Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sleeping Giants!

There is a character in the Indian Epic Ramayana named Kumbakarna. He is the brother of Ravana the Demon King who was killed by Lord Rama. Kumbakarna is supposed to be more powerful than Ravana himself but had asked for a boon (which turned to his bane as he mispronounced his request) that made him sleep for 6 months in a row and wake up 6 months (effectively disqualifying him for being a King).When this giant sleeps-he really sleeps and when he wakes up he is extremely hungry that he eats up mountains of food (no-one dared to go near him when he was about to wake up to avoid being his snack). Why is it I am elaborating his usual there is a learning in his lifestyle to corporations I would think. A lot of giant corporations are usually on hibernation mode though several hundreds of executives travel between continents, millions of emails gets exchanged everyday and thousands of hours are spent in brainstorming, meetings, strategic plans etc. It is like in hibernation life goes on with heart pumping, small positional changes in sleep etc. Then suddenly there is a wakeup call for this giant company-either competition or business climate or technology gave them a hot rod treatment. The company roars (even if it is a bit late) and starts to move. It tries to shed its conservative outlook and most of the old strategic plans(which are usually incremental thoughts within boundaries but well structured power points) are put to dustbins. There are some changes of top management, signals to middle managers to deliver quick results and restructuring decisions affecting a lot of lower rung people. For this period of revival the company usually sheds the stricter interpretation of its principles and goes on autocratic mode. With strong brands usually the impacts are positive and they survive the pains of changes. But less stronger ones never come out of the hibernation impacts and that is why we find very few corporations more than 100 years (similar to humans). We may argue that the longest living creature is the Tortoise which is the slowest but it is important to note that Tortoise does not search for a home to sleep as it carries one. So if companies don't carry safety shells and does not recognize that it goes into hibernation then they qualify to be called as Sleeping Giants. They cease to capture the full opportunity and the ego state prevents them from believing something needs to change. The worst part is people working for Sleeping Giants are more busy than others but on hindsight realize what they did was just passing through motions. Most of these Giants gets recognized by best corporation in this and that awards further encouraging hibernation. So much for Kumbakarna Corporations...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Power of smile!

This is a topic where a lot of it is obvious and probably well written by many. But still I wanted to add a perspective on this. Smile is a gift to humans though I do think animals do show their happiness in their equivalent of smile. What makes smile special is it reflects the soul. If eyes are the mirror of the heart then smile is the crown. I have rarely seen a person with genuine heart as reflected in their eyes not wear a smile. We are comfortable starting a conversation with such people (I am not talking of sales people who do their job by conversation). When I travel these faces stand out (glow) in crowds as they have magnified their souls with their smiles. If there is Godliness in everyone then smile is surely the manifestation of this..a child like smile in all situations make us feel good. Ofcourse we should cry when we feel like (not bottle this emotion up which creates distress) but after a session of crying try to smile from the heart. A good way to recharge our soul as when we smile it is not just the body which feels happy. Standing back from a situation to ensure fairness, less stress and true spirit of attached detachment says several old philosophies...the truth is if we truly stand back we can laugh at ourselves (the mess we have got ourselves into). But smile can be extremely powerful is a fact I learned recently. Our family got the taste of overbooking by airlines recently. The airline staff said " Sorry we are overbooked. But we can look at options". I was taken aback and my family started to get very aggressive. I had to hold them back and asked him with a smile and wink" So which hotel we stay? I would prefer something exotic!!". The staff was surprised at this and smiled back. He asked me to come inside the counter and look at his computer for options. He gave me some practical tips (the most expensive is not the best etc). Finally he gave some add ons which they give only to tough customers after prolonged negotiations.
He went to his Supervisor and got the next day direct flight fixed for us in Business class.
I was very impressed. I asked him why he stretched this far. His answer was he never faced a friendly customer for a long time and wanted to reciprocate what his soul said to him. There was a clear message for me...though customer is king if we act like one we never get treated like one. But if we act like equals we always get something more. Being polite and smiling in difficult situations does not do any damage at all. Maybe some will exploit this as weakness but in long run we always gain more than loosing our tempers. So if there is one thing the management school does not emphasize in soft skills it is developing the ability to smile in all situations. Believe me it helps much more than you think!!Keep Smiling!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Opinion is Bias!

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine on email which started as a simple comment and flared into a discontent. Without getting into the details of what the issue was-there was a learning for me. We cannot make a comment on a non verbal medium without making it look like we are opinionated. The consequences are immense as if it indeed is true then we can have communication breakdowns as the others may view it with their screen and color.
There are no written rules in informal communications (as if you have rules they cease to become informal) but sensitivity of people needs to be respected at all times. Some may say this is against freedom of expression as if we cease to express opinions then we are suppressing our feelings. I would agree to this too. Is this a paradox we have to live with or is this another situational stuff which as most others use-the answer is yes. To comment on everything is a human urge-like a baby tries to stamp on a moving ant purely instinct (not a bad one as it is not an intention but an instinct) but to control the language is maturity. What is written with a comic intention (in our best moods) can be viewed as an insult by someone who is not in the same best mood. Who cares-there are always finnicky people you may say. My point is if you don't care you loose a great learning opportunity. There can be opinions which stems from biases but opinions should not be rooted on biases as the worst of all biases is " Not to listen to feedbacks". Worser still if the other person has the bias and you seem to mirror his bias 180 degrees as we start loosing friends with this zero win game. Is this a compromise..not really. Sometimes it is better to accept that there are situations we need to correct our statements as it is our ego which needs to be tied in. For sure this does not challenge the statement that "Opinion is Bias". Indeed it is-try to have a positive Bias is all I say.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Everything will be ok!!

I happened to meet a leader of a critical project of restructuring recently. One striking thing I noticed was after every 15 minutes he said "Everything is under control and will be ok." While till that time he makes such a statement, we were discussing very rationally the issues and trying to address them at ground-the discussion will skew for sometime around not so rational things after the statement.
While the intention of my visit was not to find faults I found that people have not done enough thinking around the scenarios that can emerge making them believe they were ready. Surprisingly most of the key members were interested to do the thinking but were dissuaded by the belief of the leader as in the subject. After the fourth time he made the statement just before lunch I had to put my cynical hat and tell him politely " Can you define what control is and what ok is after lunch?" He was taken aback and tried to tell me "That I should not be pessimistic". But I persisted and said we can take this discussion for 30 minutes after lunch so that everyone is on the same page on this. A young lady seemed to be waiting for this and said " I think it is a good idea as I had this question but never asked for more than 3 months". The lunch time was unusually silent except for the sounds of munching. There was discomfort in everyone's body language and people refused to look at each other in eyes.
We assembled again and the leader said with a loud voice" So Ramki wants to discuss this topic though we all know what it means. Except the lady who else thinks it will add value to our discussion?" Surprisingly there were four more who put their hands up and said " Maybe we can discuss it briefly". With no choice the leader said "Ok. I leave to the group to discuss". I smiled (which probably was villianic) and said to him "Before we discuss I want you to explain what you really mean by these two words". After some reluctance he came with a sketchy explanation of what he thinks. I wrote this down on a board and asked the group to build on this basic idea. Surprisingly nobody agreed-so we split into two groups and discussed it threadbare expanding a little more into what needs to be done by the team to ensure they have done a good scenario planning. The outcome was fabulous. People spoke of their concerns and there were solutions for each scenario. A more concrete plan emerged. A decision was made to communicate to all relevant stakeholders what are the potential problems in the next 3 months and how they will be fixed. There was more clearer view on the extent of service level impacts and how it can be managed. Finally there was a feeling of what Control was and why everything will be ok. With this positive feeling the team leader felt a little puzzled and said " I thought we will end negative with such discussions and therefore wanted to be a moderator. Maybe I am wrong". I said to him" Whoever advised you that you should moderate active planning has given you an advise which will make you perenially fail. You may have managed thee moment but are sitting in a landmine". He seemed to agree. I hope everything will be ok though I know OK is a relative word.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Seeking feedback!!

The aspect of seeking feedback of self, actions of self/team and improvements is critical to sustain, adjust and evolve in a continous way. However this does not happen in a natural way as there are several DNA related issues which can inhibit this. The first is the way we have been brought up. For example in India/China in for generations we are taught to respect authority. Several of us either first or second hand have seen if we try to give a feedback to a teacher on his teaching style (genuine concerns like I don't understand your pronounciation or the speed of talking etc)usually the response is of defiance. Either it is punishment or the teacher in a menacing tone asks the class if anyone else has a problem. The class senses the power and the answer the teacher wants-so is silent.The teacher then concludes it is the stupidity of the student which is to blame and punishes him/her.
The message is clear-negative feedback is not appreciated. This does gets into the DNA. There can be similar experiences at home which shapes the attitudes of the young mind. While there is some freedom the rebelious adoloscent age brings in it is not really structured. Therefore giving an improvement suggestion in a positive way is not really inherited by a lot. This creates issues in teamworking as well as realising the full potential of a group.
Next is how to elicit feedback. While etools are fantastic in seeking feedback and there are a lot who look at averages for judging if they are above a particular level in a particular parameter etc, this is not exactly what we should do. Averages are a myth in measuring satisfaction. The people who rate below are not necessarily biased. They are the ones who are trying to talk to us with their ratings. If there are open ended comments in the forms-we should look at what they are trying to talk with this. Feedback is not to have a comfort feeling that we are doing ok but to see where we can improve.This is not an option for those who want to be sure they are rooted on realities. Informal ways of feedback is also ok but there should be a consistency in way we seek feedback as a lot of time in informal feedback we try to filter information to suit what we think or want to hear. There are no shortcuts to the thirst of seeking feedback as if we stop this activity we are already stopping to improve. Be it forecast improvement (in demand chain) or relationship improvement (with suppliers or customers) it is always the seeking/acting on feedback which makes the difference between winners and losers.

About Me

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Gothenburg, Sweden
Still finding introspecting to find who am I? Waiting for a Guru!