Archive for April, 2010
What images just came to mind? Fast cars, sharp women (well, woman anyway), and dangerous men. In 60 seconds, you had the complete picture of what that movie was about and whether you wanted to see it or not. Why only 60 seconds? Because 60 seconds is all the producer had to capture your attention and convince you to pay $8 for a ticket.
Here is another data point… attention spans of adults can be as short as 8 seconds and in those cases where a person is TRULY interested in the topic and is listening of their own free will, it goes all the way upto 20 minutes. 20 MINUTES. Now, ask yourself, what is the default meeting time we use… 30 minutes (thank you Microsoft).
Why am I droning on about this? Because…of late I have become acutely aware of the amount of time I spend in calls and meetings. And when I come home and my son asks me what I did during the day, I can’t remember. In our multitasking world where we get 200 emails, 45 calls, and about 20 requests for meetings a day, when do we really switch off and switch on? How do we distinguish one meeting from another? So if I my mind is wandering off during someone’s meeting or call (and apparently I have a ‘tell’ for when I have wandered..Suraksha says she knows it), then what is preventing others’ minds to wander when they are in mine? Chances are…not much.
This brings me to my point. I realized that if I needed to keep peoples’ attention, I needed a 60 second trailer for the things I needed to communicate. I needed to ESCAPE from the drone and get to the results. And this is my ESCAPE:
1. Establish attention -30 – 60 seconds is all you have. A sure fire way to get attention is get on the path of relevance – what is important to the listener not YOU. For e.g. If you are seeking approval for something simple like travel. Don’t say I want approval instead say – our account is in red, I have initiated a go to green plan… part of this is to travel to Timbuktu.. please help
2. Simple – avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical words.. for e.g. use “difficult” instead of “challenge”, instead of “failure mode evaluation analysis”, try “we could fail”!
3. Crisp – Not necessarily quick to the point but get straight to the point. Qualifying a statement is good, but there’s no need to recite the encyclopedia. Not to mention, if the person you are addressing asks you to qualify your statement, you know you’ve got their attention! Mission accomplished right there.
4. Action – focus on what you want to achieve not on what you want to say or how you are treated
5. Presence- watch, listen and adapt your approach.. 70% of how we communicate is our non-verbal cues. You can tell whether people are listening or not based on the body language they are exhibiting. So be on the lookout for stifled yawns, quick glances at the watch.
6. Exit – close quickly with decisions. Never leave it inconclusive, summarize for benefit of all and never forget to thank I know, by now you are wishing that I had applied these principles to this blog, but hey… there is something to be said for showmanship.
And as I close this 60 second trailer, I need to run the “credits” reel.
This is one of the blogs you never know who should take credit for Mamta, Suraksha, Shalu and many others helped me put this together! And of course all those folks who talk to me every day – thank you Special thanks to Suraksha, for showing me my “tells” so I can erase all traces of my boredom
And of course, for those of you stuck on why this is a sequel, I had referenced to in, how to influence others in my “Excuse for results” blog. The quick way to that is to get and KEEP people’s attention! Next influencing skill – networking – coming shortly to your nearest blog
Hearing this from a 6 year.. particularly when it is from yours.. is heart breaking and makes you wish just that once you can turn time and change the way events shaped up. This is my son reacting to the IPL finals last night.. why did a team that beat nearly every team every where, was points ahead on the league table lost to a team which was struggling to get to the semifinals and actually had to win their last league match to get to the semifinals. Life is unfair man! Worse he was questioning all the old-fashioned values of hard work, consistency and luck favors the ones who prepare!.. tough one. i am sure the experts and commentators will analyse this to death and churn out gyan on how the winning team came together! As a unit at the right time, peaked, smart captainship.. da da .. they are paid to churn words and I suspect by the number they churn
But how do i explain this to a six-year-old and not have him walk away with the wrong lessons. i did what is best, distracted him, got him to bed.. but I couldn’t be distracted or go to bed. This kept playing back in my mind. Many instances in my own professional and personal life of that one exam i didn’t do well, despite topping the class through out, the one debate i came a cropper despite being the favourite in the rehearsals!, working my posterior off through the year and blundering in that 10 minute crucial presentation to the board.. the list is endless.. i am sure many such incidents are playing in your mind as you read this.
But such is life.. call it unfair, fair whatever.. it is that one crucial meeting, that crucial presentation, crunch time presentation.. preparing for hours for that 60 second meeting with CEO and saying all the wrong things. It is a tough one but we all need to be ready for that one moment, that one incident, that one interaction – our finals.. that we need to be ready for. There are multiple ways in which we can prepare for our finals everyday
there is no substitute for hard work and preparation, presentation – you can’t say it one page, one minute, one slide don’t bother.. learn to encapsulate everything into the three.. that’s it. This is the most crucial skill.. finally remember your on stage every time.. unlike the ipl we don’t our finals. Sometimes you do like a client presentation, a board meeting, a ceo meeting.. go ready, talk to people, be in their path of relevance.. and most of all get your elevator pitch ready!
Life is unfair.. stop cribbing about it and start preparing.. and hey unlike in sports life does give you many chances.. a miss is not the end of the road.. there is another road, another journey and another final! Now let me get to a EC meeting and also figure out how to get my dear son to understand why life is unfair.. any ideas please drop your comments as always
Driving to the airport, early morning empty roads, the city just waking up lulls me to a reflective mood, like hitting the rewind button but for me this morning the rewind button stuck at the wrong place! My mind kept playing back to waking up on Sunday to read the newspaper and learn, that the stadium where we were watching an IPL match with friends and family had bombs all around and worse a bomb was found the next day around the same place all of us were waiting for the car to pull up! It shakes you and add to this, if you read an eminent person like CK Prahlad passes away young at 68! The sense of morbidity and gloom intensifies! Since everybody was sleeping at that time.. I did the next best thing in a moving car! Wrote up an atrociously humorous blog with an attempt at passing a simple message.
Have fun! My morbidity has passed.. hopefully you feel light after reading this blog.
Allow me to walk you through a few random events and stitch it together and hopefully in the process send a message and have you smiling a wee bit more! These are conversations.. each Para denotes a conversation. Read on..
Oh my gosh! What did I do now.. panic, sweaty palms, furrowed brows and why me.. before my cousin burst out in laughter, rolling down the floor, his ample girth jiggling with each peal, colluded by broad smiles and chuckles from the small family gathering. I wanted to grab him by the seat of his pants, shake him till his laughter fell off his face, and a few of the jiggles froze in their unnatural contortions permanently.. but alas familial ties and propriety meant I waited for him to quiet down and posed the question..”is everything ok..?”
“why do these security guards have to always get up, smile ,wish and salute you.. they don’t even acknowledge me when they pass by.. %#$# chauvinists.. or are you paying them on the sly to keep your ego afloat” that from my obviously miffed so called better half.. I am still searching for the half!
“sir, how come, we don’t see you around so often.. busy kya” this at airport security (in good ole HAL airport in Bangalore!) .. my that time boss was beaming so much that I thought his already stretched shirt will split, spilling his guts!
Each of the above narrations hopefully brought a smile to your face.. unless you are like big moose waiting for the joke still! Let me complete the stories I started.. lest you think this is all a joke and sign off.. yes there is a deep message following to quench your thirst for such messages.
In the first case my only crime is.. my spouse and I called the said mother in law and thanked her for the fantastic organization of her daughter’s wedding and that we enjoyed the food! Poor thing.. i believe in her life nobody has ever done that and to add to her bucket of tears.. in the history of Indian marriages as she has known ,nobody has ever called the bride’s mum and thanked her. Gosh I wish I had known earlier, I would have take down the bride’s mum’s number in every wedding that I have attended and played an automated “thank you” message! It would atleast guarantee premium invitation and maybe all these mother in laws will atleast read what I write out of life long gratitude for thanking them for feeding my family free food and the ubiquitous coconut and bananas you are sent back with!
In the second case, it gets murkier.. when i get back home late, when even the dogs don’t stir a tail at me creeping into the apartment, these security guards always have a nice word .. “kya sir phir late”(what sir still late) and a smile.. fortifies me for facing chilly spouse and angry son for another missed family dinner. I pause to chat with him, ask him about the new shah rukh movie and tell him how aamir khan is better(depending on who is on shift).
The last one is no crime of mine but a warm, gregarious, soft hearted boss I worked for who everytime he was frisked would peer hard at the faded badge on the security guards lapel and thank him by name for frisking him, and putting him through the agony of squirming from him nearly hitting him on the shins with the metal detector!
If you look behind my bad attempt at humour each of them have some basic principles that mama taught us but we forgot in our busy lives! Pausing to say thank you, stopping to acknowledge people who are faceless, nameless security guards for most of us and calling somebody by their most important tag – their name! Simple but in our connected worlds, where every person is an email id, a facebook profile or another mobile number.. in our urban jungles two simple words “thank you” a moment to look somebody in the eye and acknowledge them and little effort to remember names will go a long way!
My colleagues tried converting this to another sponsored blog for recognition and the merits of using the cards and the new features they rolled out.. but ..phew I said NO!
i must admit that while all the situations above are true but they are not completely true.. i have stretched the truth a bit.. to bring in the comic effect. I have blatantly plagiarized Wodehouse (terribly) and I don’t go home late so often.. trust me! Don’t trust my spouse’s word.
A few weeks ago, Suraksha called me on my extension to say that a gent has been on the phone from the morning, insisting that he talk with me. On asking for details, her response “I am really sorry, he is refusing to give any details, just keeps saying this is personal, this is urgent, I need to talk to Elango, and he really sounds desperate” . She sounded like she was going to cry herself. So I took the call and what i heard is the reason for this blog.
This gent is an ex employee, left the company a few months ago and struggling to find another job. He was in tears, a grown up man, with a family and very upset. What happened? He lost his job with us a few months because he was caught at work under the influence of alcohol. He admitted he made a mistake, was really sorry, can i please help reinstate him! I promise you I will never do this again.. please please.. This is a tough one, you want to help but you can’t, these decisions are irrevocable! It took me a while to shake this incident off. Then another happened, a new graduate was apprehended surfing inappropriate sites and obviously had to go! This person accepted, understood he made a mistake and took the disciplinary action on their chin.. and moved on. However this person made a comment that stayed..
“i wish I knew, I would have never done this”. That is when i started writing this. I have tried to dredge every silly action that employees in different companies I have worked in have done to get themselves out of a job. I have had Gokul, Claudine and Priya Manjooran and many others chip with their experiences.
Forged petrol bills or medical bills! This tops the list, employees submitting bills to claim tax deduction. I have seen employees submit petrol vouchers they have printed, bills for two tank fills the same day, fake medical bills, facial bill passed as physiotherapy bills… The logic is always this money is anyway mine! But hey the tax exemption is for genuine expenses not for making it up and forging, faking, misrepresenting are all integrity violations.
False expense claims – team lunches being claimed as client entertainment! Or sometimes taking out family and friends and submitting the bill for reimbursement.
Accessing/viewing inappropriate (read X rated) sites, using company desktops and laptops in office from or on office networks! Recently we had one person who had more than 10 Gig of objectionable videos and pictures stored in their laptop. Some smart Alec, used their data cards, to override network controls, little realizing that we all work out of cubicles and glass offices and electronic footprints are easily traceable!
Sharing passwords and log in ids, whatever the reason. The person who shares, who uses and the person who approves all stand to face the music. Sharing company confidential information, forwarding internal mails to external parties! , posting company, employee information on blogs, external media.
Forwarding inappropriate material on email to group ids or text messages! Seems harmless but dangerous when it lands in an inbox you didn’t want to!
Proxy attendance – getting somebody else to enter your attendance on LAAS(our online attendance system). Recent case a manager found requesting his team member to enter proxy – we had to let go the manager and the employee for complicity. Very sad! I wish the team member had used the open door policy or whistleblower policy to report this coercion. Many a time they had leaves that lapsed and marking a day off would have hardly made an impact.
Like the story in my introduction, getting to work under the influence of alcohol. It always starts as a harmless; let me go with my friends on the way to office, one sip, and another and the inevitable. There are of course serious offenders like a manager who took his team out for dinner, had a few drinks got back to work, doing reviews, smelling like cotton soaked in spirit! I am given to understand this same manager was involved in terminating a junior employee a year ago for the same reason! If that is not daft what is!
While on alcohol, I have seen some curious cases of harmless, quiet persons at work, transform to garrulous, aggressive, brash people under the influence of alcohol in office parties. It didn’t lose them a job but did tarnish some reputations built over years of hard work.
One common theme among all the above are, they are all avoidable, none of them have a material impact.. will not make us millionaires or give us any undue advantage, but instead leave us irrevocable tragic consequences, after effects of which may linger a working life time.
The reason I write all of this to insure each of us are aware of such situations, avoid them in our personal conduct and take time to educate our teams and colleagues. Let us avoid what happened to the gent and the young person in this blog.
A few suggestions when in doubt, go to the intranet check the code of business conduct, or ask your manager. Still in doubt don’t do it , or write to ethics email id or call the ethics helpline…they will guide you. Finally remember a few rupees, dollars, pounds, yen, euro or renminbi, an extra day leave, a night out in the bar with friends, a few thrills surfing sites on the internet is not worth the loss of a job, reputation and worst of all letting your family down.
The annual code of business conduct refresh is a great way to enhance your awareness! This is around the corner – you should hear from Sivaram and Shalu around the third week, take quality time to complete this certification. It is well worth the time spent.
Remember my blog on positivity and don’t read too much between the lines, this is a genuine attempt at increasing awareness, influencing a lever within my control, with the hope that we all will read, internalize and carry out in our professional lives.
It is a tough world but that is the price we pay to work in a civil place where integrity is a given, respect is the hall-mark and prudence and propriety in behaviour is a part of our DNA. Even if we save one person from committing any of the silly mistakes above – this blog is worth the effort
Good luck, as always leave your comments, give your thoughts, thank me, curse me.. but interact J
Shillaja Ottor left an interesting comment on Manpreet’s Leadership Mantra blog, titled ‘bringing in an element of positivity” .. she says…”There is just one more element that seems to be the need of the hour though, which is the element of positivity which seems to be so lacking. Everyone seems to be going up the path of negativity and grumbling about things not being ok, why can’t we think of how to make the best of whatever situation we are in and not throw a fuss about it and make it worse not only for ourselves but, for all around”
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but many swallows twittering the same definitely demands attention. Shillaja left the comment, a few sent emails, one walked upto me and said “.. there are so many good actions/policies, environmental factors about us why is it that as leaders we are forever looking at that one thing that doesn’t work.. or forever complaining rather than looking at the brighter side of things”.
Honestly i did not have an answer, so i did next best, left it for fate to help me find the answer. And fate came along by way of a Franklin Covey training invite. What I am sharing below is built out based on what I understood in the session peppered with some personal gyan,
It is a fact that all of us in our day to day or night to night(in deference to our BPO and Service desk colleagues).. produce results or atleast believe that is the purpose we are in our jobs.
For us to produce results universally there are factors within our control and there are factors outside it. When things go well and we produce results, I am sure we all heave a sigh of relief, allow ourselves some celebration flash a smile and move on. But wait, if I were to ask you the question – what helped you produce these results.. there would be an oscar worthy address of self congratulation in public thanking and sharing credit from the postman to the liftman but in private who do you really think influenced the results, if you are honest you would believe it is “you”! You played the lead role in the success.
Now cut over to when the going gets tough, results are not happening, deadlines are slipping, customer is yelling, review with the ceo or president is coming up.. take a guess what will we focus on. Close your eyes.. will you focus on factors within your control or factors outside of your control. I don’t know about you but in that room of 300 senior executives all of them said with a silly grin.. Of course factors outside our control! Ah! Sales sold something we could never have delivered, solutioning got all the pricing wrong.. and of course everybody’s favourite oh! Recruitment did not get me the people or got me the wrong people.. the list of woes will continue.
Leaders who go the path of grumbling, looking at glass half full, and pointing everything are the clearly worried about something, there is some uncertainty.. for which they are unwilling to take ownership and doing the dry run for why they are not successful. On the other hand are leaders who work with the same company, have the same infrastructure, the same sales, solutioning and other teams but are successful. Guess what is the difference – it is their outlook and focus. They focus on what they can control, prepare to ring fence what they can’t control and keep pegging away looking for ways to succeed and not ways to figure out why they can’t! Like somebody said there may be 100 reasons why things wont work but only reason that it will work.. “You”, you need to want to make it happen!
But why do we find it difficult to take ownership, the comment below gives you some insight.
“You take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame”
Erica Jong, writer (1942- )
But.. wait a moment, it is not that simple – there are other perspectives we need to consider.
Here is a perspective Shalu had to share when i was sounding off this blog with her
“It’s oversimplifying it by saying that we focus on the negative. Many times we do more damage by charging forward through the deficiencies, with our “get it done” attitude to get to the results because we look at the complainers as nuisances and not what they sometimes really are… a call for help. Help in trying to control what is uncontrollable for us but is controllable for others. If no one raises a voice, then how do we know something is broken? How do we know that we can do better and will do better if this is fixed? Granted, we shouldn’t whine but still, we need that voice of dissent to strive harder. (I know I have learnt a lot from the whiners in my life. Honestly, it both amuses me and makes me more inclusive)”
Agree, completely with both points. Charging without thinking with just plan B as destiny, with optimism and energy as the only planning – sure fire path to disaster. Clearly only the naïve and fool hardy will tread this path.
Point 2 ignoring the real call for help, and ignoring complaints thinking they are naysayers, complainers and whiners. No disputes. Actually an interesting blog line is - how do influence factors that may not be under our control but somebody else has a control. My promise I will write a blog that will share some thoughts on this.
Before I sign off, I want to share a personal story. Between 97 and 99 I changed two jobs and wanted to quit the third, when my wife could bear my complaining no more, in a fit of anger she asked “do you know what the common factor is in the three jobs? You changed bosses, peers, companies, job profile.. what about you?” I went to stay 7 years at MphasiS and came back for another 4!
As always leave your comments, and let me leave with a few questions
- Do I know what are the factors which influence the results I am accountable for
- What am I focussing on? Controllable or uncontrollable factors
- What do I do when under pressure? Do I hunker down and focus harder to make success happen or do I get nervous, anxious and start looking for excuses?
This blog has been tough, I nearly got negative and nervous trying to get this positive blog! I am sure this is one that will get strong reaction.. some close to outrage. I am happy – any reaction is good.. outrage is a great start for a dialogue.
I have to acknowledge Shalu for helping me shape this blog and insuring it didn’t come out simplistic and hopefully (please!) not kitschy. Thank you Shalu.
Related story – contributed by Claudine Louis with a question (I didnt know where to fit it in – so i am leaving this outside the blog as i didnt want to miss this)
The story is from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore and the time is when the universe was getting created – there was general joy and music all around. All of a sudden, one star disappeared – the music stopped and there was general gloom where everybody started looking for the lost star. Looking at this, the other stars laughed saying they are not stopping to look at all the stars that they have but have lost their joy in their search to look for the lost star.
Something similar is about asking people to look at a large white board with a single black dot on it. Chances are that more number of people will comment about how nice the board would be if the dot was removed rather than people appreciating the whiteness of the board.
Could it be that we take the positive for granted and something that is due to us?