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.

 

 

 

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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

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……

 

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??

Underpaid + Unappreciated

This is the third attempt at writing the post. Perhaps because the title affects me on an extremely personal level.

Left an organisation for the second part, left another for the first, seen a few good friends leave for both parts while some are hanging on by a thread of sanity for want of anything better. UNDERPAID + UNAPPRECIATED – the recession helped companies/individuals to spread this knell along. StOP already.

A word of appreciation or a letter of commendation in front of people who matter is not that difficult a task. Value your Employees and They WILL STAY, and even if they don’t, you have built a positive network who may help you sometime.

A friend said my posts are angsty. Had to refer to a dictionary first!! , and here is what I got.

angst – an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; usually reserved for philosophical anxiety about the world or about personal freedom

Bang on.

Why is it difficult for corporates to get rid of corporategiri and why do normal people live up to the adage Nothing Corrupts Like Absolute Power.

Over the span of a decade I have been mentored and groomed by some amazing professionals, some did it intentionally and some unknowingly. I have learnt to:

Be professional at work=Don’t carry a baggage and your kitchen sink to work; Stay focused; Don’t Take your work home=prioritise work/ Make a list of Things to Do/ Work at Getting Things Done on Time or Well Before

Don’t Overpromise & Under-deliver = Walk the talk. If you can, you can. If not YOU CAN’T. Don’t Commit yourself if you do not have the specifics and Do not know what is required. DO YOUR HOMEWORK always.

LEARN– Constantly upgrade your skills. Spread yourself and learn. Teach yourself if you can’t be taught. Never be afraid to ASK even if it means you make a fool of yourself. BE OPEN to receiving.

DON’T UNDERPRICE – yourself and the work you do. Find out the market value for the services you offer. After all, you are the product and undervaluing and underestimating yourself will amount to a Huge LOSS and possible bankruptcy. I learnt this the hard way when I offered to write an article for 100 bucks a piece, and found that the market rate was five times that. WHICH ALSO MEANS when it is appraisal time do not be afraid to ask for a hike and that promotion you deserve.

SHOW YOU CARE– Whether you Start Green Horns, a green initiative, like a few friends did, and they even went on to win an award for their documentary OR you are just saying Thank You to the lady at the reception who goes out of her way to make Life easy for you OR your young colleague who shares his insights into the workings of your organisation.

DE-CLUTTER – How can you get work done if your desktop is filled with a zillion icons and redundant folder or your table strewn with paper and chocolate wrappers or your mind anxious about the upcoming appraisal when you actually have a looming deadline waiting to be completed. Take one thing at a Time.

ADOPT NEW MEDIA – You do not have to be on Facebook constantly to adopt new media. There are networking platforms aplenty to suit your requirements but a few that any professional is well-advised to adopt. Linkedin and Slideshare being a few. Most HR professionals these days check your Linkedin profile and use their network to check and evaluate you. Who knows New Media may be where your next paycheck comes from!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mad RUSH

Infy’s Mohandas Pai says company plans to hire 40 k people

Times Ascent increases its page count and doesn’t look like an exclusive for Jerry Varghese & co

Consultants are spamming inboxes with job offers even if they do not match or are related to areas of experience

Mad rush to hire again, good for me and sigh, not so good for me……

Coz naukri.com, naukrihub, monster, apnacircle seem to think I need to update my resume giving me a better chance to get offers coz currently their matches for me equal to security guard, receptionist, sales manager, house keeping, assistant store clerk…you get the picture

Meanwhile, jobsdb and jobscircle and recruit.net will not be left behind, with alerts mailed on an almost hourly basis. Doesn’t matter if I don’t know the Vb of a VB plus and java is still a better flavour of coffee for me. XYZ from xyz, abc, lmn, and u-know-who wants to spruce my resume so recruiters know I have what they are looking for. All I need to do is shell out a month’s one-way auto fare to my current place of employment. Truly ‘can’t say no‘ offer u say, if only u knew that I travel 2.5 hrs each way. U do the math!!!

Microsoft, Yahoo, Shell, BP and some god-forsaken companies in god-forsaken places want me to fill up a form so I can be considered for openings here. Mr.Ahmed/Achmet/Harifilford or Ms Jane Mary Sheley/Megan watzhername want to share this terrific business opportunity with me, oh glory be, and all I need to do is share my details and they will either :

  • Mail money
  • Mail instructions
  • Transfer funds

Oh even as I write this I’m getting mails galore, oh my, oh my, I have won a 250,000 GBP lottery from Microsoft, Yahoo, Shell, ufillintheblanks co…..and even as I refresh there are more offers….EARN FROM HOME, WORK FROM HOME, Join the thousands of Indians making money from home. Never to say (k)NO (w) to such an opp I open …please mail ur details to XX@XX.com..No free lunches or dinners or even a biscuit these days

Mad rush CONTINUES as lads dump pamplets SAY  ” WORK FROM HOME call 435453452424 now” AND I wait for an auto to go…..

 

 

 

 



DOWN, hopefully not OUT

This is the third attempt at writing this post. Not because of sheer laziness or lack of something to say. Just that the mere subject touched a raw nerve. I had titled it Layoffs and scrapped it again.

I meant to write a post on Dealing With Getting Laid Off, but heh, how do I write without sounding preachy and shouting from the rooftop. So out it all went.

CONTEXT first: My placid morning got stirred when a friend skyped asking for openings and vacancies. Further prodding and sheer nosiness got this out- laid off for not meeting targets; EMIs rolling out and house expenses to be met. Can I help?

Racked my befuddled head (coz this friend was comfortably well off but a month back secure in the everyday job and the 10-11 existence and now!!!) and scoured my contact list-passed on a few numbers and got back to what I was doing..snoozing. I couldn’t though.

WHAT NEXT: Thanked God and the bosses-that-be it wasn’t me? Prepared a Oscar-winning speech for why not me and then came the memories of a nightmarish quality.

Circa 2000: Heated words and the “you can shove your job you know where” and the heroic walk-out. Come morning and I woke up with a flush. I had no job and a blissfully unaware family, mom and dog waving me out the office and a brother asking me to stay safe. So there I was, out the gate with a hundred in the pocket, no cubicle to go to and NO boss to report to.

Old habits die hard indeed as I took a familiar route and landed on the bus terminal close to work. Free ad in hand I walked to a park close to what was my office till that morning. Within no time circles adorned the paper and frantic calls to jobs I had no idea about. Anything to have an appt letter in hand and next pay cheque in bank. This routine continued the next 13 days along with walk-ins to organizations that friends suggested. I did what a sales guy called cold calling, and the product I was doing a hard sell on was ME.

My nourishment these 13 days was hope, a bottle of water that I got from home, bananas and buns. Suffice to say, I stayed healthy physically and started breaking out mentally. No calls from companies desperate to hire me and the only calls I got was from banks soliciting a client, if they only knew it was a jobless penniless client they were soliciting!!

Two weeks on and nearing to the EOM I got a call at my neighbourhood kirana shop. Why you ask? No landline at home and mine was a prepaid connection with the balance hovering close to the last rupee. Running out I answer with a breathless voice. Hello said the voice on the end of the line. “Can you come in today and write a test. We shall discuss the details once you are done.” What do you think?

Of course, I ran and reached the organization in as quick a time as the BMTC would take me. My hands were quivering as I took pen in hand to write the test (Eh youngsters we did not have a notebook (read Lenovo) to take our tests on, it was still paper and pen!!) and my head abuzz with Will they, Won’t They as I tried making sense of the paper.

Two hours later I submitted the completed paper and waited to hear the result. 30 minutes which seemed 30 years and more and I could already feel my hair turning grey and my knees clatter.

Yes I snagged the job and the rest of the story isn’t worth a telling. But lessons learnt:

  • Words once spoken can never be taken back
  • Do not jump out till you got a ship/boat under you coz the waters may drown you if you aren’t equipped to swim= if you don’t have savings/rich family background Stay put till you get a better job
  • If something doesn’t go well, work harder. Perhaps you aren’t doing something right. Introspect before you start pointing at someone or something
  • Choose wisely before you take up an offer. Remember after that the choice is not yours
  • Always, always save.. a rupee, a hundred, a thousand. Doesn’t matter how much, but SAVE.  You never know when it rains or there’s a flood. Always be prepared
  • Constantly upgrade your skillsets
  • See your saleability in the market
  • Enhance your knowledge base
  • Be better than what you are
  • Do not get emotional about the organization or the people you work with. Make friends but remember being true to your job and good at your job matters more.
  • Build relationships that go beyond the workplace
  • Weigh loyalty: Check if the organization values loyalty, see how they treat people across board – from the office boy to the MD

Moving On II

Moving on took on a whole new meaning when I touched base with a dear friend after ever so long.

An ex-colleague and a real good friend, this lady has discovered another side to her life.

Like most of the folks I know who are caught up in the humdrum routine, which has become life, this lady has discovered a hobby, which I hope, and  her other half hopes become a calling for her.

One evening, fed up with not being to able to find anything to suit her taste, she picked up some material and started stitching a dress. A beautiful sundress that was admired by one and all including yours truly. Now scoff if you must, but designing and then hand-stitching a dress is not as easy as you may think, and making it look like it were from a highfaloootin boutique even more so.

This lady has now stitched more than a few of her designs and has friends trying to persuade her to take on orders for them as well. When asked what made her take up such a physically exhausting hobby, her reply, “You do not know how de-stressing it is on an evening when my work day sucks and I have just had a fight with my other half. All my frustrations get woven into this and I lose myself and discover myself afresh.”

Another friend I know has taken to cartooning in a big way, and such witty satirical toons they are too, while another is into nature photography, and yet another into landscaping. Some extremely talented folks I know are that skilled with turning out oil painting and glass etchings it makes me green with envy.

Why am I writing about them?

Coz’ all of these folks have discovered or reignited their passion and their hobbies into a de-stressing activity. Whether it is painting, theatre, cartoons, puns and witticisms, blogging or organising events and MC-ing, these talented souls are showing the way to getting unshackled…from a day-to-day existence of logging in and logging out, living pay check to pay check, looking over shoulders and backsides to check for sharp-edged instruments and what have you….

Move on, move on and discover your talent.. Even if you aren’t able to make a living from it right now, it is worth the time and investment. Who knows, someday you may sell your oil canvass to a discerning buyer, and not your best friend 😀



MOVING on

Had an emotional moment professionally this past week as I bid adieu to a dear colleague who had decided to move on. After all, cliched though it sounds, life is all about moving on.

I have parted ways with several colleague who still remain good friends and with whom I ensure regular contact, and several with whom I have not kept in touch with beyond a Linkedin. After all if I have not been great pals when we worked together would I if i add them on FB. All it would do is add another digit to the number of “friends” I have.

Coming back to the teary farewell, this lady thanked the team with whom she worked for being madcaps, and bid them continue their madcapness (read boisterous+irreverant).

She didn’t get much of a eulogy for the good job she did or the fab team player she was. Got me thinking.

  • Does it take too much to appreciate the goodness in others and be vocal about it?
  • Shouldn’t we appreciate good work just as quick when a boo-boo is made?
  • Shouldn’t professionalism also mean giving a pat on the back just as a kick in the backside, shouldn’t it extend to more than a scorecard of all the goofups younger employees make?