Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Slice of Work #15 — Culture Drives Policy, Not the Other Way

This was a fine mid-sized culturally vibrant dream company to work for. It had a large heart. It attracted good talent and much of it was owed to its CEO, a very fine man who was both genuine and charismatic.

The HR head met a candidate, Nirmala, who had a career break. She had a great background and experience. Just when the job offer was going to be made, Nirmala said that she wanted flexibility – work from home, work part-time and work at will, at least for a year plus to look after her child. The HR head heard himself agreeing to each of these although they were not part of the policy.

Convincing his colleagues and his boss was easy, for the culture was supportive. All this was almost 20 years ago when such things were really unheard of. Nirmala turned out to be one of the best a really a refreshing professional who brought in high energy to the place.

The HR Head moved on. He had long forgotten about what he had done. Nirmala did not. Nirmala recounted this positive experience at a National event where she spoke passionately about what this meant to her.

Her story was impactful—the ability to do things for others is within us and it is for us to bend the rules. People of influence can support people who are great talent. Flexibility starts with us being flexible in our mind.

Nirmala’s story reminded me that it is not a policy that drives culture, but culture that drives policy … and happiness at work. And someone who can take a lead on it.  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Slice of Work #14 — The Man Who Hired His Boss

I knew Thomas who wanted to move out of his firm and had landed a cushy job in the same city that he lived in. A big plus. The added advantage was the prospect of some stocks that would fetch him good money. He seemed coasting along in his life after he had put down his papers.

As was his nature, he called up a few of his friends to let them know about it. When he called up one of his ex-team members, Sheen, he got a strange response. While all others had supported his move, Sheen was hesitant and Thomas asked him about it. Sheen said, “Thomas, I have been thinking about who should be my new boss in the firm that I have joined. I think it should be you.” Thomas was a bit hesitant but he asked Sheen to progress the referral.

Things moved fast and he got selected. It was an MNC and the leaders he met were very fine people. He forgot all about the stock and the money. It did not seem to matter. The only rub was that it was in another city. He called up Sheen and told him about his selection. Sheen was at his persuasive best to take the job. Thomas consulted his family and the shift happened. A new city, a new culture and new settings.

Thomas grew in his role and did well for himself as I knew he would. I have often thought of Sheen. He was so selfless and had the courage to ask his ex-boss to join the firm that he was working. In a way he hired his boss. I knew Sheen and asked him the reason for asking Thomas to join his firm and laughingly he said, “A known devil is better than an unknown one.” He is a good man and I don’t think I learnt enough from him, he added.

Sheen moved on to become a leader in another firm and is doing well for himself. Leaders are made, and made differently. Each one of them. The best of them find goodness in others and even hire them as their bosses.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Slice of Life #13 — Unpacking Mother’s Suitcase

suit case motherMy mother was a very meticulous woman and raised us as such. She was particular about how a bed should be made. In those days, we had mats that we had to roll them to perfection. Folding of clothes was another of her demands. Folded to perfection, putting many a launderer out of work. It was more of her need to have us believe mundane work needed more attention than we paid attention to. Her credo was – ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ My dad happily borrowed it and made it his. She did not claim any patent rights to it. A liberal she was, yes.

We all grow old and as did she. One day, we persuaded her to come and stay with us for good. She loved a patch of green at our place. Insisted on tulasi or basil, flowering plants and banana saplings. She used to go to the small garden and plucked every single flower for her ‘Gods’. I even chided her once that she must leave some on the plants for us to enjoy them. She was adamant. Slowly she stopped going to the garden as she was unable to climb the few steps without assistance.

As for her room, the things in her life were all over the room. They were in full cry to anyone walking past. A bit of an eyesore. I had to close the door of her room when we had visitors. One day she asked for the ‘blue’ trolley bag that I used. All the items she needed were on several side tables and when I asked about it, she said that they needed to be visible and within easy reach. She said that the chest of drawers was useless as she did not know what was in them. Come Diwali, I decided to clean her room and put things in place, tucked away neatly and told her about it.

She said nothing. I did see a fleeting shadow of sadness in her eyes. She veered away not wanting to meet my eyes. She was far too much in love with us. As for the suitcase, I got her sarees in them into the cabinet took away the trolley bag she did not need anymore. The room looked spick and span. There was an overhang of a heaviness of heart that I did not notice. Amma passed away a month later.

A couple of months later, I used the blue trolley bag and found that its zip had given up. She did not want me to use it and hence asked for it. And did not want to tell me. These days, the room looks clean, and each time I go in, I feel it was better off with the odds strewn around within easy reach of the only person who loved me unconditionally – my mother. I realized that old people needed an understanding beyond cleanliness. A sensitivity beyond compare. The blue trolley bag was unpacked and tucked away, the emotions were not. They are alive and each time I look at the trolley, it reminds me of her and my spectacles mists up again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Slice of Work #13 — Driving a Lesson About Work

I started my career as a Management Trainee at a well-known MNC. It was at a factory manufacturing explosives for the mining industry. Our nearest government district head-quarters were some 60 miles away. I used to be sent to such places to ‘chase’ some matters in the labor department that needed follow ups. It was not a great job, and I used to be really upset that I was asked to do these ‘silly’ jobs. I could never understand why they needed someone from the finest B School. As you can see I had a heavy chip on my shoulder.

It was one such day that my manager called me and asked me to go to Giridih district to follow up on a file on labour. Although I protested, he would not hear of it and told me that a car would arrive at 7 AM the next day. It was a two-hour ride to the town. The following day I was getting ready to leave and seething at the thought of the ‘silly’ job that I was to do. I came down to the car that was to take me to town and noticed something strange.

The driver Ram Lal, was burnishing the black ‘Ambassador’ car to a fine shine. I walked up to him and asked him what he was up to. He said that he was polishing the car with wax. I told him that the dusty road would ruin the shine anyway, and that it was pointless. He said, “Sir, I love my car and I love my job. There is no work that is small and while the dust may yet settle back, if I did not polish the car it would look shabby and reflect poorly on me.” Ram Lal was no ordinary driver.

I got into the car and was about to slam the door when he rushed and gently closed the car with a click. “I did not want the door to be slammed shut,” he said. He started the car and shifted gears in a gentle way. He kept talking along the drive and about how work was divine and that he was fortunate to be working. I had reached Giridih in 90 minutes, and it was one of the best of rides despite the bad roads. I complimented him on that. He said that a car should be driven with the least bumpiness as if a child were in it.

I walked to the labour office. I met the officer with a smile on my face and confidently so as I had got all the simple jobs done with perfection. The work got done in a jiffy. We drove back and I was lost in an even more absorbing conversation with him. He taught me the value of respecting work and doing it with devotion. On Teachers Day, I thought of Ram Lal, my greatest teacher, to thank him and sincerely, so for driving the greatest lesson of work in me. And early in my career.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Slice of Work #14 — How to Ace a Job Interview

A few thoughts for Early Career Professionals

An interview is an opportunity to showcase your best, beyond your resume to land a job. It gives a chance to be ourselves in a setting that sometimes is uncomfortable. There is a palpable tension leading to a poor attempt and a couple of such ‘failures’ tend to affect us personally, a downward spiral of sorts. Despite all of this, there is a way in which we can make these interactions work to our advantage with a few things that may not be that obvious.

First things first, check out the job description or JD of the position that you are applying to. Many JDs are vague and it is best to prepare and ask questions even prior to the interview. Next, ask yourself if this is something you really like to do. Don’t force yourself on something you do not like to do. It will show at the interview, you cannot fake it. Prepare, prepare, and prepare well for the interview. Review your resume and there are things that you may want to highlight.

Common questions will be around your strengths and weakness. Write them down. Your accomplishments, some work that you are proud of, a strong story that they will remember much after you left the setting. Make sure you know the company and it helps if you can google the person who you are going to be interviewing with. Play the tape in your mind of what you wish to say. Know what you want and don’t beat around the bush.

Be on time, a tad early, if you can. Even if they are late to the interview, just ignore it. Be sure to understand the culture of the place. Don't be in your formal best in a place that has business casuals as a dress code. In both cases, shine your shoes, wear clothes that shows you off in professional light. It is better to be a tad overdressed.

A firm handshake and looking the person in the eye in a warm way helps. Interviewers have a bias for people who are likeable. Be at your positive best. And confident. Speak slowly. It is not a time to show your oratory skills and language proficiency. You need to be clear and articulate of what you are capable of and what value you can bring.

Do not bad mouth your current company or your manager who you work for. If you say something like ‘better opportunities’ and then say things around what you find interesting in the prospective company, that is a good way out. Do not fumble and take long gaps in responding. If you do not know, it is better to say so. Be measured in the way you speak. Your conviction must shine through your words.

Be honest and prepared to respond to “What questions do you have for me?” This is a great chance for you to know more about the company, the job. Be thoughtful, and this is where your preparation helps. Always thank the person for taking time out. Above all, close well. With a smile. They will remember you long after you left the room. Wish you the best!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Slice of Work #15 — What Companies Look for in People in Interviews?

There are many schools of thought of as to what is the best way to interview a candidate. People conduct several tests that get them to the final rounds. Stress interviews, case studies, the works are thrown at candidates and finally when they are on the job, one discovers that there is a gap. The candidates have their own expectations and finally it ends in a separation, and often times it is the candidate quitting the company not the firm asking the person to leave.

So, what is the magic sauce of finding the right person? Let me start by saying that there are no perfect candidates. Only ones who come close. Beyond the usual list of education, experience and a suitable fit for the role, I look for a number of behavioral traits as well. And, this starts with a good culture fit.

I look for people with good energy and drive. Some people are the extroverts and some are introverts and both have energy and drive that one has to discover in the interview process. Personally I have a bias for people with a firm hand shake. It makes me more comfortable knowing the person is confident. I don’t hold it against them if they don’t. I ask for their war stories of their of success in the past two years of something that they have done that beat all odds and made them succeed and feel on top of the world. I believe that it gets the best out of an applicant.

Through their narrative, I discover their inner drive and their sense of achievement orientation. I also look for good communication skills. Are they articulate and clear? Not just a lot of English, but simplicity in getting to the point. Something they say that gets me glued, the effectiveness. Through gentle questioning, I gauge their sense of decision making and their focus on execution, as that is most important in our world. Through their enunciation, I look for the sense of teaming and their commitment to the task on hand. I also look at the body language of the candidates and notice the way they sit and speak, to check if they are comfortable in the interview. And do they carry conviction?

I believe that interviewers need to be far more prepared than the applicants. Many times I set aside some time before I meet people as I want to be mindful of the situation. It is as important for me as for the applicant. Does not happen all the time, but I sincerely try. Years ago, when I was interviewed I recollect a boss of mine who interviewed me took great care of all of us who came to his firm. He was so courteous that we all wondered if he was just a handyman about the place. Came to know later he was the biggest boss around. It taught us all a lesson.

Of the best candidates I have selected in my career, I have found that apart from all the above, I have looked for passion. And this is a quality that has never failed me. I have always stood by my decision to hire a candidate who had this element, I have found that they shine in organizations, each time, every time. Lastly, I look for someone who apart from the above has a sense of humor and is positive. Now, as you can see, it is a lot to ask of someone to watch out for in candidates!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Slice of Life #12 — Learning on the Fly

It was one of those crazy days. I normally take a flight on Sundays to Mumbai at around 6.15 pm. For some reason I booked an earlier flight on Air India at 5 pm and forgot about it. Midway as I headed to the airport, I got a call from the airline manager telling me that I was being off loaded it way past the boarding time of 4.15. I had completely forgotten that it was an earlier flight.

I rushed to the counter where the reservation Manager of Air India told me that I had been off loaded. My throat went dry. This has never happened to me and I was feeling faint. I pleaded with the manager and he could see my anguish. It was also clear to me that it was over. The manager asked me if he could assist in getting me to another flight. I could have hugged him. It was really sweet of him.

He and I went to another carrier for a later flight. It was an expensive ticket and I gave my credit card to the attendant who insisted on cash. And those were the ‘Demon-ic’ days of the dry ATMs. After three dry ATMs, I finally managed to get cash. Ran back and gave the money to the man at the counter only to be told that the last ticket was taken. My pleas fell on deaf ears, for he was clear, first come first served. Made not even the slightest effort to help. Bless him!

The AI Manager asked me to wait and said he would try. After ten minutes, I gave up not sure if he could anything, purchased a ticket for the next day, hired a cab and headed back home. Five minutes into the drive I got a call from the Manager if I could come back. He had managed to get me a ticket for the regular 6.15 pm flight, the one I had tried earlier but was told it was running full. And he had got it at a normal price. He had not given up. He had been working silently all along for getting me a ticket.

I thanked Sumit Trivedi. That was his name. He helped someone he did not know. For over half an hour he had relentlessly worked his charm on a different carrier in securing me a ticket. I asked him what I could do for him. He said ‘Sir please fly Air India each time, every time ’. I hugged him warmly and walked away in awe of the man. He had mastered the art of Service beyond Self.

I wish I could be a Trivedi to someone. I must.