Saturday, 7 April 2018

Breaking Barriers to Gender Diversity

The NHRD evening discussion on 29th March 2018, was on the subject of "Breaking barriers" with the aim of  not only having better representation of women in the work place but also ensuring more women are in leadership and decision making roles in the organization. The speaker, Dr Saundarya Rajesh, Founder President of Avtar career creators and FLEXI Careers India, worked for an MNC for many years, took a break to fulfill family responsibilities related to motherhood and then returned to float Avtar, an organization that addresses the economic and social vulnerabilities of Indian women.

The objectives of the organization include (1) Helping women contribute to India's GDP (2) facilitating white collar jobs (3) Creating career intentional girls studying in 8th to 12th class (4) Mentoring programs for skill development (5) Career coaching and intentionality training. Thus the audience could not have hoped for a more accomplished and suitable speaker to discuss the topic, given her ground level exposure to both the corporate and social sectors.

Generally when the subject of gender diversity and inclusion of women is discussed, there is a tendency to paint a dismal picture of the plight of the 'weaker sex' in a male dominated society. Dr Saundarya, however declared right at the beginning of her talk that she would like to focus on the ' Good news'. This meant focusing on the progress made so far in the journey; on the glass half full rather than on the glass half empty.

Saundarya advised the audience not to be swayed by perceptions. While it is true that a lot more needs to be done for improving gender diversity, this is true not just for our country but the entire world. In fact, in some matters, the Indian working woman is better off when compared to her counterparts in other countries. As for example, a pregnant woman in India gets maternity leave of 26 weeks while it is only 12 to 14 weeks in Switzerland. The pay gap between male and female employees in India is mainly due to aggregated breaks taken by the women . In UK there is a pay gap of 57% in favour of males.

While the rights of Indian working women are protected under the  Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, there is no such law in the US. In such situations, they have to approach courts under  Civil Rights Act 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. In India, of the number of  working women, 34% are managers. As against this, in Japan although 46% of workforce comprise of women, only 9% of them are managers.
One of the major challenges for maintaining gender diversity in an organization comes from the fact that many women take a break during motherhood but find it difficult to return to work even if they wish to.They find that the opportunities are not available to them and even when they get work, it is at a lower salary than what they were drawing at the time of the break. The primary  initiative of Avtar  has been to spearhead the movement for more women getting back to work after a break. Saundarya convinced corporates that women who had taken breaks were more likely to stay on the career track longer and were also a source for  highly skilled personnel.The journey of engaging “Returning” women professionals began in July 2006. She said that the scenario presently is very promising with around 100 companies coming forward to develop policies for taking women back for work after a break.

Towards sustaining the movement, Avtar has programs for coaching and counselling organizations to develop a Gender Inclusion plan. An online platform has been created for the guidance of women wishing to get back to work after a break. Saundarya has  developed a simple profiling method which helps women to assess their own employability and readiness level for re-entering the workplace. She devised an easily implementable Career-Enabler system to prevent women from aborting their careers.

Further, Avtar launched awards for the "Best companies to work in India for working mothers".  Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, Earnest & Young, Proctor & Gamble, TCS, Schneider Electric etc figured in the list of top 10 companies. The speaker acknowledged the contribution and support of HR professionals in this regard. She said that more barriers pertaining to working women can be broken with the support of HR. Avtar has also instituted " Male ally legacy award" to recognize individual contribution of male leaders who have mentored women professionals into leadership.The winners of this award include Mr Kannan of  Pepsico, Mr Krishnamurthy of Pega India, Mr S.V. Nathan of Deloitte and Mr Dasgupta of Johnson & Johnson among others.

The leaders championing the cause of diversity and inclusion exhibit the following behavioural characteristics:

(1) Bridging: They develop kinship with various talent segments
(2) Bonding: They serve as role models for their mentees inspiring them to become champions themselves

An important barrier faced by working women is bias. Saundarya  termed the 12 types of biases "the dirty dozen" and said these cause a  reduction in the womens' work force participation ratio. Therefore, it is most essential to act towards removing bias.She said that there is a marked change in the attitude and confidence of the working woman of today when you contrast it with the women of a decade or two ago. She shared an experience to prove this point. In an earlier time, when she asked groups of women, which board game they would like to play, they chose snakes and ladders. They saw their lives as having more downs than ups- "One never knows where a snake is hiding and in which form or person it will come to pull you down or dash your aspirations."

On the other hand,the millennial girls of today are very clear of their capability and where they want to go. They do not have a victim mindset. They understand that they are working for a business and are aware of the contribution they are making, There is an intentional career mapping and the career break is taken in full awareness with an intention to return back to work.

Saundarya finally shared her own story as a working woman who took a break in early 1990s. She said that after a point, playing the role of  a mother and home maker, she began to feel restless with a desire to contribute productively. She did various things till she finally founded Avtar. Since then, she has not looked back having had the satisfaction of providing solutions and  touching  positively lives of 2,50000 women in the Avtar network.In the words of the speaker "I was the change I was looking for".

Avtar is not only engaged in finding solutions to problems of adult women but have taken up an ambitious project under the name and style of "Project Putri"  in Tamil Nadu for skilling 10,000 girls studying in class VIII to class XII, from underprivileged families. The Avtar Human Capital Trust has  a tie up with over 100 schools with the focus being on "making young girls career intentional" so that they are strong enough to combat social problems that particularly girls from weak economic backgrounds face. The project aims to transform women as economic entities contributing to nation's development. It is based on the motto "Passion results in transformation" 

The topic for the evening viz " Breaking barriers" was holistically discussed from all angles whether in terms of diversity in a corporate working environment or preparing young confident women who can make up the shortage in requirements of trained women employees.The talk was followed by a lot of interaction with an engaged audience.

I conclude this post with an observation of the speaker, based on a study done at  Sodexo on the impact of diversity and inclusion - "In the unit in which gender diversity was enhanced  by increasing the number of women employees , there was consistent performance, more productivity and increase in profitability. However, for this to happen there must be a minimum of 47% women employees." Saundarya clarified that the balance is the key for effective performance .If the percentage of women is a lot higher than men or viceversa, the performance and results are adversely affected.

 Isn't that ( Study results ) a  great reason for corporates to partner with Avtar for an important cause and for mutual benefit?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Insights From an HR Conclave - "HR Response to the Technology Invasion"

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Jain university organized an HR conclave titled " HR 3.0 The Technology invasion" on 24th February 2018  in collaboration with GWFM (Global workforce management forum) at its CMS business school premises  located at J P Nagar Bangalore. The conclave had a distinguished panel of speakers that included Dr Pramod Sadarjoshi, Sr Director,Oracle India,Mr Harjeet Khanduja,VP (HR) Reliance Jio, Rajeev Mendratta,Global head resource management,DXC technology, Umesh Pawar,CHRO Accenture,Satish Rajarathnam,Cognizant,Capt Partha Samai, Sr VP AGS Transaction technologies, among others. 

 As  I have covered aspects of  the impact  of artificial intelligence and  managing in a VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world  in earlier blogs also, I am limiting this post to the key observations and insights.

  • Future belongs to those who know where they belong- i.e. in the future!
  • Your Email ID is your new residential address
  • Either you are driver of VUCA or a derivative of VUCA  (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) 
  • Disruptions are on your face.This needs to be accepted as the order of the day and the organization should adapt suitably. Some disruptions include Uber becoming the largest taxi company without owning a fleet of vehicles, AIRNB becoming a successful hospitality service company, making available lodging facilities to customers without owning any estate, Skype & We chat providing video chat and voice call services without telecommunications infrastructure etc. 
  • Talent acquisition is a challenge today-  to get the right guy, at the right time at the right cost.
  • Today's world is a world of 'instant gratification'. 
  • Employees desire to work for digital leaders 
  • Job seekers are more interested in gaining employability rather than mere employment
  • A Warren Buffet  quote during the discussion: - "Only when the tide goes down, you will know who is swimming naked."
  • Among the largest companies by market, top five are in the intellectual capital field.
  • 75% of work force by 2025 will be millennial. HR needs to prepare accordingly.
  •  Proactive decisions will increasingly be made which would be based on analytics with top priority being given to driving productivity and engaging employees
  • The onus of talent development will not be on HR alone but the line departments and on the individual employees as well. With the support of analytics it would be fast, good and cheap.
  • Use of analytics in recruitment, performance reviews etc addresses effectively unconscious bias that causes a  havoc.
  • Analytics makes traditional repetitive work easy, freeing HR to to focus on making sense of the data and gaining insights which only human beings can do.
  • HR should focus on preparing their organization for the changes necessitated in the VUCA world; ask questions such as "How will data be available and used in the organization."It is important to get the core right.
  • The focus should be on being obsolescence proof and achieving digital maturity. 
  • Today, dialectical thinking is most essential in view of rapid changes, unpredictability and the need to modify one's role to the changed situation. Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures. Thus we see change in the nature and content of roles. As for example, tellers in banks today, apart from the traditional role  cross sell products of the bank.
  • HR needs to ascertain the impact of all these changes and complexities on the energy of people and find suitable remedy.
  • Loneliness among employees, not meeting real friends but interacting only with those on social media is a matter that HR needs to address. 
  • CEO s these days speak of a 'Talent' problem. HR needs to ask itself "What is my strategy for elevating the skills of employees?" 
  •   In the new scenario human skills (such as critical thinking and analysis) will be one of the 10 top skills expected of an employee.
  • L&D will have an important role to play for building communities of practices with focus on  "How to learn from one another?". Technology would be an important tool for learning.
  • A major challenge, as revealed by VP Oracle, is that 20 to 25% of new hires exit in the first six months. Here focus needs to be given to the on boarding process and ensuring the cultural fit.Technology can be used to assess the in boarding experience of new recruits and take corrective steps.
  • The panel discussion on "HR analytics" pointed out that this has touched industries far and wide including health care, banks (wealth management advice) etc. and influences many decisions including  'purchasing decisions'. "We are not still there, but there are encouraging signs."
  • Data points can help in taking right decisions,creating plan and building pipeline. It also contributes to cyber security.
  • Analytics can be profitably used for recruitment, compensation, assessment and  work force management. Readers may like to read my short poem on this subject in a previous blog- 
Having discussed key points that emerged during the conclave, I would like to conclude this post  sharing what transpired in the first session of the second half after lunch  that was handled by Mr Harjeet Khanduja,VP (HR) Reliance Jio, This session which was laced with a lot of humour, gave a holistic prescription of what HR needs to do in the challenging scenario of an invasion of  artificial intelligence. 

The speaker while on the topic of the pressures faced by employees today and the challenge of HR in getting them to come to back to work everyday, said  "If you create value, people will queue up at your gate." In this connection, he gave the example of "Apple" which has achieved this as a company. HR should give the employees a reason to work together and motivate them- "You can do it!"- HR can help employees to realize their potential. The speaker shared the example from the epic Ramayan, when Jambavan reminded Hanuman of his special powers and motivated him to fly across the ocean to Lanka. 

Another important role of HR in the present scenario is creating a culture with the same vision and values. Culture is like the orchestra. Every note has to be right. It is also important to manage the emotions of the old employees who should not feel left out and outdated. Managing policies is another key step.Some of the policies may be outdated with the advent of changes in the form of social media and technology. These need to be redefined and modified to current requirements.

Appetizing the processes making them interesting and current is another requirement. HR needs to focus on upgrading the HR apps and examine  how their apps are going to use BOTS. Another important role of HR in the present scenario is managing governance. As technology comes with all the risks, managing productivity and managing contracts is vital. Another important focus area is managing attrition. The challenges include not only that people are leaving but the dearth of skilled manpower and people moving all over the world today.

Another interesting  situation is that HR will have to continue to recruit in view of requirements, even when there is a lack of skilled manpower.  In this connection, there is a need for searching  far and wide   and polishing the talent from the taluks and villages. Managing inclusion is another challenge in view of increasing number of women in the workforce and higher mobility of manpower between states and countries. This is bound to be a regular and vital  job of HR in the days to come. 

As I left the venue of the conclave, I was glad that I had accepted the invitation of Jain university which turned out to be a rewarding experience. I said as much to Ms Preethi Bhandary, Manager Placement and corporate relations while thanking her for the excellent hospitality extended by her and her team..

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Reinventing Talent Acquisition

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The evening meeting of NHRD on 22/2/2018 had two speakers from two contrasting backgrounds and two contrasting styles of presentation; Mr Adil Bhandukwala Social talent evangelist representing Belong.Co and Mr Raghavendra Auradkar, IPS, Addl Director General of Police (Recruitment) of the Karnataka state.

The first speaker Aadil who is from a multinational background, underscored the fact that change is happening at a very fast pace  and this is to be kept in mind while approaching the subject of "talent acquisition". He displayed a list of preferred employers based on a study by a leading magazine. It showed that for every five year period from 2003 to 2009 and 2013, the 'pecking order' of preferred employers changed with different companies figuring in each list, meaning organizations can no longer take it for granted that they would continue to attract the best talent.The speaker then shared a  quote of Angela Ahrendts, Sr VP of retail at Apple: " I grew up in a physical world and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak social", This means that you will have to speak the social language to the younger generation of today if you wish to attract,engage and retain them.

The entire talent map is being redrawn;power is shifting from employers to candidates. In the candidate driven market of today, the cost per hire is on the rise.There is an emphasis on speed and quality in hiring. Spotting and engaging talent is critical. Today there is a need to engage with prospective employees the way you would with customers.You cannot afford to wait for people to apply but need to go and find them like the sales people. In other words, the need of the hour is to shift from inbound recruiting to outbound recruiting. Talent maps and personas need to be generated which would involve among other things determining future talent needs, assessing viability of your current staff to meet the needs, sourcing high potential players in your field for future recruitment and developing a strategic plan to fill the identified skills and talent gaps.

The talent mapping exercise coupled with outbound recruitment, leveraging social media effectively will give you the direction and information as to where your talent pools are. They serve as a GPS directing you to the most efficient route and helping to foresee potential road blocks and enabling you to rework your plan if required. Aadil  gave an example of the position of "Devops Engineer" who are moderately hard to find in view of their limited supply as against a high demand. Opting for the traditional method of recruiting , by posting requirement on Naukri, would not be effective as they may not respond to the advertisement. On the other hand, utilizing the latest technology (Talent Map and persona generation framework) can get you all the relevant information for making the recruitment decision accurately and with speed. In the instant case, the following information among others becomes available

  • There are only 2000 Devops engineers presently available in India with 2-5 years of experience, only 6% of them are female.
  • The most common skill acquired by these engineers are in python.
  • 793 of them are presently located in Bangalore, 96 in Chennai and 75 in Mumbai
  • Presently Accenture employs the maximum number of Devops engineers      

The speaker said that niche social networks like Slack which are exclusive working/meeting place for  groups with specific skills like Devops can be effectively used to discover top, skilled talent. Leveraging Slack with discussion spaces like Hasgeek where like minded geeks discuss. learn new things and discover new opportunities, can be very effective for understanding preferences/ interests of future candidates and their suitability/fit for your organization. Quibb is a network that  lets you share what you're reading for work; post newsworthy articles, see what colleagues are reading, and discuss the day's industry news. The fifth elephant is the country's renowned science community and conference on data science, engineering and machine learning.

 In this connection one would do well to learn and use the art of scaling mobile phones.Tech conferences could be a good place to spot desired talent. Droidcon, for example is is a global conference focused on the engineering of applications built on top of Android. It provides a forum for developers to network with other developers, to share techniques, to announce apps and products, and to learn and teach. Mr Aadil Bandukwala signed off reiterating that the future of recruitment is in outbound.  

If the talk of the first speaker was on the new approaches that are necessary and have already begun to happen in the corporate sector in the area of talent acquisition, the second speaker for the evening shared his accomplishments and innovations in spite of the many challenges that one faces in the Government sector. Mr Raghavendra Avradkar ADGP said that when he took over in January 2015 as the chief of the recruitment wing, he was confronted with an acute problem of a huge backlog since no recruitment had been made for many years. The situation can be better appreciated when we look at the real time data which tells you that 40% of the police stations function without SHO (Station house officer) and the police personnel work for 14 to 16 hours in a day. The department worked on a war footing and as a result from January 2015 till date 37,000 people have been recruited. This is a landmark in terms of the speed and highest number of police personnel recruited in the country. 

The recruitment wing for the Karnataka police itself came into being only in the year 2002 and there are around 25 employees working for this wing. All activities of the department are required to strictly comply with the cadre and recruitment rules approved by the state cabinet. The speaker said that a major issue for him was to  build credibility for the whole system of appointment in view of a general public impression that recruitment to Government service is not based on merit alone but on  other considerations as well.It was decided to have zero tolerance for any deviation from the strict standard of the  recruitment process. In this regard, the assistance of technology was drafted and the entire process right from the stage of application to the appointment of successful candidates is now online.

The recruitment wing presently handles the recruitment of  police constables, sub inspectors,scientific staff and prison staff. On an average 25 lakh applications are received for a position of which 18 lakh are shortlisted  for the entrance test. The recruitment process includes an endurance test ( 1600 Kms run, long jump, high jump, shot put), physical standards test which prescribes minimum levels of height, weight,chest measurement,and viva voce. In order to ensure transparency, all the activities right from the written exam to the physical tests and viva are video graphed. The written tests are organized through independent educational institutions comprising of objective questions with an OMR ( optical mark reading) design.   

Mr Raghavendra said a number of innovations were introduced to make the recruitment process interactive and transparent for the candidates, This includes dedicated helpline, fax message intimations, display of eligible and ineligible list of candidates on line,  making available digital display boards  during the physical tests indicating the remaining time within which the candidate must complete the feat. Candidates know in advance that their process of evaluation would be in the alphabetical order. They can check the latest status of the process on "His page". The recruitment process of the police wing has obtained ISO 9000 certification and are in a mode of continuous improvement by bench marking with  other states and the corporates. 

Presently, the recruitment wing is focusing on the vacancy estimation for the next five years and also in developing a perspective plan for three years. The extent of the achievement of this Government department can be appreciated  only when we take in to account budgetary constraints, time spent on handling of  public litigation, delay in getting clearance for effecting changes/ improvements etc. Mr Raghavendra said that he took a decision not to obtain attested copies of mark sheets and other documents from candidates at the stage of application.The documents would be obtained from the selected candidates at the time of joining. This move of trusting the applicants, meant speedier processing and removal of a major hassle for the candidates who no longer have to go in search of gazetted officers . 

With that, the screen came down on a very interesting evening that discussed challenges and solutions of acquiring talent for two different sectors. Both have their challenges which may be a trifle different but they are working purposefully to meet them effectively in the long run... 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

HR Professionals Day 2018- Discussion Theme "Work place Wellness"

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The National Institute of Personnel Management (NIPM), Karnataka Chapter, took the initiative 19 summers ago to bring all the persons working in or associated with human resources to come together on one day in a year for meeting, exchanging notes and generally chilling out.The day chosen was the eve of the Republic day. As the D day is permanantly declared/fixed  all concerned can pencil in the event (January 25th) in their calendar in advance. On this day, apart from members of NIPM, the members of various  HR professional bodies in Bangalore, be it National HRD network (NHRD), Indian society for training and development (ISTD) or the Karnataka association of professional social workers (KAPSW) meet under the same roof.

After the initial couple of years, it was felt that to make the event even more rewarding, it should commence with a talk by eminent speakers for about 45 minutes on a predetermined theme followed by discussions. The informal interaction/ fellowship and dinner would happen subsequently. I remember how much I enjoyed such an evening years ago when the subject discussed was " Humour in HR". We had three distinguished speakers for the evening, one each represnting the public sector, private sector and the Government department. Interesting, the speaker who had the audience in splits,laughing their hearts out  was a  DIG of Police (Retd) who shared many anecdotes from his long and interesting career. 

 The theme identified for discussion on 25th January 2018 was very important and topical, namely " Work place wellness". Today, more than at any other time in the history of mankind, employees are grappling with problems of work place tension and work life balance. The distinguished speakers for the evening, Dr B.M. Gangadhar, Director Nimhans, Bangalore and Dr Naveen Vishvesvariah, Founder Yogakshema, Bangalore gave interesting insights on the subject.

Dr Naveen in his talk opined that the awareness about the concept "Wellness at the work place" was still very poor. A survey in this connection was taken a decade back and no effort has been made since then to increase the awareness levels.He said that there are four important factors that influence and impact wellness. These are stress, pain, lifestyle and nutrition. In order to maintain wellness levels, all the four need to be addressed.

Our ancestors had an easier task of achieving work life balance. Not only did they have less work pressure, they had good support systems in the form of joint family system etc. to restore the balance.Today, in view of western influence in our day to day life, the left brain output (Doing)  is highlighted and  rewarded at work rather than the right brain (Being). It is only by exercising the right brain that we can restore the much needed balance. In India, traditionally, even while focusing on work,we celebrated  many festivals that provided ample opportunities to exercise the right brain.

Yoga has a lot to offer for combating stress levels at work. Dr Naveen however pointed out that yoga does not merely refer to the physical postures or asanas as many have come to associate the term with.It has more to do with slowing down the mind. He said that stress is directly connected to speed. The spill over effect of speed beyond the threshold level, results in stress and disease. It is this lowered threshold level that elicits responses such as "You were not so irritable earlier. These days even small things irritate you." from your colleagues and family.

Pain comes from spasm which in turn is the result of sustained contraction of muscles of one place in the body. If you do not take remedial steps by stretching, it leads to pain. The antidote to spasm is stretching.Therefore, in an office environment, one needs to take a thirty second break after every twenty minutes to take care of the eye and practise stretching of the body after ninety minutes of sitting in one place. Dr Naveen rounded off his talk with the following tips:-

1) The body needs leisure. Therefore structure your leisure time with clarity on what you would be doing to relax (rest/hobbies/ sports). He emphasised that whiling away your time mindlessly is not leisure!

2) Have a fixed routine for activities: Exercising, eating, drinking tea, sleeping. At night try to eat before 8 PM and sleep before 11PM.

3) Avoid substance abuse such as tobacco, drugs or alchohol.

4) Be selfish about what you eat- eat healthy.

As the speakers of the evening were from contrasting disciplines, one from the background of yoga and the other from mental health and nuero sciences, I expected that when Dr Gangadhar, Director Nimhans stands up to share his thoughts, the style and focus would be different. One tends to associate psychiatry and mental health with drugs related treatment.  However, interestingly  Dr Gangadhar started his speech with a Sanskrit quotation "Amantram aksharam nasthi" His intent was to draw attention to the fact that it is the happiness of workmen at the work place, both in mind and spirit that is the key to "Work place wellness". Therefore a lot depends on how you treat an employee at the work place.

Coming back to the Sanskrit sloka, it says that "There is no letter in the alphabet that is never used in any verse. No herb exists that is not part of some medicine. Similarly there is no human being who is completely useless. It is for the manager to use the skills of each person appropriately". Dr Gangadhar stated that even today the word "mental" has a stigma attached to it and it needs to be removed.

Just as in the case of physical illness, people should be able to freely share their psychological concerns at the work place. The mere acknowledment or recognition of a psychological  issue of an employee by the boss, would go a long way in enabling him/her to speak about it comfortably. In this regard, supervisors and managers should be trained to acquire the skill of listening comfortably without being embarrassed or judgemental.

The only problem is that a supervisor while playing this role of being detached (without adequate training) may end up being distant from the employee. Therefore, progressive companies have started appointing professionaly trained  counsellors to meet the increasing demands of the work place. Others would do well to follow their example. Dr Gangadhar concluded his talk by pointing out that some work places have two and half times more mental health issues that others. Hence it is important to address this challenge by focusing more on the preventive steps such as ensuring that employees are always treated well so that they are pleasant and happy at work.

As we moved to the informal part of the evening program viz fellowship and dinner, we had the satisfaction of having listened to the various dimensions of a very important subject that needs to be given a lot more attention by organizations  since "work place wellness" is increasingly coming under threat with each passing day....

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Stimulating Dialogue with a Multifaceted Personality

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It was exactly a year ago, in the first week of January 2017 that I did an interview (“Inspiring life story - Humble beginnings to great success.”) with an achiever from humble beginnings. He had not only risen to make a better life for himself but made significant contribution to society. ( Link: Seeing the enthusiasm of readers then, I had felt that more such success stories of people around us need to be highlighted through interviews.  This post is an attempt towards this end.

In this post, I am interviewing Mr.S.Sundar Rajan, Director SRS Management Services Pvt Ltd Chennai. He is a chartered accountant with over three decades of experience in the field of accounts, auditing, process implementation and due diligence.

It is interesting to note that I first met Mr. Sundar not in his professional capacity but at a poetic meet. The organizers had allotted time during the last leg of our get together to do some shopping. Everyone was enthusiastically buying banana chips, tapioca chips and other local special varieties of chips of Kerala to take back home. I noticed that Sundar was buying a lot more than the others.

So I asked “why so much?” to which he replied that it was for his office family consisting of around 20 members. I was impressed by his response and told myself in the mind “Here is a guy who knows how to motivate his people!” Personal touch is so very important and effective, particularly in small organizations for inspiring your employees to give their best. Later, I requested Sundar for an interview to which he readily agreed. He turned out to be a multifaceted or if you prefer a multi-talented personality.

Rajeev Moothedath (RM):   Greetings Sundar! It is a great pleasure to interact with you. Could you share some details about your childhood? 

Sundar Rajan (SR): Hello Rajeev, it is a pleasure talking to you as well. I was born in Chennai and have lived here all my life. I am blessed with loving parents who have always been a source of strength. They guided me and my siblings to adopt good values in life 

I am the youngest in our family of three brothers and a sister. We are a close-knit family. I did my schooling in a convent, Don Bosco Matriculation School, which has given me a strong foundation. The fond memories of those days are being adjudged the outstanding student in school and winning a gold medal instituted by the Lions Club.

RM:  Chennai was Madras during your childhood days. What are the important changes you have witnessed in the city? 

SR:    When we were growing up, Madras was still known to be a very conservative city. I did my graduation in science with Mathematics as major in A.M.Jain College. Those days, there was generally a closed outlook. Today, there has been a sea change. Chennai has become more cosmopolitan. There has been a steady flow of immigrants from other parts of India. The residents of Chennai have also been open and accepting of the changes. I now have exposure to more variety of people and a better understanding of people one comes across in the journey of life.

RM:   I understand that you were into athletics and the game of cricket during college days. Tell us more of this period.

SR:  Well, we were a bunch of guys who simply loved cricket! I was fortunate to represent not only my school and college but also a club in the cricket league organized by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association.  I attended two cricket coaching camps conducted by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association.

The camps were a lot of fun not only because we enjoyed playing and learning but also because it gave opportunities for chatting up and building friendships with fellow cricketers from other districts. We had excellent coaches in Mr. Mustaq Ali, former India test cricketer and Mr. Kamath from Mumbai.

Our bond is so strong that even today we continue to keep in touch through the alumni association and  play a cricket match together every year.  For 47 years, our association has also been organizing an annual All India cricket tournament of 30 0vers a side, As an athlete, I won many prizes in track events in school and college meets.

RM: Sunder, tell us about your first job experience. What was the reason you decided to quit working and start your own partnership firm? 

SR: After clearing my Intermediate in Chartered Accountancy, I applied for Industrial Training in Ashok Leyland Ltd and was accepted. On completion of my Chartered Accountancy, I was formally recruited in the same company and posted to the Internal Audit Dept.

My job involved touring across India and  it was a very good experience professionally. It also enabled me to polish my people handling skills. An auditor is generally looked upon as a person whose major mission is faultfinding.   However, without compromising on my role, I built up a good relationship with my auditees, encouraging them to avoid making likely mistakes. This approach has continued and has blossomed over the years.

Perhaps my adventurous streak prompted me to team up with my schoolmate and start a chartered accountancy firm after three years of working for Ashok Leyland. When we started;, we had no clients but only the belief in ourselves with an ambition and determination to succeed.

RM: What were the challenges you faced in floating a start-up ?

SR: The twin challenges we initially faced were getting clients and having a monthly cash flow for office and domestic requirements. We gave lot of importance and focused on servicing and meeting our client’s requirements. Gradually, happy with our work, they referred us to their contacts and our practice began to grow.

Another challenge we faced at a particular stage was flattening of the revenue, as we recruited more employees since the company was growing. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we put in extra efforts for increasing our customer base and the number of customers.

 RM:  I have noticed that you are a team person; always motivating and encouraging others to do new things and in a better manner. When and how do you think this trait developed as a part of your personality?   

SR: I should say that my family background and sports have played a significant role in this regard. Cricket as we all know is a team game. At school, the students were divided into houses and we took pride in performing well as a team in any activity and to win as a team. In athletics too, our relay teams focused on teamwork.  

In the work area also, as a Director of the company, I felt the need for building a good team for the long-term growth of the organization. This, I surmised   can be achieved by identifying the strengths in each individual, training and tuning the employees to the current requirements/demands of the work. This involves building the confidence of the employee for handling the challenges, motivating and appreciating him/her in public when a job is well done.

When there is a slip up, I talk to the staff in private and counsel them so that the mistakes do not recur.

RM: Tell us about your interest in poetry. How a chartered accountant (a profession where the practitioners are serious and matter of fact) became a poet and a published author? 

SR:  It was during my final year in college. One day, I stumbled upon the “Poet” in me and told myself to give it a “try” which culminated in my first poem. This success encouraged my interest in Poe(t)ry and before I knew it, I  became an amateur poet.

 Much later, with the advent of social media, I started sharing my poems with friends and relatives who expressed a lot of interest and encouragement. The positive feedback and support motivated me to write more and today I can proudly claim to be a published poet. My maiden book "Beyond the Realms" was released in 2016.

RM: I know that you are a nature lover who has developed a beautiful garden around your home. Can you tell us more about this passion? 

SR: I have been a nature lover right from my school days. It is a blessing that I have green fingers too. The occasion to put this talent to use came when we moved our residence from the bustling city to the outskirts. I developed a good garden in the space available, with a wide variety of plants.
The government of Tamil Nadu also encourages citizens to grow organic kitchen gardens on the terrace. I made use of the facilities provided to fulfil my passion for gardening. In this connection, I also have the support of many well-wishers.

RM: Finally Sundar, it is heartening to note that in spite of having so many things on your plate, you find time for social service. Could you tell us more about these activities? 

SR:I have started a tree planting exercise in my neighbourhood with the support of willing residents. I am spreading the message of “Achieving   a green neighbourhood”- by every resident adopting a tree and taking care of it. The response has been by and large, positive.
I act as a catalyst in such ventures. I have adopted a village, Nemili near Mahaballipuram, where every six months we organize medical camps for general health, eye check-up and cancer screening. We have a team of dedicated doctors in each speciality for this exercise.  The medical camps are extended to other rural areas also whenever there is an opportunity.

 I feel great satisfaction to be able to give back something to the society that has contributed a lot to making me, who I am today. I see many avenues opening up before me. I find that boundaries are merely what people perceive as limits. Therefore, I have coined the byline-“Boundless Boundaries Beckon” and seek to live by it.

RM:   Thank you so much Sundar. It is not often that one gets to interview a multifaceted personality like you. I am sure that the readers would be inspired by your story. May the Almighty continue to give you good health and strength to contribute even more in all the areas of your interest in the days to come.

SR: Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you Rajeev.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Organizational culture as a Competitive Advantage

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Discussing about culture and its impact in the organization is always an exciting proposition. Therefore I looked forward to the evening meeting of NIPM on the subject that happened on 22nd November 2017. The speaker was Mr Harish. H.V; partner, India Leadership team, Grant Thornton India. He started his talk by drawing attention to the famous quote of Peter Drucker- " Organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In simple terms,"Culture is how things happen in an organization." Looking at the way things happen, people form an opinion or come to a  judgement about the culture of the organization. All activities and areas  of your company right from reception to batrooms to employee behaviour, staff retention efforts etc, reflect the company culture.

Culture is not what top management or senior executives declare as the culture of the organization but what people believe as true in the organization and they respond through their behaviour accordingly. In this connection,the speaker gave a very interesting insight on the recent fiasco involving Indigo Airlines, when a customer was manhandled by the staff.

Mr Harish pointed out that for the company, punctuality has always been top priority. Gradually a culture had developed of achieving and maintaining this goal of punctuality 'at all costs' including at the cost of customer needs. Thus, even if the company screams from the roof tops that "Customer is our king and his/her needs come first", the employees can pick up the nonverbal signals  that highlight the fact that punctuality is  the most  important. Therefore things happen based on what people perceive as important and on  those things that are rewarded in real terms in the organization.
The worst possible culture is when people have received the message "Just do what you are told" and they tend to act accordingly. Mr Harish cited the famous ' social experiment' involving five monkeys and a ladder. A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle was placed a ladder with bananas on top.

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up. After a time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation. 
 In this connection, I am  reminded of the quote of Grace Hopper, American computer scientist who said "The most damaging phrase in the language is: "It’s always been done that way."

When you are looking to change strategy, it is necessary that culture also changes to imbibe the new approach. Here training has got a very imporatant role to play for preparing the employees. The reward and recognition policies need to be aligned to the culture. Story telling is a powerful tool for aligning culture. Readers may be interested in my earlier posts on story telling, the links to which are given below:

  The speaker discussed the case of DRL (Dr. Reddy's Laboratories)  a multinational company employing over 20,000 employees. .As the company grew, over the years, the bureaucratic procedures had slowed down the day to day working. There was a desire to be nimble footed and innovative. In this connection the slogan " Good health can't wait" was highlighted and all stake holders were requested to give their suggestions. Projects were selected to highlight agility, innovation, customer centricity and more user friendly packaging. Employees were encouraged to contemplate on " What I am I going to do for this?" As a result a young scientist broke the rules and got a project done in 15 days.

The learning from the above case study is that we need to (1) Frame the issue (2) Align everyone to the common goal (3) Demonstrate quick results (4) Create a safe environment (5) Embrace symbols like catchy slogans, logos etc to keep the goal always in the minds of the people.

Another case discussed,was that of online shoe and clothing shop based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The founder,Nick Swinmurn had the idea of online shopping for shoes when he could not find the shoes he wanted at his local store. The on line selling offers customers more variety to choose from, facilitates home delivery and gives them the option to return product if not satisfied. Zappos has strived to be the best customer based company focusing on customer satisfaction. It has the company's phone number on top of every webpage and encourages customers to call and give feedback.

Zappos has designed and implemented what they call "Zappos culture book." The Zappos culture book is a collage of unedited submissions from employees within the Zappos Family of companies sharing what the Zappos culture means to them.  A new version is created each year and it reflects the true feelings, thoughts and opinions of the employees. Whether one is the CEO, or just started yesterday, everyone has a place in the Culture Book.Employees are encouraged to write whatever comes to them, without revisiting what they submitted in years past. Like a yearbook, the Zappos Culture Book is a snapshot of the past year through everyone's eyes. According to one employee Liz.G "The Zappos Culture is more than what goes on in the office. It is the relationships we form and the friendships we make. You can’t find that anywhere else. I never have."

The focus on  cuture is maintained in the company, through a three months training wherein the core values are reinforced. The hiring and firing is done based on the values.The speaker also spoke about delivering "now" through service; enforcing and driving change. Another point that was underscored by the speaker was "Never outsource your key competency."

To my mind, the proceedings of the evening provide a lot of food for thought and introspection. As the impact of culture is being increasingly acknowledged and appreciated, corporates would do well to focus on it for best results. After all the father of modern management had pointed out its relevance long ago and in his characteristic style, indicated that culture eats strategy- for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Learning in a Nutshell

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Learning points/take aways from the book Soul inc by Moid Siddiqui, Management Guru and author 
  • In order to create your destiny you need to develop a business character
  • Every living organization, unlike a dead organization, will witness the daybreak, sooner or later
  • All that we are is the result of all that we have thought.Pure thoughts lead to pure life- the ultimate source of happiness
  • As a corporate, look within-Internal clarity provides the external solution
  • You can't fake a corporate soul;either you have it or you better create one.
  • Corporates need to change its priorities and reward different strengths
  • Business has become the most powerful institution on the planet. The dominant institution in any society needs to take responsibility for the whole
  • Flesh trading and body shopping (done by corporates) are both equally sinful
  • There is a need to shift from individual perspective to universal perspective - Serve a purpose and work long for it, as against quick results and quick gains
A shift is necessary
  • What can I get Vs How can I give
  • Success and money Vs people are significant
  • Pleasing bosses Vs working to soothe the soul 
  • Fear in managing business Vs Managing business with love
  • Leader is being first Vs Leader is being last
  • Surrender means deafeat Vs Victory is letting go/ surrender
  • Short term gains Vs Long term legacy 
  • Managing by joining body and mind Vs Managing by joining mind, heart and soul
  • Managing externally hardware Vs Managing internally heartware . 
It is necessary to develop our emotional and spiritual sides for pursit of physical performance, to be meaningful. 

Practice authentic living: Identify your personal core values and beliefs and commit to working and living according to them. Let your personal goals and career goals allign to the values and belief. 

Identify the gap between who you are now and the person you know you could be.Write a list of words that describe the qualities of the person you know you can be. Now spend time reflecting on the extent to which your present self is close to the desired person.

Then choose one word from the list that you want to begin working on.( Eg. You want to become more open). Use personal goal setting techniques and resolve to work on this everyday. Set small goals and work on one trait at a time. Gradually this change and growth will become second nature.  

"If I hold a possibility or a future of the way I want the world to be; then I bring that into the room with me, everytime I show up. I don't have to work on it. It works on me..."