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?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Basic, not base emotions

Often, I muse upon the subtleties between enthusiasm and optimism; risk taking and impulse, self-sacrificing and altruism, and so on. These are fascinating areas of thought, and inferences from a similar behavior may trace back to different origins. E.g. who do you think is more of a risk taker - the cricketer Sehwag, or Virat Kohli? Who is more of the impulsive businessperson - Richard Branson or Vijay Mallya?

If seen from a more coarse, or meta-level, what may be the basic emotions we experience as humans? I am left with what Master Richard McHugh taught us years ago. He said there are four basic forms that emotions take. Our brains are capable of focussing on finite chunks of emotion in given time, and as such, may not process each with similar vitality or intensity in the same moment. Yet, when distilled, there are 4 basic emotions to deal with as below.

1.       Joy – where celebration and the general word happiness exist. This may not be an absence of grief, but surely the discovery of meaning is a great contender here. 
      For me meaningfulness is an necessary reframing of grief at times, as the travails of nature hold up gifts through experiences of suffering.
2.       Grief – where the helplessness in loss pervades, and stymies the senses accordingly to a near foreclosure of options. It is grieving during separation, or death of a loved one that calls for a spirited appraisal of emotional investment. Grief is a coming to terms with nature’s cycles when ends are a renewal or a rebirth of life-forms.

3.       Anger – where not being able to get what one wanted is asserted in varying levels of intensity. Unlike grief, it is a contacting emotion, as the aim one can benefit from in the case of anger is a deepening of one’s relationship with the other with whom we are angry.

4.       Sex – and this is the counter-intuitive emotion. Sex is a procreating drive for most, but it is a life-assertive energy that when repressed causes more ill – physical, social and emotional, than we are willing to admit. Sex as bodily differentiation in gender and unity of species as life-form is slow but essential realization. Deep respect can only ensue from traversing the deep masculine, shallow masculine, and deep feminine and shallow feminine aspects of sexual identity in the same body. It is about tuning in to one’s body and its creative forces. It is also about understanding that repressed from civil discourse, we often confuse this with love – which, in fact is a decision, and more than a fundamental emotion.

Having made mention, it is useful to be clear about love. Love is a decision to give in conscious awareness all of oneself to oneself, and to others who may share in spirit, social relationship or ideology. In this sense, love is not a free flowing emotion. It is not an object of manipulation either. As Osho Rajneesh once mentioned, it is psychologically impossible to love another without loving oneself. Self-acceptance and self-improvement are both components of self-esteem, and impoverishing either reduces the chances of loving others.

Loving others as oneself, therefore is a whole new meaning - a joy to live into!

What do you think?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Go online to reduce the anxiety of impulse buying!

My son rarely has accompanied us (his parents) on grocery shopping. He joined us for this once yesterday. The reasons for it is another story. The reason for my mention is the story that should interest you.

Wheeling the cart around the corner he said, it is better to shop online to reduce your cost of shopping. "Saves fuel and parking costs?" I was curious. "No, it reduces impulse buying - see that lady there - she may not even need it". A lady was staring hard at the goods placed at a place that required no effort to wind through the racks. I was immediately reminded of Paco Underhill's influence on position of merchandise in line with human anthropoid, and his book "Call of the Mall".

Having once written a book review on Sheena's book "The Art of Choosing", we also are a collective that have foisted a recent political regimen on ourselves in India. But sadly, I have been alerted to the consequence of numbing. And then I saw this one by Renata Salecl on TED. Take a look and see if we we have a passion for ignorance.

The ignorance of not knowing where we are headed is marked by the obviousness of the numbing we are now used to. Like getting up and expecting the world of infrastructure and systematic transportation serving the millions. As of now sales personnel work on clients and earn their incentives from those who may not need a second or third car or smart phone in India!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Purpose Values?

At a remembrance event for my late brother Philip George at the Loyola School, Pune, Sukratu Barve had a sage like reflection.  He said Philip would ask Sukratu for his opinion on subjects he liked. In reflecting this tendency Sukratu felt that Philip for the scholar he was - respected even others' views of a subject.  This to Sukratu was spiritual.  For a Professor of Physics to state so, there has to be a wisdom from a forever that laws of physics cannot express through symbolic equations or formulas.  Almost everyone there agreed that Philip was a personification of ideal conduct and in Jesuit value, the  'man for others'.

In recent weeks two people who worked with me years ago, asked me for my permission to quote me as reference on their job applications.  It is my reflection in our times, that people make job transition attempts more to preserve the value of goodness in themselves than to see their salaries increase. 

Just yesterday I facilitated a meeting where the HR team were considering the explicit statement of values for their organization. Their context? Designing their role and competency matrices. In the last week,  I was immersed in data that spoke to a varying commitment to values espoused by the founders. Some connections between such dots is but natural.

1. It is the absence of the virtue in a value that makes for its significance than when it is present on paper and missing in its practice. We value things we lose, don't we?

2. Rituals of repetitive nature may actually denude the value than accrete it.  To provide experiential flow,  timing and not time of ritual or ceremony matters. So, it is a systemic value to be punctual in Japan, but it is a matter of magical calibration to time oneself to the leader's message in India.

3. Values that bond humans are fairly universal and could make for connect across organisations.  Organization specific values fall in a cluster that speaks to its character, often promoted by its founders.  

4. The more enduring the value the more elusive it's formalization.  Organizations struggle with method of Influence to espouse and socialize higher purpose values such as Love, Peace and Harmony. Being Clean and Transparent in interactions is the instrumental variant of the more Terminal Value of Purity. Tempted founders may confuse the morality of norms to control cleanliness, when they may mistakenly believe that they aim for Purity through control.

5. Terminal values are seen at first to conflict with base economic aspirations.  Instrumentality trumps transcendent values and is languaged as the world of operations or mundane transcations. This speaks to the character of spiritual religious or social organisations as distinct from business organisations.

In closing, am reminded of how the source of each of these values is our own very selves. While awareness mediates its realization, it is wonderful to experience it. Yesterday, when coaching a client whose overall sales accountability has touched USD $2bn, it was an acknowledgement that the client made that rang the values bell in me. Mindfulness helped my client zone in on management of stress, and it is this quiet confidence from which, the next action steps of transforming the world around the professional begins. 

Often, organizations make such realization a matter of instrumentality. This is a zone of confusion, no doubt, but oftentimes, a willful detachment from inner knowing of one's core makes for a crevice of unease in organizations. Religious or social benefit organizations and business organizations are all susceptible to such cognitive and emotional blocks. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Triumph can overwhelm

Not sure yet which gender belongs to Mars. Venus is still light years off. The frugal engineering and parsimonious applied science that launched India as a nation through interplanetary space lifted human spirit like never before. 

It is no equation or alloy technology that I can identify with when marveling at ISRO scientists' collective accomplishments. I do not know how to feign such knowledge either. So here's what surrounds me as the overwhelming mood engulfs the nation.

1. It was a mission, like locusts movements. Locusts have no king, and yet they march in ranks. It was not a campaign where a kingly authority reigned. Yet, the nation willing to be swept beneath the apogee missed this distinction. I am hoping we glean this subtlety sooner than later.

2. Design trumps operations. No matter how marvelous project and program management can get with agile and scrum methods, MoM may not have delivered without a requisite specificity in design phases. Quality cannot be sacrificed even if expense control is a target.

3. Shared context is unconscious value base, and diversity binds it best. It is known that most of the scientific cadres on Indian government rolls come from aspirational histories. The lack of the silver spoon hardwired struggle and survival in resource constrained contexts. The distinguishing competence of these scientists may well be the temperament of method in enquiry, and not curiosity per se.  Both past hardwiring and cultivated scientific temperament fuse together best when language, creed and faith are transcended in long gestation. If removed even by a bit, you may experience jugaad, but not the elegance of robust science.

Well for starters, these are points that I choose over many others. They may seem simple on the surface. But they may well transcend the complexity of rocket science.

In sheer paradox, as a nation, we may have got this mix in serendipity than through science of social psychology or the procedures of conscripted ideology or manuals of leadership code. 

What do you think?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Against the grain?

Recently at least two of my clients requested my assistance in selecting people to positions they needed to recruit into. My OD self stirred in the confidence of the relationship, but raised a question of identity.

Both clients however decided that all they wished were  referrals. They would shortlist and recruit at their will. That was a small relief. But the anxiety revolved around the ability to place and position my request in their mould to people on my social network. However in one case, it was apparent that the client knew a candidate and wished an independent opinion.

I brought on my scientific temperament and asked the candidate to respond to the Harrison's Assessment online questions. That gave me a surer footing in the face to face interaction.

That is when it occurred to me that differentiation by specializations deflect whole person presence in the selection process. That to me is an organization effectiveness window.

So when I gave my sense of a thumb rule, the client's eyes and ears were up. Here's what I mentioned.

25% to social references from professionals known by the candidate.
25% to sound psychometrics especially on person role fit and likely derailers.
25% to candidate track record, of which 15 is self-report, 10 is based on rewards and ratings of others.
25% to the interview method or a slew of selection processes.

Now I have conveyed to my social network that I do not think am a specialist at recruiting. But they liked my trusting them to their ability to refer and do their references a world of good.

What was against the grain, was a learning experience for me. What do you think?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Attributes of Leader Identity and Social media

When social media thrives on pretentious audio-visual blitzkriegs from HR leaders, crises within their firms are more probable. Employees experience the brand far more certainly than creatively projected messages that distance the HR leadership from their own employee bases.
When business leaders  have more of their way than feedback from those in immersive value creation; delusions may overrun the firm' s fortunes. Surely the ability to receive feedback also atrophies with age and time, when such leadership proceeds as if unassailable. Let alone accepting and acting on feedback; communication rarely achieves the intent of the message in such firms.

I have known leaders in the recent past who due to their incomplete apprenticeship with power issues, have reported some of the tendencies as noted below.
1. In the frustration of not experiencing maturity or demonstrable competence, they deepen the divide between decision makers and implementers. Ironically, their attempts to kiss and make up in repentance meets with suspicion and slows the firm down further.
2. Upon initiating change in their organizations, their unrevised power archetype stresses them out. Unable to see their own role in the creation of phenomena they are part of, vulnerability causes more pain than change and they stay away from self-awareness. In hierarchical cultures, they even deny their tension with their investors. In less hierarchical cultures, their openness may be abused by even more insecure power mongers.

Can leaders meet such a challenge?
Surely. This is easier said than done. However, recent sharing from people like Bennis, on judgment and Goleman and Altman on self-awareness help.
It is when fallacious questions are asked that curiosity and self-development are arrested in their tracks. E.g. what's the way to show return on investment on self awareness ? The goal of self-awareness is the goal in itself.

Social media can be an alibi for human resource development. Let us beware. Only when the inward journey is reflected in outward expression is authenticity experienced, irrespective of the medium!