Archive for July, 2010
My last blog ‘Oh Damn! I wish I can kill you’ drew very personal responses from many of you. Almost everyone who posted a comment, or walked up to speak to me, had one thing in common – they had all experienced it first hand!
It’s unlikely that the memory of a low rating will ever fade away. It’s like a trophy that we continue to carry with us through our professional careers, refusing to forget the pain that it brought with it. The smarter few, use such experiences as a constant reminder of what they conquered.
This triggered of a thought process and reminded me of another interesting phenomenon. Allow me to narrate the story of Ms Shining Star (SS)
A hard and eager worker, Ms Shining Star (SS) was a congenial employee who got along well with, both, the customer and the team. With time, her span of control, breadth of work and the workload tripled and she couldn’t say no.
Steadily, as the pressure increased, SS started to feel the stress. She was so busy she didn’t have time to think about what she was doing, go for learning, or even take a break. Over a period of 14-16 months, she reached her level of incompetence, not because she didn’t know her job, but because she just could not juggle all the demands and didn’t spend enough time learning to manage new reality. And her Manager didn’t bother to scale her either, or prepare her for the new reality!
Eventually, deadlines were missed, deliverables were below expectations and it came to no one as a surprise that Ms Shining Star received a ‘does not meets expectation’ rating.
She was devastated, and in shock. When she got a hold of her wits, she asked her Leader….how can this be happening? And pat came the reply – X,Y and Z were not delivered on time, you’re not a team player and do not take feedback well. You’re not open to more responsibilities and I have no place for someone like this in my team.
At some point or the other, all of us go through from being a Shining Star to a ‘does not meets expectations’. We’ve even seen colleagues and friends who have been through something similar.
This happens particularly in our industry where many of us grow so rapidly that our aspirations are fulfilled, but our capabilities are left way behind! I will actually say SS is lucky she got caught out – if she is smart she will use this as a pit stop, recalibrate current ability versus required capability and set off on the journey again.
SS is in, what we call, a conscious incompetence zone – she can move to conscious competence if she works hard at it and takes on newer roles to slowly, graduate into conscious incompetence, skill up again and the cycle continues. Such people are the ones who seem to be on a continuous success path.
The challenge is when we stay in the unconscious incompetence zone. We don’t know why we are failing; we are frustrated because we were successful in the same system, in the past. Such people look at the company and the Leader as the aggressor, and are ever to ready to change supervisors and companies but in the long run will hit a concrete ceiling!
As individuals we should watch for this trap as aspirations are great, but an equal amount of ability is required to see us through. It’s easy to find whether you’re in the unconscious incompetence zone, if one or more of the following statements apply to you:
1. You have been successful in the past and suddenly seem to have hit a bad patch
2. You are finding it difficult move up to the next level and you don’t seem to understand why?
3. You are frustrated because you think you have the capability but your manager/HR/company is not giving it to you
Sometimes, given the nature of our industry, we may never realize this until it is too late. We change managers, jobs, companies and even get paid more each time but each move getting us closer to the concrete ceiling.
We all have to watch for this trap! The challenge is that most often we don’t even know we’re there. I have been through this many times, sometimes disastrously like the situation I presented in the “oh! Damn, I wish I can kill you” blog. Many a times I was saved because I did not get a job when I went through this phase (thank god for it) and that left me with no choice but to make it work.
But all of us (including me) are not going to be lucky all the time and we have to consciously watch out. Some rules that I have evolved for myself are – never look for a role change internally or a job externally when things are not going well. Ask myself the question …Why? When I get answers that are along the line of ‘oh! My manager doesn’t like me, my team is not good, the company is not good’.. I think again. How does my ability aspiration curve look? Is it converging or diverging?
I don’t want to realize what some professionals are painfully realizing now too late in life! What about you? I know it seems faraway but let me warn you – before you know you will be there!
Before we sign off let us as always take a quick look as at the leader perspective.
Please pause before we throw more to a shining star.. we may just be setting them for failure. I know they get it quick, deliver even quicker but they too have their limitation. Scale them up slowly, too much too so is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. Next time you want to promote somebody quickly because they have been great at what they do – think about it – are they ready, will you burn them out? Finally have you equipped them with skills and competencies! When was the last time your shining star went for a training, have you connected them with one of your peers as a mentor!
There is a saying “the road to hell is paved with noble intentions”… you may be inadvertently paving the way for somebody
As always leave your comments, send your private notes, challenge me… we will learn together from each other. Don’t let me hit my concrete ceiling.
Credit: Mamta Malhotra helped me build this post in a big way… thank you MM
Jugalkishore Binda’s commented on the blog Please don’t shout at me .. “ Next time I would love to read something on how to deal with low performers as many times it happens when you deal with …. It might be a reaction which you see but how to convert this reaction into response that we all should learn. Hope you will write something on this to make us learn”.
Sure Binda! I would love to. I will share a personal story, painful but a turning point for me, with both points of view – as a Leader and as a person marked a ‘low performer’!
Some years ago, half way through my career, i went through a bit of a crisis, my manager marked me ‘achieves with assistance’ (low performer) and worse, still he communicated my score over phone! It was very difficult to stomach, even today i distinctly remembering going through the days like a zombie, frustrated, angry, disappointed cheated.. you name a negative feeling and i was going through it at that time! I wanted to punch the manager and thought of many ways I could do harm to him!
Why? It was just another transaction, agreed painful. Who likes to hear that you are not the best and worse, that you are at the bottom of the pile. Now years later, with the emotions drained away and a little success under my belt, I am able to look objectively at why I reacted the way I did.
Surprise: First, this took me by surprise! I wasn’t expecting it, so it hit me hard. I clearly remember that while my manager didn’t tell me I was doing a great job, neither did he tell me I was not doing a good job.
Didn’t relate to the feedback: The incidents he cited were too dated in time. When you are dealing with performance, any incident beyond a week is outdated. He was talking about incidents from 9 months ago, 6 months ago. For instance he brought up a presentation on attrition I had presented to the leadership. He said it could have been done better, I didn’t have the numbers, presented no cogent trends and bumbled my way through. My immediate question is why didn’t you tell me then, my view of the presentation is completely different to yours!
Expectation mismatch: Clearly he was on earth and I was in another universe. All the metrics that I cited didn’t matter to my manager. He kept bringing up metrics that I really thought were sideshows or didn’t matter. They apparently did to him.
One sided, check in the box: Cardinal sin is that he had this conversation over phone, could not see my body language or reaction, neither could I see his. It seemed like he was reluctant to face me, wanted to be done with it – check in the box!
Those few months of agony I wouldn’t wish for anyone to undergo! If I were to play this all over again what would have I liked!
1. Set expectations upfront – what is important, what is not so. What are the metrics that count. Be clear with your team member. If it changes midway have a conversation with them to do mid-course corrections. Many a times score cards and goals exist but they are meaningless excel sheets!
2. Instant feedback – don’t wait for the appraisal discussion, give feedback if possible immediately after that incident but no later than a week. In the above instance my manager should have give me feedback immediately after the attrition presentation not waited for the appraisal discussion
3. Be constructive: Focus on improvement and changes not on personalities and consequences. The team member should walk away feeling you want them to succeed you are not building a case to mark them low
4. Do it in person: Feedback is very personal especially when somebody is not doing well, make time to do it person. Keep away the mobile phone, in a conference room where you will not be disturbed. Listen as much as you talk. Watch for body language. Remember you are dealing with a human being who has feelings, a family to go back to and has worked really hard (most of the times)
You will know you are successful when the appraisal discussion is not a surprise for the team member and for you. Dealing with low performers is not an easy task, the tendency is to procrastinate. Avoid it, do it now! You will be doing yourself, the team member and the company a big favour!
Now let me flip this around.. how do you deal with it when your supervisor tells you that your performance is below par! Don’t do what I did! I keep thinking back on what I could have done different. I really messed it up that time.. I got so upset and personal, that I actually got into a vicious cycle and further worsened my performance! Reacting this way never helps.
1. Listen don’t react: when you receive this feedback resist the urge to react (remember please don’t shout at me blog). Take notes, ask questions focus on data, examples . Easy to say, but very tough
2. Postpone the meeting: if you realize you are getting to emotional move the meeting to another day so you are better composed
3. Focus on the future, based on the past: when you have the discussion don’t get it into recrimination, instead focus on how you can fit it in the next performance cycle. Define clear metrics that can be measured and tracked
4. Take time off: Immediately after a discussion like this sometimes we get emotionally too upset to go on with regular life. Take a break to think through, throw away your baggage and get back to work with the resolve that you will fix the issues not your manager
5. Never talk to your colleagues: when we are upset we want to talk to our work colleagues, tell them what an ass the manager is! DON’T. Talk to family (my spouse is my best sounding board), friends outside, mentors away from work
Sometimes hard feedback like this is what you wanted to push your performance level. Now when I look back I know my manager was right in his opinion and I am glad he gave the feedback. I don’t agree the way he did it but I agree with the feedback he provided. I just wish he had done it better!
BTW, this week, I had my performance discussion and I walked out smiling. Not that my leader rated me great! It has been a crazy six months, and we had an authentic conversation, we were both not surprised. We spent a good hour together and I walked away with clarity and purpose and, a smile! What was different – we both knew what to expect, we were prepared, I sent my appraisal document a few weeks before, he sent me his comments and rating a day ahead! Not all what he had to say was pleasant Not all of what he said was unpleasant! But there were no surprises. What I liked best was as we wound up he turned around and asked, “what feedback do you have for me?”
Parting shot! Don’t look at a performance score as the final verdict on you as a person or a professional! You give it too much credit. It is a useful label, another person’s perception really good to know and good to work on but not to lose your sleep over! There is another day and there are more things in life than performance scores!
Please don’t shout at me and Walk like a baby have elicited a lot of response. 36 comments between the two of them is among the best response. I have responded to some of them on the blog, others are material for some more blogs!
Please continue commenting, asking questions, disagreeing with what I say – that is the best of blogging – I expand my thinking and learn from you!
“Hey Elango, I believe you are in Pune on Monday, I have fixed for you to meet …” said a colleague. My first reaction was how on earth did she know I am in Pune and how did she manage to fix whatever! Intrigued, I probed further to find that my colleague has friends in travel from whom she figured out I am travelling to Pune, checked my calendar on outlook and cajoled my assistant to fix this meeting! Wow! I wish I had more people like this; most of us would have complained it is difficult to get time on people’s diary. There was no way I could wriggle out of this.
THIS is the power of networks… knowing the right people, in the right places and using that to productive use.
Murali Soundar, our Chief Risk Officer, is another amazingly networked professional; from getting your driver wrongfully apprehended by the police out, to getting an audience with the high commission in Srilanka, to having the collector to visit the office to assure employees that they have the government’s support – it is amazing what he does with alacrity.
I am not a great networker, so I looked at some of these folks to find out what they do.
See every interaction as an opportunity to network: Opportunities are everywhere. From the gates of your kid’s school where you drop them, to the smokers corner (this apparently is where many a relationship was struck – not for me I prefer to live healthy compared to network successfully), to person next to you in the cab, lounge, plane. Opportunities are all around – if you are a networker, you will see it.
Ability to establish common ground: Hero of this blog Murali I believe while speaking to somebody in Sri Lanka, established the person was in the Sri Lankan army, connected to his (Murali’s) Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) posting in Srilanka… and they had something in common to talk about. Something common could be movies, work, books, causes you are passionate about.
Of course, for this you should have varied interests. I bumped into a professional contact at the club while waiting for my spouse to pick me up in the middle of the FIFA world cup. In an attempt to make conversation, I asked him which team he supported, he almost looked like what FIFA, what football! Suddenly I remembered that I had to pick up a book at the library …
What’s your treat: By ‘your treat’, I mean ‘your value’. You must have something to offer – knowledge, connections, help… anything. This is KEY – you have to be a contributing member to the network. For instance, my contribution to the network is my job at MphasiS – I could open many doors within MphasiS for fellow networkers. Or the travel team person, who has access to information such as travel destinations, great holiday packages. Each of us bring our own value, however we have to constantly update this. We are in trouble if this is our sole claim to value. Diversity and sustainable value is important. Sustainable value is skill, talent, traits – something more intrinsic/internal; any value based on association with role, company, and person – extrinsic value – is short lived. By way of example, being available to people to hear them out, playing mentor, and advisor to some of people on my network, is my intrinsic value and easily sustainable. Intrinsic or extrinsic, you have to constantly update and stay relevant lest you slide in ‘treat quotient’.
Develop them and make time: Make time building your networks. Attend meetings, go for lunches, make and take calls – yes, it does take time, but its all worth it. I know someone who had this personal discipline. He would call people on way to office and back – one call and have a good conversation. Could be a past manager, acquaintance, vendor, just “hey I exist” call. Guess what this does, it keeps the memory fresh and next time when you want something it doesn’t seem like you call only when you want something.
A part of developing your network is returning favours. I had a colleague, who would call, ask for favours, advices all the time but strangely the minute something went wrong in his area chose not to use this relationship. On the contrary, start sending nasty emails, escalations and speaking around. I remember thinking to myself… ‘The least you could have done is call me and warn me of the issue, use me to fix it – just like the other times’. You must escalate if things don’t happen but sometimes you need to give the person you have asked for favours and taken up their time, a heads-up and insure you don’t compromise your relationship. You can’t be seen as a fair-weather networker or a I-take-only-professional.
Be authentic: You have to do this because you like talking to people, are genuinely interested in them and are willing to help. I read in a blog that if you do it as a check in the box – lets just get over with it – you wont be too successful.
Stay the course: Going out and talking to strangers, finding common ground, being authentic isn’t easy. You will wonder what on earth you are up to. Stay the course, it is worth it. The best way to do this weave it into your schedule and start enjoying it.
The biggest hurdle to networking like anything is ourselves. Most people I spoke with, even the great networkers say “oh! That’s not me, I can’t do it”. Oh! Yes you can do it, remember walk like a baby blog . Only question is do you have the burning desire? If you do, you will.
If you don’t still have the burning desire…hear this! The best jobs, the plum assignments, the cool projects, the surprises come through networks. Mamta was mentioning that a large investment bank actually promotes internal transfers only through networking. Though I said I am not a networker, I realized many of my big turns in life happened because I had a mentor, friend and well wisher who gave that nudge.
I spoke of value you bring, you should also be aware of value of other people in your network. There are some links in the network that provide you access to people and areas you could not otherwise have accessed. It is these links you need to nurture and keep alive.
Let me bust another myth about networking – you need to be a brilliant conversationalist, need to be humorous… it is all bunkum. You need to be a good listener not a talker, be interested in what they are saying and be able to add your perspective. Most often people like to talk and if you listen, they love you!
Just one request – don’t do want a young man did in a session with me. This instance is from one of the forums I was speaking in. When I speak in forums, I enjoy the after talk conversations with the delegates. You walk off the dias and you have people walking upto you, either saying they enjoyed your talk or don’t agree with a certain point. Interesting sparring. Some amount of self promotion and card exchanging happens. In this session, a young man walks up says Hello, asks for my card… I reluctantly hand it over, he takes it and stretches his hand asking for another. Half curious and more irritated, I remind him I just gave him one… he blithely replies “Oh that was for me, I want one for my friend who didn’t attend the session!” Sure … can I give you one more for your neighbour?? Grrr.
Please don’t be a card collector – meet interesting people, strike up genuine conversations, learn and hopefully mutually benefit from each other.
Good luck happy networking!
Rahul Bora – Now I feel better that I have redeemed my commitment to you of writing up a blog on networking.
I am still to recover from the fantastic response for walk like a baby! This week’s been hectic and just when I was thinking I will go this week without a post, Nars (Narasimhan) sent this post! I loved it and I am sure you will too. Only he has given himself a fancy title London eye! Those of who know Nars ofcourse are not surprised . A quick introduction – Nars is the COO, HR at statestreet, based out of London, we used to work with each other many years ago. Here is what he has to say…
Be a Roman in Rome they say! Having spent the last 12 months living in England, I did one such thing – start following football, a wonderful game that this country gave to the world.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was billed here to be England’s best chance to the title from 1966. They had reason to believe so with a star-studded line up that included Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, John Terry & Gareth Barry. These names between them represent the top names from the English Premier league. The icing on the cake was the coach – Fabio Capello, An Italian with terrific pedigree.
With all the ingredients to bake the best cake, they threw this away to become the butt of all jokes.
Don’t worry I am not about to pontificate on their failure, rather this triggered some interesting questions. Do we really need stars in a team? How many is too many or too less? Here is my take on the English debacle.
1. Stars don’t guarantee success: A bunch of people with great credentials / reputations does not guarantee a great team. They probably insure disaster! Cross functional projects are a classic case where the management or the project manager goes out to get the “stars” on-board. Pause to think of the implications of their ability to work as a team for if you don’t any number of stars you put in will not help you run the course. The reason is for stars they come first!
2. The team is bigger than the individuals: Looking at the English play, it was pretty clear that they were seeking individual glory rather than a team win. A clear recipe for disaster, this results in team issues and moral, not to forget the mud-slinging. Wayne Rooney being marked game after game and his still trying to shoot for goals from 30+ meters rather than trying to pass the ball to someone unmarked could have probably helped. This is a team sport you need to play with whoever is on board.
3. What’s a right number? How many stars are right for a team? While I don’t have a magic calculator to give you a right number or a formula, it is clearly proportional to the size of your team. A disproportionate number will clearly have it’s sets of challenges and hence the need to optimise. With the benefit of hindsight, 1-2 stars like what Germany had is probably right for the balance of the team
4. Leadership: I can’t emphasise enough the importance of Leadership. Teams need Leaders and not Managers. Leaders know and have it in them to ring the best out of the resources available with them. Leadership and Management are like chalk and cheese. England didn’t have a leader and just had a Manager. A leader would have certainly delivered a better result and managed these stars differently.
5. Plan but be willing to change on the ground: We may spend time on the drawing board chalking out the best strategies, but often times, we get out thought. It is important to be nimble, have that plan B and most importantly realise that something is not working and be willing to experiment.
6. Say you failed when you do: The biggest joke was a post match interview that Fabio Capello gave after the thumping they got from the Germans – “ I think we played well, but… “ ridiculous!
While we can draw a parallel to many sports and write books on these, I’d highly recommend that you read a book on Michael Schumacher – the Edge of Greatness written by James Allen. He describes how Schumi transformed Ferrari into a team that was hungry for success, passionate and had this immense wish to compete and stamp their authority every time.
I only wish the English had learnt this from this German!
PS: For those of you who think Schumi’s comeback is a bad idea, Elango included, please read this book and give him some time.
Look forward to your comments as always! That is what makes this experience so interesting!
Thank you for taking time to post all those comments, posing some great questions or for just concurring and adding your bit. The trigger for this blog is Hari Prasad’s comments which said “it is easy to preach but on the ground, when it happens it is very difficult”. I couldn’t agree more with him and many others who wrote in saying we love the idea, we agree but how can we insure we do this when we are faced with such a situation next time.
Great that is an excellent one not just for putting into action what we read in the “please don’t shout at me blog” but for converting any knowledge into action!
I have wondered many times at how some people just have the knack to do the right things at the right time. They know what to say, when to say, what to do.. it almost seems like second nature. Could it be education – could a good pedigree college make the difference. You and I both know the answer – No! We have enough examples in our day-to-day lives! When I discussed this with one of my professional friends whose spouse is a PhD in Psychology, light-heartedly wished if their spouse applied what they taught in life, their life would be so much better! Ha ha!
So what does make the difference?
Here is what differentiates the doers!
They have a burning desire to do it, they have self belief – put simply they believe they are capable
They are willing to try and will not stop at the first failure, they are ok to get up after a fall dust their back, look at what went wrong and try again with more perseverance than the first time.
They dont stop at the first victory they keep fine tuning.
They practise! They Focus! They persist!
Unfortunately they don’t teach any of the above in school or university.
Guess where I figured this out! From a baby!
Have you ever seen a child learning to walk? it is amazing. I saw this baby anywhere between 11 –to 14 months old at the airport yesterday. (Yes the airport again)… this baby was attempting to get on its feet.. kept falling but wouldn’t give up, some of the falls were bad. I nearly lurched out of my seat to catch the baby! But the mother didn’t seem like she would appreciate it so I stayed firmly rooted to my seat. Finally the fighter that the little one was , she dragged herself to one of the seats slowly held the leg, pushed herself up.. stood up, gingerly left her hand and tottered a few steps ..and then boom… fell ! I thought she would stop but no she repeated the process again and again.. until her mom finished the book she was reading , scooped her up and walked away!
Ok if you don’t buy the baby philosophy and are one of the “I want proof kinds” read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (the book review is in the booky corner on the blog) .He argues that for any of us to be a genius at anything we need to practise for 10,000 hours and presto! Before you mindlessly start practising something for 10,000 hours, read the rest – he also talks of what practise is! According to him geniuses like Tiger Woods really got where they are because they single-mindedly practised for hours on end! BTW I am talking about his golfing . Closer home we know that is true, while Sachin has the flair we continuously hear that he spends more time on the nets than the less talented.
On a personal note, the blogs you read are a product of practise! I didn’t believe I could write.. until I met an old school friend of mine who reminded me how well I used to write in school. I just had lost it and now after 3 months pounding away at the keys I can see the difference. Another 10,000 hours who knows may be I will win the Pulitzer!
Being the optimist that I am ..i firmly believe that if we believe that we can, we really want it, we are ok to try despite initial failures and continue to practise not allowing early wins to lull us into complacency , we will be able to do it.
As you practise more, it slowly becomes a part of your muscle memory, then it becomes second nature and you start doing intuitively without thinking – you have reached! Do you even think when you get up to walk, you just do it!
So go ahead and start thinking like a baby… just mind your manners!
And if all this doesn’t work let us do what Krishnadas Krishnapuram says in his comment – PRAY!