Archive for the 'Management' Category

Objectivity in Performance Appraisals

If your reporting manager or appraiser describes you as ” a tall and well built executive ” and if you happens to measure only 167 cm height without shoes , one can reasonably assume that the reporting manager is less than 160 cm in height and has a thin body !  In a hilarious example from the Army , one reporting manager described a star performer – captain as ” he has reached his limit of performance  – meaning he has performed in an exceptionally good manner!  ” . Here it could be a matter of English Comprehension .

Performance reports are always subjective because subjects are reporting on subjects based on their perceptions and not based on true performance or goal based outcomes. If we want 100 percent objectivity , use only metrics of performance measurements without using any description – report only in numbers. The minute you start describing performance , biases set in !

If a performance appraisal system can minimize subjectivity to the extent practicable through metrics , multiple reviews at various levels and by lateral or 360 degree reviews , it will serve the purpose.

One of the major use of an appraisal system is to use it as a development tool  and this aspect needs deep thought and focus.  The development should also meet the needs of the organization and still satisfying the aspirations of the person reported upon.  If we do this properly , it can be a valuable retention tool .

Peer Group as Nuclear Communities

Tina Rosenberg in her  well researched book titled ” Join the Club – How Peer Pressure can transform the world ” [ Icon Books – ISBN :978-184831-300-2 ]  gives numerous real life case studies where Peer Groups have achieved spectacular social cure in finding solutions for serious problems like smoking , AIDS , Rural Health Projects , politics ,education  and the like. A common thread runs through all these case studies and it is how a peer group could leverage its nuclear community feeling and a sense of inclusion to achieve significant social cure.

The peer group as a nuclear community has great bonding and comradeship especially among young people . The members trust each other when there is no hierarchy and any pecking order. A problem facing such groups and needing an acceptable and lasting solution can be thrown open for discussion, alignment and adoption using carefully selected leaders who play the role of facilitators . The process should also facilitate intense discussion and introspection without any sermonizing or  ” talking down ” approach . Once the group owns the problem , creative solutions come up automatically and these become the new norms of behavior .

Some of the social issues facing the young people like drunken driving , road rage , social rebellion , drug addiction etc can be tackled effectively through such interventions with the nuclear communities  . Frank discussions , experiential learning and clever mentoring by members of the peer group can achieve great results without affecting the sensibilities of the members. Tina Rosenberg has many such success stories in her book for others to emulate .

On Food Miles

When I was a young boy , our family used to consume organic food items largely produced in our own fields – rice , coconut oil , vegetables , pulses , fruits and the like . The only exception was tea ,coffee or sugar which were bought from the neighborhood  provision store . The surpluses if any were bartered at the market for manufactured items of food stuff not available locally . However , almost all items of daily use were available from within the state or within India.  Some of the items imported were Baby Food [ Cow and Gate or Glasgow brands] , some medicines or liquor .

Globalization has changed all these. Now we have apples from Washington , pears from China , coconut milk from Malaysia , dates from the Middle East , prunes from California , olive oil from Europe and canned meat/ fish  from USA , Europe and the Far East . Organizations like Walmart have created efficient supply chains globally and reaped rich dividends arising out of  low prices at the source coupled with real time monitoring of the ” Food Miles ” using technology.

The concept of food miles was originally adopted to gauge the impact of costs when the producer and the end customer are geographically separated – the plough to plate factor . subsequently , environmentalists advocated lower food miles to minimize the carbon foot prints and impact on global warming arising out of transporting food globally .

Today , it is a “given ” that food reaches the plate  from wherever it is produced globally based on purchasing power of nations and scant attention is given to the side effects affecting climate change . Surpluses are warehoused for monetizing during scarcity or to beat the food producing cycles – frozen food is available globally throughout the year .

Very soon , technology can facilitate monitoring the state of fitness for consumption of any food items while in transit automatically through sensors and may be destroy those consignments which are found unfit for human consumption. Such steps coupled with globally acceptable standards for transportation using minimum energy can result in reduced carbon food print and finally the negative impact of food miles itself .

Addressing the Employability Gap

During the advent of industrialization and mass production , employment was guaranteed to any one who possess the requisite skill . The problem then was a shortage of skilled people . With the progress of technology , mass customization , the digitization of electronics and the great rate of obsolescence in marketable skills , the table has turned full circle from employment to employable people .

Today , the lead time for preparing an engineer to be ready to take up a job is 4 to 5 years and during this time , the break through in the technological envelope would have made the course content and curriculum partly redundant for the job in hand . This trend brings up the problem of employability to sharp focus . Added to this is the drop in quality of teaching , inadequate infrastructure , absence of qualified faculty , inadequate emphasis on applied research and other factors which produce the mismatch and avoidable overheads on the system .

In a candid admission recently , the Minister for IT , Mr Kapil Sibal of Indian Government admitted publicly that only about 17.5 % of engineering graduates are employable by the IT Industry . The National Skill Development Council -NSDC  is addressing this issue seriously through an All India Survey to estimate the Skill Gaps for all industrial segments to increase the employability of students who graduate from colleges . This is a gigantic task considering the complexities involved but it is a good place to start .

The Skills gap needs to be defined keeping in view the future technological trends and the universities needs to adopt a dynamic curriculum for designing the courses . The industry – academia interface is crucial in this endeavor . Colleges should have joint consultancy machinery in place with members from the academia , social sciences and industry to periodically review the concept and conduct of vocational courses to improve the employability percentages and job readiness of students . This is a priority area with deep impact on the overall economy of the country and should be undertaken on war footing .

Developing bonding and ownership in young leaders – A case study

Today , I was invited to attend , review and comment on a strategy session and presentation by a group of eight young leaders at work group level in a SME organization in the software testing and development area . It was a preview of the work undertaken by the team under the able guidance of their CEO over a period of  three months with a planning horizon of three years.

The team identified four goals for the organization for growth and positioning , namely revenue , process , people and MNC status . They could identify aspirations , time span with intermediate milestones and outcomes at the end of three years and drill these down to action items in a fair amount of detail including risks and mitigation strategies .

Overall , I found this exercise a very useful tool for developing young leaders in identifying what they do at work , why they do it and how they can do it better over time to grow the company and grow themselves with the company .

I recommend this for all SME organizations as a development tool for their young leaders . The additional pay offs are bonding and ownership among young leaders which help them communicate and articulate the vision and mission of the company to their teams in a convincing manner , lay down metrics for performance and facilitate course corrections to align work with outcomes .

The Winning Way

Anita and Harsha Bhogle have published a great book titled ” The Winning Way -Learnings from Sport for Managers” . I  really enjoyed reading through the pages especially the parallels through live examples from sports to corporate work.

Harsha has been working with cricket players and cricket for more than two decades  globally and his personal encounters helped him getting into the minds of some of the greatest among them  during his interactions both on the arena and in the dressing room. The insights coming out of such dialogue are invaluable to both sportsmen and corporate leaders.

The book is eminently readable and has captured the spirit of sportsmanship both during crisis and winning situations over the last 20 years or so.The chapters on the Winning Triangle – Ability , Attitude and Passion ,The Burden of Winning and  Team Building give invaluable lessons to Corporate Managers and Leaders.

I would strongly recommend this book to all our Leaders and Managers in the Corporate World .

Publisher -Westland Ltd , Chennai , ISBN 978-93-80658-32-2  . Cover Price Rs 200/-

The Three Levels in Relationships

On the last day of my service in Army uniform , I had to introduce a guest speaker from the Army Ordnance Corps [ AOC] to a batch of senior executives undergoing a training program in management at our Alma Mater MCEME at Secunderabad where I was performing the duties of Dean of the Industrial Engineering department .

Our Technical Corps [ EME ] and AOC worked complimentary to each other , the AOC in charge of procurement and we in charge of maintenance and repairs to military equipment . We were bound to clash at many points of crisis and at times blame each other for equipment outages in the field army .

I touched upon this trend and told my students that from my thirty years of Army experience , one take away I can offer before I retire is that they should all be aware that it is possible to maintain three different levels in relationship – in the instant case with AOC . It can be adversarial [ we can blame each other till the cows come home !] , it can be symbiotic [ I scratch your back and you do it for me when the need arises] or it can be a synergistic  effort to fully achieve the mission of the Army . It was entirely upto us – both AOC and the EME .

When I reflect on this after 15 years now , I see a very deep meaning to my extempore advice then . It is a lesson for life and goes much beyond the realms of management or work .

Problem Solving – The Learning Process

We are in the US with my daughter and family for a few weeks . I took it on myself to help my six year old grand daughter with her home work in English and Mathematics . She is very good and quick on the up take in both the topics and generally score between 90 and 100 % in all her tests given by the Kumon scheme which she attends twice a week .

Yesterday , I was surprised by her performance when she suddenly dropped her  grades and did very poorly in addition work . I really could not understand this and my suspicion became more when with a  little assistance she could give me the correct answers later . Of course , I gave her a grade of 70 % only .

I discussed this with her parents and asked them to check out with Kumon people and ascertain the method used by them [ the pedagogy ] in teaching addition work  so that we can analyze the causes for this deviation in my grand daughter’s grade . They promised to do so.

In the above episode , I did three  things wrong , which I realized when my grand daughter started crying  stating that she is sad because her grand pa is mad at her ! . We did console her and told her she is brilliant and this was only a bad day .

My first mistake was not checking the questions in detail as it contained some new and comparatively more difficult sums which she was not comprehending fully using the method taught by the Kumon people . Secondly , I shared her results with her parents in her hearing and she felt a terrible sense of shame and loss of face in front of them . Thirdly she perceived some serious inadequacy in her ability to do sums well which shocked her .

When we deal with problems , many of us take the easy path and blame the culprit . If we do so , we can admonish or punish the person , but the causes will not vanish and will surface again . Even though in the instant case , I did explore the root cause but I did not take due care and caution to protect my grand daughter from any blame .

Useful life lessons which have great applicability for managers at every level.

Your Space,Pace and Time !

When do I think I have arrived? When I get my first public recognition ? When I win the Grand Slam ? or become Number One  in something ? . In corporate life , it could be a great position , wealth or power in comparison to my peers in the Industry . In the athletic world , it could be rare personal achievement or landmark result unparalleled  in the annals of that sphere  of activity . In life , it could be a happy family , good children , or physical assets acquired .

In a rat race , you are still a rat even if you win . At home , you generally benchmark your success either with your blood relations or with your neighbors . Therefore , every success becomes a milestone in your life’s  journey  – Miles to go before you sleep –  [ Robert Frost ].

In an absolute term , I feel you only arrive in your station in life or work when you have full control of your personal space , your pace and the time at your disposal . It is true ” No man is an island ” but you cannot always be in a state of  ‘drowning ‘ at the mercy of someone else !

From Employment to Employability

The shrinking job market post recession in the US has global impact . It affects immigration,education policies, social security costs and even crime rate . Notwithstanding the focus on STEM [ Science , Technology , Engineering and Mathematics ] based education by the US Government , there are many vacancies which do not get filled while the unemployment hovers around 9 percent or more .

The paradigm should shift from employment to employability and this can only be done through deliberate and holistic emphasis on Education and Vocational Training . STEM is a good way to go but it needs to be followed through and translated to employability – getting new employment, maintaining employment and getting new employment after getting laid off .

The hallmark of US culture is Innovation and Entrepreneurship . The genesis of this culture lies in the hard life of the first wave of Immigrants from Europe and it is still in the genes in spite of all the ” softening ” done by default through  technology , entertainment and gastronomic pursuits . Why not everyone leverage this basic trait and create more jobs to boost the sagging economy ?

The above message has universal applicability and the US example is only a trigger to ponder about .

I read in a magazine about 50 years ago a statement by Aubrey Menen , the well known English writer of Indian parentage and satirist  that one of the way to reduce unemployment in India is to employ the unemployed to count the unemployed! – A sound advice indeed in its essence !