Monday, 10 April 2017

A Nursery for Leadership

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NHRD Bangalore organized a very interesting evening discussion on 23rd February 2017 in which the former and current senior executives of Asian Paints participated. The discussion sought to unravel the secrets of success of the 75-year-old, home grown Indian Multinational having 25 manufacturing units and operating out of 19 countries.  The initiative for the same was taken by the President of the Chapter Mr. Bala Balachandar who is himself a former executive of the company.

In his brief introduction, Bala said that he got spontaneous response from his former colleagues when the idea was mooted for sharing their experiences and insights gained from working for Asian Paints. He acknowledged the presence of veterans as well as younger employees in the audience who had come in large numbers to participate in the discussion. The baton was then passed on to Mr Sudesh Shetty who has earlier served as president of the chapter, to initiate and conduct the proceedings of the evening.

Sudesh described Asian paints as  a nursery for leadership, recruiting talent from the campuses and then nurturing and developing them at each stage. He also referred to it as a company with innovative marketing practices. Sudesh invited to the dais the members of the discussion panel namely Mr Amitabh Sinha, Mr Jalaj, Mr Ashish and Mr Sundareshan.

Some information gathered from the opening remarks of the panelists are the following. The company has encouraged executives to make cross functional moves and gain experience in diverse areas. As for example, sudesh moved from a sales to HR role while sundareshan moved from the plant in India to a foreign assignment in Egypt as the unit in charge. When the panelists moved to other companies, whether it is in a very different industry of Fashion retail with Aditya Birla or to the JSW group, their experience with Asian paints stood them in good stead, in dealing with the challenges of the new assignments.

 Asian Paints is a company that has not made a loss even for one year in its 75-year history. Described as the Don Bradman of Indian industries by a panelist, It is the top Ranked Indian company in the “Forbes Most Innovative company List” in 2016(Ranked 18th in the world). The company has been able to groom many leaders from within the organization. The CEOS of many companies have come from the stables of Asian Paints.

The questions put by the moderator Sudesh and their replies are given below:

Question to Jalaj: What is the secret of success of the company, which has celebrated 75 years on 1 February? What are the respective roles that people play to achieve this?

Answer: The story of Asian Paints have been that of a story of people. Having smart people has always been a priority. Focusing on all aspects of the company while empowering people and excelling in certain business strategies has been the key.

Started in 1942, in a small garage in Mumbai by four friends, Asian Paints came a long way and became a market leader by 1967-68. The company was however open to learning from others. The founding fathers recognized the importance of getting the best talent and looked towards IIMs and other institutions to meet this need. Every idea that comes from the employees for improvement or development is consistently looked into. Asian Paints had a flat organization structure even in the sixties and seventies with employees having easy access to senior management. They have a lot of freedom to try out ideas in the best interests of the organization. Later, these practices evolved as principles over a period of time.

Question to Amitabh:  What does Asian Paints do to develop leaders?

Answer: The Company has always given priority to the leaders being operationally fit managers, meaning they should have their basics right and be aligned well to be able to work harmoniously with other departments rather than be in a conflict mode all the time. Sound managers with a long-term perspective and being able to stand the test of time has been the focus of the organization.

Question to Ashish: You had moved to Aditya Birla from Asian Paints and have been credited with organizational transformation initiatives there. Could you compare and contrast your experiences and learning in the two companies?

Answer: I worked for only six years in Asian Paints followed by twenty years in Aditya Birla. Therefore, a direct comparison may not be appropriate. However, one can say that the core of both companies, in terms of values are similar.

My initial stint in Asian paints at Guwahati was during the insurgency days. The tough situations that I encountered at that time dealing with contract labour and other issues steeled me for future challenges. I believe that all this helped me in becoming president at a young age of 39.
Both the companies valued and developed grounded leaders giving importance to the nitty gritty and shaping the character of managers. Contributing quietly and practical decision making was important in both companies.

Question to Sundar: You have come to be known in the company circles as ‘remarkable Sundar’. From an assignment at the plant, level in India, the company sent you to Egypt on an international posting instead of looking for local talent. How did you cope, considering it was your first posting abroad?

Answer: Asian paints had always had a reputation of exposing and preparing its managers for various roles. It was a strategic decision of the management to go for an acquisition in Egypt instead of a green field project. I had experience in the company although not all of it relevant to the new assignment. Yet the company reposed trust and confidence in me. Asian paints is known to provide challenges and let the employees figure out what needs to be done. Everyone is given this space; four of us had gone to Egypt. It was clear that it was my territory and there would be no interference. Resources were provided but decisions were my responsibility. 
Question to Amitabh: Tell us about the recruitment process in Asian Paints and what has changed over the years?

Answer: Asian paints, traditionally have been going to the college campuses of premier educational institutions for recruitment. The objective was to select those who have done well academically, are hardworking and have a need for achievement. Typically, the candidates preferred were meritorious, middle class, not too flashy or abrasive. We looked for those with a point of view and would defend it.
Here Jalaj added: The candidates preferred were those exhibiting humility, empathy, with listening and connecting skills. We looked for the same basic qualities in those selected to work on the shop floor as well. Other abilities sought were process orientation with willingness to execute in any area.
Today the company is in need of out of the box technology; having diversified from manufacturing to services, technology space, and decoration bathroom business. Now, we will also need people who will go and set up business and have better soft skills. They would need to take risks and be able to push the manager (Middle managers could become complacent and prefer the status quo).

Question to Ashish: What did Asian paints not teach you?

Answer: As mentioned earlier, I had a comparatively short stint of six years in AP. The supply chain distribution was very good in the company. Later I applied these principles in the fashion business as well However, I found the new business was very complex, changing every moment. There were more than 10000 products with shelf life of 3 months and consumer’s life of 10 seconds. While analytical thinking worked for me in previous assignments and helped me become general Manager, President, CEO I found that in the new industry of fashion more of right brain thinking was essential and that you are as good as your last product.

Question to Sundar: You moved to a seemingly very different field of private equity and was quite successful. What is that you picked up at Asian paints that you were able to profitably use there?

Answer: The risk taking exposure that I got in Asian paints handling domestic and international business came in handy in private equity for value creation and long-term perspective. In the private equity role, it enabled me to look at different business sectors be it restaurant, pharma or other sectors.

Question to Jalaj: Companies like GE and Unilever have made a mark internationally by their contribution to best practices in HR. When will we see the practices of Asian paints included in HR text books?

Answer: Generally, at Asian paints we have been reluctant and uncomfortable speaking about or projecting ourselves. In respect of HR, our focus has always been on hiring good people with a long-term perspective and giving them diversity of experience. Our challenge and focus as we become more and more global would be to see how we harness further this diversity of experience.

The floor was then thrown open to the audience to shoot questions. One particular question that I found very relevant and interesting was on the company culture in respect of which the following matters were discussed.

Ownership: One of the panelists gave insights into this aspect of the work culture in the company by sharing an anecdote. Once a visitor to the shop floor stated “I want to meet the company.” A person in the level of a supervisor had no hesitation in declaring, “I am the company. What can I do for you?” This kind of a response is possible only when the management empowers employees and they in turn exhibit the ability and willingness to accept the responsibility.

­­­­­­­­­­Integrity: In this connection a story was shared of the time, company had announced the launch of a new product of automotive paint- APCA which required separate go downs for storing and obtaining license from explosives department of the Government. Although the date of the launch was notified, the company decided to postpone the launch rather than pay money to the ­­­­department to obtain license, which was being delayed by the department.

Emotional bond with company: A panelist revealed that the employees of Asian paints had a high level of emotional bond (95%) with the company. This is borne out by the fact that a large number of former and present employees turned up to attend the evening program in which the company was being discussed. As many as 250 former employees of the company registered with the What’s app group in two days on learning about the program.

Engagement with employees: The persons in leadership roles in Asian paints gives attention to coaching, mentoring and imitating conversations with their people. He or she is accountable for the team, appraising their performance, engaging with them, standing up for them and adding value in all conversations.

Delegation of authority at various levels in the organization: On this subject, Sundar already shared about how he received full freedom during his assignment and posting to Egypt.

A former employee who was present among the audience related another relevant story. He was responsible for a role that included taking decisions on paint replacement given to contractors. On one occasion, the contractor demanded 6 litres of paint while he felt that 3 litres were sufficient to carry out the specific work. Although the contractor took up the matter with higher levels, the company stood by his considered decision. It is instances such as these that boosts the morale of employees. It enhances their willingness to stick their necks out and take risks for the benefit of the organization.  

As a blogger, it gives me a lot of happiness to report on best practices of good companies. However, this time my cup of joy was full and overflowing as I was reporting on the success factors of an Indian multinational, which has made a mark for a sustained period of 75 years. It is wonderful to know that the company has its heart in the right place and cherishes important values; values that distinguish the good from the great….  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Gate Keepers to the Bosses

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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 and relevance of an earlier period...

The article has another history in the sense it ruffled the feathers of powerful persons who had moved up to occupy senior positions in the PSU, I was then working. Director (HR) called me and cross  examined me as to how and why I wrote it.When he could not find anything wrong with it technically, he directed that in future all my articles would be seen and cleared by him before publication. I politely refused citing writer's freedom but assured him that I would not write anything for some time.

It was after over a decade that I started writing again when I started my blog...

"We in the 21st century live in an age of information explosion. Today there is total transparency in the corporate world.With the internet and Email facilities, anyone can access information and communicate their views to any level of organizational hierarchy without the fear of disapproval."

The above statement is similar to saying that "India is now a developed country. The status of her being a nuclear power, the wide choice option of automobiles, electronics and other goods enjoyed by its citizens are all proof of its developed state."

We all know that reality is far removed in both the statements.In respect of corporates, the statement is true of very few companies having a genuine computerized environment.In most brick and mortar   companies nothing much has changed with respect to channels of communication.The feudal mindset continues to thrive and prevail. Various gates check and inhibit free flow of information, ideas or opinions. The gatekeeper is ever vigilant protecting his boss from inconveniences.

The personal secretaries and personal staff of senior executives described as 'gatekeepers' often bask in the privilege of free access to the boss. They often tend to get carried away, even risking the very effectiveness of the bosses whose roles they are expected to enhance. Of course there are exceptions to the general tendency and not all of the personal staff exhibit such behaviour .  The employees who are exceptions in this connection, are a pleasure to deal with. They not only contribute to effective working but also enhance the image of their bosses.

Although at a first glance the subject under discussion may appear to be unimportant,obnoxious behaviour of gatekeepers cause grave damage to the communication function which is acknowledged by academicians and practitioners as key to effective working.The problems arise due to a lack of clarity of the secretary/personal staff as to their actual role in the office.The secretary does not see himself as an aid enabling the boss to carry out his duties effectively.On the contrary, he sees himself as a 'door keeper'who has to keep people away from the 'busy'boss. In the process he himself begins to gain a lot of importance. He can enjoy the vicarious pleasure of curtly telling a manager to wait or listening to an employee pleading for an audience with the boss. It is a fact that it is difficult to detect arrogant persons since such persons are seldom unpleasant to those who have the power to make decisions affecting their career.

A retired director sadly remarked "We have ourselves contributed in some way to these people behaving the way they do."Yet the fact remains that if by a magic wand we could take the clock back to his pre-retirement period, the executive would deal with his staff in exactly the same way permitting them undue liberties. One of the main reasons for the behaviour of personal staff being what they are, is the total and helpless dependence of the boss on the personal staff like that of a newborn on his mother for all his personal work, be it booking cooking gas for the residence, drawing money from the bank, even investment in stock markets. To the net savvy, it may appear that these are no longer relevant or major issues which can be attended to by the 'busy'executive himself with the click of a button. Yet, the fact remains that the dependence is still a reality. The compulsive dependence works very well to the advantage of the staff but it almost invariably lowers the image of the boss who is perceived as weak and ineffective if he allows the staff to overstep their authority/ brief.

While a gatekeeper's role may appear vital and relevant as he seemingly saves precious senior executive time from being wasted, in reality it proves counter productive when officers reporting to the boss are prevented from meeting him by the 'gate keeper'who is more concerned with the inflation of his own ego to either see or understand the urgency of the matter brought for decision/discussion.
There is a saying in Kannada language which when translated reads "Even if the Lord is prepared to give a boon (vara) the pujari is unwilling to do so." We have also heard of a folk tale of a poet who wanted to meet the king but was prevented by the gate keeper.He was finally allowed inside on the condition that he give 50% of the presents he gets from the king to the gate keeper.The poet asked the king for a hundred lashes.We need to check with the boss whether in reality some of the instructions attributed to him are in fact given by him. We need to keep the boss informed of occasions when our functioning has been adversely affected by the behaviour of an overzealous gate keeper.

Persons who are in the role of the boss need to educate their personal staff as to the correct expectations from them. The right signals will go a long way in ensuring appropriate behaviour from the staff.An important requirement in this regard is to provide continuous training to the personal staff clarifying their roles and expectations as also appropriate behaviour in  different situations.

Free access to information and communication still appears a mirage.It may still be quite a while before the mirage becomes a reality in corporates of all hues.Access to information and transparency will not only ensure smooth communication and harmony in working but also help the personal staff to retain their relevance in the future as well, even in a paperless environment.   

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Design Thinking

NIPM Karnataka chapter organized a talk on the interesting topic of Design Thinking on 22nd February 2017. The speaker Mr Raghavendra.K. Senior vice president, Infosys BPO, gave an overall picture about the concept and shared his experiences of implementing it in his company. The sponsors of the evening program was Simpliance, a compliance solution company. As their work is relevant to HR, I would like to share what Mr Madhu Damodaran, Head- Legal operations of the organization  explained about their activities in a brief presentation. At a time when compliance of various industrial legislation has become even more focused and important, Simpliance helps companies to keep track of compliance through a solution that schedules recurring compliances in a single unified cloud platform and keeps the compliances updated without any manual effort when laws are amended. A live dashboard gives CEO/ other senior stakeholders the status of the compliances in the company including those related to contractors, client sites and provides the risk scores. Readers may obtain more information from their website  .

Coming back to our topic of discussion, design thinking (DT),the speaker underscored right at the beginning of his talk,  that design thinking has a lot to do with a different approach to issues or problems. What this means is a departure from linear thinking and looking at things creatively; beyond the obvious. The notion of design as a "way of thinking" in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book "The Sciences of the Artificial". Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by David M. Kelley, who founded the design consultancy IDEO in 1991. DT is a human centered design that looks at aspects such as 1) what do people desire? 2) What is technically and organizationally feasible? 3) What is financially viable? Of the three, desirability is required to be given its due place (the traditional thinking tends to be tilted in favour of  feasibility and viability). There is no point in pursuing anything if it does not meet the first test of desirability.

The process steps of design thinking are the following:-

Empathize: Find out more about the people for whom you are designing a solution. Answers to questions such as "Who is my user? What matters to this person?" can be obtained by observation and interviews.
Define: What are their needs? - create a point of view that is based on user needs and insights.
Ideate : Brainstorm and come up with as many creative solutions as possible including "wild ideas".
Prototype: A prototype is like a rough draft.How can I show my idea to others- build a representation of one or more of your ideas.
Test : Share your proto type idea with your original user and obtain feedback- what worked? what didn't?  
Mr Raghavendra gave an example of applying the design thinking model for "hosting a dinner party". All the steps discussed above need to be applied to ensure an effective and successful event. It starts with 'empathizing' by going into details such as who are the attendees? What kind of food would they like? What games would be suitable for that particular group of invitees to be relaxed and feel at home? Often times, instead of empathizing and finding out the real needs, we tend to make arrangements or take action based on assumptions or on our beliefs.

The speaker, who is a vegetarian found to his dismay that in the west, it is assumed that vegetarians only eat lettuce and other such leaves or grass! He had to go hungry many times as a result. Mr Raghavendra related an incident while on a visit abroad. The host had organized 'tasty’ mushroom dishes especially for him. As the speaker hated mushrooms, he had to make excuses that he had had a heavy 'high tea' to wriggle out of the situation, meaning that he had to go hungry that night. We should always keep in mind that "what the end user is looking for is the ultimate objective."

At the 'defining' stage, all aspects of the dinner party such as budget, parking, security, advice to the invitees on clothes (formal/informal) needs to be considered and defined. The next stage of 'ideation' will throw up different ideas in respect of the menu, details of arrangements and the various alternatives. Prototyping and testing ensures that hiccups are avoided. Design thinking addresses larger aspects other than the basic problem noticed. It focuses on not only resolving a problem but also looks at how recurrence of the same can be avoided. It is about upgrading within constraints.
The speaker then asked the audience- “What is the biggest HR problem that you are facing in your company today?” A person in the audience responded: “It is the problem of the candidates recruited and issued appointment letters, not showing up.”Mr Raghavendra encouraged the audience to seek a solution to the problem applying the DT principles of desirability, viability & feasibility and the DT process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test).

 He shared an instance of how design thinking was used in his company, Infosys BPO when plans were being made to celebrate a major event of the company in a grand manner. It appeared as if cold water was thrown on the grand plans when finance refused to sanction the huge budget requested. On applying the DT process, a wonderful solution emerged namely to invite Ms Sudha Murthy as the chief guest which addressed many needs at the same time. She provided an emotional connect of employees with the chief guest. She was a respected and distinguished personality in her own right. As the visit was by the chairperson’s wife, all infrastructural support from the general serviced department was assured.  

Addressing the Problem of Attrition through Design thinking

Mr Raghavendra then shared his experiences of using DT to address the problem of attrition, which is very high in the BPO sector. Instead of unilaterally coming to a conclusion as to the reasons, applying the DT process encourages one to ask questions to the employees   that are not open ended so as to elicit a more detailed answer (not ‘yes’ or ‘No ‘answers ). Empathy interviews were conducted at the 1200-acre campus of Infosys engaging them in conversations that reveal “What is going on? What is the problem?“ Various aspects were discussed such as what do employees think about the manner interviews are organized, about the shifts, about how they are talked to. One overwhelming feedback was “My manager does not talk to me about my career, training etc. He is only interested in whether I have met my targets.” It was clear from the exercise that money far from being the only issue for attrition; it is only one of the many reasons that influence employees to leave.

Applying the design thinking process, employees were asked as to “what do we need to do differently?” They were encouraged to visualize “what they would like to see happening” and then articulate the changes desired in the form of charts, crafts, models etc. The company studied and responded to the prototypes developed by the employees. They were happy that along with market correction in respect of salaries, the other aspects brought out by them were addressed. As a fitting finale to the exercise, their managers took out the employees as a team for lunch. Some of them commented, “For the first time, we felt valued.”  

HMW (How Might We)

One thing to be always kept in mind in the DT process is not to force your own ideas on the target employees. It is and should be a process of co-creation.In an era of complexities, co-creation by taking that leap of faith and taking the risk of asking people their real feeling is a necessity. It resets the expectations of employees which when addressed creates a bond between the employees and the company.

Mr Raghavendra stated that DT could be used in any situation or environment. It can be used to address the issues of employees, suppliers and customers. It can even be profitably used in personal domestic matters like say organizing a wedding.

Some Success Stories

The speaker shared some instances when DT was effectively utilized by various companies.Bank of America evolved the “Keep the change”program involving customers, front end employees and clerks to make their services robust. The introduction of emoticons by Facebook for conveying “Likes “was the result of such an engagement with their users. GE involved kids to address the problem of the little ones refusing to go under the MRE scanning machines, as they were scared. After engaging with the kids, the company introduced pictures of cartoon characters like Mickey mouse and Donald duck in the inside view of the machines so that the children were no longer scared. The concept of ‘Pepsi’s Pyre’ introduced by PepsiCo makes available 500 different flavours to choose from came about as a result of engaging and involving the customers.

Mr Raghavendra wound up his very interesting and enlightening talk, sharng information on the use of design thinking for revamping the performance appraisal system in his organization. The design of the new system was based on the inputs given by the employees as to what they want. Their requirements of flexibility, relevance, peer-to-peer feedback were important inputs. It was comprehensive in the sense, the employees contributed to all aspects right from goal setting,24x7 working, appraisal cycle, the nuances and challenges faced in terms of milestones etc. The new appraisal system is set to roll from April of this year.The speaker expressed confidence that it would be effective, given the involvement of employees.

“Follow all the steps of DT meticulously,” advised the speaker as a parting shot. Indeed, it was a very rewarding evening for me and I am sure for many others in the audience. We were exposed to the new concept of " Design thinking" that promises exciting new possibilities much beyond what the traditional linear thinking can offer…       


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tips for Raising your Self Esteem

These tips are based on notes I had taken some time back.I think it is from a book written by Kris Cole.

  • Take responsibility for being happy, achieving your goals and enjoying your life instead of blaming others.
  • Think positive thoughts and feelings that build confidence- Feel good and competent instead of focusing on your faults
  • Associate with people who have a high self esteem- those who make you feel good about yourself instead of hanging out with losers.
  • Participate in activities that you enjoy instead of sitting at home.
  • Look for something likable in yourself and in everyone you know and meet instead of being critical of yourself and others.
  • Live in the present; not in the past or future.
  • Do whatever you can to develop your talents and skills ( read, attend seminars, learn from others etc) instead of saying "I can't do this"or I don't know anything about this."
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements and success instead of focusing on failures.
  • Take care of yourself instead of over eating, over drinking or not exercising.
  • Accept another's compliments with a thank you! Enjoy praise without embarrassment instead of saying "Oh its nothing really.."
Our self image flows from our self esteem. This is exhibited in the way we dress, the way we carry ourselves, in the amount and type of eye contact we make, the way we sit etc. Self esteem and self image together set up the communication rhythm. 

Another important factor in this connection is our self talk. We talk to ourselves 50000 times a day. This  reflects directly our self esteem and self image and strongly influences our day to day behaviour. It can serve as a support or end up as sabotage- "I must be careful not to trip Vs I will remember to step over this."Ensure that your self talk is positive most of the time.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Throwing one's Hat into the Ring

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This was the year 1981.Around sixty five of us joined Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd, Bhadravathi as management trainees. Most were engineers; a few of us were inducted for HR (personnel as it was known then) and materials (purchase) departments. After six months of training we were posted for 'on the job training' to our respective departments. I was assigned to the management development wing that catered to matters pertaining to executives. On reporting, the senior personnel manager welcomed me and assured of all support for a successful induction and career in the company.

After about a month of my reporting, boss invited me to come to his residence in the township at around 6 PM. He did not give any details about the reason for this unexpected invitation. When I reached there, I was surprised to see lot of goodies spread out in the drawing room that included sweets, savouries and fruits. Fifteen minutes later, another management trainee also turned up. Boss greeted us and introduced us to a gentleman who was in the house, as his brother. He then said that he had some urgent work and slipped out of the house, telling us to talk to his brother.

The brother timidly informed that he was an insurance agent based out of Mangalore. It was clear from his body language that the gentleman resembled boss only in appearance and that he did not possess his confidence. He suggested to both of us a particular sum assured and a 25 year coverage. I looked at a table he was carrying and said that  I wanted a lesser sum assured with a 15 years coverage. The agent protested feebly but did not make efforts to convince me of the advantages of his proposal. As for us, we were novices who hardly knew anything about what this was all about- What is the need, importance or advantage of taking an insurance policy. In 1981, the general awareness was even poorer than it is now about insurance. The person got us to sign on some forms and we departed. Boss had not yet returned.

A few days later when I received the policy by post, I noticed that the term of the policy was for a period of 25 years and not for 15 years that I had requested. Further, the sum assured mentioned in the document was also higher than what I had indicated. As a young man, my ego was hurt. "How could this person alter conditions contrary to what was discussed? If this could be done to an educated person what would he the plight of the uneducated? “These were the thoughts running in my mind.I could not even approach the agent immediately as I was in Bhadravati while he was living in Mangalore.

I went immediately to the cabin of the boss. As the legal manager was also with him, I said that I would come later. However boss insisted that I speak. So I vented out all my unhappiness about the way the matter was handled. He told me "You speak to my brother over phone." Those days it was not easy to speak to people over the phone, more so from small towns like Bhadravathi which hardly had one or two public STD booths situated far away from the township. Further the agent could easily avoid my call if he wanted to. So I told boss that I did not know his brother at all at a personal level and that the only reason I had taken a policy from him was because of his relationship with him. Therefore he should sort out the matter. Although taken aback by my response he smiled and said "let me see".

What I did not know then was that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had ruffled the feathers of a very senior person in the hierarchy. I learnt later that the legal manager who was in the room had jacked up the emotions of the boss. “How can a mere management trainee who has just joined the company speak to you like that?” He is said to have asked and urged him to teach me a lesson on "respecting seniors". Soon I began to get pinpricks at work and was later transferred to a mine owned by the company in Bhadigund, 25 kms awayfrom Bhadravathi town.

This posting was usually given to the junior most officer in HR. I was posted although another management trainee was junior to me, as he had joined the company after my date of joining. Contrary to my original terms of appointment, I received a letter stating that I need to pass an exam in Kannada with class 4 syllabus in three months’ time. It was clear that this move was more to intimidate me than anything else. First of all this was a tough ask for someone from another state with no exposure to the language and even if I were to take lessons and work hard, I felt the results of the test was sort of predetermined.

It was later when I was visiting a relative who had a lot more experience of life that he advised me not to agonize over the policy. Even if you did not  like the way the agent handled this, it is always advantageous to start early when premiums are low and the longer and higher the coverage the better it is! If the man who sold the policy had educated me properly, I would not have spoilt relationship with an influential boss and be languishing in a mine with a prospect of writing an exam that I was most likely to fail!

After six months into my assignment at Bhadigund limestone mines, I was on a weekend visit to Bhadravathi, when a friend, an engineer who had joined like me as a management trainee, asked me why I was ruining my career by fighting with the powerful over a trivial issue. He advised me to make up with boss. I said that that I had objected on a matter of principle. Anyway, he may refuse to see me even if I were to go and meet him. The friend suggested writing a letter. Therefore, I wrote a letter drawing attention to the good relationship that we had earlier and the support he had given me and that I regretted how our relations had sunk to such a low over a trivial issue.

 The letter enabled me to wriggle out of a tough situation. However, my animosity to the concept of insurance and those connected with insurance remained. Therefore, for the next fifteen to sixteen years I kept a safe distance. It was after many years in 1998 when the matter of tax savings came up while working in another company, that an agent approached me and explained about the concepts of insurance. He was shocked that I was woefully short of adequate coverage. However, by then I had already touched the age of forty, which meant that very high premium had to be paid for the same sum assured that would have been very low if taken at a young age.

Cut to December 2016. I am standing at a tea shop in Koramangala, Bangalore sipping tea. I hear a friendly   voice asking the tea maker to make some great tea- “should be as good as it was yesterday!” I turned around to look at the speaker and we smiled. He told me that his name was Krishna Prasad (KP to friends) and that he worked for Max life insurance as associate partner (sales).He asked me what I was doing. I told him that after over three decades of service in HR in public and private sector companies, I was now facilitating corporate training programs representing my own company Niche Learning Services. I said that I also devote time to blogging and sharing corporate experiences with MBA students.

He immediately asked me whether I would be interested in becoming a financial advisor (read agent) for his company. I smiled and said that it was not my cup of tea as I was not from a sales background. He said that Maxlife gives a lot of importance to training and that apart from becoming an advisor I could get opportunities for training as well. All the persons engaged as advisors have to undergo a week’s training on insurance as a career and pass a mandatory examination conducted by IRDA (Insurance regulation and development authority).

“My office is just around the corner. Why don’t you come in so that I can give you a better picture?”  As I had nothing urgent to do at that time, I went along to the office. KP explained that insurance has come a long way since the time it was a monopoly with operations by only one insurance company. Today there are 23 companies operating in India and seven year old Max India is a leading company in the private sector,which is a joint venture between Max Financial Services (72%) and Mitsui Sumitomo, a 120-year-old company based in Japan. When I shared my early negative experience with insurance, KP said that there is no way that Max could do business like that. “In fact, our focus is on educating customers on their needs of protecting oneself from the impacts of  an early death, living too long and erosion of the value of money over a period of time.”

I told KP that at this stage of my life and career, I have my own focus areas to which recently spirituality has been added and it is now on the top of the list. Therefore, presently my first priority is spirituality, followed by training and blogging. KP said that the focus of Max is also on educating the customers so that they can take their own decisions on securing their future. According to him, it is a noble profession that is next only to the doctor’s profession.

Many people are unaware about the benefits of various types of insurance. It is the only product in the world that provides you money when you are there (Maturity value); money when you need it most ( Partial withdrawals during emergencies) and money when you are not there( Life cover benefiting your beloved family in your absence) “We don’t chase customers. We only seek 45 minutes of customers’ time to educate them on wise financial planning so that they and their families can have the desired lifestyle throughout their lives. After our education, it is for the customer to decide whether to buy the policy and if yes, which one as per his specific needs” I was very impressed with the genuineness and clarity of the company's and  KP’s mission. Yet At that time, in view of the priorities mentioned, I politely declined the offer.

Come 1st January, and the new year, KP called to wish me. He requested me to review my decision. He said that I could venture into the field without compromising on my present priorities and that this role primarily envisages educating people and can in fact complement what I am already doing. As one interested in learning, taking up the seven-day course would certainly enhance my knowledge in one more discipline. If not anything else, I can educate the  readers of my blog on the various aspects of securing one’s life at various stages of a  lifetime. KP has promised to be the expert for answering readers’ queries in the financial blogs.

A decision has finally been made. Given my unpleasant experience very early in life,who would have thought that one day I would also throw my hat into  the ring…. 

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.