Category Archives: Learnings

Linkedin Invite Decorum?

You probably get deluged by Linkedin invites much more than I do. But whatever little I get is enough to make me tear my hair from my head. Well, if I had anything left, that is. Every Saturday I sit down and go through the invites. For each one of them, I look at the face and try to figure out if I know this person….. have met before…. should be knowing at all and so on. Many times I try to read their profiles – which often confuses me more than helps me.

What I cannot understand is an answer to a simple question – “Why are you trying to connect with me?”.

“I would like to connect” makes no more sense than all those emails in my inbox from people wanting a phone call – only 15 minutes – to save us so much money that all our employees put together could not somehow think about. Or for that matter all those Nigerian princes. At least the Nigerian princes are very clear what they are seeking.

So, here is a tip – why not just drop a line or two – maybe a small paragraph on who you are and why are you interested in a connection with somebody. And care about it. It is okay to say “I was wondering if you could help me with my job search” or “I was wondering if you had a job in your company” or “Hey, we are in the same field. Just wanted to stay in touch with you” or “I have nothing to ask but I felt with your experience you can help me some day. This is who I am…. Would you mind staying connected?”.

People will help you if they can. People want to accept you in their fold. But people also relate to a little personal touch than those standard mindless Linkedin provided default text that one might be tempted to short cut thru…

Of course, if you know the person for quite some time or is your childhood friend or you just had dinner with that person the previous night, that courtesy would be superfluous.

Have we really strayed this far?

On my flight to Dallas, I opened up the USA Today online and went to the Tech section to see what might be interesting. There was an interesting article about “8 things you are still doing wrong with your email”. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/saltzman/2015/05/16/email-mistakes/27243937/

Here are a couple of suggestions from the author:
1. Set your email system to send mails to your boss very late at night so that (s)he thinks you are burning the midnight oil. Smilarly set times of delivery of your emails so that everybody thinks you are working when you are really on the beach.

2. If you are late on delivery, change the time on your computer, send the email (it will carry the wrong date stamp) so your boss would think you did it on time – there were some server issues only.

Good God! Have values like general ethics and integrity completely escaped from Corporate America?

I have half a mind of sending that article to all my employees with one rejoinder: nobody cares about the hours – only what you get done and if you are slipping, talk to your team and manager and ask for help – ask them to have your back – they will respond. Whatever you do, don’t start cheating. You will be amazed how those small ones quickly snowball into big ones.

“Would you hire this person”?

Living in Atlanta, Delta is my natural airlines of choice. And airlines do not exactly make the whole experience very enjoyable these days – what with all the ever increasing extra charges and ever shrinking legrooms – not to talk about all the confusion about seat up or seat inclined :-). However, most airlines do very well by their frequent flyers.
Certainly, from the vantage point of being a very frequent flyer, I have had many experiences which have made me admire Delta. Their whisking away elite passengers in waiting Porsches 🙂 and free drinks at the club immediately come to mind. Then there was the time I flew with the CEO of Delta and was stunned to see him go straight to the coach class and sit in the last row. (I was flying first class). Let’s also not forget that one time when the pilot on our way back from a family vacation left a lovely hand written note on the backside of his business card on my seat.
Today was a very unique experience with Delta. And I was nowhere near an airport. I actually had called up their call center for a simple, quick help. I am sure they take special care of the frequent flyers – and this was no different. But the real interesting thing happened after the lady (who I found out during the call hailed from Samoa.. yeah yeah yeah.. I try to create “intersection points” over the phone too 🙂 ) was done with me. An automated message came on asking if I would take a one question survey.
Normally, I would keep the phone down. This once, for whatever reason, I said “Ok”. Want to take a guess what that question was?
I could have never guessed it. The survey asked me “On a scale of 1-5, 5 being highest, what is the likelihood that you would hire the person you talked to if your business had a customer support call center”?
I pressed 5, put the phone down and started thinking about what just happened. That was the weirdest survey question, I thought.
And then I started getting it. Not sure if Delta changes the question up but certainly, it is a safe bet that the most traveled passengers are business people and are likely to give an answer from experience. So they hit the right segment of customers.
But the real brilliance was in the question itself. Delta nailed one truth – it is seldom about how the problem was solved. It is always about how was I treated. That is what I remember the most. And there is no such thing as a company called “Delta” that I really interact it. That is an abstract construct. I interact with a real human being. How I felt with the whole experience absolutely reflects on and is totally influenced by how I felt about the person during the interaction.
And what better – and business-wise astute – way of judging that by simply asking – not “did you like the interaction?”, not “was he/she knowledgeable?” – but “would you hire him/her?”.

Very well done, Delta!
#Respect

“It is just a job”. Except when it is not.

All throughout my life, I have tried my level best to keep a perspective on life. What is important and what is not important. If you read the book by the Australian palliative nurse in a hospice, you will notice that no dying person ever regretted not having worked some more. And so, I always keep telling myself “It is just a job”. There are more important things in life.

Indeed, “it is just a job”. Except that, it isn’t. The way my DNA is built up, a job has never been a mechanism to make more money – I think of that as merely an outcome; a job has never been about rising an organizational ladder – my current business card says I am “Executive Pusher of the Envelope” and certainly a job has never been about striving for the corner office – I have not had an office for a long time – instead choosing to work with my teams in Starbucks, cafeterias, meeting rooms and bars. For sure, a job has never been my sole pursuit in life – I run, practice humor, play the tabla, make cocktails, write the first draft of the history of my future – all at arguably terrible levels – and in general choose to border on the ridiculous just to explore life!

But I will tell you what a job has always been to me – it has been yet another chance to create a mosaic of relationships, another opportunity to create “intersection points”, another opportunity to get to know a few more human beings that I got a chance to cross paths with in this short thing we choose to call “life” – all the while professionally doing something I love and hopefully creating some more value in the world.

And that is why it is never just a job. Long after I will forget the numbers and the product details and the contract negotiations, I will remember the people – the team members, the peers, my manager, our customers, our partners. Thru every interactions I have had with them, I have learnt a little more. About myself and about life in general.

And the sum total of those interactions have made me grow up so much in the last seven years. Those emails, those hallway conversations, those intense differences in opinions, those heartfelt laughters, those dreaming sessions, those Starbucks team meetings, those uncomfortable conflict resolutions, those going to a bar to let it all out… every piece of those interactions has made me a better executive, a better team member and a better human being.

As I get off the Equifax bus and board the Quantum Spatial bus, I certainly appreciate the opportunity life has presented to me. It is not often that somebody gets a chance to lead a bright and promising team in a very fast growing market. Let alone twice in succession!!! But more than anything else, I appreciate and acknowledge the influence each and every Equifax team member had on me. Without the Equifax team accepting me and helping me grow before dropping me at my stop seven years later, I would have never been worthy of stepping onto the QSI bus. I understand that deeply.

No journey in life is done in straight lines. If our paths intersected once, they will certainly intersect again. With that hope to run into you around the corner some day soon, here is a heartfelt Thank You to all my Equifax friends from myself, my ever supporting wife Sharmila and our two beautiful daughters – Natasha and Nikita. We seek your best wishes as we embark on our next journey.

Before, I sign off, as is my wont, “I wish you enough” … (See the following post to understand the context http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=5693 )

Learnt something new!

Was a panel speaker at Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association event (“Big Data and Predictive Analytics in Fraud”) in DC today. I was the only person from the industry and this was absolutely my first time speaking at a government conference.
Learnt the hard way that you should always wear a national flag pin when you are a speaker at a government event.
Fortunately, one of my colleagues had one to spare!!!

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How to get a real education

Came across this article written by Dilbert-creator Scott Adams. (thanks to Rich Huffman). Should make most policy makers, teachers and parents think.

Here is the link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704101604576247143383496656.html

And here is the full text:

I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

I speak from experience because I majored in entrepreneurship at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Technically, my major was economics. But the unsung advantage of attending a small college is that you can mold your experience any way you want.

There was a small business on our campus called The Coffee House. It served beer and snacks, and featured live entertainment. It was managed by students, and it was a money-losing mess, subsidized by the college. I thought I could make a difference, so I applied for an opening as the so-called Minister of Finance. I landed the job, thanks to my impressive interviewing skills, my can-do attitude and the fact that everyone else in the solar system had more interesting plans.

The drinking age in those days was 18, and the entire compensation package for the managers of The Coffee House was free beer. That goes a long way toward explaining why the accounting system consisted of seven students trying to remember where all the money went. I thought we could do better. So I proposed to my accounting professor that for three course credits I would build and operate a proper accounting system for the business. And so I did. It was a great experience. Meanwhile, some of my peers were taking courses in art history so they’d be prepared to remember what art looked like just in case anyone asked.

One day the managers of The Coffee House had a meeting to discuss two topics. First, our Minister of Employment was recommending that we fire a bartender, who happened to be one of my best friends. Second, we needed to choose a leader for our group. On the first question, there was a general consensus that my friend lacked both the will and the potential to master the bartending arts. I reluctantly voted with the majority to fire him.

But when it came to discussing who should be our new leader, I pointed out that my friend—the soon-to-be-fired bartender—was tall, good-looking and so gifted at b.s. that he’d be the perfect leader. By the end of the meeting I had persuaded the group to fire the worst bartender that any of us had ever seen…and ask him if he would consider being our leader. My friend nailed the interview and became our Commissioner. He went on to do a terrific job. That was the year I learned everything I know about management.

At about the same time, this same friend, along with my roommate and me, hatched a plan to become the student managers of our dormitory and to get paid to do it. The idea involved replacing all of the professional staff, including the resident assistant, security guard and even the cleaning crew, with students who would be paid to do the work. We imagined forming a dorm government to manage elections for various jobs, set out penalties for misbehavior and generally take care of business. And we imagined that the three of us, being the visionaries for this scheme, would run the show.

We pitched our entrepreneurial idea to the dean and his staff. To our surprise, the dean said that if we could get a majority of next year’s dorm residents to agree to our scheme, the college would back it.

It was a high hurdle, but a loophole made it easier to clear. We only needed a majority of students who said they planned to live in the dorm next year. And we had plenty of friends who were happy to plan just about anything so long as they could later change their minds. That’s the year I learned that if there’s a loophole, someone’s going to drive a truck through it, and the people in the truck will get paid better than the people under it.

The dean required that our first order of business in the fall would be creating a dorm constitution and getting it ratified. That sounded like a nightmare to organize. To save time, I wrote the constitution over the summer and didn’t mention it when classes resumed. We held a constitutional convention to collect everyone’s input, and I listened to two hours of diverse opinions. At the end of the meeting I volunteered to take on the daunting task of crafting a document that reflected all of the varied and sometimes conflicting opinions that had been aired. I waited a week, made copies of the document that I had written over the summer, presented it to the dorm as their own ideas and watched it get approved in a landslide vote. That was the year I learned everything I know about getting buy-in.

“Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach them something useful instead?”

For the next two years my friends and I each had a private room at no cost, a base salary and the experience of managing the dorm. On some nights I also got paid to do overnight security, while also getting paid to clean the laundry room. At the end of my security shift I would go to The Coffee House and balance the books.

My college days were full of entrepreneurial stories of this sort. When my friends and I couldn’t get the gym to give us space for our informal games of indoor soccer, we considered our options. The gym’s rule was that only organized groups could reserve time. A few days later we took another run at it, but this time we were an organized soccer club, and I was the president. My executive duties included filling out a form to register the club and remembering to bring the ball.

By the time I graduated, I had mastered the strange art of transforming nothing into something. Every good thing that has happened to me as an adult can be traced back to that training. Several years later, I finished my MBA at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. That was the fine-tuning I needed to see the world through an entrepreneur’s eyes.

If you’re having a hard time imagining what an education in entrepreneurship should include, allow me to prime the pump with some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Combine Skills. The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable. It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.

Fail Forward. If you’re taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you’re doing the failing and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. I failed at my first career in banking. I failed at my second career with the phone company. But you’d be surprised at how many of the skills I learned in those careers can be applied to almost any field, including cartooning. Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.

Find the Action. In my senior year of college I asked my adviser how I should pursue my goal of being a banker. He told me to figure out where the most innovation in banking was happening and to move there. And so I did. Banking didn’t work out for me, but the advice still holds: Move to where the action is. Distance is your enemy.

Attract Luck. You can’t manage luck directly, but you can manage your career in a way that makes it easier for luck to find you. To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn’t work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else. Luck finds the doers. Readers of the Journal will find this point obvious. It’s not obvious to a teenager.

Conquer Fear. I took classes in public speaking in college and a few more during my corporate days. That training was marginally useful for learning how to mask nervousness in public. Then I took the Dale Carnegie course. It was life-changing. The Dale Carnegie method ignores speaking technique entirely and trains you instead to enjoy the experience of speaking to a crowd. Once you become relaxed in front of people, technique comes automatically. Over the years, I’ve given speeches to hundreds of audiences and enjoyed every minute on stage. But this isn’t a plug for Dale Carnegie. The point is that people can be trained to replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm. Every entrepreneur can use that skill.

Write Simply. I took a two-day class in business writing that taught me how to write direct sentences and to avoid extra words. Simplicity makes ideas powerful. Want examples? Read anything by Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett.

Learn Persuasion. Students of entrepreneurship should learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design. Usually those skills are sprinkled across several disciplines. For entrepreneurs, it makes sense to teach them as a package.

That’s my starter list for the sort of classes that would serve B students well. The list is not meant to be complete. Obviously an entrepreneur would benefit from classes in finance, management and more.

Remember, children are our future, and the majority of them are B students. If that doesn’t scare you, it probably should.

Giving Frequent Feedback

I have been always blessed with some of the strongest Advisory Boards for my business. The trick has been getting executives who are not potential customers but with great experience that my management team could be well served with. In one of those recent Advisory Board meetings a very interesting discussion came up. Which I thought is a great point of learning for me.

My management team started a discussion around how to create a very effective rewards and recognition system when you have very different kind of jobs (product development, services, sales etc).

Some of the advice we got was pretty insightful. First, most agreed that while we need to have programmatic methods, they tend to be fundamentally too broad to be effective.

Instead, the push was to understand that if employees are clamoring for more rewards and recognition from management/leadership, there is a larger message here. The organization is saying that the feedback mechanism is not often enough or strong enough.

In other words, if employees were to very often get feedback on (*) how what they are doing aligns to the larger plan for the organization (*) what they are doing well and (*) what course correction is required, their sense of alignment, contribution and participation would solve the root cause of the problem why they feel they are not being recognized.

It was also felt that this forum should give the employee an opportunity to give quick feedback to the manager on what the manager needs to provide/do to help the employee achieve his/her goals.

One board member talked about a 10-10 practice. Every two weeks he makes himself and all managers in his group sit with all direct reports for a 10 minute discussion on giving feedback – 20 minutes either way as described in the two preceding paragraphs.

Another member talked about a variation of the same being practiced in the whole company (large strategy consulting company).

That was a pretty interesting learning for me. Understanding the root cause of why employees feel they are not being rewarded or recognized enough.

Worthwhile idea to copy.

Do you have any experience on this? What has worked? What has not?

Rajib

 

Keeping calm under fire

Some of the leaders that I have admired most have had the ability to not only stay calm under stress, but continually be outright positive. And these leaders have been across all levels of an organization. Because they have been across all levels, I think this is more of a personality trait than something one necessarily acquires as they go up. However, I have no reason to believe that one cannot strive to be so, even if it does not come naturally.

Stress gets created when the observable results are at variance with what is desired. As organizational behavior will teach you, if that accountability comes without commensurate authority, that exacerbates the personal stress.

In today’s corporate environment (most of it at least), the demand for short term accountability is extremely high. The tolerance for failure – regardless of all high words of risk taking capability – is getting narrower and narrower. A lot of this is derived not necessarily from within the organization but the tough competitive environment and the fact that business is moving at lightning speed.

One unfortunate outcome is that when a perceived failure happens, the organization demands quick answers. Quick answers, no doubt, lead to simplistic conclusions. Add the tendency to arrive at simplistic conclusions and the above discussed tolerance for failure – and that leads to another dangerous behavior – finger pointing. This is derived from a deep rooted human tendency – “I am better than others; what I control performs better than something that I do not control.”

Finally, average human being finds it more convenient to name a person as the reason for failure than understand the true nuances of processes and constraints. First, it is easier, it is more convenient and it is something most people can relate to. Person A is an idiot – Ah! I get that. The complexity of understanding constraints – some written and some not written – some internal some external – that starts becoming too complex for us  This leads to a missed opportunity to drive true learnings for the organization.

Leaders have to be doubly vigilant not to fall into this pattern of behavior. Any organization learns quickly from the top. As human beings, we all want to be leaders. In reality, we all want to be led. We copy behavior from the top very fast – perhaps believing that compliance will lead to success. In the process, we amplify the behavior at the top.

Any sign of panic on the top and the dissonance in the org below – like a bunch of dispersed ants – is immediately visible. Any signs of finger pointing from the top and immediately the organization takes a cue.

A true leader needs to address issues from the position of poise and even handedness. A calming sense needs to pervade in the organization that is under stress. Giving the entire troop a sense of purpose that they are all in it together is of paramount importance. Regardless of the level of stress, they will need to stick together and emerge successful.

But above all be aware that this is just one more hurdle of many more to come in one’s career. Crossing hurdles require cool-headed thinking and an aura of positivity around oneself.

So how many such cool-headed leaders have you seen? I have been fortunate enough to see a few in my life.