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.

 

 

 

Work Ethics

The earliest memories of my demure, 5’4″ mosima (grandmother) are always associated with sunrises, woody smoke, cotton sarees and the fragrance of Charmis cream. 

I’m nearly five I think, my summer holidays have just started and I burrow myself deeper into the thick blanket mosima has wrapped around me.

No books to be bundled inside my canvas bag, no homework to be checked by a hawkish uncle, no poems to be learnt by rote and no tests around the corner.  I will away the chirping of the sparrows, the woody smoke from the kitchen and the  morning light I knew awaited me. The chill of the morning along with the rhythmic snoring of my grandpa was enough to make me glide back to sleep where I knew I would dream of books piled high along with hot samosas and Boost.

But rain or shine, holidays or school my dearest would be up before the cock crowed. Yes, we had roosters at every corner in Bangalore then along with cowsheds. My city was truly a garden city. My road was lined with yellow and orange champa trees, their fragrance intoxicating and heady in summers; gulmohars in resplendent red during the monsoons and always, mosima pottering around the house like a goddess. She was omnipresent.

In the kitchen, making breakfast and packing lunch for a family of 8 that sometimes expanded to 15 and more. In the garden, watering her beloved papayas, pomegranates, banana, jasmine, hibiscus and all the other myriad bushes and trees that dotted our small plot. In the veranda giving a bowl of egg and milk to a stray dog we had adopted. She wasn’t a dog lover but there was just no way she could refuse to care for yet another creature. To her all of God’s creatures were to be loved and nurtured. She would be in the backyard serving coffee to the old lady who helped with cleaning vessels and washing clothes. To the market she would go with her cloth bag and me in tow. At times, I would accompany her on a 6 km hike to our ration shop to buy the monthly groceries of rice, dal, oil, sugar and wheat.

Till the day she was admitted to the hospital where she breathed her last my dearest never wearied of fulfilling her duties to her family, her neighbors and the ones she cared for. 

Always the first one to wake up and the last to sleep. Non-complaining, ever-smiling, quick with a hug and a patient ear. Non-judgmental and driven, to be the best she could for us, her thankless brood. 

Now as I pour over management books and read articles galore I realise my dearest had the traits of a successful entrepreneur and an inspiring leader.

  1. She worked harder than the rest of us, whom she united as family
  2. She never asked but gave willing of herself and commanded us with a gentle smile, never a tear or a threat
  3. She was always willing to give a second chance and yet another chance till proven wrong
  4. She was driven by an inner moral compass and higher principles
  5. She never advised without being sought
  6. She never sat on judgement but stood by your side to pull you up and get you going

As I look around me at  papers piled high, clothes strewn around, empty bottles of water and the clock ticking by I see a sweet lady pick up and arrange with nay, a murmur nor a rebuke.I hear her sing, cook and clean with never a care for her aching body or thankless brood (smaller though it be) and I think to myself, I can’t go wrong. For my mother carries on where mosima left off.

I have a long way to go but I know the work ethics I have imbibed from the women in my family run deep within me.

As I trace my career,  adventures in living, challenges and triumphs I realise it is my mosima I look to for inner strength and retaining my authencity of who I am and being the best I can be; of staying true to myself and bouncing back every time I fall.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be gorgeous, brilliant, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. …As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

 

 

 

 

Must-haves – POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS MADE EASY

No, this post isn’t about must-have accessories or footwear or clothes that you wear as opposed to ‘what not to wear’ that flop actress turned fashionista Soha Ali Khan hosts on one of the lifestyle channels.

This post instead is focused on life skills.

POWER POINTS

If you thought you are done with power points after your basic computer classes, think again. The corporate sector thrives on it. There is nothing  and nowhere that .ppt or .pptx (depending on which version you use) doesn’t exist. Power points are sacrosanct be it creative, communications, IT or any other department you can think about. So PRACTICE AND PRACTICE. Perfect those skills.  But before you start to jazz up your presos with animations, remember:

Have a story board in place before you start to put together a slide

Remember, your slides are just helping you tell a story and is Not the story itself

Keep it Simple Silly (As in everything else, keep it simple)

  1. No more than 3 major  bullet points
  2. Do not clutter your slides with text . (You do not want your slide to look like the standard disclaimer that insurance/banking firms throw your way)
  3. Go easy with the colors. Keep to  the standard color palette that goes with the template you have chosen
  4. Keep to 2 fonts all through (Corporates usually prefer Arial and Calibri; Cambria and Book Antiqua) and don’t use fancy fonts like Wing Dings 😉

Go Visual

  1. A single picture is equal to a 1000 words
  2. Power Point has a nifty tool called Smart Art which helps you represent relationships – pyramid, matrix, etc
  3. Template layouts also allow you to craft a slide to make story telling easy
  4. Go on the web to get graphics that allow you to use visuals more effectively. Eg: Graphic below can be used for sales network, ecosystem partnership, etc..
    (Courtesy: Google images)

Easy-to-understand CONTENT

  1. Keep the language simple
  2. Since text is usually in bullet points you can go easy on article usage but good grammar is still a must
  3. Do a spell check, fact check
  4. Avoid acronyms: More often than not companies think that the audience understands acronyms which are industry or company specific

AND REMEMBER…

  1. Light text on light background do not work, same goes for dark text on dark background
  2. To Go easy with animations and builds, they are distracting and can take away from what  could have been a great presentation
  3. To Check for formatting. Eg; alignments of boxes and grids (Power Point 2010 makes it easy to ensure proper formatting as there is an inbuilt grid that helps to keep all the boxes, graphics, texts, photos, etc… in place)
  4. Different locations require different formats. Eg; 16:9 is great if you plan to show the presentation in a large room & big screen but if you plan to play your slides in a small room go with a 4:3 set up

The Other Side…. mayhap, the dark side to some

I have written a few times with weird bosses and the pain they can be, especially if you do not know how to deal with them. Came across this post on BNET, which I’m copying below that makes you stop and start again!! Read on..

How to Deal With a Bad Boss: Don’t!

By Steve Tobak | August 23, 2010

We spend an inordinate amount of time decrying and complaining about our bosses. Just looking at BNET posts alone, you’d think all bosses are complete idiots, dysfunctional jerks, micromanaging a-holes … or that they just plain suck.

Don’t get me wrong. Examining bad management behavior is the only way to improve it. And there are times when we can all use a little help learning to cope with a dysfunctional boss. That said, most blogs on bad bosses quickly deteriorate into whine-fests that sound remarkably like children crying about how their parents are mean and just don’t get it.

Well, I’ve got news for you. When you behave like a victim, wallow in self pity, or act like you’re entitled to something better, not only does it do you no good, but you may end up getting yourself fired or doing real harm to your career. To help you avoid that, here’s a dose of reality about dealing with problem bosses:

  • If you go head-to-head with your boss, you’ll lose. In What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack describes a situation where an employee got into a heated exchange with his boss and got himself fired. “No matter how wrong or intemperate his boss might have been, that, unfortunately, was now a nonissue. The situation did not reflect well on this particular employee’s boss — but his boss still had a job.”
  • You actually have choices; exercise them. That’s right, you can’t pick your boss, but if you don’t like him, it’s a free country, you can quit. If you like or need your job, on the other hand, then get over yourself and suck it up. The choice is yours. But if you decide to go over your boss’s head or to HR, don’t be surprised if it ends badly for you. You may not want to hear this, but from the company’s viewpoint, you’re just a thin-skinned troublemaker who they’d just as soon not have to deal with.
  • Did it ever occur to you that it may be you? I’m not trying to burst your bubble here, but maybe you’re not god’s gift to bosses. Maybe the boss would be more relieved to get rid of you than you are to get rid of him. Sure, nobody thinks he’s a rotten employee, but they’re out there, and in far greater numbers than rotten bosses. So, if you actually like or need your job, you might want to take a long look in the mirror before you do anything drastic.
  • Burned bridges have a way of piling up. Maybe you’re young and carefree now, but the choices you make and the behavior you exhibit today will follow you throughout your career. More and more, employers are checking references you don’t provide, and a few little red flags can add up to one big red flag that says, “don’t hire this guy.” The truth is, if you burn enough bridges, you may very well find yourself all alone on an island somewhere with nobody else in sight. No bosses, and no jobs, either.

Bottom line: Look, I’ve had more than my fair share of dysfunctional and abusive bosses, so I don’t mean to appear insensitive to what employees of crappy bosses really go through every day. Still, if you act subjectively without gaining some perspective, you may end up making things even worse for yourself. Just remember, you always have a choice. You can always quit.