If only I knew

So this was my first managerial job and I got selected after a heated discussion in which I lost my cool, being the hothead I was. First day on the job I realised I had two senior people to manage along with a fresher and two peers – all of them new to the company just like I was. Intimidating since I knew some of them by reputation and felt these guys probably knew more about the job than I did. A series of high level meetings with managers from other regions and the top honchos left me with a complete understanding of the company’s vision, mission and future road map.

Back at base I called my team together and passed on my company’s mission statement and what our goals were. I made a huge poster and slapped it on the wall for everyone to remember it. I had one-on-one meetings with each team member to understand why they took on their role, what really interested them and tried understanding their motivation. I insisted on the following:

a)Daily brainstorming meetings before we began the day’s work so each member of the team knew what the other was up to

b)The team had to be reachable on phone

c) Work would wind up by 5 every evening

d)I would deal with the top management while the team focused on getting their work done

First month into the job and we were already battle scarred! Two of the team members could barely get along and wanted the same roles & responsibilities. I was busy trying to resolve their conflicts and ensuring the team was on the ball I never got around to interacting with managers and team members from other regions. I was busy ensuring my team had a solid rep that I fought their battles with top management slowly ingraining a Us vs Them culture. I wanted to be their friend resulting in people taking leave quite often and lower productivity. I did not want to get involved in office politics so I seldom met with the administrative or sales staff.

Eight months later I was up to my neck with conflicts within the team; senior members directly interacted with top management and I was given the impression during a review meeting that I did not run a tight ship and a junior team member resigned since the conflicts demotivated her. I quit shortly afterwards, miserable and low on confidence.

Of course, I had several managerial stints later during my career but they were riddled with challenges such as these. Now I only wish I had found a mentor much earlier in my career who would have warned me of the pitfalls of getting too close, too soon; of not interacting with peers in other departments; of not looking for developmental mentors; etc, etc…

Recently, I read Lineback and Hillman’s Being A Boss and it was an eye opener. The book is filled with valuable insights on tips and tricks for first-time managers to practice avoiding the snake pits of a corporate life. The authors recognize the role of the Boss in shaping the outcome of teams and organisations through their power to influence others and using the power of the network to grow.

According to the authors, the three imperatives of Being a Boss:

  • Manage Yourself
  • Manage Your Network
  • Manage Your Team

Hill and Lineback’s model of managing self, network and team is a great way for new managers to break the overwhelming task of management. The purpose of this book is to help a manager understand how to be an instrument to get work done and contribute to the organization. At the core, this book seeks to answer one crucial question: How to Exert Influence?

Influence is at the key of persuading your team to work towards organizational goals or achieving a business outcome. Many managers think their lack of knowledge, experience or skill especially ability to manage time becomes a hindrance to becoming an effective manager.

Imperative One: Learn that management isn’t about getting things done yourself. It’s about accomplishing things through others.

Imperative Two: Understand how power and influence work in your organization and build a network of mutually beneficial relationships to navigate your company’s complex political environment.

Imperative Three: Build a high-performing team out of all the individuals who report to you.

If you are serious about evolving into a good manager from a greenhorn and becoming a great manager who leads through example this is just the book for you.

I only wish I had read this much earlier……

 

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Staying Afloat or Learning to Thrive not merely survive

Nina, 42, worked as a HR manager in a globalised corporate entity for over 14 years steadily climbing the ladder from being a fresh minion in the HR department to managing the human resources need for the company’s Asia-Pacific rim. She was touted for a promotion and a rewarding bonus in the next review cycle. 

Ravi, 35, worked in the sales team for the newly-opened foods division within a software to sanitary pad conglomerate. He had already made several trips overseas, was his boss’ blue-eyed boy and much-sought after in social events. His boss had given him a challenging target for the first quarter and he was confident of surpassing the numbers. 

Both Nina and Ravi found themselves scouring wanted ads in the next review cycle. While Nina was passed over for promotion over a younger colleague and quit her job feeling slighted, Ravi was rendered unemployed due to ‘a structured downsizing.’

Six months later, Nina had reinvented herself as a life skills coach and opened a training academy that helped companies strategise and implement better HR policies, provide soft skills and life skills training to employees and make the workplace ‘a place to live’.  She had three steady clients and several prospective leads. 

Ravi had switched two jobs and was busy figuring out where his next pay check would come from? Though he wanted to continue working for another corporate he was unsure of facing the bleak prospect of a lay off. 

How do you think this should play out?

In the real world, unless Nina had good, paying clients, minimal commitments and a nifty nest egg set aside she would have  had to fold up and look for another job. Ravi would have had to take whatever came his way till he found his feet. 

Nina, indeed, held on to her new-found entrepreneurial zeal and today has several happy clients in her kitty. She is a much-sought after speaker in management colleges, conducts training programmes for aspiring HR professionals, mentors youngsters in communication skills and helps senior managers enhance their life skills and perform better at the workplace. 

Ravi decided against working for yet another corporate. He banded with four of his friends to set up a business consultancy that offers virtual sales leads and business support services. He has a handful of clients and is busy developing a mobile app that will help companies schedule meetings in different time zones and geographies. 

So what differentiates people like Nina and Ravi who learn to thrive in crippling circumstances and the rest who go into survival mode?

For starters, both Nina and Ravi were consummate networkers. Chance meeting in the corridors were not reserved for gossip but used as a chance to cultivate relationships. Social networking platforms and office events were fertile ground to nurture relationships based on commonalities, collaboration and bonding.

Upgrading Skills. Nina and Ravi were always willing to expand their sphere of influence meaning they helped on projects and functions where their expertise besides the functional one furthered the need of the organisation. Nina, for instance, had a knack for project management and ended up volunteering on projects that were not related to her core area of expertise – HR. She was not shy of speaking about her accomplishments or taking on additional work. Nina had also enrolled herself in weekend classes on project management to get certified.

Ravi  represented his organisation at industry -level meetings and trade lobbies. Though an introvert by nature he was starting to enjoy participating in these events, networking and even speaking at smaller, focus groups. He was slowly shaping himself into an influencer who always stayed abreast of industry trends and standards. He wrote articles and papers on his areas of expertise – food processing and agro sector.

Life did not begin and end at the workplace for either Ravi or Nina. Ravi was an adventure junkie and had initiated a Adventurers Unlimited club in his organization. The club had grown in popularity by the time he moved out of his organisation. He ran a language club and also volunteered for social causes run by the CSR department including teaching slum children maths and english. He had met several interesting people through these volunteer projects. Nina had initiated a Buddy Programme as part of the new employee orientation. She made it a point to meet up with group heads and mid-level managers to understand issues and concerns. She held random lunch table meetings with new employees. On weekends she was a lecturer at a management institute mentoring management graduates.

Big Picture for these two was not a seat on the directors’ board but living a more meaningful life. For Nina this meant having time to spend with her family, her garden and two dogs while continuing to volunteer at the old age home and lecture. Through her business venture, she roped in experienced veterans to teach life skills at her sessions for corporate clients and academic institutions. Ravi enhanced the scope of his work at the NGO that provided learning to children living in slums. He used his contacts to get stationary, books and used computers for these children increasing their confidence. He was able to build a proper school and enroll more volunteers for the programme.

Both these people are thriving in the environment they have created. Though both are stressed at finding clients and managing their full calendars, they are enjoying every single minute. They have learnt to be the Boss of their life by managing themselves, their network and their team more effectively.

 

Be the Boss:

Always look at the Big Picture. Your life does not end and begin with the Organisation

Have Life Skills. Volunteer. Enjoy Activities that are only for your (inner) growth

Build Your Credibility. Communicate.

Network. Professionally and Personally.

Mentor.

 

 

 

Here’s more….

Besides reading, my days are filled with doodles. Not that I’m as good at it as Bambubhai but with so much of time on my hands there needs to be something else eh?! And yes there is. I’m back to writing short stories. Perhaps one of these days I will post one of them here for good measure. Nice to have feedback before I know whether it is a worthy hobby to pursue. Meanwhile, if you are visiting the Garden City here’s a place you may want to check out..

 

 

What you say stays!!

It isn’t for anything that we have proverbs and fables!!

Ever heard of, Words flung from mouth and arrows from a bow can never be taken back.

WHY this proverb and now??

Well, for the past hour and a half I have been browsing my entire stack of posts to laboriously trace comments made by a regular reader and friend to delete all of it permanently.

Now this gentleman is a regular reader of this blog and held forth his opinions quite strong and loud.

Imagine to his surprise when he was quizzed about his opinions on certain topics expressed in this blog during an interview. And he actually fared poorly despite the right qualifications due to his views.

What does this mean and why does it give me a strange foreboding??

Not only do we have moral policing but we now have social policing as well?!

Tell me dear readers, is this right or do we fight???

 

Neoexistential crisis…huh, what?!

This is truly a first for me.

How much is too much? and When is too much ENOUGH…

I didn’t mean to be cryptic but thought of letting these questions buzzing in my head out there in the open! Now what’s the deal, eh??

Here goes: I finally found a job that I like working in a place I like for a boss I respect with people I share a good rapport with, the usual stuff notwithstanding, and I get paid a decent sum, which maybe indecent by some standards but heh, whose complaining.

So what’s my gripe you ask..

The problem, and don’t laugh here, is I like my job so much that the world outside has ceased to exist. I wake up at 1 in the morning to check my mails. I respond to mails in such a jiffy that at times I do not read the mail through and end up sending addendums. I’m trying to be the go-to person. I alert my boss to whatever I think is important, even if it means calling him at 10 in the evening (yea yea it is night but in my work-filled haze it is but the start of a pleasant evening when I start working on documents and organising my mail).

I volunteer for work outside my defined profile and JD, and at times end up taking on more than I can chew..and boy, believe me, never knew leather was that tuff…ugh!!

Now I find myself unconsciously donning the role of admin assistant (nowhere near my JD), fairy godmother (you get my drift :-(( ), one-woman army (huh, since when) and doormat.

Yes, and before I forget there are a team of similar drones all over the organisation whom I found ludicrously endearing and leg-stomping hilarious but now…..

HELP….

 

How do you hit the jackpot

After more than a decade of working, mostly being part of the print media I have come across less than a handful of people who I look up to. While one was a great mentor the other two were great managers who knew when to pull the leash in and when to leave it loose.

Most of the people who were in the supervisory or higher-up roles were routinely bad, pathetic in fact. Reasons varied from:

  • Indifference to creating a motivational environment for the team to work with
  • Lack of mentoring skills
  • Scheming to serve one’s own ends; even using subordinates/co-workers as pawn
  • Inability to foster a spirit of bonding & build team work
  • Discouraging youngsters/co-workers from trying new ideas/methods
  • Having a MY WAY or THE HIGHWAY attitude
  • Defeatist when confronted with a problem/new situation/challenge

and so on and so forth…While I’m trying to understand what makes a person stay on with the same organisation for reasons other than job security & not wanting to get out of a comfort zone; what I’m also trying to understand is why do people, especially youngsters job hop. Surely, monetary benefits can’t be the only reason since a pay hike of 1000-2500 rupees really doesn’t matter. Would be great to get your thoughts on both counts.

Meanwhile, here is my pick of the lot for being a REALLY COOL boss.

  • Give your employee the end-goal and allow them to navigate their way towards that goal
  • Create a sense of working towards a purpose as a TEAM
  • Make each member of the TEAM accountable for their responsibilities, actions and achievements
  • Applaud good work in public and reprimand bad moves in private
  • Mentor the team or put a buddy system in place
  • Be a friend but only when asked for
  • The Boss is the (wo)man with a vision so be CLEAR in all communications & set expectations

I’m working with one such……

 

joy

the older you get the more breaks you need

loo breaks

career breaks

relationship breaks

study breaks

in fact, taking a break from all the breaks is actually a good idea.

all this came about after reading that news snippet about how the corporate cubicle life is bound to stress people out. i mean wasn’t this known earlier.

why do you think primary school teachers remain life long teachers where as your corporate head honcho unless he founded the company got there by climbing a ladder, and in probability a ladder of heads.

why do you think the naturalist at your local wild life reserve has probably been there for a long time now, and if not there been in the same profession for a long time?

why do you think a researcher has been in his field till the first gray hair or bald patch came along?

to persevere at something you must enjoy it, and even if that is perseverance of money so long as you enjoy it and feel the thrill of waking up to another day of perseverance, go ahead and enjoy it without the needless pangs of guilt.

i know of several people who have made it a lifelong quest to persevere joy. naa, they don’t have rich folks to cushion them it’s just that their wants aren’t greater than their needs. a couple gave up collective high-flying jobs to set up a restaurant in mumbai, another couple i know pooled in their money to buy a plot of land and start a B&B.

so what is stopping you from chasing…the sheer joy of living life

 

Hold On

Most of us go through life chasing that elusive dream, the pot at the end of a never-ending rainbow, the will-o-the-wisp, the genie of the lamp and what-have-you. Sometimes we find it within our grasp and poof it’s gone before you can say Buddha hoga tera baap.

I have done the same as well. Whether it was in a personal relationship or in the professional sphere I have chased a non-existent ideal state of being. After a handful of jobs and more than a handful of relationships I realised it is better to accept life the way it is and make it ideal at least for that point in time till time passed for another set of circumstances and another phase of life to set in.

Too much philosophy. But Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha explains this the best.He finds his nirvana with Vasudeva, the boatman, who listens to the silence and speech of the river.

And all this introspection was brought on by a newly married friend who said, “I always keep everyone happy but no one recognises me when I’m alone.”

Further prompted when an acquaintance reflected that it was difficult to work for a demanding boss and the constant pressure to perform, to excel, to multitask, to take responsibility and be accountable was making resignation a  recurring thought.

In both cases the frustration was understandable but the other side to this story. Both these people were not willing to reach out and ask for help or support or understanding. They had erected a self-imposed barricade.

The newly wed: Why should I have to tell them I feel lonely? Can’t they understand that when a usually boisterous person clams up? Why can’t they come and ask me what is wrong? Whether I need a hug or a shoulder to lean on? Don’t I understand their needs?”

The troubled-at-work acquaintance: “I constantly feel they are comparing my performance to their predecessor. I have not received any negative feedback but all the same I feel like an outsider. I don’t want to ask for help since it will prove what they think of me, that I’m incompetent.”

What’s the solution??

Harmony

I have always believed that a new kid on the block or an old foggie on the precipice of retirement should choose a small company.

The logic is simple:

If you are young and it is a small organisation: than you get

  • more responsibilities
    feel the rush of working and accomplishing on your own
  •  more accountability
  • great camaraderie
  • mentoring and timely feedback
  •  trial and experimentation is possible since the structure will be open
  • learn more than your job definition
  • an expedited learning curve

If your are old and in a small organisation:

  • your experience carries a lot more value
  • you have been hired for your experience
  • you have the opportunity to groom, mentor, provide feedback and see the results firsthand
  • you have responsibilities
  • you cannot be a deadweight
  • you think out of the box

If you are young/old and you work in a mammoth, chances are:

  • you are lost in the labrynith
  • there is no scope for change
  • set systems and processes need to be adhered to
  • creativity and experimentation aren’t welcome
  • there is always you to blame
  • the buck stops with you but the decision to carry forth the buck is some one else’s
  • constant prodding/monitoring/miscommunication

At least this is my perception, what do you think??

RTE

With the Indian budget 2011 dawning close the media is reporting on budget expectations from CEOs to aam aadmi. Speculation and informed guesses say the government will not introduce anything new but plough in more funds to its pet projects including its rural employment guarantee scheme, healthcare scheme and education.

Which brings to mind a narrow alley i travel through each day and at times stop since the veggies are sold at half the rate as my nearby Hopcoms store.

On this alley are faces i see every day and some times shyly smile. from the lil’ boy who serves chai and washes glasses at the irani tea store as early as 6 in the morning to as late as 11 in the evening to the patient old man, blind and arms drawn up in a silent prayer outside the mosque as busy two-wheelers whizz by and sometimes stop and drop alms into a hanky spread close by.

This lil’ alley to me is India in a microcosm. Self reliant. A communal melting pot. Colorful. Stinking. Apathetic. Bustling with energy. Laidback.

The alley is lined with small machine tool shops, shops that sell old wooden doors and window frames, shops that sell fake lee cooper jackets and jeans, shops selling chai/dosas/kababs/naans/fried fish/vadas.

Women wearing burqas lugging crying tots in uniforms, women wearing the ghunghat and bargaining with the veggie vendor, women briskly selling hot idlis to autowallas stopping by for a quick eat.

Men sitting on benches and smoking beedis in the morning, the same men sitting and smoking beedis in the evening, youngsters going threesome on a luna, an indolent traffic cop sipping chai at the tea stall, men with their white caps hurrying to the mosque, men helping kids cross the road not stopping to ask what religion they belong to.

My India.

The alley has lots of secrets to those ready to share it. Great jilebis, lovely vibrant dresses, fresh veggies and tender meat, a ready laugh and some street philosophy.

Strewn with garbage that never seems to get tidied up. Yet every day as I pass by I see the BBMP workers pitchfork tons of filth into a waiting truck. Dogs wallow in it and people walk on it. Day into night and night into day. The garbage still stays and these brave folks doggedly remove it. Perhaps some day they will win the war.

The alley has the constant patter of feet. Children lugging bags, sometimes burdened by bags laboring away to school. Lil girls in burqas or the niqab attending school. Evenings a darker part of the alley leading on to a solitary house cordoned off by a flimsy curtain plays madrasa to young minds and at times a brightly lit store is converted to a madrasa as young tots run in to learn.

My lil’ boy stays on at his chai shop serving chai and washing glasses as a busy world stops and passes him by, again.

Perhaps, some day, he will get the RIGHT to EDUCATION, our government’s well-meaning RTE will probably touch him as well but till then he washes his glasses and serves his chai.