In a short time, he took his message to all offices across the country.

Lo and behold it worked!!

All those unsavoury confrontations that erupted with the regularity of sun rising in the east were on the decline becoming quite infrequent now.    

Why?

For one thing the employees felt obliged more than ever before to their managers not to blow up incidents themselves or to encourage others doing it – this was important; those few bent on mischief-mongering suddenly found themselves rather isolated among their own colleagues. No one was too eager to vitiate the cordiality with his/her manager and colleagues whom they lived with daily at the workplace.  Their leaders did not find them too pliable for incitement anymore.

Something else was also at work here. Earlier it was between the Federation and a thinly staffed IR cell. Suddenly they had to contend with some 600 executives additionally.  The equation had changed dramatically.  When required, more than one executive swung into action to jointly address the issue.

The operating principles:

“Expand/escalate the ‘war-front’ as long and wide as possible with favorable forces deployed. And, importantly, get everyone to contribute their bit to the common cause.”

No leader can fight battles all by himself. Explore the possibilities – it may not be obvious in the first glance. As said earlier, it’s a universal strategy that works in most spheres of human endeavour.

Of course certain situations demand entirely different strategies to be deployed. Example: a (pre-emptive) counter-terrorism move where the engagement is short and swift.

The battle the sardar waged and succeeded is legendary, an object lesson for turning the tide organization-wide – it did not receive the attention and accolades it deserved in the professional community, I thought. No case-studies…Though he was well recognized and rewarded, rising to the highest echelon’s within the organization.

It’s with great regret I learnt a few days ago this brilliant strategist is no more; as also a key leader on other side, of progressive ideas and unimpeachable integrity unfortunately in minority among his kind.      

End

Source: image from inditales.com

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Well, the show is over, results declared the day before…the 2019 General Elections in India. Without a hitch, barring some very sporadic incidents and the usual whining of a few losers.

No consultants from the Big 5 or premier management schools, no Rs.50-lakhs-an-year-Project-Managers called in!!!

The show rolled out entirely by a dedicated team in the Election Commission (EC) Office assisted by a large number of government personnel doubling for poll duty, all paid government salaries!!

An expertise they should be offering in the international market to countries, states…wanting to hold free and fair elections.

You’ll know why when you look at some facts and figures to get flavor of this mind-boggling operation:

Everything about Indian general elections is colossal – the Economist magazine once compared it to a “lumbering elephant embarking on an epic trek”. The largest the world has seen. The number of voters is bigger than the population of Europe and Australia combined.

Voter Stats: 900 million registered voters, 10% more than in 2014 polls. 432 million eligible voters are women. 84.3 million first-time voters.

About 15 million voters between 18 and 19 years of age are expected supposed to be casting their votes in this election.

In the last Indian election in 2014, there were more than 830 million registered voters. Of them about 553 million or 66 per cent of the eligible voters came out to vote, up from 45% in 1951 when the first election was held.

A voter can now carry any of the 12 approved identity cards to the polling station and not just the voter slip.

Candidates: Fight is for 543 of 545 seats in Lower House of Parliament, Lok Sabha. In the last election there were 8,251 candidates including 668 women, from 464 political parties, nearly a seven-fold increase from the first election. On an average 15 candidates per seat, the maximum being 42.

For the first time, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and postal ballot papers would carry the photographs of all the candidates along with their party names and symbols.

In a first, candidates with criminal antecedents have to advertise their criminal records in newspapers and through television channels. Earlier they were required to give details of their criminal cases to the poll panel through an affidavit but it was not mandatory to make it public.

Polling Stations: 1 million polling stations set up, 10% more than last time. EC guidelines say no voter should be more than 2 km away from a polling station.

Around 1.8 million electronic voting machines (EVM) were used to cast votes in the last election. More than 80,000 polling stations lack mobile connectivity; nearly 20,000 are in forest or semi-forest areas. In the 2009 general election, the EC set up a polling station in the Gir forest of Gujarat, home to Asiatic lions, just for one voter.

At 15,526 ft Tashigang in Himachal Pradesh is the highest polling station in the world.  
Reportedly a group of election personnel will hike for an entire day to reach a lone voter in Arunachal Pradesh this time.
For the first time, 12 big-sized EVMs will be used at every polling booth, in the Nizamabad district of Telangana, as a whopping 185 candidates compete. Earlier it was thought that the EC will have to use ballot papers here.

For the first time, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) will be used in all EVMs across the country. VVPAT allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended. When a vote is cast, a slip is printed on the VVPAT printer containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate voted. This remains visible to you through a transparent window for seven seconds. Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box.

Voting Schedule: Voting will take place in seven phases spaced out over six weeks (39 days) from April 11-May 19.  The voting in multiple phases is to allow officials and security forces to re-deploy. India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Counting of votes for all 543 constituencies is done in a single day!

EC: Election Commission of India, an autonomous constitutional body, is overseeing the polls with 300 full-time officials at Delhi HQ.

Over 11 million government officials will travel by foot, road, special train, helicopter, boat, and sometimes elephant, to hold the election.

The 2014 election cost approximately 38.7 billion Indian rupees ($552 million), according to Election Commission estimates.

All in all, an incredible feat, you agree?

Special kudos to these unsung heroes for pulling off this greatest show on earth!

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Sources: scoopwhoop.com/news/interesting-facts-about-lok-sabha-elections-2019/, Hindustan Times, Twitter, India TV, Reddit, DNA India, NDTV, Business Standard, The Hindu, Inkhabar.  Livemint, bbc.com/news/correspondents/soutikbiswas and dawn.com/news/1475146

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