Let not Metrics drive you

Should the Metrics drive operations, or the strategy drive execution for better results? Never should anyone chase their own tail.

I see lots of so-called leaders use umpteen metrics to drive their tactics (like resource utilization, revenue/employee, customers retained and lost, etc.)- when you start getting into this mindset, you would be always catching up and trying to make a fish climb the tree to get fruits (yes it happens – engineers get shifted from one domain to another without re-skilling just to meet the numbers). At the end of the day, one ends up always reactive.

If you a strong leader, get the strategy to form objectives that make execution meaningful, and one can arrive at metrics this way, with some minor course corrections on a continuous basis. You need to think ahead as to what makes your product or services sell, where do you have to re-train and up-skill your employees now to be beneficial in one or two years down stream, what customers are expecting from you and how do you put plans to fulfill their need etc. This way the entire organization will look up to you for steering the organization forward. Think ahead, have a great team around you, act decisively and rock & roll.

What does a Product Manager do?

Nowadays one of the hottest job titles that you would see everywhere is a Product manager.  If you open up any job sites, the numbers of jobs for product managers are plenty. But what do you mean by a Product manager and what do they do, and how are they different from other roles in the organization? Although none of these are set in stone, this article would try to educate you well about the role itself and how it differentiates from other roles.  This is written for a medium to large sizes corporation in mind, because in start-ups there would be the same person donning many of these role hats.

     Product manager is typical of any product development organization who sells a ‘whole product’ (hardware system ergonomically packages/stand-alone software like a security software or a productivity software) but rarely found in a professional services organization. This role is not well described or absent in semiconductor chip industry (where the chip by itself is not a product but has to go into a system to become a product), or an IP company, or any physical component manufacturing company. When I say a “whole product” it would have one to many hardware components, a box or an external package, the firmware and a software solution that enables the product to the customer. Say a Fridge or a TV or a tablet computer.

      Product manager is someone who is accountable for the build, the marketing and the sales of the product to the end customer (a business or a consumer) that meets specifications and manages the entire product life cycle from ideation to handover. A customer here is the one who buys and pays for the product. A Product manager’s life starts with articulating the “why” of the product along with the strategic marketing to find a place in an organization offering (why is it important to be in the roadmap of the offerings?), and then is the person behind the “what” of the product from an end-customer perspective.   He comes from the business side of the organization and should have a handle on the user experience story of the product to ensure SUCCESS of the product.

    From the project management definition, let us be clear on responsibility vs accountability: The accountable personis the individual who is ultimately answerable for the product and has all the ‘veto power’ for the product.  Only one accountable person can be assigned to a product.    The responsible personis the individual(s) who actually completes the tasks associated with the design and delivery of the product. The responsible person is responsible for action/implementation. Responsibility can be shared.

    A product manager needs to have a combined skill of a strategic marketing person (who defines the market and the product initially and create the opportunity to sell), a product marketing (one who defines what features get sold to what customers) and a technical marketing (who is responsible to work with technical team to define and deliver specifications of the product).

 So, how is it different from the other roles with the organization?

  • Project Manager(PM): A project manager is accountable for “when” the product gets delivered or deployed.  A project manager, whether the project gets delivered in the waterfall mode or the Agile mode, is the one who takes the product from planning to delivery, and lists out a list of tasks, deliverables and milestones at various intervals of product delivery timeline, draws the interdependencies between the teams and works with the engineering team to ensure the timelines are being met (or highlights the risk if it is not for business to take a decision)
  • Delivery Manager(DM): A delivery manager is responsible for “what” gets designed and developed by the engineering team (may be different iterations here to reach the “what” that is being asked by the product manager), and then “how” it gets delivered to the business unit, working closely with the project manager to ensure the timelines are met.
  • Account manager(AM) – This is a role more common with professional services organization as the person responsible for a particular customer account (yes, it can be there in product development organizations as well). In fact, product manager has many customers for his/her one product whereas an account manager has one or two big customers for which many products may be rolled out.
  • Product Owner(PO):  This is akey role in Agile/Scrum methodology of project management who defines what (priority) user story gets developed and delivered along each sprint (or blocks of timelines), and creates and maintains the backlog of user stories for the agile team. Yes, PO is also ideally from the business side of the organization, and has the power vested in him to accept or deny the delivery from the Agile team at every iteration.  He is the user advocate sitting in the development team. There is a good possibility a PO would report into the Product manager for a particular product.
  • Product marketing manager (PMM) – although some of the responsibilities may be shared with the product manager, a product marketing person ideally is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive analysis, product’s USP, and to work with sales team to generate and close opportunities.  I personally do not see very many product marketing roles now as I believe this may have morphed into a product manager role with added responsibilities in many organizations.

      Again, due to other budgetary and resource factors, nothing here can be taken in absolute terms as responsibilities unique to a particular role, but it is essential we understand the differences in expectation between the roles.   In short, if you have the skills to take a product from ideation through planning through development, and constantly are marketing the product along the way, and delivering it to the customers and they are delighted about it, then we can say that you are doing a pretty good job as a product manager.

Newton’s 4th law of Business

“Newton’s 4th law of Business”: For every action, there are consequences in the business world. If the consequences are positive, you are hailed as a great leader but if it is negative, the swords are dangling on top of your head. So, as mature leaders, it is best to analyze each action before you take it for the potential consequences so that you can manage them better once you take the action. Never act on impulse.

Better you chances of success by:
– having a critic as your asset although it can be unpleasant, so that you can consider the criticism objectively before you act, and
– never repeating the same mistake twice – you should have learnt the lesson the first time. There is no mercy for two failures due to same or similar actions to the same or similar problem – “two strikes , you are out”. Seek out to mentors before you act if unsure.

Value Centric Organizations – I

    As organizations get to be more global, more diverse, more flexible and more agile in this digital world, it is imperative that they stay transparent to their employees and stakeholders although this is going to be a challenge for most.  The management and the employees must operate through a ‘common fabric’ that ‘stitches’ them together cohesively in a collaborative manner in such dispersed and virtual organizations.   This common fabric are a set of VALUES  based on ones beliefs, convictions, ethics and principles which would be the  ‘guiding principles’ of the organization.   The beliefs of an individual would be based on their cultural, educational, family and ethnic background.  The behavior is based on the values and the culture is based on the employee’s behavior.

    Global organizations in the future would be more flat, less-hierarchical and power neutral, with lots more of first level management handling employees based on geography and markets, and lots more matrix managers handling the projects.  Both these types of management would have to work together in an ‘electronically-social’ environment and work towards a common aligned purpose, made effective by top leadership through a set of values that would be the framework of the entire organization.   One has to ensure they stay true to these values during all times, good or bad.

     When you start an entrepreneurial venture, the sets of beliefs and principles of the founders becomes the undocumented set of values for the organization. Yes, their personal values become the one that the organization practices.  And as the company grows, the managers and employees imbibe the same set of values and this becomes their path of choice to productivity and profitability.  As the company becomes a mid-sized one, it is best to document the set of values and limit them to 5 or 6 and the organizational culture would be a reflection of these values.

      If there are mergers or acquisitions happening, it is best for the top leadership to sit down quickly as part of the integration process and chalk out the combined top 5 or 6 values for the combined organization. It is also a good practice for having a survey done internally with all the employees to understand what they feel the organization stands for and then summarize the top 5 or 6 values – the benefit here is the values came from grounds up and since all employees participated in the process, the motivation level of adopting it is quite high.  Some companies go this exercise every 5 years or so, and may change one of the values in the process based on the feedback received, but the core values do not change  with time.  It is a good practice to have the values written at the back of the identification badges of the employees so that they get reinforced daily.   The most common values you would see across all organizations would be integrity, quality, something to do with community and customer satisfaction to name a few.

     Having got the values worked out, it is important that all the policies, strategies and performance measures reflect them.  The tactical part and the approach of doing things may change, but not the strategy that is based on the values.   There are two parts to any performance appraisal system – “What” objective was achieved and “How” it was achieved.  The values address the “How” part and the performance should be evaluated based on the values exhibited while achieving the desired objective. Values essentially connect the organizational goals to the employee’s achievements, thus becoming a motivational tool.   

    Going back to my previous statement that the future organizations would be less hierarchical and more flat, the values help the employees manage themselves without much of a need of active supervision and they begin to trust each other as they work across boundaries to achieve common organization goals.  They feel more empowered because they believe that they impact the organizational positively at all times, they  believe the system they operate in encourages excellence and they have better work-life balance because their beliefs are the basis of the values of the company.  No one can ask for a better win-win situation than this.

    The author, Rajagopalan V, is a business and technology consultant based out of Bengaluru, India and is a foot-soldier for value based leadership and conducts management workshops in Asia in helping organizations come out with their own set of values. 

Results Orientation : an Essential value to any org

     Continuing on with my Values Centric Organization article published recently, I wanted to introduce you all to something that the leading semiconductor company Intel cherishes the most – RESULTS ORIENTATION.  The timing of this article is coincidentally a tribute to Andy Grove who died today-  the first employees of Intel after its two founders and later years its CEO, Holocaust survivor from Hungary and a practical management guru. I salute you SIR.

      As Intel describes it, it is set challenging and competitive goals and focus on the output by assuming responsibility and executing flawlessly.  Any issues or problems that come in between have to be solved and confronted constructively and quickly to achieve the goal.  Focusing your resources on the important results is key for success and managing through people to create a positive impact for the organizations is every manager’s priority.  I do not see many organizations recognizing results orientation as a critical value.

     For all types of organization, be it a small privately held one or a bigger public company or a government establishment and even a not-for-profit one, delivering on your goals successfully is essential.  The leader in you should be able to push self and others to desired results and should celebrate successes.   The value of results orientation is the basis behind setting up a matrix organization where every talent within the organization works for a product, solution or oriented towards a service, from various functionalities.  The entire team has to agree to a set of objectives (remember SMART) and work together to achieve those with high quality.  At the end of the day, the products or services that the company sells or gives is the one that brands the company to the customers.  Even if you are in a research organization, it is critical that the development happening inside is mapped to a product that they can sell eventually or a service that they can offer later.

   Every employee should review the work they are doing regularly with their immediate management and prioritize what is urgent and more important. Each employee needs to plan their work accordingly to ensure that important goals get done within the required time.   Be realistic at your workload when you take on more work. As a manager, one must be aware of the stress levels within the team and try to re-prioritize and re-distribute the workload within your team.   It is a good practice to keep your ears to the ground and actively listen to your team and to put some sense around what they say.  Finally celebrate small successes and the eventual ones.

     In these Agile days of working, it is easier to have discrete sets of results achieved within a shorter time span and corrective actions put in place for any deviations that happen.   Three behaviours come to the fore-front to achieve results:  Effective time management, managing stress at work (there is always going to be stress, you need to find your own ways to manage it properly) and good influencing skills to get things done.   From the HR perspective, a few tweaks must be in place so that they start measuring the engagement and commitment levels of the employees to the programs they are in and to the organizations, and monitor if key decisions are being made quickly by the managers and whether they are putting undue stress on his or her employees  to an extent that it affects results.  Most metrics should be taken at a project or program level and not at a horizontal functional level.

For those of you who have not got the privilege of the working for Andy Grove and living during the times when he built Intel, I would highly recommend two books, “High Output Management” and “Only Paranoids Survive”.

The Author is a business and technology consultant based in India and if also a former employee of Intel.  He also conducts leadership programs that are based on key values of organizations.

Knowledge Hierarchy and Innovation equation

        For many folks who have been accustomed to standards and best known practices, the DIKW Pyramid clearly talks about the hierarchy and the relationships between the four levels of hierarchy.    Data is the fundamental unit which is just observations which is hard to interpret alone.   Once you infer something from data, it attains some meaning which is termed as information.  Once you process and organize the information and give it some structure and then analyze it, it becomes Knowledge. When you apply knowledge in action, you develop competency.    Knowledge is more theoretical and competency is more practical. And eventually, when you start becoming more effective and are able to make clear decisions, all attained by experience and continuous learning, you are termed wise.   Thus, if one can define them loosely in an equation:

Information = Relevant Data + meaning or value

Knowledge = Processed Information + analysis or synthesis

Competency = Knowledge + application   (this is just a step defined in between K and W)

Wisdom = Competency + experience

    People confuse knowledge with intelligence which may not be correct.    Creativity and Intelligence are more associated with some action and related to Innovation.  Intelligence takes into account the ability to reason, be culturally aware and also be situationally correct.

Intelligence = Depth of Competence + reasoning ability

Creativity = Intelligence + Fun, according to Albert Einstein

Jiddu Krishnamurthy, a well-known Indian philosopher, adds Freedom to Einstein’s definition which I would approve as you need freedom to be creative.  In a bounded environment, creativity is limited.

      Some of these definitions may differ from some other definitions by researchers and scholars and are subject to other interpretations as well,  but these are just defined in layman’s terms to give a clear picture to understand the information hierarchy and what more does  it take to be innovative. The skills required for these two would be different, as the former is more execution relevant and the latter is more about using knowledge to create something new.

     DisclaimerAll the above definitions and relationships already exist in some form and author has just compiled them cohesively together.

Incremental Innovations are good enough

Being in the R&D environment for close to two decades and having worked with some of the most innovative and result-oriented companies, I always ponder how to do something new that is better than what is available, be it a product or service. Every company would talk about wanting to be Innovative and developing that mind set and having it as one of the values, but how it is implemented in practice?

    When I talk about being Innovative, literature always talks about two kinds at the high level – disruptive innovations and incremental innovations.  Disruptive innovations, the term coined by Clayton Christensen, so far in the past few decades have been Automobiles, Television, Computers, Internet, Walkman, Search engines and  mobile phones, to name a few products. The incremental innovation can be variations of the above like tablets, laptops, hybrid cars, etc. or a new way of doing old things, especially betterment in manufacturing or design process.  Continuous improvements usually leads to incremental innovations and if the consumers enjoy a product better than the previous one but with identical or incrementally higher features, then this is a result of incremental innovation. Disruptive innovation usually displaces the way we consume things traditionally and heralds a new branch of consumerism as we know it.  Innovation, mostly referring to incremental ones by me here, must have one or more of the following criteria addressed properly:  lesser cost, easier to operate, faster than previous, additional features or different area of application of the same technology.

   How does a company walk the talk of being innovative?  First for innovation to be a cultural fabric of the organization, it has to be behavior that has to be consciously exhibited and a value that has to be supported by top leaders and must be made to trickle down the hierarchy. Being innovative is what makes you a recognized leader and differentiates you and your offerings from others.    Innovation, as it means to an organization, has to be some research development that HAS to translate to product realization and revenue monetization – as simple as that.   Hence every innovation to make sense, there must be a TIME FRAME that has to be monitored actively.

  The first value that I look out for is the appetite for risks.  You cannot have a conservative and risk averse culture and also be innovative.  Failures have to be pardoned and encouraged but repeated failures have to be addressed effectively as well.  The second most critical value is to have sound logical and analytical thinking in solving problems.  Since innovation is something new, you would NOT have expected that the individual to have done it earlier but you can always analyze how one goes about doing newer things.  At the interview stage in any company, it is better to ask some open ended questions which have potentially more than one answer and see how the person goes about solving it.

   Do not think that ideas just come out of certain individual.  Everyone does have some flashes of novelty now and then and it is always better to probe every brain and see what they have to offer. It is not the CTO that drives innovation – he is just a coach of the entire team that drives innovation.

   From a process perspective, it always starts with a Funnel. Have all stakeholders into a room and brainstorm ideas with the end point being what your company does or wants to do – this has to be stated clearly so that focus is maintained. It has to be run by the right sponsors who are capable of putting some of these ideas into action and have the decision making power to invest in them.  Put them in Post it Notes and start posting it up and slowly you would see higher themes or groups forming under which we can start shifting those post it notes.  Once the funnel is ready, filter them out properly and look out for ONE thing essentially:  REALIZABILITY.  This realizability, much like setting objectives during planning process, must have the genes of achievability(is it doable, given the resources), measurability (can we look at small gains on the way to ensure we are on track) and solvability (what it is solving and what it is improving).  You can club a few ideas thrown by individuals into bigger ideas and this way, you get the automatic support of all the individuals selected which is a win-win.

    The next step is to run it as a PROGRAM that has an impact to Business Goals – must be a visible program that has the sponsorship of the entire senior leadership team. So, the time-boundedness comes in and the leadership must be able to see incremental results as you progress along the development.  Constant feedback mechanism has to be in place so that if there is a hiccup, it gets addressed immediately or ways around it is found and the progress continues at a good pace.  If you are throwing darts in thin air, now is the time to set the targets. If you have innumerable features to be implemented, using a spiral strategy would come in good. Realize one or two features, see the results and whether it fits the purpose, correct if it does not and then add more features moving along.  This way, at any given point in time, we have something concrete to show and be proud of.  Do pilot runs and once you see revenue potential, put the pressure on yourself to realize it on a product or a service right away.  This gives you the early mover advantage. As you learn and adapt, try to capture them as your Intellectual property along the way by applying for patents then and there. Do not wait till the end game to see if a product can be realized.  Applying smaller stresses along the way is a good way to keep learning and achieving great things.

    IN my experience, I have seen lots of ideas being thrown at you, some of them are definitely realizable, but when you ask them to put the rubber on the road, not many takers are there. A clearly defined process can never be available for any innovative program but you need to come close and have discipline in your approach formally to enable results to happen – you must have a plan to address something vague and ambiguous into something distinct and clear. After a few products, some would have never seen the end, and many that would have made it, the whole organizations slowly gets tuned up to solve newer problems and this how the role modelling, behavior and value becomes a culture within an organization.

   I am open to suggestion on this article – this could seem trivial for people who have been there and done that as it would feel that I am stating the obvious, but I have realized that without a process and with lots of good technical brains, we still stand to lose out on innovation.  Disruptive innovations in technology happen once in one or two decades, but Incremental innovations can happen always.

Diversity brings Stability and Innovativeness

    We have seen a lot of leaders challenging the notion of a diverse workplace due to some inbuilt perceptions. Recruitment gets put on hold for months together for a role that is classified as ‘diversity friendly’.   How often do we see colleagues squirming about ‘certain entities’ when it comes to recruitment?   Lots of HR folks complain that managers are finding it difficult to lead a diverse workforce and it gets worse if the teams are in different locations.  Far often than you wish you hear that there is a gender bias when it comes to compensation.

    Gear up, folks.   We live in a global workplace now and it is inevitable and unavoidable to have a diverse environment to work in, and it is imperative to adopt and welcome the diversity for one to be successful.  Managing diversity is a top KPI for every person now.  Everyone wants to do a stint abroad outside their home country to look good on their profile. 

   According to Wikipedia, diversity is used to describe “entities with members who have identifiable differences in their cultural backgrounds or lifestyles”.   University of Oregon mentions that “diversity encompasses acceptance and respect.  It means understanding that each individual is unique and recognition and exploration of these individual differences is key to nurture a safe and positive environment.  It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual”.

     Given globalization and the breakdown of international borders in conducting business, every organization EXPECTS that there will be ‘broad based INCLUSION’ based on gender, race, color, religion and religious beliefs, national origin, ethnicity, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, social-economic status, gender identity, ancestry, ideologies or even veteran status, whether or not there are local laws supporting the same or legal acts specifying the same.   It is a consorted leadership effort in almost all successful organizations to have all forms of inclusive growth in their structural DNA, thus gaining confidence amongst its employees and stakeholders.   Every good organization strives to ensure that it is a SAFE environment for all employees to co-exist peacefully without fear of being ‘victimized’.   If such ‘hostile’ behavior against a group or an individual does exist, be it direct or psychological,  and is found to be deliberate, with the intention to ‘harm’ or ‘hate’, then such acts must be IMMEDIATELY dealt with to uphold the organizational value and integrity.  Learning to tolerate, accept and work with different types of people leads to a healthy workplace.  Remember all five fingers are of different shapes and sizes and the same applies to people.

     Treat everyone as an individual who is valuable to you and valued by the organization, instead of having a ‘blanket umbrella that is based on misplaced perceptions of certain entities’.  Compensate the employees proportional to the skills and values they bring to the organization.

    In a recent finding by MasterCard (“Connectors Project”), it was revealed that Indians face a greater bias on account of their gender, ethnicity and religion when it comes to getting a job or securing a loan.   A related study by Schick and Steckel (Dept. of Economics, Ohio State University) finds that tall workers do earn better than their shorter colleagues.  All these discrepancies are due to ‘perceptions’ that we form based on personal experience or observation.    By addressing this ‘push for diversity’, it is important to close this perception gap.

     This topic is mainly confined to organizations where success is measured by higher revenues, better products, being a leader in their field and happy employees. On the other hand, Government has to address diversity in a mandated way to uplift the portion of their population that is not ‘privileged by some criteria’.

     In India, there is ‘Unity in Diversity’.  India is one big family living harmoniously as one entity although there are many different religions and languages that comprise it.  India is a surprisingly stable country given its democratic nature of government, diversity, religious and cultural differences and the myriad of issues that inundate the news streams day in and out.   Moving from one state to another is difficult even for locals as the language differs.  Moving from one town to another town in the same state does not make life easier- the dialects are different. But a cohesive fabric, Indians have survived with all these differences for centuries now.  India even gave the world a woman Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi in 1966 whereas England had their first in 1979, Australia theirs in 2010 and US or Japan till now has not got a women President or Prime Minister. 

     Given my experience living in Canada for a few years, as a well-accepted immigrant of a beautiful country, it was hard for me to fathom the fight over two languages (English and French).  The cultural fabric is to engross in every Indian that despite the differences around, they chose to co-exist peacefully and been tolerant over the years – this is something I really feel every other country has to learn from India.   Differences exist but are carefully managed.

     At a high level, let us take the case of two countries, both developed and both an envy for other countries – one that thrives on foreign immigrants (heterogeneous teams)  that enables an innovative mindset, USA, and the other that is relatively more homogenous in population but revered for the quality of its products, Japan.   I would say the same thing about Bengaluru where more than 70% of the population is immigrants from other states, and hence the entrepreneurial culture is more distinct here, just like the best of the world comes out of USA.  I am not implying by any means here that being homogenous does not lead to innovation and being diverse does not produce good quality, but more a generic appreciation of what these countries are more known for.  Diversity definitely is America’s strength and all the major corporations like Intel, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Oracle etc. have indeed a mix group of employees and were able to manage them well. 

    So, it is just not about diversity but also about proper diversity management that is instrumental for any successful organizations.   Having a diverse workforce brings in different set of values and views, based on where they come from, how they were raised, religious beliefs, personal and professional experience, family background and so forth, and it is imperative that a good manager to be able to hear all pertinent views and be able to make the best use of them to enable a productive environment.   Conflicts are healthy as long as they are managed well, and conflicts have to be constructively solved by having all the players on the table and combined reasoning taken forward keeping in mind the best for the organization.   After hearing all the views, it is great to arrive at a balanced decision and I am sure without these various perspectives, the options one may think of is limited. Non-obvious options that come out from diverse views are worth considering kindling creativity within the whole team, thus being able to translate to a competitive advantage.  Management must ensure that awareness is created to encourage these differences and to highlight the fact that we all get richer by these varied experiences.  As an example, if four people stand in four directions away from an asymmetrical building and are asked to describe it, they would come out with different descriptions of the same building depending on where they are standing – they would easily miss out what they cannot see. This is what I mean by ‘bringing in perspectives through diversity’.  Lots of management papers have been written highlighting that diversity does bring competitive edge to organizations – there is stability created in the organization due to a heterogeneous team.

    Although stability by itself does not lead to progress, proper management of a stable organization can prove wonders in productivity and innovation.  Pooling in a lot of ideas and funneling them properly does give every organization a rich set of options to ponder and invest.  Homogeneity must not be confused with monotonicity.  With segments like manufacturing which is very process intensive, it is better to be good at what you do and of course, you can do better than what you did through innovation in process.. But still at a higher level, manufacturing does look like a monotonous routine (I personally disagree though) –timesheets and prescribed output is sacrosanct.  Eating the same type of food every day does get boring after a while, does it not?     

   A few examples to show how diversity benefits:

  • For those addicted to cricket like me, the case of Indian Premier League’s success can be attributed to the fact that there are foreign players within each team and for youngsters who want to come to Indian cricket, this is a great chance to mingle with a few best in the world and gain from their experience.
  • Take the case of NBA, it got better over the years thanks to an influx of great players from Nigeria, France, Australia and even China.   People come to support them and they have managed to provide rich entertainment value.  The coach (“diversity manager”) decides whom to play or not, depending on who is in form and who can make a difference… he makes a call if Yao Ming plays for 2 mins or 40 mins for the good of his team.
  • Even farmers in India do ‘crop rotation’ in their fields, almost 3 to 4 times a year.  Depending on the season, and the best crop to plant and harvest, they make their decision. 
  • Andy Grove (Intel), Sergey Brin (Google),  Marcus Goldman (Goldman Sachs), Pierre Omidyar(eBay), Maxwell Kohl (Kohls) and  Jerry Yang(Yahoo!) are all few examples how USA adopts its sons properly by giving them the freedom and opportunity, and who in turn give it back to the society in terms of generating lots of jobs.

    It all shows that it does pay more to be GLOBAL than to be local, given the way business is run nowadays.   As a diversity manager, it would pay to bet on your top horse but you must definitely allow all your horses to run and compete equally to ensure there is a level playing field.  There can be positive surprises from unexpected quarters periodically.  Equal opportunity, which is the recruitment motto behind any US organization, is a much better choice than reservations and quota systems as this provides an unbiased platform for everyone to be hired in.

   Hiring the best out there is definitely more important than being diverse (for diversity sake) but the management has to consciously address diversity as part of their recruitment process.  Not recruiting some group due to generic perception problem is wrong – treat everyone as individuals first and then it is the management’s responsibility to address each individual’s integration into a diverse group.  Saying ‘(s)he does not fit in the group’ does not bode well for any management – this essentially means they have not done enough.   By not managing diversity properly, there is a direct cost escalation to the organizations that has been well documented by management researchers. 

     Being just diverse just for diversity sake is also a bad option – that means valuable time to recruit and to execute is lost.  Setting a diversity quota to meet annually is a bad move – only government can have ‘reservations’ to address some economic inclusions of certain segments of society.  Mandating certain things at the grass roots level by the government in providing compulsory education to all their citizens is definitely an ace above having reservation of jobs for certain segments of population. 

     If the organization does have a need to meet some diversity goals, it is better to select and train from within, rather than wait for the ‘right person to walk in’.  When expats usually get sent to other countries to maintain and impart the culture and values of the organizations, it is also imperative to have couple of potential candidates to coach and train to take over their role in couple of years, and it is a recommended practice to have a succession plan that is confidentially maintained but is being tracked from the first day of assignment.  

       To summarize, it is also about not letting your perceptions rule your decisions. It is not about just addressing diversity but also about managing them properly.  Any day meritocracy supersedes diversity.   Quality is needed to get the competitive edge and innovation is the key to attain leadership position.

Thanks to Manoj Vakeel for providing feedback after a detailed review, and to Malayala Manorama publications and University of Oregon websites for some reference data mentioned here. The author is a technology consultant,   and a soft skills and leadership trainer, based out of Bangalore, India.

Core Values of a company

Great companies have certain set of fundamental core values that usually dictates their DNA and Way of Working (WoW).  Usually these values get set over time and are usually set for a long horizon, and maybe there is one value that gets changed every once in a while as they go through some change, either internally through some acquisitions or mergers or through external environmental variables like a globalization of the company or when they have to adhere to a changed corporate law or something.  In any case, having a set of Core values for a company is essential for a competitive advantage and also to showcase their identity to the world.   Some of the common values that you usually see in many organizations are diversity, integrity, safety, excellence, fairness and of late, community which talks about a greener planet and corporate social responsibility.  So, how do these values get set? When people talk about culture of the company, what does it actually mean?

   A process in which this gets defined is usually from an attitude that reveals itself as some consistent behavior pattern which morphs itself to a set of values which with some commitment gets to be the culture of the company.

    A good way to start is when the organization is transforming itself from a startup phase to some growth phase.  The founders and the top management would certainly have some opinions that they have cultivated over time in their professional and personal front and this may be a starting point as to how the organization gets weaved. These opinions are just bucketized as ‘attitude‘ which reveals itself as a behavior from the person.  I want to emphasize that the connotation of attitude here is everything positive that spreads within the organization and this gives the head start of what is to come for the organization as they grow. 

    Once these behaviours, which are things that you and I do on an everyday basis, gets to be more consistent and seems to reveal a pattern within the organization, these can be the core values that your organizations can start off with.  Values are the interesting qualities that are important to the organization that all stakeholders breathe day-in day-out.

     Many a times, just because the organizations needs to have a set of values , it gets published from the top and they are set to be followed as a general guideline across the organization. This is totally wrong, you have known companies like Enron and Lehman Brothers for all the wrong reasons, and I am sure they would have had some credible set of values published within which obviously nobody followed.  The point to emphasize here is these set of values has to be constantly re-iterated within the organizations and they have to be something everyone can live by, in both their professional and personal lives. 

    Values must not be confused with (technical) competencies the organization has and hope to acquire which is literally your market place advantage.  Do not try to fit in values and have the organization stick by it as this would be a disaster waiting to happen. The best way to do this if to have a value workshop every couple of years from a good subset of your best employees and have them evolve the values to mean what one lives by at that point.  Or one can take a survey across the corporation.  It is reasonable to change a value here and there every 3-4 years to ensure you are consistent with the behavior seen but definitely not a good idea to change all the values every few years as this destroys the complete DNA of the company.  Whenever there is an acquisition or a merger or a change event, it is good to have a relook at the values to get consistency across the larger corporation.

    Good companies have Values inscribed in your badge behind your photo ID so that you can always refer to them to reinforce your behavior.  Values are the long term identity of the organization, and as I said, one must be able to take it home and live by the same set of values in one’s personal life as well. During the orientation of new employees and during their integration, it is critical that one emphasizes these values over and over again so that it gets instilled in every employee.  This would lead to a general commitment to behave in a particular desired way.   Commitment is sort of a guarantee to do something in a desired way and this is great for an organization. 

     Once you have the commitment, a good company can actually map it back to the performance appraisal process which must consist of two parts: the What and How, with equal weightage.  The ‘What’ defines the results orientation of an employee and maps against the performance objectives achieved. The ‘How’ should translate back to the Values of the company to be consistent with the behavior that one wants to see within the organization.  For Example, if an individual achieves excellent results and exceeds all his objectives, but at the cost of disrupting the team when ‘team work’ is one of the values of the organization, his performance assessment must need improvement and not be graded as successful.

   Now we have identified a process where an attitude showcases behavior which sets a value that gets the commitment from all. If you are this stage, I would say we have a culture identified for an organization which is just a set of attitudes and beliefs or way of working that is acceptable within it.   Yes, I said Attitudes, which means which can be a cycle in itself. Your attitudes initially would have originated from the set of values you grew up with, the cultures or geography you were brought up in, and of course, the best of practices you have seen around which you have slowly adopted as something that you want to identify yourself with. 

    One point that I want to make before I wrap up, for which I have got some mixed reaction, is ‘customer’ can never be stated as a value.  I have seen customer as a value in almost all companies now, be it customer delight or customer satisfaction or anything, but I would say NO organization can be in business if they do not have any customers. This would rather be more a metric to be measured.  I would rather state a value that would be an expectation of a customer like excellence and integrity, which may be harder to measure but something that reveals as a behavior.  A value has to be applicable for both internal (employees, management) and external (customers, vendors) stakeholders.

Infotech or Politics, good leaders take all

I have been talking to a few folks, seniors in the high-tech industry, in both India and USA for the past one month – checking both from my business stand point as what to plan for and what client’s needs, I have to be ready for, and also in a more general way. Here is how I can bucket these people in three slots:

(i) Ready to Lead (from the front):  I have seen many of my friends invent small

devices for COVID, or some application that make life easier for farmers to

sell in these down time, all in the click of a button – they have wilfully

taken this opportunity to lead and try to transform and do their bit to the

society as well. Form our client relationship, I see at least a few customers

not getting bothered (yet) but wants to invest in this downtime and stay ahead

when the economy turns around and new demands are created. They are ready to

engage with us both at the project level and augmenting key resources to push

their projects through without any hiccups. Couple of them asked us to take the

whole project and execute them now. They are ready to move fast now.  Bold Marshals. Salutes.

(ii) Wait and Watch: These are the folks

called “cat on the wall”. They usually say wait till end of June to

get a clearer picture and then come to us. They do have ongoing projects that

they can invest but something is not allowing them to open their purse strings

although they have not got any news one way or the others. They are ready to

move with caution. They are the careful treaders.  And

(iii) Looking lost kind: Nothing has happened to them, but still they have gone into a shell and gone negative in their outlook. No good reasons to back their despair but still sounding dejected and feeling helpless.  For them, they do not see any light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon and when we talk to them, we feel that they are so far from reality and not capitalizing on their strengths to move ahead. They just sulk and are told what has to be done for the gloomy days ahead. This is their attitude. Born losers.

      We have seen these three types in the political circles recently with the handling of the COVID situation, in the US or India or elsewhere, Governors or Chief Ministers, Presidents or Prime Ministers.  They get the people around them and work together in a transparent way forward. The leading from the front folks always win and stay ahead. I am glad and overwhelmed to see their optimism and their realistic change transformation attitude and how they have used opportunities presented to them to their advantage. Amazing. You can see a lot of world and corporate leaders being at the helm only because of this one strength of theirs.

As things stand, depending on how the public relations wave goes against China, led by both USA and Australia, in my humble opinion (and I want to be right ) India has a lot to gain both in the manufacturing and information technology front to come up with innovative products with high quality quickly.