Monday, February 23, 2015

Life comes at HR - FAST. Learning could be Insurance for it

I recently participated in a MOOC on Learning to Learn. I was told the instructor was not attractive, and her impressions would defeat my enthusiasm for the course. Wrong. I was not to be motivated by her looks as much as the habit of learning. My enthusiasm trumped my optimism for sure. Let me connect a few dots, as you will, so that concrete benefits are within our grasp. In the process, reconsolidation of chunks in my memory, help me reframe my learning.
Before I jot three dots as below, time to raise the principal questions of this post:
  1. Does HR focus on image more than it should stay on overcoming its impostor syndromes?
  2. Is adaptation a ruse in whose packaging, HR takes the easy way out of its purpose?
  3. What does HR now need to ask of business to uphold its people champion role?
What is the cue on which you fall back into the rut of comfort? Is there a untested belief somewhere that needs your conscious attention? Now to the dots that I connect with of late.
  1. Data driven HR , Big Data and Data Analytics in HR : Well, as you will recognize, these terms are not the same thing. Although they may hang together in a family of related constructs, these could stump many a professional who’ve no immersive experience in either Big Data modelling, data driven HR (read HRIS or Human Resource Information Systems) or Data Analytics. In terms of learning therefore, without deliberate practice in either, it would be major effort at mastering the context of the future. Remember – context is the place in which preparation and application of new learning meet! Rewarding oneself too early in advance of an outcome is a cop out. New learning chances on new habit formation and relates to consolidating between deliberate practice of new behavior and previous long-term memory. .
  2. Requisite Organisation, Organization design and the average of transactions in HR : While the debate between which comes first – strategy or culture – has not abated, the role of dynamic design capability is contingent on organisation effectiveness. One of the consequences of digitization of HR data, has been the reliance on transaction sufficiency in HR deliverables. A related fallout has been the detachment from human interactions and the poverty of emotional and social intelligence to situate deliberate action. Plainly put, what use data, if the experience of using it results in organisation designsthat are not fulfilling, meaningful or sustainable?
  3. Strategy , Feature and the language of Benefits : Recently a businessleader of IT services from India said “Once you build for speed, you have to lower head count and be quick in terms of response and the ability to integrate and understand the customer’s problems”. While that may aid his management’s decision to decrease the denominator and the per employee costs, it does not service a distinctly discriminant business strategy. It is easy for us to confuse a feature of business as business strategy per se. Speed is a feature, not the strategy. Speed may enable execution, but execution is not strategy per se. Speed is a benefit, if designed as such for value, but that’s only one reason why customers are willing to pay. There are enough stakeholders in business to see through information bytes which mediate your organisation’s image. And they may not need speed to know feature from strategy in a jiffy. It is probably subliminal!
Archana Arcot – thanks, for asking me useful questions yesterday. My intent here is to signify what HR leaders in large organisations and top teams of smaller organizations may collectively be numb to. To be in flow, is of course when challenge and acquired skill meet in one’s context. Is HR up to a challenge if it has not immersed itself in strategy, organization design and the method of science in data treatment? This is because in learning we cannot have focus in new learning and diffused interests at the same time.
Indeed, would organizations less attractive in visual talismans or artefacts hold immense promise in actualizing one’s professional aspirations? Let’s be on the lookout!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Beneath CXO vigils - insights from developmental expereinces

CEOs and Entrepreneurs in whose vigil enterprises run, have been a special focus of my services in the recent years. I noted a few of their personal tendencies that you may label as salient behaviors. Lasting impressions are made from stand-out behaviors that are consistent.
While there’s so much that can be dissected from these insights, I am merely skimming the surface of what may be a faint reflection of the deep structures of beliefs and assumptions these entities hold. When financial success is achieved in spite of competence and not because of it, the blind-spots I’ve inferred of CEOs and entrepreneurs are as below
  1. When financial success is achieved in spite of competence and not because of it, the blind-spots I’ve inferred of CEOs and entrepreneurs are as below
    1. Overlearning is the bane of these beings. Repeating an over-learnt and tried and tested process is insensitivity to emergent context. This afflicts leaders most in growth phases, when new forms of talent are difficult to engage with this attitude of overlearning. The certitude in their opinions outdoes the self-improvement ethic .
    2. Courage of Presence Courage to be mindfully present in situations diminishes when impulsiveness exceeds the watchfulness required to attend to detail. While organizations were small, errors of risk-assessment did not prove as costly. This is in my experience, true of interpersonal situations as much as in situational variables that have no interpersonal impact on the leader.
  2. Surprisingly, leaders from larger conglomerates make life hell for smaller organizations they join as business heads because of a few related tendencies. Let me recount a few of them.
    1. Optimism is not the same as Enthusiasm When in a larger organization, these leaders were under the wings of a taller leader. In reflected glory, they join smaller outfits only to discover that the magic ebbs faster than can be recreated. Reason? Their optimism exceeds their enthusiasm by a huge distance. That is to say that their sense of challenge in the moment is muted, and they feel they may see a better day in the future without requisite analysis of their new situations. Their poor self-esteem gets ticked by trivial incidents in the business environment and even mild criticisms.
    2. Paralysis by Analysis is not a new term. However, when the impact is on low innovation and a conservative embrace of the business challenge, there is a clear syndrome that I observe. Risk assessment or the critical thinking required to tease pros and cons of a situation is treated as the same as risking itself. Risking is a behavior of emotional investment. Risk assessment is relatively an analytical process, with emotions detached from the conclusions of such analyses. Leaders stay stuck in this syndrome too long.
So do I see more successful patterns too? Of course I do.
  1. Such leaders are both open and yet certain of their opinions.
  2. They do not lose empathetic connect with their team members evenas they set expectations or discover directions with them.The marvelous aspect here is that they know their interpersonal boundaries in this regard very well, lest they risk the loss of the relationship itself.
  3. Their self-esteem is a gorgeous balance of receptivity to feedback and self-acceptance. Their vulnerability is a dignity that no accolades can certify, but an internal knowing that needs no branding.
  4. Their strategic acumen that comes from analytical prowess is balanced by a mindful presence that reaps from the courage of being present to others. They have a fine awareness of whom else they impact and how!
What have you experienced of late in this regard? Let me know, will you?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Towards a Complete Nation - not merely an united one

In 1988-89, one of the zeals of my time in youth was the emergence of a wedge between the Indian Express and The Times of India. L’Espirit d’Indian Post was an embodiment of that zeal. The third voice was to say, neither the anti-establishment nor the pro-establishment voices caught the pulse of the Indian newspaper reader in English. 

Wish Vijaypat Singhania were alive today. He would have seen the emergence of the Aam Admi Party

Perhaps he would have influenced his brand Raymonds to say – the complete nation as his newest zeal. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bearings and straits away from the Sea

The Navy Foundation in Bengaluru is perhaps more unique than one may like to hear of at first instance. In the first place, Bengaluru is not a maritime location. However, the Admiral Pereira Lecture series that it has instituted is to do with alumni from the region. Kannur, came up severally in the Naval Chief’s welcoming address. Little did I imagine that Ronnie Pereira was from Kannur where India’s seamen are formally trained. Bengaluru by contrast seems more like the choice for naval officers’ retirement abodes. On asking uniformed men, I realised that not more than 70 officers had secondments or deputations across DRDO or Central Quality Assurance offices. Around 500 retired officers however resided in Bengaluru. This is the city the late Admiral Pereira breathed his last too.

 I was fortunate to be invited to the 2nd Admiral Pereira lecture by the renowned scientist Prof. Paulraj. Paulraj is the pioneer of a breakthrough wireless technology known as MIMO (multiple input, multiple output). MIMO is now core technology in latest WiFi and LTE systems. The topic for the day on 11th January at the BEL auditorium was regarding security and technology in the new world order. 

Admiral Robin Dhowan, had already assured the audience of indigenous development of equipment for the navy. The speaker in Paulraj represented a continuity in an intellectual voyage for the modern soldier in an asymmetric warfare context. Having spent 25 years in the Navy, he went on to be a respectful academic in Stanford. What I was especially drawn to were the pattern in his laments. None had a technological challenge. They were either social, organisational or merely cognitive or attitudinal. Let me recount a few of his reflections.

1.     Bureaucracy in India needs reform. It currently arrests development.
2.     Narrating the travel embargo during his sonar development, and the ‘good’ men in Raja Ramanna’s time, he elaborated on the rigidity of the ‘system’. He labelled it as the need for organisational reform.
3.     Technology cannot be left merely to the private sector. The gaps in technology requires government support in the order of lakhs of crores of rupees. Indigenous technology does not have that backing even if private capital were to join hands.
4.     Emphasis on quality is missing in higher education. The Chinese government sends hundreds of thousands of students to USA on government grants to access better quality of education. He gets more than 200000 letters of interest from students of Chinese origin annually. India’s scene is desperate and despicable in this respect.
5.     Spectrum for common citizens is blocked by the services in the name of national security. Prof. Paulraj felt some of this spectrum could be freed simply by withholding it in times of national security, than to permanently disallow the spectrum to civilians.

Well, the above notwithstanding, some points I picked up beyond the BEL auditorium were noteworthy too. We took to a table where an elderly veteran sat alone for lunch. He was kind enough to accept our presence. Having introduced himself as a veteran pilot, he went on to share much from his heart. Here's a brief recall from his outpouring.

1.       Commanders in the Navy could ‘separate’ out to pursue intellectual dreams like Paulraj did, and the host Ray D’souza did. The air force and the army on the other hand were short of personnel. The air-force and could hardly recover investments in its pilots for example.
2.       It takes 12 signoffs before a fighter aircraft takes off.  Ground duties are no less. Civilians have no clue to the preparedness of airmen.
3.       He felt that the seeds of indifference came about because Nehru did not feel sovereignty needed technological investments, so much so that the 1962 war saw soldiers on foot and in khakhi braving the Himalayan heights who in their retreat were lucky to be airlifted.  
4.       Bengaluru has been refusing permission for a war memorial. It is symptomatic of the clash between the political class and service officers. Just one officer alone has spent Rs. 26 lakhs since 1986 to fight for this right up to the Supreme Court, so as to create mind-share in forthcoming generations regarding the role of servicemen.
5.       Admiral Ronnie Pereira was lucky to be picked up from the road outside the air-force hospital in Bengaluru. He was riding a scooter in one of the most inglorious deaths a service chief may've had in India. An admiral as he, lived such a simple life as to be riding a scooter in retirement. Imagine!

The worlds of service personnel are quite far from those of the ordinary civilian. Governance has been diluted by serving and retired bureaucrats. No profession however can proceed to excel without a cause. And braving the odds as Paulraj would do to stay on a problem long enough despite the odds placed on him by invested paradigms.

Emergence is to be welcomed with openness - it is an attitude of trusting vulnerability. Expertise is an outcome of devotion, a relentless sacrifice to focus on a few things to exclusion of all else. It is an attitude of 'can do'. Originality comes from an attitude of curiosity and a presence of spontaneous positivity - that is to be authentic - without guarantee or pretence. Naivete of course will come from irreverence, and disregard for others' learning.

I had the opportunity to shake hands with naval aviation specialists, Air Marshalls and Admiral Dhowan himself. Overall, this session experience left me with a profound question. 

What am I bringing forth to this world?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Certainty the deity, Uncertainty the chant - 2014 as a reverse process?

In 2014, several stereotypes were challenged. India’s mission landed on Mars, at a cost unimaginable in developed nations. A teenager won the Nobel Peace Prize. We also saw violent intrusions of physical boundaries and the vagaries of the human mind. Civilian planes were downed, went missing and lives go unaccounted for because of people choosing to fly. Storms like those in the Kashmir Valley worried many. Winter chills from the polar vortex affected Canada and North America.

The rouble crumbled, and the popular representations in geographical zones started to demonstrate momentum in India and the Middle East. Japan’s low electoral turnout may inefficiently hide frustrations of a proud collective. Despite a revolutionary Pope and a rising of e-commerce, there are fewer jobs to go around in 2014, than in 2008. Despite more stringent laws women and children are violated in mindless circumstance.

If this were the context in which we end 2014 what is striking for me?

I feel challenged on account of incomplete inward realisation and the outward means by which we advance our causes. To quote a more articulate view “We know that, for better or worse, humans are incapable of rationally resolving theoretical debates outside of the institutional framework of the sciences. If we’re out on a limb, you guys are clinging to twigs. And now that science is making real inroads across the humanities, that annoying empirical breeze you feel is about to get a lot more gusty.” So wrote R Scott Bakker of the debate between views from Thomas Metzinger and Graham Harman. You will recall my mention of the phenomenal self model earlier.

While the philosophical chatter may appear much like ether or feel like flake to those not invested in critical enquiry, much of what happens around us in the real and physical worlds are now up for scrutiny. Perhaps the language of categories and prejudice may be closer to your preference in understanding how and why people take sides in an argument. So here’s what may make matters explicit. Consider facts reported by Partners Against Hate, who infer that Addressing Youthful Hate Crime is an Imperative.

·         33% of all known hate crime offenders are under 18.
·         31% of all violent crime offenders and 46% of the property offenders are under 18. 
·         29% of all hate crime offenders are 18-24.
·         30% of all victims of bias-motivated aggravated assaults and 34% of the victims of simple assault are under 18.

What do we do, when, in the name of religion, creed, language or race, workplaces are blocked for outcomes and energy? While, I am not in command of facts that parallel those of Partners Against Hate, here are a few probable trends for your consideration.  

·         Of all known injustice due to prejudice, offenders are rarely identified at the workplace.
·         Of all  injustice at the workplace,  voice is most exercised only when monetary reward is lower than expected by the ‘victim’ in the situation. 
·         For most ‘surprises’ during a compensation and benefit revision, expectation setting and goal setting are taken for granted.  
·         Workplaces project the language of diversity. Yet, ‘mind-set’ professions such as Quality Management (QM) and Human Resource Management (HRM) are rarely  experienced as integrators.
·         Of known sources of error and workplace injustice, work design and organization design are rarely seen together as the source.

Which in a rather curious way, brings me back to the role of bias in optimism.

I’m glad I was introduced to the work of Yuval Noah Harari, who as scholar of history, brings to us a  possibility in his book Sapiens. He argues that the greatest myth we’ve lived with for thousands of years is the Agricultural Revolution. The agricultural revolution has not reduced man’s efforts, but only compounded it. Instead, it is crop and cereal like wheat or rice that domesticated homo sapiens. Surviving and flourishing over millennia, they’ve made us dependent on them. They’ve domesticated us on this planet! (what a contrarian appeal to our senses).

We may’ve thought we’ve domesticated cattle. But the cowbell’s new forms like the cellular phone and hand-held devices now aided by the stealth of technological prowess, seem to muddle our thinking. Being is even more majestically challenged than we may readily acknowledge.

We’re hurtling into an age, where spiritual and intellectual honesty may be difficult to reconcile.  I find forms of that reconciliation ruling the roost in organisational debates too.  Let’s just count some of these tensions here.

1.       There’s tall obeisance to ‘uncertainty’, and yet stock markets punish for the lack of ‘certainty’.
2.       There’s much ado in the name of complexity, and yet simplicity is touted even if end effects are about oversimplification.
3.       There’s praise to the intangible yield from human resources, and yet there are perhaps fewer jobs thanks to technology.

Insight of 2014? When fantasy and optimism make heady confluence, it is fueled by inter-subjective beliefs dispersed widely in a society or civilization. That is to say, that socialization enables the stability of beliefs that hold up the myths of our existence. This is fodder to revolutions!

Stereotype to be challenged? Corporate or institutional impact on our belief structures. This is not about Coke as a want and water as a need per se. This is not about ideology, religion, philosophic slant or cult activism as much as it is about relevance of our actions to our wakeful lives.

How may we influence our beliefs such that what we experience at work on a daily basis is a reflection of our faith in each other’sabilities to revere and serve each other? Will such be the accommodation we make for people we may call neighbors, family and community too? 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Love has not tired yet

So much is made of issues such as religion, taxi driving and civic safety. I am most reminded of male overoptimism as we attempt to make sense of ‘news’ that we get. Even the barbaric mass murders of school children in the sub-continent seem only to have sent that momentary chill down our spines. Leonard Cohen has a song on Faith that has a contemporary prophetic appeal. Sample lines..

“The blood, the soil, the faith
These words you can't forget
Your vow, your holy place
O love, aren't you tired yet?
A cross on every hill
A star, a minaret
So many graves to fill
O love, aren't you tired yet?

Indeed, presence in a moment of dire stress and bringing the other person to that wavelength comes from a rare and dynamic awareness. Like Viktor Frankl did with his prison officers. Human will, inner deep bone gifts of clarity and our attitude to crises. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” wrote Frankl in his book Man’s search for Meaning. I thought I met a few such people over the last few weeks of December.

A 4 am pick-up to the airport is often a curse for a worn out taxi-driver. But there he was 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Knowing a name helps, I thought when he called and spontaneously broke into Malayalam. I asked him if he had enough rest, and he said, he had just got up from sleep as his driver had gone on leave. So, what on earth was a pastor doing behind the wheel I thought as he cruised into a steady gear. “How did you know that?” he asked. “Well, I was informed by the cab company”. “Oh, no. They registered my name that way?” A few more turns under street light and he opened up. “I do not like to go begging for alms for spiritual service. So I set up a few taxi runs, so that we generate our own money to run medical camps and run a couple of schools in remote areas. My drivers need rest, and I pitch in like I did today. They know we’re building a mission”. 

On another pick-up and drop in another city, I got a multi-utility vehicle, (kind of upgrade from a sedan), and the driver was another enthusiastic livewire. “So where do you stay?” I asked him. “Sir, this vehicle belongs to the owner, who works for a software company. He wanted a trusted driver. So, since I am from his village he asked me to take care of the car. He stays down the coastal road”. “So, where do you stay?” “In this car,” came a prompter response this time. I knew I was onto something. 

“I wash up at the Central Station or at the airport wash-rooms”. “So you eat in hotels, I presume!” I volunteered. “Yes, usually, between rides, whenever I feel hungry”. “What about your clothes?” I queried, as he sported a chauffeur's look atypical of his tribe. This question brought a proud response from him. With a modest swish of his wrist and opening up his fingers from the sturdy steering, he said “I give my clothes for laundry twice a week”. And his village connect? “Sir, I go home by bus once a month. My wife and daughter are my life”.

On my last trip home from the airport, the Regional Transport Office (RTO) halted the cab I was in. When pulled onto the side, the sentry politely asked me for 5 minutes from my ride to verify papers of the driver. In 3 minutes the driver was back from the patrol vehicle of the RTO. When I asked him what it was about, he said, “Sir, this is a registered vehicle, and there was no problem. But the recent incidents have meant that the government is keeping closer checks. That is all”.

Just a few examples of how the organised web-enabled taxi industry in India has many an endearing story behind the wheel. 

Indeed, love has not tired yet.  May the year 2015, thrive on it. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Milk of Value : Entrepreneurial Nectar

More than 20 years ago, I found fancy with a line of curiosity. It was this. What do entrepreneurs do to make their firms ‘professional’? If we had answers to this question, we would know what new entrepreneurs could do to scale businesses, grow revenues and provide employment to India’s teeming millions.
I was amply warned. “You’re going after a tough problem”, said my research guide. College friends and scholars said “entrepreneurs don’t give that time for us researchers in real life”. Suffice it to say, I persisted. I came close to the phenomenon of my original question. I was fortunate to present the linkage between Entrepreneurial Orientation and Learning styles at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India. Prof. Dwijendra Tripathi’s words for me were very encouraging. He announced at the panel, that my research was at once ‘exploratory’ and ‘intuitive’ in design. But that is another story.

Let me first say I am glad I at least tried with the resources I had to meet with Dr. Verghese Kurien, whose memory today is commemorated as National Milk Day in India. On one of my trips to Village Bhat, I took a detour to Anand, where my mother’s cousin and her husband had served for years in social service and community health. Their local knowledge helped me at least see the utilities of the place and the rural economic engine. Folklore has it there, that Dr. Kurien impressed a Swedish delegation enough that he too was seized by the opportunity in reciprocation. That his cousin Ravi Mathai was IIM’s first founder came a distant second in reasons for the Amul Story. For some reason, the cause was so overpowering, that some of Dr. Kurien’s approaches were domineering enough to keep away middlemen and their support systems. In hindsight, the ‘situation’ he experienced may have had clues to his style, and the survival of the institution beyond his lifetime!
I saw some entrepreneurs from up close. One was Clyde Cooper, the dashing and energetic Managing Director of Blue Dart Express. He probably slept less than most professionals, and when at work, had the attention of an eagle. To pass Blue Dart’s Personnel Policy Manual through him was an experience in itself. When I saw the draft return to me via my supervisor, the affable Vasudevan Srinivasan; I was in for a ride of my lifetime. With bold red upward revisions of per diem allowances for drivers of inter-city surface transport trucks, I realized; Clyde paid more than an opportunity cost to operationalize his ‘fleet’. He knew operating realities from up close. In another instance, the grand big-hearted Homi Mistry took me to witness the entrepreneur’s dealing with ethics. He asked me to accompany him to a consignee’s address. He took a letter from Clyde explaining how a shipment was wrongly passed through the operations hub, due to poor vigilance, and a compensation amount was given to the consignee. Clyde was not a mere perfectionist. He set standards, despite infrastructure constraints through example and untiring consistency.
I visited Narendra Kumar Dhand, the creator of this unique firm called Parishuddha Sadhan Yantra in Ghaziabad. An engineer from California, but at heart the patriotic Indian, he set a shining contrast for manufacturing firms. His firm had no unions. They created India’s finest CNC machines for clients such as Mico-Bosch, and other automobile giants. Sensing my zeal, he gave me 90 minutes and more in interview. The lasting impression I have of him is his generosity of character. To endear an industrial worker in a restive manufacturing cluster required extraordinary compassion and focus. Extended further, the practices on the floor spoke for the mind-set of their products. Quality circles for continuous improvement, meant that the intrinsic worth of employees, irrespective of their educational backgrounds was core to the sustenance of the organization!

Another entrepreneur I only had a peep of was the indomitable spirit - Rohinton Aga. Suave, commanding in respect and empowering in accountability, his writing spoke more for me than any direct experience. But his wife Anu Aga witnessed a summer project I did during my post-graduation at Thermax. In those little interactions I had then, I realized that running a scaled up enterprise, was not just about ethics, professionalism and commitment, but also about integrating several roles in a life time- spouse, son-in-law, leader, industry spokesperson and influencer of business policy.
Today, we live in an era of serial start-up stories, none as epic as the ones I have quoted for their tenure, but gargantuan in appetite and perhaps unrealistic in valuation. I pause to reflect the innocent questions I had about what entrepreneurs do to make their firms successful. Two decades removed, there’s much in the original question to sustain interest, but the context has shifted on several counts. So apart from whole systems that have institutional perimeters or boundaries, there’s also the question of environmental impact and sustainability of livelihoods per se . I offer four questions as spin-off in an entrepreneur’s context.
  1. Is the proposition local or global in vision?
  2. Is the cause powerful enough and potent to endear commitment of employees?
  3. Is the business proposition reasoned enough to summon risks of economic and psychological nature?
  4. Is the model of the human being at work and the human being as customer congruent in the entrepreneur’s own estimation?
What has been your experience in these respects? If not a Milk Day, would it be Energy Day or Bio-Diversity day you will be remembered for?