Friday, 6 January 2017

inspiring life story - Humble beginnings to great success

We come across many stories of ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary success, in spite of a humble background and limited resources and opportunities. I have been thinking for some time that these personalities need to be interviewed and their stories documented so that they inspire others to reach great heights. Such stories break the myth that people do well in life only if they are from a privileged background in terms of wealth, influence or both.

 It was when I attended the evening meeting of Indian society for training and development (ISTD) at Bangalore in October 2016 that I met Mr C.M. Aswathappa, who  was a faculty with the Vemana Institute of technology, Bangalore after his retirement as DGM (Training and Development from Bosch in June 2016. As I interacted with him, I realized that his achievements were remarkable. He had served the same company (originally known by the name MICO) for 41 years and in the same department of vocational centre for 33 years.

His first tryst with the company was as a three year Machinist trainee in February 1975. He successfully completed the trade apprenticeship training winning the silver medal. All the subsequent qualifications were acquired while serving in the company. This included Diploma in mechanical engineering, BE(Mechanical), MS (Manufacturing) from BITS, Pilani and two scores of certificate courses!

Later when I met Mr Aswathappa once again for the interview, the scale of his achievement was even more evident. He was featured in the special issue of the India Today magazine dated 19th October 2009 as one of the 40 drivers of the Indian growth machine. The feature which covered diverse fields like steel, infrastructure, IT and shipyards/ ports etc. also interviewed among others Mr E, Sridharan of DMRC, Mr Krish Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Mr Madhavan Nair of ISRO,Mr Manish Satharval of Team Lease and others identified as the drivers of growth machine.

 Some of the prized possessions of Mr Aswathappa include pictures with the former president of India, Dr Abdul Kalam. As HOD of the training centre, he had the privilege of explaining the skill development activities to him  when Dr Kalam visited the Bosch Vocational centre on 1st June 2011. However, one document closest to his heart is a certificate jointly signed by his teachers/ Gurus over the years at the vocational centre who have described him therein as " a jolly person, cheerful personality, great teacher and simple human being,"

These are the responses to the simple questions that I, Rajeev Moothedath (RM) put to C.M.Aswathappa (CMA).

RM: Could you tell us something about your early childhood and background?

CMA: My father was a farmer. I was born in a small village Cheemanahalli, Sidlaghatta taluk,in Chickballapura district of Karnataka. The initial schooling up to class 4, was in the Government school in my village which was followed by middle and high school at the taluk headquarters. For my ITI, I moved to Bangalore.

RM: Coming from a village to the city, what were your early challenges?

CMA: Not being able to speak English or comprehend the language fully, was a big problem for me. I used to avoid associating with or being part of a group of fellow students who were convent educated and used to speak in English! Some classmates used to tease me “You have got cent percent marks in Maths and Drawing; yet don’t know where MG road and Brigade road is in Bangalore…

RM: So how did you address this challenge?

CMA:  I began to feel the pressure and limitation of not knowing English when I started working as instructor at the vocational training centre. I enrolled myself for a 60 hour English learning program with two hours’ class in a day.

RM: What were the other challenges during the period?

CMA:  Preparation of lesson plans and taking classes continuously for two and half hours was a major challenge. I used to stand in front of a mirror and practice for hours.

RM: You owe a lot to your organization MICO- BOSCH?

CMA: Yes, a lot! When I joined after completing apprentice training I was posted to the maintenance department as operator. It was my good fortune that my first supervisor saw potential in me.  “You are very good in design and drawing. Why are you wasting your time here?”, he asked. He commended me to higher levels and I was awaiting a vacancy in design & drawing department. In the meanwhile, an internal recruitment vacancy was announced for an instructor in the vocational training centre. I applied, got the job and did not look back ever since.

At the Vocational centre also, I had supervisors and colleagues who taught me from the scratch and helped me to acclimatize to the new role. One trainer took me under his wings like a younger brother while another treated me as his son.

RM: What other support did your company give you?

CMA: I have grown from the level of an operator to that of a DGM in the company. All my qualifications after joining the company, be it diploma, BE, MS (Manufacturing management) and certificate courses were done with the financial support from the company.

 RM: You have served in the same department of the same organization for over three decades. What is your feeling about the landmark?

 CMA: I am happy that a lot of developmental activities could be done in the training centre. Our quality training assured medals every year in the All India Skill competitions. At our Bosch centre we run 7 out of the 15 trades that are eligible for being awarded gold medals. It is a matter of pride that we won gold medals for all the 7 trades twice during my tenure at the centre.
 I have the satisfaction of having trained young technicians who are today serving not only in Bangalore (most), but also in Orrisa, Rajasthan, Sydney, Melbourne, UK and Sanfrancisco.

RM: Do you keep in touch with your apprentices?

CMA: Yes, with a few of them and this has been possible because of the initiative from their side. Many trainees are working in Bosch itself. Few others working in Bangalore keep in touch as also does a person working in Sydney. I received a surprise letter after many years from a trainee working for Capgemini in USA.
RM: In your long tenure in the department, how many generations of employees would you have trained?
CMA: I have the satisfaction of having trained two generations of employees, both father and son.

RM: Finally, could you tell us about your family?

CMA: we have one son, Ashwin who also started his career as an apprentice at the Bosch training centre. He is married and I am now a grandfather.

RM: I am a little surprised to hear that. One would have thought that as a son of a person who has achieved a lot in spite of difficult circumstances, you would have given a better education to your son.
CMA: Well, he studied in a convent school. After schooling I was prepared to put him in any course and support him up to any level of higher studies. But he was very clear in the mind that he wanted to do ITI. He is quite intelligent and competent in his work. In fact, initially I even had him meet a career counselor who after a long discussion with him, advised me to leave him alone and let him follow a path that he is interested and passionate about.
 When I suggested to my son that he take up engineering, he said "Daddy, if everyone became engineers, who will do the work on the shop floor?"

Well, I had no more questions to ask this achiever who has lived a life of continuous improvement. He is as much proud of his humble background as he is of his achievements. Interestingly he did not take a rigid stand when it came to his son's freedom to choose his own vocation and is also proud of his technical competence. It is my hope that stories like these will inspire many more Aswathappas to have dreams and chase them till they succeed....

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

From the Notes of Yesteryears 4 - Ten Commandments for an Enthu Team

Background: Over the years I have taken notes from seminars attended, books read or even from articles in a newspaper. I share them here for the benefit of readers...

Ten Commandments for an Enthusiastic Team : -

  • Team members help each other to do things right.
  • They look for ways to make ideas work.
  • If in doubt about the intention or behaviour of a member,they check it out with him/her and don't make negative assumptions about each other.
  • Team members help each other win and take pride in each other's victories.
  • They speak positively about each other and about organization at each opportunity.
  • They maintain a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances are.
  •  Each member acts with initiative and courage as if "all depends on you."
  • Team members do everything with enthusiasm- It's contagious.
  • They give that which they expect to receive from other members-eg. Respect.
  • The team never loses hope; never give up.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck- Book Review

Seeing the title of the book, readers may wonder as to  how and why such a book is being featured or reviewed in a blog dedicated to HR matters in a corporate or business scenario.I myself entertained similar thoughts about its contents  when I ventured to read the book written by Ashwin Sanghi who has made a name for himself as a  writer of three best seller fiction books ( one of them a crime thriller coauthored with James Patterson). This is his first non fiction book As I went past the initial pages, I realized that there was quite a  bit in this book that is not merely 'wishful thinking' and that corporates can gainfully put into practice some of the ideas for achieving success.

In the beginning of the book itself Ashwin relates a conversation he had while socializing with a senior citizen and  family friend. "In life 99% is about good luck. just remember that son" he had told him. When asked what was the remaining 1%, he replied "The final 1% is called bloody good luck." It's all about having the ability to catch the opportunities that fall as a rainfall. The rainfall is available to everyone but only a few use it as an  opportunity to harvest the rain.The rest of us simply keep complaining about the the lack  of water but do nothing about it.

Our good luck is related to our ability to increase opportunities that come our way, recognize the valuable ones among them and respond effectively to the identified opportunities.What this means is to apply the 3R s by (1) raising the number of opportunities (2) recognizing them better and (3) responding better to the recognized or identified opportunities.Attitude and approach are important tools for applying the 3R s.

In this connection the author has given 13 suggestions or focus areas for raising, recognizing and responding to luck.

  • Lucky people grow and strengthen their network. Luck hates loneliness.Network can be built on the principle of six degrees of separation. Today with social media opportunities,sky is the limit. Lucky people not only strengthen their existing networks but also grow new ones.
  • Intuition: Lucky people listen to their intuition and develop it.The key is to listen to the whisper of the inner wizard and ignore the messages of the inner critic.
  • Lucky people are willing to try new things.They go to great lengths to induct variety in to their routines- do new things, meet new people or travel to new places. They are willing to work outside their comfort zones.
  • Risks- Lucky people take calculated risks, cut losses and learn from mistakes. They have developed the ability to distinguish between a dip and a dead end. A good example of this is Mr Ratan Tata taking a calculated risk in setting up Nano car plant in Singur, West bengal, then cutting his losses by exiting Singur, learning from his mistakes and not repeating it on moving to Sanand,Gujarat.
  • Positivity: Lucky people stay positive , persevere and cultivate a thick skin.They are not easily influenced either by applause or criticism.
  • Alertness: Lucky people find ways to remain calm and thus alert even in trying circumstances. Often it is the alertness that allows us to spot opportunities when they arise or come in disguise.
  • Situations: Lucky people make the best of bad situations such as unexpected loss in business, natural calamity, key people leaving your company en bloc, or a death of loved one. In this connection, one of the stories the author has shared is that of of  Ms  Anu Aga former chairperson of Thermax Ltd, who  restructured and  turned around the company(to an  annual revenue of around 50 Billion Rupees serving 75 countries)  at a time when she was facing grave personal tragedies.   
  • Confidence: Lucky people overcome their fears, develop their confidence and communicate appropriately. They open up to the flow of opportunities.By overcoming fear and shyness, we become much more capable of seizing opportunities.
  • Information: Lucky people stay informed and absorb new ideas. Opportunities flow when we are  aware of what is happening around us, listen to informed individuals, keep track of the news and read books.
  • Goodness: Lucky people understand the power of goodness. Mr JRD Tata used to say that "It's nice to be important but it is more important to be nice." Lucky individuals who are nice, polite, humble and considerate understand that the greater the positive  deeds they put out in the universe, the better the chances of their attracting good luck. 
  • Passion: Lucky people find ways to be paid for doing what they are passionate about.The only thing that money gives you is the freedom of not having to worry about money.Try balancing Lakshmi and Saraswati in your life.
  • Unlearn: Lucky people unlearn old attitudes and approaches.John Grisham a lawyer became a successful crime fiction writer which was made possible by his willingness not to be tied down to the profession he was trained for.To repaint a building with new paint, the old paint has to be got rid of first.Stripping off old paint and plaster is 70% of the job.Repainting is only 30%. 
  • Leverage: Lucky people leverage preparation,planning and potential."Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" said Seneca, Roman philosopher. When we are adequately prepared for an event, meeting or interaction, we are able to respond to an opportunity quickly or effectively enough to attract the luck.
The book has been written in the style of self help books with a number of anecdotes and stories of achievers from all over the world, including that of  the author's own life experiences.The book redefines the word "Luck"in the sense it is not used in the casual , simplistic and fatalistic manner that we tend to generally understand it. It is therefore relevant and interesting for application in organizations and in  one's personal life.

The readers, by now,would have accurately gauged my opinion of the book. I would not like to give a number but would certainly give it a big  thumbs up sign for its relevance and the excellent tips it offers for attracting luck. The bottom line is that you don't  get lucky just by sitting pretty, doing nothing but earning it through some intelligent attitude, approach and action!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Meeting the 'Real needs'of Customers by HR

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This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Management section – “Avenues” of the reputed Deccan Herald newspaper published from Bangalore  . Allowance may kindly be given for the time warp… For one you will see the word “Personnel “also used along with “HR” to refer to the function.

As I go down the memory lane, an incident in the early eighties comes to mind. I was then a young personnel officer.It was around 3 PM in the afternoon. I was accompanying my colleague who was few years senior to me in age and experience, on a visit to the shop floor. Even as we were passing through some shops of the factory, my colleague kept dishing out  his comments- "These shop floor fellows are all crooks. They don't want us to come here since all their shortcomings will be exposed.These engineers generate a lot of scrap and wastage which they don't want us to see." For my part, I was feeling very uncomfortable. I was hoping to myself that he at least speaks softly. What if someone heard us? What would he think? I was still fresh from college and was not aware of the "they"and "us"mindset.

Later on I realized that the engineers and technical personnel reciprocated similar feelings. They see the personnel guys as problem creators rather than problem solvers; people who are to be avoided and feared rather than to be looked up to for help. At best they can be useful for passing on some HR or disciplinary problem. To cite an example, here is an incident that happened during an  evening class in October 1989 when the students at Max Muller Bhavan including me, were taking a tea break in between German lessons. One of the participants asked me the company I was working for and the functional area. The moment I answered "HR", she became visibly hostile and agitated. This person who was working in a manufacturing company, it appears  had had an unpleasant experience with the personnel department. On hearing the commotion, some others who were mostly working in software firms intervened.They could not understand what the fuss was all about.To them HR guys were quite nice and certainly not obnoxious or harmful.

The functional approach to management, over the years has defeated the very essence and  purpose of service departments. They tend to forget the big holistic  picture of the total organization. HR, finance and other staff functions were envisaged to provide service to those engaged in core activities such as that  employees are free in the mind to totally concentrate on their work , ensuring the standards of quantity and quality. Unfortunately the "Service" departments got bogged down in establishing their importance by insisting on rigid rules and interpreting them  as they deemed fit at different points of time.  

Such interpretations were more to establish their supremacy and not necessarily in the overall interests of the organization or the employee.If some money is due to an employee as arrears, the accounts department does not pay it automatically but expects him to approach them eagerly and make a formal request in writing. Given the attitude and approach of the service departments it is no wonder that an employee expends a good deal of time worrying about correctly getting his salary/ fringe benefits and fairly his promotion/ placements etc. These worries and distractions mean that the performance of the employee is adversely affected.

Marketing employees working directly in the field know the importance of taking care of the customers. They can immediately see the impact of any complacency reflected in loss of orders/business. Yet the question arises as to how the end product given to the customer can be excellent if all the processes in between do not maintain a standard of excellence? Here the concept of internal customer becomes very important. It is only when the maintenance department provides a thorough and prompt service to its customer namely production that the commitment to the external customer in terms of prompt delivery and quality can be ensured. The same is the case with all areas including staff functions whose quality of service impacts the end product.

It is clear that  HRDians will have to devote more time to understanding the business of their companies and focus on the actual needs as perceived by their internal customers.According to Ms Annie Fisher, a New York based management thinker, the HR personnel need to sit down and figure out the 'real work' and see how they could make themselves essential to its execution.The 'real work'may include addressing company's travails in the market place, deadlines that must be be met,and competitions that must be bested. In this regard, instead of reeling out words like change management, diversity, team work,, learning organization etc.Ms Fisher stresses that the focus should be on what those engineers/ internal customers are concerned about ( absenteeism? high turnover? attracting talented employees?) and coming out with concrete ways to help.

Conscious effort to get the entire team tuned to serving "internal customers"is the need of the hour.The mindset that "things should be done the way we have always done" is a major obstacle to a shift in approach.Yet as Eric Hoffer, author says "In times of massive change it is the learner who will inherit the earth, while the learned stay elegantly tied to a world that no longer exists." HRDians would do well to introspect on the "Nine sins of HRD managers"enumerated by professor T.V.Rao namely (1) Not knowing enough about the business of the company (2) Not knowing much about the customers of the company (3) spending 10 percent more on recruitment and visiting campuses for it (4) not spending enough time on performance review and feedback of subordinates in HR departments (5) not visiting employees at their work places (6) undue efforts to furnish HRD department and make it look distinctive and attractive (7) influencing rewards and promotion decisions (8) playing "Yes sir" to CEO (9) overemphasizing only one HR system like performance appraisal or training.

Addressing the above points would to a large extent contribute to the basic theme of this article viz healthy relationship between the customer and the supplier for mutual benefit and benefit of the organization.For what place does mistrust have in a partnership or in a customer- supplier relationship? There cannot be any doubt that mistrust has to be removed.It has to be replaced by mutual respect and concern.If there is a tiff in a marital relationship, it may be a point of debate as to who, whether the husband or the wife should take the first step at reconciliation.

However, there can be no such doubts when the relationship involved is between a supplier and his internal customer. HRDians who are the suppliers will have to take the first step to gain the confidence of their customers- articulate that they really care about them and can contribute meaningfully towards accomplishing the 'real work' as perceived by the customers.Having gained the confidence of the customer that his basic concern and that of HR is the same , the supplier and customer can together take bigger steps for building a healthy, harmonious and charged work environment. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Webinar- Transition from Founder to CXO

Grey tip Software Pvt Ltd is a software solutions company in the HR domain that seeks to provide relevant and cost effective solutions to corporates worldwide. The areas covered include employee information management, leave and attendance management, training, appraisals, compensation etc. As a part of value addition and customer engagement, the company organizes "expert webinar series"  periodically on topics of interest and of benefit to their customers.There are many customers who are start ups with few years of existence. Hence the relevance of doing a webinar on the subject , which happened on 28th Sept'16. 

The expert who interacted with the participants was Mr. Rakesh Mishra, Co-founder & CEO, Excubator India whose company has been helping start-up companies to set up high-performance incubators.  I got to attend this webinar on the invitation of a friend Mr Sayeed Anjum, Co-founder & CTO, Grey tip, I am happy I accepted the invite since it turned out to be a very informative and insightful session. The webinar kicked off with Mr Dinesh Babu, Application Trainer, Grey tip, introducing the speaker and the subject . He said that the top challenges for young companies in the 21st century are having a mission and vision, raising funds, hiring the right employees and managing them

Mr Rakesh Mishra began the session underscoring the fact that the role of the founder changes as the company grows and many new challenges are confronted by him/ her.The company moves from the seed phase to the stabilization phase and then to the growth and evolution phases. In the initial stages passion and dedication could primarily be the driving force that propels the creation of the company. At the stabilization phase however, you realize that you need to start focusing on a vision and that a different kind of leadership which  is more structured becomes essential. The transition calls for changes in aspects such as core attitudes, skills & competencies,  growth as an entrepreneur and sharpening of role design in terms of what you do and how you operate..

The founder needs to introspect and get clarity for himself  as to what role he is now playing- CEO? CFO? COO? It is essential  to acknowledge that some founders may not necessarily fit in to the role of a CXO. It is this clarity that would lead to role design sharpening and facilitate the founder to contribute effectively in the present times as well. Managing the transition from the seed phase to the stabilization phase and beyond  would involve the following:

Managing the business effectively  

An important aspect here would be moving from doing to leading. It is necessary to recognize one's limitations, protect quality and control economics as you scale. It also means facing what doesn't work and maturing functional processes in terms of  financial, hiring, procurement etc.Proper processes need to be in place as you grow bigger, as reputation issues become more important.

Building the organization

At this stage building the organizational culture, developing leaders,selling the vision, communicating and drawing up responsibility matrix etc is very important. One has to guard against the tendency to become disconnected on moving to senior positions. One relevant question that needs to be asked is "What do I have in my organization in terms of culture in various areas like collaboration, growth prospects,ability of employees to move to the next role, delegating and developing leaders? " If this is not done, the founder will end up doing everything himself.The staff would still be depending too much on him. The founder would do well to hire and groom someone   better than him.

Selling vision and communicating

The vision of the company needs to be developed and communicated widely throughout the organization to ensure that everyone is on the same page.There should a clearly defined responsibility matrix with everyone being clear about their roles.

Building growth horizon

From the stage of a start up, as the company matures, it needs to have growth horizons short term and long term ranging  from 3 years to 5 years  and 10 years. Horizon 1 would be focusing on defending the existing core in terms of existing markets and existing solutions. Expanding the core would be the Horizon 2 wherein new  markets and solutions get attention. The focus in   Horizon 3 would be Transformative growth when questions of the amount of investment in R&D  , leadership talent that would be available  after a time span of say10 years etc get priority attention.

Building  growth horizon would involve seeding new markets for products and services, providing cross functional innovation support system, arresting activities of  silo functioning  and encouraging a team working culture.

Managing corporate governance

As the transition happens from a young company to a mature company the processes in place for a transparent corporate governance is very significant.This will need to address the following effectively:

-    Develop policy infrastructure:   Proper documentation and processes in areas such as procurement, compensation etc.

-    Manage the Board of Directors:  More external members get inducted in to the board as the company grows.Alignment with them becomes a crucial requirement.

-   Manage investor expectations :  The bigger the company, the more engagement would it have with its investors. IPOs etc are  likely to be issued and hence more transparency about projections and focus on meeting investor's'expectations.

- Manage Compliance : When  a small company, compliance of all kinds  may be viewed as a necessary evil. For a bigger company its credibility and reputation is at stake and therefore it is necessary to manage in a more thorough fashion for ensuring strict compliance.

Work and life discipline  

The speaker Mr Rakesh Mishra explained how there is a lot of passion at the founding stage.Later the passion tends to get dissipated and one may feel exhausted. Looking at the next ten years can be challenging. Every human being has to pay attention to his family and his health also while focusing on his career.
The CXO is not a settling down role and  the incumbent  is required to continuously focus on the Growth and long term vision. In the process, the family or one's health may get ignored. Small activities addressing these needs are to be done; "collective wellness" is the key and not just the business.Your own 'machine' should be strong and powerful enough to meet the challenges in all fronts.

In the question- answer time, the question posed was "How do you solve the problem of  managers behaving like CXOs and stifling the juniors from expressing themselves and being visible to the senior level?"
The solution suggested was  informal meetings over lunch or tea where juniors can interact with the senior executive  without the presence of their immediate managers or supervisors.It was suggested that  HR can facilitate such meetings.    

Note: CXO is a short way to refer, collectively, to corporate executives at what is sometimes called the C-level, whose job titles typically start with "Chief" and end with "Officer."
  Officers who hold C-level positions are typically considered the most powerful and influential members of an organization; consequently, they make higher-stakes decisions, their workload is more demanding, and they have relatively high salaries.

CXO titles include CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer)

CIO (Chief Information Officer), CCO (Chief Compliance Officer), CSO (Chief Security Officer)

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Triple Dhamaka Before Deepavali

Attending a professional evening meeting on the subject "The Challenges of  workforce training & Development- Are there any Lessons India can learn?" is reward and motivation  enough for any Training/ HR professional to mark his or her presence. The additional bonuses for me  on 26th October, when I attended the program of the Indian Society for Training and Development (ISTD), Bangalore Chapter, was the opportunity to witness two historic events - namely release of the first E newsletter and unveiling of  the Logo of  of one of the oldest chapters of the society in the country.

The auspicious event started with the lighting of the lamp. On the dais were the speaker of the day, Dr Moorthy Uppiluri, CEO,Randstad India, Prof J.Philip, President of XIME ,Ms Meera Venkat, Chairperson of ISTD, Bangalore Chapter, Mr Atul Sharma, Southern regional council member, ISTD and Mr Renukeshwar,CPM, Bangalore Metro transport corporation in whose premises the event was held. The honours of releasing the E newsletter and unveiling the Logo were done by Dr Moorthy and Prof Philips respectively which was followed by the discussion on the topic of the day.- "The Challenges of  workforce training & Development- Are there any Lessons India can learn?"

Right at  the beginning of his talk the speaker Dr Moorthy called attention to the changing scenario and  approach to learning. He predicted that in future there would be less of class room learning and that  the focus would shift to E learning and webinar modes, He opined that this would be more so as there is an attention deficit in today's Gen Y students who would prefer learning at their pace through online courses. The learning courses of top universities are now available through Coursera and other online sites.According to Dr Moorthy  instead of a general syllabus, the future would see students learning in a manner that meets their unique needs. Student  gets to choose his professors and decide the  basket of subjects he would like to learn.

The speaker underscored the importance of customization in the modern times which is likely to become even more in the days to come. He gave the the example of the Starbucks coffee. Customer  who pays Rs 15/ for a cup of coffee is prepared to pay Rs 100/ for Starbucks because of the customization and value creation. He is open to differentiated pricing if he gets to decide whether the milk used is non fat or otherwise, sugar free or the exact number of sugar cubes he likes.  With regard to education however, Dr Moorthy felt that in India, the ability to consume the content is a challenge for the students and this would actually become opportunities for ISTD and other such forums to prepare them for digesting such content .

Dr Moorthy then discussed the problem of skill gap between the expectations of the employers and the actual skill sets of students who pass out from colleges. The corporates find that they are required to spend a lot of time and effort to orient freshers from campuses  to the real work place. At the same time the students are equally frustrated to realize that after having acquired professional degrees, they are still not held competent to have a go at the job straight away. The speaker felt that something needs to be done immediately to address this problem. He suggested that industries adopt community colleges in their area. This would enable them to provide inputs as to the actual requirements of the industry and the students can also be given opportunities to visit and see for themselves how work happens in real time. This would be a Win- Win proposition as students / interns are assured of  ready employment and the employer can look forward to better retention.

My own experience and observation  on the level of appreciation and co operation between industries and educational institutions can at best be termed  as 'dismal'. Educational institutions do not make the effort to find out from customers as to what their 'real needs' are, when drawing up the syllabus nor do they have a  mechanism for continuing interaction with the industry. Professionals are hardly ever  invited to share live experiences with students nor are people with industrial experience preferred as faculty. The stand taken by educationalists is that those from industry do not have a PhD degree and therefore do not 'create knowledge', little appreciating the fact that a few from such a background would give a more realistic and holistic touch to the  knowledge, skill and attitude imparted.

Similarly, executives working in industries  feel that they are 'too busy' to spend time with students who have come to do projects with them. The exercise is seen more as a favour supporting the students in the part fulfillment requirement of their course. The students are not seen as future employees who need to be equipped with practical aspects so that they can contribute effectively on the job later on . Interestingly,  in view of being too busy some line managers decline requests to be members of the campus selection team. Yet, they later complain about the inadequate  competencies of those recruited. I have discussed this  irony in a poem titled "Interview". ( ). Adopting of community colleges by industries, as  suggesed  by the speaker could be a step in the right direction. Yet what is basic and most important is that educational institutions and industries see mutual benefit in promoting closer ties and interaction with each other.

Dr Moorthy stated that work as we know it is likely to change in dramatic ways. The jobs in the market place may not exist in the same way. All repetitive jobs may be  assigned to robots and people would not be  going to designated places to work but work would  come to where they are stationed. Known opportunities could disappear with many new unknown ones emerging. Lot of horizontal movement could  happen with production guys moving into service and those in service getting into production. In such a scenario opportunities would open up for training establishments.   

The speaker next turned to the subject of managers being outdated in their approach( two or three generations behind according to him). Today, they are required to deal with a generation of employees who have a mind of their own and may not be enthused to work merely on instructions being given to them. 'Standardization', while dealing with employees is no longer valid. Each person has to be dealt with as individuals. To highlight the fact that the present generation is different, he gave the example of his own son who in spite of having  option to work for branded companies  prefers to work for start ups. It is cutting edge and innovation than the Gen Y seeks over stability. Under the circumstances managers require training to unlearn and relearn management approaches to cope with the new scenario. This  is a challenge as there would be resistance in view of the fact they have become successful thus far with existing skill sets.

Training/ Learning and development needs to shift focus to customization and branding. It would not do to offer your standard training package for everyone. Customization for specific teams and individuals would be the key. As a lot of relearning is involved, reskilling 45 million people working  in the organized sector in India  is a big opportunity for the training organizations/ service providers. Dr Moorthy cited the example of the Apple smart phone to draw attention to the importance of branding. people are prepared to pay Rs 60 to 70 thousand every three months to get hold of the higher version simply because of the brand name.

The speaker said that Learning and Development needs to be flexible like trapeze artists in the circus  to contribute to a  work scenario in which the  way people learn are changing drastically. This would mean not only using more of E learning platforms like Coursera and planet Ganges but coming out with more local solutions, relevant to the country. As of now Indians have been very good in adapting Western solutions effectively; more of customized solutions addressing local needs is the need of the hour. He gave the example of Alibaba in China, a home grown initiative that has given global companies like Amazon a run for their money.

Elaborating further, Dr Moorthy stated that indigenisation  and changing  the outlook of people towards innovation (as against just execution), is what will make an  economic impact.Innovative ideas, would enable  access to a wide range of solutions for the same problem. The learning & Development function can contribute to developing learning platforms and help corporates move from knowledge retention to  knowledge creation . Rules of learning has changed and this needs to be highlighted. In the classrooms students giving a wrong answer or asking a 'silly'question is no longer punished. similarly in the industries, a climate where mistakes can be made without fear of punishment needs to be created, This would facilitate innovation. The speaker pointed out that those playing video games today do not give up on losing.They are motivated to treat it as a challenge and  try again and again until they win.

Dr Moorthy concluded his thought provoking and engaging discussion with the following observation. The challenges and priorities of work force training would no longer be limited to enhancing skill sets but would  also include  aspects of cultural fit and style fit to the organization.

After the talk by Dr Moorthy, prof Philip briefly shared his own thoughts on the subject. He said that in a university education students get inputs on three areas namely knowing, doing and being. While online courses can satisfy the requirements in respect of knowing, they would fall short in the areas of doing and being. These days students engage in a number of activities other than academic to develop their personality. Prof  Philip said that Harvard University  after 100 years of its existence had undertaken a study on this subject and came to the above  conclusion .

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, attending this program was for me a very memorable and rewarding experience. Apart from listening to the speakers I got to exchange notes with members including  Mr Prakhar, who was honoured on the occasion as  the architect of the E News letter. After moving from Chennai to Bangalore, this was the first meeting of ISTD  that I was attending . While  In Chennai I had the privilege and  pleasure of speaking to  ISTD  members on the subject "Palace of Possibilities",participation in Bangalore had somehow eluded me. When I finally did, it was like I said a triple blast before the Deepavali festival !

Note: Deepavali is a festival of lights celebrated in India and fireworks are an important part of the celebration. Dhamaka is the sound or blast that emanates from the fire cracker.     

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Leadership in Action

This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Deccan Herald, a leading newspaper from Bangalore. Please give allowance for the time gap in case readers experience  flavour of an earlier period...

Leadership is a matter of priority and concern for everyone, be it top management schools, corporates or training organizations. It attracts full  attention of reputed institutions like ASCI and IIM as also individual consultants.It is professed with vigour by senior  corporate executives from  public platforms or while  addressing employees. There are no two opinions that leadership is a key single factor that influences effectiveness of organizations.

Yet, the fact remains that in reality little of what is vociferously advocated is translated into demonstrative behaviour in day to day aspects of work. You often hear complaints of leaders (bosses) who prefer to pass the buck, are unwilling to own  responsibility or stand by their juniors when things go wrong and are unwilling to take the initiative to develop those reporting to  them. According to Mr Jimmy Walker, "Indecision is fatal. I would rather make a wrong decision, many of them than build up a habit of indecision.I have known men who build successful careers in spite of many wrong decisions; but never one built on indecision."

Yet we come across many individuals  in leadership positions who more often than not opt for the easier alternative of indecision.Leadership in the real sense is "leadership in action."It is not what we say but what we do that constitutes real leadership.In a career span of many years, employees seldom come across many "real leaders". But the few such leaders, who can be counted on the fingers, could make an everlasting impact on their lives.

During the early part of my career I was working at Bhadigund Limestone mines of  Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd ( VISL)  as welfare officer, in charge of all personnel and welfare matters at the mine . All of us officers reported to the Mines manager who was the head of the project. He was known for his clarity of thought and clear instructions.From the headquarters at Bhadravathi, the monitoring was done by the Deputy General Manager (Mines), through frequent telephone calls and occasional visits.He was known to lambast officers over the telephone and had a vicarious pleasure in fault finding.

Once, during one of his visits, while we were seated in the Mine's manager's office, the DGM, started attacking me for some action taken by me. Immediately, my boss the Mines manager intervened and said "Sir, he has only carried out my instructions. The mistake is mine.I assure you it will not happen again." Thus, very early in my career I had learnt an important lesson that of "owning responsibility." The DGM who felt powerless before such an officer was heard to lament "What do you do with such a guy? He immediately accepts the lapse and assures that it will not happen again."

It was the year 1989, the year VISL was taken over by SAIL. During the initial stages of the take over, the full SAIL team of the chairman and directors were to visit VISL for the first time. While elaborate arrangements were being made on all fronts, the chief (P&A) picked me to play the role of what he called "Officer in waiting" to the Director (Personnel), according to which I was to accompany the director to all the places he goes during the visit, answer all his queries and be available to make things easy for him in a new environment.Although I did not consider myself cut out for such an assignment, I immediately agreed since this was the first major responsibility that the new chief had assigned. "Follow him like a shadow and be available at arms length" he instructed. Being an important responsibility, I was keen to literally follow the instructions of the leader.

On the evening of the arrival of the Director, Chief (P&A) introduced me briefly and I was asked to report sharply at 8 AM to the guest house the next day. However, when I arrived at 8 AM. I found to my dismay that the chairman and directors had already moved to the dining hall and were seated at the table for breakfast. Since I was to be the shadow of the Director (Personnel), it was important that I also finish my breakfast on time. I therefore went to the corner of the table and sat down uncomfortably. From the strange looks I received from those seated at the table, I felt something was amiss. While there seemed to be annoyance with a trace of anger on the face of the executive director and CEO of our VISL plant,the face of the Director ( Corporate Planning) registered amusement. Around this time my leader, the Chief (P&A) entered the room, looked at me for a moment and hastily went away.

I soon forgot the incident and got fully involved in the activities of the day. I enjoyed myself thoroughly as I accompanied the director and  participated in all the activities that included plant visits, meeting with union leaders, meeting with personnel executives and an evening function organized by the Officers'association. I surprised my colleagues and myself with the energy and enthusiasm in my participation and involvement. Many came and commented on it days afterwards.At night a cross section of the officers was invited to dinner with the top Management team of SAIL.

Towards the end of the dinner, my leader gently took me aside and reminded that in the morning during breakfast, I had sat at the same table with directors."They discuss their personal matters during such interaction"he said.The enormity of the faux pas hit me only then.I felt deep regret at the amount of embarrassment I had caused him.I told him how I was totally new to the role and "had to learn things the hard way."

As I was returning home after a tight, incident packed, exciting day, a flood of emotions passed through me.I was overwhelmed by the gesture of my leader.He had chosen to wait and give the feedback at the end of the day. Had he done it at 10 AM instead of at 10 PM and in a harsh manner, my whole day would have been ruined and I would have gone through the motions as a zombie or robot. Once again, I had witnessed demonstrative leadership worthy of learning and emulation.

Much later in my career, I came across another leader who in spite of reaching the level of  Director (HR), in terms of status, did not allow that to come in the way of always treating junior colleagues with respect. He gave a lot of priority and importance  to learning and personally  accompanied our training team for selecting suitable management books for the library maintained by the department.. A lesser person would have held the activity too trivial to demand the attention and priority of a director. This leader belonged to a class of a rare few whose primary focus and interest was in "doing something"rather than "being something" ( Title/ Designation)

Leadership is a key factor that contributes to the effectiveness of organizations. But it will have to be taken out of the text books and from speeches in seminars and applied in day to day situations. Leadership in real terms is "Leadership in action."