Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What is more important - process or people ?

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of India, there lived two brothers named Haldi and Ram. They played studied and grew up together to be fine young men. Though they were great friends and laughed and played together, they had a fundamental difference in their attitude towards work.

Says Haldi Brother Ram, let us  build a food joint where we will have an excellent process for preparing and serving food. Our process will be our USP”.

Says Ram: “ Process will not help us in growth. We will need skilled and dedicated people who will innovate and create delicacies leading to customer delight “

They hemmed and they hawed.
They argued and they fought.
They cribbed and they screamed.

When the wise old man, their father,  saw them sitting and sulking, he said  Sons!  during my hey days, I toiled hard and  saved from my meager income. Here is Rs 1000 for each of you.  Go out in the world and create wealth based on your ideas . But …. , one condition … ,  at the end of  a year, the one who is unsuccessful in making profit will have to do whatever I tell him to do

Haldi and Ram’s eyes shone with excitement ! Both of them touched their father’s feet and set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

The process oriented Haldi first chalked out a plan , budgeted the investments and in a month’s time , a cute little joint named “Haldis” was built.  Ram went to an expensive designer and he too erected a sweet little joint and called it “Rams”.

Ram hired the best chefs who were specialists in preparing delicious food. They were constantly doing research and tried and tested different concoctions, herbs and ingredients.  The chefs would challenge each other and try to prove they were the best amongst equals. The chefs wanted Ram to get them the best spices, the best material and the best cooking platforms. They would be extremely upset if these things were unavailable and would threaten to leave Rams. But the chefs were animated and excited about always working on new things and ideas.  Ram was happy to see the progress. He was confident that his vision would help him achieve his goals.

Haldi , in the meantime,  was busy chalking out the best processes. He hired some chefs who he knew and negotiated with them on their salary. He asked the senior chef to write the recipes which would be served at Haldi so that there would be standardization.  He meticulously planned the process flow. The customers would come in a queue and  place the order and pay for it. Once the payment is received,  the customer would take the copy of the receipt to the counter. The receipts would have different color coding  to differentiate between different food groups. The counters would have labeling mentioned clearly on them to avoid confusion. The counters would be divided such that as soon as the receipt is handed to the chef, they would immediately prepare the food without wasting time.  This done, he was all set to win his customer’s hearts.

One fine morning, Haldi called out “ Ahoy ! Come one , come all to Haldis ! Eat and enjoy to your hearts content! You will get the best food here in reasonable prices !”

Ram called out “Friends, Indians and Countrymen! Come and taste India’s finest delicacies at Rams ! You will not be able to forget the exotic taste and flavor! “

And people came to Haldis
And people came to Rams.

Days weeks and some months passed  by …..

Rams customers were delighted with range of offerings. But they were unhappy with the high prices and the turnaround time of the orders placed. They were irritated and sometimes stunned about the inconsistency and unpredictability of the food served to them. The dishes were exotic and they loved the taste, but when they came back for the second or third time and ordered for it, a very different preparation would be served. When the customers complained, the chef was called and he explained in detail about the intricate procedure why the serving had not turned out to be as per the customer’s expectation! The dedicated and talented chefs would argue with Ram for not providing enough information!

Haldis customers were ecstatic about the service. and they were very happy with the price. Everything seemed to be like clockwork. They did not waste time in placing orders and neither did they have to wait long for the food to be served. But alas! The food was bland and tasteless. The toppings and accessories were neither innovative nor interesting!

And days, weeks and eleven months passed by…..

Both Haldi and Ram were crest fallen! They had incurred huge losses!

Both of them went to the wise old man, their father, and stood before him with shame and despair on their faces.  Their father listened and then placed Haldi and Rams hands on each other and said Sons! Go and establish Haldirams! Take the last Rs 2000 which I had kept aside for this day, and I know that this time you will succeed !

Tears rolled down the brothers cheeks. They embraced each other and with renewed vigor they set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

Rams’ expert chefs documented their exotic, intricate and unique recipes and trained Haldis chefs. Haldis‘ workers ensured that Rams’ personnel followed the process of food preparation so that there is predictability. Some of the expert chefs were designated to do constant research so that the menu may be revised periodically to make it innovative, in tune with the changing needs of the customer and at the same time is profitable to Haldirams.  

And lo and behold !

Customers started pouring in. they praised the taste of the food and were extremely satisfied about the value for money. They were excited about the different choices which were offered by Haldirams and they wanted to come back again and again! The chefs and the staff were happy and within a year the brothers inaugurated several other outlets of  Haldirams.  

And the wise old man smiled!   And Haldi and Ram lived happily ever after….

Did they? Yes, they did but they were constantly improving the quality of food and service. Even to this day, their great-great-great-great –great- grandsons are on the path of continuous improvement. They constantly seek feedback from their customers and act on it.

The last time I visited Haldirams I noticed that the receipt had been perforated so that the customer is not inconvenienced in having to tear them unevenly to be presented to different counters. And the wooded counter dividers had been replaced with glass so that there is complete transparency and the customers can verify the hygiene.

Author's comments: Though the story is fictitious, Haldirams does exist. It is a very popular and profitable food joint . with several outlets in India. And all the processes mentioned above including hygiene are an integral part of Haldirams.   I am sure all of us can draw the simile between Haldirams and software development ? No? Then please contact me  :-)  .......

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

10 Commandments for managing Knowledge Workers

  • Effective Communication :  Over communication is always better than less communication. Hold as many one-to-one touch-base meetings as possible. This helps in better understanding , empathy building and rapport.
  • Proximity Effect :  Co-locate the team as far as possible. Create War rooms. Just pack them in and see the teamwork improve.
  • Data-driven decision Making : Let the data talk. Strive to draw the conclusions using data and derive your decisions from it as objectively as possible. 
  • Use Technology for co-ordination : Keep the people talking by using technology like instant chat , web cams and video conferencing.  These are very effective for distributed virtual teams and acts as grease for team co-ordination.
  • Help them succeed : Make it easy and not hard, for them to perform and succeed.
  • Eat your own dog-food - Make sure to use your own company products. This helps in enhancing the pride for the organization.
  • Encourage Creativity :  Let them come up with creative ideas.  Listen to their ideas - even if they are bizarre and absurd ! Encourage them and implement the ideas if it helps the project. Being democratic works wonders !
  • Consensus wins :  Decision making by consensus works very well with the knowledge workers. Try to make about 75% of the decisions by consensus. 
  • Respect and Integrity : Treat them with respect and integrity. 
  • Hire by committee : Make sure that the new recruits talk to their future colleagues. This helps a lot in  building teamwork.

Can you add anything more to the list  ?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Can you always be happy ?

I read this story a few years back and I tell this during my Motivational Presentations.

This is the story of a balding woman ailing with cancer, who looked at the mirror one day and saw that she was left with only three hairs  !

So , that day she told herself  "Today I will make a braid"  She braided her three hairs and had  a fun-filled and happy day.

The day after, she saw that she had only two hairs . "Well , I will part my hair down the middle today ! " She did that, smiled  and had a grand day !

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She had only one hair left. "Hmm " She said "Today is the ponytail day !"  She made a ponytail, laughed loudly and had a blast .

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She did not have any hair left!
"Yay ! " She exclaimed ! "I don't have to do my hair today !"

Life is a song, sing it ! 

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Effective Meetings

There have been several occasions when I have sat through meetings which went on and on and finally when it ended, no one had a clue about what happened or what were the next course of action ! 

Meetings are an integral part of  business. Conducting an effective meeting is an art. The facilitator or the organizer should have the necessary skills to conduct meetings which will bring about some decisions or results. The following are some tips from my experiences : 

  • Have a well defined Agenda :  This is the cornerstone of an effective meeting. The agenda should be crisp, precise and to the point.  When the meeting invite is being sent , the Agenda should be mentioned in it and if possible, each agenda point should have a planned duration mentioned against it. 

  • Time, time. time :  Always start and end the meeting on time.  Starting late is not an excuse for ending late.  For cross functional meetings which included a large number of participants , if needed , a gentle reminder can be sent on the previous day. It is a good practice to put a reminder( 15 min)  in the meeting invite. And what sometimes worked for me is that when I had to  wait for some people, I used to count the number of people waiting for them and wrote how many person hours were wasted waiting for the late-comers. I wrote it on the white board ! And it sure worked. The latecomers were always on time after that. 

  • Assign Ownership :  All meetings should have some action items or deliverables.  The action items should have owners assigned to them with a planned target date. If the meeting is a recurring one , then these action items should be tracked in the meeting and the owners should be answerable for these. Do remember that multiple ownership does not work. Have a single owner.

  • Decision Maker :  Discussions and different point of views  should be encouraged in meetings,  but sometimes the situation becomes chaotic.  In such circumstances, have a clear decision maker. But do make sure that the meeting members understand that whatever decision is being taken in the meeting , should be endorsed by everybody when they leave the meeting. Any disagreements should be tackled in follow-up meetings. 
  • "KISS" :  Keep It Short and Simple ! As far as possible , try to keep the meeting short , have fewer people and agenda items. I have seen people lose interest and stop contributing after 30 minutes. It is also important to select the meeting participants appropriately. People should understand "what is it in for me ?" 

  • Summarize : The best option is to create Minutes of the meeting (MOM). The next best thing is to summarize the discussion points, action items and deliverables in  an email/memo and send it to all the participants right after the meeting. 

  • Have fun :  Last but not at the least, infuse humor wherever appropriate. Make the meeting interesting by good presentations, graphs, emoticons and smiles. 

Happy meetings ! 

Cheers !

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Amazing teams !

A few weeks back,  I met some of my team members from one of my previous organizations.  They were reminiscing about the “Good old times, the high energy environment and the real work”  they did.   “It is not the same anymore … “  they lamented.

It made me ponder. I always thought that I was a very lucky one to get such hardworking, talented, energetic, enthusiastic people working for me who took so much of initiative.  What was different, I thought …

  •  Delegate Power  : It is important not only to delegate work but also delegate power !  Only then your team will take the full ownership and initiative.  The team will know the importance and repercussion of the work delegated to them and believe me , will go all for it!

  •  Make them feel proud :  When your team does big work and takes big decisions, they feel amazing !  The more you trust them , they respect you more and work harder.  A sincere pat on the back, a few words of appreciation and giving them the credit for their accomplishments works wonders.  When they feel good and proud about their work, they will move mountains. I have seen my team working day and night without any complaint when they had to deliver a piece of script which they owned.  Making them feel amazing makes them super humans. The business booms. Delivery happens on time . Customers are delighted.  All this - without micromanagement !

  •  Foster positivity  : Negative criticism and unproductive arguments create a vicious environment. Eliminate it.  Encourage people to come up with solutions to their problems when they complain.  Do not let the negativity sap away the trust and energy of the team.  Remember, one rotten apple spoils the full basket.  So remove the bullies and foster positivity and harmony in the team. 

  • Communicate Effectively :  The communication from the leader should be clear, crisp , precise and concise. The team should understand the plan, have clarity about the decisions being taken and the direction in which they have to proceed.  They should be aligned with the overall goals and objectives of their project and it should be clearly communicated to them how they are contributing to the end result.  Clarify any question that come from them as early as possible. There should not be any ambiguity about the project priorities.  
When you do these, your team thrives.  They are energized.  They move mountains for you.

And whenever your paths cross ,they will always remember how they felt like superheroes when they worked for you !

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Never say never

Have you heard yourself say "I can't do this", "This is impossible", I do not have time for exercise", "I don't think I will be able to do my Masters" etc. etc.  All of us have been victim of excuses sometime or the other. But last week I had a life turning experience which will prevent me from giving excuses. Ever. 

In Calcutta, there is an Institute for Cerebral Palsy and I was invited to visit them a few days back. It is an institute which helps the Cerebral Palsy kids and coaches their parents. The visit was therapeutic and an inside-out kind of an experience and I will talk about it  later in my future blogs. I met a lady - she must be in her mid thirties. She cannot move one hand, walks with a limp, is almost blind and has great difficulty in speaking. The social worker who took us around introduced her to us. She is heading the legal department of the institute and works as a consultant lawyer for  the disabled people . She is a double gold medalist from Presidency college and a Leeds Scholar !  Her parents had left her with the institute when she was about 5. From her childhood, she was an avid learner and  operated the computer with her feet ! She never said never and now has become a role model for the institute.

Sometimes, the environment around us imposes the condition for excuses. So, stop listening to the voices who say "You can't do it".  There was a competition between a team of frogs and a team of  goats as to who can reach the mountain top the fastest.  The leader of the goat said to the leader of the frog " Why are you all even trying ?" Everybody knows that we will win ! We have nimble feet, can run fast, whereas you can only jump , you have heavy body, you cannot see ..... " This went on and on . The frogs  were convinced that they cannot do it and started to retreat , when suddenly they saw that one frog had already reached the mountain top ! 

"Hey !" Everybody said "What is the secret of your success ?

The leader of  the frogs said "He is deaf ! He could not hear what we were discussing. He never thought that he cannot reach the top " ! 

Successful people do not make excuses . Leaders do not fear failure.

They create results . 

Without making excuses.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Three Best Practices

 Here are the three best things which I have learnt from the best organizations that I have worked with.

Best Practice : Include the family : I was in my formative years of working as well as a mother of a four year old. My days passed in a haze. Deadlines, technical problems, teleconferencing along with tantrums of  my daughter. The organization dedicated a day for the families where the employees did cultural activities with their families. I enrolled my daughter. The organization took the pains of picking her up from home, included her in a group dance and she proudly performed on stage ! A  story book was given to her by the CEO of the organization as per the policy of rewarding the kids of the employees who stood first in class. And my daughter just loved the "300 Bedtime Stories" she received. She still cherishes the moment and the book.  A small act , but it had a lasting impression.

Best practice : Being on Time :  The mantra was "Be on Time every time".  Posters were all around the organizations. Everybody came on time for meetings. If someone was late, everybody stared at her ! The leaders were always 2 minutes before time. Such was the culture of the organization, that it was ingrained in everybody. And for me, I have carried this to all my organizations as well as in my personal life. Being punctual is a commitment for respecting yours as well as others time.

Best Practice :  Let them see it :  This organization had whiteboards on every possible place. The walls, the pillars, the partitions !  Every project had whiteboards assigned to them where the daily activities of the team were written. There was a morning ritual for the project to have daily stand up meetings. Everyone knew how the project was doing, what were the issues and risks , what were the to-dos for the day, who needed help and what were their commitments.  It was an open office with no partitions and the white boards were visible to the full team . Always.  And the visibility had a profound effect on the project and team dynamism. 

Want to try these  in your organization ? 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Choice

Once upon a time, a donkey fell inside a dry well. He brayed and brayed and started crying. The farmer  who owned the donkey tried to pull him out but failed to do so. After doing his assessment, the farmer decided that neither the donkey nor the well were worth saving. So , he arranged for mud and dirt to haul it inside the well so that the donkey could be buried and his braying and crying would end for ever. When the donkey understood the plan, for some time he did not know what to do. He was hysterical. But when the first haul of mud fell on his back, he suddenly understood what he would do. Just SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP ! So, blow after blow, however painful and distressing the situation was, he kept himself motivated by telling himself  "Shake it off.. Step up... Shake it off...Step up ...."   This went on the whole night and in the morning, the donkey was out of the well into the cheerful morning sunlight !

At work and in our personal lives, mud will be hauled at us. It depends on our attitude and perseverance how we take the dirt and make it a stepping stone for further growth. Either we sink or we just "Shake it off and step up". Either we give in to panic, self-pity, bitterness and cynicism or we take each blow as a learning opportunity and convert the adversity into opportunity. Make your own choice.  Either make it a stepping stone or a stumbling block.

The choice is yours.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Lessons from School

A few months back, I organized an old girls alumni meet of my school.   As I went about planning and  organizing the meet, I talked to many old friends, contacting them , talking to them after two to three decades ! We were so excited and could barely stop talking after the initial squeals of delight. We reminisced about our naughty childhood days, the mischiefs, the plays , the examination, gossips and what not. But there was one particular person who came up in my conversations with almost everybody. Mrs Nadkarni - our class teacher of  Standard 5. 

What was it about her that all of us remembered her even after 30 years ?  As I thought about it,  it was amazing to relate it with my corporate work. 
  • Empathy : Unlike other teachers, she could sense how each of her students were feeling and would make it a point to talk to the student who needed her attention after the class was over. All of us confided our joys, sorrows and innermost secrets to her.  She remembered our birthdays and we got a book from her every year as a birthday gift. I still have these treasures in my library. We coveted to be near her, learn from her. And our favourite subjects were the ones which she taught us.  As leaders, do we empathize with our team ? Do we notice their expressions when they come to office in the morning or we are drowned in our huge pile of emails and deadlines ?
  • Mentoring :  She was great mentor. If we were stuck with a difficult maths problem, she would never scold us. Instead, she took pains to explain the aspect of the problem to us clearly , as many times as needed.  She made the most talkative girl of the class as the monitor. She made us organize birthday parties, year end bashes and elocution competitions. While doing these, we learnt about teaming, initiative,participation and definitely leadership. How much have you planned and taken care about the growth of your subordinates ? Great leaders are multipliers of talent. And the multiplication happens with solid mentoring.
  • Trust and belief :  During our annual examination, all the other classes had invigilators to see that the students are writing honestly and without talking to each other. Her class was the only exception. She had so much of trust on her students that she had a standing instruction not to put any invigilators. Due to this, none of her students broke her trust.  Trust is something which has to be earned. A leader should be full of integrity, she should walk the talk, be passionate and fair. 

The above three things seem simple, but implementing them at the workplace work wonders. 

And , if you can  do so successfully, one day the people around you will remember you just like we remembered our dear Mrs. Nadkarni.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Power of 1

Recently, I experienced two incidents which reinforced my belief in positivism.  

The first one . A couple of days back,  I was travelling in a bus in the evening where most of the passengers were returning home from work. All of them were visibly tired and sat with a disinterested look on their faces. As I boarded the bus, I looked at my fellow passengers and  groaned -  my journey will be very boring , I thought. But I was in for a surprise.  As the bus started moving,  one person who was sitting near a window , started talking on his own !  He was an ordinary looking middle aged person , wearing ordinary clothes but had an enigmatic smile on his face.  He started describing what he saw outside. "See the beautiful child ! His face is like an Angel". "Look , the trees have different shades of green.. so beautiful" "The sky is ink- blue and the hues of orange in the sun set looks like Gold" "Now we are near Dalhousie square.  The streets look so busy and all the people have different clothes, different expression on their faces.  It is so very interesting !"  As he continued talking, everybody looked out of their windows. One person joined him and exclaimed " Look ! The shop in the corner ! It has been renovated and looking so different !" One by one most the passengers joined the game.  They became animated and interested. Everybody laughed and talked. I was amazed.  When the extraordinary person stood up, I looked at him. He smiled. I saw the bus conductor help him with his crutches. He had only one leg.

Second one.  Last week I had the opportunity of  conducting a session on TQM (Total Quality Management) for a reputed organization. It is a 150 year old organization. The factory workers and staff who attended the training session were all middle aged people, above 50 , and had served the organization for more than 25 years. Around 30 people sat in the training room with a  sullen, cynical look on their faces. As usual I started the session asking the participants to introduce themselves and talk about one thing which they loved about their organization. As the people started talking, the first, second, third and the fourth, strangely, none of them could say any good point about their organization. Just as I was giving up, the sixth person said  "Everyday when I come to work, I take a second to look at the Name of the company engraved on the gate. I am very proud about the quality of goods we manufacture".  Then , there was magic !  This was the spark which was needed.  One by one , all the participants had something positive to say about the organization. The sullen and cynical looks changed ! They smiled and beamed at each other. Yes, there were lots of things which could be improved they said, but all of them were proud to be a part of the organization. 

Yes.  One person can make a difference.

YOU can make a difference !