Do Senior Leaders Even Want to Handle the Truth ?   1 comment

“ You want answers?
I want the truth!
You can’t handle the truth!”

While this famous dialogue from ‘A Few Good Men’ holds true in many scenarios; when it comes to Senior Leaders establishing employee connect the real question I’d like to ask is:
‘Do you even want to handle the Truth?’One of the the things that Senior Leadership try to do on a consistent basis is get the real pulse of the organisation. And they do this in various ways. The most direct of which is of course simply interacting with people across levels; especially at employee events, team gatherings etc. We go to great lengths to ensure that we create informal environments where employees feel comfortable enoough to express themselves and give open and honest feedback on what is going well or not so well in the organsiation.

But what seems so difficult neednt really be if Senior Leaders didn’t make some fundamental errors.


The first is asking questions for the sake of it
(since the answer clearly doesn’t seem to matter or is presumed). This includes asking questions without sometimes even waiting for anwer or asking questions in which sound more like statements e.g. “Im sure you are enjoying your new role. Yes?”

The second is asking questions in a manner that clearly communicates what the expected answer should be.
All of us like (read feel obligated) to please; especially people in positions of power. In such situations we are torn between expressing the truth and saying things that the other wants to hear. Leaders are experts at giving cues, signals and even direct indications of what is an expected response to their enquiry. More often than not we give them what they want.

Another common occurrence is premption.
The senior person already has an idea of what are the possible issues that an individual or group is likely to raise. Unfortunately many times they think their ‘questions to expect’ list is exhaustive. The result being that when you will finally muster the courage to ask a burning question you will receive an answer to a very different issue, sometimes completely unrelated!

The most blatant instance is however complete denial.
When the leader you are interacting with refuses to even acknowledge that the issue you are raising is even worth talking about.

In all these cases of seeming miscommunication there might actually be a hidden agenda. It could in some way aid in giving out some key messages, planting new thoughts and discouraging negative propaganda. But active listening never did anything but good. For senior leaders who anyway become unapprochable by virtue of their position this one of the simplest tools to really make a difference.

Which brings me back to my original point about handling the truth . They are senior Leaders so I assume that the CAN handle it. And if getting the truth can be so simple; the real question is then “Do they even want to handle it?”

Posted March 25, 2011 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

“Follow-Up” Skills … A New Mantra In The Workplace?   1 comment

Have you ever defaulted on a rather large credit card payment? Chances are you were hounded through all possible means of communication till you finally did – sms, e-mail, phone calls (very polite though somewhat menacing) to even ‘friendly’ visits to your home. While you can’t really blame the card company guys sitting in that unenviable department called ‘collections ‘; it’s when you see these behaviors replicated in the workplace that it becomes disturbing.

You may ask what am I even talking about. Well, what do you think all these ‘gentle reminder’ e-mails, or status update meetings or ‘any progress’ phone calls or ‘please confirm’ text messages are? What might seem like a harmless efforts to make sure things are on track can sometimes metamorphose in to behavior very much akin to that of a debt collector.

The genesis of this is perhaps the fact that increasingly an individual’s merit is judged by his ability to get the job done and not how he gets it done. Results are what counts and not what means you employ to achieve them (apart from illegal and clearly unethical means of course; though that’s actually another topic altogether). The accountability is clearly defined and whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) is clearly your baby. Now if your work involves dealing with a large number of people who need to do their jobs to ensure that yours is done; particularly in this age of specialization and matrix structures where you can’t leverage direct reporting relationships, it is indeed a difficult task.

The easiest recourse to ensure that you make your priority someone else priority as well is to constantly ‘follow-up’ with them and reiterate how important the particular task is, so that he literally abandons everything else if he has to, to complete your work as per the deadline assigned. And there you have it – the birth of ‘follow-up skills’; the more persistent sometimes even annoying you are, with of course a well timed regular method to it, the better you are. The actual worrying bit is when people stop regarding this as a simple means of business execution and start valuing it as skill integral for success. Because what ‘follow-up skills’ threatens to erase is actually the ability to build relationships, create trust and influence people – skills that are really the key to success.

Think about it – if we can establish relationships of trust where we could rely completely on colleagues to keep to deadlines (even if that means coming back with another mutually agreeable date) where every individual felt ownership for his contribution to the team – we wouldn’t really need ‘follow-up’ skills.  This brings us to the bigger picture. Encouraging ‘follow- up’ skills is in a way creating a culture where people don’t believe something is important till someone gives them at least one reminder ignoring the basic respect due to each colleague. In fact priorities get decided on the basis of how much one is literally harassed to complete a task. There are even those who profess that it can be used as a time management tool in terms of prioritization saying that “If it’s really important, someone will follow-up”. The implications are multifold. Not only does it support a deplorable work culture, poor business relationships but also a great wastage of time and effort that could have been put to a much better use. In addition, it sends out the wrong signals altogether to employees on what the organization considers enablers of success.

What it calls for is a hard and introspective look at our work styles and the way in which we make things happen. Do we try to create a cohesive workplace where trust is paramount or are just looking to get the job done, anyhow? The difference is very similar to methods of weight loss. A balanced diet and exercise takes time and effort but is the only real solution in the long run. Whereas crash diets definitely work fast and every time, but that’s just the problem, results are never long lasting and they take a huge toll on your health. A good test is to honestly judge for yourself where you value ‘follow-up’ skills. Are they in the same category as time management and mail management like all other business execution essentials or are they or are they up there with the leadership imperatives of ‘Impactful communication’ and ‘Influencing skills’?

Reminders and methods to track progress are extremely important but only as long as they remain just that and don’t over ride or undermine the fundamentals such as individual accountability, team work and above all great working relationships based on trust. Time to do a reality check and make sure the fundamentals are still strong.

Posted November 15, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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“Stinkers”. . . .The Real Deal   1 comment

One of the most obvious manifestations of primitive behavior in the workplace is the culture of sending ‘stinkers’. For the uninitiated (few as they may be) a stinker is an e-mail sent to a colleague who has very obviously goofed up on a responsibility. The primary objective of course or as we would like to believe is to ensure speedy action on the issue but as you may have rightly surmised from the name itself (i.e. ‘stinker’) it achieves much more than that. It is deliberately designed to impart the sometimes subtle but clear message that ‘You Stink!’ for the specific action or lack of the same. The negative emotions it is supposed to evoke include making you feel stupid, irresponsible, and incapable of appreciating team goals and generally like a jerk.

There are certain other salient features involved in the ‘stinker’ as discussed below:

The Blame Game

Increasingly at the workplace it’s not about individual responsibilities but getting the job done. When assigning blame and affixing it becomes important you need to prove that it’s not your lack of team work or influencing skills but a deliberate act of negligence, ignorance or something equally incriminating, on the other person’s part that’s the reason for writing the email in the first place. There must be no room (as far as the writer can see at least) of the blame coming back on to him.

For The Record

One of the reasons for the immense popularity of email is the fact that it allows you to maintain vast amounts correspondence neatly filed under folders and/or any other systematic tool you may favour to organize your mail box. This can be conveniently presented at the opportune moment especially as in the above paragraph where blame has to be irrevocably established. The stinker comes in great use as it proves that you are not at all lacking in ‘follow-up’ skills but have tried your level best to ensure prompt action including the last resort of a stinker. Sometimes we exalt the email to the extent that we treat the entire mail chain as if it needs to be presented in court as exhibit ‘A’ and forget the virtues of a simple phone call that is at most time far more effective albeit difficult to admit as evidence if required.

Telling the World so that they may bear Witness

The stinker becomes even more lethal when used ostensibly (or actually) as part of the escalation process. The objective is to achieve a quick and speedy resolution and ensure a greater responsiveness in future by highlighting the mistake, oversight or blunder to ‘higher authorities’ or at least the incumbents superior. The secret or not so secret hope is that you get the person in to trouble with his boss so that he dare not repeat such behavior and all mails from you in future are treated on high priority.

It’s an Art

In the workplace outright rudeness (especially in print) is never appreciated. So to achieve the stinker objective of making the person feel lousy you have to clever about it. There needs to be just the right degree of displeasure expressed ranging to disgust depending on the seriousness of the ‘crime’ (extending the court room metaphor) tempered with the right amount of professional politeness. A subtle touch of sarcasm artistically crafted in to the flow is the really skillful part. Hints of condescension and a supercilious tone are additionally considered the mark of a stinker artist.

Making it Personal

As you may have already experienced being on the receiving end of a stinker is not a pleasant experience. Add to that the fact that most stinkers tend to exaggerate a bit to ensure the whole ‘blame thing’ is clearly established while making you out to be in no uncertain terms an unprofessional idiot. Add to that the fact that your boss and everyone else who matters has been copied on it and it will come up in the next performance review. And remember if the person has not done what you wanted him to do; it’s clearly was never his priority. So how do you think the person who gets this in his mailbox is going to react? One thing I can assure you is that he will ‘react’ because you made it personal!

And We’re Back in the Playground

Now the recipient may ‘react’ in different ways but the most probable will actually be a reactionary stinker to you; copied to even more people. You see he has to absolve himself of the blame. And that triggers a situation similar to that in a playground where one child pushes the other. And he immediately asserts himself by pushing back just a little bit harder. And you know the rest… a regular free for all. That’s also what happens in the whole email game; till someone decides to be the bigger person and ‘settle it out of court’ – face to face or at least through a call.

The Bottom Line
Well I may have over dramatized the whole thing but the point is that stinkers are not a means of problem solving or conflict resolution. More often than not it only results in worsening the situation- breeding ill will, complicating and lengthening the issue and getting other people unnecessarily involved. It also brings out the worst in us. Whether we react immediately with our most emotional response or we spend hours laboring over a particularly caustic reply it always reflects badly on professional maturity. Most situations that result in email battles can be sorted out and quite amicably with a simple phone call. While stinkers may actually be necessary in certain situations make sure that you use it only where absolutely required and as a last resort after all simpler options have been explored!

Posted November 9, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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“It’s MY Life” – You Know What; It Really Is!   2 comments

How many times have we heard relatives, friends, colleagues and even casual acquaintances make statements such as “If only I could just quit my job and do what I really want to do” or “Every time I try to change things something comes up” or “I feel so trapped” or “I have to keep on like this; what other choice do I have ?”  Innumerable I’m guessing and what’s more, I’m sure we’ve made them pretty often ourselves. Indeed all of us go through phases where we feel that things just aren’t working for us and everything – situations, people and even natural phenomena have some inscrutable mission to make our lives hell. While such reflections are normal, it’s when they cease to be just momentary vents of frustration but a way of life and a convenient explanation for everything that ‘happens’ in our lives that the situation becomes hazardous.

If we just stop to think about it there really isn’t anything that we do not determine in our lives. Everything is a result of a decision that we have made. Now that decision may be keeping in mind a number of constraints, it may be basis limited information or a without a clear visibility of its consequences. But it’s still our decision. Let’s take the most common situation. Have you known people who’ve cribbed about their professions all their lives but still continued with them? When you ask them the obvious question the most expected answers will be “What else can I do? This is the only area I have sufficient education and experience in” and “I have a family to support.” There could be various people and situations he attributes this state of unhappiness to. It could be the fact that his parents forced him into this line, or that he didn’t qualify for the profession he was interested in or that he could risk trying anything else out because by the time he realized it was never get any better, he had a wife and two kids to support and trying something new was out of the question.

While all these may seem compelling factors over which he had no control the fact is that at each point he had a choice before him with a minimum of 2 options. He would have taken in to account his priorities and exercised that choice consciously or unconsciously. Supposing his father had strongly advocated that he do engineering rather that pursue photography and he chose to comply. The fact remains that he could have rebelled if he wanted to but he chose not to. This choice may or may not have been for the right reasons, but it was for reasons that were nevertheless important to him such as respecting your elders or avoiding conflicts at home.

Just to make things a little clearer let me extend this example. You may argue that he didn’t have a choice if his father threatened not finance his further studies in photography. To which I will insist that he still had  a choice; a choice to leave home and join a professional photographer as an assistant for free while supporting himself as a waiter. Or if that’s too dramatic taking it up as a serious hobby later in college and making the first amateur competition he won the springboard of his career. The intention here is not to show how wild my imagination can get but to illustrate that our own actions determine the course of our lives. There may be a few exceptional circumstances as they always are but those will be truly exceptional. For the most part we can pretty much do anything that we have a strong will to do.

But again I don’t want to be one of the many who advocate that you follow your dream or reach for the stars or give you another line in the hope it propels you to becoming a super achiever. I just want to stress that YOU always have a choice. Don’t let the fact that those choices may be equally undesirable mislead you into thinking that you were a victim and circumstances acted upon you rather that you acting in a circumstance. The choice may actually be to decide between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, but it’s still a choice and a choice YOU make.

Once you realize this you may experience a strange sense of empowerment and a feeling that you are the one who’s really in control of your life. It may also however be a very humbling experience if you are suddenly faced with the fact that the romantic image you’d been lovingly nurturing over the years as a brilliant photographer who just didn’t get the right breaks is an illusion and possibly you didn’t have the guts to follow your dream.
But I would still urge you not to be disheartened. The point is that in most cases the choices we make are very clearly guided by our priorities in life. You may realize that you were actually never prepared for the trials peculiar to a career in professional photography and that you explored more conventional options but options that were more likely to lead you to things that were important to you such as stability.

And now you will realize the real key behind controlling your life. It’s about knowing your priorities and what really important to you. Even in a worst case scenario, when as I said before the choices are equally undesirable and life forces you to choose between what’s important and what’s more important your priorities will guide you to make the right decision and make you feel like you’re calling the shots. For if you are clear on them; no matter how tough the decision you’ve had to take; you’ll always know that you did what you chose to. It was your call and you did what you what was most important to you (even if that was another person’s happiness).  

So, my parting message- Realize that life is about choices, YOU make those choices so they better be guided by what matters to YOU.

IT IS …YOUR LIFE

Posted November 3, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ – A Dangerous Game For Any Manager to Play !   Leave a comment

“Us and Them
And after all we’re only ordinary men” – Pink Floyd

There comes a time in every Manager’s life and in reality more often than anyone would really like, when he has to be the bearer of bad news. When that bad news is the result of a decision making process in which the manger himself plays a vital role; the message becomes even more uncomfortable to communicate. I’m talking about typical stuff like a poor performance rating, a promotion that didn’t go through or a performance linked increment that wasn’t awarded.

For those of you who are aren’t at all perturbed by the necessity of making any of the above communications to your team members and in fact think that it would flow very naturally from the conversations that you have been having with them around performance and areas of improvement – I commend you! You may or may not be surprised however that there is a sizeable population of Managers that would be quite stressed in this kind of a situation and out of sheer desperation blame such decisions squarely on senior management. They may even feel compelled to make statements like “I recommended you for a promotion but they didn’t agree” or “I gave you an “a” rating but they changed it to a “b”. And thus with one statement a clear divide is established that places the manager and his team on one side and the management on the other and more importantly sets in motion a host of organizational issues as you could imagine. Us vs them – Game on!

This situation however is never a sudden occurrence. It will be the inevitable result of a management style that a Manager consciously or unconsciously adopts. The genesis of it is perhaps in an acute need for affiliation with team members that may even go to an extreme where the lines between a team member and his Manager are very blurred if not completely erased. The objective is to always maintain a “good guy” image where all positive occurrences are directly attributed to the efforts of the Manger and anything even slightly negative is viewed as something “they” are responsible for. In such a case while day to day performance issues might be strongly addressed the same will never be reflected on paper in terms of a comment on performance in the “Manager Review” section or in the performance rating or any other official documentation. Verbally the Manger might as they put it “take his pants off” (a phrase I’m not really fond of but one which apparently captures the essence completely) but that remains between the Manager and his team member and is never documented. In such a manner the employee never gets a complete understanding of his areas of development or performance issues and the Manger encourages mediocre to even poor performance. The standards of performance will in fact vary from team member to team member to the extent that “poor performance” will never even be a possibility. In a willing suspension of good judgment such Mangers will never be able to take tough calls on people and will be the ones who proudly declare “I have never had to sack any team member in my life”.

Building maturity and coaching Mangers on leadership styles the moment that they begin to lead a team is of vital importance. They need to know that the most popular people aren’t the best Managers and in the end their team members will be grateful for the frank though difficult conversations on performance that they might need to have from time to time, to enable them to enhance overall performance and progress in careers. This game only works (if at all) in the short term and ultimately the employee will lose respect not only for the organization and its decision making process but also for their Manager – the “good guy”. While perhaps a complete book could be written on the detrimental effects of such leadership styles, what I would like to stress is that there are many other ways; and infinitely better ways to inspire and motivate your team than just being a friend. People need effective leaders and not “nice people” at the work place and while you may be very close to your team members never let that cloud your judgment for its is the ultimate injustice to him and yourself.

And for the record – You are not ‘ordinary men’ but ‘leaders of men’

 

Posted October 28, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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Communication Skills – Does “English” make all the difference?   4 comments

One of the quandaries I always face when a manager tells me that “Communication” is a development need for his team members is ‘What’s the need behind the need?’ On further examination, I have observed that what they (Managers) intend to include in this specific need encompasses attitude issues, poor listening skills, simple articulation etc. etc. etc.

However, most often they will tell me (and this of course is mostly true as we go to the bottom level in an organization) that the fundamental problem is the language ‘English’. And that they are absolutely convinced that if only “He” had the confidence to express himself in fluent English “He” would be a marvelous resource sitting at the top end of their Talent Pool.

At one point of time I too subscribed to this opinion in many cases. I attribute it to the fact that we are always immediately impressed with anyone who displays a command over the language, and if that is accompanied by accent, articulation and intonation – well there’s a very small chance he won’t make a fabulous first impression.

But if you go just a little bit deeper, you will acknowledge that the most compelling and powerful speakers always had something forceful and powerful to convey. In other words, we must realize that the most important part of any communication is and always will be The Message. The rest are only accessories.

It brings me to my first check point Does one really have something meaningful to say? The only way to have anything meaningful to say is by thinking. Now as obvious as this may seem the fact remains that most of us do not exercise our brains more than we necessarily need to and consciously restrict our thinking to that which irrevocably concerns us. The more dangerous consequence of this is that we deliberately curb what we have all been naturally blessed with – Common Sense. (No wonder why it’s so Uncommon). So now you know why it is so important to consciously think, to question, to wonder and to analyze. Encourage employees to really think and you will automatically see considerable improvement in participation at team forums (as such the ultimate test of so called communication skills).

Once someone has something to say they will normally find a means of saying it even if that means using the vernacular. Which brings us to what if the circumstances are not ‘normal’ and our second checkpoint i.e. “If someone has something to say but does not express it?” This most usually points to self-confidence (which could depend on the severity of the case to be resolved in a period ranging from months to years). The method would typically involve counseling sessions with the immediate manager (or HR) reinforced by opportunities to speak in progressively larger gatherings with sufficient positive reinforcement.

Once you’ve crossed both checkpoints (and are convinced that not only does the individual actually have something meaningful to express but also and perhaps more importantly he is convinced that it is worth expressing) should you focus on the pure linguistic elements of communication. This is my no means meant to criticize or discourage any personal or organizational efforts to improve employee’s abilities in the official language of all business communication but it is meant to reinforce the fact that the essence of any communication is a message worthy of being communicated. And that in most cases people only value their own opinions when other people value them, which is why building confidence becomes crucial. Once these are in place language ceases to be too much of a barrier.

Posted October 26, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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The Leadership Litmus Test   2 comments

During my journey in the corporate world so far, I have definitely evolved as a judge of character. I use the word ‘Character’ rather loosely I am afraid; for what I actually mean I suppose is that other often used and abused word called “Leadership”. Again, leadership as a quality is difficult to really define (despite endless models and frameworks) and when you go further to quantify it you may be faced with one of the most elusive solutions in the history of whatever art or science that deals with the subject exactly. I, however, in my own simple way have devised quite an effective means of determining if someone does have the “stuff” or not and best part is you can do it in five minutes. Yes… as reminiscent of an instant noodle claim as this might seem… I urge you to read further.

You see anyone who has the power to lead will always have an impact on people they interact with. Sometimes of course they don’t even need to do that; but I’m rather lenient. I think everyone should be given a minimum time frame of five minutes to prove their mettle.

Think about it, that’s actually all it takes for someone to give you a fresh perspective, discuss a new angle, open up a line of thought or impress you with an idea. For those of you who are so used to using the phrases in the last sentence so often in places where you really didn’t mean anything; to the extent it fails to mean anything to you (I’ve been there by the way) I have another simple method of determining the same.

The answer lies in your instinctive response to the conversation with that person. It could range from an “hmmm” to an “OK!” to an “Oh my God!” depending on how much American television you have been watching. But jokes apart that interaction will change your life. It could be in a small way; such as a different approach to the project your working on to a new idea for product development or even as radical as quitting your job and starting your own business. But as you will realize all such interactions (and at this point I’ll stop stretching the 5 minute rule as in most cases it could get longer) you will think differently from that moment on; about some area of your life.

Of course one may argue that many conversations with different people bring about changes in the way we think; in fact almost every conversation does. At which point we need to look at 2 things. The first is the difference between being informed and being INSPIRED. And what I feel differentiates the both is the quality of emotion. Human beings can never be successful at anything without being emotionally involved. Now this may seem ironical since we are always being told to maintain our professionalism and not get “emotional” and “personal” about work. The fact is however that the human imagination; endeavor and ‘will to achieve’ has to be fired by personal and emotional involvement. And if an interaction with someone leaves you inspired then they are leaders in the true sense. If you detect a feeling of disturbance, emotional upheaval, a restlessness to go out there and do something – you have been inspired. Because someone has been able to; in a matter of minutes makes you realize that you can do better and thereby brought you closer to achieving your potential.

The second thing is consistency. And here I can see all my fellow HR folk smile for this is  a quality we admire the most. Leaders will inspire people on a consistent basis; sometimes by default and sometimes by design but you can be sure that they will impact you. And here we come back to the ‘5 min rule’ or as I call it- the leadership litmus test.

THEY WILL IMPACT YOU IN 5 MINUTES !

Posted October 24, 2010 by D Discovers in Chance Discoveries

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