Chak De! – Use right experience at the right moment and place!

CHAK DE, the Bollywood flick imparted great lessons. The final hockey match made it very clear that using the right experience at the right moment can turn a losing game to a marvelous victory.

Here is a case in point, wherein proper experience mapping helped retain a highly experienced team member, who had already submitted his resignation letter.

The unexpected resignation letter from the senior most team member “John” [*name changed] left the management worried about the ongoing projects. John had good knowledge about these projects and there was no other team member with his level of experience. After hours of discussion with him, it was felt that John was adamant on leaving the organization. Thus, his resignation was accepted.

The worries of losing the good clients because of this led management to dig deeply into the matter and see what could be done to retain him. The time for this was very short, equivalent to notice period for John.After acceptance of the resignation letter, John didn’t speak much about his concerns so all the effort was to be done by the management.

Everything seemed to be right until a question from one of the managers took everyone to an entirely new tangent of thought process.

The question was “Was John’s experience being capitalized on? Did he feel that he was doing some value add to the team/project/himself and the organization“?

John had more than 5 years of experience.  However, he was given a role wherein his experience and existing knowledge couldn’t be used at all. He seemed to have no scope for further learning or doing a value add to the project/organization. The situation became very clear. After a deeper analysis, it was felt that although there was a good mix of people in the team, the job and skill set/experience mapping was not done properly. Wrong players were put at the wrong positions!

After lot of thought and effort, inter-project transitions were carried out [though not all at once, keeping projects’ interest in consideration]. More ownership was given to the senior members while also allowing space and opportunities to the junior members of the team.

Management called in John and offered him to take on a higher role. He was clearly explained the potential that it had for John’s learning and growth as well. Although little reluctant, John accepted it on the condition that he’ll work on that role for 2-3 weeks and if not satisfied, he’ll go ahead with his resignation. Those 2-3 weeks on the new role changed John’s mindset completely. Although he couldn’t use all of his experience in the new role, he had lot of scope for further learning, more ownership and responsibility.Now it has been 2 years that he’s still a part of that organization and taking care of bigger and better projects!

CHAK DE!  

For more lessons from CHAK DE, check out my other post on this blog:

http://preetangels.blogspot.com/2007/08/chak-de-lessons-for-life.html

Fix the ‘SYSTEM’ not the ‘PROBLEM’!

Higher attrition rate and low morale of any team is always a nightmare for the managers.

Following experience illustrates how just a small ‘twist’ in approaching an issue made a big difference! [This approach was actually implemented and it worked!]: [*Names changed to respect privacy]: Sherry had always been a victim of the so called ‘classes’ by her boss. She being senior in the team had lot of responsibilities and was also accountable for some of the key outputs and performance of two of her juniors.

It was not a rare sight to see her getting scolded by her boss in front of entire team. Lot of finger pointing was done by both without focusing much on finding the solution.

Sherry could often be seen taking too long breaks, not talking to anyone for days, with low energy levels. Ultimate impact was not just her own poor performance but also low performance of the members who were reporting to her. They complained of not getting enough help and time from Sherry when required.

Soon this became an issue with the team and the things were reported to the manager, who was not too oblivious to this situation. Manager felt that Sherry wasn’t paying any heed to his suggestions and warnings.

Just at the same time, a new team leader (TL) had joined the team. Manager discussed the issue with the new TL and TL took the onus to handle this concern.  One week was given to the TL to either solve the issue or be ready to give the Termination letter to Sherry.  It was ‘do’ or ‘let her die’ situation!

This is how TL handled the situation:

TL did some homework – gathered facts from the manager, indirect inputs from the team and observed Sherry during her work. The next best thing to happen was his building a good rapport with Sherry. She was undoubtedly very scared of new TL [assuming that she’ll be treated in the same way again]. A few coffee breaks with the new TL helped a lot. Within 2 days she was extremely comfortable talking to the TL.  It was felt that there are lot of things that were bothering Sherry [both on personal and professional fronts], which were impacting her concentration level and thus the performance. The worst part was that she was unable to speak it out with anyone and find the solution. Regular scolds from the manager had further deteriorated the situation.

 The building up of ‘initial comfort level’ with the new TL really eased the situation. A few regular sessions made Sherry share her concerns in detail. No doubt there were problems at her home front which were taking on her nerves, however, lack of encouragement, appreciation and recognition from the manager had a big blow on her morale.

Sherry’s listing out of the facts related to her achievements and good work convinced the new TL of the good potential she had. However, due to a wrong approach taken to fix the ‘problem’ marred the entire situation.

Next, the TL discussed the entire thing with the manager and the key point missing in the earlier approach was ‘NOT identifying any of the Sherry’s achievements’ and also there was no one with whom Sherry could discuss her concerns.

As expected, Sherry was seen in much better mood the very next day. Last few discussions had really helped her to free her mind of all the clutter and focus more on solution.

Besides this, few mails from the manager appreciating her work and recognition for her efforts in front of the entire team added to the much needed energy.

Sherry was back full of energy, new ideas, better performance, and more time for her juniors and positive attitude. A few tips from the TL really kicked her morale and she could look at her personal problems also with a new perspective.

The ultimate thing to happen was: Sherry got promoted within next 2 months just based on her performance!

Some key takeaways from this experience:

 1. Focus on the ‘system’ than the problem: System here was ‘approach to discuss the issues with employees’, and more focus on ‘complains’ was there.

2. Find out the ’cause’: Understand the ‘why’ behind the problem. Only then you can get to the right solution.

2. Do homework: Gather facts from all the parties involved, to have an unbiased perspective.

3. Don’t do re-work: Take inputs from various people on the approaches already tried and actions taken, which didn’t work. Don’t re-invent a non-rotating wheel.

4. Build the comfort level: Building comfort level and trust is very crucial for open communication. This doesn’t have to be done in too formal manner. Simple relaxing breaks also do the deal.

5. Start with positive feedback: Listen to all the parties involved and always start by giving the positive feedback to the other party. Complaining at the first instance [unless the mistake is a regular repetition] should be a No-No.

6. Find alternatives, discuss and evaluate: Take notes, think and work on various solutions that might work. Evaluate pros and cons of each on everyone involved while also looking at the bigger system, i.e., the impact on entire team and organization.

7. Decide next steps: There must be an action plan to be implemented.  In this case, it was to: Give Sherry and other team members a truly deserved recognition, Give responsibility with authority to build trust, Have regular 2-way feedback sessions.

8. Review and revise: Once the action plan is implemented, make sure to review the results and revise the approach if needed.

In a nutshell, Fix the SYSTEM and not the PROBLEM.

    

Random experiences during team management

Managing teams and working in groups has always been one of the best ways for me to learn and grow. Here are some interesting observations that I have made during past few years of handling teams. Few of these have helped me to a great extent in improving work environment, understanding team/individual and organization’s expectations, enhancing efficiency and productivity, besides team morale..  [I’ll take up the details on each of these experiences in my future posts]

– Some of the teams had been really wonderful, where members appreciate each other’s strengths and enjoy work. However, there are still a few everywhere who “DO NOT KNOW” how to enjoy the work. They ‘choose’ to crib and hence don’t give their best shot.

– It’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well [different business units and stakeholders within the organization] and look towards building strong relationships with them. The idea is while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. This helps the teams to get identified as a reservoir of energy and not just a department in some organization. Company meet and team’s day do help to an extent.. but interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.

– At times, we don’t have a choice for the kind of work and it’s being assigned to us, however, we can always make a choice of how to do that work.. Since not many know this, lack of energy & enthusiasm and sudden drifts in the willingness to work are visible among members.

– Giving real life examples, telling inspirational stories, does make 5% difference for a few days but again things are back to the same stage. The energy level vanishes soon because some people are concerned about their personal problems, some don’t feel happy with the work they are doing, some are not happy with the external customers they are working with and some have other concerns like salary, infrastructure, career path etc.. Mostly this happens when they have not seen the bigger picture of the industry, of the professional life and even the personal life.. They take decisions but not with a very high maturity level. Having a mentor or one-on-one sessions regularly helps to a major extent and results are reflected in terms of increased efficiency, good morale, pro-activeness among members.

– Every individual has IMMENSE FIRE hidden in himself/herself, however, it is very important for managers to identify that and ignite it before it loses its light and energy. The point is: it’s easy to let the good people go but extremely tough to retain that fire at right place.

– Some of the organizations I’ve worked with have amazing management committment towards its people. The formation of core groups in such organizations has been successful in setting the right example for everyone.

– Organizations do have strong Core values listed, however, the focus on implementation isn’t much, though exceptions are there. For example, Creativity as one of the core values looks wonderful on the hung plaque, however, if properly implemented can assist in turning people into organization’s assets.

– Teams need to be made aware of the importance of “attitude towards work”. Talking can help to an extent, however, making the teams visit places where people work with full energy and involving them in some interesting activity with those people can bring good changes. More you see is more you learn.


– Make the work fun, by starting small contests, like “idea of the month”, having a creativity board to allow free flow of thoughts, having an award system based on customer’s recommendation – these little things always help.

Shall continue sharing my learnings and experiences…

Smartly choosing your first job!

I have completed my studies, what shall I do now? I’m getting frustrated; There is no one to guide me; Shall I go for marketing or IT – all my friends are choosing these fields?“. Don’t these phrases sound very familiar when we meet fresh passouts, who are preparing to gain entry into the corporate world but lack clarity on which way to go?

Abundance of options makes the choice even difficult. How many of us could afford going to career counselors or had access to internet or could spend money asking for guidance? In fact, most of us never even think of doing proper evaluation and don’t realize it until we end up doing a non-satisfying job.

Here are some learnings based on my experience and interaction with various job seekers and professionals. This is just a guide and lot more depends on your taking an ‘educated and informed’ decision:

1. Set a mission statement for yourself: What I really want to do? Ask yourself these questions: What I really enjoy doing; what are my values; where do I want to see myself after 10 or 20 years: a helping person, a technical person, an entrepreneur, a sportsman? Check out http://www.6decisions.com for help on making your own mission statement.

2. Define your short and long-term goals: A path traveled without destination in mind takes you nowhere. Set a goal for yourself, you can revise and keep updating it as and when you become more aware of what you want and what you can do.

3. Job and skill set mapping: Make a list of the various jobs of your interest: travel, technology, counseling etc. Also list down your skill sets and do the mapping with the jobs of your interest. This will help you weigh down various possibilities and explore the job of your choice by helping you identify the gaps in your skill set that can be built up gradually or by undertaking some professional courses.

4. Analyze your strengths and weak areas: List down what are you good at, what are your strong points that can really help you in achieving your mission and goal. Also identify the things that you’re not good at but they are ‘required’ for the job you want to pursue. Do a proper SWOT analysis of yourself. You can do this exercise along with job mapping.

5. Identify personal training needs and required resources: Ones you’ve listed down the jobs of your interest and identified your strengths and weaknesses, identify your personal training needs. For example, you may wish to go for call center job, which requires good communication skills but poor communication skills is one of your weak areas.

Find out ways of how can you improve your communication skills before you go for the interview. You may enroll yourself for a communication training or join a call center as a fresher that provides you training, do regular reading to improve your vocabulary etc.

6. Look out for various options: Be open to look for multiple opportunities that suit your interests and the skills you possess so that you have a backup plan. For example, if you are interested in a job that involves guiding and educating people, you may apply for a teaching job. However, if that doesn’t work well for you, you can keep preparing yourself for a counseling or any similar job.

7. Gain experience, do free lancing: If you are not yet prepared to take up a full time job, you can do some freelancing or join a group with your friends having similar interests and apply your knowledge practically. Work on small projects that you can always showcase in your resume or join relevant trainings so that you’re better equipped than others and can grab a good opportunity that comes your way.

8. Be optimistic: It’s very easy to get frustrated when efforts and search do not pay soon. Take time, be calm and do some stress relieving activities like pursuing your hobbies, adding more value to yourself by undergoing relevant trainings. Most importantly, keep trying. The more you explore, more aware and knowledgeable you become of the field of your interest which is always helpful even during the job. Take any decision with a calmed mind as it’s extremely important to enjoy the work that you’re doing to be satisfied and successful at the end.

9. Networking: Networking is a key thing that helps build you more contacts. Join networking sites, various groups related to the field of your choice and gain more information and exchange your perspectives. Talk to people working in those fields to understand the hidden realities behind a rosy picture. This will help you make a realistic decision.

10. Read books: Most of us would raise our eyebrows on this suggestion, however books definitely help gain more knowledge and broaden our perspectives about ourselves, career, society, world etc., making us a better human being and ultimately leading to better decision making.

So get ahead and make a smart move!

Personal SWOT

Most of us are quite apprehensive when asked to present our SWOT analysis at interviews and I’ve personally met so many people who don’t know what SWOT is. They get stuck on this during interviews.

Here are few excerpts from my original article on personal SWOT that was published on rediff [http://in.rediff.com/getahead/2006/sep/08swot.htm]

Coined by the military, SWOT stands for ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’. It aims to identify strengths, improve on weaknesses, utilise opportunities and minimize weaknesses.

Various forms of SWOT question during interviews:

1. Can you highlight some of your strengths and weaknesses?

2. Can you present your SWOT Analysis?

3. Why should we hire you and what are your areas of development / improvement? What opportunities do you foresee for yourself in this job?

4. What threats can you identify in the job we’re offering and how do you think you can tackle them?

What experts say

SWOT is a very helpful tool for HR executives in assessing potential candidates. “Those who know their weaknesses and can openly express themselves through SWOT, have been observed to be able to adjust well in an open work culture. They are firm believers of candour in the workplace and appreciate open feedback for smooth running of an organization. SWOT helps in understanding the career aspirations of an individual and assessing how far he or she is willing to go with the organisation,” says Shikha Kumar, HR Manager, ISHIR Infotech.

<For more expert quotes, refer to my original article on rediff>

Do some homework before you appear for the interview:

. Have participatory sessions with your friends to know more of your strengths and weaknesses.

. List down all your strengths and weaknesses.

. Explore the prospective job/employer/company to identify opportunities.

. Gain more knowledge about the industry to detect threats.

Handling SWOT at interviews

Before the interview, ensure your resume maps to what you might talk about. It should also highlight your strengths.

1. Strengths: Positives you can capitalise on, these should be your ‘key selling points.’

Think of what makes you special. What influences and motivates you? What are your attributes for success? What key traits do you have? You can talk about your personal characteristics here like: Good analytical skills, determination, persistence, etc.

Examples of strengths:
a. Very confident and assertive.
b. Good communication skills.

What the interviewer ‘buys’ is ‘how are these strengths helping in the job he has to offer’ and ‘what is the value they add to the job’. For example, while appearing for a sales job interview, the following strengths can be highlighted:

a. I am very confident and assertive in whatever I do. I have been able to leverage customer service by converting unhappy customers to loyal customers by understanding their problems, educating them, giving them confidence and being able to solve their problems.

b. I have been involved in company presentations and workshops, and have been imparting training. My communication skills help me stand up and put forward my views in front of a group of people.

c. Having worked in customer service for two years, I have good customer service skills and customer relations.

2. Weaknesses: Negative areas you need to improve on.

This is the toughest aspect to think of and share with your future/potential company. Also, this is one area where your answers need to be more diplomatic. Avoid hinting at something that may impact the job execution in your potential company. We all know and admit that no one is perfect. Do not say ‘I don’t have any weakness’. Be realistic and show that you realize and are well aware of your weaknesses. Give confidence to your prospective employer that your weaknesses are not going to hamper your job.

Examples of weaknesses:
a. I sometimes tend to get into too many details that delay execution.
b. I can’t say ‘No’ if someone asks me for help with some work.

Never highlight personal weaknesses like ‘being emotional’, ‘short tempered’ etc.

3. Opportunities: Positive external conditions you can take advantage of.

Talk about various opportunities you foresee in that prospective job. This will show your interest and reflect a positive attitude.

Examples of opportunities:
a. While working with international customers, I may have the opportunity to learn new cultures; newer ways of working that will further help me to provide customised and better services to my customers.
b. By imparting training, I will be able to improve my confidence level and presentation skills.

4. Threats: Negative external conditions you can’t control but can minimize.

There are threats we all face at our workplaces, but we need to know how to survive with them. While talking about ‘threats’, try to foresee the ones you may face at your prospective job.

Examples of threats:
a. Competition for the job I want.
b. Overworking myself by taking on so many responsibilities.
c. Changing job requirements of the field.

Also suggest certain ways you may minimise these threats. For example:
a. Getting trained on certain skills to survive competition for the job.
b. Trying time management to avoid getting overworked.
c. Upgrading my technical skills and proficiencies and keeping abreast of industry changes to cope up with job requirements.

Take away points

. Map your STRENGTHS to your prospective job.

. Avoid hinting at WEAKNESSES that may have a negative impact on your prospective job. Also try to present an improvement plan that you have to overcome these weaknesses.

. Identify OPPORTUNITIES in the prospective job and mention how these can be advantageous to you and help in performing the job better.

. Detect THREATS and present ways to minimise them.

INTERNAL CUSTOMERS: Value the unidentified ones!

Much to the knowledge gained through reading organizational Vision and Mission statements, Corporate Strategies and Business Initiatives, our definition of Internal customers is restricted to the employees. The strategy sheets very proudly lay down next steps and highlight accomplishments related to employee performance and team growth.

Though the internal customers [still restricted to employees] are given some credit, there are these ‘unidentified’ internal customers everywhere. These are the people who’re using the services of another business/functional unit within the same organization. These are the members of another team, another division in the same company, who have a stake in the output of the other unit.

Let’s take an example of any IT company that has various business/functional units like Software development, Quality Assurance, Customer Support, Pre-sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Systems. Members of Quality assurance unit would be the internal customers for software development unit and vice versa; all the tech divisions have sales & marketing as their internal customers, it stands true otherwise as well.

Main focus has mostly been on achieving organizational and unit’s objectives. No doubt, HR does a great job managing personnel. However, when it comes to handling ‘internal conflicts’, the onus is quickly passed onto the Business Unit’s [Referred to as BU hereafter] head. Ironically, BU heads are always short of time when it comes to handling the so called ‘petty’ issues and targets and other objectives take the lead.

My one-on-one discussions with team members, other BU heads has mostly (though indirectly) indicated their conflicts and difference of opinions with other unit’s members. Quite a many of the projects get delayed or the quality gets impacted for the reasons like this [straight from various employees], which surely seem so trivial, but if ignored, have a huge negative impact overall:

  • The project manager of ‘abc’ team is so arrogant that we can’t approach him to get our queries answered. So we have to work with our own assumptions.
  • The quality delivered by this team is never good and we end up doing most of their job.
  • There is no response from the designer for 2 weeks now and our work is stuck.
  • Sales people always call at the wrong time, when we’re just off from work and with family.

Now, if we start understanding the reasons behind all the above statements, they may sound apt from the perspective of the ‘blamed’ department. However, what lacks is the consideration of viewpoint and objectives of other teams/departments involved. Ultimate result is low employee morale, project delays due to such conflicts, increasing communication gap and spoiled relations, none of which is productive to any organization’s health.

What is required here is:

  • Open communication from both the sides, this is the most important thing.
  • Conflict handling by the unit heads or empowering the appropriate team members to take charge of such conflicts.This works two-ways: Delegating with authority is a big motivation factor. Conflicts are handled on time.
  • Implementation of regular open house or meetings focusing on such issues. The involved parties should be encouraged to bring concerns with FACTS. Every such meeting must end up with  ‘NEXT STEP’ to be followed.
  • Regular one-one-one sessions or team meetings to review the situation after stipulated time period. Change the approach if required.The crux is that it’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well and look towards building stronger relationships with them. The idea is, while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. Company meets and team days do help to an extent, but more focused interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts relevant to this post.– Manpreet Juneja